During the month of October, I pretty much spend 31 days prepping myself for Halloween. Some people decorate, some people put hilarious costumes on their dogs, and some spend 31 days eating candy (me. I do this).
Since I’m “too old” to trick-or-treat and have been “too old” to receive free candy from my neighbors for quite some time, I instead fill my 20-gallon Halloween bucket to the brim with candy and cozy up on the couch for a night of delightful horrors. Of course, eating candy on Halloween is much less fun when you’ve been doing it the entire month… or your entire adult life.
The spooky holiday falls on a Saturday in 2020, so you may not be able to get right to movie watching, especially if you’ve got kids who want to trick-or-treat. But once the kiddies are all tucked away, you can grab their bucket of candy, sit on the couch, que up Netflix, and begin watching my playlist of the scariest, spookiest films that are sure to ease you into a nightmare-fueled sleep.
Now everyone knows the classic scary movies like Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Chuckie, Saw, and I could go on, but my list includes some that you may not be aware of. Let’s take a look.
By the way, since I know that what is scary to one person may be “beyond terrifying” (as in the stuff the pure nightmares are made of) to another, I included a mixture of movies so there is sure to be something for everyone who wants a bit of fright in their night (but not necessarily too much).
Genre: Psychological horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98 percent
Vinesauce Spooky Advisory System: Spooky
Brief summary: Six years ago, Amelia Vanek lost her husband the same night she gave birth to their son. Plagued by his death, the exhausted widow is unable to cope when her child, Sam, stops sleeping, begins to act unpredictably, and blames his behavior on a mysterious monster. Amelia insists the monster isn’t real, but she begins to doubt herself when she finds a strange pop-up book entitled “Mister Babadook,” which tells of a terrifying humanoid creature that stalks his victims once they know of his existence. When Amelia becomes aware of the Babadook, her life begins to spiral out of control, and soon, the mother and son are left battling for their lives.
Why it’s so good: Like all my favorite horror films, The Babadook isn’t really about the Babadook itself. At the heart of this wonderfully scary story is a tale about the persistence and danger of unchecked grief. Jennifer Kent, writer and director of this beautiful movie, also weaves in themes about motherhood, the struggles of being a single parent, and societal perceptions of the “bad” mom and her “bad” kid. This creepy movie is also very moving, so all you sensitive types should prepare yourselves for some waterworks.
The Conjuring 2
Brief summary: In Enfield, England, a single mother of four is terrified when her second oldest child, Janet, begins to sleepwalk and talk to an angry, invisible entity. After the Hodgson family begins experiencing paranormal events, the media interviews Janet and her family, and learns that an angry spirit by the name of Bill Watkins is periodically possessing Janet and trying to reclaim “his” house. With confirmation of the entity, Ed and Lorraine Warren, famous paranormal investigators, arrive in Enfield to assist the Hodgson family.
Why it’s so good: The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 are no doubt well-known films, but what makes the second one really good is its believability. Since the movie is based on the Enfield Poltergeist, a lot of doubt was thrown on whether or not Janet and her sister were just faking the whole thing. This question was investigated in the movie with Ed and Lorraine (and a few other characters) pointing out how Janet could be faking it. The truthfulness of the haunting becomes an important subtheme, one that seems to ask why we, as people, are so quick to judge and discredit individuals who—regardless of whether spirits and demons exist or not—still feel scared and victimized, and still require help.
Genre: Psychological, Stalker/Prey, and Tension Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97 percent
Vinesauce Spooky Advisory System: P Spoopy
Brief Summary: Jay, a normal college student, goes on a date with her boyfriend, Hugh, that ends with some hanky-panky in the backseat. Afterward, Hugh knocks Jay unconscious and, when she awakes, he has tied her up so he can tell her an exceptionally disturbing secret: a strange entity will stalk her until she either passes it on (through intercourse), or it catches and kills her. That’s all I’ll say about this movie because this is one you should really, really watch.
Why it’s so good: I resisted watching It Follows for a long time because I typically don’t like movies that are so in-your-face with the main theme (which, in this case, has to do with sex). When I finally did watch it, I realized that the main theme is super blunt on purpose so you can just focus on how these kids decide to deal with the problem (and really without any adults). What I really enjoyed about It Follows is it has a very lowkey, disturbing way of revealing itself (even when the main antagonist is present, it’s usually walking and not trying to hide itself, which is… somehow worse than it just jumping out at you). The tension in this movie is unreal—so much so that you’ll find yourself jumping at things that aren’t even really that scary—and the ending touches on an important, but very discreet, subtheme about absentee parents, victims of sex crimes, and what happens to young adults who lack much-needed parental support.
Genre: Alien Abduction Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 40 percent
Vinesauce Spooky Advisory System: 2Spooky
Netflix: DVD Rental
Brief summary: Lacy and Daniel Barrett are living in the suburbs with their two sons, Jesse and Sam, when they begin experiencing some bizarre happenings within their home (like hundreds of birds flying directly into the side of their house). Burdened already by their financial problems—as well as being unable, at times, to control their movements and actions—Lacy and Daniel are then accused of abusing their son, Sam. Amid all these real problems is a greater, significantly scarier threat hovering just over their home.
Why it’s so good: I’ll admit I’m slightly biased because I love alien abduction movies, but, unlike most of the awful alien movies out there, which focus too much on the aliens themselves and not on the actual horror of being abducted, Dark Skies weaves a disturbingly dark tale that’s hyper-focused on the family experiencing the phenomena. This movie makes my horror list because of its deeply disturbing final scene. I watched this movie several years ago, but I still get goose bumps when I think about its ending.
Even if aliens aren’t your thing, don’t shy away from this movie. The point of it isn’t to insist there’s life on other planets, but to simply highlight the terror of abduction itself. One of the best aspects of this film is that it reveals a common family dynamic—mom and dad are too focused on their youngest child to even notice what’s happening to the older one.
Genre: Horror Comedy (Gently Satirical)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97 percent
Vinesauce Spooky Advisory System: Spoopy
Brief Summary: Kylie, a would-be thief and drug addict, is sentenced to house arrest under the care of her estranged mother after a botched ATM robbery. Her mother, Miriam, believes the house is haunted, but Kylie, who finds both her mother and step father to be incredibly annoying, remains skeptic even after a disembodied hand grabs her ankle. The officer over Kylie’s house arrest hears about these events and becomes part-paranormal investigator as he, Miriam, and a reluctant Kylie try to figure out what, exactly, is happening in this supposedly haunted home.
Why it’s so good: Housebound gets a rating of “spoopy” because, despite a few scary moments here and there, the movie is decidedly absurd and hilarious. This film, which comes from New Zealand, is brilliant because it takes the old “haunted house” story and puts a surprising, original spin on it that’s both pretty weird and also satirical. If your movie buddy isn’t really into scary stuff, Housebound is a good one to watch (especially if you enjoyed The Cabin in the Woods).
Gentle Gore Warning: Squeamish friends, this movie is satirical and, as a result, there are a few scenes (maybe three or four) in which there is over-the-top, completely ridiculous gore (but no torture, no screaming—nothing like that). Just a little warning for anyone who really, really can’t handle things like spurting blood (or brains).
Genre: Supernatural Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75 percent
Vinesauce Spooky Advisory System: 2Spooky
Netflix: DVD Rental
Brief Summary: Tricia, a very pregnant young woman living in the LA valley, is about to declare her husband, who’s been missing for seven years, dead in absentia. Callie, Tricia’s sister and a recovering drug addict, moves in with Tricia to help her get Daniel’s death certificate and find a new place to live. During her stay, Callie meets a gaunt man in the tunnel by Tricia’s house and, although she’s perplexed as to why the gaunt man is so shocked she can see him, she decides to bring him something to eat. By the time she goes back to the tunnel, the gaunt man is gone, but she leaves the food there, unknowingly making a trade and setting off a series of incredibly bizarre, unexpected events.
Why it’s so good: Absentia, my all-time favorite horror film. This low-budget ($70,000) horror film was one of the first movies by Mike Flanagan, director and writer of Oculus. I’m not sure why, but Absentia isn’t really on anyone’s radar despite it being one of the most original horror films in recent years (right up there with It Follows). What makes this movie so good is both the plainness of its characters and landscape combined with the over-arching question of how people perceive and cope with tragic events. Viewers are allowed to glimpse (along with the characters) other ways in which things could have reasonably happened, which ultimately leaves it up to the audience to decide which “imagined” scenario is actually real. If you like horror movies where, at the end, you can’t be totally sure whether or not something supernatural has happened, Absentia will be a welcome addition to your movie repertoire.
So there you have it. Six movies that are sure to give you the Heebie Jeebies or at least make you want to keep the hall light on when you go to bed.
If you sat down and watched everything, you’re probably totally done with Halloween and scary stuff… at least for now. But if you need something to take your mind off all that nightmare fuel, check out the Christmas section on TopProducts.com and get a jump on your holiday shopping.
August Wright, TopProducts Staff Writer