11 Horror Movies That Actually Take Place On Halloween

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.

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)

Plot: A 13-year-old girl living in small-town Maine is prodded by suspicious neighbors desperate to uncover the secrets of her mysterious family.

How it utilizes the holiday: Halloween isn't hugely important to this spooky '70s thriller starring a young Jodie Foster, but it's used effectively to establish the mood and time frame. Opening on Halloween lends an ominous tinge to the rest of the movie, as the layers of the titular girl's life are exposed and the threats around her become more pronounced.

House of a Thousand Corpses (2003)

Plot: Two couples hoping to write a book about urban legends are captured by a sadistic Texas family who torture and imprison them.

How it utilizes the holiday: Rob Zombie famously riffed on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes for his directorial debut, but House of a Thousand Corpses is ultimately its own sick animal. It feels like an inescapable fun house, full of dead ends, bright colors, splattering gore, and thrill after thrill. It also takes place on Halloween, and features a Halloween dinner and cabaret show you won't soon forget. Characters wear masks and costumes throughout the film, and twinkling orange strings light many of the scenes, giving the whole thing a chintzy, claustrophobic feel. You'll want to wash the Halloween off you by the time it's over.

The Guest (2014)

Plot: A soldier arrives at the home of a family whose deceased son he claims to have known. Soon, a series of deaths occur that seem linked to this mysterious stranger.

How it utilizes the holiday: Halloween is really a backdrop in The Guest – decorations on the wall, scenes with jack-0-lantern carving, etc. – a visual aid that lends to the unsettling feeling festering beneath the surface. The domesticity of the holiday, and all of the rituals that come with it, help situate David in the Peterson home – until the nature of his arrival settles in. Like Ginger Snaps, it all builds to an explosive costume party finale.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Plot: A mother struggles to come to terms with the violent actions of her son, with whom she has a difficult relationship.

How it utilizes the holiday: Though arguably more of a psychological drama than a horror movie, the film – about a school shooter son and the mother who struggles to love him – is terrifying in its palpability, and uses horror tropes to center its story. So we're counting it here. The story takes place over many years, but features one very memorable scene set on Halloween. Tilda Swinton's mother character, Eva, drives home from work – while Buddy Holly's "Everday" plays on the radio – and is surrounded by trick-or-treaters, who stare at her as she goes by. Once home, she sees that the trick-or-treaters have followed her. They stare in the window and pound on the door, demanding candy that Eva doesn't have. It shines a light Eva's fragile psychological state, a mother who feels her child's demons pressing in on her.

V/H/S (2012)

Plot: This found-footage horror anthology tells seven different but interconnected stories, all found on a mysterious VHS tape.

How it utilizes the holiday: The final segment of V/H/S is set on Halloween and takes place in a haunted house where a young woman is undergoing an exorcism. Because it's Halloween, the boys who enter the house assume what they're seeing is a ruse – it's not until it's too late that they realize how wrong they are. This is the first real time we've seen a found footage horror movie incorporate the holiday, and it does it to great effect. V/H/S is excellent through and through, but ending on "10/31/98" means it goes out with a bang.