The best movies and TV to prepare for Halloween — even if you hate horror


I love October. The leaves turn orange and red; the baseball playoffs fill weeknights, and football devours weekends; I celebrate my birthday and my wedding anniversary; the outdoors smell like barbecue and beer and bonfires; and all of the festivities are affixed with grinning skeletons and pumpkins of Halloween.

Every year, to celebrate my favorite holiday in my favorite month, I take the October calendar and assign a Halloween-friendly movie or television show to each day. My wife and I do our best to stick closely to the schedule, without letting it control our free time. If we miss something, we’ll catch it next year.

What follows is my official Halloween calendar, along with some helpful context:

First, and foremost, most of the films and television shows are family-friendly — or at least teenager-friendly — unless marked otherwise. My wife faints at that site of extreme gore, and I am allergic to jump scares, so this is the rare Halloween list with few modern horror movies.

i confess, i've included an awful lot of simpsons

Second, I've included a substantial amount of The Simpsons, for three reasons: 1) It's my calendar, 2) The "Treehouse of Horror" specials are excellent, 3) After watching The Simpsons one night, you'll probably be like, "Wow, The Simpsons used to be so good, I'd love to watch another episode," which is why I made time for that the following night.

Third, the list is a starting point. Feel free to modify what I've included, or create your own calendar. I'm leaving the comments section open so we can share our favorite Halloween shows and films with each other.

We're already into October, I know, but I'm including the first few days of the month anyway, so you can play catch up.

October 1st: The Creature from the Black Lagoon 3D

(Amazon, 80 minutes)

The runt of the Universal Horror Icons litter got its day in the sunlight a few years ago thanks entirely to the return of 3D films. The Creature from the Black Lagoon is a mishmash of other beloved horror characters: animalistic like Dracula, well-intentioned like Frankenstein, ancient like the Mummy. The film is so much more than its 3D gimmick, both the most poetic of the Universal collection, and the campiest, making it a fine way to begin your Halloween film fest.

October 2nd: Phantom of the Paradise

(Amazon Instant Video, 92 minutes)

The forgotten Brian De Palma rock-opera is a pendulum swing from The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Loosely inspired by the classic The Phantom of the Opera, Paradise is ostentatious and shrill, like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum at disco night in the local roller rink.

October 3rd: The Halloween Tree

(Amazon Instant Video, 70 minutes)

The Halloween Tree is a lovable animated adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s classic novella of the same name. Hanna-Barbara handled production on the film, and Leonard Nimoy provided his voice.

October 4th: Little Shop of Horrors

(Amazon Instant Video, 94 minutes)

The 2012 Blu-ray release of the dark-as-chimney-soot musical-comedy includes the original ending, a conclusion so grim it was shelved for decades following negative reactions from test audiences.

October 5th: The Simpsons, "Treehouse of Horror XI"

(Simpsons World, 24 minutes)

"Hmm, Bottlenose bruises. Blowhole burns. Flipper prints. This looks like the work of rowdy teens. Lou, cancel the prom."

October 6th: The Simpsons, "Treehouse of Horror VII"

(Simpsons World, 24 minutes)

"Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos."

October 7th: Dracula, Spanish Version

(Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection on Amazon, 104 minutes)

Before dubbing became common practice, foreign-language versions of Hollywood films would often be shot around the same time and on the same sets as their English-speaking counterparts. The crew for the Spanish version of Dracula had the advantage of watching dailies from the Bela Lugosi classic, allowing them to devise arguably superior and more active shots.

October 8th: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

(Amazon, 68 minutes if you stick around for The Wind in the Willows)

A week into October, the neighbors have begun decorating their homes with spiderwebs and skeletons. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is the quintessential American Halloween classic. Nothing's scarier — the tale reminds us — than New England's obsession with impossible masculinity.

October 9th: The Twilight Zone - "The Invaders"

(Netflix, 25 minutes)

Almost everyone is familiar with the plots and twists of "To Serve Man" and "Time Enough at Last," but "The Invaders" hasn't received quite the same love and cultural cache. Compared to other episodes of The Twilight Zone, the episode is quiet and claustrophobic. Modern slashers owe a good deal to the episode, which builds tension inside the confines of its leading woman's home.

October 10th: Goosebumps - "Say Cheese and Die"

(Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, 22 minutes)

Are You Afraid of the Dark - "The Tale of Station 109.1"

(Amazon Instant Video, 25 minutes)

The best Ryan-Gosling-as-a-child-actor-in-spooky-kids-television-series double feature you’ll see this season.

October 11th: Scooby Doo, Where Are You! - "The Backstage Rage"

(Amazon, 21 minutes)

Whenever I get bored and search the internet for "scariest Scooby Doo episode," forums always recommend "The Backstage Rage." How often do I do this, you ask? Oh, I don't know — every year or so.

October 12th: The Simpsons - "Treehouse of Horror VIII"

(Simpsons World, 24 minutes)

"But Aquaman, you cannot marry a woman without gills. You're from two different worlds!"

October 13th: The Simpsons - "Treehouse of Horror I"

(Simpsons World, 24 minutes)

"Lisa, that wasn't scary, not even for a poem."

October 14th: Frankenstein

(Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection on Amazon, 71 minutes)

If you want to impress your film-snob friends, follow Frankenstein with The Spirit of the Beehive.

October 15th: Tales from the Darkside - "Love Hungry"

(Amazon, 22 minutes)

One of the most insensitive episodes of a forgettable horror anthology, "Love Hungry" is also a must-see of 1980s horror schlock. A woman wanting to lose weight is given a hearing aid that allows her to hear the food scream in agony as it's eaten. Then things get worse.

October 16th: Halloween is Grinch Night

(You'll need a VHS player)

Yes, this is real. Yes, it's as shallow and greedy as you'd assume.

October 17th: Monster House

(Amazon, 91 minutes)

The overlooked, under-appreciated children's horror movie is laugh-out-loud funny and smarter than most adult horror films. Credit largely goes to writer Dan Harmon, best known for creating Community.

October 18th: Young Frankenstein

(Amazon, 105 minutes)

If you're blue
And you don't know where to go to
Why don't you go where fashion sits
Puttin' on the Ritz

October 19th: The Simpsons - "Treehouse of Horror II"

(Simpsons World, 24 minutes)

"Oh, Smithers, I was wrong to play God. Life is precious, not a thing to be toyed with. Now take out that brain and flush it down the toilet!"

October 20th: The Simpsons - "Treehouse of Horror VI"

(Simpsons World, 24 minutes)

"Children, I couldn't help monitoring your conversation. There's no mystery about Willy. Why, he simply disappeared. Now, let's have no more curiosity about this bizarre cover-up."

October 21st: Boy Meets World - "And Then There Was Shawn"

(Amazon Instant Video, 22 minutes)

Personally, I save the best episode of the best TGIF show for Halloween night, but even I can recognize that the parade of topical humor ("You killed Kenny!"), and a reliance on the extended Boy Meets World mythos, makes this a tough sell for outsiders. For longtime and first-time fans, here's an oral history of the episode.

October 22nd: Corpse Bride

(Netflix, 77 minutes)

I wrote Corpse Bride onto my calendar this year, but really, this is the [Insert the Tim Burton film of your choosing] date. I haven't seen Corpse Bride, so I'm using this as an opportunity to fill a blind spot.

October 23rd: Lifeforce

(Amazon, 116 minutes)

One of the few films that's definitely not for the family, Lifeforce is about a member of an evil space vampire colony that travels to Earth and masquerades as a naked woman to harvest power from the souls of humankind. How did this get made? Blame the incredible talent behind the project: Tobe Hooper (Poltergeist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) directed a script by Dan O'Bannon (Alien). Lifeforce also features the goofiest role Sir Patrick Stewart has played this side of Masterminds.

October 24th: The Mist

(Amazon, 128 minutes)

Okay, I'm including one very scary, very adult, very bleak horror movie, but it's my favorite from the modern era. I recommend the black-and-white version of the film that comes with the multi-disc DVD and Blu-rays.

October 25th: Bob's Burgers - "Full Bars"

(Netflix, 22 minutes)

This episode, that transforms into a murder mystery about a guinea pig, is the best 100 percent Halloween episode of the show. But I also recommend The Goonies parody, "The Belchies," which is a playful riff on spooky thrillers in its own way.

October 26th: The Simpsons - "Treehouse of Horror III"

(Simpsons World, 24 minutes)

"To the book depository!"

October 27th: The Simpsons - "Treehouse of Horror IV"

(Simpsons World, 24 minutes)

"'Dear Homer, I.O.U. one emergency donut. Signed, Homer.' Bastard! He's always one step ahead!"

October 28th: Rope

(Amazon Instant Video, 82 minutes)

Or maybe The Birds. Or Notorious. Or Rear Window. Or Vertigo. Or Pyscho. Any Hitchcock film will do, but Rope is my favorite. The film, which is designed to look like one extended shot, is an intense imagining of the true crime Leopold and Loeb story. Come for the suspense, stay for the batshit Jimmy Stewart performance.

October 29th: Hocus Pocus

(Amazon Instant Video, 97 minutes)

As a child, my wife dressed as Kathy Najimy’s character in the best Walt Disney film that hasn’t been turned into a theme park attraction or joyless franchise — yet! Hocus Pocus was made in 1993, and it has the practical effects, stilted music numbers, and refreshingly adult script to prove it.

October 30th: Home Improvement - "The Haunting of Taylor House"

(Amazon, 22 minutes)

The Adventures of Pete and Pete - "Halloweenie"

(Amazon, 22 minutes)

Salute Your Shorts - "The Ghost Story"

(Amazon Instant Watch, 26 minutes)

You Can't Do That On Television - "Halloween"

(YouTube, 26 minutes)

In 2011, Jezebel collected some of the best Halloween specials, many of which I had forgotten. Those episodes have circulated through my Halloween calendars ever since.

October 31st: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

(Amazon Instant Video, 25 minutes)

The most beloved and recognizable Halloween special for a reason, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is more cynical and pointed than Charlie Brown’s Christmas special. Linus has faith in magic and wonder, and that faith is swatted like a fly by the ordinariness of life.

The Simpsons - "Treehouse of Horror V"

(Simpsons World, 24 minutes)

"I'm going to enjoy devouring you, Bart Simpson. Yes... I believe I'll start, as you've so often suggested, by eating your shorts."

Silly Symphony - "The Skeleton Dance"

(YouTube, 6 minutes)

The Velveteen Rabbit of Halloween films, I watch The Skeleton Dance and I am in my pajamas on the itchy carpet of the old family living room, unpacking my Halloween haul from a torn-up The Jones Store bag. I am happy and I am young forever.