The Halloween season is here dear readers. As such, I’ve gone around asking my favorite Scream quote, “What’s your favorite scary movie?” and have compiled my list of the scariest movies for this spooky season. These horror flicks range in type, from found-footage to haunted house to a haunted videotape! So lock the doors, close the shades and turn off all the lights as we get into the movies that would make even Michael Meyers pee himself. BRIEF CONTENT WARNING as these movies are not for everyone, with some films involving graphic content, kidnapping, etc.
Read on for my list (as a horror movie buff) of the best horror movies for this year’s Halloween season:
1. The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)
Where to watch: Pluto TV / TUBI
I start this list with a film that is most definitely not for the faint of heart (or stomach for that matter). Filmed in the style of a found footage documentary, The Poughkeepsie Tapes features recovered tapes from a serial killer mocking and torturing a young woman whom he has kidnapped and is holding captive. The film often switches perspectives between the detectives who worked on the case, the borderline snuff films that the killer left behind, and the members of the family. This film was considered so graphic and disturbing upon creation that its release was semi-banned for years until it finally came out on On-Demand only. As such, it’s harder to find and is more of a cult classic in the vein of “Cannibal Holocaust,” but I believe this movie fits the season much better.
“Poughkeepsie Tapes freaked me out, man. The whole documentary-style thing made it feel like this everyday horror, like it could happen to anyone. I was questioning my own safety after watching that, you know,” UCLA junior Duncan Smith said.
The greatest strength of The Poughkeepsie Tapes lies in its simplicity and the lack of answers it gives you. The movie wants you to become like the detective, searching for clues and answers that just don’t exist. Audiences learn close to nothing about the killer at the forefront of the film, and he has no sympathizing characteristics, no motives that we can discern and no end goal or catharsis with the ending. This film will stay with audiences long after they’ve finished the short runtime of 1h 26min, be that for better or for worse…
2. Poltergeist (1982)
Where to watch: MAX
Steven Spielberg [E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Jaws, The Goonies] and Tobe Hooper [The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Salem’s Lot]— what a horrifying duo (pun absolutely intended) to come together for this American classic. While disguised in the beginning as a happy summer childhood wonder story like Spielberg’s classics, Poltergeist quickly takes a turn down a dark road and arrives at its destination as one of the greatest haunted house movies ever made. The Freeling family’s descent into madness and chaos is shown with some of the greatest practicaleffects, acting, and tone that a horror film has ever shown. Nothing in the house is safe for the Freeling family— closets that steal children, trees that try and eat the son Robbie, stretching hallways, an empty swimming pool becoming a trap, the list goes on. Poltergeist only gives the audience a moment to breathe so they can recollect themselves for the next unexpected scare.
“Poltergeist cemented my love for horror movies over a decade ago. Nothing scared me quite in the same way before and nothing has come close since, Definitely watch this one alone in the dark without looking up its story if possible,” UCLA senior Broderick Foster said.
One never knows what to expect when first watching Poltergeist. From children sliding across rooms, to a man slowly clawing his face off, to a young girl talking into a static-filled screen, you can’t predict what Poltergeist will do next and as such it leaves audiences on high alert at all times. Poltergeist is unique in the way that it approaches itself, never taking itself seriously like many modern horror movies— a trap its 2015 failed remake unfortunately fell into. Instead, it takes the happiness and childhood wonder of a Spielberg film and slowly yet methodically breaks it down along with the American suburban dream. It’s inspired quite a few other films in the genre, including the recent Skinamarink, and Insidious. Poltergeist breaks one of the sacred rules of film —“Don’t hurt children”— and pulls on fears of parents and young children alike by putting young Carol Anne and Robbie into horrible situations with ruthless intent. By the end you’ll be sitting at home hearing voices and thinking “They’re here…”
3. Hereditary (2018)
Where to watch: MAX
Ari Aster has created a legacy with his cinematic debut Hereditary a legacy of FEAR! A part of the recent genre of “elevated horror,” Hereditary is not simply a cheap horror movie, but instead a story on generational trauma, grief and inherited fate. Taking inspiration from The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, and Ancient Greek tragedies, Hereditary brings a combined effort of past greats to create one of the most haunting films of the 21st century. Toni Collette’s performance alone was Oscar-worthy in this film, and that praise can be spread to almost all of the cast. Alex Wolff’s portrayal of regret, fear, grief and teenage angst truly makes this film feel less like a script and more like a genuine breakdown.
“Hereditary really got under my skin. It’s not your usual horror flick; it’s this slow, intense unraveling of family drama sliding into supernatural chaos. It hit close to home, making me question the hidden skeletons in any family closet. Definitely messed with my head in a way I didn’t see coming,” UCLA sophomore Dylan Wells said.
The voyeuristic aspect of the film perfectly transcends through the screen to the audience itself in a brilliant directorial choice. I would also say that this is the one film on this list that truly needs and warrants a second viewing. I don’t know what Aster’s obsession with rooms and rituals and mommy issues is, but he makes it look great on screen! The less I say about Hereditary the better because I just want to spoil every twist and reveal and just rave about how great they are. Definitely don’t plan on driving after watching this though…
4. Sinister (2012)
Where to watch: Rentable on Prime Video, Apple TV, YouTube TV
Few movies can say they’ve had a medical study done on them which classified it as THE SCARIEST EVER! Sinister holds that title, and definitely earned it. Sinister is less scary in tone and atmosphere but more so in its jump scares and content (half of that content warning in the intro is because of this movie). Scott Derrickson (future Doctor Strange director) made a horror flick that somehow makes Poughkeepsie Tapes look tame in comparison. The film follows Ethan Hunt’s character Ellison Oswald through his desperate attempt to rebuild a true crime career as he moves his family to a house where a real (incredibly gruesome) murder took place. He soon learns that there’s more going on and that the tapes left behind will slowly reveal that he’ll become his own true crime story.
“Sinister shook me. Those eerie home movies and the supernatural twist hit hard. It’s not just a scare-fest; it messes with your head, leaving a creepy imprint that lingers,” UCLA senior Joshua Anderson said.
Sinister is based on multiple snuff movies filmed in the style of family videos. It is NOT for the faint of heart and frankly even horror movie fans should take some breaks during this film, and maybe have a bathroom nearby… Building off the popularity of Saw and Hostel at the time, this film definitely represents the brutality and goriness of the early 2010 horror films. But at the same time, it moves a bit beyond those tropes and instead tries to focus on the family aspect rather than the vengeful god torturing them. Great film for any Halloween marathon but it definitely changes the meaning of “let’s hang out” forever…
5. The Ring (2002)
Where to watch: Paramount +
Commonly remembered as the American remake of the Japanese Ringu, The Ring captures a paranormal thrill in a way that only a foreign film could have come up with. When you watch the haunted videotape you get a phone call shortly after with a girl saying, “Seven days”… That’s the urban legend at least, but the threat that comes with is far from legend. While the magic of this noughties film has been unsuccessfully recreated many times, the original stands on its own as a true horror classic.
“The Ring was a bit much for me. That whole cursed videotape and Samara climbing out of the TV? Nope. I don’t do well with horror, and this one stuck with me in all the wrong ways. I’ll stick to non-creepy TV shows, thank you very much,” USC sophomore Sophie Newland said.
The Ring separates itself from many early 2000s horror films by not being that incredibly gory and instead being a drama-focused mystery. It raises questions in viewers about their own nature and blurs the line between reality and fiction at times. (I swear I thought every phone call for a week was going to tell me I had seven days to live.) Also, nothing quite prepares you for the way the girl simply crawls out of the TV screen. I don’t know what it is about little girls and horror movies, but this list has shown me that there’s something creepy about them. I highly recommend watching this one with some friends so you can prank call them the next morning and whisper “Seven days…”