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10 scary, and not so scary, movies to watch this Halloween

Movies – Photo via PxHere; Graphics by Hunter Huffman

The leaves have turned, the pumpkins have been carved and the candy shelves have been emptied. The spooky season has most definitely arrived. Obviously, this Halloween, much like the rest of 2020, is certainly going to be different — thanks again, COVID — but one of the best ways we can still enjoy our All Hallow’s Eve is in the company of good friends, huddled together on the couch watching some spooktacular movies. Whether you’re looking for something to keep you up at night or some harmless fun for all ages, here are 10 essential movies to consider watching this weekend.

NOT SCARY: ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

Who ya gonna call? One of the most wholly original and childishly delightful movies from the pop culture goldmine that was the 1980s, “Ghostbusters” is still the same genre-bending thrill ride that it was over 35 years ago. Replacing the otherworldliness of science fiction and the macabre elements of horror with an earthly charm, it features a slew of the most talented funnymen of the decade, a ton of quotable lines, lots of exciting action and one of the most iconic theme songs in film history. It’s a classic for a reason.

SCARY: ‘Hereditary’ (2018)

Over the past decade, the resurgence of the horror genre has provided young, up-and-coming filmmakers with the perfect foundation for their debut features, but Ari Aster’s “Hereditary” stands out among the rest. A viewing experience that demands you to go in blindly, it’s the kind of movie you’ll be recommending, and warning, people about in equal measure. Centering around a family haunted by dark forces in the wake of tragedy, the themes are heavy and the imagery is a lot to take in. Extremely unsettling to watch and even more unsettling to process afterward, it might give you nightmares, but visually and narratively, it’s an undeniable masterpiece. And if Toni Collette’s performance as mother Annie doesn’t send chills down your spine, nothing will.

NOT SCARY: ‘Beetlejuice’ (1988)

It would be unthinkable to get through Halloween without watching at least one film from the legendary Tim Burton. Following a recently deceased couple as they hire an outlandish poltergeist to help them rid their home of its snobby new tenants, “Beetlejuice” is another great comedy of the 1980s, and perhaps the most evident proof of how Burton is able to seamlessly blend dark humor and even darker visuals with childlike innocence. Of course, the movie owes much of its legacy to the unrecognizable Michael Keaton as the righteously entertaining title character, who steals every scene he is in. And after you watch it, you’ll never hear “Day-O” the same way again.

SCARY: ‘Alien’ (1979)

Released just two years after “Star Wars” fever took over the world, Ridley Scott’s “Alien” brought a terrifying new perspective to a galaxy far, far away. A subversive haunted house movie, “Alien” takes the vast recesses of outer space and encloses them into a singular setting as the spaceship Nostromo is overtaken by a voracious, unstoppable killing machine. What distinguishes it from its predecessors is that the characters literally have nowhere to go, and the film’s claustrophobic set design and camera work always drives home the fact that they are truly trapped. With nowhere to hide, the suspense will eat you alive and the jump scares will have you screaming in terror. But at least we get the consolation prize of Sigourney Weaver’s first appearance as the subsequent franchise’s badass heroine, Ripley.

NOT SCARY: ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ (2014)

There’s not a moment you won’t be laughing with this one. New Zealand-born comedians Taika Waititi, best known for “Jojo Rabbit” and “Thor: Ragnarok,” and Jemaine Clement are in hilariously great form with this mockumentary about a group of centuries-old vampires learning to blend into the everyday culture of Wellington. The film lives and dies by its talented acting ensemble, who raise the comedic value to a level of its own through their ingenious improvisations. Despite what a certain set of movies have done for the reputation of vampires, “What We Do in the Shadows” radiates nothing but unadulterated, gut-busting entertainment when every attempt by the blood-sucking protagonists to fit in only makes them stand out more.

SCARY: ‘Scream’ (1996)

By the mid-90s, Wes Craven, the mastermind behind “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” was in the perfect position to completely redefine horror for a new generation with this satirical deconstruction of the slasher genre. Over the course of one eventful night, a group of high schoolers are terrorized by a masked killer named Ghostface, who determines their fates with some wicked gamesmanship as he taunts them with horror movie trivia and an abundance of pop culture references. Thriving on its dark, self-aware humor, “Scream” is at once a humorously scathing commentary on the overdone qualities of slasher horror and a respectable, cleverly serious slasher in its own right. It’s a stunningly original film for its time, and one that has inspired numerous imitators since, though many have paled in comparison to Craven’s brilliant blend of self-deprecating laughs and genuine scares.

NOT SCARY: ‘Casper’ (1995)

A considerable improvement over the handful of 90s films that attempted— and greatly failed— to adapt family-friendly cartoons into live-action features, “Casper” is a funny, heartfelt and nostalgic blast from start to finish. Centering around the bond the friendly ghost forms with a teenage girl, and the one his three, uproariously, unpleasant uncles form with her paranormal psychologist father, the movie goes beyond simply bringing the titular specter to life by offering a darker and more poignant interpretation of the character and his backstory; depending on who you are, it just might strike an emotional chord with you. Nevertheless, it’s a joyful adventure for the whole family that retains the cartoonish charm of the series that inspired it.

SCARY: ‘The Shining’ (1980)

Arguably the greatest psychological horror movie of all time, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s bestseller may not be the most faithful, but it is one of the most heart-pounding. Telling the story of the Torrances as they remain snowed in as the winter caretakers of the Overlook Hotel, “The Shining” is less about the deranged spirits that haunt the inn than it is about a fractured family slowly losing their grip on reality. Due to King’s infamous loathing of the movie, many critics misunderstood it in its time, but it has thankfully undergone a massive re-evaluation since and is now regarded as a staple among horror fans. With many of the most disturbing and iconic scenes underscored by Jack Nicholson’s immortal lead performance, Kubrick invites viewers to journey deep into the heart of horror itself, and the result is a film that is so wickedly cunning that few others have ever been able to replicate its visual and tonal thrills.

NOT SCARY: ‘Hocus Pocus’ (1993)

Another great piece of seasonal nostalgia for 90s and early 2000s kids, there really isn’t a movie that has embodied the fun, adventurous, youthful spirit of All Hallow’s Eve better than “Hocus Pocus.” When cynical teen Max accidentally brings three legendary witches, the Sanderson sisters back from the dead, he sets the stage for a wild night of Halloween-themed shenanigans as the sisters attempt to regain eternal life while leaving a hilariously indelible mark on the oblivious residents of Salem, Massachusetts. With numerous memorable moments to satisfy all audiences, from Kathy Najimy riding a vacuum cleaner like a broom to Bette Midler’s show-stopping performance of “I Put a Spell on You,” there’s really no going wrong with “Hocus Pocus.” It’s a perfect palate cleanser for anyone who’s not completely sold by the heavier, scarier options.

SCARY: ‘Halloween’ (1978)

Should it come as any surprise that one of the best movies to watch on Halloween is…“Halloween?” Whereas “Hocus Pocus” reminds us how fun the spooky season can be, John Carpenter’s breakout masterstroke continues to serve as the quintessential example of why the holiday is downright terrifying, and much of this has to do with its sheer plausibility. Carpenter takes a relatively simple premise and turns the suspense up to an eleven with his pulsating theme music, along with the intriguing mystery he crafts around legendary boogeyman Michael Myers and his obsession with teenage babysitter Laurie Strode. Hiding Myers’ cold, formidable presence beneath an iconic white mask, “Halloween” brought the horror genre into suburbia in a way no movie had done before or has done since. Made on a shoestring budget and filmed in less than three weeks, it seemingly arrived out of nowhere in 1978, but you would be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of it now. The resulting sequels may have muddied the waters quite a bit, but there is no denying the slow burn and ferocity of the original.

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