Five Underrated Horror Picks for the Halloween Season

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Around the spooky season, horror movies are considered by many to be an essential fall activity. Sure, you have your Halloweens, Screams, Trick ‘r Treats, etc… But where do you go if you want alternative spooky entertainment? Well, fear not, because this list of underseen favorites, ranging from gory eighties slashers to family-friendly Halloween specials, covers it all.

5: The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

Initially dismissed as a typical, over-exploitative misogynistic slasher upon release, The Slumber Party Massacre has received a somewhat wide reappraisal over the past couple of decades. Written by women’s rights activist Rita Mae Brown, the film’s script was originally conceived as a feminist parody of the subgenre. However, the tone of the script was altered by meddling producers who wanted something more “serious”. Despite this, the film contains a spark of life that makes it a must-see gem for any fans of retro horror. Here, a relatively bare-bones stalk-’n-slash premise is infused with so much humor, charm, creativity, and thrills that it’s impossible for the viewer not to be won over in the end. 

4: The Fog (1980)

A buried gem in the catalog of legendary horror master John Carpenter, The Fog is a perfect late-night ghost story for the Halloween season, initially presented with the sleepy warmth of a spooky tale told around the campfire. It’s a story of a seaside town that ends up being haunted by the sins of its past, and while the glacial pacing might be off-putting at first, the story becomes truly compelling once you settle into its rhythms. Carpenter’s droning score is ethereal and evocative, and the few bursts of violence are genuinely shocking and intense due to the otherwise languid pacing. Horror veterans Jamie Lee Curtis and her mother Janet Leigh turn in excellent performances, but the quiet, creeping dread and foggy coastal atmosphere make this a truly excellent and atmospheric ghost story.

3: House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Essentially operating as a compilation of everything Halloween, House on Haunted Hill is a combination of the haunted house and murder mystery tropes, centering around a group of five people offered 10,000 dollars to spend the night in a spooky haunted mansion. Is it a standard, non-supernatural thriller? Is it a ghost story? To provide an answer would spoil the fun, but overall the film is a wonderful mix of tropes from both genres. There are skeletons, acid pits, secret passages, severed heads, cobwebs, and the entire thing is anchored by a chilling, dryly-comic performance from the legendary Vincent Price. In terms of movies that feel like the holiday, it’s hard to get more authentically “autumn” than this. 

2: The Beyond (1981)

Directed by famed Italian “Godfather of Gore” Lucio Fulci, this nightmarish, squishy, Lovecraftian gem is not for the faint of heart. Centering around a woman who purchases a hotel with a mysterious secret, this film contains some of the most memorable horror moments in a decade that is full of them. Viewers unacquainted with Italian horror may be confused and off-put by the bizarre pacing, graphic, almost cartoonish gore, and hazy, dreamlike atmosphere but once the viewer settles in, the film becomes truly compelling. Italian horror is mainly about the vibes, and in those terms, The Beyond is truly otherworldly. A strange mix of cosmic horror, zombie imagery, and gothic spookiness, this has something to please every type of horror fan–just don’t expect a coherent plot.

1: The Halloween Tree (1999)

One of the most moving, beautiful evocations of the holiday ever put to screen, The Halloween Tree is a whimsical Halloween treat for the whole family. Based on a classic novel by famed genre fiction author Ray Bradbury, the story centers on a young group of friends taken on a journey through Halloween history while trying to save their dying friend, this animated special contains some truly gorgeous seasonal imagery. There’s a very real, very sad sense of melancholy and death to all of the proceedings here, and by forcing its young characters to confront potential loss head-on, this film’s emphasis on the holiday’s inherent melancholy takes it a cut above other children’s Halloween entertainment.