15 Underrated Horror Movies to Watch on Halloween

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Tired of the usual Paranormal Activity or It films? Check these out instead! Graphic by Oliver Barnfield.

By Oliver Barnfield, Reporter

October is the perfect time of year to sit back, relax, and enjoy a horror movie. But what if you’ve seen all the classics? Let this serve as a guide through some lesser-known Halloween gems for the spookiest season of the year. 

 

1.Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

While Halloween III: Season of the Witch is part of a hugely popular franchise, it is often overlooked in favor of its predecessors and other sequels. While the main series deals with the serial killer Micheal Myers and his victims, Halloween III dispenses of this narrative entirely in favor of an unrelated story about Irish warlocks who use pieces of Stonehenge to create masks that will brainwash kids and melt their faces. It might not make any sense, but it certainly is fun.

Halloween III had a troubled development. The original Halloween, released in 1978, was a massive success that propelled its director John Carpenter and his partner Debra Hill to fame. Carpenter was hired to write a sequel in 1981, but by his own admission, it wasn’t up to his usual standard of quality. At the end of Halloween II, Carpenter killed off the series’ villain Micheal Myers and his nemesis Dr. Loomis, bringing the series to a satisfying close. There would be no way to continue the series with these characters, and Carpenter was happy about it. He envisioned the series as an anthology, with each film being about a different storyline unconnected to the others, with the only connection being a Halloween setting. Carpenter hired famed British sci-fi writer Nigel Keane to write the script, but was unhappy with the direction it took. He decided to rewrite the script with the help of his friend and editor Tommy Lee Wallace. Wallace would also take the director’s mantle and would later go on to helm the original It miniseries in 1990. 

From only the briefest summary, you can already tell that Halloween III does not follow common logic. Yes, it is ridiculous, but who cares? The film, intentionally or not, has an almost dreamlike quality to it. The plotline moves around oddly, the score is droning and electronic, and the visuals are striking and tinted with cold blues and deep oranges. The best aspect of Halloween III is its atmosphere. Carpenter himself composed the music, and as always, it is moody and soaked in mystery. I’ve seen the film four times now and the soundtrack always sticks out to me as being fantastic. The atmosphere also encompasses the Halloween setting. We all know that spooky, chilling feeling that’s in the air during October, as the leaves change and a breeze sets in. Halloween III comes the closest to replicating that feeling more than any other horror movie, and that alone makes up for its nonsensical plot. 

The special effects presented in Halloween III range from pretty good to laughably bad, in particular, the explosive climax, which is rendered with some obviously fake dummies. Today, it’s most known for the Silver Shamrock commercial. It’s a deceptively catchy earworm that will stay stuck in your head for months on end, and in the context of the film, literally drives people insane. 

Halloween III might not be scary in the traditional sense, or even very good for that matter, but I will stand by it as an all time classic. I watch it every Halloween, and look forward to it every year. Halloween III is free to watch on HBO Max Go and DirecTV.

 

2. The Exorcist III (1990)

Continuing the trend of underrated third entries in franchises, we have this often overlooked movie that I actually like way better than the original film. The Exorcist is a fine horror movie that has been spoiled and rendered not scary through years of cultural references and overexposure. Its sequel, The Exorcist II, is a terrible movie with laughable special effects and a stupid storyline. The only time the franchise would ever achieve perfection is with this fantastic installment, written and directed by William Peter Blatty, the author of the original book. While the original film relies mostly on shocking special effects and the shock value of a little girl spouting expletives, The Exorcist III is a clinical and stark thriller that greatly reminds me of the work of David Fincher, director of Se7en, Gone Girl and Zodiac. The horror comes not from special effects or intense gore, but from a sense of dread that manifests from chilling dialogue and the depravity of the events occurring. We revolve around Lieutenant Kinderman, a character from the first movie, who is investigating a series of gruesome murders committed by the Gemini Killer. This is obviously a reference to the infamous Zodiac Killer, a sick and depraved murderer who terrorized California in the ‘70s. The Zodiac was a fan of the original Exorcist, a fact which no doubt weighed heavy on Blatty’s mind. This angle also gives the sequel a tone similar to Fincher’s Zodiac, which is my all time favorite movie. 

 

Important to the tone is that we never see the full extent of the Gemini’s crimes. We only see the character’s reactions, leaving these horrific crimes up to the character’s imaginations. But this film is not just a mannered, subtle thriller. It actually contains the best jump scare of all time, at least in my and many others’ opinions. I won’t spoil anything, but needless to say this sequel is one of the scariest movies ever made, and is absolutely worth watching. The Exorcist III is free to watch on Amazon Prime.

 

3.The Guest (2014) 

The Guest is a movie that has it all. It features plenty of horror, humor, action, drama, a beautiful soundtrack, two cute leads, and of course a Halloween setting. There is plenty of action and intensity to satisfy people who aren’t horror fans and relationship drama as well. Maika Monroe (also from It Follows) stars and has a better performance than previously in It Follows. Monroe is a great actress who I hope stars in more horror from now on, as she has proven to be a modern scream queen in the style of Jamie Lee Curtis. I can’t really say all that much without spoiling things, but needless to say I love this film with all my heart. The Guest is free to watch on Netflix.

 

4. Donnie Darko (2001)

Donnie Darko isn’t exactly a horror movie, but it does take place on Halloween. Overlooked on the original release, Darko found its fanbase on home video, which is how I originally watched it. Donnie Darko is a troubled kid who sees visions of a man in a bunny suit speaking to him. The creature, named Frank, tells Donnie to do various tasks that eventually lead up to an explosive conclusion. Darko is a dark and mysterious movie that features a climax taking place on Halloween night, and while it does have some moments that can seem laughable now, it is an entertaining and mind-bending movie that deserves your time. Donnie Darko is free to watch on Tubi, IMDB TV, and the Roku Channel. 

 

5.Prince of Darkness (1985)

I would consider John Carpenter to be my favorite movie director. To choose one of his films as my favorite would be impossible, but I think I would pick 1977’s Halloween. Although Halloween is one of the most famous horror movies of all time, it obviously shouldn’t be included on a list of overlooked horror classics. That’s why I think Carpenter’s second best and most underrated film is Prince of Darkness. A unique premise involving a vat of devilish green slime and evil homeless people makes this one of the weirder films in Carpenter’s filmography, and is perhaps why it’s not as well known as his other movies. One thing I love about Carpenter is his fantastic synth scores, which he writes himself. Prince of Darkness is one of his most memorable, with distinct violin tones and loud slams that punctuate the film’s scariest moments. A lot of Carpenter’s best films deal with themes of paranoia, and this is no different, throwing a skeptical view on both science and religion, similar to what was done previously on They Live

 

6.The Changeling (1980)

The Changeling features another great performance from George C. Scott, star of The Exorcist III. The Changeling is one of Stephen King’s favorite movies ever, which is the reason I watched it. I was not disappointed. The Changeling is a cozy ghost story centered around a haunted house, but it becomes so much more as it continues, leading to an explosive conclusion that envelops elements of the political thriller genre. The Changeling is the perfect movie to watch next to a crackling fireplace, with a cup of warm cocoa in your hands.

 

7.Carnival of Souls (1962)

Carnival of Souls is one of the strangest and most underrated horror films ever. Made for cheap in the early ‘60s, the film creaks along at an odd, dreamlike pace, creating a sense of dread that exudes from the eerie black and white visuals and the strange organ score. Fans of The Lighthouse and Eraserhead should check it out. Carnival of Souls is free to watch on most streaming services, as it is licensed in public domain.

 

8. Re-Animator (1985)

Sometimes you don’t want a slow horror film. You just want to watch something unhinged, crazy and fun. Despite the films that I have recommended thus far, I’m not a boring traditionalist who only watches slow and psychological horror movies. I love goofy trash like Re-Animator, a movie which features severed heads, mad scientists, and an obviously fake dead cat. There’s not much in Re-Animator that can be classified as truly scary, but plenty that can be classified as truly fun. 

 

9.WNUF Halloween Special (2013)

One of the most interesting ideas in horror film history, this hidden gem is edited and filmed like the broadcast of a Halloween special on a small town TV station in the 1980s. It even includes period appropriate commercials and an authentic VHS style. It serves as an interesting experiment, and although it’s not particularly scary, it’s a good time for those who like that retro style. WNUF Halloween Special is free to watch on Shudder.

 

10 and 11: Suspiria (1977 and 2018)

These two films could not be more dissimilar. The 1977 Italian version is bright, fast-paced, and surreal, while the 2018 version is colorless, slow and realistic. I am a huge fan of the 1977 version, as it is one of the most unique horror films ever made. While I wouldn’t normally include films I don’t like on this list, I think the 2018 version is an interesting failure. It suffers from an excruciatingly slow pace (which I normally like) that seems wrong for the source material. The colors are sickly, the acting is flat, and the infusion of several meaningless plot threads stretches its already long running time into what feels like eternity. It has its fans but I am not one of them. Perhaps you, the reader, may enjoy it, so I encourage those reading to seek out both and decide for yourself! Suspiria 1977 is free to watch on Tubi. Suspiria 2018 is free to watch on Amazon Prime.

 

12. It Follows (2014)

Oftentimes discussions of horror movies can get bogged down with talk of the old classics. But why don’t we take a gander at a modern film that takes inspiration from some of the older standouts? It Follows tells the story of Jay, a teenager who, after hooking up with a guy, is followed by a creature that intends to kill her. Turns out, the creature spreads like an STD. To get rid of it, the host must have sex with someone, making them the target. While this premise could easily lead to scenes of needless nudity and a trashy tone, It Follows has a remarkably subdued and measured tone. It takes a lot of inspiration from Halloween and other ‘70s and ‘80s icons, specifically with its synthy score. But It Follows adds in a modern sensibility that makes it seem fresher than your average nostalgia bait cash-in. It Follows is free to watch on Tubi and the Roku Channel.

 

13. Ghostwatch (1992)

Ghostwatch is a British made for TV movie that is more interesting than good. In the final 30 minutes, it includes some of the scariest horror material ever created. Aired on Halloween night on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Ghostwatch was marketed as though it was a real ghost investigation. The production values and recognizable BBC presenters at the forefront make the premise believable, as it takes on a very slow pace that lulls you into a false security. This is frustrating as it takes a very long time to get good, but in the final act there is a fantastic payoff. Ghostwatch is free to watch on the Internet Archive.

 

14. Images (1972)

Director Robert Altman is best known for his comedy and drama films, often with multi-layered storylines and overlapping dialogue. Altman’s movies care more for characters than plot, and often feature huge casts. But while most known for this type of movie, Altman dipped his toes in plenty of other genres throughout his long career. From the bleak Western film McCabe and Mrs. Miller to the goofy cartoonishness of Popeye, Altman had great versatility in all genres, including horror. Images is a quiet and psychological film that is best enjoyed on a cold October night. If you can handle a slow, atmospheric horror film, Images will be right up your alley. It also features a fantastic score by a young John Williams, who would later write the unforgettable themes for films such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones!.Images is free to watch on Amazon Prime.

 

15. Cronos (1993)

Foriegn horror movies are often overlooked by casual fans of the genre, and sadly I haven’t seen many. But Cronos makes me want to correct that error because it is easily one of the creepiest, funniest, and most heartwarming horror movies I’ve ever watched. Following the chilling tale of an older man who discovers the secret to immortality, he quickly realizes that it comes with a caveat, as he is now thirsty for blood. Cronos comes from the mind of Guillermo del Toro, a man whose best films don’t really follow a specific genre. Best known for Pacific Rim and Pan’s Labyrinth, Cronos is one of his more straight-forward horror outings, but despite this, it remains one of his best and a must watch for fans of the genre. Cronos is free to watch on HBO Max.

 

All 15 of these films are worth watching, and if I had to pick a favorite I don’t think I could. You’ll laugh, cry, and of course get scared with any number of these hidden gems.

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