by Jack Miller ‘21
Autumn’s brisk air and warm leaves have arrived at last, which means that Halloween is right around the corner. Many are already getting into the spooky spirit by streaming their own horror movie marathons, but what makes for a truly good Halloween movie? Here are five classic films to capture that lovable blend of terror and excitement that makes this time of year so special.
- Hausu (1977)
Nobuhiko Obayashi’s endlessly weird comedy-horror classic sees Gorgeous, a young Japanese student, travelling with six of her classmates to her aunt’s spooky country home, which just so happens to be keen on eating people. There is little that can be said of a film this abstract, other than that it is truly unlike anything else made before or since its release. It’s far and away one of the most formally creative and innovative films ever made—you won’t find a single conventional image throughout this dreamlike odyssey. The visuals, equal-parts nightmarish and whimsical, give the film both its humor and its horror, creating a surreal clash of tones that makes it all the more joyous. Whether it’s actually scary or just plain fun is up for debate, but either way it’s got all of the necessary components for a good Halloween film—a haunted house, a creepy cat, a self-playing piano, and even a healthy dose of Kung fu.
- Scream (1996)
“Scream,” the slasher that defined the ‘90s, is at once a sharp satire critiquing the consumption of violent media and a thrilling piece of violent media. The film follows teenage Sidney Prescott as she and her friends are terrorized by a masked killer with an unhealthy obsession with horror movies. This is a perfect film for any horror fan—director Wes Craven lovingly critiques the classics of the genre through witty dialogue and clever trope reversals, while also crafting a captivating slasher story in and of itself. Craven’s playful attitude blends laughs and frights seamlessly, making for a load of fun that is perfect for Halloween.
- Evil Dead II (1987)
Dropping the first film’s chilling atmosphere, Sam Raimi’s cult favorite sequel to “The Evil Dead” is a frenetic black comedy and a whimsical display of bravura filmmaking. The film is a retelling of its predecessor, following the story of horror icon Ash Williams, who, alongside his girlfriend Linda, accidentally unleashes a seemingly unstoppable demonic force upon the log cabin he’s staying in. What ensues is a delightfully over-the-top experience, filled with creative filmmaking, ambitious visuals, and uproarious humor. The film goes full-speed from start to finish, with back-to-back memorable sequences denying the audience even a second to breathe. In a single word, this film is confident—it feels excited to be what it is, and it’s refreshing to see something so dedicated to being fun.
- Suspiria (1977)
Italian horror legend Dario Argento’s most renowned film,“Suspiria” stars Jessica Harper as an American dance student who travels to Germany to attend a prestigious ballet academy. What awaits her is a mysterious evil that lurks in the shadows of the institution. This eerie story is told almost entirely through visuals—the film is soaked in dreamlike lights and vibrant colors, which, when accompanied by the film’s macabre set design, make for some of the most stunning images ever put to film. The eye-popping cinematography is complemented by Goblin’s supernatural synth-rock score, which very well may be the best soundtrack the horror genre has ever seen. This nightmarish spectacle is not for everyone, however; there’s very little dialogue or character writing, as the emphasis is placed on its charming and creepy atmosphere, rather than its story. If you’re able to look past that, you’ll be treated to one of the most unique and astounding genre films ever made.
- Halloween (1978)
What more can be said about John Carpenter’s iconic slasher masterpiece? It may be an obvious pick, but its timeless craft and creeping dread make it a must-watch for the season. Set on the evening of the titular holiday, the film follows Michael Meyers, fifteen years after he murdered his sister, as he escapes from his mental hospital and returns to the sleepy town of Haddonfield, Illinois to kill again. Carpenter is a master of the atmospherics; Halloween night is shown through shadow-soaked imagery, creeping piano notes, slow-building tension, and hair-raising scares. Few films in history have managed to capture an ambiance as ominous as the one that this film achieves. It’s also an oddly comfortable film—crunching leaves, light winds, and flickering jack-o-lanterns remind of the subtle beauty that makes the holiday one of the most exciting times of the year. It really is the essential Halloween film.