Next Thursday is Halloween and the 14 East staff is preparing by watching all of our favorite Halloween and horror-inspired films. We compiled a list of our favorite spooky films –– from classic horror flicks to Disney Channel originals to films with synth-inspired music.
Associate Editor Marissa De La Cerda chose: The Guest
If you have been within my vicinity within the last few years, you have heard me gush about You’re Next director Adam Wingard’s 2014 thriller The Guest. Starring Dan Stevens as David Collins and Maika Monroe as Anna, the film follows a mysterious soldier who shows up on the doorstep of a grieving family, claiming to have been a friend of their deceased son who died in the war. Everything he says seems to check out until a chain of mysterious deaths start happening, tracing back to his arrival.
In several interviews, writer Simon Barrett describes his desire to pay homage to Hollywood classics The Terminator and Halloween after seeing them at a double feature and sure enough, as soon as the film starts, the inspiration from the latter film is clear. But what makes The Guest perfect Halloween viewing isn’t that it borrows traits from both films, it’s that it turns the tropes that made those films fun watches into its own adventurous thriller coupled with a devastatingly handsome and compelling villain and the most badass synth-inspired soundtrack.
One of my favorite things about horror films lately is their ability to turn any song into a horror theme (see Us and “I Got 5 On It”). The Guest manages to turn several songs into horror-inspired tracks, including the King of Freestyle music Stevie B.’s “Because I Love You (The Postman Song)” which plays as David blows up a diner with a grenade in the film’s last act. The scene was wildly entertaining as I saw a song my mom would blast on our boombox on Saturday mornings turn into the soundtrack to a fictitious murder spree.
It’s scenes like that have allowed The Guest to remain with me beyond my first viewing of it. The film culminates in a beautifully executed showdown where David chases Anna and her brother through a haunted maze (the tone of the scene made even more haunting by “Anthonio (Berlin Breakdown Vision)” by Annie blasting all throughout) until David is killed. But like any classic horror film, the villain never truly dies and evil will always lurk in the corner.
Event Planner Justin Myers chose House (1977)
Forged by the imaginative, innovative and uniquely bizarre nature that can be expected from a quirky Japanese film, House meshes with the psychedelic zeitgeist of the 1970s to create a party pleasing horror movie experience like none other.
Directed by Nobuhiko Obayayshi, House paints a narrative of a girl named Gorgeous, who plans a weekend at her aunt’s secluded home with her seven friends. Her father’s newfound love and a complex series of events involving dancing skeletons, man-eating pianos, a demonic cat and more turn a jovial affair into tragedy. Its psychedelic attributes are best found in the cinematography and soundtrack that accompany these scenes, which only add to the movie’s beauty and draw.
As a Japanese language minor, I respect this film especially for its accurate and extensive portrayal of traditional Japanese culture, customs and style of house, in addition to its quirky plot. Where other Japanese movies glamorize and Westernize those topics, House gives an honest and raw portrayal and uses aspects taken from old Japanese folktales to advance the plot.
Favorite quote from the movie: “Bananas!”
Community Engagement Editor Francesca Mathewes chose Donnie Darko (2001)
Look. I know what you’re thinking. What sort of leftover teenage angst-filled, edge-craving, 2014 Tumblr-inspired pick of a favorite Halloween movie is that?
I am guilty on all accounts — I watch Donnie Darko every Halloween.
I find Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance in this movie not only spooky, but pretty damn compelling, especially considering he was only 20 years old during the time it was filmed. My 15-year-old self had just become aware of the idea of both parallel universes and off-beat comedy, and I was (and admittedly, still am) completely drawn in by it. The weirdness, creepiness and sort of intangibility of the movie is off-putting to some, but I relish it all. Not to mention the soundtrack — this movie put me onto Echo and the Bunnymen, still one of my favorite bands today.
Ultimately, the thing I cherish most about this movie (other than Gyllenhaal, my first and forever celebrity crush) is what it says about reality: how we as individuals perceive it so differently, how we share that with others and how that can affect the way whole families and institutions and worlds can function. This movie made me think about how time actually works and opened up a whole world of sci-fi to me, combining a certain moodiness with inconclusiveness to create a Halloween masterpiece.
Editor-in-Chief Marissa Nelson chose Halloweentown II (2001) and Halloweentown High (2004)
Halloween and the Halloweentown series are indivisible. Fall is a romanticized time of year for me — apple cider, pumpkin bread, Pillsbury ghost sugar cookies and cozy nights wrapped in blankets watching a Disney Channel Halloweentown marathon with candles lit around my friends and me. Not once do I remember doing all of this during my childhood. I didn’t even like pumpkin flavored foods until recently. However, when the weather chills just enough to pull out my trench coat, a warm nostalgia for this movie night washes over me.
Growing up, I always looked forward to watching Disney’s Halloweentown marathons — which are still being shown on the Disney Channel. In fact, you can watch all four on Halloween this year. The nervous rule-follower in me admired Marnie’s fearless curiosity. Whether secretly catching the last bus to Halloweentown to learn more about her family’s magical history or bringing a car-load of Halloweentown students to the mortal world in order to make a point to her elders, she was bold and brave.
Though I try to watch a Halloweentown movie each fall, I haven’t succeeded in quite a few years. While I can’t quite remember the plot of either of my favorite films of the series (Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge and Halloweentown High), I can remember the warm, tingly feeling I got in elementary school when I saw the series on the TV guide. Hopefully this year I’ll be able to carve out 90 minutes to watch one.
Staff Illustrator Jenni Holtz chose Halloween (1978)
John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher Halloween is the quintessential horror film for the spooky season. It changed the horror genre as a whole — it’s one of the first slasher films and one of the first with a final girl — and spawned seven sequels, which is amazing because it was an independent film. Even today, the film is shown in theaters like the Music Box and the Logan Theatre every October.
Halloween is a classic for good reason. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is an iconic final girl, surviving repeated attacks from the masked killer, Michael Meyers (Nick Castle). Laurie manages to survive using her wit and things she finds around the house, like knitting needles and clothes hangers. Watching her make it out alive is cathartic every time.
For a horror movie lover like myself, Halloween is the perfect film to commemorate everything I love about the holiday. It captures trick-or-treating and leaves changing while also being genuinely scary. Even though I watch horror movies all the time, there’s something particularly eerie about Halloween. The distinctive score and realistic premise make the home invasion sequences extremely unnerving, sending a chill down my spine even though I watch it every year. It’s also a crowd pleaser — everyone loves to cheer on the heroine as she evades the murderer.
Associate Editor Nikki Roberts chose Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Hardcore horror fans are quick to dismiss the 2009 horror comedy that is Jennifer’s Body. It’s either too comedic to be taken seriously –– the main elements of the movie that elicit fearful, adrenaline-pumping responses are the jump scares –– or it’s too much of a “chick flick” due to the film’s babe-studded cast that includes bombshell actresses Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried. However, it is for all three of these reasons and more that Jennifer’s Body secures its spot at the top of my list of movies I’ve watched this Halloween season (a list that includes Carrie (1976), IT Chapter Two (2019), The Shining (1980), and Rosemary’s Baby (1968).
As someone who can’t keep a straight face in a movie theater, I find relief in the crossover genre of horror comedy. My snickers and giggles that are hardly contained behind my popcorn-filled hands usually receive annoyed or judgmental glares when I bust out laughing at an exploding head or a gory murder, but a few laughs are expected in a film like Jennifer’s Body. Opposed to serious horror films where abrupt action often strikes me as comical or cheesy when it’s not intended to be, much of the ridiculous action in this film — a bar suddenly burning down, Jennifer turning into a succubus vampire at the hands of a predatory rock star in a van, Jennifer ravaging a roasted chicken as her carnivorous appetite sets it — gives me plenty of opportunities to indulge in a few laughs as high school characters drop dead at the hands of a beautiful vampire.
While Jennifer’s Body does have some basic tropes drawn from a “chick flick” plot line — a high school girl envies her hot best friend who gets all the guys and follows her like a love struck puppy dog — the female leads in this movie are given far more power than in your standard high school romantic comedy. Jennifer (played by Fox) is empowered by her sexuality and uses it as a tool to literally devour men, and her best friend, Needy (Seyfreid), not only kills the demon in Jennifer and gains some of her supernatural powers, but she also breaks out of an asylum to kill the band members who cursed Jennifer in the first place.
Jennifer’s Body was not received well when it was released, but I hope that as time goes on it will be remembered as a feminist film that features a badass chick who preyed on men, all while delivering a few dark laughs and an array of juicy, blood dripping scenes to appease the inner-slasher in every horror fan.
Managing Editor Christopher Silber chose Scary Godmother: Halloween Spooktakular
This movie might be obscure to most people. Scary Godmother: Halloween Spooktakular is a 3D animated movie produced in 2002 and released in the United States on Cartoon Network in 2004. Based on the Scary Godmother comic book series created by artist Jill Thompson, the film is a very strange early 2000s blend of CGI characters and 2D animated backgrounds. The plot centers on a group of kids, including an evil kid named Jimmy, his younger cousin Hannah and three friends named Daryl, Bert and Katie, who all go trick or treating together. The kids decide to spook Hannah by locking her in an abandoned haunted house, but all is well because Hannah meets her magical “scary godmother” in the house. The scary godmother takes Hannah to a magical realm where she meets friendly monsters – including a skeleton in the closet, a weird-uncle werewolf, Dracula’s son whom she befriends and a multi-eyed yet relatable monster named Bugaboo. They have a party and Hannah has a blast. Meanwhile, the other kids are waiting around worried because she never came out of the house. The movie ends when the monsters go and scare the other kids at the haunted house when they go in to find Hannah.
The best part of the film, in my opinion, is the weird stuff the kids do while waiting for Hannah. Bert, who is dressed as a baseball player in an SUV with a laser cannon, frequently rolls up and down his imaginary side windows to talk to his friends. In arguably the most iconic moment of the movie – which has become an inside joke in my family – Bert pretends to be the SUV and repeats the phrase “the door is ajar” several times, immortalized in this 73 minute YouTube video. At one point early in the film, the kids reenact an entire flashback scene, pretending to be Jimmy’s parents, using fake-adult voices and mannerisms. At one point they try to solve a disagreement through rock-paper-scissors, but they all keep choosing rock. Ultimately, Scary Godmother is loveable for being goofier than a 45 minute tv film needs to be, and I will always appreciate that.
Associate Editor Patsy Newitt choses Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Witches are inherently exciting. But a high school witch with a talking black cat and two wacky caretaker aunts? Unmatched.
Though not technically a Halloween movie, ‘90s sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch encapsulates the best parts of Halloween — supernatural, but fun.
The sitcom tells the story of Sabrina Spellman, an everyday highschooler hailing from a Boston suburb, who, on her sixteenth birthday, finds out she’s a witch. From there, Sabrina the Teenage Witch is seven seasons of spells gone awry and mundane human troubles — magic and morality. Sabrina somehow manages to balance the drama of high school alongside learning how to cast spells, all while wearing the most iconic outfits. The sitcom is based off of a ‘70s comic book series by Archie Comics and has recently been adapted into a Netflix original series, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. These are both great, but nothing compares to Sabrina Spellman turning her nemesis into a pineapple in season one.
Melissa Joan Hart captures Sabrina’s wit and charm with a finesse that Alexis Bledel wishes Rory from Gilmore Girls could reach. As she learns to navigate witchcraft under the instruction of her aunts Hilda and Zelda, Sabrina proves that you not only can not only reject the conventions of high school, you can reject the conventions of the natural world.
Sabrina transcends the binary of goth and prep, e-girl and vsco girl, witch and teenager. She refuses to fit in your boxes. She proves you don’t have to pick just one.
Director of Development Cate Hoogstraten chose A Quiet Place (2018)
As someone who spooks easily and does not generally gravitate towards horror movies, A Quiet Place tends to be a go to during the Halloween season. Despite the fact that it is not technically a horror movie per se, the storyline of the film is definitely spooky to me.
One of my favorite (and perhaps the most eerie) features of the film is the fact that the majority of the film is without sound, except for natural sound. The premise of A Quiet Place is that the Earth has been overrun with violent creatures that respond to noise, meaning everyone has to spend their lives in silence. The main characters, played by John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, silently try to live their lives in peace with their two children. As the viewer you almost feel like you have to hold your breath, too. Watching this film in the theater for the first time, I became acutely aware of the popcorn that I was eating and did not bother to touch it for the duration of the film.
A Quiet Place captures a seemingly new concept, and turns something into what should not seem scary into an unnerving, disturbing idea: living a soundless life. It’s a perfect spooky, but not too scary film for spooky season.
Header illustration by Jenni Holtz, 14 East