With Halloween, our time-honored celebration of morbidity and the macabre, right around the corner, it’s become a favorite tradition of many to binge on some of the best and most beloved scary movies to set the right mood for the horrific holiday. Since not everyone has a library of increasingly dusty DVDs to choose from and may not want to be bound to the limited offerings of broadcast schedules, we’ve cultivated this list of some of the genre’s most iconic films (and a few highly-regarded, more recent selections) now streaming on major outlets.
Child’s Play – 1988 (featured)
Directed by Tom Holland
Starring Brad Dourif, Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon
Wanna play? This 80s classic has held up extremely well, partly because it doesn’t immerse itself in the cultural elements of the time and also because dolls are still creepy as fuck with their dead eyes. It’s also impressive that Child’s Play manages to get around the potential goofiness of its premise, delivering a truly sinister depiction of a murderous toy and setting the groundwork for 6 sequels, an announced remake, and a proposed TV series.
Night of the Demons -1988
Directed by Kevin S. Tenney
Starring Amelia Kinkade, Linnea Quigley, Cathy Podewell
If Child’s Play transcended being labeled ‘an 80s flick’, then Night of the Demons proudly rolls around in as much 80s as it’s able. This movie is super-80s, but it’s also super-gory, with some truly awesome practical makeup FX. While it takes its time to get down to business, when it does, it businesses really well, with some really effective demon carnage and escape-the-house suspense. It may not be a mainstream classic, but a common favorite from its era among many horror freaks.
Blade – 1998 & Blade II – 2002
Directed by Stephen Norrington
Starring Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Starring Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman
This is the way vampires should be – brutal and monstrous villains in wait for a hero to dispatch them in spectacularly gruesome fashion. Disregarding the bafflingly awful Trinity, the Blade movies are a high watermark for horror-action, drafting the blueprint for the later Resident Evil and Underworld franchises (which I guess it can be forgiven for). Snipes is perfect as the badass vamp slayer and is surrounded by a cast of memorable characters that all contribute to the proceedings without ever stealing the whole show. If you’re gonna add a comic book superhero to your Halloween lineup, this is your guy here.
The Shining – 1980
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers
The ultimate slowburn horror movie and, oddly, Stephen King’s least favorite adaptation of his works (which leads me to believe that he hasn’t seen all of them). New to Netflix this month, there’s not much more to be said about this, one of the most widely known horror films of all-time and rightly so. Therefore, here’s a fun fact: Nicholson and Duvall are both resentful toward this movie and the recognition that has been heaped upon Kubrick’s direction without much regard for their performances or the crew. Duvall, in particular, was tormented by Kubrick in such a way as to literally turn her into the bundle of nerves you see on screen – to the degree that Nicholson has stated that her role as Wendy is perhaps the most difficult he has ever seen an actress tackle. Considering that she was nominated for Worst Actress at that year’s Razzie Awards, it goes to show that The Shining was hardly recognized as a classic upon its release.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – 1974
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Starring Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hanson, Allen Danziger
Another timeless classic that needs little introduction, the original (and best) saga of Leatherface and family comes to Shudder, AMC’s horror-only streaming service. It’s not the slow and contemplative type of horror that The Shining is – at 80 minutes, TCM gets to it and is unsettling, uncomfortable, harrowing, and disturbing, yet with remarkably little gore. Somewhat unbelievably, director Hooper was aiming for a ‘PG’ rating with this effort (in the era before ‘PG-13″, that rating had a lot more breathing room for content), so he minimalized the violence, opting more for implication and suggestion instead. Despite doing so, he failed so utterly in this attempt that the film was initially slapped with the dreaded ‘X’ rating – only being downgraded to ‘R’ through appeal. Still to this day, many people think of Texas Chainsaw Massacre as being one of the most gruesome movies they ever saw – a credit to Hooper’s technique of creating an atmosphere so distressing and oppressive, that the memory wrongly confuses it with violence.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 – 1986
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Starring Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Bill Moseley
If you don’t have Shudder (which many people don’t, but it comes highly recommended by us) and still want to see Leatherface in action in a quality effort from the original creator, then TCM2 will do the trick. Made 12 years after the original, this one has a quirky tone, almost bordering on self-parody, before alternating without warning to truly shocking depictions of graphic violence and menace. It makes for an odd dynamic that still manages to unsettle despite being so dramatically different from the first. While it can’t be recommended as highly as that predecessor, it’s still quite good, even if Dennis Hopper appears to be obviously laboring for a paycheck at times, seeming sometimes disinterested in what he’s saying or doing. That’s a nitpick though – this is still a must-see.
[REC] – 2007
Directed by Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza
Starring Manuela Velasco, Ferran Terraza
Forget The Blair Witch Project, [REC] is the foremost film of the found footage format. The style comes under a lot of criticism, much of it deserved, but this movie kicks all the asses in all the right ways. While it has its similarities to 28 Days Later, [REC] totally stands on its own, ramping up the tension from a totally mundane setup into full-blown mayhem, trapped into the claustrophobic confines of a maniac-infested apartment building, all routes of escape blocked off by a government quarantine determined to keep everyone and whatever the hell is wrong with them away from the general public at any cost. While competently imitated by the American remake Quarantine, it’s simply not as good, and missing some of the climactic revelations that sets [REC] apart. In fact, those revelations helped launched a full-blown franchise, as there are 3 more movies that are all also currently streaming on Hulu. They’re all lesser than the original by pretty much every measure, but the final [REC]4: Apocalypse, which ditches the found footage approach, stands out as a pretty awesome flick in its own right.
Halloween – 1978
Directed by John Carpenter
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Tony Moran
Another classic in need of no introduction, The Night HE Came Home – for the first time – is also on Shudder right now (although it also making a limited return to select theaters and being shown on AMC as part of its annual FearFest). As the new Halloween, seeing its big release on Oct. 19, ignores every sequel, the original is the only one you’ll need to get up to speed. Regardless of that though, there are some very worthwhile entries in this 40-year-old franchise, one of them being 1988’s Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, also exclusive to Shudder. It’s more of the same, but in a good way, and it expands the scale of the original with Mikey, and the manhunt he causes, wreaking havoc across all of Haddonfield. There are some not-so-great sequels in the series though, and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, is one of them and likewise streaming on Shudder. It’s still entertaining, but it’s whittling itself down to just fans of the franchise and 80s slashers in general.