Thanks for tuning in to the First Annual Ultimate Halloween Recommendations list. By which I mean a List I Made and Which I May or May Not Do Again Next year.
Below you will see the favorite scary fare in movies and books from some of my favorite people – many of whom also happen to be bestselling horror authors, Bram Stoker Award nominees and winners, top-of-the-genre horror reviewers and bloggers, and more. These are the best of the best, and I’ve asked each for a few sentences (and in a few cases, they’ve given more… an embarrassment of riches!) on their favorite scary/Halloween movie or book. Please note: if there’s a bit in quotes after their name, it’s a direct quote from their bios. Otherwise, I did my best to show of their Awesomeness Incarnate.
They’re listed in alphabetical order by first name/internet moniker so as not to show favoritism. And without any further ado… Go!
Ania Ahlborn – “Ania’s first novel, SEED, was self-published. It clawed its way up the Amazon charts to the number one horror spot, earning her a multi-book deal and a key to the kingdom of the macabre. Seven years later, her work has been lauded by the likes of Publishers Weekly, New York Daily News, and the New York Times.”
My favorite horror novel isn’t a novel, it’s a book of short stories by Stephen King. But it’s like a deep cut B-side when it comes to his collections. Full Dark, No Stars has stuck with me since I read it in less than two days while laid out with a killer case of the flu. When I finished it, I immediately wanted to read it again. And it makes good on its title. It’s dark, possibly darker than any King stuff I can remember. And if you know anything about me or my work, you know I’m a sucker for a darkness you can’t claw your way out of.
Because it’s such a fun and Halloween-appropriate flick, Drag Me to Hell is my horror movie pick. I still remember watching this film for the first time, fully expecting it to be serious horror. But it’s slow spiral into pure camp is both delightful and hilarious. I’m not big on camp, but I can’t recommend this movie enough.
Bark at the Ghouls – “I’ve been a horror fan ever since I swiped Carrie by Stephen from my dad’s nightstand as a child and love nothing more than talking about scary books.” My reviews can be found at http://barksbooknonsense.blogspot.com/ I am also a founding member of https://ladiesofhorrorfiction.com/”
My favorite movie of all time is Near Dark. I wrote a guest post for Scifi & Scary about it and also posted it my blog feel free to take a little snippet. My favorite horror book is GEEK LOVE by Katherine Dunn That book, to me, is complete perfection. It’s a grueling read about a couple who decide to create their own troupe of circus freaks by imbibing toxins when the mother is pregnant. It still remains one of the most horrifying books I’ve ever read and it’s one of the few books I reread every few years and it never lets me down. This reminds that I am due for a reread!
Bob Pastorella – author of Mojo Rising and co-host for a This is Horror.
As much as I’m likely to change my mind on any given day, I would say that Rosemary’s Baby, both novel and film, is high on my list. Levin pulls the wool over our eyes so many times that we don’t know who to trust, and when we think we’ve figured it out, we realize that yes, “All of them Witches.”
Blu Gilliand – Managing Editor of Cemetery Dance Magazine and Cemetery Dance Online
I was flattered when Michaelbrent Collings asked me to write about my favorite horror book and/or movie. Like most fans, I love any opportunity to talk about the stuff that excites me.
And then I started trying to narrow the choices down.
Keeping in mind that I had not been asked to submit several Top 10 Lists, annotated and supplemented with various “runners-up” compilations and subgenre-specific side-roads, I decided to choose a novel and a book that, for me, do the best job of invoking the feeling of Halloween. ‘Tis the season, after all!
When it comes to books, nothing evokes Halloween better for me than Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge. Dark Harvest takes place in a small town on a cold Halloween night in 1963 — a town in which Halloween traditions run deeper and darker than simple trick-or-treating. Yes, there are rites of passage to be completed that night, but we’re not talking egging houses and rolling trees. We’re talking rituals born of dark earth and blood. We’re talking a living embodiment of evil called The October Boy, stalking streets and backyards. We’re talking packs of desperate teenage boys on the hunt for their only ticket out of town. Partridge takes teen-rebel swagger and slaps it onto a Carpenter-esque framework, and delivers it with the kind of tough-as-nails prose that would be right at home in any Hard Case Crime release.
As for movies, I need look no further than Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat for my Halloween fix. Dougherty uses the anthology approach to pack as many Halloween tropes as he can in a film that covers one night in a fictional Ohio town. You’ve got poison candy, a local legend revolving around a fatal bus crash, pranks, werewolves, undead children, revenge stories and more, told in a group of interlocking tales with a mysterious, child-like figure named Sam at the center of it all. It’s a gorgeous movie, filled with truckloads of jack-o-lanterns, orange lights, creepy woods, and suburban streets filled with trick-or-treaters in eye-catching costumes. Every frame screams “HALLOWEEN!” and I’ll likely watch it multiple times this season for the atmosphere alone.
Catherine from Red Lace Reviews – Catherine is “a horror enthusiast from Northern Ireland. She spends most of her time in a desperate quest to scare herself silly. She’s an active book reviewer and blogger, and loves every moment of it.”
I’d like to pitch in a book and a movie, both I consider favourites of mine.
Graeme Reynolds pulled me into an intense and ruthless experience – something so brutal that I often had to sit back and reassess the murderous events that assaulted me in every chapter. With bone-snapping and blood-spurting entertainment, it quickly became apparent that this was the pinnacle of werewolf fiction. For me, the perfect creature feature.
It once was an obsession, this tale of two outcasts that had the misfortune of a beastly encounter. The depressive atmosphere weighed heavily, but I was fascinated with the doom and gloom. The parallels between coming of age and turning into a bloodthirsty monster were startling – both very drastic transformations indeed. I guess you could say, that at a younger age, I was able to relate to the protagonists (more to do with being the unpopular kid whilst hitting adulthood, not the turning into a werewolf aspect… even though I would have welcomed that, probably.)
Christine Morgan – “Christine Morgan reads, writes, edits, reviews, enjoys baking and weird crafts, and is really fed up with cancer.” [NOTE FROM MICHAELBRENT: Christine is one of my favorites. She gave me my VERY FIRST “pro” review (you can read it here if you want), has reviewed nearly every one of my horror novels since then, and is a neato-keen person to boot. She’s a continuing cancer warrior/badass/survivor (see her bio above), so send her good thoughts and check out her websites!]
Aaaaaagh these kinds of questions … I have so many favorites, even breaking them down into sub-categories is hard!
The Shining – pivotal life-changer, I read it when I was ten years old and my aunt told my parents it would warp me forever and she was right.
The Hot Zone – not even a novel but this book still scares the heck out of me more than any fictional stuff I’ve ever read.
City Infernal – my introduction to Edward Lee, epic worldbuilding and gore, blew my mind and made me an instant die-hard forever fan.
Invaders From Mars – I always have to look up the title of this one because my mind will not let me remember it, freaked me out so bad as a kid.
The Changeling – subtle and moody, that wheelchair; the scene with the ball bouncing down the dusty staircase; the floaty spectre coming up … shivers all over.
30 Days of Night – vampireociraptors, ‘nuff said.
Darren Shan – author of The Saga of Darren Shan, The Demonata series, and more
While I’ve seen and relished many fine horror films over the years, if I had to pick just one that truly terrified me and that I could name as a truly life-changing influence, then it would be the 1970s TV adaptation of Salem’s Lot. When I was a boy (I’m guessing 9 or 10 at most, maybe even younger) my next-door neighbours, knowing of my love of horror, said they’d seen the first half of a two-part film about vampires. It sounded right up my alley, so I watched the second half when it aired. It was Salem’s Lot and it scared the living S-H-EYE-T out of me! Most horror films that I’d seen to that point were set in the past and featured adult-only characters. This was set in the modern day, with some kids — and those kids weren’t immune to the vampiric shenanigans going on around them — “Mark… open the window, Mark…” I loved every minute of it and enjoyed a woke-me-up-from-my-sleep nightmare that night, which I thought was VERY cool — the only other film that ever did that for me was Dracula 1972 AD, which I saw when I was a good bit younger and took seriously, not realising it was meant to be funny. I’ve watched Salem’s Lot several times over the decades since, and it’s always impressed me — for a TV movie, it rocks big time. If you’ve never seen it, and are sceptical about a 3 hour long 1970s TV flick, track it down and surprise yourself.
Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi – horror poet and reviewer for Hook of a Book; “has Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, Journalism, and History. She has 20 years of experience in her field where she is currently an author, a journalist, an editor, and publicist among many other things. Breathe. Breathe. was her debut collection and a mix of dark poetry and short stories. She has stories featured in several other anthologies and magazines and was the co-editor of the anthology Haunted are These Halls. She also serves as president of the board of her local mental health center and rape crisis domestic violence safe haven.
Dead of Winter by Brian Moreland was one of my first horror novel read outside of Stephen King, and the one that catapulted me into the horror industry as a writer and in my career. I still consider this book one of my top ten favorite reads of all time. Published in 2011, this book is now out of print (cue tears!), but hopefully it will make a comeback eventually because it truly is one of the greatest modern horror novels in my opinion.
In Dead of Winter, Inspector Tom Hatcher just can’t get over what happened when he was on the case of serial killer, the Cannery Cannibal. Meanwhile, Father Xavier, an exorcism specialist on assignment with the Catholic church, visits the serial killer in an asylum. As he realizes the mental patient is possessed by a demon, we sense that the Cannery Cannibal is far more powerful and deadly than anyone could have imagined.
Also, in 1870 at a fur trading fort set in the deep and dense Ontario wilderness, Hatcher confronts his own demons while investigating some gruesome murders. It becomes apparent that a predator from the forest has unleashed a deadly plague among the colonists in which they begin to crave human flesh with an insatiable hunger and take on supernatural powers and body shape to obtain it. Once the shape shifting begins, there isn’t ending it and death abounds.
Based on a real historical Native American legend, Moreland crafts his tale to include the spirituality of the Native American culture who lived in these woods and the conflicting arrogance of the white man who often lived at the forts and outposts. Inspector Hatcher doesn’t know if he can stop the rampage this time, as good is pitted against evil in an amazing battle of wills. Father Xavier arrives to assist him as no other priest has been able to manage or live through, along with passionate Native American Anika, who is disregarded by everyone but Hatcher, accused of being a witch and used as a slave. Together, they unravel a mystery of epic proportions.
Brian’s writing took me somewhere out of my daily life as I became entranced by the story. His detail and cinematology, coupled with his unique story telling ability, kept me turning page after page.
Fox Emm – ; “Fox Emm writes horror reviews for a variety of sites and also pens stories for the unsqueamish. You can find her work on Amazon”
The best Halloween movie needs to meet a few criteria. It has to be fun to watch, something even non-horror fans can enjoy, and something that I’d want to watch more than once. That makes for an incredibly short list. The original Scream tics those boxes. It’s fun, it’s funny, and it has a fairly satisfying resolution.
Frank Errington – radio personality and horror reviewer for Cemetery Dance
My scariest movie is Alien. Though many consider this to be a science fiction classic. This one really scared me. It still does, to this day.
Gracie Kat – reviewer for Sci Fi & Scary
Hal Bodner – Bram Stoker Award nominee, author of Bite Club!
When I was a kid–oh, so many eons ago!–there was no such thing as the internet, nor even video recording. If we wanted to watch a movie, we either went to the movie theatre or waited until it came onto television.
I remember when I was in the fourth grade, this new thing called “Saturday Morning Cartoons” was created. Unfortunately, on Sunday mornings, we were limited to live action movies on UHF channels — that is, local broadcasting stations. Usually, the movies that they aired were films that could be licensed very cheaply — which meant a lot of bad horror films, spaghetti Westerns, “foreign” films and science fiction pictures, all of which were in black and white.
I distinctly recall one film called THE WITCH’S MIRROR, shot in Spanish and dubbed into English which TERRIFIED me as a kid. There was a scene at the end where a disembodied hand crawls up someone’s back and stabs them in the neck with a scissors. It haunted me for YEARS; I would check under the bed each night to see if five crawly fingers lurked with a sharpened pair of shears!
John FD Taff – Bram Stoker Award nominee, author of The End in all Beginnings and Little Deaths
My favorite horror book is definitely Peter Straub’s The Throat. I re-read it every couple of years. It’s as dense as a flourless chocolate cake and full of nuance and shading and unreliable narration. Just a fantastic book.
Kealan Patrick Burke – Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Turtle Boy, Kin, and Sour Candy
I don’t always watch the same horror movies every year on Halloween, but there are a few staples: Halloween (1978), The Thing (1982), The Fog (1980), Trick R’ Treat (2007) and Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Most of these are rightly regarded as classics, but Halloween III is the one that always raises an eyebrow whenever I bring it up. Released in 1982, the film was neither a commercial nor a critical success. Part of the problem was that fans were confused by the absence of the series’ boogeyman, Michael Myers. They’d showed up for some hack n’ slash and instead found themselves watching a gonzo film about robots, killer masks, and Irish druids. In an effort to get away from repeating the same slasher story over and over again, the film was intended to be the first in an anthology series, with each entry telling a different horror story set on Halloween. How wonderful that might have been! But when Halloween failed to make an impact at the box office, the idea was quashed in favor of returning to Mr. Myers’ babysitter-killing exploits.
But, maligned as it is, I happen to love Halloween III. I can, in fact, recall being seriously creeped out by it the first time I saw it, and for many of the same reasons I was unnerved by first viewings of Halloween and The Fog: John Carpenter’s score and Dean Cundey’s cinematography, the staccato synth beats and the wide angle night shots broken by the sudden ominous flare of the villain’s headlights, or the appearance of a sinister figure in a hallway. There’s just a certain feel to these films that gets me every time. I adore the style of them. And of course, you have Tom Atkins, whose wisecracking everyman is always worth a look.
And what of the plot?
It’s silly, of course, but so much fun too. How can you not be drawn in by the notion of kids being murdered by their own masks on Halloween night to fulfil the needs of a druidic cult? It’s as outrageous as it is irresistible, a B-movie done so well that it almost transcends the category. And there are some legitimate freak-out moments too, courtesy of some excellent practical effects work. Those robot henchmen don’t skimp on the gore.
In short, it’s cheap, it’s clumsy, it’s creepy, and it’s got a killer ending, but whenever it comes up, the thing most people remember is the jingle. You know the one. It’s irritating as hell but also summons up the fond memory of an oft-forgotten film that deserves a lot more love.
Three more days to Halloween, Halloween, Halloween…Three more days to Halloween…Silverrrr Shamrock…
Melinda M. Snodgrass – screenwriter of Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Outer Limits, and many more, and author of urban fantasy novels
I am such a wuss that I almost never watch horror movies. I get too scared and then I have nightmares. I did see the Exorcist and barely slept for two weeks after that. That Catholic thing runs deep. And Alien scared me to death too.
Mercedes Yardley – Bram Stoker Award winner and author of Nameless and Pretty Little Dead Thiings
My favorite horror movie is the original Poltergeist. There’s a little girl in distress. Her family bands together to save her from something they can’t even begin to comprehend. They call for outside help, and eventually the mother ties a rope around her waist and wanders into hell itself to rescue her child. There are memorable tagline, terrifying clowns, and a tree that tries to eat you, but everything is okay at the end. The movie is chilling and manages to be endearing at the same time. Poltergeist was, unfortunately and unnecessarily, remade. The remake neutered the original story by cutting out a strong female character completely and then having a washed-up TV host rescue Carol Ann instead of having her mother do it. While I’m always a fan of redemption stories, my favorite part of the original was the fact that when things were at their most despairing, Mama wrapped herself up and plunged after her little girl. Parents kick butt.
Michael R. Collings – aka “My Dad,” multiple Bram Stoker Award nominee; horror poet, novelist, and World Horror Convention Grandmaster
In no particular order, some of my favorite ‘horror’ novels (there are too many good ones out there to have only a few favorites) include: Stephen King’s IT and The Shining, both encountered in early adulthood and still enjoyed; Robert R. McCammon’s Wolf’s Hour, for me one of the finest werewolf novels; Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and the Julie Harris film adaptation; and Predators, arguably the best and most suspense-filled novel by a prolific writer named Michaelbrent (yes, my son, but that doesn’t keep him from being an outstanding storyteller.
Peter Dudar – author of The Goat Parade
It’s Halloween again, and I want to pass onto you a movie that has been (in my honest opinion) overlooked in the pantheon of horror films. I’m speaking of 2014’s THE CANAL (written and directed by Ivan Kavanagh). THE CANAL was eclipsed by that year’s cinema darling, THE BABADOOK (written and directed by Jennifer Kent), and all the hype surrounding what William Friedkin was hailing as the scariest film he’d seen in years. Whereas THE BABADOOK was remarkable for being both an import from Australia and the significance of a female filmmaker presenting the year’s biggest horror movie, THE CANAL appeared on streaming video nearly simultaneously, but went largely unnoticed. Having watched THE BABADOOK after following all the buzz it was creating in the film festival circuit, my experience was somewhat disappointing. It’s a flawed movie (and not one I’m going to critique in this essay), but on the whole worth a viewing. A few days later I stumbled upon THE CANAL on NetFlix, and was immediately drawn into its atmospheric style and marvelous storytelling. Like THE BABADOOK, THE CANAL is also an import from the U.K., and unravels in a psychological thriller that horror fans might find similar to the 2001 masterpiece SESSION 9.
The opening sequence of the movie has David (Rupert Evans) addressing some high school students preceding a lecture he’s about to give. The students are chattering away until he pipes up and asks them bluntly, “Who wants to see some ghosts?”, alluding to the people captured on celluloid in his film footage, who have been dead for nearly a hundred years but remain youthful and vibrant in his archive footage. The vignette is short, but sets such a staggeringly effective stage for the dread to come. David, a film archivist working for the city’s historical society, is presented with some super-8 footage of some murders that had taken place in his hometown at the beginning of the 20th century. David is a very overworked husband and father, and comes to suspect that his wife Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) has been having an affair. David begins spying on his wife out of jealousy, and follows Alice and her lover back to his flat. When she fails to return home, the film spins into a tense trail of psychological dread as David tries to piece together what actually transpired between when he left Alice’s lover’s flat the night before and when he awoke the next morning, waiting to confront his unfaithful spouse.
What David comes to learn is that the apartment his family is living in happens to be the same crime scene from the film footage he’s been working to preserve at the archive, as if all of this madness has happened before. When the titular canal outside their apartment is dredged and Alice’s corpse is uncovered, David’s world plunges into a hallucinatory spiral of madness as he’s forced to prove that someone else (possibly a supernatural entity) murdered his wife.
There’s a distinct correlation between how one appreciates a horror film and where that viewer happens to be in his/her own life. I’m finding that this particular film works for me—in sinking those needle-sharp teeth right into my pressure points—because the characters within the film are drawn from a very similar place in age and how I view the world in my own life. It’s entirely relatable (and I’m inclined to make the same argument with THE BABADOOK, that these films are more likely to scare someone in their mid-40s like myself than some teenage horror hound looking for their next torture-porn fix). Both are stories with three-dimensional characters, struggling with the responsibilities of working fulltime, parenting, trying to keep relationships somewhat meaningful during stressful situations; these are the new pressure points for my generation. THE CANAL manages to exploit these stressers, as well as the theme of suburban paranoia and subtle, nuanced flashes of the supernatural.
I consider THE CANAL to be the best horror film of the decade, and easily rank it among the top fright flicks of all time. Its only weakness is that its ability to resonate relies heavily on the point in one’s life when they discover it. I’m happy to keep singing its praise, to keep pulling it up from the depths of obscurity, so that others can enjoy the icy chills I feel whenever I go back and watch it again. I hope you enjoy it.
Ronald Malfi – award-winning author and Bram Stoker Award nominee [NOTE FROM MICHAELBRENT: THIS ONE MAY BE MY FAVORITE… AND DEFINITELY GETS THE “TMI” AWARD]
Not sure if I’ve got a “scariest” movie, but my personal Halloween tradition is to watch Poltergeist while finishing off a box of Frankenberry cereal. My poop is pink for the next few days but it’s worth it.
Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann – “lover of the written word and sharing her passion on Instagram, Twitter and Goodreads as Mother Horror. Actively reviewing horror for Cemetery Dance and Scream magazine.”
The scariest movie I’ve ever seen is actually a very recent release called, Hereditary. I got excited to see it after watching the previews and seeing Toni Collette (one of my favorite actresses) giving what appeared to be, a standout performance in a “subtly” scary movie. Well Toni Collette did give an amazing performance but there was nothing subtle about the last 45 minutes of this movie. I was so uncomfortable and terrified I was nervously laughing and crying at the same time. I also didn’t sleep well that night and ended up having to watch some late night show about two guys fishing with the sound off so my husband could sleep. I was messed up for about two more days after that screening as well and vowed to never watch a scary movie again. [NOTE FROM MICHAELBRENT – I DOUBT SHE’LL KEEP THIS VOW.]
The scariest book I ever read would be the Exorcist. There were scenes that made my eyes go all funny and my jaw drop open just out of sheer unbelief–“am I reading this right?” I was as terrified as I was disgusted but I flew through the pages because it was just too engaging to throw it across the room. I had to know how it was going to end (I loved the ending by the way)
Scott Nicholson – author of the Next series & the Afterburn series
My favorite horror movies are (not in order):
Let the Right One In
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Night of the Living Dead
Silence of the Lambs
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Devil’s Advocate
The Behrg – author of Housebroken & The Creation Series
One of my all time favorite movies is “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. Similar to John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of not being able to trust those you know best, and of waking up to a world you no longer recognize. While the concept for Invasion was based on Cold War fears at the time, I find it remains extremely relevant today but with a very different twist. For those who have suffered, or who know someone who suffers, with mental illness, this movie is probably one of the best metaphors you could find for what that experience is like. Waking up and no longer recognizing the people around you–or, quite literally, no longer recognizing yourself. Having the emotions of joy and fulfillment stripped from your personality. It’s an interesting comparison and if you watch the movie looking at it from that angle you’ll find surprising insights you might have missed. The horror genre allows us to explore the monsters that plague us not only from an external standpoint, but internally as well and often times these true-to-life horrors can be far more frightening than any creature could ever be.
TW Piperbrook – author of the Contamination series
Favorite Horror Movie: John Carpenter’s The Thing. One of the most intense and claustrophobic movies I’ve ever seen. I love the setting. Also, Kurt Russell plays the lead. Enough said! Favorite Horror Book: Stephen King’s The Mist. I’ve always loved this novella, and I really enjoyed the movie, as well. The interaction between the characters is awesome, and so are the monsters. I love the glimpse of the last beast in the end!
It’s me again (MbC). Hope you had fun with that! Do check out these authors/reviewers/bloggers/podcasters – they’re great! And if you’re in the mood for something by yours truly, PREDATORS is my newest. Pick it up here.
And happy Halloween!