If you’re not in the mood for Michael Myers or paranormal activities this Halloween you might want to check out these equally creepy flicks that’ll make your holiday night just as heart-pumping. With the help of my friends and fellow horror nerds, Frank Pittarese and Aaron Reid, I’ve compiled a list of horror movie alternatives for your All Hallow’s Eve viewing pleasure!
Bad Ronald (1974) Ronald Wilby, teen misfit and social pariah, accidentally kills a young girl — so his overprotective mother (Kim Hunter) hides him in a secret room in their home. But when his mother dies, a new family moves into the house, unaware that an unhinged Ronald lurks within their walls. This made-for-TV thriller is one of my all-time favorites. They pack a lot into the 74 minute running time, giving Ronald a whole arc — from loser to lunatic — and we almost get two movies in one: the Ronald/Mom story, then the Ronald/Wood Family story. There’s a constant, underlying eerie discomfort in watching Ronald grow into a dangerous stalker, and Scott Jacoby runs the gamut from pitiful to creepy. You almost feel for the little weirdo. The climax is a bit abrupt, like they were holding back from doing something intense, but that (aside from an unintentionally comedic death) is my only minor gripe. -Frank Pittarese
Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978) After their dog dies in an “accident,” the Barry family adopts a German Shepard puppy. What they don’t know is that the pup was bred by Satan himself, as a demonic creature, which soon takes possession of the family, starting with the children. This made-for-TV horror flick is most memorable for the kids. Co-stars Kim Richards (yep, the one from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills) and Ike Eisenmann shared the big screen together twice before in Disney’s Escape/Return to Witch Mountain. Here, the wholesome pair head into new territory, becoming a couple of evil brats. Richard Crenna stars as their dad, forced to believe the unbelievable after the Satanic dog starts killing people (and after his wife starts slutting it up with Cliff Barnes from Dallas). While slow-paced, and suffering from some terrible special effects, this one is still enjoyable, if not thrilling. As a kid, the dog’s demonic form actually scared me, but I was a pushover like that. -FP
Drag Me to Hell (2009) “A dark spirit has come upon you.” Christine aspires to get the Assistant Manager promotion at the bank and is willing to make difficult choices to get her coveted job, including foreclosing on an elderly woman rather than granting one more extension. She soon regrets her heartless handling of the matter when she finds herself cursed. Inexplicable omens and visions of demons torment her until there is no denying she’s hexed. I decided to rewatch the unrated director’s cut of this cursed affair – the additional gore and extended scenes enhanced an already worthy horror. The impressive cast, creepy score, and beautiful cinematography amount to a classic story with personality. The pacing is flawless right up until the shocking ending. As Christine learns, be careful who you wrong in life because you just might be dragged to… Well, you know. “You will burn in Hell.” -Aaron Reid
Ghost Ship (2002) “We’re not the first people to board this ship.” A salvage crew discovers the lost MS Antonia Graza at sea, a mysterious luxury vessel that’s been missing for forty years. They board the ship to claim the riches inside, but the ghosts haunting this deadly cruise liner have other plans for their guests. I rewatched this haunted movie and returned to the ill-fated cruise ship for its final voyage. The opening sequence detailing what happened to the doomed passengers is still one of the most memorable and horrific scenes, to say the least. This haunted movie has an impressive ensemble cast coupled with creepy moments and a complicated storyline, making this horror a worthy rewatch contender, especially in October. The cliffhanger ending is a nice touch, wrapping up this haunting with a wink. If you‘ve never watched or it’s been a while, add this one to your list. “We’re all trapped here.” -AR
Hell Night (1981) One of the better ’80s slashers, this creepy nightmare features Linda Blair as a new sorority pledge who along with a fellow pledge sister (Suki Goodwin), a horny frat hunk (Vincent Van Patton), and a frat gentleman (Peter Barton), are forced to spend the night in old Garth Manor, a gothic, abandoned mansion that is rumored to be haunted. The ghosts are tricks played on them by their school chums, but the murders are very real and the product of a deformed ancestor who still calls the manor home. Likable characters, a moody, Halloween-costume atmosphere, and some actual suspense make this terrific nighttime viewing. -Matt Dalton
House of Dark Shadows (1970) The first movie adaptation of the classic TV series, Dark Shadows, this is essentially a retelling one of the show’s most popular plots, that of 200-year-old vampire, Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid), as he awakens within his coffin in modern day Collinsport, Maine, and feasts on the blood of his living relatives. This is a crisp, handsome production with excellent acting from Frid and the rest of the Dark Shadows ensemble, including cast regulars Nancy Barrett and Joan Bennett. It also happens to be one of the most effective vampire flicks of the ’70s. -MD
The Norliss Tapes (1973) Roy Thinnes stars as David Norliss, an occult investigator, called into action by Ellen Cort (Angie Dickenson), who was attacked in the night by her walking dead husband. As the body count rises, it becomes apparent that there’s a sinister secret behind James Cort’s resurrection — something demonic. Made for TV, this Dan Curtis production feels a whole lot like The Night Stalker, Curtis’s very successful pilot film that aired the previous year. That movie got a sequel and a TV series. The Norliss Tapes did not. But the structure is the same. We have a supernatural creature, an investigation, occasional cutaways to some poor soul getting murdered, and an overarching narration from the lead character. In this case, the narration comes from tapes, recorded by Norliss. Had this gone to series, that would have been the monster-of-the-week format. Unlike The Night Stalker, this is mostly humorless, and the opening ten minutes that set up the “tapes” premise is incredibly dull. But from then on, turn off the lights and soak it in, because this is Dan Curtis doing what he does best: death, crypts, and shock-value storytelling. -FP
Session 9 (2001) Although it doesn’t contain the typical horror movie tropes or slasher cliches, Session 9 is so unnerving and suspenseful that it’ll keep you on the edge of your seat while you down your popcorn and candy corn. Taking place almost entirely within the walls of a former sanitarium, the film follows a small asbestos removal team as they try to clean the place before the week is over. Tensions builds among the coworkers as personalities butt and ulterior motives are brought to light. Although its paranoia subplot seems to have been borrowed from The Thing, this is a smart movie with interesting characters and an overwhelmingly bleak environment that adds to the plot’s intensity. It all leads to a genuinely disturbing ending. -MD
Sleepy Hollow (1999) Tim Burton’s atmosphere-drenched adaptation of the famous Washington Irving story was a return to form for the director after the lunacy of Mars Attacks! with a perfectly cast Johnny Depp as the nervous Ichabod Crane who’s sent to the small village of the title to investigate a series of bizarre murders. The chilly, woodsy setting along with the visually rich set decorations of jack-o-lanterns, scarecrows, and the Headless Horseman ring true for a dazzling Halloween viewing. -MD
Frank Pittarese has been an editor of comic books for 30 years. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter. A Massachusetts native, Aaron Reid is also on Instagram and writes movie reviews for Letterboxd.