Thanks to horror maestro Stephen King, who has seen countless film and television adaptations of his work, Maine probably retains the title of horror movie capital of New England. But because of the Salem Witch Trials, a fascination with the Puritanical roots of our country, and a robust local film industry, Massachusetts likely isn’t far behind.
Over the past few decades, 30-plus Halloween or horror films have been either set in Massachusetts, filmed in Massachusetts, or both.
Even the most dedicated horror fans would find it hard to watch almost three dozen films in a short window, so to help you pick some of the better options, we trimmed out some of the smaller-budget and/or critically panned titles from our initial pool. Gone too are films like “The Crucible,” which centers around the Salem Witch Trials but doesn’t offer much in the way of frights or Halloween campiness.
With that in mind, here are 10 Halloween movies with local ties that are worth checking out, from the delightfully campy to the genuinely creepy.
“The Haunting” (1963)
Based on the 1959 Shirley Jackson novel, “The Haunting of Hill House,” this film concerns a haunted Massachusetts home that has seemingly caused the death of many of its inhabitants and is being explored by paranormal investigators. “The Haunting” is revered as one of the great horror films of its era and has spawned numerous remakes and adaptations. The 1999 version starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Liam Neeson received mixed reviews, but a Netflix series that debuted on Oct. 12, “The Haunting of Hill House,” has been critically acclaimed. This is a movies-only list, but feel free to check out both the 1963 film and the 2018 series to see how Hollywood can tell the same story in two dramatically different ways due to 55 years of evolving horror norms.
How to watch: “The Haunting” is streaming on Watch TCM, and available to rent on multiple VOD platforms.
You could certainly argue that “Jaws” is more of a summer film than a Halloween film, but any list of scary movies based in Massachusetts isn’t complete without this Steven Spielberg masterpiece. Throw it on your horror movie marathon list if you want a brief reminder of why beach weather isn’t always a good thing.
How to watch: “Jaws” is streaming on HBO Max, and can be rented on multiple VOD platforms.
Before Stephen King and his Maine tales, there was writer H.P. Lovecraft, who created a number of terrifying short stories set in Massachusetts, including the one that introduced the hugely influential and terrifying legend of the Cthulhu. “Re-Animator,” based on the Lovecraft serial novelette “Herbert West–Reanimator,” follows a medical student named Herbert West who can bring the dead back to life through the power of medicine. The film spawned a number of sequels, and was set at Lovecraft’s fictional Miskatonic University, a prestigious school in the fictional Arkham, Mass., that served as the setting for several of Lovecraft’s unsettling tales.
“The Witches of Eastwick” (1987)
Based on a John Updike novel, this film stars Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Susan Sarandon as women unaware that they are witches, and Jack Nicholson as the mysterious man who awakens their powers. While the book is set in Rhode Island, filming was moved from Rhode Island to Cohasset, Mass., after locals raised concerns about their church being involved in a film about witches. Producers chose Castle Hill in Ipswich to represent the story’s Lenox Mansion. Interestingly, Castle Hill served as the setting of another horror film, “Flowers in the Attic,” also released in 1987.
How to watch: “The Witches of Eastwick” is available to rent on multiple VOD platforms.
“The Serpent and the Rainbow” (1988)
Horror director Wes Craven (“A Nightmare on Elm Street”) helmed this Boston-filmed creepfest about a Harvard anthropologist (Bill Pullman, “Independence Day”) who travels to Haiti to investigate a mysterious “zombie drug.” Much like Craven’s later “Scream” series, the film takes care to sprinkle in laughs with its scares.
How to watch: “The Serpent and the Rainbow” is streaming on Cinemax Go, and is available to rent on multiple VOD platforms.
“Hocus Pocus” (1993)
Approximately 300 years after the Salem Witch Trials, “Hocus Pocus” brought a renewed interest to the Massachusetts city where they were held. The winning Disney film is about a group of kids who must stop three ancient witches (Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker) from wreaking havoc on 1990s Salem. If you head to Salem these days, you can visit a number of the spots that served as important locations in the movie.
How to watch: “Hocus Pocus” is streaming on Disney+, and is available to rent on multiple VOD platforms.
“Practical Magic” (1998)
Perhaps the least spooky of all the films on this list, “Practical Magic” tells the tale of two Massachusetts sisters (Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman) whose romantic interests always suffer untimely deaths because of a long-ago spell cast by their own ancestor. Luckily, the duo has learned a bit of magic themselves over the years and begins a quest to rid themselves of their family curse.
How to watch: “Practical Magic” is available to rent on multiple VOD platforms.
“In Dreams” (1999)
“In Dreams” wasn’t especially well-received by critics upon its release in 1999, but it’s worth checking out if only to see Robert Downey Jr. in a role you would never see the “Avengers” star take on now. He plays a demented serial killer whose murders appear in the dreams of a Massachusetts housewife (Annette Bening), and the tension between the stars is palpable.
In the small (fictional) town of Blithe Hollow, Mass., Norman Babcock is a preteen misfit who can see and speak to the dead. That may sound like the plot of a pretty morbid film, but in the vein of “A Nightmare Before Christmas” or “Coraline,” this stop-motion animated film, with excellent voice acting from stars like Casey Affleck, Anna Kendrick, and John Goodman, is a mixture of creepy and heartfelt.
How to watch: “ParaNorman” is streaming on Netflix, and is available to rent on multiple VOD platforms.
“The Lords of Salem” (2013)
The Salem Witch Trials, this is not. But hard rocker and horror film director Rob Zombie (a Haverhill native) uses the setting to great effect in this horror flick, which centers around a DJ at a rock radio station who unwittingly puts the women of Salem into a trance by playing a mysterious record over the airwaves. The film is more cult curiosity than horror movie smash — it grossed a little more than $1.5 million during its 2013 theatrical release.
How to watch: “The Lords of Salam” is streaming on Amazon Prime Video, and is available to rent on multiple VOD platforms.