The Ultimate Halloween Movie Guide (Organized by Thrill Threshold)
The onset of a new season brings more than just a change in weather. With the cool breeze comes some of the best fall recipes and super-cozy interiors we all want to snuggle up in, but there’s one thing we really love about this time of year: Halloween. As the days get shorter (and darker), the nights get creepier, and we’re all in the mood for a scary movie marathon. So to get you in the spooky spirit, we rounded up all the freaky flicks to watch with friends or your S.O. But these aren’t your regular family-friendly Netflix movies; it’s a whole other level of scare factor. What gives one person nightmares is child’s play to another, and while we know sleep is important, so is having Halloween fun.
So how do you find a film that suits everyone’s scare tolerance? We curated a guide to mediate the movie-selection process (which can cause arguments as violent as the horror films themselves) and organized them by fear threshold. There are seven different levels in order from lighthearted to horrifying (although once you get the past level three, you're pretty much signing up for sheer panic). Are you ready for this?
Hey there, Peter Pan! Do you like Halloween because of pumpkin-carving parties and cute kids trick-or-treating but hate the holiday’s association with all things scary? Watching horror films is a Halloween staple you shouldn’t miss out on. If you’re a 3-year-old or an adult with a low fear threshold and a soft spot for childhood throwbacks, opt for these movies intended for kids. Don’t tell anyone we said this, but they’re arguably even more fun to watch.
Halloweentown: A quintessential early 2000s Disney movie about a town where it's Halloween all year round
Hocus Pocus: Here's another Disney classic starring Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker as the world's funniest witches, complete with teen romance, drama, and some Massachusetts fall vibes.
The Witches: This Roald Dahl adaptation is an imaginative tale about a little boy whose vacation gets a dramatic twist when he finds out there's a witch convention happening at his hotel.
If you're outspoken when it comes to expressing your cinematic musings but not as fearless in the realm of guts and gore, you're in the right place. This roundup includes more experimental films, so they aren't quite as creepy as others on our list. Plus, if you're partial to these artier films, you're also probably more likely to press pause every two seconds to share your theories and critiques with your seat mate, allowing you to cool off between scenes, which inevitably brings the fear level down several notches.
Mulholland Drive: Here's a David Lynch must-see about an actress and an amnesiac. It's also a Los Angeles noir comprised of a series of vignettes that create an interesting, temporally fragmented structure.
Black Swan: This star-studded movie (Natalie Portman and Winona Ryder, to name a couple) is about the underworld of the dance industry, beauty standards, and sanity.
The Neon Demon: Starring Elle Fanning, this visually stunning movie is exactly what you'd expect from Nicolas Winding Refn, the director who brought you Drive, in a horror-meets-fashion film. It's about a beautiful, vulnerable young girl in Hollywood and errs on the side of absurd.
To get a thrill without an excess of surprise murder scenes, drawn-out gore, and loud noises, stick with psychological thrillers. This genre is perfect for those of you seeking a fright to haunt you primarily on an intellectual level. They're more disturbing and creepy than plain scary and tend to feature untrustworthy narrators or subliminal plot lines inviting you to decide what's really going on.
American Psycho: What does a serial-killing yuppie with a dry sense of humor yield? Patrick Bateman will make you laugh, cry, scream, and analyze consumer culture.
The Uninvited: This one is about a young girl adjusting to life after a stay in a mental institution following her mother's death.
The Invitation: Nobody likes dinner parties that require awkward mingling and bad food, but I'd prefer that to murder, cults, and a crazy ex-partner.The whole film takes place within a single night, and the viewer isn't quite sure who to trust. It has a slow build.
Sweet treats to snack on
If you’re a creature of habit looking to start some new traditions that involve getting thoroughly freaked out, welcome to level four. Also, once you watch these routinely (on a yearly basis, since that's about all a tender heart can take), you'll know what's coming next. Without the element of surprise, they aren't too scary.
The Sixth Sense: If you haven't seen this Bruce Willis classic about a child psychologist treating a creepy kid who sees dead people, stop everything you're doing and watch it now.
Psycho: This Alfred Hitchcock movie is famous for its shower scene when a woman is stabbed with a butcher knife. You know the one.
The Shining: A haunted hotel in the middle of nowhere, a snowstorm, a family torn apart, "red rum" written on the mirror in blood… If you want to enjoy all of the horror archetypes in one movie, this is your best bet.
Brave-hearted Halloween die-hards, this is your dream team scary movie lineup. We’re talking all the tropes in one place: haunted houses, creepy kids, doomed teenagers, and unexpected, loud noises. These are perfect for Halloween because of the supernatural element, and they're guaranteed to give you a solid scare.
The Witch: As the title implies, it's about a witch. Beyond that, it's a period piece, portraying early America and a young woman as she witnesses her family fall apart because of something lurking in the woods.
The Babadook: I'm convinced that the terrifying (and very talented) little boy in this movie is Shelley Duvall from The Shining. Similar to The Sixth Sense, in that the mother and son are both afraid of each other and the supernatural and empirical become indistinguishable, this film is unique in that it revolves around a spooky storybook.
Nosferatu: An oldie but a goodie, this is the OG vampire film. If it isn't scary enough for you, try the 1979 remake.
Sometimes reality is scarier than anything we can make up. If you’re a true-crime trivia nut who spends your downtime requesting changes on Wikipedia pages about notorious murder mysteries, it’s time to give those phalanges a rest from typing and opt for a scary movie based on a true story instead.
Monster: Based on the infamous female serial murderer Aileen Wuornos, this is a chilling, well-made narrative. Pardon the pun, but Charlize Theron does a killer job in this portrayal.
Zodiac: This is based on a serial killer who terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s. He or she was never caught, which adds to the panic you'll feel while watching.
From Hell: Another good movie about a serial killer who was never caught, this film portrays Victorian-era London and stars Johnny Depp as Jack the Ripper. Talk about dangerously good-looking.
Alright, so you think you’ve seen it all? You haven’t. And after sleepless nights thanks to these movies, I wish I could say the same. For those of you truly ready to see some scary things on screen, I admire you, but I'm not one of you, so I'll let these movies speak for themselves. They're something you'll need to see for yourself to believe.
Goodnight Mommy: This is another slow-building horror film with subtitles, but if you stick with it, I promise it's worth the terrifying wait. (I had to shut my eyes and ask my seat meat to narrate the last 15 minutes for me.) There's a mom-turned-monster from plastic surgery, twin motifs, and torture scenes.
Se7en: What keeps me up at night? This clever but absolutely sickening story about a serial killer who targets victims that represent the seven deadly sins.
A Tale of Two Sisters: Inspired by a South Korean folk tale, this horror film about two sisters coping with an evil stepmother makes the Brother Grimm's fairytales look mild.
Which scary movies do you plan on watching, and are there any we should add to this list? Fill us in before your start the viewing party!