Staff Picks: Horror Classics for Halloween Season

Staff Picks: Horror Classics for Halloween Season

- By Ramon Gonzales

From cult flicks to horror classics the Knotfest editorial team narrowed down their list of essential viewing for Spooky season.

 Tis the season for plenty of Best of lists when it comes to the scarier side of cinema. Rather than offer some kind of critical breakdown of the best flicks to soothe that horror-curious itch, we figured it might be smarter to just ask our team of contributors to give us some of their favorite selections. 

From the obscure to the cult favorites, from big-budget blockbusters to limited release films that are the stuff of the Criterion Collection - this is a handy reference list of GREAT horror flicks that you should get familiar with before the season's change. 

While some of these are staples, absolutely essential viewing and the best examples of the genre, some just happen to be personal favorites - the kind of flick that never really strays too far from the regular Halloween rotation. Even though they may have missed the mark critically, there's some merit here worth revisiting. 

Let's get started. 

HOUSE (1977)

One of the most fun Halloween movies possible for how the filmmakers themselves feel like they’re trying every mad idea that pops into their heads creating something boundlessly inventive. House still feels like the most creative house of horrors imaginable practically tearing down the barriers between the viewer and the screen and truly letting its mad gonzo violence pop up from the most ludicrous and unexpected of corners, clearly an inspiration for Sam Raimi’s manic horror-comedy in Evil Dead II, and in the same way feels like taking a bunch of your friends into a demented funhouse where no rules apply. - Perran Helyes

MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973)                                                                                        The 60s and 70s produced a stream of horror movies you can describe as absolute atmosphere-baths, filled with hazy and foggy details that create an uncanny sensory experience over something filled with plot, and they don’t get much more strange and eerie than Messiah of Evil. Part Romero zombie film, part vampire film, part Manson family cult, it is just like a Lovecraftian apocalypse localized in a nighttime seaside town under a blood moon creating a powerful dread with scenes that run the blood cold. It was largely out of print for decades making it something of a lost horror film until now, so there’s never been a better time to discover one of the forgotten masterpieces of horror’s greatest era. Just still not quite as horrifying as the creators’ Howard the Duck. - Perran Helyes


One of the only directorial credits of the great effects artist Stan Winston (whose studio worked magic on everything from Terminator to Jurassic Park), you know that Pumpkinhead is going to have a beautifully freaky practical creature creation, but the lovely surprise is how that same effort seems to have been put into every aspect of the production. Lance Henriksen puts in one of the performances of his career as part of a kind of rural American folk tale driven by revenge, and it is positively oozing with crisp seasonal atmosphere making it the perfect movie to put on when the leaves begin to fall and the chill begins to set in. - Perran Helyes


If you’ve ever missed out on the chance to experience this cult favorite, now is the time to get to it. Possession is a strange film, even for psychological horror, following the events of a disturbingly messy divorce between a man named Mark (Sam Neill) and his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani). Strange, disturbing, and messy are all extreme understatements in this case - what Polish filmmaker Andrzej Żuławski conjures up on the screen and pulls out from his two lead actors is something that simply can’t be replicated or found anywhere else. Even something like a particular facial expression leaves a lasting impression on any viewer, and once you reach the infamous subway scene, you’ll be completely hypnotized by the onscreen madness. - Nicolas Delgadillo

CRONOS (1992)The debut feature film of none other than Guillermo del Toro, Cronos proves that the acclaimed filmmaker has had the juice from the very beginning. This is a vampire tale through and through but not the kind you might expect. Del Toro showcases his originality, flair for the fantastical, and talent within the horror genre right out of the gate with a story full of drama and terror. There’s just the right amount of terror and emotional connection in here for a perfectly well-rounded vampire flick, one with plenty of still fresh ideas. - Nicolas Delgadillo


Give yourself a bit of a break from the heaviness of most scary movies with this dose of this new horror comedy that packs a ton of charm. Written and directed by Emily Hagins, Sorry About the Demon follows a young man named Will (Jon Michael Simpson) who attempts a fresh start at a new home after getting his heart broken. But the house he’s found himself in appears to already be occupied by restless and rather inconvenient spirits, leaving Will to figure out just what to do about them. This is a fairly laid-back movie with some lackadaisical pacing but the jokes land well and the performances help bring some genuine likability to Will’s predicament. A nice and funny change of pace from the usual October onslaught. - Nicolas Delgadillo


Directed by Brandon Cronenberg (David's son), this is an aggressive, ingenious, nightmarish vision of the shenanigans of the worst kind of upper-echelon tourists. It has a hallucinatory sci-fi sheen and a barnstorming, unnerving-to-the-extreme performance by Mia Goth. - Dan Franklin
A mythology unto itself, there are so many jaw-dropping, truly disturbing moments in this classic. But years after I almost passed out during the spinal tap sequence when it was rereleased in the late nineties, it is the opening sand-blasted appearance of the statue of the demon Pazuzu which has stayed with me, as well as its infamous, subliminal appearance during Karras's dream. 'Reality' never felt the same again. - Dan Franklin
Nasty, nasty stuff. A deranged chemical burn of a film that is so visceral and raw that many believed the killings in it were real. Concerning a recently released criminal who wants to make snuff films, the lines between the fiction and its production were blurred beyond the point of sanity. The crew took pseudonyms and it was rumoured it was made by a drug cartel. Track it down if you dare.
- Dan Franklin
MANDY (2018)
If you're looking for one of the most "heavy metal" horror movies to add to your watch list, look no further. The soundtrack is one of Jóhann Jóhannsson's final works that showcases a brooding, heavy soundscape to accompany a psychedelic and gruesome revenge story set in the Pacific Northwest. It's Nicolas Cage doing his iconic Nicolas Cage things. Tie in cults, drugs, and fire and it's one HELL of a ride. There are beautiful, neon-red psychedelic sequences with bizarre details to discover with each watch. - Tori Kravitz
We all know the story of Mayhem and we all know that it is a gruesome one. This movie blurs the lines between myth, fiction, and fact with a bloody finale and a heavy dose of Norwegian Black Metal. If you watch it with an open mind and don't take it TOO seriously, it's a campy horror thriller for metal fans. Rory Culkin's portrayal of Euronymous was impressive and I thought the movie was very entertaining. The scene with Varg's interview and photo shoot were a nice comedic break in the story too (although it probably wasn't intended to be funny). Enjoy the ride and headbang along the way. - Tori Kravitz
It's a found footage film based in the Paris catacombs so you already know this is going to be eerie based on the location choice. What impressed me was learning that this was actually shot on-location in the catacombs and required some incredible feats to bring an entire film crew down there. If you pay close attention, you'll realize that the plot is inspired by Dante's Inferno, which brings a whole new layer of depth to the storyline. It's gory, trippy, creative, and definitely a bit silly at times. It's a fun watch with a few plot holes but who cares when it keeps you entertained? - Tori Kravitz
The Scream franchise should be a staple in everyone's spooky season. Scream saved the horror genre by exposing its tropes and reveling in the ridiculousness of it all, but with a genuine love and respect for the genre. The result was a screenplay that was spooky, gorey and also humorous. It had all the hallmarks audiences had grown bored with, but it turned that old formula on its head for a meta wink at the audience. As the franchise continued, the sequels aimed to do more than just recreate the success of the first, but bring in their own tropes, taking shots at sequels, trilogies, and requels. - Cori Westbrook
The Orphanage is a hauntingly beautiful Spanish horror film that skillfully melds emotional depth with chilling suspense. The story revolves around Laura, who returns to her childhood home—an old orphanage—with hopes of restoring and reopening it as a home for disabled children. However, when her son goes missing and supernatural occurrences begin to unfold, the film delves into a gripping exploration of loss, grief, and the lingering imprints of the past. This movie is both beautiful and incredibly sad and 100% worth the watch. 
- Cori Westbrook
THE MONK (1796 - yes, a book)
Light up some candles and read this on a stormy night. While modern readers might find some of its tropes clichéd or its style melodramatic, as one of the earlier Gothic novels, The Monk was pioneering in its exploration of the psychological and moral complexities of its characters. The Monk stands out for its audaciousness even in its era, rife with tales of supernatural elements, transgressive desires, and the darker recesses of the human psyche. Many of the hallmarks we know and love from the gothic and horror traditions started here.The unflinching manner in which it confronts taboo subjects, including incest and witchcraft, made it both controversial and immensely popular when it was published. - Cori Westbrook
This action packed,  gory blood soaked flick ain’t just an ordinary vampire movie. It’s a tale about a futuristic dystopia, where a pandemic  unleashes hordes of undead blood suckers, who come out after sunset,  causing global  societal collapse, where millions die. In the U.S. an orphan and a man only known as mister travel through the wastelands, full of vicious vampires, racist (and rapist) militants known as The Brotherhood, and groups of  random survivors, on the way to New Eden, or Canada. Don’t watch this vampiric thriller alone, or at night. - Alex Distefano

Ok so even though this classic cinematic cult classic is technically considered a  science fiction film, it could easily be placed in the horror genre, because  the plot and premise will scare the shit out of you. Taking Place in 2047, Event Horizon is about a rescue mission of a spaceship, whose  crew mysteriously vanished. The spaceship turns out to be sentient, possessed by a malevolent force unleashed when the craft opened a portal to Hell. The ship causes poltergeist activity, hallucinations and knows each person’s darkest fears. From gouging eyes, mutilated bodies and a very disturbing distress signal left in Latin, this movie merges the science fiction of space travel and the chilling horror of Hellish demons  to really create some nightmarish scenes. This is not for the faint of heart. - Alex Distefano

BEGOTTEN (1990)Easily of the weirdest, darkest, creepiest films you will ever see. Call it an experimental, avant garde mind fuck of a splatter film,  no dialog or music, only sounds of nature such as wind and flowing water. It is also entirely in black and white. Though most consider Begotten to be masochistic visual based allegory of Mother Nature and the cycles of birth and death, it’s all left open to interpretation and there are plenty of  instances of  self mutilation, as well as pagan/occult ritualistic images in this movie. Imagine The Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets Midsommar, as a silent film. - Alex Distefano

 WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (1976)For as outlandish as the premise of this film is, there is some heavy social commentary here when it comes to the effects of war and how it desensitizes children to violence. Ultimately, director Narciso Ibanez Serrador succeeded best in making a creepy flick that plays on the dynamic of the innocence of children who become murderous, territorial maniacs. Tom and Evelyn are young English couple on vacation that find themselves on an island inhabited only by children. When the couple are forced to flea for their safety from the mob, the reality of kids turned ruthless killers becomes all too real leaving the audience to answer the titular question, Who Can Kill A Child? - Ramon Gonzales

SE7EN (1995)

Too obvious a choice? More crime thriller than horror? Who gives a shit. David Fincher managed to tap into a real life horror with this mid-90's gem that set a standard in modern cinema. Aside from the climatic finale, (think about how often people still quote, 'What's in the box?!") the layered narrative that weaves theology, criminal psychology and the personal connection we develop with both Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as unlikely partners makes for a story that sticks. And if a methodical killer like John Doe, who devises such elaborate, excruciating means of execution isn't scary as all hell - please seek professional help. - Ramon Gonzales

TENEBRE (1982) 

From horror master Dario Argento, this early 80's slasher flick stands out mostly because of what you hear rather than what you see. Teaming with longtime collaborators in Claudio Simonetti and GOBLIN, the soundtrack to this film is the star with a brilliant mesh of Italo disco, stylish synth and pseudo-dark wave scoring scenes of sequences of sharp-edged mayhem. For reference as to just how ahead of the grade the music for Tenebre was, French duo JUSTICE sampled the title track and wound up with one of their biggest hits of their 2007 release, Cross. - Ramon Gonzales

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