Whether you’re chilling out before a costume party or working late at the lab (Halloween is a Monday this year), October 31 practically screams, “Watch something!”
Yes, there are myriad seasonal activities to be enjoyed away from the ghastly glow of your screens: be it bobbing for apples, carving jack-o-lanterns, summoning the undead, or an overpriced rideshare. But few experiences are as instantly and totally transporting as the ones provided by our go-to movies and TV shows. That’s why so many of us insist on sneaking in annual viewings of our favorites between social events and trick-or-treaters. No matter how scary busy our schedules may get, making time for the Halloween tales we cherish feels in some small way important.
Maybe you’re putting on your makeup to the familiar beats of “Beetlejuice” or working from home with “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” to keep you company. For some, the perfect All Hallows’ Eve viewing selection is terrifying. Trite but true — and in the tradition of Michael Myers — everyone’s entitled to one good scare on October 31. For others, it’s all about revisiting holiday classics, from the interminably adorable “Casper” to Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
To help inspire your viewing, IndieWire staffers have offered up what they’ll be watching for Halloween 2022. From a spooky Paul Lynde special to a legendary 2008 music video, their choices prove there are no wrong answers when it comes to the spookiest streaming question of the year: What do you watch on Halloween? Listed in no particular order, here are our top 10 picks.
Erik Adams, Samantha Bergeson, Wilson Chapman, Kate Erbland, Marcus Jones, Proma Khosla, Eric Kohn, Kristen Lopez, and Christian Zilko contributed to this article.
Courtesy Disney Channel/Everett Collection
Sure, you’ve already watched all one million “Halloween” movies that “end” this year with Jamie Lee Curtis’ final appearance as Laurie Strode…for now. But come Halloween night, there’s only one movie to watch and it’s the Disney Channel Original classic “Halloweentown.” The 1998 coming-of-age film has everything: trick-or-treating, witches, goblins, ghouls, and cinema legend Debbie Reynolds. Need I say more? “Halloweentown” centers on 13-year-old Marnie Piper (Kimberly J. Brown) who learns she is a witch after her grandmother Aggie (Reynolds) visits on Halloween. Marnie travels to the mystical realm of Halloweentown with her grandma to hone her magic, and help solve the mystery of why so many of Halloweentown’s friendly residents have gone missing. Marnie’s mother Gwen (Judith Hoag) and siblings (Joey Zimmerman and Emily Roseke) travel to find Marnie and help save Halloweentown from its sinister mayor (Robin Thomas). The sweet film has scary stunts, fantastical props, and its own distinct definition of Halloween. It’s no wonder the film spurred three sequels and even a real-life romance between two if its now married co-stars. Part ways with your bloody slasher and opt for a spooky palate cleanser courtesy of ‘90s Disney Channel: the gold standard of nostalgic teen TV. —SB
“Little Shop of Horrors” (1986)
Courtesy Warner Bros/Everett Collection
Like many great Halloween films, “Little Shop of Horrors” is only really scary if you’re under the age of 7… but if you watch it at that age, those goosebumps stick with you. Frank Oz’s adaptation of an adaptation (from 1982’s “Little Shop of Horrors” stage musical, which was based on the 1960 B movie by Roger Corman) employs jaw-dropping animatronic effects from the team behind “Labyrinth” to create the central villain: a carnivorous extraterrestrial plant named Audrey II. Those effects are realistic enough to give any budding young theater kid who stumbles upon the film nightmares. Once you get older, the scariness of Audrey II fades away slightly, but the other pleasures of the film come into clearer view: the insanely catchy and clever early ‘60s-style score from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman; the crisp and inventive direction Oz brings to the musical numbers; the sharp satirical story about consumerism and selfishness; and the sweetly sad performances from stars Rick Moranis and Ellen Green. Plus, even if you’re too old for the green plant puppet to scare you, Steve Martin’s shudder-inducing performance as a sociopathic dentist is bound to inspire some nightmares. —WC
“The Paul Lynde Halloween Special” (1976)
Courtesy Everett Collection
Karloff. Lugosi. Lynde? Mr. Center Square is no titan of terror, but his past as Samantha Steven’s puckish Uncle Arthur at least qualifies Paul Lynde to host fellow onscreen sorcerers Margaret Hamilton and Billie Hayes for one hell of a kitschy Halloween bash. “The Paul Lynde Halloween Special” is a notorious train wreck — where else are you going to find ‘70s variety show stars riffing on trucker culture and the first primetime appearance of KISS? — but I can’t help but love it for its sincerity and Bruce Vilanch-penned candy corniness. On a night that belongs to the oddballs and the outcasts, Lynde boogying to Florence Henderson’s discofied rendition of “That Old Black Magic” alongside The Wicked Witch of the West and Witchiepoo just feels right. —EA
“Over the Garden Wall” (2014)
A dreamlike fall season fantasia, “Over the Garden Wall” is an animated wonder of the highest order. Cartoonist Patrick McHale’s gorgeous odyssey finds plucky half-brothers Wirt and Greg (voiced by Elijah Wood and Collin Dean) lost in a strange forest and swept up in supernatural circumstances that range from a possessed dog to a village of living pumpkins and a lovable talking bird voiced by Melanie Lynskey. There’s an ancient storybook feel to the proceedings that suggests “Alice in Wonderland” by way of the Brothers Grimm. The story is bittersweet and scary in equal measures as it generates constant awe over the strange world that the boys find themselves in. Over the course of 10 episodes, “Over the Garden Wall” builds out its remarkable universe while keeping the overall circumstances of Wirt and Greg’s wanderings a secret until the very end. When it gets there, the miniseries (which is really a feature-length movie in disguise) manages to become a wondrous coming-of-age saga and an otherworldly meditation all at once. It’s required viewing for this ever-spooky season. —EK
“Halloween III: Season of the Witch”
Courtesy Universal/Everett Collection
There are few things I love more than adhering to a theme – when it comes to dressing, eating, decorating, whatever – so it should come as little surprise that my number one “what to watch on Halloween pick” is a film literally about the terrors of watching scary things on Halloween. I’m talking, of course, about “Halloween III: Season of the Witch”!
Despite the many iterations of John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s seminal franchise – including their own sequels, Rob Zombie’s spin on the Michael Myers mythos, and David Gordon Green’s own just-concluded trilogy – the horror maestros weren’t initially interested in turning Laurie Strode’s trauma into a series. Instead, they wanted to craft a horror anthology assembled under the general banner of “Halloween.” (Of course, Michael Myers took up that banner and ran with it, but c’est la vie.)
The first – and only – instance of using the “Halloween” title and brand to include non-Michael Myers stories is Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1982 directorial debut, which swaps Haddonfield, Illinois for Santa Maria, California (both, of course, fictional towns that ably stand in for general ideas of “suburbs” and “small towns”) and singular murderous psychopaths for a group of devious witchcraft devotees. The film opens at breakneck speed – literally – as we see a single figure, running for his life across an abandoned NorCal environ, clutching one creepy item: a kid’s Halloween mask. Soon, the addled man, screeching about murders and death and, yes, kid’s Halloween masks, is placed under the care of a rogue-ish doc, Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins, who rules). When he turns up dead (oops), Dr. Dan and the dead dude’s cute daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) team up to crack a very weird case indeed.
It leads them to Santa Maria, a town founded by Irish immigrants and almost entirely funded by the successful local mask factory (sing the jingle: “sil/ver sham/rock”) that employs nearly every citizen of the seriously creepy village. Just what the hell is going on at the factory? What’s in those masks? And what’s going to happen on, yes, Halloween night, when Silver Shamrock takes to the airwaves with a zippy new commercial that requires its youngest customers to slap on their masks and stare deeply at the small screen? Well, it’s nothing good, but it’s also nothing anyone could have possibly imagined, particularly through the lens of what “Halloween” was and what it’s become. It’s an outlier, sure, but it’s also scary, creepy, original, and endlessly watchable. Just don’t watch it while wearing a mask. —KE
It’s generally understood that the purpose of a movie poster is to convince people that the movie in question is good. But Juan Piquer Simón’s “Pieces” has a very different philosophy, devoting almost every word of its marketing materials to lowering your expectations. “You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre,” the poster reads, before driving things home with the punchline: “It’s exactly what you think it is.”
With that kind of pitch, you’d be forgiven for thinking this 1982 slasher movie is a generic rip-off. That’s half true, but it’s anything but generic. “Pieces” has about as much in common with Tobe Hooper’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” as “The Eric Andre Show” has with “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” Every component is technically there, but they’re rearranged in a bizarrely hilarious way that creates an unforgettable viewing experience. Come for the mysterious villain who spends his days hacking up college girls with a chainsaw, stay for the rogue kung-fu masters jumping out of bushes. Few movies make less sense, but even fewer have brought me more joy. —CZ
Courtesy Universal/Everett Collection
For me, Halloween is an opportunity to pull out my “Tales From the Crypt” DVDs (though, really, I do this several times out of the year). The Crypt Keeper is a great horror host and it’s a fantastic master class of some of the greatest actors and directors out there. If I’m picking the one I specifically watch for Halloween, it’s Season 5’s “Forever Ambergris,” following two war photographers (one played by Who frontman Roger Daltrey and the other played by Steve Buscemi). One’s jealousy of the other leads to a confrontation in a jungle with a mysterious virus ripping through it. It’s as gory as it is sexy, with “Tales” patented mix of nudity combined with disgusting makeup effects. Let’s just say this episode ends with a sex scene that I can only describe as “soupy.” And who doesn’t want to see Buscemi rocking some amazing creature effects? “Tales” episodes are, at their heart, often morality tales, and this one definitely gets Biblical with its moral being “never covet they neighbor’s wife….especially when their skin is peeling off.” —KL
Courtesy Universal/Everett Collection
On October 31 I will be booting up M. Night Shyamalan’s “Old,” the movie about the beach that makes people old. The 2021 film was exhaustively memed upon release, but that’s just the beginning. “Old” is a special breed of insanity that must be seen to be understood. Objectively, elements like its cinematography and editing are decent, even innovative — but combined with a clunky script and misguided direction they yield one of the most chaotic cinematic experiences I have ever known. Characters have no identity beyond names and vocations — and when they aren’t redundantly repeating those, they explain the beach’s sorcery as if to preempt questions from viewers. Shyamalan pulls impressively bad performances from a talented cast, but at least one genuinely satisfying emotional scene with Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps. About halfway through the movie is a sequence so unhinged and relentless, culminating in a line so unexpectedly hilarious that I had to pause and recover. There is a character named Mid-Sized Sedan. “Old” may not be a good movie, but it is entertaining as heck, and the scariest part is that as soon as I finished my first viewing I wanted nothing more than to watch again and again. —PK
I am admittedly still of the age where the word “Halloweekend” is a part of my vocabulary come October, so when I think of things to watch on Halloween, I am looking for work that pumps me up for a night of parties — not leaves me broken, hiding under the covers so the monsters don’t get me. Enter “Disturbia”: the music video for the third No. 1 hit to come from Rihanna’s “Good Girl Gone Bad” era. Directed by Anthony Mandler, the clip offers plenty of images of things that go “bum bum be-dum” in the night, including Rihanna herself throwing on some ghoulish contacts and a cropped blonde wig to go demon mode. Plus, the frenetic, ritualistic choreography matched with the lyrics “Your train of thought will be altered” set the stage for the perfect spooky pre-game ritual. —MJ
“28 days. 6 hours. 42 minutes. 12 seconds. That is when the world will end.” Proclaimed by a time-traveling rabbit named Frank, this unforgettable line kicks off the ill-fated journey central to Andrew Kelly’s “Donnie Darko”: an underseen 2001 Sundance darling that’s since earned cult status for its emotionally fraught approach to science fiction and existential terror.
Set against the Halloween festivities of 1988 suburbia, the film follows an especially moody 19-year-old Jake Gyllenhaal as the titular troubled teen. Along with his parents and sisters (Mary McDonnell and Maggie Gyllenhaal are brilliant as mom Rose and older sister Elizabeth, albeit for different reasons), Donnie struggles to cope with the increasingly alarming hallucinations his therapist says are symptomatic of schizophrenia. Of course, Kelly’s subversive superhero portrait considers the young man’s state of mind with a far wider lens: in the end, capturing a reality-bending metaphysical nightmare that’s forever tethered to Halloween — if only in the most superficial sense.
As slippery, smart, and unceasingly frustrating as the script he’s performing, Gyllenhaal’s hero characters acts as a kind of conduit for an intoxicating perspective on the universe that’s unendingly scary (and, at times, equally confusing). A bit bleak and a bit hopeful, the cyclical horror of what happened in 1988 Middlesex, Virginia is made more haunting by the sense that in some worlds it didn’t happen at all. —AF