It’s that time of year again: the time when people who normally wouldn’t watch scary movies do for the sake of Halloween, and subsequently watch a lot of them. Obviously, you can watch any horror movies you want for the occasion and you don’t need to listen to me. Regardless, I’ve prepared this list for people who want a fun horror movie they can watch with a group of friends. I personally like a horror movie with an interesting creature or fun practical effects. For Halloween, you may want the scariest movie possible; personally, I find it hard to be scared watching a movie in a group, and even my favorite horror movies don’t leave me feeling scared. So don’t expect anything particularly recent, or full of jump scares in dark rooms. This list is my personal top picks, based on what I enjoy. Expect something more resembling a childhood Halloween special, but with less childhood.
Number 5: The Frighteners (1996)
A somewhat forgotten early film by Peter Jackson years before the first Lord of the Rings film, The Frighteners is actually not frightening. It’s a horror-comedy that leans more into “comedy with ghosts” than “horror but funny” like Ghostbusters. In this cult film, Michael J Fox plays a conman exorcist. The ghosts are real, they’re just his buddies haunting people so that they’ll hire him to exorcise the ghosts. It’s a pretty traditional structure in which the faker finds himself having to do it for real as a truly dangerous ghost haunts his little town. Overall, this movie isn’t necessarily anything special, but it’s a fun watch that I’ve found entertaining and funny. It’s got a few cameos, such as R Lee Ermey essentially playing the ghost of his character from Full Metal Jacket for laughs, which is admittedly dated. Jeffery Combs plays a very entertaining antagonist, the particular and OCD FBI agent who’s out for Michael J Fox. This movie definitely more on the family viewing end of the spectrum, and is likely the best choice for people who really don’t like horror movies.
Number 4: Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Nightmare on Elm Street, despite the fact that I would consider it less entertaining than The Frighteners, makes it to fourth place. One of the biggest names in Halloween horror, this franchise has gone the ropes for a reason. Freddy Kreuger, and Michael Rooker playing him, brings a lot of personality to the film. He toys with his victims, including Johnny Depp’s first major character. Nightmare on Elm Street exemplifies what I would call fun horror. It’s not necessarily scary anymore, but it’s still quite entertaining. You have Freddy slowly working his way into the other characters’ heads, and some very creative kills, with good visuals and fun practical effects. I might be giving this film more credit than others would because those effects really win a lot of points with me, but I think anyone can appreciate some of the iconic kills. And this movie really is iconic. Freddy Kreuger is one of the biggest names in horror villains almost 40 years later, and the “Freddy Rhyme”–you know you know it–is still famous. I don’t want to give any spoilers so that tension can be allowed to build normally, but I just think this movie is a solidly crafted and very well executed slasher/horror film.
Number 3: Halloween (1978)
One of these movies had to make it onto this list–it’s the name of the franchise! And for me, it’s gotta be the original. The progenitor of the slasher genre, John Carpenter’s Halloween holds up well. Michael Myers is intimidating and grounded, at least if you haven’t seen too many of the sequels or remakes or reboots or reboot sequels. The franchise has indeed become bloated, but this first film still works. It might not be as scary in the age of the smartphone when your phone line can’t be cut and doors are locked more often than not, but the craft of the film and the build-up to the ending are still very well done. Most of the film builds up to the night of Halloween when Michael does what he does best. But even then he can be found in a lot of shots, lurking in the background, or even obscured in the foreground. John Carpenter’s classic score really rounds out the movie, and the climax has you genuinely concerned for the characters. This movie might be a little less interesting for someone who’s seen a lot of slasher films; as compared to later franchises that built up character and gimmicks to stand out, Halloween might feel stripped down. But for me, that simplicity is part of the appeal. The creators knew what they were capable of, and what really mattered. Everything the movie needs to work is there.
Number Two: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Spoiler Alert: it was not “final.”
The Final Chapter was where the iconic Friday the 13th franchise really hit its stride. Before we hit the 2010s and movies like The Conjuring came out, or at least when I was a youngin’ in little kids’ school, this was THE name in horror, slashers, and Halloween. Everyone knows the infamous Jason and his hockey mask–and for a reason. Once upon a time, these films were among the most shocking things film audiences had seen. Of course, you’ve been able to see far worse on TV for decades now. And this movie was never really scary. It was violent, but not necessarily horror. These movies are about Jason mindlessly murdering campers, hopefully in creative and entertaining ways, and this one checks those boxes. It has great practical effects, stunts, and kills, meaning that The Final Chapter is a great fun time for Halloween (unless you’re squeamish, or value human life all that highly). The movie is about murder and slaughter, but it’s not real so it’s ok. And I mean that. I enjoy it largely for the craft, and Tom Savini’s practical effects and makeup in this movie are still some of the best. Everything is fairly simple and brutal, but it still works. It’s overall pretty convincing, without going so far that it becomes genuinely disgusting. Whereas Nightmare is interesting because of its creativity, Friday is fun because it’s the opposite direction. Even simpler than Halloween, Jason just brutally murders teenagers and some others with whatever he’s got on hand. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but this is the sort of movie you can easily watch in a group without paying too much attention.
Number 1: Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
Okay, okay, I’m kidding. This movie is awesome and just stupid. I love it, but it’s a complete farce. Which is actually why I love it. It doesn’t even really pretend to be a scary movie and instead is more of an action-comedy using the two horror icons. It’s a wild ride and is absolutely nuts in the funniest way. It’s one of those movies where I’m not sure if I’m meant to be laughing, I just know that I am. I certainly recommend it, but it’s not actually number one on this list.
Number 1 (really): Scream (1996)
Finally, we have one of my personal favorite horror movies. Wes Craven’s Scream is almost the opposite of Halloween on this list. Instead of the first, and a fairly basic, slasher, Scream was well after the golden age of slasher movies and incredibly referential. The iconic line “What’s your favorite scary movie?” really sums up this element of the film. The movie delivers on the slasher promise by tying it into the plot with multiple characters referencing what characters in a slasher movie would do. As a bit of a movie nerd, Scream is an amazing watch. Several characters are themselves film nerds, and unlike zombie movies where characters frustratingly don’t know or understand what is going on, Scream instead leans into that trope. This makes a uniquely fun and meta experience that peaks when the characters watch Halloween while a killing happens nearby. Don’t worry, that’s not all the film delivers on. There are several kills over the course of the film, and they’re pretty entertaining. Describing them wouldn’t do justice, and besides, I’d rather not spoil them for anyone. The characters are largely fun and entertaining, and few are even fully believable. My favorite element of the film, which may surprise you, is the action. Almost every kill and a few near misses feature chases, and these are just excellent. The people being chased are able to fight back, and the killer is very believably human. These chase scenes build tension because you know the killer has the upper hand, but not so much that the character being chased has no chance. And the stunts in the chases are top-notch, quick, heavy, and brutal. And finally, the killer features Shaggy from runner up Scooby-Doo: Monster Unleashed, as a high schooler before those movies came out.
All movies listed here can be rented from Amazon Prime.