halloween movies

Family friendly movies set on Halloween are a dime a dozen, but it’s surprisingly difficult to find true horror films that take place on the holiday. Perhaps it’s an effort to avoid comparisons with John Carpenter’s eponymous Halloween masterpiece, or an attempt to escape cliché. Whatever the case, the few that do make use of the spooky iconography – jack-o-lanterns, costumes, fall colors – are all the more special.

As Halloween fast approaches, here are 11 mood-setting horror films that take place on and make great use of the holiday.

Halloween (1978)

Plot: 15 years after murdering his older sister on Halloween, a man named Michael Myers escapes from an insane asylum, dons a mask, and wreaks havoc on the young people of Haddonfield, Illinois.

How it utilizes the holiday: This is the O.G. Halloween movie, with the holiday affecting every part of the plot. It’s unique that way, and as we already mentioned, probably a big season why other movies horror movies avoid it – to deflect comparisons. You can’t exactly blame them, because no other film will quite accomplish the pure-horror of Halloween the way Halloween does. From the opening mask-POV murder sequence to Michael Myers in ghost garb, every frame of Halloween is indebted to the holiday, and would make a franchise built on that foundation.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Plot: The maniacal owner of the Silver Shamrock Novelties company – which mass produces Halloween masks – schemes to kill the children who wear his masks in a ritualistic ceremony on Halloween night.

How it utilizes the holiday: This temporary break in the Michael Myers mythos teases what the Halloween series might have been had it gone the anthology route. Even more-so than the original, Halloween III is drenched in the holiday’s iconography, from those iconic masks – pumpkin, witch, and skull – to the poster’s taunting orange hue. The series would return to the slasher genre after this brief detour, which feels like a wasted opportunity to center other stories around the 31st.

Ginger Snaps (2000)

Plot: The relationship between macabre-obsessed teenage sisters – both late bloomers and social outcasts – is tested when one is bit by a werewolf.

How it utilizes the holiday: Although the entire movie has a seasonal feel, Halloween is only featured briefly near the end. But it’s the perfect way to cap the werewolf coming-of-age movie, which mines the horrors of female puberty to great effect. The Halloween party is, not coincidentally, when Ginger finally fully transforms into the werewolf beast she’s spent the movie becoming. She’s able to stalk the party fully exposed, since everyone thinks she’s in costume, setting the rest of the nasty final act in motion.

Trick ‘r’ Treat (2007)

Plot: Four different stories are told in this anthology feature, all of them taking place on or around Halloween, and all of them involving Sam, a mysterious child in footie pajamas with a burlap sack over his head.

How it utilizes the holiday: This is another ultra-Halloween movie, delivering the promise of what the Halloween franchised teased in its third entry in one jam-packed, terrifying feature. It’s hard to pick a favorite vignette – I think I prefer the School Bus Massacre segment – but you don’t have to: all center around a community on one particular nasty Halloween night, and all are macabre in their own twisted way. Like Halloween III, it practically glows orange.

May (2002)

Plot: A young woman traumatized by a difficult childhood goes to extreme lengths to connect with other people.

How it utilizes the holiday: May is a truly ghastly piece of work that, like Ginger Snaps, saves its Halloween showcase for the end. Also like Ginger Snaps, that feels like a metaphorical choice. The film involves a deranged woman who has trouble connecting to anyone who isn’t her doll, Suzie. After murdering a string of friends and lovers, she uses their body parts to make a life-sized version of Suzie – and does so on Halloween, like some truly twisted costume come to life. Jack-0-lanterns and costumes give the movie an extra Halloween-ish texture.

Night of the Demons (1988)

Plot: Ten teenagers throwing a Halloween party at an abandoned funeral home accidentally awaken an evil force.

How it utilizes the holiday: Night of the Demons is totally bonkers and totally wonderful, and also totally lives in its Halloween setting. It’s basically a costume party version of The Evil Dead, with its isolated setting and gnarly demon infestation – a demon that is only summoned on Halloween, to boot. It’s a low-budget camp factory, but it’s entertaining as hell, and even ends with a sadistic line that nods to the holiday.

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