Every year around this time TV-watchers snuggle up to blankets, hot chocolate, individually wrapped candies and scary movie after scary movie. Everyone has their favorites, their go-to’s, their must-watch “Halloween” shows/movies/specials. But if you are one of the unlucky few who never got into this wonderful holiday, let me share my top picks for the ultimate Halloween viewing experience.

Obviously you can’t watch all of these in one day, but since Halloween falls on a Tuesday this year you can easily knock these out over an extended weekend, or have them on as background material during a holiday party.

Here’s my list, comment yours below!

Stranger Things seasons 1-2

There is no shortage of great content to be enjoyed on Netflix. The video on demand service once stated its mission was to be HBO before HBO became them, and with House of Cards, Making a Murderer and Mindhunter they’ve succeeded. Arguably the cream of the crop, especially for fans who grew up with 1980’s, Amblin-style entertainment, is Stranger Things. Season one premiered in the summer of 2016 and was an instant hit. It perfectly blended the 1980’s “kids getting into mischief-adventure” of The Goonies with “rescue the magical thing being hunted by the government” of E.T.  with the creepy vibe of the best X-Files episodes.

Millennials who cut their teeth on Stand By Me and grew up being freaked out by the Unsolved Mysteries theme song took to the show like a moth to a flame. Stellar acting from kids and adults is a high-point, as is the engrossing story that works exactly as Netflix intended it: A visual page-turner/binge-watcher.

Is it the scariest thing you could watch around Halloween? No, but there are few shows so pitch-perfect in its thrills, mystery, adventure and—when necessary—horror.

Season one’s eight episodes can be watched right now on Netlfix; season two (set at least partially during Halloween, 1984) is coming on the 27th with a nine-episode order and a promise to up the horror level significantly.

The Shining

Okay, so The Shining as Stanley Kubrick realized it is dramatically different from the source material as written by Steven King. Obviously the basic skeleton is there: Jack Torrace is an aspiring writer who locks his family into the Overlook Hotel during the winter months in the hopes of finishing his work and reconnecting with this wife and son. His son, Danny, possesses a sort of telepathy (called “the shining”) which interacts with the haunted hotel’s various spirits and causes the boy to see frightening visions. Meanwhile Jack slowly succumbs to cabin fever and the influence of the haunted surroundings, and turns murderous.

That’s basically what happens in both movie and book, but King’s writing style and Kubrick’s visual style are polar opposites. Steven King is detailed, descriptive and deliberate. Kubrick is stylized, mysterious and evocative. King—being a writer—tells; Stanley Kubrick would rather show you something bizarre and go out of his way not to tell. Kubrick took the skeleton of the story and, depending on who you believe, told an allegory of either the end of the Gold Standard, or the mistreatment of Native Americans by the United States.

King disliked the surrealist take on his book and eventually wrote a TV miniseries-adaptation himself to “do it right.” It disappointed and failed to leave a lasting impression. Kubrick’s movie may not have been faithful, but it’s a film that sticks with you. The amazing and creepy camera work, the slowly-escalating tension, the flashes of horror that Danny sees, the chase through the snow-covered maze, and the shot of Dick taking an ax to the chest that makes me jump every single time I see it no matter how many times I see it…it all adds up to a movie that may be set in the winter but is perfect for Halloween.

An American Werewolf in London

John Landis, who made a name for himself with absurdist comedies like Animal House and Blues Brothers had been sitting on a spec script for a new-age werewolf movie for a decade before he finally had the clout to make it.

Two things set AWL apart from other “wolfman” movies.

The first is the film’s refusal to slip into melodrama. There are some heavy moments to be had, and the ending is certainly mellow, but there’s a playful tone to all of it. It’s like a campfire story told with a wink and nod. Case in point is the character of Jack Goodman, who spends much of the movie as a dead guy with half his face ripped off. Is he complaining? No: He’s as joy-filled and effervescent as one can be.

The second, and easily the film’s most enduring legacy, is the werewolf transformation. Old wolfman movies had transformations occur in darkened rooms or done in waves, where various shots of the actor in different stages of makeup would be edited together, usually with some kind of cut-away/cut-back, or just an obvious transition overlaid on the screen…

AWL had its transformation happen in a bright living room, and you get to see the various stages of change happen in real-time. There are still some camera tricks where Landis has to cut together the different sequences, but the individual moments feature hands and feet stretching into paws, shoulder blades erecting, hair spontaneously growing and a snout growing out of a face…

Rick Baker designed the sequence(s) using every available trick of the book. At times the “body” of the wolf/man hybrid was a complete fake, while actor David Naughton was under the floor, sticking his face through a hole. Other moments featured state of the art prosthetics, designed to inflate and expand as needed in order to show a true transformation in real-time. It looks charmingly quaint today, but in an era before computer-generated trickery, it required real ingenuity and skill to pull off. Today it can be done with a keyboard and a mouse, but those results are sometimes hit and miss. There’s no faking the real thing.

John Landis himself admitted the movie was a hard sell in 1981, because for many viewers it was either too funny to be scary or too scary to be funny. In the almost forty years since release, it’s managed to endure where many other effects-heavy and genre-specific films have been forgotten. It’s probably the last great werewolf movie (unless you’re one of those who loved Teen Wolf unironically) and a proof that you don’t need to be scared-witless to enjoy a great horror movie on Halloween.

~

That’s my list for this year’s horror-and-candy-filled holiday. Feel free to comment on what you’ll be watching this year.

Whatever it is, I hope you watch it with eyes wide open, with goosebumps tingling and with pants a little wetter than they were before.

Enjoy your Halloween!

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  • callmeishmael

    I feel like I must be missing something because I’m not seeing ten things in the list. Either way, these are some prime choices I’ve honestly never considered watching for Halloween since I’m one of those people who just watches Hocus Pocus over and over again (and, this year, silently cry that they’re making a new one and will probably ruin everything). I’ve been meaning to watch Stranger Things, so I’m going to give that one a go to celebrate the season and cross something off my list.

    • matthew martin

      I originally was going to write ten but changed my mind and decided to do more than just make a simple list.

      You should definitely watch Stranger Things; it’s amazing.

      • callmeishmael

        That is totally understandable. I’d way rather have some depth than just a list! I didn’t know 90% of the things you said about these, so that was great.

        I definitely will and I’m sure I’ll be back here to fangirl about it. The actors all seem amazing. I’ve been in love with Winona since forever; call me Saks Fifth Avenue, because she stole my heart. I’m excited to see her in something new.

  • PoisonIvy

    I definitely can agree with Stranger Things. When we first started watching it on Netflix, I wasn’t overly interested in what I thought was a “kids show”, however I quickly changed my tune. What an amazing show, and I am really excited about the Stranger Things premiere tonight! On a side note, can you believe I have never seen the entire Shining from start to finish? I swear I am the only person on the planet.

    • matthew martin

      I just started ST season two today. So far so great.

      You really owe it to yourself to see The Shining!

  • KeeperofUnicorns

    “The Shinning” is a must see classic. That movie still gives me chills today! Nothing beats redrum and those spooky twins. I didn’t realize Steven King was upset with the director’s adaptation. The director apparently treated Shelley Duval horribly in order to make the scenes look real.

  • SyFyFanatic

    These are all great movies and I have seen them all. Transformations, whether full on viewed or imagined, all take place in the viewers mind anyway. If you are a true horror film buff, you have a great imagination that carries your favorite films irregardless.

    • CultAddicted

      I have to agree with you to some extent. You have to have a great imagination especially with the older movies because the special effects were not as good as they are now. I still thought they were scary in their time.

  • EverGreen

    To this day, the film version of “The Shining” still gives me nightmares. I think Jack Nicholson is absolutely chilling in the role. I read the book years ago, but it had nowhere near such an effect on me!

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