By A.B. Chesler, author and blogger
September is here, and you know what that means! Pumpkin spice everything has hit your local Starbucks shelves and Halloween decorations will start popping up any minute now (or, if you’re like me, you’ve just left them in place all year-round).
Either way, the chill that’s creeping into the air has also crawled inside your mind, and you’re just as ready for our creepy favorites as I am. So, here are 17 chillers to get you in the Halloween mood (or, at the very least, inspire some awesome costumes). Which one's your favorite?
Michael J. Fox may bring his perfect comedic timing to The Frighteners, but this dark comedy has some serious chill factor. Mikey plays Frank Bannister, former architect-turned-exorcist, a man who uses his special abilities to make as many quick bucks as possible. He continues to capitalize until he realizes just how dark and deep the newest apparition in his life is.
Gore factor: Low, Age suggestion: 13+
Quentin Tarantino brought us instant classic From Dusk Till Dawn, featuring a cast chockful of stars and blood-thirsty vampires. Salma Hayek runs the show at the bar Harvey Keitel and Julia Lewis stumble upon. The self-righteous father-daughter duo, along with their other family members, declare war against the desert evil and all hell breaks loose.
Gore factor: High (c’mon, it’s a Tarantino film), Age suggestion: 21+
In the spirit of totally awesome vampires, I submit to you The Lost Boys, the creepy tale of young Corey Haim’s move to Santa Clara, Murder Capital of the World. Fans of the film either want to die to be a part of the young vampire coven or battle alongside the brave Frogg brothers. Either way, it’s hard not to fall for this fan favorite.
Gore factor: Low, Age suggestion: 13+
If Tim Burton is good for anything, it’s a creepy movie. Corpse Bride is a long-understated film perfect for family and full of beauty. It’s a story of loyalty and love, as Victor transcends otherworldly powers to fulfill his arranged marriage back on Earth. This Claymation film is set in Victorian era England and evokes a beautiful sentiment of nostalgia, perfect for a nippy fall evening spent inside.
Gore factor: Non-existent, Age suggestion: 4+
No nod to Tim Burton is complete without mentioning Beetlejuice. This star-studded, eerie take on the ghastly Netherworld will leave you singing Harry Belafonte and whispering “Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!” for years to come. P.S. – Favorite Michael Keaton role ever!
Gore Factor: Non-existent, Age suggestion: 6+
Finally, in honor of the King of Creep, I also recommend to you the amazing 1989 Batman. Plus, thanks to killer '80s special effects (*insert sarcastic side-eye here*), a focus on acting and storyline are serious highlights. Perhaps it’s the Burton-Keaton combo that’s magic, but throw in a truly spine-chilling Joker played by Jack Nicholson, and you’ve got a serious cult classic.
Gore Factor: Low, Age suggestion: 6+
Historical fiction has quite the ability to steal my heart, but Interview with the Vampire takes this favorite genre of mine to another level. Louis and Lestat’s tale begins in 1791 Louisiana and follows their painful journey of survival through the centuries in America. This movie has it all: love, loss, a little mystery, and a whole lot of Victorian fashion.
Gore Factor: Moderate, Age suggestion: 16+
From among the most recent zombie success stories, Zombieland takes the cake. In a post-apocalyptic America, humans must fend for themselves and survive by any means possible. But when Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, and Woody Harrelson team up, you can expect a whole hell of a lot of laughs and even more dead zombies. Also? There are some to-die-for cameos. Rule #1: Double tap (the add button and make sure this makes it into your queue ASAP).
Gore Factor: Moderate to High, Age suggestion: 16+
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is a witty, boundless film that takes its viewers on a crazy ride. From the future where George Carlin serves a governmental role, to Heaven for the company of late geniuses, or Limbo with Death where the creepiest nightmares ever to come life, Bill and Ted take you on an unimaginable adventure. Plus, you’ll be inspired to create a million and one different Halloween costumes.
Gore Factor: non-existent, Age suggestion: 8+
When one thinks of Steve Martin, slapstick comedy is a given. But Novocaine is a wicked reprieve from Martin’s regular schtick. In it, he plays a rather boring dentist who falls under the trap of a drugged-out Helena Bonham Carter. She uses and abuses him before a wild hunt to find her origin ensues. This movie is just the psychological thriller you’re looking for when you want the heebie jeebies.
Gore Factor: Low to moderate, Age suggestion: 18+
If you’re a Steve Martin fan (like me), another eerie gem of his is Little Shop of Horrors. The comedy is on point and the music is catchy, but best of all: it’s not your regular musical. Little Shop of Horrors tells the tale of a bloodthirsty plant that goes on a murderous rampage when its unassuming owner (the wonderful Rick Moranis) attempts to use it to beef up business. Sing along as Steve Martin (again playing a wicked dentist) and various other celebrities introduce you to one of the weirdest musicals ever. Rock on.
Gore factor: Low, Age suggestion: 8+
If you survived the '90s without developing a mean case of Arachnophobia, I suggest you try watching this movie again. Not only does it have the perfect level of creep factor for the pre-Halloween season, but it also has action and comedy to boot. Just try to focus on the great cameos and solid storyline instead of those creepy crawlies you’ve started feeling on your dangling feet…
Gore Factor: Non-existent, Age suggestion: 13+
If otherworldly horror is your thing, be sure to add Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight to your queue immediately. The Cryptkeeper always does a great job, but this tale delivers a thrill of epic proportions. Starring William Sadler (who also played Death in Bogus Journey), the film follows a mysterious thief who has stolen an artifact of incredible power. A church-turned-boarding home in the middle of the sweltering New Mexico desert becomes a hot house for evil and mayhem.
Gore Factor: High, Age suggestion: 17+
Coraline, based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, is an eerie tale of a little girl who moves into a brand-new home, only to feel neglected by her parents. In search of adventure, Coraline finds a trapdoor and enters it. Beyond its frame is a parallel universe where all her dreams come true– or do they? If you’re looking to pass on your love for all things creepy, Coraline is the perfect film to share with the littles.
Gore factor: Non-existent, Age suggestion: 5+
In an epic anthology of oddity, The Twilight Zone offers us every bit of eeriness we could ever desire. This collection of vignettes remains incredibly apropos, whether it be the bit about the bitter racist who’s forced to see the perspective of those he hates, or the one about the elderly friends who turn back time with a simple game of Kick the Can, or just showing how dolls are timelessly creepy. No matter what, this one’s got something for everyone.
Gore factor: Very low, Age suggestion: 4+ (some scenes are family appropriate, some are not. Please use discretion)
The Craft is the perfect '90s film to remind us what it felt like to be an angsty teen. When Sarah (played by Robin Tunney) moves to L.A. and finds herself a newbie on campus, she is enthusiastically welcomed into a coven of "witches." The girls soon realize they’ve gained some real power in Sarah’s presence, as well as just how intoxicating that strength can be.
Gore factor: Low, Age suggestion: 13+
Amy Chesler is an author, content creator, blogger, and family woman from Los Angeles, California. Her most recent publications include four different contributions in six different Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, as well as her first solo children’s book, A Man and His Books. Follow her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/abchesler), Twitter (@abcauthor), or Instagram (@abc_author) for updates, giveaways, and much more!