Happy Halloween to all who watch scary movies!
This season, we provided a whole host of horror recommendations for you to watch at home. There are the best horror movies to stream, the best horror movies on Netflix, five horror all-timers you can watch for free, all the a smattering of the newest horror movie releases available on streaming. And if you haven’t checked out the daily updates in our Halloween countdown calendar, well, do that.
But what about some spooky season watches that are fun for the whole family? We’ve gone through Disney Plus’ Halloween catalog and picked out the best of the best for you and everyone else to enjoy at home.
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
Few American horror stories are as enduring as Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” the tale of a superstitious schoolmaster named Ichabod Crane who is stalked one night by the headless ghost of a soldier who died in the Revolutionary War. Disney’s 1949 animated feature The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is an ideal children’s horror film: one that offers equal amounts of spooky iconic imagery with whimsical animation and charming humor. With narration courtesy of Bing Crosby and Basil Rathbone and a wonderful score by Peter Pan composer Oliver Wallace, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is a perfectly safe movie through which to introduce your kids to horror without utterly traumatizing them for life. —Toussaint Egan
The Nightmare Before Christmas
An unimpeachable classic from stop-motion expert Henry Selick (who has a new Netflix movie out), The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween tradition for thousands (myself included) for a very good reason: It absolutely rules. Delicately animated by Selick and his team from an idea by Tim Burton (it was the first animated movie nominated for a Visual Effects Oscar, which it lost to Jurassic Park), Nightmare Before Christmas features terrific music from Danny Elfman and is an absolute treat (no trick) for the senses. This movie is so embedded in my head that when I watched it last Halloween, every word and image was like a lyric from a song I’d never forgotten. For me, it’s movie comfort food at its best. —Pete Volk
Don’t Look Under the Bed
It’s a Disney movie with a history that sounds like an urban legend: Don’t Look Under the Bed was reportedly too scary for a Disney Channel Original Movie, so much so that parents asked the Disney Channel to stop airing the 1999 children’s horror film as part of its annual Halloween programming, a request the network granted. Watch the movie — which you can stream today on Disney Plus — and it’s easy to see why: Don’t Look Under the Bed is actually pretty scary. It starts as a mystery: Frances Bacon McCausland is the new girl in high school, starting a year early and sticking out like a sore thumb. Then, she’s framed for a bunch of mean pranks — something she doesn’t understand until a man named Larry Houdini, who claims to be an imaginary friend, tells her that it’s the work of The Boogeyman. Don’t Look Under the Bed is a wonderfully eerie adventure that takes a sudden detour into spooky fantasy, but in its climatic moments, when the truth is finally revealed to Frances? It’s frightening stuff. —Joshua Rivera
Werewolf by Night
It’s the MCU, but spooky!
Marvel’s Disney Plus Halloween special is a ghoulish and cheesy delight, per our review:
Unfolding across a zippy 53-minute run time, Werewolf by Night is more or less here to do what it says on the box: offer stylish throwback thrills that lean more kitschy than scary, set in an unexplored corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That it’s also presented differently from most other MCU ventures thus far goes a long way. Its closest sibling is WandaVision, but without the wider stakes that show eventually took on in addition to its homage. The fun is in relishing the love for old Universal monster movies that everyone involved clearly has, and not in the special’s MCU connections. Sharp-eyed viewers and Marvel scholars will find several allusions to comics lore, but nothing here is really meant to change the MCU status quo — just to let you know that hey, there are monsters here.
Descendants absolutely took up the mantle from Disney’s musical heyday franchises — except this movie has more of a bad streak. It is, of course, written and directed by Kenny Ortega, who gave Disney Channel Original Movie-lovers High School Musical and Cheetah Girls 2. The trilogy stars the kids of Disney’s most famous villains: Cruella de Vil’s son Carlos, Maleficent’s daughter Mal, Jafar’s son Jay, and Evie, the daughter of the Evil Queen (from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.) These poor kids have been banished to the Isle of the Lost where there’s no magic. But the kindly kids of heroes, who attend Auradon Prep, have decided these evil teens deserve a second chance — specifically a chance to attend this magical boarding school for the good.
Like any excellent DCOM, it’s pure camp with catchy musical numbers staged like Broadway, starting with the opening banger, “Rotten to the Core.” Except this time around, it’s a film for the baddies and misfits — with all the nostalgia of growing up with Disney movies. The students at Auradon (all of whom look so awkward rapping) greet their new classmates with a remix of “Be Our Guest.” These goody two-shoes kids look so dorky, down to their garden party aesthetic. Prince Charming’s jock son is literally named Chad Charming. Importantly, Kristin Chenoweth absolutely steals the show as Maleficent, particularly in her show-biz ballad “Evil Like Me.” And here’s an important fun fact for Twihards — Jay is played by Booboo Stewart, aka Seth Clearwater from the Twilight series. —Nicole Clark
Frankenweenie (both versions!)
Two eras of Tim Burton are encapsulated by two films on Disney Plus, both flying under one title. Frankenweenie began its life as a short in 1984, when Burton was but a budding animator at Disney. At 29 minutes, the short is a scrappy, silly, black-and-white adventure of a science-minded boy and his soon-to-be-undead dog. Bolstered by Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern, Frankenweenie is perfect for anyone who might be turned off by the 1930s Universal monster movies’ 100-year-old time stamp but needs a gateway.
Burton’s Frankenweenie remake, rendered in the stop-motion animation style of The Nightmare Before Christmas, keeps the throwback elements of the original short while expanding the coming-of-age arc of a young Victor Frankenstein and bringing an entire neighborhood of weirdos to life in the director’s signature style. While not as singularly brilliant as Nightmare, Frankenweenie brings the visual humor and intricate crafting to a brand-new story, all while maintaining the B&W look — it’s eye-popping and totally under the radar 10 years later. —Matt Patches
Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge
There are four Halloweentown Disney Channel Original Movies, and in my professional opinion, the first sequel is the best. Halloweentown II appears to have slightly more budget than the first Halloweentown, but the not-so-great special effects of the early 2000s give this movie its charm. Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge picks up two years after the original. Plucky young witch Marnie has been living in the fantastical Halloweentown with her grandma and meets a handsome boy while visiting the mortal realm. But upon returning to Halloweentown, she learns that a mysterious illness has been affecting its inhabitants… turning them boring and normal. It’s a fun, spoopy romp that recognizes that the scariest thing in the world might be losing what makes you special. —Petrana Radulovic
Muppets Haunted Mansion
Muppets and the Haunted Mansion just make sense. Both are goofy, both are over-the-top, both are full of fun dance and song. The Disney Plus special follows Gonzo and Pepe as they spend a night in a haunted mansion (not the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland/Disney World, but one made by the same architect — this is confirmed canon) and encounter the mansion’s undead denizens. There’s some splashy celebrity cameos and, more importantly, Muppet appearances. Muppets Haunted Mansion is a delightful celebration of theme park lore and Muppet shenanigans, and the perfect accompaniment to a large bowl of Halloween candy. —PR
The Alice Cooper episode of The Muppet Show
The Muppet Show doesn’t have any official Halloween specials, but it does have the Vincent Price and Alice Cooper episodes, both stocked with “ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night.” But it’s the Cooper episode that takes the Halloween throne, with a very pointed rendition of “Once a Year Day” in which various monster muppets celebrate the one day of the year they get to let loose — and that’s aside from Cooper’s guest star subplot, in which he claims that he’s an agent of the devil here to offer the muppets Faustian contracts for riches and fame. —Susana Polo
The Simpsons, “Treehouse of Horror VI”
This year I’m awarding Favorite Status to “Treehouse of Horror VI,” not because it’s the best episode (that’s “Treehouse of Horror V”) but because it embodies the ethos not only of the Treehouse of Horror catalog but The Simpsons writ large. In “Attack of the 50-Foot Eyesores,” Homer’s gluttony awakens Springfield’s version of Big Boy and countless other promotional statues. Naturally, they can only be felled by a catchy Paul Anka jingle and the show’s Gen X approach to thwarting capitalism. “Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace” spoofs Freddy Krueger, while building a framework that would rapidly inspire seasons of lesser pop culture parody. Then “Homer Cubed” closes the trifecta with Homer stepping through an interdimensional portal in a botched effort to avoid spending time with his sisters-in-law.
When the episode debuted, plenty of hay was made about this sequence, in which Homer stumbles around the third dimension, his body rendered in early computer animation. Treehouse of Horror has chased similar visual twists ever since, including this year’s anime-styled short. But what I love about “Homer Cubed” and rest of episode is how the gimmicks buttress big ideas rather than become the point unto themselves. Marketing gets people to watch, but meaning gets them to stay. At the end of “Homer Cubed,” Homer falls through another dimensional portal, and lands, Roger Rabbit-style, in our world. He’s scared, confused, and very alone. But he’s also Homer, an icon of “everything will work out.” So he does what he does best: finds joy in an erotic bakery. —Chris Plante
What If... Zombies?!
Marvel’s What If…? animated series didn’t pop with the mainstream like the studio’s films or live-action TV series, but maybe that’s a good thing — there was apparently no fear by the show’s creators to go completely ham on the sanctity of the mega-franchise’s iconography. The show’s anything-goes philosophy is no more apparent than in a one-off based on the Marvel Comics’ zombies line, in which the world is plagued by a virus, turning most of the Avengers into the slobbering undead. Chadwick Boseman, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Bettany, Sebastian Stan, Evangeline Lilly, Paul Rudd, and many more MCU regulars voice their characters in this horror-tinged half-hour, which was gory and weird enough to earn the show a spinoff — a What If… Zombies?! show was announced as in development last fall. —MP
Return to Oz
This movie is disturbing in a cute way. Picking up with Dorothy Gale in electrotherapy, where she’s been since her time spent in Oz, the movie is basically the Terminator 2 of whimsical childhood adventures. When another evil force threatens the magical land, Dorothy teams up with Scarecrow, Jack Pumpkinhead, portly automaton Tik-Tok, and a flying bed with a talking moose head (his name’s Gump) to save the day. Renowned film editor and sound designer Walter Murch directed this frightening sequel, which I’m so pleased to say will be able to freak the next generation of youngsters out on streaming. —MP
Smart House was one of my absolute favorite DCOMs, and it’s no surprise as to why. I was born a sci-fi lover and I remain a sci-fi lover. Throw in a dash of social horror and you’ve got a winner. In Smart House, a widowed dad and his two kids win a “smart home” which includes a virtual assistant named PAT (Personal Applied Technology). In 1999, before “smart home” technology was really A Thing, Smart House showed a rampant AI gone haywire.
At first, PAT is fun. She can instantly make any of the food the kids and their dad want. She helps the kids throw a big party, complete with a boy band dance party, and then cleans up the mess for them. But when Ben, the 13-year-old star of the film, sees his dad dating again, he freaks out and programs PAT to be a 1950s-esque housewife in an attempt to convince his dad that he doesn’t need to replace the mom in their life. PAT then starts to obsessively mother everyone, eventually locking the whole family inside for their “safety,” before spawning numerous holographic versions of a human form for herself. As a kid I was absolutely riveted, and would watch this any time it came up on cable. With streaming, I can now relive that nostalgia anytime. —NC