I fail every holiday. No matter the season, I never finish my checklist. That list of things a person should do to actually experience the holiday. The decorations you laboriously scour a storage unit for, the baked good you romanticize year-round, forgetting the dishes, flour, and sweat involved, and the movies. The films I charge myself with rewatching and ultimately never get through. This Halloween is no different, and my list goes largely unwatched. While the 2022 season offers a few new spooky films and shows I have tried to focus on, there are certain films that require annual viewing. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen them; it’s part of the season itself. It’s what replays on TV, what your friends post about on social media, maybe it’s inspiring your current holiday décor. Every year, the same movies, often watched with the same people.
Most film enthusiasts have a list like this, even if it’s never written down. The list is ever changing and personal: no two the same as far as order and importance. But why do we rewatch these films? Tradition? I think much of it comes from that word experience. In order to remind ourselves what the season is supposed to feel like, we must remind ourselves of the appropriate stories and styles of the holiday or, at least, remind ourselves of some idealized and nostalgic version of the holiday, one we affix to watching these films. Christmas movies, for instance, are largely about good will towards mankind, rejecting capitalism, or feeling displaced. Re-watching these films is like finding that special ornament and putting it on the tree. Halloween films are somewhat broader than Christmas, or really any other holiday. They’re often a horror film, but not exclusively. They can just be autumnal, or feature something strange. It’s less tied to a specific month or Halloween itself, and more to the feeling that holiday should elicit. Just as Valentine’s movies qualify as anything romantic, Halloween films are anything vaguely spooky or magical.
Because my list goes unwatched, I’ve decided to share it here and encourage any reading to visit as many as they can. I have never completed one of my re-watch lists, its impossible nature is part of the fun. I’ve seen most of the projects on it, but never all for Halloween. I blame good weather, as I typically wait until the weather gets cold and feels appropriately spooky before I start binging these projects. Unfortunately, Vancouver has just undergone its warmest October, breaking a 93-year-old record, and we just had our first rainfall since July two days ago. That is the driest July to October we have ever seen. Seeing as today feels like the first spooky day of the season, here is the list, from me to you. It’s in no particular order and will be different by next year. I’ve included a few short memories with each, explaining why they are on the list and why you should watch. I have also linked trailers (in the titles) and accompanying articles for those interested. Go forth and enjoy the scares.
Coraline was the first horror film I was ever encouraged to watch, and it was the first film I ever discussed on this blog. My Godmother got tickets to a special early preview, and I remember my friend and I thoroughly embarrassed her with our antics while waiting in line. Those antics came to a sharp stop after the movie. It had been one of the most frightening films we had ever seen. The movie targets kids, both narratively and literally. I am always struck when rewatching the film by just how terrifying it is. What is actually being depicted and marketed as a ‘family film’, at least according to IMDb. Many of the films on this list feature undepicted horror, something that threatens to be horrifying but is never shown. It’s instead left for the audience to imagine the implications. That’s not the case with Coraline, which fixates on these implications, showing what would happen but not explaining why or how, much like how a child views the world. They see the mechanics, the cause and result, but the in-between stays unknown until it is taught or explained. We see the ghost children, what Coraline will become if the Other Mother wins. But we don’t know how Other Mother feeds on her victims once she sews the button eyes. We don’t need to see that for it to be terrifying.
Any audience can imagine and personalize that horror, in as many shades as there are button eyes. The film doesn’t exclude this feeding because it’s too scary, quite the opposite. Giving that threat a definition would make it too controllable. The fear is not knowing, and while that can be said of many horror films, this one in particular is not about the monster, it’s about what happens in-between. The film is a lot like that tunnel between our world and the other. How did it open? Unknown. Why is it linked to the Pink Palace? Unknown. Could the Beldame weave itself into your home, your life? Unknown. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without this film, and it holds a special terror in my heart.
Without spoiling, this film might be the greatest ghost story ever told. It radicalized the genre, much as Six Sense did in 1999. It’s reminiscent of multiple classic haunted house stories, especially The Innocents (1961), but it’s also complicating those narratives along with our assumptions of cinematic ghosts. It’s arguably the best scary movie to show someone who doesn’t like gore, so me. Fun fact, I was so influenced by this film, that I began studying Victorian post-mortem photography in my BA and ended up writing a whole article about it, eventually presenting said paper at my first conference. Had it not been for this film, I never would have learned about Victorian mourning practices, and how they extend beyond that era. That might be less of a fun fact and more of a weird fact, but still. It changed the way I viewed death moving forward and greatly impacted my writing.
If horror movies have taught me anything, it’s that organ players have a horrifying career. I only know about them through this and Phantom of the Opera, however, so I am just assuming.
I haven’t seen the remake yet, just because I tend to avoid certain extreme body horror. The original is amazing for several reasons, my favourite being the score which often acts as antagonist. Witches and ballet also make an excellent pair.
I insist that whenever you refer to this film, you do so as Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That is the full name in my opinion. I won’t speak about this picture for long, because I have already written at least three articles about it. It’s a classic, and I recommend seeing it in theatres if you can. Like any of these films, being able to experience them with a group on a big screen makes a huge difference, especially if you can dress up for them. I first saw the film by sneaking downstairs and catching the first 5 minutes or so, but those frames haunted me for years.
Bela Lugosi is Dracula. Everyone who has come after reflects his performance. I suppose that’s ironic given that vampires have no reflection, but still. My favourite element about this film is its background: the legal battle that led to the creation, Lugosi’s visit to Florence Balcombe (Bram Stoker’s widow), and director Todd Browning’s career, moving from this to the legendary Freaks (1932). While I haven’t included it as a separate film here, Nosferatu (1922) is also a must watch for the season, and it’s celebrating it’s 100th anniversary this year. I always find it interesting to compare the two, as they are historically contingent.
Released the same year as Browning’s Dracula, Frankenstein brought new life to Mary Shelley’s novel and forever bound the modern Prometheus to cinema. It’s stylistically revolutionary, morally complex, and a profound examination of what it means to be a monster.
The Phantom of the Opera (1925), The Invisible Man (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
That’s right, the entire Universal Monster collection is on my list. I haven’t added The Mummy (1932) or The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) here, but they are also interesting watches and I do recommend. I considered referring to these as separate headings, but I’ve already written most of my thoughts in other articles, so go read those after watching these films. The Phantom of the Opera (1925) is public domain, and you can watch it for free online.
This movie has everything: time travel, opera, excessive violence. It’s one of my all-time favourite films, and it features an astonishing performance by Robert Englund, otherwise known as Freddy Krueger. I found my copy at a dollar store, now go find yours. I believe it should get a Criterion edition, but that’s just me.
The bad boys of vampire cinema, making rice look like maggots, and saxophone players 90% oil since 1987. 10/10.
They are the spookiest family out there. Much like Princess Bride (1987), it’s a compilation of stellar quotes you should use year-round. Both films were directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, the same man who went on to create my favourite A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017-2019) for Netflix.
One features zombies and demonic cats. The other features a surprising twist where Tim Curry was the villain all along, instead of just a regular guy voiced by Tim Curry. Both of these films are phenomenal, and I unfortunately only have Zombie Island on DVD, thanks to a recent thrift adventure. I used to watch both yearly on TV, but they don’t seem to air anymore. I highly recommend at least checking out the Hex Girl’s song from Zombie Island. It was their first appearance in the Scooby-Doo cannon, and they are one of very few characters to appear in multiple Scooby projects.
I would add Pan’s Labyrinth to this compilation, given that I based my entire thesis on it, and it had a monumental impact in my life, but it’s too devastating a watch to be included on any casual list. Cronos is devastating in a different way, and it deserves far more attention. I won’t give too much away as it’s best to walk in cold.
George Miller went from directing Mad Max (1979), Road Warrior (1981), Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome (1985),to this, the drama Lorenzo’s Oil (1992), kids films Babe Pig in the City (1998), Happy Feet (2006) and Happy Feet Two (2011), before doing the incredible Mad Max Fury Road (2015). It is my favourite career trajectory. The cherry scene and Jack Nicholson’s church monologue are especial standouts here.
While I recommend every Elm Street film, to an extent, these make an incredible duo. In Nightmare on Elm Street, we see a group of teenagers terrorized by a surprisingly punny villain, and in the New Nightmare, those same actors are terrorized by the fans of Elm Street, including a demon who has taken the guise of Freddy. New Nightmare is my absolute favourite Wes Craven film, and it gets better every re-watch. Craven and this film were one of the first to talk about toxic fandom in horror cinema, especially its treatment of women, one that continues today. Craven nightmare was fandom he had incited. An interesting note: both Englund and Heather Langenkamp have made recent appearances in Netflix horror shows, Englund in season 4 of Stranger Things (2022) and Langenkamp in The Midnight Club (2022).
Another duo! These may come with radically different popularity, but both work through similar ideas and are frequently compared. Whether that comparison is justified, I don’t know. I think both are incredible in their own right, but I also think it’s interesting to (at least once) watch them together and see why they are so often compared. Maybe throw in a screening of Shock Treatment (1981) too, just for an extra special triple feature.
Honestly, go watch all of Guillermo del Toro’s films, and his new Netflix show: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (2022). That is how I am spending this week. Every single film is amazing and moving, and Crimson Peak is an examination of Gothic horror, and all the bizarreness that genre and literature comes with. Edith is a Gothic author, writing ghost stories, and she ends up using her awareness of that genre to save herself, becoming both author and heroine simultaneously. Del Toro’s films often directly criticize the overwhelming male gaze found in horror cinema, and that discussion is certainly present here.
One directed by Henry Selick (of Coraline fame), the other by Tim Burton. These were some of the earliest films I experienced that were interested in death and highlighted it in a less patronizing way than other kid media. I am planning on rewatching both, especially Nightmare, before checking out Selick’s newest film with Jordan Peele: Wendell & Wild (2022) that releases on October 28th.
I know it’s a common wish among women my age, but I really want the house from this film. That’s the dream. Practical Magic is my comfort film; I end up watching it anytime I feel upset. It taught me about generational curses which has proven helpful in how I understand the women in my family. It’s fun, heartfelt, and magical.
He really is the ghost with the most. Although I’ve written about some of the stranger elements of this film, some that I am not quite sure what to do with, it’s still a Halloween standard.
90s witchcraft media just hits a certain way. I’m not sure we have ever been able to recreate it modern witch cinema.
People literally fall apart, chaos and jealousy rear. It’s frickin hilarious.
I am afraid to even write the name multiple times.
If you haven’t seen it already, what are you even doing? Watch this and then Jemaine Clement’s TV spinoff of the same name.
I imagine watching this immediately after What We Do in the Shadows would be wild. Fun fact, director Jim Jarmusch recently made an appearance in the TV spinoff, and Tilda Swinton sort of reprised her character from this film in the season 1 finale.
I prefer this Mike Flanagan film to The Shinning. There, I’ve said it. I highly recommend this and Flanagan’s other work, especially The Haunting of Hill House (2018) and The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020).
The original is amazing, and if you really need to, you can just add David Bowie’s song for the remake on top. It’s got shadows, cats, and an interesting discussion on female sexuality versus the femme fatale type stalking 40s cinema.
I recommend this film quite frequently given how well it handles modern horror with puritan paranoia. I wish it had been released back when I was learning about historic witchcraft in university. Try pairing it with Häxan (1922) to get a broader sense of just how conscious and well-made this film is. Häxan is public domain and free to view online.
Unjustly criticized upon first release, the film is now enjoying a devoted cult following that you should join today. I would advice some caution with the trailer and marketing for this one, it has a bit of a awful legacy.
This show has a great hold over me, so I can say no more than go watch it in its entirety. The animated series is about the length of a film. I’ve been playing the soundtrack on repeat for the last month, and I just rewatched Betty Boop: Snow-White (1933)after visiting the story again. It’s like a vintage Halloween card brought to life.
I haven’t seen these films yet, so they have some priority on my list this year.