Halloween-themed movies: 13+ films set on or around Halloween.

halloween movies shareable

FRESHLY UPDATED FOR THE 2015 SEASON

JUST TO BE CLEAR: This is a list of movies in which Halloween itself is featured – either a little or a lot. These are NOT my recommendations for best over-all horror movies. For great movies that are just generally scary, check out the other themed lists available in the Courting Creepy section of the blog.

The main part of this post presents my 13 favorite Halloween-themed movies, in an order meant to gradually lead viewers into the Halloween spirit over time. I should, perhaps, warn you that I have quirky taste in movies, so follow along at your own risk.

I am on a quest to develop THE comprehensive list of main-stream* movies set on or around Halloween, and/or featuring Halloween elements. In the second half of this post, there is a list of movies in which I’ve been able to confirm at least a bit of of the theme.

  • NOTE: There are dozens of Halloween-themed slashers and B-movies, most of which went straight to video. I don’t watch such films, except on a dare. (I consider most of the Halloween sequels to be in that same, don’t-bother category.) To find such fodder, just type Halloween into the search at Netflix. If you run into a surprisingly good one, let me know about it … in fact, dare me to watch it myself. Maybe it will get added to this list.

Please give me a heads-up in the comments if you know of any film that should be listed. I’m working through watching the suggestions I’ve already received as quickly as my spare time allows.

Be aware that most of the movies below are NOT available (at the time of this post) from Netflix streaming. Almost all, however, are available on DVD.

NOT ABOUT HALLOWEEN. ALSO NOT HORROR. BUT THESE ARE SOME DAMN FINE FILMS:

13.  To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– A perfect movie to begin the journey to Halloween, as it starts in high-summer and moves beautifully through the season as it wanes. Eventually, a spookier-than-you-remember scene unfolds as Scout and Jem trek through the woods toward a harvest pageant at Halloweentime.

12.  Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) marries his childhood sweetheart, Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane), on Halloween day. The two visit his eccentric maiden aunts. Hijinks ensue. Not super halloween-y, but great fun.

11. NEW: The Skeleton Twins (2014) 
~ Netflix: available on streaming.
Bill Hader and  Kristen Wiig star as twins who escape death on the same day. This is a drama with some lovely flashes of the kind of comedy we have come to expect from these two actors. The story does not revolve around Halloween, but the visuals are everywhere, all through the film, and an important scene takes place on Halloween night.

 

WHEN HALLOWEEN IS ALL ABOUT KIDS WHO BELIEVE IN MONSTERS:

10.  Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– Long after Labor Day, a mysterious carnival comes to town. A beautiful movie that evokes the way we feel about Halloween.

09.  Silver Bullet (1985)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– Nostalgia for the 80s is the best reason to watch this movie, because there’s very little Halloween in it. (The last full moon of the film falls on Halloween. There is a Jack-O-Lantern and a paper skeleton visible for a moment.) That said, there’s a fair bit of autumnal atmosphere, and Gary Busey turns in a fun performance. 

08.  ET (1982)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– An iconic night of trick-or-treating leaves you yearning to be able to go out like that again.

MOVIES THAT ROMP THROUGH HALLOWEEN LIKE AN EXCITED SIX-YEAR-OLD:

07.  Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
~ Netflix: available on streaming.

– Yes, I know it’s also a Christmas movie but who doesn’t want to hear the song “This is Halloween” in the weeks leading up to the grand day?

06.  Hocus Pocus (1993)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– The confusion suffered by the witches in this story, when confronted with a modern Halloween celebration, is a joy to watch.

05.  Halloweentown (1998)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
So Rated G that your teeth will ache. Great for kids but there’s fun for adults too. No gore. No real scares. Lots of Halloween atmosphere (of the admittedly bright & sugary kind.) There’s a whole series of these made-for-cable movies. I’ve seen them all. Don’t judge me.

MOVIES FOR GROWNUPS:

04.  Lady in White (1988)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– A boy spends Halloween night, 1963, locked in a haunted cloakroom.

03.  Ed Wood (1994)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) & Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) spend Halloween night, 1953, together.

02.  Sleepy Hollow (1999)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– No one mentions Halloween because it’s 1799, but the atmosphere is perfect and the movie is just beautiful. (Because Johnny Depp & Christina Ricci.) That’s a good thing, because this film has a confusing, so-so plot and some completely unnecessary Tim Burton-style special effects. 

Watch Oct 24th - 30th

13

01.  Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– This bloody, over the top homage to Halloween is gorgeous. Every scene oozes Halloween.

I cannot, in good conscience, recommend that you watch anything but Halloween (1978) on Halloween night. But I have to admit Trick ‘r Treat is a good option if you’ve just seen Halloween too many times.

That said, I’ll be watching the classic — which I own, of course — come Halloween night, because I’m old school that way.

MUST SEE: Halloween (1978)
~ Netflix: DVD only.

Watch on Halloween Night

Watch on Halloween Night

*****

Alternatives to the above listings:

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
~ Netflix: not available.
– A serviceable movie that can appeal to the completionist in you. Jamie Lee is back – so that’s worth something. Not a bad option if you want to replace one of the kid-movies above.

Ginger Snaps (2000)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– “Two death-obsessed sisters, outcasts in their suburban neighborhood, must deal with the tragic consequences when one of them is bitten by a deadly werewolf.” A bloody, gruesome movie but its unique, weirdly realistic take on werewolves won me over. The film takes place during the month of October, and culminates on Halloween night.

Donnie Darko (2001)
~ Netflix: DVD only.

– I do not like Donnie Darko, and you can’t make me.  The plot is just too murky. It is, however, set around Halloween. And I know some of you would love it.

May (2002)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– May decides to actively improve her somewhat lacking social life on Halloween night. I would love this movie if it weren’t so darn gruesome. Depending on your mood, the ending is either depressing or strangely uplifting. 

Mean Girls (2004)
~ Netflix: available on streaming.

– If you’re looking for just a dash of Halloween in a non-horror comedy, you might enjoy this movie which features Halloween costumes we’re all familiar with: lingerie and animal ears.

Poirot: Hallowe’en Party (2010)
~ Netflix: not available.
– This episode of Masterpiece Mystery from PBS is a cozy movie to accompany a night of knitting. It’s interesting to see how the holiday is handled in this period piece. (This movie was available on Netflix DVD last year. I don’t know why it’s gone now.)

The Simian Line (2000)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– A fortune teller, ghosts from two different eras, a set of three couples with issues in their relationships … this is mostly a chick-flick, but it’s more intelligent than most rom-coms. I ended up really liking its quirkiness and its cast. (Especially the May/December romance between Lynn Redgrave and Harry Connick Jr.) The film starts on Halloween afternoon, and the themes that unspool from there are well within the scope of the season.

Frequency (2000)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– I found Frequency on several Halloween-themed movie lists when I was doing my research, but couldn’t remember any Halloween elements myself. We decided to watch it again to find out for sure. Upon this recent viewing, we decided there was NO Halloween in it all, and I edited this post to say so.

Days later, Ogre came to me to say, “Frequency? I think there was ONE mention of him dressing up as a cop when he was a kid.” He’s right. I stand corrected. There is a wee-tiny-bit of Halloween in it after all!

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
~ Netflix: not available.
– Jodie Foster and Martin Sheen star in this strange, disturbing tale of a girl who appears to be living alone, and the townspeople who want to know what’s going on. Halloween is mentioned ONLY briefly at the beginning and near the end of this movie. (In years past, this movie was in the top 13 list, above. Now that it is not available from Netflix, I’ve replaced it with The Skeleton Twins.)

As a child of the late 70s and early 80s there is much here that strikes a chord with me – in particular what it feels like to be precocious in a world of adults who want children to be seen and not heard, and who wield power carelessly and brutally. I love the beige palette of the film.

NEW: The Guest (2014)
~ Netflix: available on streaming.
– This is a cross between a thriller and and action movie. The movie itself is so-so (though there are some shining moments) but there’s plenty of Halloween around, mostly in the form of decorations through the film, but also in a maze toward the end.

NEW: The Houses October Built (2014)
~ Netflix: available on streaming.
– A fairly typical found footage movie. The protagonists are reasonably likeable, at least at first. The whole movie is about visiting haunted attractions in the week leading up to Halloween, so there’s plenty of holiday-specific imagery around. Some entertainment value can be found in deciding when you would STOP the progression of events … because you are not an idiot.

NEW: Casper (1995)
~ Netflix: available on DVD.
I watched it because of Bill Pullman & Christina Ricci. Sadly, I pretty much hated the movie. It’s too silly and not clever enough to interest me as an adult, and I think it would be kinda boring for a kid. It does, however feature a bunch of Halloween.

WAY OUT ON A LIMB HERE:

I am finding the following films on some Halloween-themed movie lists, I have not seen them (or, in some cases, I haven’t seen them recently) so I can’t yet tell you if they are appropriate for the list, nor exactly how much Halloween-y goodness they offer. This is the stuff I’ll be queueing up in the next few weeks.

Ghost Watch (1992) 
~ Netflix: not available, not even in list. (There is a vimeo account that has it in 3 parts. Watch at your own risk.)

– A BBC broadcast, aired on October 31st, 1992. A pseudo-documentary about a report from a reputedly haunted house.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
Reviews tell me it is not connected to the other movies. (Thus it is okay that Jamie Lee Curtis isn’t in it.) The premise sounds dumb to me, but folks I’m reading swear it’s a good Halloween setting. The cover looks promising. UPDATE: Lots of folks have messaged me to say this is a terrible movie. I still haven’t seen it … and the likelihood that I will is nil.

Ironweed (1987)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– “A schizophrenic drifter (Jack Nicholson) spends Halloween in his home town after returning there for the first time in decades.” (Also stars Meryl Streep.) 

NO HALLOWEEN:

movie poster the gift

The Gift (2000)
~ Netflix: available of streaming.
– I have no idea why this appears on most other Halloween-themed movie lists on the interwebs. No Halloween elements. Decent movie. (But I hate her cards and the depiction of The Gift itself.)

Did I forget any of your favorite Halloween-themed movies? 

Halloween Index

FOR MORE HALLOWEEN COUNTDOWN ARTICLES VISIT THE MAIN INDEX

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50 Comments on “Halloween-themed movies: 13+ films set on or around Halloween.”

  1. elsmama says:

    The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is a great movie!! I first saw it when I was a teen, and it has stayed with me since; so much so that I paid an exorbitant sum for the book it’s taken from. You’ll love it. Seriously. Season of the Witch, however, is ridiculous and inane. Dumber than a box of rocks. Don’t bother.

    • Watched it tonight and moved it up into the recommended alternatives list. (Sadly, there isn’t much actual Halloween, but there was enough that I was able to include it.) You’re right – I did love it. I sort of feel like writing a whole review about it, even though I don’t generally do that.

  2. Patrick says:

    Ohhhh I am so excited for your Halloween posts!! I’ve got a few lists up my sleeve too… can’t wait to start. A few of these are definitely traditional fall movies for me. I had such a nostalgia moment when I saw Lady in White! I had forgotten about that movie!!! Who is in that??

    Definitely some I’m not familiar with so I’ll have to check it out.

    Boooo!

    • Lady in White features mostly unknown actors. (And Katherine Helmond of SOAP fame.)

      I got pretty excited while crafting the list too – I’m really looking forward to re-watching ET and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

      I hope something I’ve included here will become a new favorite seasonal movie for you.

  3. Juliette says:

    Awesome list! Bahahahahahaha. I’m going to watch them all!

  4. angryscholar says:

    Great list. I may do a variant on this theme, though I don’t know if I can come up with quite so many.

    Kudos for including “Ghost Watch” at the end. That’s a brilliant and totally underrated film. Essentially created the modern found-footage/mockumentary horror genre, but did it better than the vast majority of subsequent films. The apparently real panic it caused among viewers who didn’t know it was fake is just icing on the (ice cream) cake.

    Ever see “The Halloween that Almost Wasn’t”? Judd Hirsch as a charming but dopey vampire is brilliant.

    • Ooh. You’ve seen Ghost Watch then. I stumbled on it as was doing my web research and it looked like great fun.

      The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0316318/

      Oh, now you’re opening a whole NEW can of worms! I haven’t seen it but it appears to be ripe for another potential post topic: Halloween specials on TV. Don’t know if I’ll attempt that one. We’ll see how deep I descend into halloween-mania this year.

      You notice how we become children when faced with this holiday? I expected some backlash for including such childish movies in my list, but no. We all just go skipping merrily along 🙂

  5. Hunter Shea says:

    Kudos for mentioning Lady in White! An underappreciated classic.

  6. Is it only 13 weeks till Halloween? Damn, feels like summer’s over when you put it that way. Wonderful list. Trick’r’Treat is one of my new Faves! When my daughter was younger, we would start watching Nightmare Before Christmas around Halloween and continue watching it (repeatedly) until Christmas 🙂

    • IKR? I’m torn between being excited and depressed. Personally, I am choosing to accept this countdown as a reminder to enjoy what’s left of SUMMER too. I don’t think it’s really fall-like until sometime in September. We’ve still got a month, maybe more.

      Yeah, I’m a little surprised I love Trick ‘r Treat as much as I do. (You know how I am about too-bloody.) I adore the depiction of Halloween though. I want to actually own this film, just so I can look at all the pretties whenever I want.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I never thought of The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane as a Halloween movie but it is a really good watch.

  8. Kate is says:

    The Lady in White a real favourite of mine 🙂

    • Renae Rude says:

      Part of the fun of assembling these lists is that I get to really remember how good they were. And I usually think, “Ooh, I’ve got to watch that one again” with every entry. I’m looking forward to re-watching Lady in White.

  9. Heather says:

    Really good, well rounded list. I haven’t seen Ghost Watch yet. I’ll have to hunt down a copy. I loved that someone mentioned Witches Night Out, a favorite of mine from childhood.

    I’ve actually already started watching a few from my own list, including The Midnight Hour from the 80’s era of cheese. http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xuoqik_the-midnight-hour-1985-part-one_shortfilms It’s not the best film, by any standard, but it’s Halloween themed and that’s enough for me.

  10. Heather says:

    Oh! I forgot to mention, if you do descend into Halloween mania and decide to take a peek at the Halloween TV specials, this is a good place to go nuts – http://halloweenspecials.blogspot.com/

  11. A big thanks for motivating me with your countdowns to Halloween. You’ve reminded me how close Halloween is and I’ve already started prop making. The movies listed are some of my favorites. Keep coming with Halloween stuff….it keeps me focused!

  12. There are some good suggestions here, like “Ironweed.” I’ve never seen it but am curious now. My traditional Halloween movie is, of course, “The Shining.” It may not be set around Halloween, but it’s the perfect scary/suspenseful movie for that time of year.

  13. Love this list– I’m going to share it with my brother who is a huge film buff also. Thanks for reminding me of some holes in my film viewing experience– I must get caught up on quite a few of these like Ed Wood and The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane. The Conjuring was filmed here in Wilmington, NC, by the way (haven’t seen it yet). I so enjoy your blog, Renae!

  14. […] 13 movies – set on or around Halloweentime – to watch in the 13 weeks before Halloween. […]

  15. Hazelrah says:

    How about the Witches of Eastwick, I thought that was Halloween/Autumn themed.

  16. Hazelrah says:

    Also, I always thought Casper was a cute for kids Halloween movie.

  17. cavegirlmba says:

    Thanks for this very comprehensive list – given that I don’t take so well to scary movies, it would probably take me 13 months to watch everything and to recover from it…

  18. Greg says:

    Loved your list! I agree with Hazelrah’s comment about “Witches of Eastwick”… that’s another good one for that time of year. And I DARE you to watch “The Frighteners” (1996). I’m not necessarily recommending the entire movie but it does have some great Halloween atmosphere.

    • Dare accepted, Greg. I’ve just added The Frighteners (1996) to my Netflix DVD queue.

      And your comment has reminded me that I wanted to re-watch The Witches of Eastwick, which I did not get around too in the hustle and bustle of last Halloween season.

      Thanks for commenting!

  19. Timbo Lantern says:

    Just thought you’d like to know, Rob Zombie has a movie coming up, 31, that I believe will be set during Halloween (synopsis says it will anyway).

    Speaking of RZ, after years of growing up with Carpenter’s Halloween and loving it, I may like RZ’s version more. Simply for all the Michael backstory. His vulgarity is over the top, but it’s expected in his movies I guess. The sequel was bad though (except the final scene. It was beautifully shot).

    Also, House of 1000 corpses is set during Halloween. Great movie.

    I just realized I sound like a Rob Zombie fanboy, but I’m trying to give you some more Halloween movies 🙂

    To be fair, I disliked his movie Lords of Salem

    • Thank you! I’ve just started my annual hunt to find more Halloween movies. (I watched The Houses October Built last week, which will go on the alternates list, I think.)

      I’ve been leery of Rob Zombie, but I best start dealing with my squeamishness if I want a complete list. You’ve given me good reason to see the RZ Halloween by telling me there’s more Micheal backstory. I do want to know more.

      • Timbo Lantern says:

        Yeah, I think he’s one of those great or terrible guys. No middle ground lol. No spoilers or anything, but it spends maybe the first 30-40 minutes on Michaels childhood (give or take, I’m going by memory). Scout Taylor Compton is great in it too. No Jamie Lee Curtis, but I was happy with the result.

        House of 1000 Corpses is good, like I said, but the plus side to watching it is you get to watch it’s sequel, The Devil’s Rejects. The sequel isn’t during Halloween, but it’s a great movie!

        I’ll see what else I can find in my collection. Great blog btw 🙂

  20. Denise Wilson says:

    I always watch “Hocus Pocus” at Halloween just to hear Bette Midler sing “Put a Spell on You”

    …and the fall colors in that movie are so pretty!


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