A collage featuring some of The Mary Sue staff picks for Halloween (clockwise from top left): 'Hocus Pocus,' 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show,' 'Trick 'r Treat,' Stephen King's 'Skeleton Crew,' 'Wendell & Wild,' 'Graveneye' by Sloane Leong and Anna Bowles, and 'The Shining'

The Mary Sue Staff Picks Our Favorite Spooky Season Movies, Books, and Treats

We may have aged out of panhandling for candy in our neighborhood, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had on Halloween. Like buying a big ol’ bag of candy for yourself, no costume—or sharesies—required. Everyone has their own little traditions and rituals for the season, whether it’s watching a scary movie, reading a spine-tingling book, or enjoying a game night with friends.

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Below, The Mary Sue’s staff writers share our favorite things to watch, read, and do on Halloween. And if you’re not into really scary stuff, that’s okay! Our writers have some recommendations for you, too. We all deserve a little treat, especially on Halloween.

Britt Hayes

A man drives a car with a busted windshield, covered in blood, in 'When Evil Lurks'

When Evil Lurks – I love horror, and Halloween is a great excuse to watch something extra scary. Argentinian filmmaker Demián Rugna’s sophomore feature might be the best horror film of 2023. When Evil Lurks follows Pedro and his brother Jimmy, who discover that a horrific evil is preparing to be “born” from the body of a possessed man. Rugna combines dark lore with plentiful (practical) gore in this allegory about how we respond to evil—specifically, the perils of ignoring it, rushing to judgment, and meeting violence with more violence. It’s available to stream on Shudder along with Rugna’s previous film, Terrified.

“The Jaunt,” by Stephen King – As a Constant Reader, there are many Stephen King books and stories I’d happily recommend any day of the year. But if you’re looking for something particularly scary for Halloween, then I have to go with “The Jaunt” from King’s short story collection Skeleton Crew. The story is set in a future where humans have created technology that allows for instant teleportation, known as “jaunting.” A man taking his family on a jaunt tells his children the story of how the technology was created, explaining the necessity of remaining unconscious for the journey. I won’t say anything else, but it is easily the most terrifying and upsetting short story I have ever read.

Rachel Leishman

A close up of Jack Torrence wearing a turtleneck sweater
(Warner Bros.)

The Shining – Halloween kicks off the cold season, which makes The Shining the perfect movie to watch. While not really that scary to me, it is a story about feeling lost in your own mind and what haunts us. It’s all about what lurks in the unknown and how those closest to you and your own demons can destroy you. And what a great costume!

“A Rose for Emily,” by William Faulkner – In school, they’d make us read seasonal short stories, including A Rose for Emily. Reading about someone killing their love and sleeping with their corpse because they love them so much is the pinnacle of horror. It’s twisted, freaky, and really messed up that we have kids read this story. What’s more terrifying than that?

The Rocky Horror Picture Show – Who among us doesn’t want to go to a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and have toast and sing along? It’s a dream of mine, and there is nothing hotter than Brad singing “It’s beyond me, help me mommy!” Just genuinely a perfect Halloween time!

Desiré Medlen

sam in Trick r Treat
(Warner Bros.)

Trick ‘r TreatTrick ‘r Treat is a great Halloween movie. The interconnected anthology storytelling format honors past horror series. It’s funny, creepy, and kind of hot—all the best parts of Halloween rolled into one. The segment featuring werewolves beautifully subverts horror expectations.

Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark, by Alvin SchwartzScary Stories To Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz was originally published in 1981. Two more books followed in 1984 and 1991. Somehow these stories are just as terrifying now as they were then. Even if you read them as a kid, they will haunt you well into adulthood. Part of that has to do with Stephen Gammell’s unbelievably unnerving illustrations.

Dead Man’s Bones – Honestly, Dead Man’s Bones is such a great band, you should listen to them all year round. However, their music has a certain Halloween/spooky vibe that fits this season really well. The band consists of Zach Shields and Ryan Gosling (yes, that Ryan Gosling). Their only album was a collaboration with the Silverlake Conservatory Children’s Choir. Somehow the children’s voices just make it that much creepier.

Alyssa Shotwell

An illustration from the graphic novel 'Graveneye' by Sloane Leong and Anna Bowles
(TKO Studios)

Graveneye, by Sloane Leong and Anna Bowles – With the success of writer Stephen Graham Jones and films like Blood Quantum and Prey, there’s a renewed interest in horror stories crafted by Indigenous creatives. Another person more than deserving of this attention is writer and artist Sloane Leong. Graveneye, her 2021 graphic novel with British artist Anna Bowles, tells a personal story of heartbreak and murder from the perspective of a house.

The Haunted Mansion (2003) – While I don’t limit my rewatches to just spooky season, 2003’s The Haunted Mansion starring Eddie Murphy is a perfect Halloween watch. The story follows a family vacation gone awry when the workaholic patriarch and half of Evers & Evers Real Estate (Murphy) insists on a detour to see one lucrative property. With problematic characters like Madame Leota and a fairly predictable plot, the film is far from perfect. Still, the PG horror flick is fun for adults and kids alike—especially for those who can’t stomach anything scarier.

Betrayal at House on the Hill – Like The Haunted Mansion, this is an all-year affair for me and perfect to engage with in the nights leading up to Halloween. Betrayal at House on the Hill is a cooperative narrative board game that begins with two to six players all working together to explore a haunted house by building it. When the Haunt phase begins, the game reveals one (or more people) as the betrayer. Then the two teams must work to complete different objectives to win the game. With over 50 stories and near-infinite ways to construct the house, each game is very different even if you play with the same people like I have.

Kimberly Terasaki

Kat and Raú from Wendell & Wild. lmage: Netflix.

Wendell & WildWendell & Wild is a great gateway horror film for teens. Horror as a genre still skews white, so having a young adult horror film with a Black lead and supporting cast is always welcome. Add in Coraline director Henry Selick and a screenplay by Jordan Peele (who voices one of the titular characters; Keegan-Michael Key voices the other), and you have a wonderful film that is severely underrated.

The Final Girls The Final Girls is not just your typical slasher horror comedy. At its core, there’s a beautiful story about a daughter mourning her actress mother and learning to let go. The emotional center turns the film from just another postmodern horror comedy into an emotional story about grief, family, and the catharsis that film can give audiences.

Rachel Ulatowski

Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler, and Kathy Najimy in 'Hocus Pocus'
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Hocus Pocus – Halloween is the perfect time to revisit Disney’s cult classic, Hocus Pocus. It’s ideal for those who aren’t big on actual horror and prefer the off-kilter and weird side of Halloween. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy will help you get into the spirit of spooky season with laughs instead of terror.

HalloweentownHalloweentown has always resonated with me because, like the Piper kids, I grew up in a family that forbade celebrating Halloween. I love how the film highlights that there’s nothing sinister about Halloween and how innocent the holiday is from a child’s perspective. Halloweentown celebrates and allows one to relive the magical feeling Halloween has when you’re a child, and reminds parents that no child should miss out on that magic.

(featured image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Warner Bros. / Putnam / Netflix / TKO Studios)

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