Halloween is upon us. No matter what the calendar says, when summer ends, spooky season begins. (Time is meaningless this year anyway.)
To get you in the mood, we’re not only rounding up our favorite horror and horror-adjacent movies that are perfect to watch in the lead up to Halloween, but movies you can stream on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Disney Plus, Shudder, and the myriad other services available in this golden age of streaming. We’ve included classic and modern horror (from The Thing to Midsommar) as well as kid-friendly options (Hocus Pocus, Halloweentown) and a few that straddle the line between family-oriented and nightmare-inducing (Beetlejuice, The Witches.)
Michael Keaton’s iconic performance as the “bio-exorcist” is so outsized, it’s easy to forget that Beetlejuice actually focuses more on the relationship between the recently deceased Barbara and Adam Maitland (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) and the goth teen Delia (Winona Ryder). Keaton doesn’t actually show up until about halfway through the movie — but the supporting cast makes the whole thing wonderful. Before there was Schitt’s Creek, there was Catherine O’Hara in a flamboyant black dress dancing to “Jump in Line.”
Beetlejuice is streaming on Peacock.
With Blade set to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s worth remembering why Wesley Snipes iconic performance as the half-human vampire hunter is such a high bar to clear. From a Polygon essay on the subject:
In his performances as Blade, Snipes projects a mentality and guarded interior life as only a nuanced actor could. As the “Daywalker,” a legendary half-human vampire on a crusade to eradicate his fellow bloodsuckers, he creates the contradictory impression of an antisocial weirdo with the comic timing of a funny, charismatic dude. With all that, he brings the attention to physicality of a screen martial artist. Though almost universally beloved in his performances as Blade, Snipes rarely gets enough credit for bringing all of those facets together.
Blade is streaming on HBO Max.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Many have adapted Bram Stoker’s Dracula over the years to varying effect, but Francis Ford Coppola’s is one of the best. Starring Gary Oldman as the titular count, Coppola’s adaptation leans more into goth than camp, giving the film a lush, operatic vibe. (It also might have led to its ’90s heartthrob stars Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves accidentally being married for real, which is a weird delightful fact.)
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is streaming on Shudder.
The Cabin in the Woods
There’s something for everyone in Drew Goddard’s loving sendup of the “cabin in wood” genre, encompassing everything from Evil Dead to “torture porn.” The Cabin in the Woods opens on Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins in lab coats, discussing plans for a big upcoming project. It lasts just long enough for you to wonder if you’re in the wrong movie before the title pops up as a jump scare. As it turns out, this underground facility is preparing to perform a ritual: sacrificing a group of teens.
The teens in question head to a cabin, where they check off a bunch of slasher movie clichés: they all explore a creepy basement, the two hot blondes sneak off to have sex in the woods, the stoner kid spouts off a philosophical monologue. Eventually they’re attacked by a “Zombie Redneck Torture Family” unaware that their deaths are appeasing a mysterious evil force.
And if that’s not enough for you, it stars a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth as a jock with a heart of gold.
The Cabin in the Woods is streaming on Hulu.
With Nia DaCosta’s remake on the way, now’s the perfect time to revisit the 1992 classic, which stars Virginia Madsen as a graduate student researching urban legends who summons an undead slayer, the Candyman, who was murdered in the 1890s by a lynch mob. Bearing a hook hand and followed by a swarm of bees, the Candyman (Tony Todd) is a horror icon alongside Jason Voorhees and Freddy Kruger, but there’s more to this movie. By shooting in and around Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing project, the terror takes on a deeper social meaning.
Even if you haven’t seen Brian De Palma’s Carrie, you’ve probably seen at least a still from its most infamous, bloody scene. Widely regarded as one of the best horror movies all time (and the very first adaptation of Stephen King’s work, which feels inconceivable given how proliferate adaptations of the horror icon’s work are now), Carrie turns up the dial on mundane, domestic experiences. De Palma knows just how scary seeming everyday things — high school, getting your first period — can be, and winds it all into a tale of outcast Carrie White (Sissy Spacek), whose abuse at the hands of her religious mother and her classmates lead to an unforgettable prom night. —Karen Han
Carrie is streaming on Showtime.
Creature features are at their best when they lean into the audience-pleasing absurdity, which Alexandre Aja certainly does in his 2019 film about killer alligators infesting the rising waters of a Florida hurricane. As Polygon’s own Floridian Petrana Radulovic wrote in her review:
Everyone — human or animal — in this movie makes incredibly stupid decisions, and that’s the beauty of Crawl. Everything that could go wrong goes wrong, thanks in no part to everyone acting like a total moron. Haley finds her dad in the crawl space of the old family home, which he just decided to visit because what if something happened to it during the Category 5 hurricane? A gaggle of teenagers raids a convenience store in the middle of the storm. When Haley and her father finally do get out of the crawl space, they decide to cross the alligator-infested waters instead of finding a stable high place in their house — very brave! The characters are all incredibly, chaotically, confidently stupid, but it is all very true to Florida, the state that regularly makes national headlines due to truly inane criminals confidently committing equally ridiculous crimes.
10 Cloverfield Lane
Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield is an essential entry in the found footage genre, but it’s (loosely related) sequel, 10 Cloverfield Lane, that we’d wholeheartedly recommend. Dan Trachtenberg’s directorial debut stars John Goodman as Howard, a doomsday prepper who imprisons two strangers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr.) in his bunker, claiming that he saved them from a chemical attack. The terror comes from not knowing whether Howard is crazy or correct (or both.)
Polygon recently interviewed Trachtenberg about the sense that 10 Cloverfield Lane is a perfect film for quarantine. Asked whether the film was on his mind as social distancing measures were put in place, he replied, “I definitely was like, ‘I wish we had a bunker.’”
10 Cloverfield Lane is streaming on Crackle.
With a whopping 8% score on Rotten Tomatoes, Fantasy Island deserves to join the canon of beloved bad horror movies alongside The Wicker Man (2006), House of Wax, and The Happening. Blumhouse’s adaptation of the classic ABC show stars Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars, Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare) as one of a group of people promised a resort vacation and the fulfillment of the fantasy of their choice.
The plot is thin, the twist doesn’t make any sense, and the scares aren’t at all scary, but Fantasy Island is still endearing because everyone looks like they’re having a lot of fun. Particularly delightful to watch are Jimmy O. Yang (Silicon Valley, Space Force) and Ryan Hansen (Veronica Mars, Party Down), who should be cast as brothers in everything from now on.
Fantasy Island is streaming on Starz.
Friday the 13th
The 1980 movie that helped kick off the decade’s slasher craze is underrated today, given that it was followed by so many subpar, routine horror movies mostly built around bloody special effects. But the original film is actually pretty chilling, for a few reasons. It’s a reminder that you never really know what’s going through other people’s heads, so just interacting with strangers can be dangerous for reasons that have nothing to do with you. And it’s also a reminder that it’s hard to see very far at night in the woods. Set at a summer camp where a killer is stalking various young people (including a barely formed Kevin Bacon), Friday the 13th spends a lot of time watching its victims from the killer’s POV, with the camera just lurking behind nearby trees, practically within stabbing distance. Most horror movies rely on some kind of isolated setting where the victims can’t easily seek sanctuary. Friday the 13th runs with that idea, turning a beautifully shot green forest into an accessory to murder, and a quiet solo canoeing trip into the ultimate terror. —Tasha Robinson
Of course no Halloween movie list would be complete without John Carpenter’s Halloween. Taking place on Halloween night, it stars a 20-year-old Jamie Lee Curtis (in her feature film debut) as Laurie Strode, a babysitter being stalked by the mask-wearing, knife-wielding serial killer Michael Myers. It established Curtis as a scream queen, Carpenter as a horror auteur, and Michael Myers as a go-to Halloween costume.
And if you’re looking to make it a double feature, we’d recommend skipping the Halloween sequels and diving straight into the sublime 2018 reboot. Unfortunately it’s not streaming anywhere, but you can rent Halloween (2018) on Amazon.
Halloween is streaming on Shudder.
The fall of 1998 was a magical time for American children. Halloweentown premiered on the Disney Channel just a month after Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone debuted in the US. Both films featured a seemingly ordinary child learning that they come from a family of witches and wizards/warlocks, then entering a secret world of magic and thwarting an evil sorcerer. Am I suggesting that Halloweentown deserves to be a global phenomenon on the scale of Harry Potter? Why, yes, yes I am.
Halloweentown is streaming on Disney Plus.
Hereditary and Midsommar
Ari Aster mines the horror of dysfunctional relationships in his first two features, Hereditary and Midsommar. The former stars Toni Collette as a woman neglecting her family as she grieves the loss of her creepy, estranged mother. The plot twists are at turns bonkers and devastating, and if you’ve managed to remain unspoiled we’d highly recommend avoiding any plot details and letting the movie work its magic on you.
His 2019 follow-up Midsommar doesn’t quite hit the same high marks, but it does a good job of illustrating the mundane horror that a bad boyfriend can inflict. (Fair warning: it also features one of the most disgusting practical effects I’ve ever seen.)
Both films feature some truly creepy imagery that will stick around in your brain long after watching — Hereditary will have you checking every shadowy corner but Midsommar promises that bright sunlight can be plenty disturbing as well.
Hereditary and Midsommar are streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
High School Musical director-choreographer Kenny Ortega is a visionary when it comes to family-friendly camp, and the cult classic Hocus Pocus is one of his finest works. Starring Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler, and Sarah Jessica Parker as 300-year-old witches brought back to life in 1993 when a virgin lights the Black Flame Candle, Hocus Pocus is just an absolute blast.
Hocus Pocus is streaming on Disney Plus.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The great thing about Tim Burton’s stop-motion musical is that you can watch it anytime between now and Christmas and it’ll always be seasonally appropriate.
The Nightmare Before Christmas is streaming on Disney Plus.
The original entry in the now-sprawling Paranormal Activity franchise was shot for only $15,000, a fact that both makes perfect sense (most of the scares come from offscreen noises and a few easy-to-rig practical effects) and boggles the mind (it earned nearly $200 million at the box office.) The framing device is that Katie’s (Katie Featherston) boyfriend Micah (Micah Sloat) sets up a webcam to film them while they sleep, since Katie believes she’s being haunted by a demon. Against the advice of a psychic, Micah taunts the demon, which predictably makes the haunting worse. Turns out the real demons were bad boyfriends all along.
Paranormal Activity is streaming on Netflix.
Ready or Not
Starring Samara Weaving as a bride whose blue-blooded in-laws try to kill her in a deadly game of hide and seek on her wedding night, Ready or Not is framed as a darkly comedic satire skewering the 1% — a kind of Cabin in the Woods meets Succession.
Not since Clue, has a film so perfectly taken on extreme wealth in a comedic form. From not so blushing bride, to scream queen, to a kick-ass bride, not too far from Uma Thurman’s The Bride in Kill Bill, Weaving leads the ensemble cast with raw survival instincts. I left the theater cheering, “Eat the rich.” If you don’t fall into that category, it’s a total romp.
Ready or Not is streaming on HBO Max.
Gore Verbinski’s The Ring, based on the Japanese movie Ringu, which was in turn based on Koji Suzuki’s novel of the same name, kicked off a trend of English-language remakes of Asian horror movies. But even after The Grudge, One Missed Call, The Uninvited, and all the others, The Ring stands out as the best (and scariest) of the lot thanks to Verbinski’s spooky, shadowy visuals and a moody score by Hans Zimmer. The plot is simple: a cursed VHS tape causes whoever watches it to die in seven days. Naomi Watts investigates. But the image of a nightgown-clad girl with soaking wet hair climbing out of a TV surely scarred a generation.
The Ring is streaming on Showtime.
Like Cabin in the Woods above, Wes Craven’s murderous satire revels in horror tropes. The masked killer Ghostface is clearly modeled off of slasher icons like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, who mercilessly slaughter teens for nebulous vengeful reasons. The 1996 film opens with a cameo from Drew Barrymore, who answers a phone call from Ghostface in which he makes her answer questions about horror movies before murdering her boyfriend and then killing her and hanging her from a tree. More murders follow in typical horror movie fashion, and the film is simultaneously a slasher, a dark comedy, and a twisty whodunnit. A series of sequels follow roughly the same premise, but the original is the best when it comes to blending those genres.
Scream is streaming on CBS All Access.
Tim Burton’s adaptation of the Washington Irving short story is a cult classic thanks to Burton’s signature aesthetic and some wonderfully hammy performances, especially from Christopher Walken who plays the infamous headless horseman. Unlike some of Burton’s more family friendly fare (see: The Nightmare Before Christmas above) Sleepy Hollow fully leans into the macabre, with spooky and gory visual effects that evoke a creepy atmosphere from start to finish.
Sleepy Hollow is streaming on Netflix.
John Carpenter’s The Thing is known for three things: impressively gross special effects, an evocative feeling of cold, and Kurt Russell’s perfectly feathered hair.
The Thing is streaming on Starz.
Jordan Peele’s follow-up to Get Out is simultaneously a heck of a lot of fun and pretty dang terrifying. That’s thanks in large part to the performances, led by Lupita Nyong’o in one of the most impressive performances of her career as both a protective mother and her vengeful doppelganger. From our review:
Peele constructed Us to spark conversation without sacrificing his instinct to be wildly entertaining. There are hilarious kills and barbarous acts of violence. There are deep societal reads on 21st-century life in the U.S. (wink) and also jokes about explaining the drug references in rap lyrics to kids. There are sequences in film that recall the most artful horror films of the 1970s — and there are sequences that directly shout out to C.H.U.D..
The writer-director does not possess a high- or low-brow barometer. As far as Us and Get Out are concerned, there’s only a mission to provoke, stir, wake, and mesmerize the audience by any and every means necessary. He succeeds by layering on mystery and pushing his ensemble to a physical and mental brink. At a time when most movies divest in intelligence to cater to (then lose out on) the largest audience imaginable, Peele instead prioritizes ideas to make a terrifying, enthralling horror movie for all of us.
Us is streaming on Cinemax.
What We Do in the Shadows
If you’ve been enjoying the What We Do in the Shadows FX series, we definitely recommend sinking you teeth back into the original film. It’s tempting to come down one one side — that either that there’s no beating the original or that the series has supplanted the movie — but in my estimation there’s no use comparing. The show is just a perfect adaptation of a perfect film.
What We Do in the Shadows is streaming on Kanopy.
The Witches is obviously going to be scary. Adapted from a book by Roald Dahl, whose bitter sense of humor delighted in endangering human souls, the “children’s movie” was the brainchild of Nicolas Roeg, who had directed the chilling psychological thriller Don’t Look Now, and Jim Henson, who had his own dark streak after Labyrinth and The Storyteller. But I assumed that what terrified me as a kid couldn’t possibly be as scarring as it was back in the ’90s.
Good/bad news: The Witches is still deeply effed up. And not just by the time we watch a convention hall full of witches transform two kids into mice. The very first seconds find the elderly Helga (Mai Zetterling) tucking her grandson Luke (Jasen Fisher) into bed, and lulling him to sleep with a horrific story about a little girl kidnapped off the streets in broad daylight. Good night, kiddo!
The combination of Dahl’s bleak plot turns, from the offscreen death of Luke’s parents to a witch who lures the grieving young boy out of his treehouse with the promise of a pet snake, Roeg’s in-your-face camerawork and Henson’s creature effects make every second of The Witches unencumbered, gleeful torture. Huston and her fleet of bald sorceresses (a few played by stodgy men, who probably disappeared in the crowds in the pre-HD days) hold up as much as my childhood memories would hope. The half-human/half-mouse animatronics are somehow even more gruesome. How was this allowed??? I’m so glad it was allowed. —Matt Patches
The Witches is streaming on Netflix.