Fright Fest: 7 Films to Watch in the Dark

‘Tis the season for the spooks and creeps. Southern California may lack the natural aesthetic one expects from autumn: browning leaves, cooler weather, etc., but that certainly doesn’t stop the people from getting into the spirit of Halloween. In honor of the season, we’ve gathered some favorite Halloween films from the NBFF team, along with some of their favorite parts!

Some prefer the movies that incur a strong sense of nostalgia, while others live for the creeping horror you feel late at night in the dark. In good ol’ fashioned  alphabetical order, and without spoilers, here are the films the staff at the Newport Beach Film Festival love to watch for All Hallows’ Eve:




American Werewolf in London (1981)                                                                       Favorite of Philip Patsel, Features Programmer

Speaking with Philip, it doesn’t take long to find out just how much of a horror enthusiast he is. He loves just about every horror movie that’s been made, including We Are Still Here, Fright Night, The Shining, The Exorcist, The Others, and much more. However, the film that really stands out for him is American Werewolf in London. Produced in the 80’s, American Werewolf is a film that blends horror and comedy into one. The cinematography, directing, and makeup of this film will make you squirm with either terror or delight, depending on who you are. Philip’s favorite scene takes place in the London subway, where the werewolf attacks one of his first victims.




The Babadook, 2014                                                                                                    Favorite of Amy Hurwitz, Director of Interns and Volunteers

The Babadook is the first on Amy’s list of terror. According to her, the film could be viewed at any time of the year and still evoke a sense of Halloween. The first time she watched it – an ordinary day in May –  she watched it twice back-to-back, forcing her roommate to watch it with her the second time. This film succeeds where others do not. Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, the eerie, spooky tone of the film naturally manifests with each viewing. Amy’s favorite part is the scene where the single mother, widow Vanek, discovers the book of the Babadook and sees the terrifying predictions made by its seemingly innocuous pages.




A Bucket of Blood, 1959                                                                                               Favorite of Dennis Baker, Co-Director of Short Film Programming

Dennis thinks for a moment, then lights up when he thinks of A Bucket of Blood, a B-movie made in 1959. He claims, “It’s a below-B movie, and it’s just over the top!” His favorite part is the gruesome yet perhaps unintentionally humorous, “scene where the guy stabs cat in the wall,”  which has stayed with him for decades. Come to think of it, he hasn’t actually seen the film since it originally came out. “It must have really made an impression on my 16-year-old self!” he says.



Hocus Pocus Hocus Pocus, 1993                                                                           Favorite of Sarah Sleeger, Co-Director of Features Programming and Mia Lepe, Director of Sponsorship

Widely known as one of the most festive films to watch during Halloween, this one was instantly named by both Sarah and Mia. Mia claims “it’s pure nostalgia!” When Hocus Pocus was first released in the nineties, it did not receive the same amount of love, however. It was regarded as a flop and Entertainment Weekly stated that it was an “acceptable scary silly kid fodder that adults will find only mildly insulting.” Curiously enough, it has grown into a cult classic enjoyed by both kids and adults alike.




The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993                                                                         Favorite of Erika Tucker, Senior Programmer and Devin Bunch, Associate Shorts Programmer

Simply the interests of these two nominators is indicative of the breadth of the audience to which this film appeals: Erika, who does all of the festival’s family programming, says, “there is something in all of us that is portrayed with Jack Skellington. This story highlights the importance of understanding those most misunderstood and reminds us to be respectful of positive intentions”.

Meanwhile Devin, a horror aficionado who has had a large part in helping NBFF’s Horror Showcase hit the ground running, also had only had one film in mind when asked for his quintessential Halloween pick. This film combines everything from his favorite genre, great story, superb director, and awesome music. For Devin, The Nightmare Before Christmas  is the only film that satisfies this criteria. As Devin puts it, “it’s a bit dark, has scary characters, challenges the norm, but ultimately is about celebration and appreciating who we are and those we love.” His favorite part is the iconic scene in which Jack Skellington discovers Christmas Town and sings “What’s This?”




Rosemary’s Baby, 1968                                                                                                       Favorite of Kelanie Aragon, Associate Shorts Programmer

Kelanie’s favorite frightening flick was also an easy choice; it could be none other than Rosemary’s Baby. There has been a trend in scary films to have all of the supernatural events surround an innocent-looking child; films such as The Omen, The Orphan, and The Ring all use this tactic.

Kelanie sums it up perfectly, saying, “there’s nothing more terrifying than having the devil’s child and no one believes you!”



The Shining

The Shining, 1980                                                                                                           Favorite of Max Naylor, Co-Director of Features Programming

The chiller film of Max’s choice is The Shining. Although not a true representation of the book, he believes Stanley Kubrick did such a magnificent job as a director that it’s a film you cannot miss. His favorite scene is when the protagonist, Wendy, finally witnesses ghosts with the Overlook Hotel. Max says that how it’s shot and the subject matter make it, “hideous and terrifying.”

“It’s one of my favorite examples of intuitive, genius filmmaking,” he says. The scene can be found here but caution! It’s slightly not safe for work.

Have a frightful night!

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