So I said I would do this list and then I realized I don’t read scary books, listen to scary songs, or watch scary movies as a general rule. I love Halloween but I mainly associate it with frantic yet meticulous construction of whatever costume the kid’s dreamed up, followed by a week of sneaking PB cups and fun-size Mounds from her candy stash. But writers are known for their Olympic-level talent for fudging it, so here goes.
“Spooky” / Classics IV. I actually hate this song but I have a Pavlovian reaction to it: I hear the first chords and instantly think Halloween. I don’t know if it deserves its status as a Halloween classic, since the girl in the song is not particularly spooky, just sort of a flake. It kills me that the guy spends the whole song yammering about how she winks at other dudes and plays games with his heart, and yet he’s planning a Halloween proposal, like that’ll solve all their problems. Honestly I just ride out the song to hear the little “whooo!” ghostie sounds in the verses.
“Monster” / Lady Gaga. When the Fame Monster EP came out, everyone was creaming themselves over “Bad Romance” and “Dance in the Dark” and this song never got its due, despite being danceable and hilarious and awesome. If I had a Halloween party, which I won’t because that would involve cleaning and decorating, this would be #1 on my playlist.
“Time of the Season” / The Zombies. This is not technically a Halloween song but for some reason I always associate it with summer’s slow slide into fall. Plus one time my mom told me she used to think the lyrics were “it’s the time of the season for zombieeeeees,” like the Zombies were pulling a Wang Chung and name-dropping themselves in the song, so every time I hear that line I picture zombies doing jazz hands.
“Burn-Up” / Siouxsie & the Banshees. The entire Peepshow album is supremely freaky and makes an excellent Halloween soundtrack. I picked this one because it’s like a haunted hayride in song form.
“Monster Mash” / Bobby Pickett. This used to be a “dragged to the seventh-grade Halloween dance against your will” song, and then I used it in “Memory Hill” for the Lead Me into Darkness antho, and now it’s a “jaded ghost mourning unrequited love” song. It’s much nicer now.
“Red Right Hand” / Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. Like, I should’ve just said “Nick Cave” in general, because Nick Cave could turn “Walking on Sunshine” into a murder ballad, but this song is pretty much the pinnacle of Nick Cave creepiness. It’s about this evil rich power-mad dude who gains followers by preying on fear and making false promises but actually thinks of people as “microscopic cogs in his catastrophic plan,” not that someone like that could actually rise to power today.
What We Do in the Shadows. Definitely in the top three funniest vampire mockumentaries set in New Zealand.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula. After you watch WWDitS, you might as well watch this one, because the number of laughs per minute is roughly the same. (More in scenes where Gary Oldman turns into a hundred rats or Keanu Reeves has to act British.)
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. When I was a little Catholic schoolgirl I used to want to spend Halloween with Linus in his most-sincere pumpkin patch, waiting for the elusive deity to show his giant orange face. I hope Linus is now a comfortable Great Pumpkin agnostic who counsels other young believers through crises of faith.
The Addams Family. This is the film that launched my epic, invincible crush on Anjelica Huston. We rewatched it recently and it still holds up pretty well. I think we base like 60% of our parenting choices on “what would Gomez and Mortitica do?”
The Others. This is the only scary movie I ever bought on DVD. I like how old-fashioned it is, how it relies on psychology and the power of suggestion instead of gore and special effects. It’s so well made I don’t even mind the “they’ve been dead all alonnnnnng!” ending. (No spoiler warning for movies more than 15 years old.)
Return of the Living Dead. I can take or leave most things zombie, but how can you not love a film with 1) character names like Scuz, Trash, and Spider, 2) dialogue that contains multiple references to “rabid weasels,” and 3) a scene where the zombies eat the paramedics and then radio to “send more paramedics”? (I just found out there’s this band from Leeds called Send More Paramedics, which is the best thing I’ve heard in at least two days.)
Shaun of the Dead. The other exception to my anti-zombie rule. That scene where they’re arguing over which records to throw at the zombies—I can see someone being exactly that nerdy, and that someone is me.
J.C. Lillis is the author of contemporary YA novels HOW TO REPAIR A MECHANICAL HEART, WE WON’T FEEL A THING, and the upcoming A&B, plus various other stories about fandom, friendship, love, and art. She lives in Baltimore with her patient family, a possibly haunted dollhouse, and a cat who intends to eat her someday.
More about J.C. and her AWESOME books:
How to Repair a Mechanical Heart: amzn.to/1rM486A
We Won’t Feel a Thing: http://amzn.to/1mndD6m