Two years ago I was asked to put together my list of my Top 10 Favorite Christmas movies, to this day one of my favorite posts to work on. With everything that’s been going on for me in the past two years, I got a little distracted and was ashamed to realize I never did a follow-up about my favorite Halloween movies. With my Christmas list, I only included films that had to do with Christmas itself, but I couldn’t use similar criteria for this list as not many films take place specifically on Halloween. So for this list I’m including horror movies, family films, comedies, etc., just as long as the subject material and execution of the film make it something easily equated with the spirit of Halloween. And as much as I hated when other websites would do this, I now understand the need to limit the list and only include one film from any given series. And in honor of Halloween, this Top 10 list will be a Top 13 list.
Hocus Pocus shines as being a true family friendly film for Halloween. While others from this list may be acceptable for most ages in the house while still focusing on a certain age group, this was a film designed specifically to be good for the entire family. Yes, the acting is very over-the-top and the effects aren't top notch, but in a film like this it fits and makes it stand out in a season filled with serious horror movies. Bette Midler is the kind of actress that can do well no matter the role, and this is probably Sarah Jessica Parker’s best work (I’m being entirely serious). It’s funny to go back and watch now, after 10 seasons of NCIS, with a young Sean Murray (Special Agent Tim McGee) play the role of Thackery Binx. 20 years later, the appeal of this film is still lasting, being a high seller on DVD every Halloween.
While Tim Burton's iconic imagry is center stage in Beetlejuice, this movie wouldn't have been half as successful as it is without Michael Keaton. An actor that today is seen very rarely, Keaton is one of the best and most underrated actors to come out of the 80s and 90s. His performance as Beetlejuice was one of the things that broke him out of the straight up comedy mold and showed Warner Bros that he could handle a film like Batman, also directed by Burton. Don't get me wrong, the rest of the cast more than holds up their end of the film, but Keaton's performance was so engaging that whenever he's not on screen you're counting the minutes until he's back. Beetlejuice comes out being a fun take on the haunted house story that may not be as scary as current haunted house films, but its definately more recognizable and loved.
I know this will be a controversial choice for the list, picking the remake over the original. And this was a tough choice to make as the original is considered a modern classic for the horror genre, and the remake is frowned upon by a lot of people. But I really enjoyed the remake and feel it to be a better fit for this list. The remake isn’t a direct remake of the original Friday the 13th, but a retelling of key events in the first three films. The reason this film made the list instead of the original is that the portrayal of Jason here is far superior. The original Jason, though iconic, led to many of the current clichés in horror films, such as a slow walking killer catching up to a running victim. But this Jason is given more personality and more intelligence, setting traps for his victims, utilizing shortcuts, showing proficiency with other weapons apart from a machete, and actually running after his targets, making him a larger threat than the original interpretation.
'A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors' (1987)
Knowing I was going to include the Nightmare on Elm Street series on this list, I had to greatly consider which film to add. The original is probably the creepiest of the series, Freddy vs Jason is a fun mash-up in the tone of Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman (1943), and I think the remake with Jackie Earl Haley is completely underrated and was an effective and entertaining reimagining of the original. But for my money, The Dream Warriors is when the franchise really hit its stride, keeping Freddy a creepy character while integrating more of the humor and personality audiences have come to love. The characters were interesting to watch and much more than fodder for Freddy to run through, actually finding a way to be a threat to him by using the dream world to their benefit. And this film has Freddy’s greatest one-liner, an adlib thrown in by Robert Englund during the scene where Freddy kills an aspiring actress, pulling her into a TV screen yelling, “Welcome to prime time, b****!”
'The Addams Family' (1991)
The Addams Family is a perfect example that a film doesn’t need to be scary to be gothic and a staple of Halloween. Relying on a dark tone and sharp humor, The Addams Family was a follow-up to the original comic strip more than the television series. For the films, bits of the family dynamic were changed to suit the story, such as Grandma is Morticia’s mother now, not Gomez’s, and Fester is Gomez’s brother, not Morticia’s uncle. Raul Julia and Angelica Huston gave nothing short of inspired performances, and Christina Ricci laid the groundwork for a career that she honestly still has yet to live up to. While I will admit that I prefer the sequel, I chose this film for the list because this one maintains the gothic tone more than its successor, fitting more into the Halloween spirit.
I’ve heard many people express a preference for the Rob Zombie remake and its sequel, and while I admit that the dark tone and increased brutality are a terrific change over Halloween H20 and Halloween: Resurrection, Zombie was never able to do anything that outshined the original. Originally conceived as a follow-up to Black Christmas from director Bob Clark, John Carpenter was inspired to build off Clark’s vision and create this horror classic that introduced the world to the idea of an unstoppable killer. Where serial killer icons like Jason Voorhees and Freddy Kruger have a demonic/supernatural element, Michael Myers has always remained a living, breathing human being.
There’s a definite argument to be made that The Exorcist is one of the scariest films ever made. The religious implications aside, The Exorcist has the most effective use of graphic and gratuitous imagery, such as the notorious crucifix scene. While current films like Saw and The Human Centipede over-use the disturbing imagery to mask a lack of story or decent acting, The Exorcist became an Academy Award nominated film that blended amazing performances from Max von Sydow and Linda Blair with creepy demonic imagery that drew you in with the story and acting and then scared you with images that stay in your mind for years after watching.
Though the original and remake focus heavily on the frightening elements and are superior horror films, the combination of horror and Bruce Campbell’s comedic talent and charm makes Evil Dead 2 the stand-out in the franchise. And luckily, watching the original isn’t necessary to enjoy this one as it retells the entire first film within the opening 10 minutes. The goofy dialogue and iconic imagery associated with the franchise, and referenced in the remake, all came from this film, showing just how much of an impact this film made. And like other movies on this list, it’s the blend of horror and outright fun that makes this film "Groovy".
'The Monster Squad' (1987)
While this isn’t a scary film to 99% of those who watch it, The Monster Squad is nothing short of a fun film and a great updated inclusion of the classic Universal monsters. Growing up in the 80s, this film was required viewing for the pre-teen audience, centering around a group of movie monster fanatics who are in a monster club, making them the only ones capable of fighting off the likes of Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. This was really the first monster-centric film aimed at a younger audience that appealed to the broad spectrum, being scary enough to frighten younger audiences, but not so much so that it prevented parents from allowing their children to watch it. Though the film wasn’t a financial success at the time, it has since become a cult classic, selling out theaters for midnight viewings and being a big seller on Blu Ray and DVD. And it has one of the most memorable lines in the history of horror films. Say it with me… “Wolfman’s got nards!”
'The Nightmare Before Christmas' (1993)
If you have to sum up Tim Burton’s body of work in a single word, “Gothic” would be a great choice. Burton has always had a dark, somewhat menacing, tone to his films, hitting a brick wall when he veers from that path with movies like Planet of the Apes. Up until The Nightmare Before Christmas, the best claymation known to audiences was the Christmas classic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. This allowed Burton to exploit a rarely used medium and create the most fluid and extensive claymation project ever seen at that point. Burton’s gothic imagery was taken to the limits with his unique character designs blended with Danny Elfman’s best musical work. Twenty years after its release, The Nightmare Before Christmas is still a merchandising powerhouse, almost always featured on products at the Disney Store and Hot Topic.
'Shaun of the Dead' (2004)
As over exposed as the zombie genre is, a zombie film had to make the list. So why do I choose a zombie comedy instead of a classic like Night of the Living Dead or a modern blockbuster like World War Z? Simple… Shaun of the Dead is hilarious, spoofing the zombie genre while being an excellent addition to it, and it is not about a zombie apocalypse. A huge cliché for zombie films, and shows like The Walking Dead, is that the heroes are fighting an uphill battle in an apocalypse setting with almost no hope of winning. But Shaun of the Dead has become unique in the genre and takes place in a more realistic setting, placing our heroes in what appears to be a winless scenario, but one where society eventually wins and survives with almost everything back to normal.
'Young Frankenstein' (1974)
Apart from being truly one of the funniest films ever made, Young Frankenstein did the near impossible by recreating the look and tone of the original Universal monster films. With the use of similar techniques and even same sets and props as the original classic, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder laid the ground work for guys like Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg by creating a film that not only spoofs another, but does it in such a way that it becomes a worthy successor to the genre and franchise. Young Frankenstein isn’t a spoof by modern day standards, but is definitely taking aspects of every previous Universal Frankenstein film and making it their own while fitting into the tone so well that it feels more like a sequel than a spoof. Seeing the films it lampoons will better help your understanding of what went into making Young Frankenstein, but it is by no means necessary to enjoy this comedic masterpiece.
'Dracula' & 'Frankenstein' (1931)
Yes, these are two separate movies, but I always suggest these films to people together as a double feature (Only two and a half hours). The Universal monster classics set the tone for the horror genre that is often imitated, but rarely duplicated. Both stories come from classic books, but modern understandings of both characters are synonymous with these movie versions, and for very good reasons. Many current horror movies rely on jump scares and graphic images to unsettle the audience, but in the golden age of monsters, Universal created a series of films that perfectly balanced unsettling images with unique character portrayals and revolutionary effects to make films that are still appreciated and adored eighty years later. While we’ve seen several different versions of Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster before and since these films were released, none have had the cultural and cinematic impact these did, cementing their place in history.