What could be better than a scary movie on a chilly October night? How about a movie that ups the autumnal ante by being set on or near Halloween, the spookiest night of the year?
As you might expect, there are plenty of horror movies set on Halloween—as well as some other seasonal favorites that are only tangential to the horror genre, such as Hocus Pocus—but there might also be some films that you weren’t expecting to come crawling out of their graves this October. After all, not every movie set on or around Halloween is covered in grinning pumpkins and ghoulish costumes. In fact, significant parts of some classics like The Exorcist, The Changeling, and The Amityville Horror take place on the holiday.
We won’t be listing those, though. To qualify for this list, the film in question not only has to take place on or around All Hallows’ Eve, it also has to capture some measure of the festive spirit of the holiday—whether that means changing leaves, haunted houses, costumes, parties, or flickering jack o’ lanterns. If you’re in need of something to stream tonight to get you in the spooky spirit, these Halloween horror movies are guaranteed to do the job…
John Carpenter’s slasher classic may be the Halloween movie—it’s right there in the name, after all. Measured and atmospheric, few films do a better job of capturing the feel of a Halloween afternoon as it drifts on toward evening—even if it was actually shot in California, where all the trees were still green and the dead leaves had to be scattered on the ground between takes. If you’ve already seen the original, the sequels and remakes all take place on the holiday, too. We’re particularly fond of oddball series entry Halloween III: Season of the Witch.
All Hallows’ Eve (2013)
There's no night more dangerous for a babysitter than Halloween, and this 2013 film proves that Michael Myers isn't the only one those vulnerable teens need to worry about. On Halloween night, a babysitter and the two children she's taking care of find a strange, unmarked VHS tape in one of the trick-or-treat bags. Together they set out to watch the tape, which contains three gruesome stories featuring the murderous Art the Clown. This one is certainly not for the faint of heart.
Pet Sematary (2019)
Based on the Steph King book of the same name, this 2019 film touches on Halloween far more than the 1989 original. This haunting holiday adds an extra unsettling tone to a deeply devastating tale of familial horror. After Dr. Louis Creed and his family move to rural Maine, their simple life begins to be derailed by the shocking death of the family cat. But a mysterious burial ground hidden in the depths of the woods changes everything. When another tragedy strikes, the Creeds will soon find that there are worse things than being dead.
Idle Hands (1999)
Looking for horror with a little bit of levity? This black comedy horror film is great for fans of irreverent "stoner" flicks. Teenage slacker Anton Tobias (Devon Sawa) finds himself in a world of trouble when his right hand becomes possessed and sets out on a killing spree. With the help of his crush (Jessica Alba), his zombified best friends (Seth Green and Elden Henson), and a druidic high priestess (Vivica A. Fox), Anton tries to set things right.
Night of the Demons (1988)
Kevin Tenney’s delightfully schlocky take on the Evil Dead formula is probably as close as you can come to a cinematic evocation of attending a crappy Halloween party in a haunted funeral home. It’s got scream queen Linnea Quigley and an infamous lipstick scene. It’s got plenty of haunted house shenanigans and demonic possessions, weird teens, and awkward, slangy conversations. And it’s also got an extended dance sequence performed to a song by Bauhaus. What more could you ask for from your Halloween party?
The Guest (2014)
Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, the director/writer duo behind You’re Next, bring us one of the most unexpected Halloween horror classics of the past decade—with able help from actor Dan Stevens. When a stranger named David shows up on the doorstep of the Peterson family, claiming to have served alongside their son who died in combat, neither the family nor the audience can imagine how his presence will ultimately reshape their lives. Apocryphally inspired by a double-feature of Halloween and The Terminator, that may be all you need to know to convince you to watch The Guest this October.
What’s Halloween without a haunted attraction or two? In this short, sharp flick, a group of friends go to an “extreme” haunted house that promises to exploit their darkest fears…and may be more than any of them bargained for. Come for the slasher spectacle, stay for the really cool masks that were designed for the denizens of the titular haunt. This flick became Shudder’s most-watched movie premiere of 2019 when it was released on the platform after making its world premiere at FrightFest.
The Houses October Built (2014)
Speaking of haunted attractions, this found footage flick follows another group of friends, this time road tripping cross country to visit the scariest haunted attractions they can find and recording their experiences. Of course, this being a horror movie, they find themselves pursued by sinister individuals with more on their minds than a few harmless Halloween pranks in this low-budget hit that also spawned a 2017 sequel.
Sure, all of Creepshow isn’t set on Halloween—in fact, one segment is memorably set on Father’s Day—but the wraparound story of this classic anthology flick, which combines the talents of George Romero and Stephen King for the first time, takes place near Halloween. Complete with an appearance by Tom Atkins as a toxic, comic-hating dad, the whole affair provides perfect spooky season viewing…
Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
While all of Creepshow might not be set on Halloween night, all of the intertwining stories that make up Trick ‘r Treat definitely are. And there may be no movie on this list that better captures the magic of Halloween—at all the various ages at which we experience it—than Michael Dougherty’s directorial debut, which also introduces us to Sam, the diminutive and diabolical seasonal mascot that we never knew we needed.
Curse of the Demon (1957)
Also known as Night of the Demon, this black-and-white British shocker from director Jacques Tourneur (Cat People) is a classic spooky story adapted from the writings of M. R. James. Taking place in the days and nights leading up to Halloween, it boasts one of the best demons ever put on film. Plus, there’s plenty of ominous shadows as only Tourneur could pull off.
Ginger Snaps (2000)
What’s a high school werewolf movie about the bond between sisters without a climax that takes place during a Halloween party? Whatever it is, it isn’t Ginger Snaps, the touching, poignant, darkly comedic, and bloody-as-hell lycanthropy classic from our neighbors to the north that spawned a minor franchise in the early aughts.
Halloween plays a big part in this strange, sad, ultimately bloody tale of an ostracized girl (played to the absolute hilt by Angela Bettis) who struggles to find regular friends—so she makes her own! The solo directorial debut of Lucky McKee (The Woman), many still consider this the macabre indie director’s best film.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)
Produced by Guillermo del Toro and directed by André Øvredal (Trollhunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe), this adaptation of the book series by Alvin Scwhartz that traumatized children the world over opens on Halloween night in 1968. It has all the autumnal spookiness of a familiar ghost story told around the fire, the flashlight held up under one’s chin…
The Barn (2016)
A low-rent throwback to the golden days of direct-to-video VHS horror, The Barn is set on Halloween night in 1989 and brilliantly captures the atmosphere of the campy slasher flicks of yesteryear. Funded via Kickstarter, this independent feature may not have the budget or polish of some of the other flicks on this list, but it more than makes up for that with heart—and buckets of low-budget gore!
The Witching Season (2015)
Not technically a movie, the five segments of The Witching Season came to life as a web series before streaming on platforms like Amazon Prime. The longest of the episodes is 31 minutes, the shortest a mere nine, and several are set on Halloween. For a seasonal treat, watch all five in a row and consider it a short holiday anthology film. Bonus points for the fact that the series’ throwback opening credits evoke the season better than most whole movies can manage.