I love movies. LOVE. I grew up in a very small town, way out in the woods and I spent all day outdoors. But on weekends, my best friends and I spent almost every after-dark hour watching rented VHS tapes. I still love movies and though, with young kids, I don’t get out to the theater much, I still watch my fair share on Netflix. When I can stay awake late enough.
But my sensitivity to certain themes has changed a bit as a parent, so I’m going to add my own personal rating (SBHK) to let you know that “Something Bad Happens to a Kid”. You might not choose to watch these movies as a parent if you’re the sensitive sort that I am. You may be better at compartmentalizing than I am, but if not, be forewarned. Before I had kids I was more disturbed by “Something Bad Happening to a Dog”, so I’ll let you know if I recall anything like that as well. I’m not a fan of overly gruesome movies (unless it’s really campy) or anything along the lines of the torture suspense genre like Saw. I enjoy scary movies with monsters, not monstrous people. So, without further ado, here are some free (for now, on Netflix) Halloween movies for you, in no particular order:
1. Pumpkinhead (SBHK). My favorite movie with Lance Henrikson (though I can’t remember what else he was in, to be honest). A vengeful, backwoods Dad makes a deal with a creepy backwoods witch to extract some pain from some horny kids. It’s kind of the formula, but Lance elevates the whole thing a bit, and the monster is truly scary.
2. Cabin in the Woods: I love this movie. Joss Weadon is the producer and it’s clever and funny and has some truly scary moments as well. It’s a bit of a spoof on scary movies, but in the spirit of love (like Shaun of the Dead) and respect vs. just mocking. Watch it.
3. Land of the Dead. I think a lot of zombie movie lovers were a little disappointed with Romero’s fourth movie, but it was still pretty great. As always, he throws in a little social commentary. This movie takes place in a future where the zombies have taken over pretty much everything, and we find an outpost of humans behind barricades and walls, some living in abject poverty in the streets while others live almost as before, in some secure high rise luxury condos.
4. Nightmare Before Christmas. I loved this movie as a teenager and I still love it today. It doesn’t feel dated to me. Maybe a bit too creepy for some kids, but the stuff I find frightening and twisted about Tim Burton’s movies doesn’t seem to feel that way to my kids. Not streaming on Netflix right now, but if you get the DVDs in the mail, Frankenweenie is also worth watching.
5. John Dies at the End. Though not technically a horror movie, this is a great, weird, twisted movie based on the John Wong book with the same name. Which is also worth reading, by the way. Sci-fi, monsters and a drug called soy sauce that opens doors to other dimensions. There is a scene where a dog drives a car and a monster made of meat. If that doesn’t convince you, then I’m not sure what will.
6. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. This movie is awesome. A twist on the traditional redneck-psychopathic-killer genre, starring Alan Tudyk from Firefly/Serenity (another Weadon connection).
7. Paranorman. We watched this animated movie with our four and six year old, and they did ok, but it’s probably best for kids who are a little older (it’s PG). The zombies are a little scary and the animation is really different and a little creepy. I loved it and it was one of those great kid movies that’s still clever enough for adults. A really good story as well, and I was touched by the ending.
8. Carrie: A horror classic. Sissy Spacek is too pretty (in her odd way) to really be the ugly-duckling character from Stephen King’s book, but she pulls it off wonderfully anyway. It’s the ultimate comeuppance film for everyone who felt picked on or unpopular at some point. And there’s lots of pig blood and John Travolta. (if you consider teenagers kids, then this also carries my SBHTK warning).
9. Strigoi, the Undead: A sort-of Zombie movie filmed in Romania. The acting is good and the story is weird. Not terrifying, but super interesting and atmospheric. Drink a glass of wine and feel a bit classy watching a foreign (horror) film.
10. Slither. Starring Nathan Fillion, this movie is both funny and smart and a little scary. (another Firefly/Weadon connection). SBHK, but it doesn’t feel very disturbing.
11. Let the Right One In. I’ve seen the American and the Norwegian movie version of this book, and I prefer this one (the foreign version), though both are good. A bullied boy befriends a strange new girl and lots of weirdness starts to happen. This is another book worth reading, and it’s even stranger and scarier than the movie (which is saying something). SBHK, but they kind of have it coming.
12. Pontypool. I finally gave in and watched this one after seeing that Netflix had been recommending it for years. Netflix was right. I loved it. This is not a monster movie in the usual sense, but is brilliant at creating a sense of foreboding and paranoia. Most of the movie takes place in a radio studio located in the basement of a church, but I didn’t feel bored for a moment. Stephen McHattie stars in this movie, and I had never heard of him before. But he’s a brilliant actor and had me totally engaged.
13. The Host. I don’t want you to avoid watching this one because there is a kid in peril, but you need to know about it. Watch it anyway. This is a great South Korean horror film, but nothing like the darkness of Audition (which still creeps me out). SBHK
14. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: This black and white movie came out in 1920 and still manages to be pretty creepy. I first saw it at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin with a live (and very creepy) band playing.
15. Nosferatu (1929). Silent, and still very scary. This is no charming vampire. Just a terribly weird monster. Rumors abound about this movie and the actor who played Nosferatu, and after watching you’ll see why. At a time when special effects and makeup were pretty primitive, this guy is truly scary. Shadow of the Vampire is also a good movie, about the making of Nosferatu.
16. American Horror Story. Ok, this is a TV show, but it’s really scary. And nice if you think you’ll fall asleep during a full-length movie. SBHK.
17. Troll Hunter. Another Norwegian movie, but this time there are Trolls. Giant, disgusting trolls that the government is trying to keep under wraps. It’s better than it sounds, and you just have to trust me.
18. Rambock: Berlin Undead. A German zombie movie. Please trust that I’m not a huge foreign movie nerd, but it’s really nice to see some fresh perspectives on these (somewhat tired) genres like zombie and vampire movies. This one features a lovesick guy and a teenage plumber’s assistant who have to stay alive as the city is taken over by zombies.
Other: 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Audition, World War Z and all the Romero zombie movies. Return of the Living Dead is probably the only Punk Zombie movie ever, and it’s the best.