10 of The Best Halloween movies for a scary night …
10. “Hocus Pocus” (1993)
It isn’t a terribly good movie, but to a certain set of kids raised in the ’90s (and maybe their parents), Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy will always be witches. They play a trio of sisters who were executed for their dark witchcraft centuries ago but who are resurrected in Salem, Mass., on Halloween night when a dumb teenager lights the wrong black candle. Mayhem ensues — good-spirited, PG-rated, totally goofy mayhem.
9. “House of 1000 Corpses” (2003)
Sometimes the title really does say it all. White Zombie front man Rob Zombie has proven himself to be quite the nasty little horror-movie director — a designation he’d surely take as a compliment. His debut film draws on the exploitation shock and gore of the dirtiest ’70s horror films, and traps two couples with a sadistic hick family. It’s sickening, but again, we’re sure Zombie would be thrilled.
8. “The Crow” (1994)
A beautiful young couple set to be married on Halloween are murdered during the Devil’s Night crime spree in an even-more-dystopian Detroit. The groom-to-be, a rock musician named Eric Draven, returns from the dead to avenge their murder. The tragedy surrounding the making of this supernatural romance feeds into the film’s cult-classic status: Brandon Lee, the supremely videogenic son of Bruce Lee, died a tragic (albeit very rock-and-roll) death at 28 during filming due to the mishandling of a prop gun.
7. “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (1983)
Back when Disney wasn’t afraid to scare children a little, they made this adaptation of the mournful and lovely Ray Bradbury horror-fantasy novel about a pair of young Midwestern boys — Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade — who grow up fast one fall when a strange night circus comes to town. That circus brings with it a dastardly ringmaster, the dangerous Mr. Dark (played by the always excellent Jonathan Pryce), who stalks the boys through their final innocent autumn.
6. “Lady in White” (1988)
It’s Halloween, 1962, and 9-year-old Frankie (Lukas Haas), still in his costume and tortured by classmates, gets locked in his school’s cloakroom over night. That’s scary enough for any kid, but while there, Frankie also witnesses the ghostly reenactment of the murder of a little red-haired girl who begs his help to find her mother, kicking off a sad small-town murder mystery on the orange-leaf-strewn streets of upstate New York. It’s a mournfully autumnal, gore-free horror film that lingers.
5. “Creepshow” (1982)
It starts with a shot of a jack-o’-lantern smiling in the window, and that’s about the friendliest shot you’ll see in this horror anthology of five short films (perfectly paced for a night of handing out candy). Written by Stephen King and directed by George A. Romero, the five tales — homages to the EC and DC horror comic books of the ’50s — are perfectly pitched between the macabre and the silly. A monster in a box, a decaying patriarch risen from the dead, an infestation of cockroaches — something in the lineup is bound to make you want to sleep with the lights on.
4. “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” (1966)
This classic “Peanuts” television special is to Halloween what “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” is to Christmas — which is to say, essential. The Peanuts gang goes trick-or-treating while Linus keeps poor Sally Brown in the pumpkin patch all night with the promise of spotting the apocryphal Great Pumpkin. Of course, he never arrives, but Linus almost turns you into a believer.
3. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993)
This Tim Burton-conceived, Henry Selick-directed full-length stop-motion musical film illustrates everything that’s magical about the art form. The filmmakers built a detailed, tangible world for their Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington, who, with his ghost dog Zero, delights his fellow spooky denizens of Halloween Town. The animation gets even more inventive when Skellington discovers a portal to Christmas Town and the two holidays clash. How can you not love a character who marvels, “There’s children throwing snowballs instead of throwing heads!”
2. “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982)
Steven Spielberg’s loveable lost little alien kind of looks like Albert Einstein (if he were made of mud and melted Baby Ruths), but he packs a profound emotional wallop when he forms an inseparable psychic and emotional bond with Earth boy Elliott. But for all its otherworldliness, “E.T.” is a deeply felt film about suburban America and its traditions, its fractured families, its genial uniformity. And we glimpse all of that through E.T.’s peepholes when Elliott throws a sheet over his head and takes him out on that most suburban of holidays: Halloween.
1. “Halloween” (1978)
What other movie could possibly hold the top spot? And it’s not because of the name; director John Carpenter essentially gave birth to the slasher genre, and one of Halloween’s best-selling monster masks, with hardly a budget to speak of. And that inimitable, simple piano score that still haunts? Carpenter came up with that, too. The plot is as simple as its soundtrack: Escaped mental patient Michael Myers terrorizes teenager Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) on Halloween night. Seems easy, but nobody else has ever gotten the simple formula so right.