7 Time Travel Movies to Watch This Halloween. [Time Travel 101]
Time travel is a dangerous endeavor. Once we start traversing the spacetime continuum in ways that defy the normal order of things, it becomes a much more dangerous place to be. The impact of any mistake we make can reverberate backward and forward in time, exponentially upping the stakes of our every move. If shit goes wrong, it goes waaaaay wrong, and when things get scary, they get REEEEAALLY scary. A time traveler is always a razor’s edge away from catastrophe. At best, they risk erasing themselves from existence. At worst, they risk destroying all of space and time.
We know we’ll likely encounter pitfalls, unintended antagonists, even monsters! [If the Time Travel 101 “Own Worst Enemy” post proved anything, it’s that those antagonists/monsters are often a version of ourselves who has been transformed by our own temporal misadventures.] We probably won’t survive long once things inevitably go sideways if we’re not prepared for the horrors that lurk in the shadows.
Seeing as how Time Travel 101 is all about using movies to become experts in our potential journeys through time, here are six movies to prepare you for the darker, more frightening parts of time travel — or if you aren’t planning your own journey through time, they’re just a fun way to spend Halloween weekend (or any weekend)!
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“Listen, and understand! That Terminator is out there! It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, EVER, until you are dead!”
In case there’s any doubt, let’s get this out of the way: 1984’s The Terminator is a horror movie! Of course, it’s also a gritty-sci-fi-time travel-action movie, but contrary to the apparent assumption of many, genre isn’t meant to be about cramming films (books, etc.) into a single category. Picking a primary genre for a title that straddled many was an unfortunate necessity in the time of VHS sales and video rentals, but it was always a disservice to films that did more than just one thing.
Yet if we were forced to sort The Terminator into a single genre, I argue horror would be the appropriate choice. It’s a movie about an unstoppable killing machine hunting down a final girl and murdering everyone in its path. If Arnie was using an axe or machete instead of guns, I doubt there would even be a debate. Fortunately for my argument, guns don’t disqualify a film from being horror. Carefully picking and choosing which murder weapons are allowed is nonsensical.
Of course, the presence of firearms certainly disqualifies it from being dubbed a slasher flick, but even then, it still fits the subgenre in almost every other way. So much so that Thomas Hindmarch makes a compelling case that The Terminator was basically a John Carpenter fan film — a theory that would explain why the movie is a definite outlier in regards to the rest of Cameron’s catalogue, filled with ‘go big or go home’ epics. Speaking of which, I bet there’d be less debate about the horror bonafides of The Terminator if T2 wasn’t one of the most revered action films of all time.
All that to say, The Terminator is a really great time travel horror film. If you think I’m wrong, go watch it again this weekend with latter day Michael Myers in mind and then get back to me.
Time Travel 101 Lesson: If you have unprotected sex when you go back in time, you don’t just run the risk of creating a bunch of tricky lineage issues. You also might be forced to grapple with complicated chicken and egg questions about the nature of time travel and existence.
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With a story that takes place throughout the month of October and a climax set the night of a Halloween party, Donnie Darko is tailor-made for this time of year. It also happened to turn 20 years old this week!!!!!
It features the most mind-bending time travel on this list, with a theatrical cut that leaves much of the story open to interpretation. The director’s cut, as well as a number of supplemental material released with various DVD and Blu-ray releases, removes much of the ambiguity, so it’s up to you if the mystery is more satisfying than potentially disappointing answers.
When I watched it recently for the first time in well over a decade, I wondered if it would still hold up. Was it really all we thought it was cracked up to be all those years ago? I’m happy to say — at least for me — it totally does. Sure, it’s not the near-perfect masterpiece college kids of the early 2000s thought it was, but it’s unique, fresh, engaging, and has the courage to absolutely be itself without worrying about who it might connect with once it reached the outside world (but one look at all the tattoos in a Google image search will show you that connect it did).
Give it a watch this weekend to celebrate it’s birthday!
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“Hello? Hello? Can you hear me? Please help me ... They’re dead. They’re all dead.”
Time loops are horrifying by nature. It doesn’t take alien super-predators (Live. Die. Repeat.), reliving the tragic death of a loved one over and over again (A Day), or the realization that every time your loop repeats it gets an hour shorter (The Incredible Shrinking Weekend) to make it so.
Even in a relatively pleasant loop, the state of being trapped experiencing the same brief time frame again and again, ad nauseam, inevitably leads to despair. If you’ve ever experienced true despair, you know that’s an absolutely bloodcurdling proposition. Phil Connors didn’t start killing himself in every way imaginable because he was having a good time.
If all time loops become horror, how much worse is it when the loop you’re trapped in is horrifying to begin with?! Triangle has the answer to that question, and the answer is much, much worse. [Also, three lists into this series, and Triangle is officially three for three so far!]
The less you know about Triangle going into it the better, so suffice it to say there’s plenty of murder and mayhem, and enough twisty plot revelations to keep even the most savvy viewers guessing. It’s wildly underappreciated if you ask me, and it’s the perfect time travel movie for your Halloween weekend. [Also, please don’t go watch the trailer. It’s absolutely terrible, and will make you not want to watch the movie!]
Time Travel 101 Lesson: Not sure what the lesson could be here. You’re pretty much fucked if you end up in a time loop like this one.
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“Well, good morning!”
Like Triangle, Koko-di Koko-da is another movie with a time loop from hell, but that’s about all these two films have in common (with one very notable exception, but spoilers).
Even with its unique story full of clever twists, turns, and subversions, Triangle is a relatively familiar example of smart horror. I’m not saying it’s derivative, it just isn’t so far beyond the pale that viewers might find themselves asking, “What the fuck am I watching right now?!” In contrast, I can’t imagine I will encounter a weirder movie than Koko-di Koko-da during my research for Time Travel 101. If I somehow find one, I promise to let you know.
This movie is legit fucking bonkers. The film’s time loop is like a never-ending bad drug trip, with unhinged, sadistic, homicidal storybook characters standing in, at least in part, as a metaphor for how destructive boundless grief can be.
To quote myself from the previous post: While at first disconcerting, and seemingly weird for the sake of weird, Koko-di Koko-da slowly reveals itself to be a surprisingly poignant, even beautiful metaphor for the effects profound grief has on one’s relationships and identity, as well as the very different ways individuals experience it and respond to its aftereffects.
To say it’s not for everyone would be an understatement for the ages, but if you can handle the disturbing and have a taste for the the truly bizarre, Koko-di Koko-da is worth a watch.
Time Travel 101 Lesson: Let’s hope all of our time travel is on purpose, and not some sort of mysterious cosmic nightmare therapy. And if it can be helped, the fewer psycho-killer nursery rhyme characters the better!
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Call it a horror film, call it a thriller, but whatever you call it, Timecrimes is definitely appropriate for some late October viewing.
The story follows a man who is unwittingly lured into a time machine as he attempts to evade a decidedly stabby, trench-coated, scissor-wielding maniac with a head shrouded in pink bandages. A short trip to earlier the same day kicks off a nightmare scenario in which every attempt he makes to go back and prevent tragic events instead continues to peel back layers of the world’s worst time travel onion.
The less said about the film’s twists and loops the better, but this film’s inclusion on two of the three Time Travel 101 lists so far is an obvious endorsement from yours truly. This one’s an all-timer.
Time Travel 101 Lesson: Sometimes in time travel, you need to resist the urge to keep trying again and again to fix something, or else you might just help things spin further and further out of control.
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Happy Death Day
“The way I see it, you have an unlimited amount of lives. Unlimited opportunities to solve your own murder.”
2017’s Happy Death Day is a film I wasn’t as enamored with as most genre fans, but it would be insane to leave it off a list of time travel horror films. It’s a unique spin on both the resetting time loop and slasher film genres, it’s got plenty of fun teen friendly horror movie kills, it’s funny and never ever takes itself too seriously. There are certainly worse ways to spend Halloween weekend if you’re in the mood for some time loop fun.
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Army of Darkness
If you’ve never seen The Evil Dead, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. Or at least look into it a little bit to see the remarkable things directors across genres and generations have to say about what this insane independent horror movie, made for almost no money, did for shooting movies from then on.
Once you’ve seen The Evil Dead, and hopefully Evil Dead II, then you’ll either want to see Ash Williams go back in time to fight Deadites in an intentionally, hilariously inaccurate version of the middle ages, or you won’t. I can’t imagine it will be a difficult decision for you when the time comes.
Time Travel 101 Lesson: This… is my boomstick!
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A few other time travel horror films include: Camp Slaughter, Blood Punch, Game Over, The Endless.