I’m clinging to my tanktop as we speak, but even I can admit that summer is over. I’m not thrilled about it, but I have a sensible solution to anyone who’s afraid of jumping headlong into autumn right away: Find these nine movies that define the fall season, arrange them in front of you like dominos, and view them one at a time. I’m rewatching #1 as we speak, and I can already feel the barbecues and SPF 50 of summer slipping into the past. And I dig it.
If fall is about sinister scares and dark humor, then Scream is the perfect autumnal thriller. Honestly, I consider it one of the most terrifying moviegoing experiences of my life. If Drew Barrymore’s opening scene (where she is quite opened) doesn’t horrify you for centuries, surely you’ll be freaked out by Neve Campbell’s constant panic, Rose McGowan‘s garage work, and an unbilled Henry Winkler cussing his ass off as the doomed Principal Himbry.
Forget Ingrid Bergman’s Best Supporting Actress win for Murder on the Orient Express in ’74 (in case you hadn’t forgotten it already, for some reason). Her defining ’70s performance is in Autumn Sonata, the Swedish-language film by Ingmar Bergman where she plays a neglectful mother who reunites with the children she’s long ignored (including the fabulous Liv Ullmann) and learns plenty about the lives she’s ignored. It’s a grim and gripping drama with some insane moments, but Bergman is just perfect as our flawed lead.
7. Hocus Pocus
The schlockiest of kiddy Halloween comedies features a trio of thespians whose names I only wish Konstanin Stanislavksi could’ve lived on to praise: Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker. These three troublemakers mug and ham their way through this Disney nonsense, and I can honestly say that Najimy kind of kills it. Like, she’s watchable and funny and awesome. You won’t love yourself for loving Hocus Pocus, but I assume you won’t be able to help yourself either.
I’d say Hannah and Her Sisters has the highest amount of excellent performances in a Woody Allen flick. The goddess Mia Farrow is so engrossing as Hannah, the Oscar-winning Dianne Wiest is a hysterical trainwreck as Holly, and the killer Barbara Hershey slyly owns the movie as Lee. Hannah is bookended by two Thanksgiving scenes, and I hope the presence of a young Soon-Yi Previn puts you in a familial mood.
It was a dark and stormy night! And all your favorite board game characters are bludgeoning each other with candlesticks, lead pipes, and the clunkiest one-liners on the planet. This is my absolute favorite movie, and if the leafy feathers in Mrs. Peacock’s (Eileen Brennan) hair aren’t autumnal enough for you, the corny whodunit tropes will fill you with the spooky glee of a thousand Halloweens. Madeline Kahn: I will always, always, always miss you.
Here’s one of E.T.’s under-discussed feats: It features one of the cinema’s most evocative Halloweens. The juxtaposition of young Elliot’s friendship with the titular extraterrestrial and the vague isolation and somberness of suburban Halloween (Aw, cul-de-sac teasing!) is kind of cry-worthy. Thankfully, Dee Wallace’s superfly costume cat ears are less cry-worthy. That’s a dame I want to trick-or-treat with.
3. The Exorcist
I think The Exorcist has incurred the most trauma of any horror film. There’s still no movie like it, and thank God: Chilling little Linda Blair and her rotating head are one-of-a-kind head trips. Ellen Burstyn also works it, Max Von Sydow throws down, and I cannot think of any more terrifying moniker on the planet than “Captain Howdy.”
Cards on the table: I am not a Rocky Horror devotee. After Meat Loaf enters, it’s all a little too dada for me. But if you’re going to relish Tim Curry’s lipstick-smeared, lingerie-loving finesse as Dr. Frankenfurter, you’d best do it around Halloween. The sweetest part of the deal for me is a young Barry Bostwick spending a lot of screen-time in his department store skivvies.
Two notes about Halloween: One, it is very much a ’70s movie, a slow and somewhat drab cinematic experience. Two, it is nothing but a masterpiece. This movie goes beyond “scary” and achieves “devastating,” even if it exemplifies the horror cliche of butchered babysitters and an unbeatable killer. Michael Myers’ otherworldly freakishness, Jamie Lee Curtis‘ rugged mopeyness, and Donald Pleasance’s trench-coated authority as Dr. Loomis make this the ultimate in fall viewing. And I happen to do the best impression of Jamie Lee’s famous yelp, “Do as I say!”