An Underrated and Unconventional Halloween Watch List

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Image Credit: Universal Pictures

The Halloween season is upon us, which means enjoying pumpkins, autumn leaves, ghost stories, and our annual viewing of classic Halloween movie favorites. There are iconic horror films such as Halloween, Friday the 13th, Psycho, The Exorcist, and The Shining.

There are the Tim Burton delights like the zany Beetlejuice and gothic Sleepy Hollow, or modern horror classics such as Scream, The Conjuring, Us, and The Ring. And there are the family favorites such as Hocus Pocus, Casper, and The Addams Family.

But for the viewer who is faint of heart or wishes to watch something a little different, there are many underrated and unconventional films and television episodes that are sure to put you in the Halloween spirit. Whether it be a classic or modern comedy or atmospheric period fare, these are some of the finest that are often overlooked.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

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Image Credit: Warner Brothers

In 1944, the director, known for gentle and populist entertainment, also gave us one of the greatest and most madcap comedies of all time. Frank Capra's Arsenic and Old Lace follows a bridegroom on the eve of his wedding who visits his family, who are more than a little eccentric. His two aunts poison lonely old men out of “mercy” and bury them in the basement. His cousin thinks he is President Theodore Roosevelt. And his brother is an escaped convict, hell-bent on revenge.

The concept sounds like a horror film. But instead, it is a dark comedy where star Cary Grant is all fear, astonishment, and quick thinking. The antics are grisly but presented with hilarity, making it a perfect film for anyone who wants to watch something funny with dark undertones. Capra's classic more than lives up to that attribute.

(Available on DVD and to stream on Retro Reels)

Bewitched (1964-1969)

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Image Credit: Screen Gems

This 1960s classic sitcom about the misadventures of the witch, Samantha, who marries a mortal, Darrin, and tries to lead an average life, is an ideal choice for those who love family-friendly Halloween fare. There are also subtle but surprisingly poignant lessons brought forth in these episodes.

In the Season 1 episode “The Witches are Out,” Samantha is upset when Darrin brings home sketches for his latest advertisement client depicting witches as ugly, old crones. She says these images discriminate against a minority group, that group being witches. When Darrin agrees with his wife, problems arise when he challenges the client's tired, old ideas. It's a light comedy with a bit of magic thrown in.

In the Season 2 episode “Trick or Treat,” Samantha's mother, Endora, does what she does best and tricks poor Darrin. She disguises herself as a little girl who is trick or treating and puts a curse on him that slowly turns him into a werewolf. And he must hide these monstrous features when his boss and a client arrive at their home for dinner. Hilarity ensues, much to the viewer's delight.

The Season 4 episode “A Safe and Sane Halloween” is the cutest and sweetest of the bunch as Samantha and Darrin's young daughter Tabitha, who also has magical abilities, wishes the characters from her Halloween book into reality. A mischievous Jack-o-lantern, goblin, and gremlin play with Tabitha in her room and then follow her trick or treating. But the real zaniness comes when the nosy neighbor Mrs. Kravitz's nephew gets mixed up with one of these little friends to hilarious results.

Lastly, in the Season 6 episode “To Trick or Treat, or Not to Trick or Treat,” the two storylines are somewhat recycled from previous seasons, but the story remains amusing. Endora puts a spell on Darrin that makes him resemble a crone of a witch to teach him and his client a lesson about how witches can be beautiful. This episode stands out with a worthy inclusion of raising money for the children's charity UNICEF, in addition to the lesson that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. These inclusions make it the most heartwarming of them all.

(Available on DVD, Season 1-4 available to stream on the Roku Channel and FreeVee)

The Birds (1963)

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Image Credit: Universal-International Pictures

Loosely based on Daphne Du Maurier's story of the same name, director Alfred Hitchcock gives audiences one of his most disquieting films with The Birds. Following socialite Melanie Daniels, she takes a trip to the sleepy coastal town of Bodega Bay, California, to deliver two lovebirds to the sister of a man she met by chance. A simple love story turns into a frightening thriller when this little town becomes suddenly overtaken by birds who swarm and attack the citizens without warning or reason.

The beautiful and bright colors of the film provide a fascinating contrast to the dark story about the fear of the unexplained. Hitchcock masterfully builds tension with silence and stillness as the gruesome events unfold. Those looking for a film with unsettling frights that are understated, with characters that you care about, should give this film a watch.

(Available on DVD and to stream on Peacock)

The ‘Burbs (1989)

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Image Credit: Universal Pictures

An often overlooked 1980s dark comedy, The ‘Burbs features a fine cast that includes Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, Bruce Dern, Corey Feldman, and Henry Gibson. In this story, the residents of an average suburban neighborhood grow suspicious of new neighbors whose house is dilapidated and seeps out strange odors. The residents of said house also look and act very odd. When another neighbor goes missing, they take it upon themselves to investigate.

This film gives the trope of the seedy underbelly of suburban life a fresh, kooky, and darkly amusing twist. And the cast helps to sell the plot's outlandishness, helping not only ground the story but legitimize both the absurd and severe moments. Blending comedy and thriller, The ‘Burbs is an underrated classic.

(Available on DVD and to rent on Vudu)

Clue (1985)

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Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

One may not think that a classic family board game would inspire what is now an iconic comedic mystery film, but Clue most definitely is a timeless favorite of many. Despite this, Clue does not always make the list of the best Halloween films, deserving as it may be.

The movie is a madcap comedy with an incredible ensemble cast that includes Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Eileen Brennan, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, and Lesley Ann Warren. Employing the iconic imagery and characters from the game as a setup, six individuals are invited to a creepy Victorian mansion for dinner, only to have their host unceremoniously murdered.

Is the murderer the age-old twist, “the butler did it,” or was it Miss Scarlett, Mrs. White, Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum, Mrs. Peacock, or Mr. Green? As they race, literally, to discover the culprit, we are treated to hilarious discoveries, cover-ups, and, depending on where you are watching, one of many possible endings. With a cast at the top of their game, Clue may not give us chills but delivers plenty of laughs in a splendidly old-fashioned setting.

(Available on DVD and to steam on Paramount+, Spectrum, and Showtime)

Crimson Peak (2015)

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Image Credit: Universal Pictures

This gothic romantic mystery is one of the scariest and most graphic films on this list. However, it relies more on an eerie atmosphere, disturbing imagery, and nuanced performances than conventional frights and violence. The story follows aspiring author Edith (Mia Wasikowska), who is soon grieving a significant loss. She becomes enchanted by a handsome and charismatic man (Tom Hiddleston) who whisks her away to his creepy manor, complete with bone-chilling winds and seeping clay that looks like blood permeating inside.

Soon, Edith begins to feel unwelcome by her cold and sinister sister-in-law (Jessica Chastain) and finds her new home haunted by a dark and mysterious past. With sumptuous costumes, gorgeously gothic sets, and a ghostly ambiance, director Guillermo del Toro infuses Crimson Peak with beauty amongst the frights.

Moreover, the chemistry between Wasikowska and Hiddleston is magnetic with a tinge of ambiguity, while Chastain has a deliciously spine-tingling demeanor. Those who love period horror films will make this a staple of their Halloween viewing every year.

(Available on DVD and to stream on Netflix)

The D. Van Dyke Show (1963-1964)

The Most Popular and Influential TV Shows of the 1960s
Image Credit: Calvada Productions

The brilliantly written and performed 1960s sitcom may not seem like a series that would have spooky episodes, but it produced a pair of gems that have become classics. The Season 2 episode “It May Look Like a Walnut” begins with husband and wife Rob and Laura Petrie watching a scary late-night movie about aliens who invade earth, only eat walnuts, and invade the souls of all earthlings.

From the Planet Twilo, these beings cause everyone to lose their imagination and thumbs. These things may not seem that scary, but the next day Rob becomes completely frightened when this movie seems to be happening for real. It's hilarious and spooky in a fun way and is one of the most iconic of the series.

In the Season 4 entry, “The Ghost of A. Chanz,” Rob, Laura, and his co-workers Buddy and Sally travel up to a lodge to work for the weekend and end up in a remote cabin that is seemingly haunted. As each companion disappears, we are left wondering what explanation of these ghostly happenings is. One of the funniest of the series, seeing these four friends absolutely terrified is a sheer delight.

(Available on DVD and to stream on FreeVee, Peacock, Tubi, and the Roku Channel)

Frasier (1997, 2001-2002)

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Image Credit: Paramount Network Television

A spin-off of the equally exceptional sitcom Cheers, the misadventures of Dr. Frasier Crane, his brother Niles, producer Roz, father Martin, and physical therapist Daphne gave us four fantastic episodes with a Halloween or spooky theme. But instead of scary, these episodes are completely hilarious.

In Season 4, “Ham Radio” has our characters putting on a radio broadcast akin to the murder mysteries of the past called “Nightmare Inn.” Rehearsing the show provided a few hiccups, but that is nothing compared to the live broadcast, which had everything that could go wrong imaginable. The laughs are plentiful in one of the highest-rated (and my personal favorite) episode

Season 5 gives us “Halloween” with a colorful costume party and misunderstandings when Roz believes she is pregnant. But Niles somehow mistakenly thinks Daphne is, and the results are very amusing. Season 9 gives us the equally hilarious and thoughtful “A Room Full of Heroes,” which features our main characters dressing as their heroes for Frasier's Halloween party. And we see Sigmund Freud, Joe DiMaggio, Elton John, Wonder Woman, and Martin Crane in a surprising turn of events.

Lastly, in the Season 10 episode “Tales From the Crypt,” we are treated to one elaborate practical joke after another as Frasier and Bulldog keep attempting to out-scare the other, and the results are more than memorable.

(Available on DVD and to stream on Hulu, Peacock, and Paramount+)

Gaslight (1944)

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Image Credit: Metro-Goldwwyn-Mayer

Ingrid Bergman won a Best Actress Oscar for her role in this evocative and psychologically unnerving film about a woman who is slowly being driven insane. Or at least that is the objective of her new husband. In the story, Paula (Bergman) returns to Italy after her aunt's death and quickly falls in love with the dashing Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer). The two marry and move to London, but wedded bliss does not last long. Things go missing or are forgotten, leaving Paula feeling overwhelmed and like she's losing her mind. But things are not what they seem.

The term “gaslighting” originated from the play of the same name and this film, and it is due to the nature of the gas lights in Paula and Gregory's home inexplicably dimming. The black and white atmosphere, intense performances, and unsettling plot create a sense of menace and claustrophobia, making Gaslight another particularly spooky film to add to your Halloween list. It’s also the feature film debut of a very young Angela Lansbury.

(Available on DVD and to stream on HBO Max, Retro Reels, and the Roku Channel)

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

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Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

This 1940s classic starring Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, and George Sanders is a romantic ghost story, rather than a frightening one, with fine performances and a beautiful atmosphere. The story is about a widow named Mrs. Lucy Muir who moves into a seaside cottage with her young daughter despite the warning that the home is haunted.

It's not long before she meets this ghost face to face. He is the gruff and grumpy sea Captain Daniel Gregg, who has scared away all the previous tenants. But Mrs. Muir is neither scared nor willing to leave, and the two form an unlikely and sweet-natured friendship.

This film is rife with romance and poignancy, making it an unconventional ghost and love story. And the eerie and evocative coastal atmosphere and the Oscar-winning black-and-white cinematography add to the haunting feel. Moreover, the performances of Tierney, Harrison, and Sanders are brimming with heartwarming and melancholy moments. If one is looking for tears and smiles rather than frights, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is the ideal film.

(Available on DVD and to rent on Amazon Prime Video)

Ghostbusters (1984)

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Image Credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

A 1980s fantasy that has become a comedy classic, Ghostbusters is revered and beloved but does not always make everyone's Halloween lists. The plot follows three parapsychologists, Peter Venkman, Raymond Stanz, and Egon Spangler (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis).

They unceremoniously lose their collegiate funding, so the three go into business for themselves as ghost hunters. That is because New York City has suddenly become a hotbed of supernatural and paranormal activity. The worst is for Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), whose apartment becomes overtaken by the demonic Zuul.

With the world's fate at stake, Peter, Ray, and Egon, along with the new Ghostbuster Winston (Ernie Hudson), set out to take down these ghosts and save the day. Mixing genuine hilarity with the gravitas of the frightening ghostly encounters makes for the perfect blend of comedy and fantasy. Endlessly quotable and fun, what makes the film are the performances from the entire cast. The sequels are also worthy, but the original is the one that should be watched every year.

(Available on DVD and to stream on Peacock)

The Illusionist (2006)

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Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

There is something about period mysteries with characters dressed in cravats and tweeds and cobblestone streets bathed in golden hues of candle and gaslight. These films undoubtedly exude the autumnal vibe, and none exhibit this more than The Illusionist.

Set in 19th century Vienna, the story follows celebrated illusionist Eisenheim (Edward Norton), who yearns for the Duchess von Teschen (Jessica Biel), his childhood sweetheart, who reunites with him during one of his performances. Set to marry the ruthless Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), the Duchess longs to be with Eisenheim again. But will their plan succeed, or is tragedy inevitable?

Are magicians truly capable of the supernatural, or are they merely tricksters who make us believe the unbelievable? The Illusionist features intriguing twists and nuanced performances that brilliantly play upon the concept of illusion. Gorgeously atmospheric, this film is for those who enjoy the more romantic spooky fare.

(Available on DVD and to stream on FreeVee)

Midnight Lace (1960)

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Image Credit: Universal Pictures

A creepy and unsettling classic, this film stars Doris Day as the sweet heiress Kit Preston and Rex Harrison as her husband of three months, Tony Preston. Living in London, one day, Kit hears an ominous voice speak to her through the fog. The voice is high-pitched and frightening as he threatens to kill her, leaving her terrified.

Her terror only increases when she receives phone calls from the same man. But without any evidence of these threats, her husband, her aunt, and the police soon begin to doubt her sanity. Has she gone mad, or is this man truly lurking in the shadows?

Midnight Lace feels like a 1960s mystery novel that came to life and is as stylish as it is disquieting. And Day gives an intense performance that is vulnerable and relatable. Most of all, the film showcases the fear of the unseen and the tangible threat of those who genuinely wish us harm, which is often scarier than any ghostly apparition. Midnight Lace is an intriguing film that is as classically haunting as they come.

(Available on DVD and to stream on MovielandTV)

Murder by Death (1976)

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Image Credit: Columbia Pictures

Offbeat, nonsensical, madcap, and hilarious, this ensemble film is about the colorful characters and the strangeness of the mystery rather than the actual outcome. From writer Neil Simon, Murder by Death bolsters an impressive cast that includes Peter Faulk, David Niven, Alec Guinness, Maggie Smith, Peter Sellers, Eileen Brennan, Elsa Lanchester, James Coco, James Cromwell, and Truman Capote.

Murder by Death is, in truth, a murder mystery spoof with the characters amusingly inspired by the famous literary characters Nick and Nora Charles, Hercule Poirot, Charlie Chan, Sam Spade, and Miss Marple. The plot often makes no sense, but it does not matter because the laughs generated from the incredible cast are hearty and plentiful.

Hilariously quotable, this film is a pristine example of the concept, “it is not about the destination, but the journey.” Some characterizations are not politically correct. But those notwithstanding, Murder by Death is still a more than worthy classic with a kooky and wacky tone and atmosphere.

(Available on DVD and to stream on MovielandTV)

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

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Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

A remake of the 1974 film and based on the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express is gorgeously directed by Kenneth Branagh. He also stars as the infamous detective Hercule Poirot. The story involves a mysterious murder on a train traveling across the snowy mountains in Europe, where every passenger is a suspect. And it is up to the brilliantly deductive Poirot to solve the crime.

The only thing more impressive than Poirot's rather large mustache is the exceptional ensemble cast of the film. That film's cast includes Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfieffer, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Leslie Odom Jr., and Penélope Cruz. Each extraordinary performance creates doubt and confusion in the mind of Poirot and the viewer, leaving us guessing until the very end.

From the blue-hued cinematography to the interesting framework and camera angles to the beautiful musical score, all these elements help to create a moody and intriguing ambiance. Combined with the wonderful cast and a poignant and thoughtful story, this murder mystery is one of the finest.

(Available on DVD and to stream People TV)

The Others (2001)

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Image Credit: Dimension Films

A modern-day ghostly masterpiece, The Others is remarkable in giving us spine-tingling chills with a simple but mysterious story. Set after WWII, a desolate mansion in the Channel Islands is the residence of Grace and her two photosensitive children, Anne and Nicholas. The light is deadly to them, so they must always remain inside with the curtains drawn.

This is alarming enough. But after Grace hires three new servants, unexplained happenings occur, and the children begin to hear and speak to ghosts.

What makes The Others such a masterful film is that it employs a setting that creates a moody and eerie atmosphere. Moreover, the dimly lit sets, misty graveyard, and characters' isolation make the film feel unearthly, chilling, and mysterious. The performances from Nicole Kidman, Alakina Mann, James Bentley, and Fionnula Flanagan are also nuanced but intense and deeply affecting. The Others is revered by some but deserves to be a staple every year.

(Available on DVD)

The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

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Image Credit: Warner Brothers Pictures and Scion Films Phantom Production Partnership

Exquisite and luminous, visually, musically, and thematically, The Phantom of the Opera is a stunning adaption of the Broadway musical from the acclaimed Andrew Lloyd Weber. The maestro of this gorgeous film is director Joel Schumacher, and its exceptionally talented performers include Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Minnie Driver, and Miranda Richardson, all of which give the film its passion.

The story involves a French opera house known to be terrorized by a ghostly being obsessed with ingénue Christine. This young woman is mesmerized by the phantom, who haunts her dreams and teaches her to sing from her soul. But when her childhood sweetheart, Raoul, reappears, a dramatic tale unfolds.

This powerful story about love, obsession, prejudice, and sacrifice is sumptuous in every way, with grandiose, delicate, and lovely songs. The actors are outstanding, and the film is hauntingly beautiful. Moreover, looking like it's lit from within, the ambiance and drama intensify with moments of genuine frights amongst the fervor of the characters. From candlelit catacombs to snowy cemeteries, The Phantom of the Opera is an incandescent, unforgettable magnum opus.

(Available on DVD and to rent on Amazon Prime Video)

The Prestige (2006)

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Image Credit: Warner Brothers Pictures

One of director Christopher Nolan‘s finest films, The Prestige, came out the same year as another film on this list, The Illusionist, and features a slightly similar premise. Both films involve mysterious magicians and have a period setting. But that's where the resemblance ends. Set in late 1890s London, The Prestige relies less on romance and more on the intriguing and mind-bending plot.

After a grave mistake results in the death of an assistant and wife to one of the magicians, two obsessive men become rivals and constantly attempt to outdo and outwit the other. And Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman give commanding performances.

Dark and evocative with fine period details, the look of The Prestige has that eerie autumnal atmosphere. These attributes and the twisty and exceptional story leave us watching with amazement and bewilderment. The type of film that demands repeat viewing to grasp truly, The Prestige may be an unconventional choice this Halloween season. But it will surely get viewers in a spooky mood.

(Available on DVD and to rent on Amazon Prime Video)

Psych (2007, 2009-2013)

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Image Credit: Universal Television

This comedy and mystery series has always (and continues to be) utterly delightful. The series follows fake psychic Shawn Spencer and his best friend Gus, who open up a private agency and become consultants for the Santa Barbara Police Department. A blend of hilarious antics, grounded drama, and exciting crimes of the week, one thing that Psych did amazingly was incorporate pop culture references and instances of horror-like elements amidst the comedic tone. And each one is incredibly clever and entertaining.

In Season 1, “Scary Sherri: Bianca's Toast” focuses on the murder of a college girl that mimics the urban legend of “Scary Sherri,” a girl who leaped from the window of an asylum. Detective Juliet O'Hara goes undercover at a sorority house, but things get dicey and dangerous as the story unfolds.

Season 3 first gives us “Tuesday the 17th,” an endlessly clever nod to the horror classic Friday the 13th, complete with a summer camp run by Shawn and Gus's childhood friend Jason, a killer on the loose, and communication to the outside world cut off from a storm. The musical score and stylized direction blended with Psych's particular sense of humor make this not only clever but also one of the best.

We also get the first in the Yin/Yang trilogy, “An Evening With Mr. Yang,” which presents us with a serial killer coming out of the woodwork. They challenge Shawn by kidnapping a young woman and leaving intricate clues and puzzles that need to be solved, or she will be killed. The chilling plot that evolves, mixed with dashes of humor and heart, showcases the cast at the top of their game.

The Season 4 episode is “The Devil is in the Details…And the Upstairs Bedroom,” in its great nod to the classic The Exorcist, but with less scares and more humor, as a young girl witnesses her best friend leap to her death and then seems to be possessed herself.

And in “Mr. Yin Presents,” which could very well be called the best episode of the series, Yang's partner Mr. Yin continues the terror they began, with more murders and kidnapping. But this time, we are treated to incredible allusions to many of Alfred Hitchcock's classic films, a twisty and exciting story, and moments of genuine suspense and emotion. The show does not elicit tears that often, but this episode brings them on. It's truly masterful.

Psych Continued

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Image Credit: Universal Television

In Season 5, the Yin/Yang trilogy concludes with “Yang in 3D,” which is just as frightening and packs an emotional punch when a young girl is kidnapped, and Yin is finally within their grasp. The Season 6 episode “Heeeeere's Lassie” is an off-kilter, intelligent, and trippy homage to the film The Shining. Lassiter moves into a new building but soon begins to see bizarre things everywhere. The references to The Shining and Rosemary's Baby will delight fans of those films as we get an incredibly dark comedic entry.

In Season 7, “Lassie Jerky,” we get an accurate and humorous homage to The Blair Witch Project when Shawn and Gus meet up with a couple attempting to find proof of Big Foot's existence for a film contest but stumble upon something more sinister.

Lastly, “100 Clues” is an obvious and excellent take on the film Clue, complete with some of the film's stars, namely Christopher Lloyd, Martin Mull, and Lesley Ann Warren. An intricate and zany murder mystery unfolds at a rock star's mansion, and they race to solve the crime, just like in the film. And we are treated to an episode as funny and witty as the film that inspired it.

(Available on DVD and Streaming on Amazon Prime Video and Peacock)

Pushing Daisies (2007-2008)

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Courtesy of ABC

The wonderfully whimsical series about a man who can bring the dead back to life with a single touch is an ideal show to watch during the spooky season. The show is equally sweet, fanciful, morbid, and macabre, making the entire series a welcome addition to one's yearly watch list. But a handful of episodes stand out the most.

In Season 1, “Girth” is a Halloween-themed entry and involves what seems to be the ghostly return of a slain jockey and his trusty steed, looking like the headless horseman on a rampage. However, the truth is not what it seems, and the episode is delightfully frightening. It also gives us the sweetly fun part of Halloween as the Pie-maker Ned and his girl Chuck rediscover the joy of the holiday.

The following episode, named after female canines, revolves around solving the crime of poisoning a polygamous dog breeder, with the highlight being the hilarious homage to the Hitchcock film Vertigo with Detective Emerson Cod's bizarre dreams. While “Bitter Sweets” is about the opening of a rival candy store, the murder of one of the owners, and features a hilarious reference to another Hitchcock classic, The Birds. Both episodes are endlessly witty and engaging.

In Season 2, the episode “Bad Habits” revolves around Olive Snook's recent (and temporary) time at a nunnery and the mysterious murder of one of the sisters. This one is top-notch with more Hitchcockian flair and a nod to the film Black Narcissus. Lastly, in “The Legend of Merle McQuady,” we are treated to ghost stories, rain, storms, and numerous references to the movie Pete's Dragon. That reference may be to a family film, but the episode is atmospheric and spooky fun.

(Available on DVD and to stream on HBO Max)

Return to Oz (1985)

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Image Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

For those of a particular generation, Return to Oz is either dark, fantastical entertainment, the stuff of nightmares, or something in between. While it technically could be called a sequel to the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, the tone of Return to Oz is vastly different, with some distinct story and character differences. It more closely resembles the original Oz books by L. Frank Baum, drawing specific inspiration from The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz.

The film treats Oz as a real place and not a dream, and sometime after Dorothy has returned home, she keeps having dreams of the faraway land. Out of concern, Aunt Em wants her niece to stop insisting her dreams are real and takes her to a place where the treatment is electroshock therapy. You read that right. But after a young girl helps Dorothy escape this place, she returns to Oz to find it dilapidated, and the Emerald City citizens have all been turned to stone.

It's up to Dorothy and her new friends she meets along the way, including the mechanical man Tick Tock and Jack the Pumpkinhead (which inspired Jack Skellington), to save Oz. The villains include the terrifying Wheelers, the Nome King, and the evil Princess Mombi, who has cabinets of heads she changes into.

The film's imagery is creepy and even disturbing for a children's film. But for those who love movies like Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, and The Dark Crystal, Return of Oz is darkly whimsical and evocative. This tone and imagery, complete with an engaging story, make this a film worthy of Halloween viewing.

(Available on DVD and to stream on Disney+)

Secret Window (2004)

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Image Credit: Columbia Pictures

An understated and thought-provoking horror film, Secret Window relies more on the psychological than on gory violence. The story follows Mort Rainey, an author who spends his disheveled days sleeping and mourning the loss of his marriage instead of writing. One day a mysterious man knocks on his door, claiming that one of his books was plagiarized, and begins terrorizing Mort. Things escalate as he tries to prove the story is not stolen.

Secret Window has chills and thrills to spare with tense performances, especially from Johnny Depp and John Turturro, and a story that goes in unexpected directions. The movie will leave you guessing until the very end.

(Available on DVD and to rent on Amazon Prime Video)

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

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Image Credit: Warner Brothers Pictures

When Autumn arrives, some enjoy a good murder mystery, especially those set in the past. And in this film, the legendary characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are brought to life with vigor by director Guy Ritchie and actors Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law.

This story follows detective Holmes and his friend Dr. Watson investigating the supposed return from the grave of Lord Blackwood. In addition to this intriguing event, he is a man who performs sadistic rituals and begins a murder spree that threatens not only individuals but all of England.

The gorgeous production design, magnificent costumes, and blue-gray-hued cinematography give Sherlock Holmes a splendidly spooky aesthetic. And the performances and plot filled with mystery and intrigue make this one of the best iterations of Sherlock Holmes brought to screen.

One could also watch the equally superb sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows for a fun double feature. You will be in for a night with cobblestone streets, carriages, explosions, brawls, and exciting escapades set in a stylishly moody Victorian London.

(Available on DVD and to stream on Netflix and HBO Max)

The Skeleton Key (2005)

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Image Credit: Universal Pictures

A film filled with a Southern gothic atmosphere and genuinely shocking twists, The Skelton Key is another film that relies more on psychological and mysterious happenings than gore or violence. Following a young, compassionate hospice nurse named Caroline, she takes a job at an isolated and spooky home in the Louisiana Bayou for an unnerving woman and her husband who has had a debilitating stroke.

Unable to walk or speak, Caroline does her best to care for him. But when she begins to suspect there is something more sinister abound, she becomes entangled in a web of lies, Hoodoo, and danger.

One of the most underrated thrillers of the 2000s, The Skeleton Key has a creepy aesthetic and unsettling and mysterious characters of the past and present. The bayou manor gives the film a feeling of isolation, while the strangeness of the performances and brilliant use of foreshadowing conveys a sense of foreboding. Overall, The Skeleton Key may feel more surprising than scary, but it will surely stay with the viewer.

(Available on DVD and to stream on Peacock)

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

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Image Credit: Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers Pictures

Sweeney Todd is undoubtedly the most gruesomely violent film on this list. Based on the acclaimed Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical, director Tim Burton infuses this film with his particular type of stylized, creepy, but beautiful aesthetic he employs in nearly all of his work. But make no mistake, this film is dark in the story, tone, and violence, albeit done so with a stylistic and musical framework.

The film beings with an ominous aura as vengeful Benjamin Barker returns home after being wrongfully imprisoned. Years before, a corrupt and evil judge jailed Barker, wanting Barker's entrancing wife for himself. Intent on revenge, he finds that his daughter has been taken in and abused by the Judge. He returns incognito, calling himself Sweeney Todd and becoming a barber. But soon, with the help of Mrs. Lovett, the proprietor of a local meat shop, things quickly escalate to horrific heights.

Although the film is bloody and violent, it has incredible beauty with the soaring songs and performances from Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Alan Rickman, entrancing us into submission. Sweeney Todd is an unsetting but darkly gorgeous musical.

(Available on DVD and to stream on HBO Max, Cinemax, and Spectrum)

The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947)

the two mrs. carrolls
Image Credit: Warner Brothers

A noir mystery that starts as a romance, The Two Mrs. Carrolls quickly turns into a disquieting drama rife with suspicion and an unsettling atmosphere. This lesser-known black-and-white film follows a struggling artist named Geoffrey Carroll (Humphrey Bogart), who meets the kind and beautiful Sally (Barbara Stanwyck) while vacationing in the country.

The two form an attachment, but she says it cannot go further because he is married. But when his wife suddenly dies, he sweeps Sally off her feet and quickly marries her. As he struggles with artistic inspiration, Geoffrey is suddenly struck by the same sinister thoughts that arose during his first marriage. And Sally then begins to question everything about her husband.

The film is bolstered by the exceptional performances and the nature of the story, which creates a sense of anxiety and menace. It is understated but brilliant in how the dramatic tension builds, making The Two Mrs. Carrolls the ideal classic film this spooky season.

(Available on DVD and to rent on Amazon Prime Video)

The Unsuspected (1947)

the unsuspected
Image Credit: Warner Brothers and Michael Curtiz Productions

Led by director Michael Curtiz and star Claude Rains, The Unsuspected is another noir-like classic film with a sinister tone perfect for this spooky time of year. It features supposed suicide, murder, mysterious disappearances, and suspicions at every turn. The story involves a charismatic radio host of a mystery program called “The Unsuspected,” his ward who mysteriously materializes after a disappearance, and the man who claims to be her husband that she cannot remember.

The Unsuspected is another film that takes prime advantage of black-and-white cinematography. We never know who lurks in the shadows, literally and figuratively, as the story unravels in unexpected ways. Complex but thoroughly engaging, the strong performances make The Unsuspected an exceptional dramatic jewel filled with an eerie and frightening spirit.

(Available on DVD)

Vertigo (1958)

vertigo
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

The second Alfred Hitchcock film to make this list, Vertigo is considered by many to be his crowning achievement. The story follows former police detective Scottie Ferguson, hired to follow the beautiful but mysterious Madeleine. When he sees her jump into the bay one day, he rescues her, and they quickly fall desperately in love.

But plagued by vertigo that ended his career, Scottie cannot save Madeleine again when she falls from a bell tower. When Madeleine seems to return from the grave, so begins a twisting and tantalizing tale of love and obsession.

The brilliance of Vertigo is that every single artistic choice is executed masterfully, from Hithcock's stylish direction to the symbolic and vibrant use of color to the haunting musical score. Moreover, the performances from stars James Stewart and Kim Novak only add to the mysterious and spine-chilling nature of the story.

The story is beyond shocking, often disconcerting, and showcases the points to which obsession and fear can drive someone. Vertigo is a masterpiece in every way.

(Available on DVD and to stream on Peacock)

The Village (2004)

the village
Image Credit: Touchstone Pictures

Although the reception of this film is a bit divisive, for those who enjoy it and those who have yet to see it, The Village is apt viewing for the autumn season. Set in a small New England village, the residents enjoy a simple life, rich with love and a sense of community. But there is one ominous threat to their home: “those they do not speak of.”

These creatures are attracted to the color red and live in the nearby woods, so they never dare to venture beyond their borders. But for blind but strong-willed Ivy, the stoic boy she loves, Lucius, and their simple friend Noah, the outside world and these creatures are ever looming and threaten everything they hold dear.

The Village has stunning cinematography that exudes an autumnal, gloomy, and luminous feeling. That spooky aesthetic, combined with a haunting musical score, and story beats that are genuinely shocking to many, make this film one that should be a yearly staple every Fall.

(Available on DVD and to rent on Amazon Prime Video)

What Lies Beneath (2000)

what lies beneath
Image Credit: Dreamworks LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Corporation

Spine-tingling, eerie, and provocative are a few descriptors of this superb 2000s thriller. The story is set in a remote lakeside home in Vermont, directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Michele Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford. Claire (Pfeiffer) is suffering from empty nest syndrome, and with her husband Norman (Ford) consumed by his work, she's left alone to her own devices. When unexplained noises and occurrences start happening, she begins to suspect that her home is haunted. But who is haunting her, and why?

The brilliance of What Lies Beneath is how the tension builds at a pace that creates a sense of peril and extreme anxiety. As the story unfolds, things are not always what they seem. And this ghostly thriller is spectacular in simple but highly effective ways.

(Available on DVD and to stream on HBO Max)

The Woman in Black (2012)

the woman in black
Image Credit: CBS Films

A morose, gorgeous, and poignant horror film, The Woman In Black is filled with chills and frights set against a deeply affecting story. The story follows London's widower, father, and solicitor Arthur (Daniel Radcliffe). He is sent to a remote manor in the isolated marshlands of England to settle the estate of a recently deceased woman. Soon he discovers dark secrets that relate to the town's sense of dread. The source of that fear is the woman in black: a vengeful ghost who targets children.

Every set piece, the somber village, the shadowy manor, and the isolated marshlands all contribute to the film's creepy atmosphere. As the film progresses, Arthur makes it his mission to set things right with this malevolent spirit. With a moody tone and look, the movie is not only a beautifully gothic film but one that will stay with the audience in profound ways. The Woman in Black is a modern period horror film that feels timeless.

(Available on DVD and to stream on Shudder)

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of  Geeks.


Marianne Paluso is a freelance writer and artist and holds a Masters Degree in English and Children’s Literature. Inspired by her favorite films, television, theme parks and all things pop culture, she especially loves Disney, classic films, fairy tales, period dramas, musicals, adventures, mysteries, and a good rom-com. She joined Wealth of Geeks in 2021, and has also contributed to The Nerd Machine, Catholic News Agency. She writes on her own website TheGirlyNerd.com, creates art that is sold on Redbubble and Etsy, and also partakes in the occasional Disneybound, cosplay, and YouTube video