“It’s Halloween. I guess everyone’s entitled to one good scare,” Sheriff Brackett says in John Carpenter’s Halloween. While the seminal slasher delivered no shortage of creepy moments and well-placed scares, the Halloween movies aren’t the only ones to embrace holiday frights. Whether through subtle moments, gross-out gags, potent jump scares, or phobia-inducing chills, Halloween-set horror offers something for everyone – beyond the iconic franchise.
This Halloween, we look back at ten of the scariest moments in non-Halloween horror movies that take place around the best holiday of the year. Halloween, of course!
The Child – Sentient Jack-o-Lantern
Alicianne has just been hired as housekeeper and caretaker to young Rosalie Nordon, who recently lost her mother. Alicianne soon realizes that Rosalie has a supernatural gift, including zombies at her disposal, and uses it to seek revenge on those who piss her off. Atmospheric dread erupts into Fulci-like chaos on Halloween. Alicianne comes downstairs into the den to find one creepy jack-o-lantern staring her down. It spins around to keep its glowing eyes on her. It’s a small, understated moment of pure spine-tingling creepiness that sets up a wild final act.
You Are Not My Mother – Let’s Dance
Writer/Director Kate Dolan’s Irish folkloric horror takes place around Halloween. It follows a teen whose mother, Angela, goes missing, returning home later without explanation and with an altered personality. What came home might not be her mother but a Changeling. Dolan’s folk horror movie favors psychological chills with a fraught mother/daughter relationship and atmospheric dread over jump scares. Carolyn Bracken delivers an unsettling performance as the Changeling version of Angela, particularly in the scene where Angela beckons her daughter to dance with her in the living room. It begins benign but grows more intense and menacing the more daughter Char gets weirded out by the peculiar behavior.
Something Wicked This Way Comes – Spider Nightmare
Based on Ray Bradbury’s novel of the same name, this kid-friendly horror/dark fantasy film didn’t shy away from getting pretty dark. It certainly had zero qualms about introducing young audiences to arachnophobia, either. Poor Will and Jim learn that not even their bedroom is safe from the terror of Mr. Dark when a crack in the ceiling bulges and splits open, releasing hundreds of tarantulas into the room. They’re everywhere. The floors, crawling up pajama pant legs and squirming beneath bed sheets- the normal respite for nighttime terrors. It’s an absolute nightmare.
Slugs – Restaurant Meltdown
In this 1988 horror film by Juan Piquer Simon (Pieces), a small town gets inundated by toxic waste slugs that go on a homicidal rampage. Because this is a Simon flick, those deaths get pretty gnarly. The most unsettling occurs at a restaurant, over a business dinner. One of the dinner guests isn’t feeling so well. Unbeknownst to him, he’d eaten slug-contaminated lettuce, and it’s done a number on his insides. A painful meltdown, profuse bleeding, and slug larvae explosions ensue. All appetites at this restaurant are effectively destroyed.
House of 1000 Corpses – Deputy Steve
It doesn’t end well for deputies and a father searching for his missing daughter when they arrive at the Firefly home. After Mother Firefly (Karen Black) dispatches the Sheriff, Otis (Bill Moseley) begins to gun down the deputies. Writer/Director Rob Zombie films this in slow motion while Slim Whitman’s “I Remember You” plays over the violence. Zombie then builds the tension to a palpable degree as Deputy Steve (Walton Goggins) falls on his knees in surrender. The music ends, and Zombie lets the scene linger in silence as Otis presses his gun to the Deputy’s forehead. This excruciatingly uncomfortable moment lasts for almost 40 seconds until Otis finally pulls the trigger, piercing the suspense and leaving us shaken.
The Blair Witch Project – Mike’s Corner
In October 1994, a trio of film students set off into the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, to film a documentary about the local urban legend of the Blair Witch. Only their found footage is left to tell their tale of horror. Slow-burn chills and thrills escalate when Josh goes missing, sending Mike and Heather into a full-blown panic. They follow Josh’s cries for help to an abandoned house, where Heather and Mike get separated. An unseen force attacks Mike in the basement, and when Heather ventures down after, she too is attacked. Her camera catches Mike standing silently in a corner as she gets attacked offscreen. The terrifying imagery of this moment and its implications sticks with you.
The Changeling – Red Bouncing Ball
Only a great movie like The Changeling could make something as benign as a small red ball so creepy. For lead character John Russell, he finds himself plagued by strange occurrences shortly after moving into a historic mansion. One of which is a little red ball that moves on its own accord. So, he gets rid of it by driving to a nearby bridge and tossing it over. He gets home, takes off his jacket, and is about to walk into his study when the same ball bounces eerily down the stairs toward him.
Hell House LLC – Night Visitor
A Halloween haunt crew picks the empty Abaddon Hotel for their latest seasonal attraction and moves in to get it ready in time. Naturally, they don’t realize it’s been uninhabited for a reason, and the hotel’s spooky denizens waste no time welcoming their new tenants. One of the scariest moments of this creepfest sees one of the members awakened in the middle of the night by a strange sound. He turns on the light, unaware that a ghost has been sitting in the dark, watching him. When he notices her, he turns the light off and buries himself under the covers. The ghoulish night visitor finds him anyway.
Sinister – Lawnmower Scare
True crime author Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) upends his family and relocates them to a new town so he can research his next book. Only Ellison knows that the new home harbors a history of murder, and soon he discovers a box of Super 8 snuff films in the attic. Halfway into Scott Derrickson’s unsettling horror movie, Ellison watches another Super 8 reel, this one feeling different from the rest. The camera voyeuristically gazes upon unsuspecting prey before retreating to the garage to retrieve a lawnmower. The camera then goes out into the quiet, dark night. The quiet becomes almost deafening as the mower rolls along, until it’s jarringly punctuated by piercing screams as the mower rolls over one of the family members. It makes for one startling, potent jump scare.
Ghostwatch – The Cellar Door
Originally airing on Halloween night in 1992, this horror mockumentary was presented as a televised live event. Involving BBC reporters investigating a house in Northolt, Greater London, where paranormal activity caused trouble for a family, it caused viewers at home to believe the events were real. What made Ghostwatch so scary was its attention to detail; the ghost of Pipes could often be spotted lurking in the frame’s background, making viewers panic. Those subtle scares and the ever-lurking presence of Pipes heightened the terrifying conclusion that unleashes a paranormal onslaught. The final image of Greene getting dragged into a cellar door that slams shut is pure nightmare fuel, effectively sending viewers into a tizzy over what happens next.