The Nightmare Before Homecoming

Six scary movies to watch before Halloween.

The Silence of The Lambs (1991)

Hailed as a cult-classic, Silence of the Lambs certainly lives up to its iconicity. Although the word horror should be replaced with thriller in the genre, the movie still manages to deliver stomach-turning visuals that make you cringe away from the screen and elaborate monologues that suck you into the scene. Silence of the Lambs follows Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), an FBI academy student who is unknowingly drafted into the manhunt for Buffalo Bill, a killer who skins women, by her superior, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn). Clarice is thrust into Hannibal Lector’s (Anthony Hopkins) orbit when Jack sends her to question the cannibalistic former psychiatrist. Clarice presents a questionnaire to Dr. Lecter, but he surmises Jack’s intent to obtain his help on the Buffalo Bill case. Lecter proposes a quid pro quo pact to Clarice, in which he will help her and Crawford with catching Bill if Clarice divulges personal information about her life. Much of the film’s success is owed to Foster and Hopkins, whose performances breathe life into the plot. Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lector is both off-putting and captivating. His performance pairs chilling monologues that humanize Lector and juxtapose his character with behavior that reminds the viewers he is utterly psychotic. On the other hand, Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling perfectly portrays the naivete of a fresh-faced FBI academy student on her first case, situated in the backdrop of the struggles of being a woman in a male-dominated field. Silence of the Lambs’ triumph in cinematography lies in the extensive use of the Kubrick stare, which is when a character tilts their face down and looks through their brows. The stare is used by directors to unsettle the audience. Lector’s face is framed in such a way that morphs his personality from eerily observant to absolutely unhinged in an instant. Although Clarice’s main adversary is Buffalo Bill, Lector and Clarice’s fascination with each other overshadows the main storyline. This is shown in the conclusion of the movie—though Clarice has caught Buffalo Bill, it is ultimately Lector who has the last word. With a quip about having an old friend for dinner, he trails his former psychiatrist into a crowded airport and hangs up on Clarice. While Silence of the Lambs is not what comes to mind for horror movies, its captivating storyline and inexplicable fall vibes make the movie perfect for a Halloween night in.

Scream (1996)

Neither overhyped nor underhyped, Scream is a much-lauded classic for a reason. From victims who scream bloody murder to the comedic and sometimes fatal idiocy of teenage boys, this movie is tailor-made for watching before you hit a haunted house on Halloween. Scream follows Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a teenager whose mother was brutally murdered the previous year, and is currently being terrorized by the killer known as Ghostface. Within her circle are her boyfriend, the mysterious Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich), her best friend, the cynical yet innocent Tatum Riley (Rose McGowan), Tatum’s brutish and tactless boyfriend, Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard), and their geeky friend Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy), whose extensive knowledge of classic horror is the only reason he survives the night. The ensemble cast is rounded out with David Arquette’s Dewey Riley, a dorky, well-meaning cop, and Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers, a strong-willed reporter who serves as Sidney’s adversary for much of the movie. Scream owes much of its success to the phenomenal acting of its cast, without whom the movie would be lifeless and awkward. Although Scream’s pacing may be slow to some, each scene is packed with building the personality of each character and the town dynamics, ultimately clueing in the audience to who Ghostface is. The comedy of the movie lies in the self awareness of each character; many topical horror references are made, from “Prom Night” to “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “The Silence of the Lambs”. Characters call out horror movie cliches that happen in the next or concurrent scenes, ramping up your frustration level to an 11. Scream’s finale is more hilarious than terrifying because of Ghostface’s psychological breakdown. In a spectacular comeuppance moment for Sidney, the movie literally ends with a bang. If you’re not easily susceptible to a classic jump scare, Scream might not have you screaming, but the chilling ease with which Ghostface infiltrates homes will have you checking behind every door you enter.

Halloween (1978)

What sets a good horror movie apart from the rest is the instant recognizability established with the audience. The second one hears, “Creepy Piano Rift #7”, they know they’re in for a thrill, featuring the infamous Michael Myers. In the start of the cult-classic franchise, viewers are thrown into the Halloween Universe as they are put directly into the POV of the killer for the opening scene. Halloween, as far as the first movie goes, doesn’t build on gore or graphic acts of killing, rather it creates a story for the audience to follow along. Scenes seemed to drag for a smidge too long with efforts of creating suspense, however the effect turned out to be hit or miss. If you’ve seen other movies directed by John Carpenter such as “The Fog” or “Christine”, then you’d be familiar with his stylistic choice of movie pacing. Watching the movie felt like it was building and building up to this grand finale of an ending, which, by the end, felt elusive and unsatisfying. Forty percent of the movie was spent establishing an unclear background for the killer that was never fully completed even towards the end of the film. Plot points that are relevant to the entirety of the movie franchise aren’t very well defined, leaving the viewer to either have to play a guessing game or to come up with theories as explanations. This movie is not one to knock you off your toes, be it through jump scares or breathtaking cinematography, however if you’re looking for a casual movie to watch as Halloween approaches, add this one to the list due to its notability as a Halloween movie must-watch and classic.

Hocus Pocus (1993)

Anyone who doesn’t have an affinity for Halloween and all its magic have clearly never seen Hocus Pocus. The movie follows the shenanigans of a trio of revived witches known to the town of Salem as the Sanderson Sisters, Winifred “Winnie”, Mary, and Sarah who seek immortality through sucking the life out of children. Concept-wise this movie may appear grim, but due to the well-established personality of the witches and fabulously executed acting of Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy, the movie is playful, fun to watch, and enchanting. There is no way to stress the extravagance of the role the witches play in the movie as they one hundred percent make the movie the masterpiece that is it. As the audience is introduced to the Hocus Pocus world, both past and present, they are met with a vibrancy that carries throughout the entirety of the film. There is really never a dull moment as the snarky remarks of the Sanderson Sisters contrast the wholesome and heart-warming journey of Max and his little sister. What was shocking about Hocus Pocus is the fact it doesn’t feel dated. Even visually, the special effects are well done and impressive although the movie is nearly 30 years old. The end of the movie is underwhelming, yet it doesn’t discredit the movie’s magic, as it has impeccable qualities in all other areas, even giving the audience a handful of scares. Simply watching the movie for its smile-causing rendition of Jay Hawkins’ “I put a spell on you” is enough of a reason to grab a blanket, snuggle up, and get the movie started. Hocus Pocus is for sure a must-watch for the Halloween season, kids and adults can get in on the fun, and it’s sure to bring a laugh or two, or ten!

The Conjuring (2013)

The Conjuring, directed by James Wan, tops the charts in terms of horror. The craftsmanship of this masterpiece proves that you don’t need a lot of gore or zombies to create a good horror movie. As it defies the laws of horror story making, the script puts you through an emotional roller coaster as if the viewer is present at the scene. Set in the 70’s, specialists Ed and Lorraine Warren go to help the Perron family with some appalling supernatural events in their home. The Warren’s must help stop this satanic haunting before it spirals out of control. As soon as the film begins, Wan’s use of camera technique and sensual feel is riveting as he moves through each room to create first person interactions. This idea of playing with one’s senses adds to the anticipation and suspense of what’s to come. This tension gives one goosebumps as if the viewer is sitting in the dark waiting for something to pop out at any second. The make up on the scary characters were frightening, but not as chili. as the moments leading up to it. This powerful use of suspense is what keeps the film interesting no matter how many times it is watched. Compared to just seeing bloody images and guessing what’s going to happen the next time, that same build up of anticipation by playing with people’s senses creates fear every time it’s watched. Similarly to going on a roller coaster, no matter how many times a person rides a roller coaster, a person will always feel the adrenalin. Another way Wan makes this film frightening was by avoiding traditional jump scares using music that starts off quiet and gets louder and louder. Instead he builds his own scares in a unique way that makes it feel more real. The way Wan uses sensory detail makes this the perfect movie for this fall.

Pet Sematary (2019)

People who don’t watch scary movies will find that Pet Sematary might be suitable for their taste. This classic remake of the 1989 novel by Stephen King deserves more credit than it receives. It grabs the attention of the audience from the very beginning and ties it back together as the movie ends. Not to mention the amount of symbolism that this film carries, which beautifully ties together the story in a way that leaves the audience ruminating. The Creed family, who have just moved into town, begin their journey of understanding a concept typically untouched by humans: death. From the pet cemetery located in their forested backyard, to the truck that killed their cat, the film uses symbolism to prove to the Creed’s family why “sometimes death is better,” as Jud Crandell, their neighbor said. Since death is something that affects everyone, the refusal to accept it harbors more pain for those that are still living. Louis, the father, learns this a little too late despite the warnings from his wife and Victor Pascaow, a university student who died from a head injury after being hit by an automobile. When Louis puts his foot on Ellie, his daughter who was killed by a truck, he picks up a shovel to kill her as she struggles to get free, “I thought we could be a family, I wanted us to be a family, but we can’t,” he said. The way the film is produced effects its viewers emotionally because it touches on the topic of death, which affects all people mentally and emotionally on different levels. Despite this well-crafted story, the film is not the pee-your-pants kind of scary. There is a lot of gore but not a lot of moments where suspense is present. Although the makeup on some characters like Pascow and Rachel’s sister might just leave you trembling a little, it’s still not enough to cause a real scare. Overall, Pet Sematary is a great movie for people who are still a little new to the horror movie realm.