It’s Halloween ladies and gents, one of my favorite holidays and a time where classic horror takes center stage. However, the Halloween tradition is not limited to the classics. Since the year 2000 the world has seen a new rise in legitimacy for the horror genre, and with that a whole new slew of iconic scary movies that have become must-watch features for America’s scariest holiday. In honor of Halloween and my love for horror it’s my pleasure to present my picks for the Top 10 Modern Classic Halloween Films. Hopefully some of these will give you ideas of what to watch before the night is done.
For this list I looked at specific movies that have become must-watch features for Halloween in the new millennium. Any horror movie released in 2000 or later applies and I picked out the best standalone films that have become new Halloween traditions over the years. These films can be part of a larger franchise, but only one film in said franchise was allowed to be on this list so you won’t see an entire series of movies here. Films released as part of an older franchise before the year 2000 were acceptable but no remakes of previous Halloween horror classics here. So because the original ‘Halloween” is already a classic seasonal watch its remake doesn’t apply to this list.
This list was made more for fun than anything else. So please feel free to share with me your favorite modern Halloween classic in the comments below and Happy Halloween to all my readers! On with the list!
10. “Hotel Transylvania”
You’re going to see entries in a lot of franchises in this list, and this one would be the newest of those particular films. “Hotel Transylvania” always had the makings of a hit. It takes classic movie monsters and puts them in an animated setting with a child friendly story about family and growing up. Think Addams Family for a more youthful crowd. While not for everyone the series has its charm and is marching its way to a third film in 2018 after launching a television spinoff earlier this year. In the same way that “Hocus Pocus” and “Halloweentown” helped offer a more kid-friendly horror-themed experience for the yearly Halloween celebration, “Hotel Transylvania” has helped to continue that mission and, let’s face it, it’s also the best work we’ve seen from Adam Sandler in God knows how long and experiencing an actually funny performance by him is a scary enough revelation to warrant it as a Halloween must see.
9. “The Ring”
In the year 2002 the horror genre received a massive shot in the arm thanks to a small film inspired by an even smaller Japanese production. “The Ring” became a phenomenon and today is still an iconic piece of horror filmmaking that stands as one of the genre’s greatest remakes. The original was a cult classic, but “The Ring” became an unquestionable classic in American cinema and offered a darker, more mysterious and freaky moviegoing experience. This film was a turning point for horror, ushering in more mature, well thought out and respectable projects that are still being churned out to this day. While the movie is a bit dated it’s still a favorite for many around this time of year because of its excellent pacing, careful attention to detail, and excellent use of atmosphere to scare its viewers with more than just jump scares. Its age may be the only thing that keeps it from being higher on this list, but “The Ring” is still as iconic and memorable as ever and is a classic for anyone looking for a quick Halloween fright.
8. “The Conjuring”
James Wan has helped establish the first major horror cinematic universe since the Universal Monsters with “The Conjuring” which has seen a spinoff and sequels to both the original and that spinoff become successful at theaters. However the film that started it all has earned its place as appointment viewing, introducing us to the real life ghost hunters the Warrens and one of their lesser known cases as they help a family solve the supernatural torture in their home. Combining traditional scares with more subtle and creative cliché-bending frights “The Conjuring” offers a little bit of everything and has become the blueprint for the modern haunted house flick. While it’s sequel and the “Annabelle” spinoffs are fun horror experiences themselves, the original offers a complete package and presents a gritty, realistic story that just might make you afraid to sleep in your own bed at night. It’s a perfect popcorn thriller for Halloween night!
Judging by this film’s extreme fan base I had to add it to this list. “Oculus” follows a brother and sister who try to solve the sinister paranormal effects a mirror has on those who gaze upon it. It was praised after its release in 2013 and became a seemingly instant cult classic, yet it has still gone unseen by many making its intriguing plot all the more interesting to enjoy especially if you’re looking for something knew to add to your Halloween collection. This film shows up on many Halloween must-watch lists and it’s that clout that earns it the #7 spot on mine. “Oculus” is somewhat of a celebrated masterpiece of modern horror that plays off of suspense and the classic fear of a normal household object to get the job done which on the surface alone makes it out to be a pretty neat movie to look into. If you haven’t seen it yet give it a shot. It might become your new favorite horror tradition for Halloween.
6. “Shaun of the Dead”
And now for a little comedy for your Halloween holiday! “Shaun of the Dead” is the first film in the Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy and is both a tribute and a parody of classic zombie movies like “Night of the Living Dead”. Released in 2004, this horror comedy became an instant classic as it perfectly blended its two genres together through a series of tropes that presented brutal scenes of blood and gore with the levity of quick puns and character personality to balance them out. It’s not the scariest film on this list, but it’s one of the most fun viewing experiences here. It takes everything we love from classic and modern horror and turns it on its head with a team of bumbling characters that are much more relatable than the typical horror film victim. “Shaun of the Dead” is a horror movie for those who want a little more than cheep thrills from their scary movie, and thus it has found its place in many people’s collection of Halloween must-sees. If you’d like more tasteful and comedic bloodshed and a less serious tone on your Halloween, try this one out. It will likely fit the bill.
5. “Cabin in the Woods”
In 2012 Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard brought to life one of the most unique and creative horror movies of all time, “Cabin in the Woods”, and today that film is still an iconic piece of horror fiction worth checking out…maybe even more so now than ever before. I can’t spoil this movie for you. It’s one of my personal favorites and as any diehard fan of the movie will tell you it’s something you have to experience for yourself. What I will tell you is “Cabin in the Woods” takes everything you love about horror and turns it on its head. It’s a tribute to horror fandom in general that plays on every fear you can imagine with an amazing mythology behind it. Just trust me when I say that there’s a reason this film has received so much love since it first hit the big screen. It’s actually a perfect horror film for any time of the year, but on this day of all days “Cabin in the Woods” is not only appropriate viewing, it’s downright required for many.
While released in February of 2009, the stop-motion animated film “Coraline” is more fitting of Halloween than Valentine’s Day. The film revolves around a young girl bored with her new existence after a family move until she finds an alternate world where her wildest dreams come true, but it may not be all it seems. The story is a well crafted adventure both kids and adults can respect, with just enough fear inducing imagery to satisfy any viewer. The strange and well-designed monsters Coraline faces and the dark atmosphere have made this THE must-view family film to fit the spirit of Halloween. It looks creepy, the story is creepy, the set and character designs are creepy, and the story contains a pretty poetic message about finding joy in the simplicity of one’s own family. “Coraline” has been labeled a horror cartoon by many and has even become an unspoken Halloween tradition on television and movie channels over the years. While there are quite a few kid-friendly Halloween classics, this one has managed to become a true family event to celebrate the scariest time of the year.
3. “Paranormal Activity”
Released just before October in 2009, “Paranormal Activity” became a certified phenominon upon its release with word of mouth and the film’s engrossing atmosphere and use of the found footage style making it a must-see in theaters before it became a viewing experience at home. The simple shooting style of the film made it a realistic and relatable movie that embedded fear into the hearts of millions who took the time to experience it for themselves and since it first made its big-screen debut it has become a classic movie to enjoy for Halloween as well capturing the insecurity of isolation and the unknown that many seek through other means around the holiday. For a while it was actually a Halloween tradition for a new movie to be released in the franchise as four subsequent sequels/prequels were all released just prior to or on Halloween weekend. But the one many watch to this day is the original, which still manages to make even the most experienced viewer wonder what is going on while they are asleep at night.
The film that started it all for the most successful horror franchise of all time, the original “Saw” may not be the scariest or most artistic film on this list but that doesn’t matter. Since 2004 the movies in the series have all been Halloween traditions and the very first one is still among the favorite of many to view on or around Halloween. The movie introduced audiences to the Jigsaw Killer John Kramer and his tendency to kidnap victims and place them in tests, games, or traps symbolic of sins they committed in real life. The original film was praised for its pacing and creativity (at the time) and spawned seven sequels including the recent release “Jigsaw” (you can read my review of that film here). “Saw” is among the royals in the list of iconic modern horror movies and has become one of the most watched movies in one of the most binge watched horror series around Halloween. Many today watch the entire franchise over the course of October, and it all starts with this one every single year.
1. “Trick ‘r Treat”
It had to be this one. There was never any doubt this would be number one when I conceived this list. “Trick ‘r Treat” is the quintessential modern Halloween classic and if you haven’t watched this cult favorite yet you’re definitely missing out. The movie is an anthology film focusing on multiple intertwining stories all occurring on Halloween night and involving cliches of both the horror franchise and the holiday itself. The one binding factor of the stories is a mysterious child-like figure named Sam who shows up in one form or another in every tale. “Trick ‘r Treat” is a love story to the holiday itself and that alone has made it a classic as its fan base has grown and every year new viewers come to respect it as a work of holiday art. Even among the classics “Trick ‘r Treat” has become one of the most watched horror films for Halloween and it is unquestionably the most iconic modern movie for fans of the holiday.