It’s October — or Spooktober, for fellow Halloween fanatics — which means the month of scary movies is here. As someone who’s terrified of the supernatural, though, horror movies often leave me sleeping with the lights on. But the days are getting colder and the nights are getting longer. The sky is overcast, the wind is blowing, it’s almost flu season, and I find myself asking my roommates if they want to watch a Halloween movie almost every night. Here is a list of movies that are spooky and seasonal, but not too scary, to get you through this socially distanced Halloween.
- “The Shining.” I enjoy movies about people trapped in a physical space, leading to a downward mental spiral. Other movies like this include “The Lighthouse” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (also with Jack Nicholson), which I think you’ll enjoy for their weird, mind-boggling mental catastrophes.
- “Scream.” This is one of my favorite Halloween movies. I first watched it last July, then last night at the Vintage Drive-In with my friends. It manages to encompass all campy, over-the-top horror motifs of a dated film — sex and virginity, teenage drama, jump scares — without actually being that scary. “Poltergeist,” from more than a decade earlier, is a much different movie, but one that also strikes that chord — all the elements of a scary movie without being too scary — this time from the perspective of a family being haunted by a group of ghosts. Interestingly, there’s such a phenomenon known as the “Poltergeist Curse,” which arose from the deaths of four cast and crew members over the course of the “Poltergeist” trilogy. Spooky movie, scary curse.
- “Rosemary’s Baby” is one of my favorite movies ever, scary or not. It’s about a young couple who moves to a new apartment building with mysterious neighbors. When Rosemary gets pregnant, the circumstances of their living situation just get stranger. There are no jump scares — rather, the whole film is a long, freaky unwinding of a strange plot. Themes include femininity, Satanism, and sexuality.
- “Hocus Pocus” and “Practical Magic” are two of my favorite Halloween movies from childhood. They’re both about witchcraft, but while the “Hocus Pocus” witches are the villains posed against a trio of children, the witches in “Practical Magic” are sexy protagonists navigating a curse against falling in love with men placed on their family centuries earlier. While neither of them are scary or spooky, they’re downright seasonal — both take place in old houses in Massachusetts, the spookiest state of all. Also, the styles and outfits are so late-90s, you’ll feel like you’ve just been plucked from this decade.
- “Nosferatu” is an old, silent film about a vampire. I love vampires, and I mean, look how scary this one seems. Other old horror movies include “Frankenstein” and “The Blob.”
- “The Birds” is another one of my favorite movies, whether it’s Halloween or not. I like it better than “Psycho.” There are so many strange motifs in “The Birds,” like motherhood, vulnerability, and, well, the birds. Also, according to Tippi Hedrin, the actress who plays the protagonist Melanie Daniels, Alfred Hitchcock tied real birds to her costume and had bird wranglers throw real birds at her during filming. Can you imagine?
- “Hereditary.” Got you! “Hereditary” is actually one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. I liked it almost as much as “Get Out,” but while “Get Out” was a psychological and societal unraveling, “Hereditary” left me to fall asleep with the lights on for nearly a week. It’s about the undoing of a family after the death of their grandmother, who left an ancestral trail of demonic worship behind. Like “Scream,” there are elements of classic horror — house parties, teenage flirtations, a poor, innocent family — but the actual horror of this film runs deep. Watch it with a friend, I’d suggest, and if you pulled up this article because you don’t like horror, I’d skip this one (beautifully filmed, though).
- Other movies that didn’t make the cut: “Donnie Darko,” “Knives Out,” “The Witch,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “The Addams Family,” “Beetlejuice,” “Corpse Bride,” “E.T.,” and “Coraline.”