For some reason, horror movies are more prone to fully embrace holiday theming if they’re set at Christmas rather than Halloween. Perhaps the iconography and visuals of Christmas are just easier to capture on screen, or maybe horror is just considered synonymous with Halloween from the outset.
But while many horror films set around Halloween are tenuous at best in their connection to the holiday, that doesn’t mean we’re in short supply of quality seasonal offerings. There are numerous movies and characters that instantly evoke crisp Fall weather and Halloween vibes. It is the best time of the year, after all.
In celebration of Halloween, we’re shining a spotlight on the 10 most iconic characters of the genre that perfectly capture that holiday spirit!
The Sanderson Sisters – Hocus Pocus
This family-friendly comedy-horror movie is a tried and true Halloween staple. Think horror lite for the budding fan, created by horror royalty that includes Mick Garris (Masters of Horror, Critters 2, The Stand), David Kirschner (producer behind the Child’s Play films), and Neil Cuthbert (The Return of Swamp Thing). As for the central villains- sisters Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimi), and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker)- they may have been comedic in their attempts to understand the modern world, but their sole goal was to suck out all the souls of Salem’s children before dawn so they may return to life permanently. Delightfully dark Halloween material, but with a whimsical charm. They’ll put a spell on you.
Billy the Puppet – the Saw franchise
From 2004 to 2017, you could count on the Saw franchise to bring the Halloween chills with late October theatrical releases. While the series is by no means traditional holiday fare, it was always a comfort to know you could count on a Saw film to release in October (hello, sparse theatrical horror releases here in October 2019). Franchise mascot Billy the Puppet might be Jigsaw’s favorite communication tool, but his creepy appearance and eerie laugh makes him a great seasonal icon as well.
The Firefly Family – House of 1000 Corpses
Rob Zombie’s feature debut is an over the top, violent ode to Halloween. The very idea behind it was birthed when Zombie was designing a haunted maze attraction for Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights (which has come full circle for this year’s Halloween Horror Nights). Set over October 30-31, 1977, two young couples run afoul of the Halloween-loving Firefly clan while researching urban legends in backwoods Texas. The victims are subjected to torture as well as bizarre Halloween rituals from the likes of Otis, Tiny, and Baby. But perhaps none as are iconic as Captain Spaulding.
Silver Shamrock Novelties – Halloween III: Season of the Witch
Discourse has long since turned around on this once maligned entry in the Halloween franchise, and a major component of that belongs to the evil corporation behind it- Silver Shamrock Novelties. The mastermind behind the company is Conal Cochran, a witch aiming to resurrect an ancient age of witchcraft through Stonehenge runes. How? By creating deadly Silver Shamrock masks, a hot commodity, to implement a mass sacrifice of children. Those masks are the true icons, having been visually referenced in other holiday classics like The Guest. It also helps that the musical jingle associated with the masks is so damn catchy.
Beloved horror host and Mistress of the Dark, Elvira, has long been associated with Halloween. Endless Halloween promos, commercials, and an Elvira Halloween costume that never goes out of style at the Halloween shops would be enough to earn her a spot on this list. But there’s also the 1986 MTV special Elvira’s Halloween Special, Hulu’s 13 Nights of Elvira Halloween series in 2014, a long-running Halloween-themed musical comedy featured as a fixture of Knott’s Scary Farm theme park, and various judging roles in Food Network’s Halloween competition series. Don’t even get me started on the endless Halloween-centric Elvira merchandise. More than a Mistress of the Dark, Elvira is a Mistress of Halloween.
The Headless Horseman
Washington Irving’s short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” birthed a Halloween icon. An icon that naturally inspired many TV and film adaptations. The most definitive of which are 1959’s Disney animated classic, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and Tim Burton’s 1999 film Sleepy Hollow. The latter of which digs into the Hessian soldier origins behind the original tale. There’s a version of this story for all horror ages and tastes. Across the board, though, they all scream Fall atmosphere and Halloween.
Stan Winston’s feature debut isn’t Halloween related at all, but over the years it’s been assimilated into Halloween iconography by devout horror fans. It’s easy to see why. The biggest symbol of the holiday is the pumpkin, or the jack o’ lantern, and the titular creature is birthed from a pumpkin patch. By a terrifying swamp witch, no less. That checks off two Halloween boxes right there- witches and pumpkins. Add in the poem by Ed Justin that inspired the tale, and well, that marks three. It’s official. Pumpkinhead is a Halloween demon.
Angela Franklin – Night of the Demon Series
When Angela Franklin throws a Halloween party, she really throws a Halloween party. Three films and a remake worth of Halloween parties that literally raise the dead. Or more like demons, but you get the gist. Goth queen and Halloween fanatic, Angela just wants to revel in the holiday. Really, after becoming inhabited by a demon in the first film, Halloween is the only day she’s allowed to play. That makes this franchise one of the very few associated with Halloween, and Angela a villainous Halloween icon worth celebrating.
Michael Myers – the Halloween franchise
The poster child for the definitive holiday set series, Michael Myers is the Halloween boogeyman. When you think of Halloween set horror, this silent killer is likely the very first one to pop in mind. Beginning with John Carpenter’s 1978 film, Michael Myers has slashed his way through 10 movies with two more already on the way. His slaying field is Haddonfield, on Halloween only, of course. Michael is a rare Halloween fixture who has transcended beyond the holiday to become a definitive horror icon.
Sam – Trick ‘r Treat
This peculiar trick or treater, dressed in an orange onesie and burlap sack mask, is the connective tissue between the four interlocking stories in this Halloween horror anthology. He’s there anytime one of the characters break a major rule or tradition of the holiday. Meaning it’s quickly apparent that adorable little Sam is an enforcer of Halloween. With a savage mean streak when necessary. Trick ‘r Treat’s finale is an epic showdown between Sam and a holiday grinch, revealing Sam’s true face- a child-like pumpkin demon that’s as terrifying as it is utterly endearing. Sam, short for Samhain, is Halloween personified. Literally. And fans have been clamoring for more of this Halloween icon ever since the film’s release.