Movies to stream on Halloween 2021

Streaming recommendation(s) of the week 10/29/21


Posters from IMDB

Cuddle up with some friends, grab some popcorn, put on a costume, summon a ghost and enjoy these Halloween classics

Shreyas Banerjee, Life Editor

The air is crisp, the leaves are colored, the costumes are prepared, the pumpkins are everywhere—the time for Halloween has come. And while for many at Case Western Reserve University, this time will mean a weekend of debauchery and excitement, for others, Halloween is a special time to indulge in some of life’s greatest pleasures: scary movies. Spending an evening with nothing but the light coming from the TV and the flickering shadows of a jack-o’-lantern as the wind and rain blows outside is one of the great pleasures of the season. While we restart some traditions that we were forced to abandon last year due to an unmitigated pandemic, whether it be going to costume parties or trick-or-treating, the more socially distanced option of just putting on a horror movie is still available. The joys of a pure Hollywood-induced fright, whether enjoyed solo, with friends or with a partner to hold when the thrills become too much, are never to be underestimated. To that end, here is The Observer’s updated streaming guide for Halloween. I tried not to repeat any movies from last year’s list, and  I also didn’t have quite as much time to watch all the horror movies my heart desired so this list is truncated. Each major streaming service (sorry Paramount+ and Apple TV+, maybe next year) will only have one pick each, but all are well worth your time. So sit back, turn off the lights and let the spooky season fully envelop you with these picks.

“The Conjuring” – Netflix

There can be no doubt that this is probably the most influential horror movie of the 2010s. In the near decade since this film was released, an entire franchise has been launched with many a sequel and spin-off, but there’s nothing quite like the original. Directed by James Wan, the 2013 film stands out for its actual ability to deliver scares—a rarity for many films launched around the same time. Rather than relying on simple jump scares, “The Conjuring” builds a mood and effectively sets up each thrill through its expert pacing, creeping dread and understandable scenarios. It’s the simple things that makes “The Conjuring” so emotionally evocative, whether it be the fear of a door closing behind you, or the terror of feeling something grab you while you sleep or the dread of just seeing something out of place from the corner of your eye. The plot is a typical demon-possession plot, but the strong performances and relatable anxieties within make it a modern classic.

“Children of the Corn” – Hulu

“Children of the Corn,” on the other hand, is far from the well-made movie that “The Conjuring” is, but boy is it entertaining. Based on Stephen King’s short story of the same name, the 1984 film attempts to capture the folk horror thrills of something like “The Wicker Man” but doesn’t quite get there. Centered around a cult of children that ritually sacrifice the adults in their rural Nebraska small town, the film doesn’t entirely deliver on its creepy premise, stumbling over basic things like pacing, visual styling and delivering a satisfying conclusion. However, the film makes up for this in the amazing performances from the child actors. You will believe a child can murder for a good corn harvest when you see John Franklin as Isaac, the boy preacher who founded the cult and commands every scene he’s in, and Courtney Gains’ performance as the bloodthirsty Malachai is also something to behold. The atmosphere of this film is also amazing. Never has corn been so malevolent. The fear of travelling through unknown back roads and empty ghost towns is perfectly captured, despite everything else.

“The Lighthouse” – Amazon Prime

Speaking of capturing an atmosphere, “The Lighthouse,” directed by Robert Eggers, is a masterclass in this, building an isolating and maddening desolation that can be viscerally felt by all viewers. Starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as two lighthouse keepers who attempt to retain their sanity while trapped together, the claustrophobic nature of the film is apparent in every aspect, from the aspect ratio, to the shot composition to the increasingly maniacal performances. The characters play off each other, exploring different very human themes as they both unpick each others’ psyches. What is actually going on in the film is anyone’s guess due to the abstract nature of the film, but being stuck in purgatory has never been so engrossing.

“Trick ‘r Treat” – HBO Max

Also standing out for its atmosphere, “Trick ‘r Treat” may be the most Halloween-y horror film ever made. Each set, each shot and each line of dialogue is steeped in the tropes of the holiday, making it one of the greatest evocations of Halloween. Respecting the spirit of the holiday is a central theme of the story, and this film does just that: celebrating the joy, the spirit and the terror that comes with the chilling fall winds each year. An anthology film with many plot threads, the movie comes off as a collection of campfire ghost stories, each highlighting a different aspect of the holiday. There is something quite nostalgic about the film as it depicts the childhood reverence for Halloween that we all had, the superstitions we carried and the fears that still gnaw at us at times. Never will you see a film with so many jack-o’-lanterns, so much trick-or-treating and quite so many parties, all with mystique and murder woven in. There may never be another film that celebrates Halloween quite like this one does.

“Halloweentown” – Disney+

Well, if any film comes as close to capturing that Halloween spirit, it has to be “Halloweentown.” Not at all a horror movie, this 1998 Disney Channel Original Movie embodies a lot of what makes the holiday special for me—though this is perhaps related to the fact that I grew up watching this film over and over around this time of year. The first of four movies, “Halloweentown” has a fanciful premise where an alternate universe exists, created for all the witches, wizards and monsters to live in order to avoid contact with humans. The childhood innocence around Halloween is captured to a great extent here, whether it be the intrigue around witches and ghosts or the joy found from celebrating all aspects of life—including death and the unknown. The pretense and the fantasy of Halloween, all of this is well-seen in this coming of age story that centers around the hijinks of teen witch Marnie, played by Kimberly Brown, and her grandmother Agatha, played by Debbie Reynolds. With these endearing performances and a constant charm in its world-building, “Halloweentown” is always a pleasure to revisit around this time of year.

“The Sixth Sense” – Peacock

Also centering around a child’s interactions with the supernatural, M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” is this list’s return to the horror genre. And jeez, it does not get much better than this. Perhaps most well-known for the line “I see dead people” and for having a twist ending that reframes the entire story, “The Sixth Sense” represents psychological thrillers at their finest. Starring Bruce Willis as a child psychologist, the film depicts his interactions with Cole Sear, played by Haley Joel Osment, a boy who can see and feel ghosts. It’s very easy to just consider the film around the stupendous ending twist and the clues that build up to it, but what truly makes up the heart of the film are the conversations between Willis and Osment. Their connection and their mutual paths through tragedy and toward acceptance are what drives the movie and, like any great ghost story, the message is a desperately human one. The technical aspects are also great, delivering on the themes of anguish and darkness found in the story through unsettling imagery and rock-solid pacing.

And with that I am once again spooked out. As streaming services continue to compete, we are sure to see even more horror and Halloween content on them in the near future. We are already seeing signs of prestige horror TV shows such as “Haunting of Hill House” and new release formats for slasher films like the recently released “Fear Street” trilogy, which all released one week after the other as if it were a TV show. Perhaps next year there will be more original content on this list. Regardless, happy Halloween and enjoy your weekend. Stay safe and stay spooky.