CHICAGO — Halloween is approaching, and those looking for some extra autumn scares should look no further than their own TV and streaming accounts.
For many who otherwise don’t enjoy the horror genre, the October holiday is one time to break their own rule. For others, scary movies are a way of life, and many of those people will undoubtedly recognize most of the titles on the list to come. From lingering discomfort and creepiness to straight out terror, there are many shows and movies out there from which to get your fright fix.
Horror and suspense have spanned generations, with each era boasting its own classics. The WGN Web team compiled this list of spooky shows and movies that could make for a thrilling Halloween weekend.
13. “Les Revenants” (“The Returned,” original French version, 2012-present)
Imagine: local residents who died years ago begin mysteriously returning to their town. That’s the plot of this 2012 French series that later was adapted into a less-popular American version. “Les Revenants” doesn’t get its thrills from many jump scares or overdoses on gore. But its bone-chilling subtlety and excellent acting — from both young and old — make this all the more creepy, as the returned try and reacclimate to life among the living. The French countryside serves as a perfect backdrop to certain spooky elements, too. If you don’t mind subtitles, this one in a must-see. The first season, which aired in 2012, is available on Netflix. The show’s Season 2 premiere will air in the U.S. Halloween night on Sundance TV.
12.”The X-Files” (1993-2002)
The truth is out there. And the truth is this groundbreaking sci-fi show still holds up today despite some of its now-corny ’90s graphics and dialogue. “The X-Files” tackles everything extraterrestrial, abnormal and supernatural. From alien life to vampires, and everything in between, this show will make you question your own beliefs — and make you feel some of the paranoia shared by the show’s main characters. Follow FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully as they chase down the truth, all under a shadow of lingering tension and conspiracy. The entire “X-Files” series is available on Netflix.
11. “The Walking Dead” (2010-present)
America’s favorite zombie show. This post-apolocalyptic world developed by Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Green Mile”) boasts action and gore many fans have come to love. “The Walking Dead” begins with a small-town sheriff waking from a coma to find the world has been overrun by zombies. It becomes an intense fight for survival, but some humans prove to be as dangerous as the zombies themselves. Based on a comic book series of the same name. “The Walking Dead” has been received well by critics and audiences since its debut in 2010. Seasons 1-5 can be viewed on Netflix. The show, currently in its sixth season, airs on AMC.
10. “The Others” (2001)
What makes “The Others” effective is that relies on implied terror throughout most of the film, the type of scared-of-the-dark dread that often works best when there’s nothing there to fear. The majority of the movie is lighted only by candles or lanterns, giving it the wonderfully spooky feeling that anything can jump from the shadows at any time. Nicole Kidman is great as the movie’s main character, an increasingly paranoid mother of two who lives in a dark, old house with children who can’t be exposed to sunlight. But the home itself often takes over as the main character, with its thin walls and vast emptiness, and that’s when the movie is at its scariest. The film gets in one final punch at the end with a twist for the ages, leaving you more creeped out during the credits than you were watching any of the previous scenes.
9. “Halloween” (1978)
Director John Carpenter (“The Thing,” “Escape from New York”) is often credited with popularizing the “slasher” horror film genre with this 1978 hit starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence. The movie takes place in a fictional Illinois town called Haddonfield, where on Halloween night in 1963, six-year-old Michael Myers stabs his sister to death with a kitchen knife. Fast-forward to 1978, and the now 21-year-old Myers has escaped from a psychiatric hospital with the intentions of killing again. Itself borrowing many tactics from a film that will appear later on in this list, “Halloween” too became the inspiration for many future horror films to come. Carpenter also composed the film’s iconic score, which lacks a symphony but uses primarily a piano melody. The “Halloween” franchise has gone on to featured 10 films in total, though Carpenter was only involved with the first two.
8. “American Horror Story” (2011-present)
This horror anthology employs a new story each season and has been a hit since its debut in 2011. “American Horror Story” begins with “Murder House,” a modern spin on the classic haunted house genre, in Season 1. Since then it has delved into deeper and creepier realms, including an insane asylum, a circus freak show, a witch coven and, now, a hotel. Its increased popularity has led to stars such as Kathy Bates and Lady Gaga signing on. Creators Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy (“Glee”) spare no expenses when it comes to gore, violence and otherwise creepy elements that cable viewers have come to love from the FX hit show. “American Horror Story’s” previous seasons are also available on Netflix.
7. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)
This 1984 film was the debut for one of the most terrifying characters in movie history: Freddie Krueger, who will literally haunt your dreams. In the first of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise, Robert Englund plays Krueger, a vicious serial killer ghost who murders people in their dreams — and therefore too in real life. His look is unmistakeable: a disfigured face and a metal claw. He must stay in his victims’ dreams, however; a transition to the real world exposes his vulnerabilities. Wes Craven’s film saw immediate success upon its release and has since been considered one of the most influential horror movies of all time. The movie was also the film debut for actor Johnny Depp.
6. “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968)
Another legendary novel-turned-film, “Rosemary’s Baby” leaves viewers shocked and horrified right to the very end. The movie, like the book, is wrought with satanic undertones, building suspense right up to its disturbing conclusion. The movie was released one year after Ira Levin’s novel, and starred Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes. The two play a couple who move into a unique New York City apartment. One falls into a thematic trap of “selling your soul to the devil,” and, without giving away too many spoilers, the story’s shocking climax draws from that theme in its own special way. A true horror classic.
Wes Craven’s pop-culture hit “Scream” was influential not only in the box office; it is now synonymous with the way people celebrate Halloween. The 1996 film was one of the most profitable horror films ever, and with it also came a popular disguise: Ghostface, or the Scream mask. The mask had already been produced as a Halloween costume, inspired by “The Scream” painting by Edvard Munch. Craven then used it for the film’s iconic killer — or killers, as it’s the costume worn by the multiple antagonists who go on a killing spree. The droopy white mask has continued to be a hit among trick-or-treaters. “Scream” stars Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Drew Barrymore and David Arquette. The film uses an ironic blend of violence and humor, often playing on horror cliches, and is considered the highest grossing slasher film ever produced.
4. “The Shining”
“Heeeeere’s Johnny!” Stanley Kubrick’s loose adaptation of the famed Stephen King novel “The Shining” is widely considered one of horror’s best. In the movie Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, an alcoholic writer who moves with his family in the winter to an isolated hotel In Colorado, where Torrance will serve as a caretaker. There Torrance is plagued by disturbing visions seen by his son, Danny, who has psychic abilities. Those mixed with his writer’s block and his own descent into madness turn the father into a homicidal madman who tries to kill his family. The 1980 classic received mixed reviews upon its release, but has since been heralded as one of the best horror movies of all time. King’s own opinions on the adaptation have been mixed throughout the years.
3. “The Exorcist”
This 1973 film is considered by many publications as the scariest movie of all time. “The Exorcist,” adapted from a 1971 novel of the same name, tells the story of 12-year-old Regan MacNeil, a young girl possessed by a demonic entity, and the efforts to try and exorcise her. The film boasts some of the most iconic scenes in horror film history. One involves the girl, played by Linda Blair, walking backward down stairs like a spider. The film grabbed two Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay, won by William Peter Blatty, who also wrote the novel. Blair was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress. The timeless film is full of powerhouse acting performances and striking special effects, and worth a watch if one is interested in true terror.
2. “The Conjuring”
A modern horror classic, “The Conjuring” has it all. Haunted houses, ghosts, witches, dolls, demons, exorcisms, you name it. But perhaps the best part of the movie is that nothing overtly frightening happens for nearly the entire first act. Save for a few jumps at the introduction, the film starts out with a regular family making a life change by moving into an old New England home. But under the normalcy lingers the suspicion something is about to go terribly wrong. “The Conjuring” will have you on the edge of your seat waiting — and waiting … and waiting — for things to unravel, and once they do, there’s no going back. One of the film’s most intense scenes happens in the middle of the day while one of the main characters, played by Vera Farmiga, is putting laundry out to dry. A pulse-pounding second half makes this movie not for the faint of heart. If you’re new to the genre, we suggest watching with the lights on — and the volume low.
The thriller of a lifetime, “Psycho” still holds up as one of the creepiest, scariest and most troubling films of all time. Complete with a nice mix of intense action, lingering discomfort and a legendary twist/reveal at the end, this 1960 Alfred Hitchcock classic has inspired several other movies of its genre, including “Halloween.” “Psycho” drew immediate success at the box office upon its release and is now in the National Film Registry. It was also nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Actress (Janet Leigh) and Best Director (Hitchcock). While there will always be debate over which film is ultimately Hitchcock’s best, “Psycho” is synonymous with classic horror. If you’re looking for a scary movie, you needn’t look any further than the king of them all.