Halloween is a time for people of all ages to muster up their courage and scare themselves a little. While trick-or-treating and scary mazes are great parts of the holiday, there are plenty of films that scratch that Halloween itch just as well. While horror staples like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and their innumerable sequels will be playing on televisions across the United States, there are plenty who are either tired of these films or simply can’t stomach their violence.
If you’re in this growing number of people, there is hope! There are plenty of films that are great for Halloween and are a fun and fulfilling alternative to these rote horror flicks. These may not be obvious choices for your Halloween celebration, but when watched in the spirit of the holiday, any of these 15 fun and friendly movies are great ways to spend the night.
A spooky tale of a brave young girl whose engenuity and wits help her fight back against an evil witch from a pocket universe, Coraline is the perfect blend of haunting and empowering. Director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) brings the stop motion tale to beautiful life with haunting images and characters that you quickly like. You’ll be rooting for Coraline as she fights to reclaim her life and save her family from a haunting villainess with deep connections to themes of abuse in the real world.
There may be two, at tops three, actual scares in Ghostbusters, but this film is all about the comedy and ideas at play. Everybody knows the theme song, Slimer, and Bill Murray’s classic role as Spengler, but the film never gets old. There are enough spooky ideas floating around for you to thoroughly celebrate Halloween, even though you’ll be laughing through the night.
It’s an unabashed love letter to the ultimate B-movie director and creator of one of the worst horror films of all time. Ed Wood focuses on the life and career of its titular real life character, the man who created the now infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space. While director Tim Burton has no problems showing Wood’s shortcomings and lack of actual talent, Wood’s passion and unashamed love for film have us sympathizing and rooting for him by the end. Plus, Johnny Depp gives perhaps the best performance of his career as Wood. Watch on Halloween, as so much of the film revolves around trying to get horror movies made in the 1950s.
Plan 9 from Outer Space
Speaking of Ed Wood, why not watch his classically bad masterpiece, Plan 9 From Outer Space? The film revolves around a needlessly convoluted plot involving aliens resurrecting the dead to cause chaos on Earth and stop humanity from creating a doomsday weapon. Combine that with special effects that were bad even for their time and fantastically terrible acting, and you get a movie that transcends time. Fun fact, horror icon Bela Lugosi has a role in the film, but died before filming could finish. So Wood employed his dentist to fill in for Lugosi in some scenes, having him pull his cape over half his face to disguise his identity. It didn’t work. “Pull de string! Pull de string!”
The Lost Boys
It’s a classic entry in one of my personal favorite subgenres – 1980s horror comedies. The Lost Boys is campy and its twists are easy to spot a mile away, but it really captures a time and place. Plus, great performances from a young Keifer Sutherland, Corey Haim, and Corey Feldman bring both fun and menace to a tale of teenage vampires terrorizing and tempting a family who has just moved to a fictional analogue of Santa Cruz. It’s really fun, slightly scary, and has laughs throughout.
Alfred Hitchcock managed to pull off both a great tale of suspense and a technical marvel in his creation of Rear Window. The slow burn of the film allows the audience to really connect with stars Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly and a couple who begin to suspect a neighbor in an apartment across the way has murdered his own wife. As the clues fall into place, the danger and tension continues to rise over the course of only a couple of days in the midst of a New York heat wave. Plus, Hitchcock does it all without ever moving the camera out of Stewart’s apartment, leaving us trapped together with our wheelchair-bound hero as the villain begins to catch on to his spying ways.
Army of Darkness
After the first 10 minutes, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell’s Army of Darkness swiftly moves away from the horror themes that defined its two predecessors in the Evil Dead series. Instead, the film becomes a spooky, campy, and hilarious action adventure during the Middle Ages. Campbell’s Ash is a loudmouth braggart and somewhat of an imbecile, but he’s the only hope of defeating the forces of evil and their skeleton army. There are more laughs than scares and the legions of evil are more like something out of a Ray Harryhausen film instead of other horror films being made at the same time. Plus it’s filled with classic lines you may recognize without even having seen the film.
It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
Charlie Brown has a movie for every holiday occasion, but It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is one of the best. Like all Peanuts animated stories, the plot is fairly simple, but the laughs are genuine and the characters are relatable in all of their flaws and quirks. Charlie, Lucy, and Snoopy all get their moments to shine, but Linus is the star. His quest to finally see The Great Pumpkin is both funny and touching. No matter how many times you watch this, you’ll always hope he gets his wish fulfilled. At 25 minutes, this is the perfect short film to lead into one of these longer ones.
The Monster Squad
Continuing with campy ‘80s horror comedies, The Monster Squad is basically The Goonies meet the Universal Monsters. Do I have your interest yet? A group of oddball young kids with a club formed on their mutual love of classic monsters must fight back when these creatures invade the real world. Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Gill-Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, and The Mummy create the dream team of movie monsters. The film’s execution may not be perfect, but its ultra-high concept and fun attitude make it worthwhile for any Halloween party.
Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban
It may be the spookiest of the Harry Potter films, and it’s also my personal favorite. Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban was the first film to move away from Christopher Columbus’ warm and cheery atmosphere. It’s perfect for the movie’s themes, revolving around an escaped killer who helped cause the death of Harry’s parents and is now on the prowl for Harry himself. Large portions take place at Halloween and the film’s forboding sense of doom and gloom help it feel like it was made in the spirit of the season as well. In the end, messages of love, family, and friendship balance out all the prophecies of doom, killers, and werewolves.
What better way to dispel all the scariness of the season than to watch a movie showing that monsters are just like us? These hardworking dream-chasers go through the daily grind like humans. Except their job is to scare us. John Goodman as Sully and Billy Crystal as Mike Wazowski are one of the great friend pairings on film. Their friendship feels lived in and relatable despite how different they are from us. Throw in the adorable Boo and Monsters, Inc. is one of the cutest Halloween movies you can find.
Community Halloween Episodes
Every year for the last four years, Community has celebrated the holidays with a Halloween episode airing each season. Each time, the show presents a story that pays homage to horror films. Season 1’s “Introduction to Statistics” sees the study group try and hold a Dia de Los Muertos party for Spanish credit, but it all falls apart. Season 2’s “Epidemiology” fully embraces the Halloween spirit, as the characters are trapped in an on-campus Halloween party that is overrun by a zombieish plague. Season 3’s “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps” has the gang suspect someone among them is a psychopath, leading them to tell horror stories featuring each other as the characters. Season 4’s “Paranormal Parentage” is the weakest entry, but involves a haunted house at Pierce’s mansion. Altogether, they make for weird and funny stories that are more enjoyable than many full-length movies.
This madcap horror comedy is one of the defining films of Tim Burton’s career. It’s both funny and quite morbid, as the film focuses on a newly dead couple who try to scare away the living folks who move into their new home. The only hope they have is the “bio-exorcist” known as Beetlejuice, played by Michael Keaton. It’s Keaton’s gravel-throated manic performance that really elevates the film. He’s crude, odd, hysterical, and unlike most horror characters. He may not be on screen for long, but he’s left an impression that’s lasted for decades.
Most films picture the spirit world as a place that is scary, dark, and depressing, but Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away shows it to be deeply beautiful and moving while still being dangerous. It isn’t a horror film, but its ideas concerning spirituality and a world beyond our own are what so many horror movies futilely try to convey between scenes of violence. Viewers of any age can be enchanted by this visually and ideologically beautiful film that offers far more than most movies watched on this holiday.
Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom
It’s the darkest and scariest of any Indiana Jones film, but it still retains a buoyant sense of fun and adventure. Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom contains some truly intense scenes and most of the movie does not let the audience catch its breath, but it still has the charming Harrison Ford front and center along with many fantastic stunts and fights. If you found yourself not liking it the first time you saw it, give it another shot in light of the Halloween season.