It’s almost Halloween and people live for their traditions, but just because it’s the time of year when children are gifted candy for dressing up in costume doesn’t mean everyone is suddenly a fan of scary movies. Yet every October new horror films are released and countless “Best Horror Movies for Halloween” lists get published. To be honest, some folks simply prefer lighter fare, perhaps even a chuckle. Which is why we here at HNHH compiled this selection of flicks, both old and new, that will make you laugh and possibly send a shiver down your spine at the same damn time. Because that’s what Halloween is really about – some good ol’ fashioned fun. Happy Halloween!
Idle Hands (1999)
Idle Hands is a stoner comedy-meets-horror movie starring ‘90s teen heartthrob, Devon Sawa (Final Destination), as Anton Tobias. On Halloween, Anton’s parents end up dead, and all signs point to him as the killer. Co-starring Seth Green (Austin Powers, Family Guy), Elden Henson (The Mighty Ducks), Vivica A. Fox (Independence Day), and an eighteen-year-old Jessica Alba (Dark Angel), Idle Hands is one of those movies you’re shocked was even made, but are grateful it was. Equal parts funny, stupid, and terrifying – the film’s poster sums it up best: “The comedy that gives horror films the backhand.” While this late ‘90s genre mash-up was a commercial flop, it lives on today as a cult classic. Getting its title from the religious idiom, “Idle hands are the devil’s playthings” – this dark comedy is a Halloween-themed ‘90s nostalgia fever dream all the way down to its The Offspring soundtrack.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
This ‘90s Disney classic is a rare flop turned cult hit for the House of Mouse. Starring the iconic witch trio of Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy as the Sanderson sisters, Hocus Pocus is the classic Halloween movie for the entire family. Three hundred years after the sisters curse themselves to avoid being hanged, Max and Dani, two siblings new to Salem, Massachusetts accidentally break their spell. Upon being resurrected, Winnie, Mary, and Sarah Sanderson vow to continue their pursuit of taking all of the children’s souls in Salem. The first child they discover is Dani (Thora Birch), who quickly flees to the cemetery. From there the witches continue to use their powers to wreak havoc over Salem on Halloween night. Disney clearly made a mistake in releasing Hocus Pocus in the heart of the summer, however the film’s cult status grew every year it aired as part of Disney Channel and ABC Family’s (now Freeform) Halloween-themed programming. Arguably more popular today than at any point in the past 25 years, Disney finally took the hint and has put in development a sequel film likely to air exclusively on the new Disney+ streaming platform.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Considered by many to be the best horror movie of the 2010s, The Cabin in the Woods nearly didn’t come out, releasing three years after filming wrapped. Written over three days by Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator, Joss Whedon, and Cloverfield screenwriter, Drew Goddard, in his directorial debut – Whedon called the film a “loving hate letter” to the horror genre he was attempting to refresh in a funny new way. The film is littered with horror clichés; beginning with a group of college students enjoying a weekend away at, you guessed it… a cabin in the woods. The difference between most horror movies and The Cabin in the Woods is Whedon and Goddard find a new way to flip the clichés, or a greater purpose for the situation. Starring an all-star cast of Kristen Connolly (House of Cards), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Jesse Williams (Greys Anatomy), Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water), Bradley Whitford (Get Out), and Sigourney Weaver (Alien), The Cabin in the Woods helped pave the way for the newfound awards success horror filmmakers like Jordan Peele and Bong Joon-ho have experienced recently.
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In Jordan Peele’s highly anticipated follow-up to Get Out, a family vacation is interrupted by frightening doppelgangers clad in red. Similar to the humor Peele interspersed throughout Get Out – Us will have you snickering between moments of horror. Starring the captivating Academy Award-winning actress, Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), alongside Winston Duke (Black Panther), Evan Alex, and Shahadi Wright Joseph – the family’s chemistry is palpable in both performances. That’s right, it’s almost difficult to choose which performances are more impressive – those of the family members in fear for their lives, or those of the voiceless and vengeful doppelgangers. Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale) and Tim Heidecker (Tim & Eric) also give memorable dual performances in their comedic supporting roles. With the awards and box office success of Peele’s first foray into writing/directing, Us quickly became a popular choice for 2019’s horror film of the year. Full of seemingly random cultural references and subtle clues throughout the film, the moment Us ends the conspiracy theories begin. Just like Get Out, Peele has set a precedent that his films require deep dissection and multiple viewings, which is incredibly refreshing in today’s era of cinema.
After writing and directing nine consecutive comedies, Kevin Smith threw a curveball in 2011 when he released Red State, a religious-themed horror thriller starring Michael Parks. As abrupt of a tonal shift as Red State was, it was necessary in preparing the world for what Smith had planned next – Tusk. The first of three Canadian-set horror films Smith calls his True North trilogy, Tusk tells the story of Wallace Bryton (Justin Long), a podcaster tricked, taken hostage, tortured, and forced to wear a walrus suit by a wheelchair-bound psychopath named Howard Howe (Michael Parks).
Horrifyingly bizarre, the humor that comes up in this film can only be achieved by a twisted comedy vet such as Smith. He compared Tusk to Red State, saying; “I wanted to right what I felt was the only wrong of Red State by scripting something with no religious or sexual politics that could grow up to be a weird little movie and not an indie film call-to-arms or a frustrated self-distribution manifesto. I just wanted to showcase Michael Parks in a fucked up story, where he could recite some Lewis Carroll and ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ to some poor motherfucker sewn into a realistic walrus costume.” The film also stars Haley Joel Osment as Wallace’s best friend, Genesis Rodriguez as Wallace’s girlfriend, and Johnny Depp as Guy LaPointe, a Canadian private detective on the hunt for Howe. Although Tusk received mixed reviews upon release, I do highly recommend it. Just know, for those interested in seeing Tusk – you cannot un-see this film.
Scary Movie (2000)
As the horror parody movie that launched a 5-film franchise, Scary Movie had quite a moment in the summer of 2000. Directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans (In Living Color) and written/starring Marlon and Shawn Wayans, Scary Movie brought the art of parodying films back to the silver screen at the dawn of the millennium. Seizing on a golden moment of cinema after 1999, considered to be one of the best years for movies, and before the world changed on 9/11 – Scary Movie set a precedent for a new generation of comedy. Starring future A-listers Anna Faris (Mom) and Regina Hall (Black Monday), alongside Shannon Elizabeth (American Pie), Jon Abrahams (Meet the Parents), and Cheri Oteri (Saturday Night Live), the plot of Scary Movie was essentially the same as Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Other films parodied throughout the 88-minute run time include The Sixth Sense, The Matrix, The Blair Witch Project, and The Usual Suspects. If you haven’t seen Scary Movie in over ten years, give it a watch. It still holds up along with the sequel. But don’t even bother with the last three.
Following the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, director Tim Burton began work on his follow-up, a fantastical comedy horror called Beetlejuice. Burton used Beetlejuice to touch on topics like ghosts, poltergeists, and the afterlife. Starring Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis as the Maitlands, a young couple adjusting to their recent deaths. When their home is sold to new owners, The Deetzes (Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara & Winona Ryder), the Maitlands attempt to haunt the home back into their possession. After several failed haunts, the Maitlands turn to a crude poltergeist named Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton) to help get the job done. The gothic fantasy qualities of his first two films, paired with their individual successes, led to Burton receiving the job to write and direct the first Batman film the following year. In the thirty years since the film’s release, there has been a Beetlejuice animated TV series, three Beetlejuice video games, and most recently, Beetlejuice: The Musical. The Musical. The Musical. To put it simply, Beetlejuice is timeless.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
What’s the only thing better than mixing humor with horror? Making it a musical, of course. And it doesn’t get more iconic than the 1975 cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Take a trip to transsexual Transylvania and meet Dr. Frank-N-Furter, played by Tim Curry in a one-of-a-kind performance. On a cold and rainy night, newly engaged couple Brad and Janet’s (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) flat tire brings them to a nearby mysterious castle. The couple follows the light over at the Frankenstein place to discover a bizarre and overtly sexual Transylvanian Convention. Once inside the walls of the castle, all notions of reality are left behind. The Rocky Horror Picture Show should be a mess, but it’s actually the perfect Halloween movie. Somehow it achieves being a hilarious horror musical full of incredible music and memorable songs, great acting, and a bizarre storyline that touches on subject matter decades ahead of its time. The musical incorporates sexuality, trans issues, science fiction, monsters, cannibalism, and aliens within its imaginative plot and characters. To this day, countless movie theaters host midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, particularly around Halloween. It’s honestly the best way to experience the film.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
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After directing the first five films of his career (Pee-wee, Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns) over eight busy years, each more successful than the next – Tim Burton stepped away from the directors chair and turned to writing both his first animated and musical film. Released just before Halloween, The Nightmare Before Christmas introduces viewers to the world of Halloween Town, where the holiday’s monsters live and are led by Jack Skellington, the “Pumpkin King.” After years of the same Halloween routine, Jack wanders through the woods and comes across a portal to Christmas Town. He locks himself away to study the holiday, later announcing his intentions to take over Christmas. Considered “too dark and scary for kids” – Disney chose to release the film through Touchstone Pictures; however in the years following the film’s massive success, Disney has both re-released The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3-D, as well as embraced its universal appeal by children and adults alike. While the possibility of a sequel has been floated, nothing has surfaced in the 25 years since the film’s original release.
Slice is a recent horror comedy chronicling a series of pizza delivery guy murders in the Ghost Town neighborhood of Kingfisher. Local pizza shop, Perfect Pizza, is clearly connected to this string of murders as it’s built on a gateway to hell. The main suspect is werewolf deliveryman, Dax Lycander (Chance the Rapper), who has recently been spotted back in town. I wish I could say something positive about Slice beyond the fact that it’s cool seeing Chance acting outside of Saturday Night Live – but I really can’t. Slice is hilariously bad. The writing is rudimentary, making the film’s brief 83-minute run time feel twice as long. You would hope with a cast full of proven comedic actors, some jokes would land. But that’s simply not the case. Slice feels like a film school project by a director with a Rolodex full of favors. How else could writer/director Austin Vesely, known for music videos, get a cast comprised of Chance the Rapper, Zazie Beetz (Atlanta), Y’lan Noel (Insecure), Hannibal Buress, Joe Keery (Stranger Things), Chris Parnell (Saturday Night Live), and Paul Scheer (The League), with a score by Grammy and Academy Award-winning composer, Ludwig Goransson? Many will go into Slice expecting a silly scary movie, but if that’s what you’re looking for, might I direct you back to Idle Hands.
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