As the type of person more likely to be indoors than out, I often find myself on Halloween or one of the nights close to it watching a movie with family or friends, and as a coward who has a general dislike of conventional modern horror the list of movies to choose from that still fit the Halloween spirit can be somewhat limited. In order to prepare myself and help others in the same predicament, I’ve scoured Netflix for its best seasonal fare and come up with a list of its best candidates.
The list starts off strong with a movie that is much more goofy comedy than it is horror. Although the Goosebumps books did scare me as a kid, the 2015 Goosebumps is similar to those stories only in that it pays homage to them in the monsters that appear in it and to its author, although I’m not sure whether or not I would consider being played by Jack Black as an homage. Despite this, the movie manages to be genuinely funny at times, and even if it sometimes resorts to making groan-inducing puns they were made all the more entertaining by watching Jack Black interact with a ventriloquist dummy that he also voices. The plot was a bit weak at times, and overall this movie is not even necessarily what I would consider a good movie, but it was one that I enjoyed nonetheless and would recommend to any family spending time together on Halloween night. For those looking for a more scary and faithful adaptation of R.L. Stine’s stories, five seasons of the 1998 television series are also on Netflix, but as the theme song states, “viewer beware, you’re in for a scare.”
Stranger Things (2016)
While not a movie, Stranger Things embodies some of the things I look for in spooky shows or films such as interesting characters, a compelling and mysterious plot, and a pervading sense of horror that relies on atmosphere rather than jump scares. This series about the investigation into the disappearance of a young boy and the subsequent supernatural events is what convinced me of how good a Netflix original could be, and now’s an especially good time to catch up on Stranger Things since the second season will be coming to Netflix on October 27. The continuation itself will take place around the Halloween of 1984 and will detail the aftermath of Will’s experience in another world, the deaths of other characters, and Joyce’s new romance. This entry is more time consuming than the other items on the list just by virtue of it being a series rather than a movie, but it’s time that would be well invested for those interested in an investigative drama with horror and supernatural elements.
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Young Frankenstein has the least horror elements of all of the entries here, but as a parody of a classic horror film I figured that it deserved a spot alongside other movies appropriate for the Halloween season. Directed by the infamous Mel Brooks and starring Gene Wilder, who also appears in Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, this movie has won a plethora of awards and has even been recognized as “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the United States National Film Preservation Board. While hilarious, the film also remains surprisingly faithful to conventions of the 30’s era of earlier Frankenstein films both in terms of visual effects and music. Of course, the plot in this movie is mostly a vehicle to deliver jokes and comedic situations, but these remain entertaining enough throughout the whole film that the mostly recycled Frankenstein plot is more than enough.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
This combination between the production and writing of Tim Burton and the development by Disney resulted in something that took a little bit of the best of both worlds: A spooky stop-motion musical written by and starring Danny Elfman. For those unaware, Tim Burton being a fan of the new wave / ska band Oingo Boingo resulted in its frontman Danny Elfman writing the score for every single one of Burton’s movies except for three, and one of those was only because it was already based on another musical. Specifically for The Nightmare before Christmas, not only did Elfman write all of the music , he provides the singing voice for both Jack Skellington and Barrel (one of Oogie Boogie’s minions). Although Elfman’s music is probably my favorite part of this movie, it also has amazing animation that holds up to this day and a plot that is fairly unique, involving a skeleton who discovers Christmas and decides to give the role of Santa Claus. I will concede that this movie may be more about Christmas than Halloween, but if that really bothers you and you still want to hear Danny Elfman as a singing skeleton in a Tim Burton movie, Netflix also has Corpse Bride available.
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
A decidedly less family-friendly Tim Burton movie, Sleepy Hollow is one of his many films to include Johnny Depp in a major role. Its striking Gothic visuals and Johnny Depp’s excellent portrayal of Ichabod make this entertaining to watch, although its somewhat cheesy action sequences and special effects somewhat lessen its impact as a horror film. The story itself is quite enjoyable, following Ichabod Crane’s investigation of grisly murders and then the ghastly horseman behind them, and even contains a nice twist at the end. Its music, again provided by Danny Elfman, also contributes nicely to the spooky atmosphere, and was even good enough to be remixed into a techno song. While this movie isn’t necessarily a scary movie, especially once the Headless Horseman is revealed to be Christopher Walken, it still remains one of my favorite Halloween movies because it combines some of Tim Burton’s darker elements with an overall solid film experience.
Unfortunately, there are a few good choices for Halloween movie night that are leaving Netflix when October comes around, including The Shining and Hellboy, but between this list and the many horror movies that are available, there should be plenty to keep you busy as you ignore the neighborhood kids ringing your doorbell.
Did I miss any of your favorite, must-see Halloween flicks? Let me know in the comments!