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20 Halloween Movies That Will Scare You Senseless

From slashers to seances, we've rounded up the best Halloween movies for a scary night in.

Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links.

House of 1000 Corpsesvia

House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

On our best Halloween movies list because: It’s a shocking gore-fest set on Halloween: Possibly stomach-turning, but definitely fit for mature audiences looking for a thrill to match the occasion.

Critics say: “[Director Rob] Zombie, pillaging from every low-budget freak-out he can, proves that he at least has a lurid touch for shock theatrics. Blood spatters on the floor like a Jackson Pollock.”—Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly. See what Halloween could look like this year during a pandemic.

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Sleepy Hollowvia

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

On our best Halloween movies list because: There’s hardly a better fit for a creepy night in than director Tim Burton, and his take on the Washington Irving short story is ghoulish, intriguing fun.

Critics say: “Gorgeous filmmaking that brims over with fun-house thrills and ravishing romance… Heads roll, bodies pile up, and the horseman—played in flashback by a megaweird Christopher Walken—rises from the dead.”—Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

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Halloween (1978)

On our best Halloween movies list because: Of course, Halloween is one of the best Halloween movies since it all but invented an entire subgenre of slasher horror movies—those that take place on All Hallows’ Eve.

Critics say: “There isn’t another post-1970 release that comes close to it in terms of scaring the living hell out of a viewer.”—James Berardinelli, Reelviews. Check out these things you probably never knew about Halloween the holiday.

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The Changelingvia

The Changeling (1980)

On our best Halloween movies list because: With a vengeful ghost, a haunted house, and the approval of Martin Scorsese, what more could you want?

Critics say: “This is a scare movie with taste.”—Roger Ebert.

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The Amityville Horrorvia

The Amityville Horror (1979)

On our best Halloween movies list because: It’s a little stupid, somewhat laughable, and full of overt freakout moments—perfect for some fun if you’re not in the mood for the really dark stuff.

Critics say: “[The house] causes members of the clergy to vomit whenever they visit the place, and has toilets that spew forth black goo. So much for the niceties.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

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Pet Semataryvia

Pet Sematary (1989)

On our best Halloween movies list because: There are many potential Stephen King books-turned-movies that could be on this list of the best Halloween movies. But there just aren’t enough movies about the walking dead that start with the horrid resurrection of a beloved family cat.

Critics say: “As a basic, icky, unvarnished scare show Pet Sematary renders some of the creepiness effectively in Halloween-spookhouse fashion.”—Common Sense Media. This one’s definitely not for kids, folks. If you’re looking for some child-friendly picks, here are the best Halloween movies for kids.

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Poltergeist (1982)

On our best Halloween movies list because: Unnervingly, this ghost story will leave you wary of your own television.

Critics say: “This is a barnstorming ghost story… consistently redeemed by its creator’s dazzling sense of craft.”—TimeOut London

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Paranormal Activityvia

Paranormal Activity (2007)

On our best Halloween movies list because: Something of a modern classic, this shocking feature plays on a culture saturated with reality television and near omnipresent surveillance.

Critics say: “It comes by its screams honestly, earning them with incremental, at times agonizing gradations of old-fashioned, what’s-that-noise-in-the-hallway suspense.”—Dana Stevens, Slate.

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Ju-On: The Grudge [呪怨]via

Ju-On: The Grudge [呪怨] (2002)

On our best Halloween movies list because: It’s a fun haunted house film with unnerving, creative imagery.

Critics say: “When The Grudge… focuses on the scary stuff, there’s no shortage of fun to be found. And there are several moments of quietly effectiveness creepiness.”—Scott Weinberg, Stock up on snacks while you watch–these are the best deals on Halloween candy out there.

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Evil Deadvia

Evil Dead (2013)

On our best Halloween movies list because: This new update to the 1981 original eschews some of the camp and piles on the gory scares, making it a decidedly creepier pick for the holiday.

Critics say: “The gore is considerable (though often imaginative) and Alvarez’s decision to forego CGI effects pays grisly dividends. That may not be a genuine tongue being slashed in half lengthwise (while still, it should be noted, in its owner’s mouth) but damned if it doesn’t look like one.”—Christopher Orr, the Atlantic

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House [ハウス/Hausu]via

House [ハウス/Hausu] (1977)

On our best Halloween movies list because: Every Halloween night deserves a haunted house, and this delirious Japanese flick presents the weirdest, most entertaining example in memory.

Critics say: “Movies are rarely, if ever, as whirringly rich and strange as House.”—Steve Dollar, Paste. Here are the scariest haunted houses in America.

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The Texas Chainsaw Massacrevia

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

On our best Halloween movies list because: More slaughterhouse than haunted house, this classic still chills, and is the inspiration for many popular Halloween costumes. 

Critics say: “[A] sneaky equation of middle-class values with cannibalism and wholesale slaughter.”—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

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Panic Roomvia

Panic Room (2002)

On our best Halloween movies list because: This harrowing home invasion movie is a realistic nail-biter totally devoid of ghouls or the supernatural, making it a choice pick for those who know they’ll be triple-checking their locks when the movie’s done.

Critics say: “It could be an especially grisly, profanity-laced entry in the Home Alone‘ series. And, it must be said, an exceptionally well-directed one.”—A.O. Scott, The New York TimesNext, don’t miss these horror films that were inspired by true events.

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The Conjuring (2013)

On our best Halloween movies list because: This spine-chilling film is based on a true story about paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. It connects with a few other horror films that are also some of the best Halloween movies, too.

Critics say: “A sensationally entertaining old-school freakout and one of the smartest, most viscerally effective thrillers in recent memory.”—Justin Chang, Variety.

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Psycho (1960)

On our best Halloween movies list because: This classic horror movie changed the genre—and it’s still scary by today’s standards.

Critics say: “Timeless classic. Superb performances and the infamous shower scene make this the perfect nightmare.”—David Parkinson, Empire

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The Babadook (2017)

On our best Halloween movies list because: This movie takes something many kids deal with at some point or another, a fear of monsters in the house, and turns it on its head. This genuinely scary tale is also bittersweet thanks to the mother-son relationship at the forefront.

Critics say: “Let’s just say that this nerve-frying psychological thriller from gifted first-time filmmaker Jennifer Kent will have you climbing the walls simply by plumbing the violence of the mind.”—Peter Travers, Rolling Stone. Decorate your home for the movie marathon with these easy and inexpensive DIY Halloween decorations.

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Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

On our best Halloween movies list because: This horror movie is a great slow burn. You won’t find jump scares here, but you will feel the creep of Rosemary’s paranoia as the movie continues.

Critics say: “Right to its bitter end, there is no escaping Rosemary’s Baby. On film Ira Levin’s best selling novel is as horribly frightening as it was on paper.”—Kathleen Carroll, the New York Daily News

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The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

On our best Halloween movies list because: This movie combines the best Halloween movies and horror tropes with a sprinkle of comedy. Every scene is an opportunity to laugh-scream.

Critics say: “Veteran writer Joss Whedon and first-time director Drew Goddard deconstruct the horror genre like never before with this film.”—Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media

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A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

On our best Halloween movies list because: One of the best Halloween movies is A Nightmare on Elm Street because it’s a classic slasher film. It’s even creepier since Freddy Krueger kills his victims in their dreams.

Critics say: A Nightmare on Elm Street is tailor-made for those who like their gore leavened with thought-provoking ideas – something that is a rarity in this genre.”—James Berardinelli, Check out the fascinating reason why some people just don’t like scary movies.

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The Exorcist (1973)

On our best Halloween movies list because: Yes, the actual exorcism in this movie is the creepy core of the film, but it’s not the scariest part. The behind-the-scenes history is equally bone-chilling.

Critics say: “This jolting tale of a 12-year-old girl possessed by the devil, her desperate movie actress mother and the two priests called in to exorcise the demon, actually seems a deeper movie now—more intense, less formulaic or shallow. Yet it’s also retained all its original hypnotic narrative grip.”—  Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune. Once you’re through with this list, start working on the scariest movies of all time for some real sleepless nights.

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For more fun facts, costume ideas, traditions, candy inspiration, spooky entertainment, and updates on how October 31 will look different this year, check out our Halloween Guide.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest