Top 10 Films to Watch on Halloween

Strange Main singer and songwriter Mackenzie Nicole shares her Top Ten Picks for Halloween Viewing.

As a committed horror fanatic, I was both thrilled and challenged when Famadillo enlisted me to discern the top 10 best scary movies to watch this Halloween. After much consideration to the classics, notable up-and-comers, obscure gems, and everything in between, the following are (in no particular order) my suggestions for this Halloween’s movie marathon (or, if you’re like me, a pick-me-up watch for any day of the year).

Happy Halloween,

1. The Invitation

My absolute favorite contemporary thriller and a truly unsung hero of the genre, The Invitation is a 2015 American beauty that redefined my standard for thrillers. The film follows an unpredictable night in the life of our aloof but sympathetic lead, Will, after he receives an unexpected dinner party invitation from his estranged ex-wife, which he attends with his new girlfriend. What starts as an intimate, somewhat normal get-together with friends, old and new, evolves from casual to palpably awkward to subtly sinister, with little time to discern what exactly is unraveling until it’s too late. The viewer will be forced to try to distinguish truth from paranoia until they find themselves feeling just as gaslighted as Will himself.

One of the unusual merits of the film is its ability to be simultaneously predictable yet compelling. Most endearing is the startling realism that leaves the viewer chilled to the bone after the screen fades to black. The shock value in this picture is derived not from the exploitation of gore (as is the case with many horror films), but the suspense of the plot itself, which is inarguably respectable. This movie also boasts my all-time favorite death scene, a high compliment coming from me. While The Invitation is certainly not everyone’s flavor, it definitely ranks in my top three favorite films of all time, so I invite you to give it a chance and decide for yourself.

2. The Thing

Another classic from back when horror movies were about plot instead of grotesque shock value. John Carpenter’s 1982 sci-fi marvel follows a research team in Antarctica subjected to unfathomable horror when they take in a wild wolf fleeing what seem to be madmen from another research team. It isn’t until later that the men realize something doomful has infiltrated the base. The Thing proves that the greatest horrors sometimes lie within. But, the burning question is, “Within who?”

3. The entire Saw franchise (except Jigsaw)

Alright, get ready for a highly controversial take―James Wan’s Saw movies are my favorite modern horror franchise. Yes, the plot admittedly seems to value complexity over comprehensibility, but we all know that people generally watch Saw for exactly one thing―extreme gore. Like, exceptionally disgusting, horrifying, nauseating gore.

Basically, for those who might not be aware of the exact storyline, the Saw movies detail the gruesome work of the Jigsaw Killer, a puzzling entity dedicated to executing devious “games” designed to impart a twisted sense of gratitude in individuals he believes to be wasting their precious time in this life. Because, when the stakes are life and death, one tends to have a new lease on life when (or, rather, if) one survives.

If you are not a gore person, do not even attempt to watch these films. However, if you think you can stomach 8 hours and 41 minutes of straight torture, I highly recommend binge-watching, paying close attention so that the somewhat confusing overall narrative isn’t completely lost on you. While the horror community tends to sell the franchise short, I will defend Saw to the death (except for Jigsaw, a poorly executed attempted revival of a seven-years-dormant franchise that should’ve stayed retired) (seriously, I’m begging you to skip Jigsaw).

4. Tusk

Please, don’t hate me. I honestly didn’t even want to suggest this, because anyone who watches Tusk after reading this will definitely hate me. Actually, this is less a suggestion and more of a warning―only watch Tusk as a last resort when you’re absolutely desensitized to all forms of emotion and just need to feel something (even if that “something” is repulsion and disturbia). I will never look at walruses the same ever again. Good luck. I’m sorry.

5. The Shining & Doctor Sleep

If you’ve read a “Top 10” I’ve written or any interview I’ve done ever, this item on the list should come as absolutely no surprise, as I find a way to plug The Shining any chance I get. This was my very first scary movie at age 12 after a lifetime of very sheltered TV- and film viewing, thus making this movie my initiation into horror fandom. If you haven’t seen this timeless Kubrick-directed masterpiece, I’m seriously questioning the life you’ve led thus far, as I wholeheartedly believe this is one of those must-watch-before-you-die movies.

When writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) takes up the opportunity to maintain the Overlook Hotel in the isolated resort’s offseason, bringing along his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and their gifted (or cursed?) 5-year-old son Danny, what may at first seem like a dire case of cabin fever slowly but surely reveals the Overlook to be a house (or hotel, rather) of absolute horrors. While Stephen King (who inspired the film with his novel of the same name) personally hated Kubrick’s adaptation, it became a staple in not only the horror/thriller genre but film at large as an unnerving slow burn riddled with iconicism (“Here’s Johnny!”).

Dr. Sleep

Now, considering how high the bar was set by the original The Shining of 1980, I was horrified to find out that this most beloved favorite of mine was going to become a franchise with Mike Flanagan’s 2019 sequel Doctor Sleep (inspired by yet another Stephen King namesake). I feared the legacy of The Shining would be tarnished as so many greats are when a sequel is unnecessarily produced. However, after seeing the film in theaters immediately following its release, I can confidently say that if any film could competently follow up The Shining, it’s Doctor Sleep. A now-adult Danny Torrance struggles to cope with a past that he can’t seem to put to rest, and I would even dare to say that one could thoroughly hate The Shining and still love Doctor Sleep independently. If that isn’t a testament to this film’s autonomous artistry, I don’t know what is.

6. Creep & Creep 2

I’m not really a found footage type of gal, but the Creep movies are definite exceptions. When an amateur videographer answers an online ad for a remote gig recording the final messages of a dying man, what originally seems like an innocent (if tragic) encounter with a kindly stranger quickly takes a number of unsettling turns. While I will openly admit that a few plot points were very evidently an attempt at viewer discomfort over quality plot (some turns even blatantly bad and tactless), the overall film impresses me most in its unrivaled ability to tastefully pepper subtle comic relief into an otherwise highly uncomfortable watch. Both films are, as the name implies, creepy, and are a quick fix for a scary movie itch.

7. Coraline

Okay, Coraline isn’t a horror movie, but it’s creepy enough to warrant placement on this list. This film is visually stunning, and I genuinely believe that it is so gorgeous that one could watch it on mute and still be captivated. While one might write this stop-motion animation off as mere child’s play, I implore you to consider what Coraline herself discovers ― not everything is always as it seems.

When 11-year-old Coraline moves into The Pink Palace, an extensive and aptly-named 150-year-old mansion divided into apartments, with her ever-preoccupied parents, she finds herself left to her own devices, adventuring unusual surroundings and meeting peculiar neighbors, including the landlady’s grandson Wybie. Wybie is seemingly the only other child around (a phenomenon that is perhaps intentional, as he informs Coraline that not even he is allowed to live at The Pink Palace because his grandmother deemed it unsafe for children after her twin sister mysteriously disappeared when she was a little girl).

After all this exploring, Coraline still finds herself entirely alone in her new home…until she finds a mysterious package on her front doorstep with a note from Wybie claiming that he found the contents in his grandmother’s old trunk. Coraline unwraps the mysterious parcel to find a doll of herself complete with her exact features and buttons for eyes. Intrigued, Coraline embarks on yet another day of dreary discovery, this time accompanied by her miniature companion. This time, unlike the day prior, Coraline’s afternoon takes an unexpected turn after she finds a tiny locked door hidden under the living room wallpaper. Sadly, Coraline’s excitement is quickly curbed after the door is opened to reveal the passageway had been bricked up and rendered untravellable long ago.

Coraline resigns herself to disappointment…until she jolts awake in the middle of the night and eventually finds herself inspecting the tiny door once more, this time happening upon something much more fascinating and frightening than a brick wall―an entranceway to the Other World, a dimension familiar yet dissimilar that just might be too good to be true.

8. Se7en

David Fincher’s star-studded “neo-noir psychological crime thriller” Se7en (boasting Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, and Gwyneth Paltrow, to name a few) follows the investigation of a string of crimes unlike any other―morbidly inventive murders executed by a twisted killer whose grisly work is inspired by the seven deadly sins. Se7en breaks the mold for your standard “catch me if you can” crime drama, garnering most of its merit, in my opinion, from wickedly ingenious murder plots that remain unrivaled to this day, a quarter-century after the film’s release. I’ve seen just about every on-screen death ever filmed, and I was truly astonished at every turn of this highly suspenseful fictitious game of cat-and-mouse. This imaginative must-see will leave you wondering “what’s in the box” long after the credits roll.

9. Mother!

My constitution is tenacious and my sensibilities rather calloused, and still I must confess that mother! is the most disturbing thing I have ever seen. This Darren Aronofsky’s “love it or hate it” psychological horror, haunts me to my core years after first seeing it, yet I can’t stop rewatching it.

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem bring to life a couple living a fairly tranquil existence in a remote country home that is disturbed by the arrival of a strange couple that sets off a series of events quickly progressing from distressing to terrifying. What is most petrifying about the film is the paradox of surreal realism, for while the ending may seem almost incredulously far-fetched out of context, the plot arc develops in such a way that each twist and turn feels less like a reach and more like a natural and realistic extension from one moment to the next, leaving the viewer with a sickening sense that the horrors unfolding before them might not be that implausible.

Be warned that mother! observes no ethics or decency, crossing lines many would never consider, making the film unforgettable, however much one might wish to unsee it. I would be remiss to fail in recommending a post-watch deep dive into critical reviews of the film and its symbolism. A number of writers have formulated very compelling theories and analyses that might fascinate you into revisiting mother! to originate your own hypotheses.

10. The Haunting of Hill House (I know it’s not a movie, but it must be mentioned)

Breaking the rules and adding a TV show to the list because The Haunting of Hill House is just that good. Again, if you’ve read my other Famadillo writing, you’ll recognize this as another one of those recurring guests on my Top 10 lists, because Hill House was/is pretty much the only quality scare I’ve had in years, and it just gets better with every rewatch.

The Haunting of Hill House, an incredibly well-written and -acted supernatural horror drama reimagining Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel of the same name, artfully pieces together the insidious childhood that produced the five now-adult Cain siblings now forced to reunite when tragedy befalls them, resurrecting the traumas of their childhood that never really were laid to rest in the first place.

Horror movies generally fall somewhere on the spectrum between junk food (low quality but satisfying) to fine dining (impressive but rare). With virtually no gore and a very intentionally constructed plot, Hill House tastefully qualifies as the latter. That being said, Hill House is not best experienced when regarded as an easy watch. This may scare off the more passive viewer, but let me assure you that, unlike many films/shows that claim to necessitate your undivided concentration, Hill House is actually more entertaining the more you pay attention. The subtleties and Easter Eggs nestled into every episode make it worth your time and energy on the first watch, second watch, and every watch after.

Stream the latest album by Mackenzie Nicole, Mystic, here