Watching a scary movie is a bit of a Halloween tradition in my household, so I have compiled a list of my favorite Halloween Horror movies that you might enjoy.
This is also the time when many people will go on the hunt for a good scary movie to watch after the trick-or-treating is done.
This is not always an easy task, however as there are far more craptastic horror movies than there are good ones.
I have seen my fair share of crappy horror movies, ranging from low-budget thrillers that had potential (unrealized potential) to big-budget blockbuster horror movies that were atrocious and lame.
Full disclosure, I am also not a fan of torture movies that are thinly disguised as being horror films. Movies such as Hostel and The Human Centipede are not the kind of Halloween horror movies that I enjoy… so you will not find them on this list. Well, maybe one exception. Plenty of people love these movies – and I don’t judge – but they are just not for me.
Also fair warning – MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! Although I have tried not to spoil any of the movies ON the list, there are a couple of spoilers about other movies and TV shows that I have used as examples.
I also don’t claim this to be a list of the best Halloween horror movies of ALL TIME. There are some classics in the horror genre that – in their own right – are amazing. But they are not always the type of Halloween fright that I gravitate toward.
Instead, I have decided to focus on my own favorite 13 Halloween horror movies. The ones that surprised me. The ones that made me jump. The ones that I remember years – sometimes decades – after I have watched them. If you enjoy a good scare and have not seen one of these Halloween horror movies, I highly recommend you do so this year.
I have included links to these fantastic Halloween horror movies on Amazon just in case you wish to purchase or rent the film. I am an Amazon Associate, so any purchases will result in a small commission being paid to me, which will help fund this website.
My Top 13 Halloween Horror Movies
Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Not to be confused with Cabin Fever, Cabin in the Woods takes the horror genre and turns it on its head.
Although not everyone enjoyed this movie, there are more than a few things that I love about Cabin in the Woods.
I – personally – love a decent mix of horror and humor (when done properly), and this movie does it really well. Anyone who has seen the movie will appreciate the small moments of hilarity (think “Am I on Speakerphone???” or “He has a husband bulge.”) that are cleverly interwoven with the spooks and scares.
Another is the fact that it stars Chris Hemsworth in one of his early pre-Thor roles. Joss Whedon hired the relatively unknown (at least in North America at the time) actor to play the role in 2009, whereas Thor was filmed a year later in 2010. However, production and release delays meant that Cabin in the Woods was released theatrically a year after Thor’s success.
As a fan of all things Joss Whedon, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to The Avengers, I knew that I would appreciate his unique style in this movie. And he did not disappoint. I also loved Whedonverse alumni Fran Kranz from Dollhouse who plays Marty in the film and Amy Acker from both Dollhouse and Angel also made an appearance. Jesse Williams (Grey’s Anatomy) and Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) round out this amazing cast.
Finally, I love how completely unexpected the plot really is, while following the guise of a very typical horror movie. The fact that this is actually two movies in one is quite entertaining and the twists and turns mean that you don’t know what is going to happen next right up until the surprising end.
The Conjuring (2013)
The first in what turned out to be a plethora of sequels and spinoffs, including the entire Annabelle series, The Conjuring is by far the best of the bunch.
A classic paranormal horror movie, The Conjuring builds its creepy factor slowly but surely throughout the entire film until the riveting climax.
The story about a large family in the early 70s that need to seek out the help of paranormal investigators when their home becomes overrun by ghosts and ghouls is acted beautifully by Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston as the parents and Partick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as the real-life husband and wife paranormal investigative team.
The cinematography is fantastic, and the fact that it is based – loosely – on a true story makes it even creepier.
As with any “Based on a True Story” movie, there are some creative licenses that were taken to make the film cinema ready, but there are many parts that held true to the accounts of Ed & Lorraine Warren’s exploits.
Although classified as a sci-fi movie, this classic from 1986 has enough scares and jumps in it to count as a fantastic horror movie as well.
Sigourney Weaver takes the lead as Ripley, the only surviving member of a spaceship that was attacked by an alien in the original movie. Sorry for the spoiler, but if you haven’t seen Alien yet that is not my fault.
She reluctantly joins the military mission to find a missing colony of terra-formers that was living on the planet where her own battle had begun. Joining her is a rag-tag group of soldiers, led by Terminator star Michael Biehn in one of his last big roles before he sailed off into B-movie oblivion.
It has been over 30 years since I first saw this movie, and there are scenes that still make me jump to this day.
Unfortunately, the entire franchise was ruined by the subsequent sequel after sequel after sequel after prequel after sequel. So – if you want my advice – watch the first two and then stop.
Or just watch this one, as it stands up just fine on its own even if you haven’t watched the original.
Although this veers a little too far into the torture arena of horror that I am not a fan of, the original movie in the series really does a great job of taking a truth or consequences game and amping it up to a level that is terrifying.
It is the originality and twists and turns of this movie that allowed it to make it to my list of top 10 horror movies for Halloween despite its sometimes all-too-gruesome kill scenes.
This franchise saw the birth of a new monster (Jigsaw) and has managed to squeeze out 8 iterations (so far), but I never made it past the first two.
The Others (2001)
The Others is a movie that relies entirely on ambiance and mood to create an ever-building sense of tension throughout the movie.
The idea of things that go bump in the night (and the day) is amplified to a terrifying level. But it stays as the idea of something, always just below the surface, for most of the movie.
In all honesty, there is very little in the movie that actually happens. Nevertheless, you are on the edge of your seat throughout the entire film -full of anticipation – until the surprising end.
Nicole Kidman does a phenomenal job taking the lead as an overly protective and devoted mother of two young children in a large empty home, and she drives home that creepy tension to perfection.
Set near the end of World War II, this movie fully embraces its heritage as a gothic horror film, with more chills than gore (by many miles).
If you don’t like the typical slasher movie, then this is the Halloween horror movie for you.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
This off-beat horror-comedy turns the Zombie genre on its ear, while still delivering plenty of frights.
Led by Simon Pegg & Nick Frost, who went on to star in several other movies together, this cult favorite is a must-watch for any fan of Halloween horror movies.
The titular character is a 30-something guy with not much of a life and an ex-girlfriend he desperately wants to win back. But how can anything change in his going-nowhere existence?
Cue the zombies.
Shaun is then thrust into the role of protecting his best friend (Nick Frost), his girlfriend (Lucy Davis), and his mother (Downton Abbey’s Penelope Wilton).
Filled with exceptionally goofy moments, the movie still packs the right punches at all the right moments.
Get Out (2017)
Your worst “meet the parents” nightmare plays out when Chris travels to meet his girlfriend’s (Rose) parents during a weekend at their country estate.
Things quickly take a turn for the quirky when Chris meets Rose’s family and the staff at their family estate, including an exceptionally odd scene of a nighttime jog gone super weird.
Slowly but surely, quirky changes to creepy, and then to downright terrifying as the truth of the family and the people who surround them comes to light.
Although many people – rightly so – discussed the racial undertones and how they were intended as a commentary on inherent prejudice and privilege, above and beyond the important social commentary Get Out remains a taut thriller with enough twists and turns to create a wonderfully fun ride.
As much as I enjoyed Jordan Peele’s work on Get Out, his follow-up work on Us was truly disappointing. Truly. Truly. Disappointing.
28 Days Later (2002)
Cillian Murphy of Peaky Blinders fame takes the lead in this British Zombie-horror. This post-apocalyptic thriller finds Murphy’s character of Jim waking up in a hospital bed following an epidemic that has wiped out most of the population and turned them into rage-fueled zombies.
Not the first zombie movie to hit the silver screen, I did enjoy many of the twists and turns in this version.
For one, Cillian Murphy does a fantastic job in the lead role. For another, I love the way he has to maneuver his way around a desolate world, with absolutely no clue how it came to be that way (at least not at first).
For those who enjoy The Walking Dead, you may notice some similarities to Rick Grimes’ character, who experiences a relatively similar awakening.
For another, I liked the biology of the zombies and how the infection was created and transmitted, making them a more realistic version of your classic brain eater. This is a version of the zombie apocalypse that you could actually imagine coming to be. And that – in and of itself – is terrifying.
Finally, as with many zombie movies, one core theme that runs through the movie is that the undead are not the only monsters. As sad as that may be, it makes for a very entertaining film.
Horror master Wes Craven directed a brilliant horror film written by the – at the time unknown – writer Kevin Williamson.
A give and take between horror and comedy, Scream has some absolutely brilliant moments as well as some absolutely cliched moments woven meticulously throughout.
First off, the movie stars Drew Barrymore, who was plastered all over the poster art for the film.
Supporting actors included Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, and Skeet Ulrich. At least, that’s what you think until after the opening scene.
Secondly, the Rules for Surviving a Horror Movie took every single horror movie trope and boiled them down into a hilarious 2-minute scene. But it also held true to many of those tropes throughout the movie, much to the main characters’ dismay.
In fact, one of the characters calls out the annoyance with horror movies in a fantastic quote.
What’s the point? They’re all the same. Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door. It’s insulting.
Cut to a few scenes later when this particular large-breasted girl is being stalked by a killer and can’t get the front door unlocked in time so ends up running up the stairs.
Although the first in the series was the best, I did enjoy all three of the movies from the original Scream trilogy. But we’re just going to pretend that Scream 4 never, ever happened.
Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The introduction of Freddy Kreuger would create many sleepless nights for horror fans in the mid-80s, and still does to this day.
Although it has become a touch dated (would just look at how young Johnny Depp is in this movie???), the deft hand of Wes Craven means that this movie remains as scary now as it was when this movie first hit the theaters.
Although there are 8 movies in the entire series (if you don’t count Freddy vs. Jason, which I don’t), the first, third, and seventh are the only ones worth watching.
Coincidentally, they are the only ones in the series that feature leading actress Heather Langenkamp. But that is pure coincidence.
The franchise received a reboot attempt in 2010. And although the 2010 version remained very true to the original (too true, in my opinion) it lacked some of the quintessential character & charm of the original, so it paled – greatly – in comparison.
The Babadook (2014)
At first, I was unconvinced that a horror movie about a child’s pop-up book could be as scary as The Babadook turned out to be. Full of atmospheric dread, the film takes us on a wild ride of creepy monsters and a cursed book that seemingly cannot be destroyed.
What I remember most clearly was the back and forth between real and imagined monsters, ghosts vs psychosis.
Obviously, I can’t tell you whether The Babadook is real or imagined, you’ll have to discover that for yourself.
But suffice it to say that The Babadook is creepy as hell, and not a bedtime story I would EVER read to my own children.
The Green Room (2016)
A gritty horror movie with unexpected depths, The Green Room follows the misadventures of a punk rock band who get booked to play in a seedy venue seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
When they witness something they weren’t supposed to see, they instantly become targets for extinction by the club’s Neo-Nazi owners, staff, and patrons.
The late Anton Yelchin takes the lead role, and the movie holds no punches when it comes to fear and pain.
But the “fight or die” framework of the movie holds true throughout and ends up creating a wonderfully tense experience for moviegoers.
And yes, that is – indeed – Patrick Stewart who makes an exceptionally creepy appearance in the film.
The Green Room is a bit of a hidden gem, as it did not get nearly the level of attention during its limited release than I believe it deserved.
An absolute classic that had an entire generation (including myself) afraid to go in the water, Jaws holds its own as a true horror masterpiece. It’s amazing how this, and other classic old movies, can hold their own after so many years!
Directed by Steven Spielberg, Jaws was based on the Peter Benchley novel of the same name. Although those who read the book and saw the movie would notice some significant departures during the film adaptation.
I won’t go into details about the film’s plot because if you don’t know what Jaws is about, you have just landed in a spaceship from another planet and you are too busy plotting to take over the world to read my synopsis.
But the overarching theme of man vs beast is exceptionally well crafted and set the stage for generations of “I told you so!” moments in horror and disaster movies for decades to come.
Best Halloween Horror Movie Honorable Mentions
Why My List of Best Halloween Horror Movies May Be Different Than Others
You’ll notice the conspicuous absence of certain horror movies that many consider being classics.
However, the formulaic approach to modern slasher films is the main reason they did not make it into my list of the top 13 best Halloween horror movies.
They are certainly fun to watch (sometimes), but are they really the best???
Let me know in the comments below if you disagree.