If there’s one thing we love here at Polygon, it’s the Halloween season.
We cover horror year-round, whether it’s the best horror movies you can stream at home or the best horror movies on Netflix, and generally, we have our finger on the undead pulse of the newest and ghastliest releases in horror. We even have a list of the best horror movies of the year (ranked by scariness, of course).
Even still, Halloween is an especially spooky time of year, and it warrants special attention and celebration.
For the past three years, Polygon has put together a Halloween countdown calendar, selecting 31 of our staff’s top horror-themed or Halloween-adjacent picks across movies and TV throughout the month of October, all available to watch at home. We’ve loved doing it, so much so that we’re bringing it back again — this time with a whole new batch of films and shows to choose from.
Every day for the month of October, we’ll add a new recommendation to this countdown and tell you where you can watch it. So curl up on the couch, dim the lights, and grab some popcorn for a terrifying and entertaining marathon of horrific delights.
Oct. 1: Messiah of Evil
Where to watch: Prime Video, Shudder, Pluto TV, Plex
A undersung classic of ’70s cosmic horror, Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz’s Messiah of Evil is a surreal and nightmarish experience that more than deserves its status as a cult horror classic.
The film centers on Arletty, a young woman who journeys to the remote coastal town of Point Dume, California, to track down her missing father, a reclusive painter who is plagued by disturbing visions of an impending apocalypse. After crossing paths with an eccentric aristocrat and his groupie companions, the group bears witness to the realization of the painter’s prophecy, as the townspeople are transformed into flesh-eating ghouls and the messiah of evil makes his return to the mortal realm.
At times convoluted and bizarre, Messiah of Evil is a genuinely entertaining horror thriller filled with memorable scares and chilling set-pieces. From a cross-eyed albino man gleefully devouring a field mouse whole to a unsuspecting woman watching a Western as the theater around her slowly fills with ravenous undead zombies, it’s a dreamy and frightening experience that lands somewhere between the ineffable gothic horror of H.P. Lovecraft and the anti-consumerist allegories of George A. Romero. The horrors hold up over 50 years after it was first released, and with just the right combination of inadvertent silliness and legitimate terror, Messiah of Evil is a satisfying watch and an excellent start to a month of horrors. —Toussaint Egan
Oct. 2: Ginger Snaps
Where to watch: Criterion Channel, Shudder, Peacock, Vudu, Tubi, Freevee, Plex
There’s a sizable hole in the monster movie canon: There just aren’t enough good werewolf movies! Ginger Snaps is here to fix that. And if you love Jennifer’s Body, you’re in for a bloody treat.
Directed by future Orphan Black co-creator John Fawcett, Ginger Snaps is a delightfully gruesome story about two sisters. One of them has gotten her period for the first time, and is turned into a werewolf shortly after. Things get messy, fast.
Ginger Snaps doesn’t just do a great job filling in the werewolf canon. It’s a grisly body horror story placed onto an effective puberty allegory, with a compelling central sister relationship. If you’ve ever watched something like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and thought, This is great and surprisingly gooey, but give me stories like this about teen girls, then Ginger Snaps is for you.
The movie has amassed a dedicated cult following in the years since its release. You’re next up to join the ranks — see you at the next full moon! —Pete Volk
Oct. 3: Creepshow
Where to watch: Kanopy
The new Creepshow home video release — presented in vibrant 4K UHD Blu-ray — is the best way to revisit this horror anthology classic. You can see individual bubbles in the foam of the ocean as it slowly drowns Ted Danson. This is why it made our list of the best Blu-rays of 2023.
But reader, while I’m one of those sickos who obsesses over video resolution and bitrate, I’ll be honest: You don’t need the fanciest version of Creepshow to enjoy its comedic chills. In fact, the most aesthetically harmonious format might be a poorly treated VHS tape that recorded the film off TBS in the mid-1990s.
Horror anthologies have most recently been used to condense as much terror into a tiny package, like chugging a shot glass of hot sauce. Creepshow is a throwback to a softer, more leisurely style of horror — a middle ground between the plodding tinglers of Poe and contemporary slashers.
Plus, Stephen King performs a one-person show as a hillbilly. So like, that should be enough. —Chris Plante
Oct. 4: Pulse
Where to watch: Prime Video
What if technology could be used to communicate with the dead? It’s an idea that dates as far back as the spiritualism movement of the late 19th century, and one that takes on a frightening and fascinating dimension in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s post-Y2K horror-thriller Pulse.
Alternating between two storylines, Kurosawa’s film follows a group of young adults and university students as a rash of inexplicable disappearances and suicides occurs around Tokyo. As the protagonists investigate further, they slowly uncover a shocking revelation: The souls of the dead are spilling over into the mortal world and ensnaring their unsuspecting prey through the very infrastructure of the internet. By the time they realize this, however, it’s too late; the unearthly contagion has taken on a life of its own, and the only way to survive is cling to what few connections they have left.
Produced after Kurosawa’s Cure (which we featured on last year’s Halloween calendar), Pulse is widely celebrated as one of the foundational texts in the canon of J-horror cinema, alongside Hideo Nakata’s Ring and Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on: The Curse. Eerie and methodical, Kurosawa’s film is a nihilistic meditation on technology and human relationships that presages an advent of loneliness in a world growing more and more “connected” with each passing day. Rife with imagery that will stay with you long after it’s over, Pulse is a tremendous and terrifying movie worth experiencing. —TE
Oct. 5: Apostle
Where to watch: Netflix
Don’t confuse Gareth Edwards (director of The Creator and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) with Gareth Evans, director of the Raid movies. If you do, you may sit down to the Netflix-exclusive Apostle expecting expansive, detail-driven science fiction, and be unpleasantly surprised when you get a grimy, extremely gory period piece that goes to startling extremes.
Evans’ mesmerizing Apostle deliberately starts in roughly the same place as the classic 1973 suspense thriller The Wicker Man, with a lone man heading to a remote Welsh island after getting a letter suggesting his sister is being held against her will there by a dangerous cult. Worming his way into the community by pretending to be a convert, Thomas (Dan Stevens, even more feral and intense than he is in The Guest or Beauty and the Beast) inevitably discovers a lot of nasty work going on on the island.
Evans charts his own course with Apostle, veering far from the Wicker Man mold and into much bloodier territory. But he takes advantage of some of the same ideas: the ominous isolation of the island, the close-knit secrecy of its community, the predatory ideas that have flourished there under charismatic leadership. Stevens is particularly terrific in this movie, lunging from one scene to the next like a humanoid wolf who can barely contain his bloodlust. (Thomas has plenty of closely held secrets of his own.) And Evans’ commitment to violent mayhem gives this one some memorable moments that are likely to haunt you later, in the dark. —Tasha Robinson
Oct. 6: Dracula 2000
Where to watch: Max
With the scars of nu-metal having healed and Olivia Rodrigo’s Paramore-infused pop tracks having gone full “vampire,” now is the time to give Gerard Butler’s half-bare-chest take on Dracula the respect it’s due.
Maybe the most Dimension Films movie to ever bear the Dimension Films studio logo (close second: The Faculty), Dracula 2000 finds a group of thieves — including of-the-moment faces like Omar Epps, Jennifer Esposito, and Shane West! — transporting a stolen silver coffin from London to New Orleans. They think there’s treasure inside. Are they idiots? Absolutely. And when they find Dracula instead of gold doubloons or whatever, they unleash hell. Overacted, canted-angled, seven-string-guitar-plucking HELL. Luckily, as Dracula hunts down local college student Mary Van Helsing (Justine Waddell), with whom he already shares a psychic connection, Mary’s dad’s new vampire-hunter assistant Simon (young Jonny Lee Miller!) is on his tail.
Butler, never more a heartthrob, plays Dracula in a mesmerizing, baroque manner; think Nicolas Cage doing Dracula if this year’s Renfield was emo turn-of-the-millennium trash. And he’s constantly biting unsuspecting B-list actors to add to his army of hot people, who fight the heroes in multiple obligatory scenes of wire-fu. Writer-director Patrick Lussier cuts it all up like it’s the video for “Freak on a Leash,” and, well, objectively, it’s quite unlike most horror movies you can watch today! Enjoyment of Dracula 2000 may vary depending on a tolerance for Hot Topic goofs, but if you don’t catch up with it, you can’t enjoy Lussier’s sequel, Dracula II: Ascension, starring Jason Scott Lee as a martial-arts-fighting priest who kicks Dracula’s ass! —Matt Patches
Oct. 7: Prince of Darkness
Where to watch: Peacock
There aren’t enough movies about the end of the world. Sure, there are plenty of movies about preventing catastrophe at that scale, but rarely do they have the follow-through to truly get existentially terrifying. Thankfully, John Carpenter is no coward, and he made three movies about different kinds of apocalypses. But while The Thing is the best known, and In the Mouth of Madness is the zaniest, Prince of Darkness might be the scariest of the trilogy.
Prince of Darkness follows a group of college researchers who are sent to study a strange canister found in the basement of a church. The canister is filled with some kind of liquid that defies science, and when it starts to get released, a strange evil seems to come into the world with it.
This is Carpenter at his most ambitious. While most of this movie is set in just one building, all manner of horror makes its way inside. There are people made of bugs, horrific zombies, an extradimensional Satan, and things even worse to behold. The entire movie is an onslaught of creepy, skin-crawling images, all built out of a unique mythology about the relationship between good and evil that underpins the world. And, most importantly, after this parade of horrors seems to come to an end, Carpenter saves Prince of Darkness’ biggest, weirdest, most dreadful scare for last. —Austen Goslin
Oct. 8: Gravity Falls - Northwest Mansion Mystery
Where to watch: Hulu, Disney Plus (season 2, episode 10)
The more time that has passed since Gravity Falls concluded, the more miraculous it feels in hindsight. Alex Hirsch’s paranormal comedy show about 12-year-old twins Dipper and Mabel, who solve supernatural mysteries in their great-uncle’s home in rural Oregon, is the perfect entry point for young horror-loving audiences. It’s a pastiche of The X-Files, Twin Peaks, and Adventure Time all rolled into one, with the freewheeling, funloving spirit of a summer vacation. There’s tons of fantastic episodes to choose from, but if you’re looking for an especially spooky one to get in the Halloween spirit, you can’t go wrong with “Northwest Mansion Mystery.”
A ghost has taken up residence in the mansion estate of the wealthiest family in Gravity Falls on the eve of their annual party, and Dipper has been enlisted to exorcize it. Upon arriving at the mansion, Dipper and popular girl Pacifica Northwest uncover a dark family secret that’s been buried for generations, one that threatens to not only tarnish the family’s reputation, but engulf the entire town. For a series ostensibly aimed at young children, it’s kind of wild just how scary “Northwest Mansion Mystery” gets, with taxidermy animals bleeding from their mouths, flaming skeletal lumberjacks, and hapless partygoers being petrified into screaming wooden statues. It’s a blast, and a solid stand-alone episode to introduce new audiences to the all the spooky (and “spoopy”) delights Gravity Falls has to offer. —TE
Oct. 9: The Scooby-Doo Project
Where to watch: YouTube
Scooby-Doo got extremely dark for a few years in the early 2000s, which also happened to be the best years of the series since its heyday in the 1970s. But while movies like The Witch’s Ghost and Zombie Island are absolutely excellent (and still hold up), among the most interesting hidden gems of the series is The Scooby-Doo Project.
Like its name implies, this was a parody of The Blair Witch Project that stars the Mystery Inc. gang. Scooby, Shaggy, Fred, Velma, and Daphne set off in the Mystery Machine to the remote woods of Casper County. The movie is filmed in the same documentary style that The Blair Witch Project made iconic, and mostly inserts the gang into live-action locations like real woods or a real town where they interview locals.
The project was originally created as a bumper to bookend segments of a 1999 Scooby-Doo marathon (just a few months after the movie it was based on was released), but after Cartoon Network saw what the creators put together, it wisely decided to re-air the short segments end-to-end as a movie.
The Scooby-Doo Project not only stands alongside the original Blair Witch as an impressive and loving parody, but also as a similarly unnerving found-footage horror movie. The gang standing around among live-action backgrounds is creepy enough on its own, but hearing the beloved characters be accosted by unseen forces as they sprint through the woods is downright scary — particularly if you were a kid watching this for the first time in 1999, well before you saw The Blair Witch Project.
But the best part of The Scooby-Doo Project comes at the end when, much like the other Scooby-Doo movies of the time, we get a soft implication that the supernatural elements of the story were actually real and the horrors won’t stop when the villain’s mask comes off. It’s a downright haunting ending, and manages to match the excellence of its source material, which is high praise for any horror movie, let alone a Scooby-Doo parody. —AG
Oct. 10: Saloum
Where to watch: Shudder, AMC Plus
One of the best movies of 2022 was this criminally underseen Senegalese thriller. Saloum follows three extremely cool mercenaries whose post-mission flight home gets interrupted. The trio find themselves in a mysterious village where something is off, and the tension slowly ramps up into a chaotic finale.
The trio of lead actors are absolutely magnetic — Yann Gael (1899), Roger Sallah, and the late Mentor Ba bring the trio of loyal friends who also happen to be extremely deadly professionals fully to life. And with fantastic costume design, a stirring score, and compelling images from award-winning music video director Jean Luc Herbulot, Saloum is 84 minutes of genre-bending excellence.
Saloum first premiered at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, and the movie went on to win awards at Fantastic Fest and the Vancouver International Film Festival. And yet, way too few people have seen it. This is your chance to correct the record and help make Saloum the cult classic it deserves to be. —PV
Oct. 11: Heck
Where to watch: YouTube
Skinamarink has proven to be one of the most polarizing horror releases of 2023. Kyle Edward Ball’s feature debut about two children trapped alone inside their home by a malevolent entity eschews the formal conventions of traditional cinematography and plot, consisting instead of a series of canted-angle shots of dark hallways and yawning darkness that forces the audience to ruminate on the horrors that lay therein. Personally, I vibed with it heavily, and so it should come as no surprise that I quite enjoyed Ball’s 2020 short film Heck as well.
Conceived as a “proof of concept” for Skinamarink, the short is told from the perspective of a young child who wakes in the dead of night to the blaring sound of their mother’s television set. With their mother seemingly nowhere to be found, the child is left to their own devices, with no means of either leaving the house or calling for help. As the interminable night drags on, with hours morphing into days morphing into weeks morphing into months of penumbral isolation, the child grows more fearful and feral, resorting to increasingly more desperate acts of disobedience in hopes of rousing their mother from sleep. This effort, however, is ultimately proven to be in vain.
Heck circles the same rough ideas and themes of Skinamarink to different effect, channeling the vulnerability of a child and the horror of abandonment and neglect to create an experimental horror experience that demands the audience’s full attention. It’s a fascinating companion to Skinamarink that shows just how far Ball has come as a director honing in on this particular strain of horror, and makes it all the more intriguing to speculate on what he might conjure up next. —TE
Oct. 12: Harper’s Island
Where to watch: Available to purchase on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu
In theory, slasher TV should be easier to pull off. Episodic structure lends itself well to a slowly dwindling cast, with a killer on the loose and a different death each episode. This, as Lizzie McGuire (as Isabella the pop star) says, is what dreams are made of. And yet, show after show flubs it, because they can’t find interesting enough characters or dilemmas in what should be an endlessly engaging premise.
But the rules are different on Harper’s Island.
The small Pacific Northwest island was home to a serial killing where Abby (Elaine Cassidy) lost her mom almost a decade ago. She only returns at the start of the series under the most extreme of circumstances: her best friend Henry’s (Christopher Gorham) wedding. And unfortunately, the island’s deadly legacy is about to get a whole lot worse.
The thing is: The show is a perfect low-rent masterpiece. Being from 2009, it feels like a time capsule for both bootcut jeans and miniseries. At a tight 13 episodes, Harper’s Island knows what it’s about (killing people) and gets right to it (brutally). And yet, the beauty of Harper’s Island and its antics is how long it’s able to sustain a levelheaded approach to a purely absurd And Then There Were None scenario, right down to how long nobody knows they’re being picked off. Almost no death is like the last, which seems purely impractical from a serial killing perspective but makes for great TV. The episode titles are the onomatopoeias for how people die, for Christ’s sake! It’s all very fun and twisty, as bodies and mystery continue to mount. Harper’s Island makes slasher TV look fun and easy. More TV should be like Harper’s Island. —Zosha Millman
Oct. 13: American Horror Story: NYC
Where to watch: Hulu
I have already gone on record about how I cannot look away from the trash fire that is most seasons of American Horror Story. But last season really solidified the reason I even watched the show in the first place. Namely, when AHS is good, it’s really good.
AHS: NYC opens up with a serial killer on the prowl. That, coupled with the leather-clad spectral figure that seems to be haunting the main characters, seems like it’s just typical AHS schlock. But it’s so much more than that. Yes, there is a serial killer who uncannily resembles Jeffrey Dahmer, and the scenes where he stalks and tortures his victims are pretty scary. And yes, there is a leather daddy ghost that has no name or face. And yes, there’s a lot of dubiously consensual BDSM scenes. But the real horror comes from the powerlessness of the queer community in the face of the AIDS crisis.
Creator Ryan Murphy builds this overwhelming, inescapable sense of dread. All AHS seasons hinge on their titular premise, which, more often than not, is a location. It’s not always done effectively, but in NYC, Murphy and the writers heighten the foreboding terror of being alone in a city of millions, of feeling helpless in a crowded room, of knowing that there’s something out to get you but not being able to do anything about that.
The whole season is surprisingly subdued for AHS (yes, even with the sex cages), and it builds up to a painfully poignant finale scene where, for 10 minutes set to Kraftwerk’s “Radioactivity,” one of the main characters wordlessly trudges through the next 10 years of his life, watching everyone around him slowly succumb to AIDS, as horror and reality blend together. —Petrana Radulovic
Oct. 14: Cat People
Where to watch: Max
Want to be a smarter horror fan this October? Watch the movie that originated the modern jump scare, and then impress people at Halloween parties with this knowledge.
Cat People is not only a key part of horror movie history, it’s a delightfully dark and sexy time positively radiating with atmosphere. The movie follows a woman (Simone Simon) who is caught between her desire for a new man in her life (Kent Smith) and her belief that she is cursed to turn into a panther if she becomes aroused. And at 73 minutes, it’s one of the shorter horror classics you can watch this fall.
Now for that jump scare origin. There’s a tense sequence in this movie where one character stalks another. Director Jacques Tourneur lets the tension build to an unbearable level before surprising the audience with the sudden appearance of a bus. Often considered the first example of the modern jump scare, it was called the “Lewton Bus” after producer Val Lewton, who used the technique again in later movies. —PV
Oct. 15: The Neon Demon
Where to watch: Prime Video, Hoopla, Freevee
Modeling is a cutthroat industry, and that goes double in Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2016 horror movie The Neon Demon.
The movie follows Elle Fanning as Jesse, a young model who just moved to Los Angeles and quickly gets taken under the wing of makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone). As Jesse becomes more successful as a model, she meets various members of the industry who are willing to part the seas for her even as she makes enemies who get caught up in a wake she unknowingly creates. Even when people are being nice to her, no one lets Jesse pass without making it clear they’re jealous of her beauty and curious about what she can give them… or that they can take from her.
Here, like in Drive, Refn’s version of LA is soaked in dread and seediness in every corner. Every person reads like a threat, and every new competitor or friend seems to be looking for a new way to drain the life out of the people around them — until they finally actually do it. But, like all Refn projects, what really sets The Neon Demon apart is how it looks. The griminess of the movie’s world turns brightly lit photo shoots into shadow-filled nightmares, with people who stalk the sets like jungle predators.
Though The Neon Demon didn’t get the same acclaim as other so-called elevated horror movies from the time, looking back, it fits perfectly among the ranks of The Witch, It Follows, and Under the Skin. Refn’s nightmarish modeling movie is dripping with cynicism, cruelty, and a creeping atmosphere, with more meanness than almost any other movie from the era could muster. But it’s all in the pursuit of beauty, of course. —AG
Oct. 16: Project Wolf Hunting
Where to watch: Hi-Yah!; available to rent on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu
Sometimes, what you’re looking for is just literal tons of blood and gore. And when that’s contained in a premise that’s essentially “Con Air meets Predator, with a bit of The Last Voyage of the Demeter,” that’s hard to beat.
Project Wolf Hunting is a Korean monster mash built out of an extremely fun idea. “What if a bunch of dangerous criminals rebelled on the cargo ship they were being transported on, only to discover the ship is also transporting a monster?”
The story is necessarily light, and the characters are thinly drawn (although the effective costuming and makeup work go a long way), but that’s not what you’re here for if you’re watching Project Wolf Hunting. You’re here for gory violence, and boy, is there a lot of it. The director has bragged that the team used 2.5 tons of fake blood while filming the movie, and it certainly shows. It’s one of the goriest movies I’ve ever seen, and that gore is augmented by terrific sound design, which builds the monster up into something well beyond the realm of humankind by making its movements sound metallic. It’s a machine designed for killing, and Project Wolf Hunting is a movie designed for a bloody good time. —PV
Oct. 17: Kuroneko
Where to watch: Criterion Channel, Max
Like his 1964 film Onibaba (which we featured in our 2021 Halloween countdown), Kaneto Shindo’s 1968 supernatural horror film is a cerebral, gorgeous, and eerie drama set amid the tumultuous Sengoku period of Japanese history.
Kuroneko centers on the story of two women, a mother and her daughter-in-law, who are raped and murdered by a wandering band of samurai who set fire to their family home. Haunted by vengeance, their spirits forge a pact with the demons of the underworld, resurrecting them in exchange for the death of any samurai unfortunate enough to cross their paths. As the death toll rises, a young samurai is enlisted to fend off the wayward spirits once and for all, unaware of either the origins behind their malice or their tragic connection to his own past.
Kiyomi Kuroda’s cinematography in Kuroneko is a master class in minimalism, employing an intense contrast of light and shadow to produce sequences that feel downright otherworldly to behold. Whether it’s scenes of samurai wandering through a void of darkness by the Rajōmon gates or a dreamlike pan through a bamboo thicket overlaid as a character ruminates over the past, the film is a gorgeous display of deft cinematic craftsmanship in service of telling a dramatic and terrifying story of love, revenge, and regret. —TE
Oct. 18: A Wounded Fawn
Where to watch: Shudder, AMC Plus
One of 2022’s best under-the-radar horror movies takes its inspiration from an old-fashioned source: Greek mythology.
Director Travis Stevens (Jakob’s Wife) melds Greek mythic imagery with an unconventional serial killer narrative in a thrilling combination that breathes new life into the genre. The movie follows a museum curator who goes on a date with a serial killer. She finds him out once she notices a statue, The Wrath of Erinyes, that is in his home but shouldn’t be. From there, things get really strange.
Shot on 35mm, A Wounded Fawn is a gorgeous movie to behold, even before the action truly starts. Once it does, be prepared for a descent into the phantasmagoric, with jaw-dropping visuals, eerie practical effects, and a heavy dose of Aeschylus’ Eumenides.
With fantastic performances from Sarah Lind (Jakob’s Wife) and Dropout veteran Josh Ruben (Werewolves Within) in an unsettlingly off-type role, A Wounded Fawn is a bold new entry into the serial killer movie canon. —PV
Oct. 19: The Hole in the Ground
Where to watch: Max
Few horror tropes get as much mileage as the image of the unnatural child. Likely that’s because the idea that kids should be innocent and cheerful is baked into so many human cultures that a child acting spooky and inhuman is a terrific cross-cultural recipe for horror. But an effective creepy-kid movie requires a spectacular creepy kid performer. James Quinn Markey fully delivers in The Hole in the Ground, the debut feature of Evil Dead Rise director Lee Cronin. But the movie isn’t just about a scary child — it’s about all the psychological baggage involved in dealing with one.
Seána Kerslake stars as Sarah, a woman recently moved to the Irish countryside with her young son, Chris (Markey). After an unnerving incident, she starts to believe Chris has been replaced by an inhuman doppelgänger. There’s plenty of evidence that it’s true, at least for the audience. But an erratic, violent local woman who also believes her son was replaced serves as a warning for Sarah, both about how she can expect the community to dismiss her anxieties, and more potently, as a dark mirror of her fears, a suggestion that she might just be losing her mind. This incredibly dark and squirmy movie is much quieter and more internal than Evil Dead Rise, but it sure puts the screws to the audience, especially as it builds to an unforgettable, horrifying climax. —TR
Oct. 20: Silent Hill
Where to watch: Peacock
The mid-2000s were a no man’s land for horror movies. By 2006, we were four years out from the blockbuster prestige of Gore Verbinski’s The Ring and the J-horror import boom that followed it in America, and only just beginning to transition into the Saw-dominated years of “realistic” horror. More importantly, we were still almost a decade away from the arthouse horror boom that would kick off closer to 2014 with films like It Follows. This was exactly the environment Silent Hill was released into, and it deserved so much better.
The movie follows Rose, whose daughter, Sharon, is plagued with awful episodes of sleepwalking and nightmares about the mysterious abandoned town of Silent Hill. Rose brings Sharon to the town in a last-ditch attempt to find answers, but things go horribly wrong when the fog-shrouded town seems to transport them (along with police officer Cybil Bennett) to a new monstrous dimension. Meanwhile, after the mother and daughter have been gone for a few hours, Rose’s husband, Christopher, sets off to Silent Hill to find his family.
Inside the town is where Silent Hill takes the most inspiration from the video game series it’s based on. Some of Silent Hill’s most recognizable enemies and monsters show up, chasing Cybil, Sharon, and Rose through the town and eventually into the iconic Pyramid Head. These segments are impressively scary, and steeped in the dreadful atmosphere that made the games famous.
But even beyond the terrifying town itself, the best part of Silent Hill comes when Christopher arrives. Rather than managing to find his family, all he finds is an abandoned mining town. For most of the movie, the women’s frantic running and hiding from monsters is paralleled by Christopher wandering around the exact same areas, filled with a dreadful sense that his family is close, but completely unable to see them or the horrors threatening to kill them. It’s not a subtle metaphor for the differences in the ways that men and women go through the world, but it is an effective one, and it manages to create a level of crushing existential terror and defeat that few movies ever come close to. —AG
Oct. 21: Suspiria (2018)
Where to watch: Prime Video, Freevee
Dario Argento’s 1977 Suspiria is a horror masterpiece, the sort of film even the best directors would face insurmountable odds of matching with a remake. The story — an American ballerina who moves to Germany to attend a prestigious ballet company, only to be greeted by a series of murders and a supernatural mystery — is a vessel for Argento’s craft, featuring some of his boldest visuals and some truly nauseating body horror.
So how, then, did Luca Guadagnino do the impossible, creating its contemporary equal?
He cast Tilda Swinton in multiple roles and Mia Goth to do the Mia Goth thing. For cinematography, he brought on Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, known for Guadagnino’s own Call Me By Your Name, but also Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s seminal indie films Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Memoria. And for the score: Thom Yorke. Yes, Radiohead Thom Yorke.
Where other directors would have obsessively recreated a source text, rebooting it into something unrecognizable, Guadagnino’s film is an homage — the sort of movie you imagine Argento would make with the budgets and creative freedom afforded by tech companies trying to buy cultural capital. It’s more political. More grotesque. The ending is just more.
The truth is 2018’s Suspiria and the original Suspiria should be enjoyed together. In the past, that’s been a challenge, with the original film being surprisingly difficult to watch — especially if you prefer streaming. But this month, Criterion Collection has you covered, allowing for one of the most batshit double features of your life. —CP
Oct. 22: Pan’s Labyrinth
Where to watch: Available to purchase on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu
Not just a great horror movie, but one of the Great Movies, Pan’s Labyrinth is among the best examples of a fairy tale for adults. Set during the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Pan’s Labyrinth follows Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) after her pregnant mother takes her to live with her new stepfather, Captain Vidal (Sergi López) — a fascist Falangista hunting down the republican rebels that are hiding out in the Spanish forest.
In this terrifying time, Ofelia encounters a faun, a mythical creature that claims she is the reincarnated Princess Moanna, daughter of the king of the underworld. The Faun (Doug Jones) tells her that if she completes three tasks, she can return to the king and queen and live forever as princess of the underworld.
Like many folk tales before they’re sterilized by pop culture, Pan’s Labyrinth is a fairy tale full of menace, danger, and horror — but also hope. It is both a refuge from a turbulent time and an attempt to understand it, a parable that becomes timeless in its specificity with new meaning to discover every time it’s revisited. Widely considered to be writer-director Guillermo del Toro’s magnum opus, it shows the director operating at the peak of his powers, with lavish production design, evocative colors, and naturalistic performances juxtaposed with quiet, dangerous magic.
But what makes it a great film is astonishingly simple. Some movies endeavor to make sure you understand them. The best ones help you understand yourself. Pan’s Labyrinth, in the end, wants to know what kind of person you are by the time the credits roll. —Joshua Rivera
Oct. 23: Eyes Without a Face
Where to watch: Criterion Channel, Max
The late 1950s weren’t exactly a booming era for French horror films. While Henri-Georges Clouzot’s psychological thriller Diabolique received an effusive reception upon its release in 1955, the prevailing attitude of French critics at the time was that horror was antithetical to the high-minded standard of what French cinema should aspire to. Eyes Without a Face bucked against this perception, taking what would otherwise be a standard mad scientist tale and turning it into a dark horror fable about love, guilt, and madness.
The film follows Dr. Génessier, a renowned plastic surgeon wracked with guilt over a car accident that disfigured his beloved daughter Christiane’s face. Faking her death and confining her to the grounds of his mansion, Génessier devises a desperate and horrifying scheme: Perform a series of skin grafts to repair Christiane’s face using the faces of abducted women who resemble her. With the failure of each attempt, the body count begins to rise, prompting the authorities to mount a desperate manhunt to apprehend the culprit. In the midst of all of this, Christiane herself grows tired of her father’s obsession, wishing instead to reunite with her lover Jacques and resume her life.
Fantastical and atmospheric, Eyes Without a Face is a beautiful horror thriller with masterful cinematography courtesy of Eugen Schüfftan (who previously worked on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis) and a memorable score composed by Maurice-Alexis Jarre, who would later go on to win an Academy Award for his work on Lawrence of Arabia. If you’re looking for an intelligent and gorgeous horror movie that still manages to dabble in its share of gore, Georges Franju’s masterpiece is a must-watch. —TE
Oct. 24: Overlord
Where to watch: Paramount Plus, Pluto TV
This slept-on genre-mashing gem takes a cast of excellent actors about to do bigger things (Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, John Magaro, Pilou Asbæk, and more), and an up-and-coming director (The Pope’s Exorcist’s Julius Avery) and places them behind Nazi lines during World War II. The Nazis are up to more than usual this time: There be zombies in these labs.
On the eve of D-Day, a group of Allied paratroopers are sent into Germany on a covert mission. Things go wrong instantly when their plane crashes, and they soon discover twisted Nazi experiments after connecting with the residents. Things get bloody fast, with great action from second unit director Shaun O’Dell (The Woman King, Brotherhood of the Wolf) and stunt coordinator Jo McLaren (Heart of Stone).
Overlord is a gleeful, intentionally ridiculous Nazi-zombie-bashing time, with tight direction and a fantastic group of actors. If you love the Wolfenstein games or Call of Duty’s Zombies mode, or B-movies with A-movie production, this one is for you. —PV
Oct. 25: Curve
Where to watch: YouTube
Tim Egan’s 2016 horror short inspires the same visceral physical response as watching an episode of Squid Game. A young woman wakes to discover her twisted body perched precariously on the slope of a strange cliff overlooking a bottomless pit. Her hands caked with blood, the woman attempts to inch herself away from the pit, each desperate motion teetering on the cusp of survival and oblivion. Will she be able to escape where so many others have failed?
Curve works as a horror short because it leaves so much to the imagination. We don’t know who this woman is, how she ended up in this situation, or what the purpose of this place even is. In the presence of imminent horror, our first instinct is to scramble for answers and, in the absence of any to be found, our second instinct is to search for a means of escape. Through a captivating lead performance and deft sound design, Egan delivers a gripping horror story in just under 10 minutes. —TE
Oct. 26: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
Where to watch: Max
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a nauseating smoothie of rural horror, outré indie experimentation, and wannabe snuff film. Its murders aren’t real, but you’d be forgiven for being convinced the film’s actors are in genuine trouble; from the budget film stock to the filthy sets, it all feels… off. The result is not just a great horror flick, but a monumental work that originated many tropes of its genre and, most recently, earned a coveted spot in the Sight and Sound list of the greatest films of all time.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is nothing like that. You won’t see its name in a film school syllabus, and the films it inspired can be counted on one hand. Nonetheless, there’s something commendable about the gall of Tobe Hooper, the original Texas Chain Saw director, returning to his series with the energy of a middle-aged man on his first ayahuasca retreat.
Leatherface gets in a high-speed car battle, eventually standing on the roof of a speeding sedan. Dennis Hopper dual-wields chainsaws. A radio station office is obliterated like it’s a novelty rage room. Sometimes you want a steak, and sometimes you want a hamburger. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a damn juicy burger. —CP
Oct. 27: Possessor
Where to watch: Hulu
My first Brandon Cronenberg (yes, David’s son) movie was Infinity Pool, his latest messed-up meditation on the rich and powerful. I vividly remember telling friends how exciting and debauched the movie was, and their response surprised me: “Clearly you haven’t seen Possessor.”
That night, I rectified this, and dear readers: They were right. As disturbing and mystifying as I found the world of Infinity Pool, Possessor was all that and more. And I haven’t been able to get it out of my brain since. Which is… fitting, considering the movie.
Andrea Riseborough (Mandy, To Leslie) plays an elite corporate assassin who is able to inhabit other people’s bodies, getting closer to her victims by posing as people already in their lives. It’s a haunting premise, and one Possessor takes full advantage of, both in the moments of action and in the assassin’s contemplation about what her identity truly even is.
Possessor is an unforgettable entry into the psychological horror canon, and it brings a little sci-fi into your Halloween celebrations. Don’t miss it. —PV
Oct. 28: Opera
Where to watch: Shudder, Tubi, Vudu
You can’t get more than five minutes into a conversation about Italian horror without mentioning Dario Argento, the giallo master.
Opera represents the last hurrah of Argento’s hot streak throughout the ’70s and ’80s. It’s an extravagant horror-thriller that combines high-minded aesthetics with the viscerality of slasher cinema. The film follows Betty, the understudy to a famous opera singer, who is selected to play the role of Lady Macbeth after the star suffers a terrible accident. While preparing for her first big performance, Betty is subjected to a terrifying ordeal when she is attacked by a mysterious unseen assailant who tapes needles under her eyes and forces her to watch as her boyfriend is mutilated. Barely escaping with her life, Betty seeks the aid of Marco, the play’s director, in apprehending the culprit before they can claim another victim.
Very loosely based on Argento’s own experience directing a failed production of Verdi’s Macbeth, Opera is a sumptuous and suspenseful slasher that holds the viewer’s attention and absolutely refuses to let go. Like Betty, one feels compelled to watch this macabre display of ritualistic horror play out to its conclusion in a desperate search of answers. Fortunately, unlike Betty, you won’t have to worry about losing your eyes if you find yourself overwhelmed by the frights. —TE
Oct. 29: House of 1000 Corpses
Where to watch: AMC Plus, Pluto TV, Tubi
House of 1000 Corpses may be the true answer to the question “What is the best The Texas Chain Saw Massacre sequel?”
The movie follows a group of teens who are putting together a book on roadside attractions when they stumble upon a serial killer-themed rest stop run by a weirdo. After their strange encounter, the kids set off on the road, only for their car to break down a few miles later. Thankfully, their helpful hitchhiker companion Baby knows just the place they can get help: the Firefly mansion, where her family lives. From there, things devolve into a host of horrific stage plays, cursed experiments, and gruesome murders.
The family at its center, whom Rob Zombie went on to make two more movies about, is repulsive and absolutely horrible, but still zany enough to be truly unsettling in a way that few horror movies can be. House of 1000 Corpses is a grisly, grotesque film that captures all the grime of the ’70s movies that inspired it. But what really makes it worth watching is the way it balances silliness and terror, doling each out in proportional quantities until you can’t figure out if you should laugh or scream. Instead, you just end up doing both. —AG
Oct. 30: Thirst
Where to watch: Peacock
Park Chan-wook has never missed. And Thirst, his most overt foray into horror, may also be his steamiest movie (a high bar, considering the excellent The Handmaiden).
Frequent Park collaborator Song Kang-ho stars as a Catholic priest who volunteers for a medical experiment. The experiment instead turns him into a vampire, giving him a lust for blood… and also for the wife of an old friend.
In many ways, this movie is in close relationship to his two most recent releases — The Handmaiden and Decision to Leave. It pairs the eroticism of the former with the charged relationship dynamic of the latter, to gripping effect. With Park’s typical attention to detail and eye for arresting images (as well as his wicked sense of humor), Thirst is an unconventional and sexy Halloween watch. —PV
Oct. 31: The Exorcist III
Where to watch: Prime Video, Criterion Channel
Nearly 50 years since it was first released in theaters, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist has withstood the test of time as one of the most terrifying and influential horror films in American cinema. The sequel that came closest to capturing that same lightning in a bottle is The Exorcist III, written and directed by William Peter Blatty, the original screenwriter of the first film and author of the novel on which it was based.
When a series of gruesome murders matching the modus operandi of an infamous serial killer begins to terrorize the city of Georgetown, Lt. William F. Kinderman (George C. Scott) investigates the psych ward of a local hospital in search of leads. Confronted with a suspect whose appearance matches that of his late friend Father Damien Karras, Kinderman finds himself thrust into a battle for his very soul as he confronts an evil beyond his comprehension.
The story of The Exorcist III’s production is a tangled mess of false starts, studio interference, and thwarted artistic ambitions. Though it was originally conceived with Friedkin in mind to return as director, he eventually left the project due to creative differences with Blatty. John Carpenter was at one time tapped to direct, before he too stepped aside to allow Blatty himself to take the reins. Morgan Creek Productions, which financed the film, demanded Blatty reshoot the film’s final act, which originally ended without an exorcism. Even given these complications, The Exorcist III remains a fascinating and terrifying film in its own right, with a hodgepodge of fascinating creative choices and literary dialogue that makes the film feel like a sister piece to Blatty’s The Ninth Configuration. It may not have been the Exorcist sequel that audiences at the time wanted, but it’s still a damn fine picture. —TE