I am in the midst of my first annual “Twelve Nights of Halloween” celebration. Halloween is my favorite holiday – y’all can have your Christmas and your Thanksgiving and your Easter, but leave me the season of tricks, treats, thrills, chills, bonfires, corn mazes and horror movies. I typically spend a couple of nights watching scary and/or sci-fi movies and television, but this year, I’ve decided to try something a little different. Because I want to revisit some familiar favorites (Stranger Things, Poltergeist) AND experience some new-to-me media (Hush, The Hunger), I’m spreading it out over twelve nights. You can keep your leaping lords, your milking maids and your swimming swans; I’ll take the things that go bump in the night.
I have some pretty specific rules about what types of horror I will – and won’t – watch. I will always say yes to monster stories (Alien, A Quiet Place, Jaws), serial killer thrillers (The Silence of the Lambs, Seven, Zodiac), horror-comedies (Tremors, Gremlins, Shaun of the Dead), and psychological horror (The Shining, basically anything directed by Alfred Hitchcock). I will always say no to demonic possessions, torture porn, and splatter/gore. Other subgenres are case-by-case: I typically enjoy ghost stories and I typically don’t care for body horror. If I’m not sure about something, I’ll err on the side of caution and skip it; I don’t need another reason to lay awake at night.
Of course, Halloween-themed media doesn’t have to be horror; whether Halloween episodes of your favorite sitcoms, Halloween-themed baking competitions, animation or a Tim Burton movie marathon, there’s a little something for everyone.
Here’s a peek at my “Twelve Nights of Halloween” watchlist (asterisks indicate a first-time viewing for me):
- Double feature: Poltergeist and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
While Poltergeist might seem like the more obvious choice for Halloween, the holiday is an important plot point in E.T. And these films make a natural double feature for me: the two opened just a week apart in June of 1982, both feature otherworldly beings upending a suburban family’s lives, and both were developed by Steven Spielberg (the level of Spielberg’s involvement in the production of Poltergeist has been hotly debated for almost four decades). It’s hard to overstate the impact this pair of films have had on me, and I doubt I will ever tire of them.
You can stream Poltergeist on HBO Max; E.T. is available on Peacock.
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show
What can I say? I grew up in the era of the Rocky Horror midnight movie phenomenon. A tribute to the sci-fi and horror “B movies” of the 1950s and ’60s, Rocky Horror is a horror/comedy/musical hybrid that’s campy as hell and absurdly entertaining. The film was panned by critics upon its initial release in 1975 and struggled to find an audience. But on April 1, 1976, Rocky Horror had its first midnight screening at the Waverly Theater in Greenwich Village, and a cult hit was born. The Rocky Horror Picture Show has the longest theatrical run (forty-five years and counting) of any film in history, but you don’t need a midnight showing to see it – you can stream it on Hulu or Amazon Prime.
Since finishing Midnight Mass a week ago, I’m interested in experiencing more of Mike Flanagan’s work. Many of his projects seem too scary for me, so I’m wading in cautiously, beginning with 2016’s Hush. Starring Flanagan’s frequent collaborator – and spouse – Kate Siegel, Hush is the story of a deaf writer named Maddie who has retreated to a remote house in the woods to work on her novel. And since nothing good ever happens at a remote house in the woods, Maddie soon finds herself being stalked by a masked killer. Clocking in at just eighty-one minutes, Hush is barely longer than a television episode, so finding a spot on my schedule for it should be easy (but I’ll probably watch it during daylight hours).
Hush is available for streaming on Netflix.
- Stranger Things and Firestarter
At the heart of both stories is an extraordinary – and extraordinarily gifted – girl being hunted by government baddies. Stranger Things was pitched as “What if Steven Spielberg directed a Stephen King movie?”, and Firestarter was clearly a huge influence on the Duffers. The CIA-sanctioned human experiments, the children born with special powers, the use of the ITC Benguiat font, even the dreamy, synth-driven soundtracks (Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein are obviously Tangerine Dream fans): the reverence for Firestarter is everywhere in Stranger Things.
Stranger Things is available to stream on Netflix; Firestarter is on HBO Max.
- The Hunger*
A Twitter friend rewatched The Hunger last week and I commented that I’d never seen it, so I decided to remedy that. Generally speaking, vampire stuff isn’t my favorite, but there are exceptions – The Lost Boys, for example. The Hunger was Tony Scott’s directorial debut, so I know it will be visually striking. Plus, David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve are the absolute fucking coolest looking vampires I’ve ever seen. I’m setting my expectations low so I can just sit back, enjoy and wonder how they could fit this much hotness into one movie.
You can stream The Hunger on HBO Max.
- Double feature: The Shining and Doctor Sleep*
The Shining is an undisputed masterpiece of horror (though Stephen King famously hated it). Doctor Sleep, based on King’s follow-up novel, finds a grown-up Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) recovering from alcohol addiction, working as a hospice orderly (Dan uses his ability to “shine” to comfort dying patients), and attempting to quell his childhood demons. Like Hush, Doctor Sleep was directed by Mike Flanagan and features members of his acting troupe Henry Thomas and Robert Longstreet. Doctor Sleep even contains snippets of The Shining, as Dan returns to the Overlook Hotel and relives the horrors that occurred there. Released in 2019, Doctor Sleep is on the list of “things I just haven’t gotten around to yet”; Halloween seems the perfect opportunity to cross it off my list.
The Shining is available on HBO Max; Doctor Sleep isn’t included with any subscriptions, but you can rent it on Amazon.
- Muppets Haunted Mansion*
Muppets Haunted Mansion is available to stream on Disney+.
- The Nightmare Before Christmas
Though the film has the word “Christmas” in the title, The Nightmare Before Christmas has always been a celebration of Halloween for me. Our hero, Jack Skellington, is the “pumpkin king” of Halloween Town. Jack has grown weary of Halloween, so when he stumbles upon Christmas Town, he decides Halloween Town will celebrate Christmas this year instead. Featuring Henry Selick’s brilliant stop-motion animation, voices by such greats as Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara and William Hickey, and music by Danny Elfman, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a delight from beginning to end. Fun fact: The Nightmare Before Christmas was the first animated feature film to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects (Jurassic Park took home the prize).
You can stream The Nightmare Before Christmas on Disney+.
- “The Slutty Pumpkin” (How I Met Your Mother), “The One with the Halloween Party” (Friends) and “Employee Transfer” (The Office)
Every year, Ted wears his “hanging chad” costume and attends the same rooftop party in the hopes that a woman he met in 2001, known only as “The Slutty Pumpkin”, will recognize him. And this year, Marshall and Lily intend to win MacLaren’s costume contest with their adorable (and weirdly hot) pirate/parrot couples costume. This early episode epitomizes so many of the characters’ defining traits – Ted’s desperation to find love, Marshall and Lily’s insistence on being the world’s cutest couple and Robin’s reluctance to be part of a couple at all.
How I Met Your Mother is available to stream on Hulu.
The only overtly Halloween episode of Friends came in the eighth season when Monica and Chandler decide to throw a Halloween costume party. Highlights include Ross’s “Spudnik” costume, which the gang agrees looks like space doody, and Chandler’s pink bunny (selected by Monica because The Velveteen Rabbit was Chandler’s favorite childhood book). The episode loses points for the icky subplot where Phoebe finds herself attracted to her sister’s fiance (played by Sean Penn) but I love Joey’s Chandler costume.
You can stream Friends on HBO Max.
The Office has several notable Halloween episodes, but the cold open for season five episode “Employee Transfer” – where Creed, Kevin and Dwight all show up as Heath Ledger’s version of The Joker – is pure Office gold.
Runner-up: Season nine episode “Here Comes Treble”, in which Dwight gets his head stuck in a pumpkin.
The Office is available to stream on Peacock.
Readers – what’s on YOUR Halloween watchlist?