Staff Picks: Our Favorite Halloween Films

Happy Halloween! In the latest edition of our staff picks series, we choose our favorite scary (and some not-so-scary) films in time for All Hallows’ Eve. If you’ve ever wondered how the Olsen twins and Satan could end up the same list, read on.

Maggie Ardiente, Senior Editor,

I’m a bit of a grinch about Halloween–I avoid the anxiety of dressing up in costume, I don’t enjoy the thrill of haunted houses, and I’m easily scared, even by fake spider webs. Obviously, this means I never watch horror movies. The last horror movie I saw–two decades ago–that put me off the film genre forever was Killer Klowns from Outer Space. There’s a scene where a horrific snake-shaped clown head emerges from a toilet–imagine being a kid keeping the door open every time you used the bathroom! That was me for weeks.

Jennifer Bardi, Senior Editor,

My favorite spooky Halloween movie is the 1932 cult classic Freaks, about sideshow circus performers who take revenge on the beautiful trapeze artist when they discover she’s duped their fellow freak, Hans. Director Tod Browning used real sideshow and vaudeville performers as his main characters, including the half woman-half man, conjoined twins, the human torso, and “pinheads” (people with microencephaly) named Schitze, Zip, and Pip. The freaks (a term embraced by the sideshow community) are mesmerizing and you feel real sympathy for them as human beings who are treated as outcasts and oddities by society. But then comes the final scene which is…just plain FREAKY.

Rachael Berman, Grassroots Coordinator:

My favorite Halloween movie is definitely the Olsen twins’ Double, Double, Toil and Trouble. Being a 90’s kid, I can never get enough of the Olsen twins. I still own the movie on VHS and I have made it a tradition to watch it every single year on Halloween.

Peter Bjork, Managing Editor,

When it comes to horror movies, I usually love movie trailers and then never follow through on seeing the full film. When I was in college, however, a friend of mine screened Session 9 for a small group without telling us anything about it. At face value, it doesn’t look like much: a low-budget independent film featuring B-list actors speaking in terribly-forced Boston accents playing members of a cleaning crew removing asbestos from an abandoned mental asylum. But once the crew goes about their work in the decrepit, cavernous space, someone discovers a stash of chilling audio recordings of a schizophrenic former pateint’s therapy sessions. As we learn more about the asylum’s past, we see the crew gradually begin to lose all sense of reality and turn on each other. Without gore or monsters or ghosts or gimicks, Session 9 horrifyingly chronicles how people can go absolutely insane. It has stuck with me for years, though I’ve never been able to watch it again.

Fred Edwords, Director of Planned Giving:

My selection is called Nightlife and was released on television in 1989. It was later available in VHS format and can be found illicitly broken up into nine parts on YouTube, starting with part one below. Rated PG-13, it stars Ben Cross and Maryam D’Abo. In some ways it’s your typical vampire story, with all the usual thrills. But the unique angle is its tongue-in-cheek attempt to offer a plausible naturalistic explanation for vampirism, including answering such pesky questions as why vampires are harmed by sunlight but not artificial light and why they need human blood but can’t thrive on what’s in blood banks.

Meghan Hamilton, Development & Social Media Assistant:

The Exorcist. It’s still super scary and it changed horror films forever. America completely freaked out when this was released.

Jason Heap, UnitedCoR Coordinator:

Murder By Death is my favorite. Whoever was able to collect the stellar performances by a line-up of some of the biggest names in cinema at the time was a genius! Who could imagine Alec Guinness, Truman Capote, Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith, Peter Falk, Eileen Brennan, and the gentleman David Niven all contributing to celluloid history? When the celebrated wordsmith Oscar Wilde wrote in The Canterville Ghost, “We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language,” I doubt he could foresee a situation spooky comedy that would draw on the talent from both sides of the Atlantic. The plot of this film is certainly predictable but the individual styles of the actresses and actors shine through.

Cindy Le, Member Services Assistant:

My favorite horror movie is The Shining. I love Stephen King’s books and even though I think Stanley Kubrick’s film does not hold a candle to the book (as is usually the case), it is still an incredible movie in its own right and has scenes that scare me to this day. The idea of cabin fever in a hotel with a violent past makes for a really scary setting that would make anyone uncomfortable. Also unlike most horror movies, the main antagonist is not a supernatural creature (although there are some supernatural things happening in the film) but instead is the husband driven mad by the hotel. Jack Nicholson plays the role of the husband to perfection and creates one of the most memorable scenes in horror movie history.

Merrill Miller, Communications Associate:

My pick is The Devil’s Carnival. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, the man behind several films in the Saw franchise, this independent, macabre musical follows three sinners into hell, portrayed as a giant circus, where they are confronted with the flaws that caused their downfalls. Each main character is challenged by creepy carnies to overcome his or her faults and, failing to learn a moral lesson, faces an eternity of torture. Despite its religious premise, The Devil’s Carnival actually encourages the viewer to relate to Lucifer, criticize God, and question Christian concepts like “sin,” “hell,” “heaven,” “good” and “evil.” I’m not usually a fan of horror, but the catchy songs lighten the film’s dark mood, though it’s also sinister enough to satisfy viewers who prefer scarier movies.

David Niose, AHLC Legal Director:

This one’s my favorite not because I actually like it, but because it brings back a good memory: As a kid the only horror movies I had watched were the old-time black-and-white vampire and mummy movies that aired on local television–usually on Friday night under the banner “Creature Feature.” These films weren’t very scary–they had lousy special effects and predictable story lines–but they entertained kids like me. So one night as a teenager, I didn’t think much of it when a friend suggested that we go see a new movie that had just been released called Halloween. Having seen lots of so-called horror movies on TV, we figured it would be fun to go see one at the cinema. We had no idea what awaited us. We sat in the front row, and from the moment the film started–with the music, the suspense, and the gruesome violence–both my friend and I were on the edge of our seats. We were terrified pretty much from start to finish, frozen in fear but then jumping back whenever Michael Myers unexpectedly lurched and slashed. We dreaded that he might pop out of a closet, we screamed along with his victims, and we turned our heads and cringed at the gore. For two kids who had seen nothing but lame Dracula and Godzilla movies, it was sheer horror. Of course, when we got back to school the next week, we only told our friends how “cool” the movie was.