On a dark and stormy night you may occasionally find that you prefer a laugh with your creeps and chills. Something to cut the tension? There are, of course, a slew of Halloween movies that fit the bill – Corpse Bride, Clue, Beetlejuice. But here’s a list of some older, “classic” films that you may enjoy.
Before we get to the list, a note about the content. All of these films pre-date the 1980s and, as such, are sure to contain some content that is culturally insensitive by current standards. This list in no way endorses these viewpoints and makes no excuses for them within their historical context; it was as abhorrent then as it is now. The author has made note of this material where relevant.
Private Eyes 1980
Inspector Winship (Don Knotts) and Dr. Tart (Tim Conway) have been sent to investigate the strange deaths of Lord & Lady Morley – only to discover that the request for their services came from Lord Morley himself? The Morley’s daughter, a house full of suspect staff, and a phantom who can’t rhyme will lead the sleuths on a wild chase throughout the estate.
The cast of this film cut a swath of caricatures, including a Japanese character, a Romani character (referred to by a slur), and a character with a speech impediment.
Murder By Death 1976
This film almost didn’t make the list because Peter Sellers character, Inspector Sidney Wang, is a glaring case of stereotyped yellowface. The only reason it remains included here is because the rest of the film is a perfect parody of the whodunit genre.
When famous investigators Sam Diamond (Peter Falk), Jessica Marbles (Elsa Lanchester), Dick Charleston (David Niven), Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers), and Milo Perrier (James Coco) receive invitations to visit a strange mansion, they’ll have to reconcile their unique sleuthing styles to solve an even stranger mystery.
The Ghost & Mr. Chicken 1966
The second Don Knotts film of this list revolves around “the old Simmons place” a murder-suicide house in the small town of Rachel, Kansas. Luther Heggs (Don Knotts) is a typesetter for the Rachel Courier Express. He gets his big chance as a reporter when he’s picked to write an interest piece on the twentieth anniversary of the Simmons murder. Luther’s report of a ghostly night of spooks and horror leads to the discovery of a secret long buried in the Simmons mansion.
How To Murder Your Wife 1965
Cartoonist and confirmed bachelor Stanley Ford (Jack Lemmon) finds himself unexpectedly married, after a drunken bender, to a woman who can’t speak English (Virna Lisi). Art begins to imitate life when Stanley’s spy cartoon character, Bash, becomes a husband himself. But when Bash’s wife is killed off in the comics and Stanley’s wife goes missing in real life, Stanley finds himself the main suspect of a murder investigation.
A Shot in the Dark 1964
Before the fabulous Pink Panther diamond came into his life, bumbling Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) is sent to investigate a murder at the Ballon estate. But Clouseau will find that the Ballon household has more than one skeleton in the closet.
Much like Peter Sellers other film listed here (geez, Sellers, come on!) this film contains a very stereotyped portrayal of Asians. Here the character of Cato is played by Burt Kwouk but please be advised there are a number of insensitive terms used.
Paris Holiday 1958
American comedian Bob Hunter (Bob Hope) is traveling to Paris to secure the rights to an infamous play. On his journey he gets wrapped up with an American diplomat (Martha Hyer) and is pursued himself by a mysterious stranger (Anita Ekberg). Once in Paris, the chase doesn’t end and Bob seems to be at the center of international espionage!
While a number of these movies contain some amount of female objectification, this film is particularly guilty.
My Cousin Rachel 1952
Olivia de Havilland stars in the eponymous role in this Daphne Du Maurier adaptation. Philip Ashley (Richard Burton) is determined to loathe the widow of his dear cousin, Ambrose, when she returns to the family manor following Ambrose’s death. Believing Rachel murdered Ambrose for his money, Philip is shocked to find Rachel a beautiful and charming woman. His heart and mind are quickly convinced of her innocence and Philip and Rachel begin an indiscreet courtship. But were his early suspicions unfounded?
Sorry Wrong Number 1948
Leona Stevenson (Barbara Stanwyck) is confined to her bed and waiting for her husband (Burt Lancaster) to return home late one night. But when telephone connections are crossed, Leona overhears a murder plot and spends the rest of her evening desperately trying to prevent a homicide.
The Ghost & Mrs. Muir 1947
Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney), a widow, and her daughter leave London for the English seaside at the turn of the twentieth century. Gull Cottage, Mrs. Muir soon discovers, is haunted by the spirit of its former owner, Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison). The two come to an understanding regarding their “living” arrangements and form an unlikely companionship.
One of Hitchcock’s lesser known works, Notorious stars Ingrid Bergman as German socialite Alicia Huberman. Alicia is approached by government agent Devlin (Cary Grant) who works with her to spy on her father’s Nazi companions in South America. It will take all Alicia’s wit & cunning to survive when she gets in too deep.
Ingrid Bergman is in it again, this time as Paula Alquist who has returned home to London with her new husband, Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer). Their marital bliss is short-lived as Paula seems to suffer a mental breakdown, experiencing eerie events that no one else in the house can see. Is she going mad or something more sinister at play?
Incidentally, this film is also the source of the modern term “gaslighting” which you can read more about here.
Arsenic & Old Lace 1944
Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) and his new bride Elaine (Priscilla Lane) return to Mortimer’s family home to inform his elderly maiden aunts of their matrimony. Mortimer is in for a surprise when he learns that not only does insanity run in the family but his sweet aunts are not as innocent as they seem.
You Only Live Once 1937
Henry Fonda stars as ex-convict Eddie who, after gaining early release, attempts to go straight with the help of his wife Joan (Sylvia Sidney). Things quickly go wrong when Eddie is pinned for a crime he didn’t commit. Realizing that no one will believe his innocence, Eddie convinces Sylvia to go on the lam with him.
Whether you choose an oldie like these or something new for your Halloween movies needs, we hope you have a creeptastic Halloween!