Day 1—Psycho II (1983)
There’s not much one can say about Psycho II without it being a spoiler. Picking up 22 years after the events of Psycho, Norman Bates has returned home. Is he truly sane? Is Mother really gone? Who can we trust? There’s enough twists, turns, and revelations to keep you guessing throughout the brisk 2-hour run time. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I think Psycho II might be superior to the original. I guess you’ll have to watch and find out for yourself.
Day 2—Carrie (1976)
Sometimes the most terrifying horror movies are the ones steeped in reality. Okay, so maybe telekinesis isn’t real (depending on who you ask, of course), but teenage bullying is. So is religious fanaticism. And young Carrie White has to try to survive both while trying to control her budding telekinetic powers. This is the ultimate tale of revenge against one’s tormentors, where the heroine of the film becomes the “villain”, and yet we still sympathize and root for her. The destruction Carrie inflicts upon her classmates, and the town that has failed her, is difficult to watch, but no more so than the emotional and psychological damage they’ve caused her, finally pushing her to the point of no return. While the book and the movie were both released in the 70’s, the themes remain unfortunately relevant today. There have been countless remakes of Stephen King’s chilling debut novel, but Sissy Spacek’s heartbreakingly gentle turned sinister performance as Carrie makes the Brian De Palma classic the one to watch this month.
Day 3—Ernest Scared Stupid (1991)
That lovable doof Ernest (Jim Varney) accidentally unleashes an ugly troll that plots to transform all the town’s children into wooden dolls. This movie was on Showtime a lot when I was a kid. Maybe that’s why I like it. But it could also be because it’s really fucking charming and it’s got Eartha Kitt playing a hoarder/witch. And it’s set during Halloween. That’s a winner in my book, kids.
Day 4—Terrified (2017)
If you are looking for a gem this Halloween season then let me offer up a recent film that isn’t talked about near enough. A nonstop barrage of frights and creepy atmosphere, Terrified is one of those films that gets under your skin and lingers. We jump right in the middle of this horrific tale as bewildered as the characters on screen. We aren’t talking about a haunted house story, we are talking about a haunted neighborhood block story with the frightening occurrences taking place at three different houses. As a doctor specializing in the paranormal, her colleague, and an ex-police officer decide to investigate further, they are simply not prepared for what they discover.
Day 5—The Battery (2012)
All alone during the zombie apocalypse, baseball players Ben (writer-director Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim) are forced to stick together despite hating each other or risk taking on the dangers of the dead alone. Made for just 6,000 dollars, The Battery is a low budget horror with big budget entertainment. Watching these two a-holes bitch at each other for 90 minutes while avoiding becoming zombie chow may not sound like a homerun but the chemistry between the two is just perfection. I’d put them up there with the great horror duos like Shaun and Ed or Tucker and Dale. They’re that good.
Day 6—House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Actually taking place on October 31st, this is a fun throwback to ‘70s horror films of old with a grindhouse flavor and cartoonish characters who torment a group of youngsters who are simply on a road trip trying to write a book about roadside attractions. They pick up the wrong hitchhiker and all hell breaks loose when they meet the Firefly Family. This is Rob Zombie’s debut behind the camera and is perfect if you just want something gross and filthy the Halloween season. Dwight from the Office is in this as well as the late great Sid Haig.
Day 7—Suspiria (2018)
Without the director Luca Guadagnino the 2018 reimagining of Suspiria would’ve have fallen flat. In the hands of a true artisan—the film marks a visual and spiritual achievement the likes of which I’m not sure I’ve seen before, nor have I the stomach to watch a third time … and in this context that’s a compliment. His previous films I Am Love and Call Me By Your Name are possibly the most tender, beautifully heartbreaking love stories of the 21st century. Each frame a romantic painting. Jumping, then, to Suspiria was … bold. Indeed, Guadangnio’s range defies conventional auteur status.
A visual symphony with herculean performances from both Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson. Through world-filling costumes, spirit-embodying choreography, and silent haunting whispers—the first two acts of the film would merit our attention on their own. Within in the guttural and (quite literally) devilish final act, however, Guadangnio baptizes us in a culmination we wish wouldn’t arrive. An inevitability of blood, ritual, and spiritual sacrifices that play out perfectly no matter how hard it is to watch. And after two viewings, I still can’t decide if it’s perfect because it’s unsettling or unsettling because it’s perfect.
Day 8—Pumpkinhead (1988)
What is Halloween without a Southern-gothic creature feature? Pumpkinhead is a criminally underrated horror flick that was released in 1988 but still holds up incredibly well in recent viewings. Directed by FX-artist Stan Winston, Pumpkinhead tells the story of revenge by a grief stricken father who sets loose a demonic creature in the atmospheric backwoods of a desolate Southern town to bring vengeance upon his son’s killers. Surprisingly deep for an 80’s monster movie, Pumpkinhead slaps you in the face with “be careful what you wish for”, and how far grief can push a person. With beautiful cinematography, an emotional performance by the late, great Lance Henrikson and an iconic, terrifying monster that will make you long for the days before CGI, Pumpkinhead will satisfy any horror fan who is looking for a bit of depth in the midst of all the blood.
Day 9—It Follows (2014)
Teenagers and young adults only worry about two things when it comes to sex: unwanted pregnancies and STDs. It Follows takes the latter and literally makes it your worst nightmare. This tense and gripping psychological thriller turns the “horny teenagers having sex in horror movies” trope on its head. It’s no longer a masked killer murdering you for having sex. Instead, it’s a supernatural entity that slowly follows you, acting as a visual reminder that you had sex, who wants to kill you. It Follows is one of the best original films of the decade that will make you think twice the next you you’re about to have a one-night stand.
Day 10—Kwaidan (1964)
Kwaidan, which literally translates to, “ghost story”, is a four part anthology film where each segment deals with, you guessed it: werewolves I mean ghosts. A penniless samurai marries for money with tragic results, a man stranded in a blizzard is saved by a mysterious snow maiden, but his rescue comes at a cost, a blind musician is forced to perform for an audience of ghosts and an author is plagued by visions of a strange man’s face in his cup of tea. While it’s debatably the least scary film on this watchlist, it’s unquestionably the most gorgeous. One of the few horror films to be nominated for best picture, Kwaidan is the closest we got to a Kurosawa horror film.
Day 11—The Ritual (2017)
The Ritual is in many ways a typical “lost with a monster in the woods” type movie. There are many similar films out there. The genre of horror as a whole is rife with this type of story. Where The Ritual distinguishes itself is in the execution of the concept. The location, the wilderness of Scandinavia, is gorgeous yet foreboding. The backstory adds a sense of grief and guilt to the pervasive fear the characters experience. It’s shot well. The acting is good. Unlike so much genre fare, it’s not a “B” movie. Finally, where the film really shines is in its connection to Norse mythology and folklore, particularly when it comes to the creature. The audience sees only fleeting glimpses until the climax, and when the creature is finally revealed, it’s unlike anything we’ve seen before. The end of the film features an effective mix of suspense and horror. A re-watch of this little gem is on the agenda for me this month. Come for the scary monster in the woods, stay for the suspenseful left turn into folk horror.
Day 12—Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet the Wolfman (2000)
Back in the late 90s/early 00s, Universal decided to take the popular Chipmunks franchise and splice it with the franchise that made the studio what it is today: the Universal Monsters. While I’ve never seen Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein, I am a huge fan of Meet the Wolfman. It’s got a simple, yet entertaining story, with enough catchy beats to keep you humming along. When I saw this film on DVD last year I didn’t even hesitate. I bought it and went home to watch it right away. Theodore as a werewolf is hilariously cute, and there’s one killer song that will be stuck in your head for days.
Day 13—REC (2007)
REC is probably the only found footage film that has even a modicum of logic behind its premise. The biggest problem that every single found footage film faces is “why are they still filming? Drop the camera and run ya goof.” And REC has very simple solution to that problem: it’s a reporter and camera crew stuck in an apartment complex over run with zombies and they’re filming everything for a news story. It’s not reinventing the wheel but it’s a simple solution to a problem every film has.
It’s not just a gimmick or an excuse to hide the directors lack of talent either. The film is built from the ground up with the handheld approach in mind, so every scare is designed around that concept. The director wisely knows that a news cameraman might get distracted easily or focus on something irrelevant and in those moments, he takes advantage of it. It’s a damn good horror film that has a pretty great sequel. Just skip the last two and the remake.
Day 14—The Conjuring (2013)
The movie that achieved so much critical and commercial success that it triggered an entire cinematic universe, The Conjuring is still by far the best offering in the series. Based on a true story about a haunting plaguing the Perron family, the movie relies on old-school scares and traditional haunted house tropes that are expertly crafted by director James Wan. The suspense is a slow burn, the mounting dread aided by effective moments of silence and very brief, terrifying glimpses of what is otherwise unseen. The Conjuring is, at its core, a story about a haunted house, but it’s largely character driven with great performances by the entire cast. Did The Conjuring deserve its R-rating for “disturbing violence and terror”? You could potentially argue against the violence, of which there is very little, but the “terror”? Absolutely.
Day 15—The Witch (2015)
The Witch pushes all the right horror buttons for me. The historical setting. The slow, moody build-up. The horror is as much psychological as it is tangible. And there’s the supernatural element. The movie begins with a family being booted out of a New England community because the father is too extreme in his religion. Though they’re isolated in the wilds of the New England frontier, the surrounding forest is so oppressive it almost seems claustrophobic. When things start going sideways (disappearing cups, vanishing babies), of course it’s the adolescent daughter Thomasin who is suspected. The movie is unique enough that any horror tropes it employs don’t come across as cliché and the ending isn’t, in my view, what one might expect. The period accuracy from the costumes to the English used by the actors all contribute to an atmospheric slow burn from start to finish.
Day 16—Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)
The terms TV Movie and made-for-television have the ring of pejorative about them, as if by virtue of having been made specifically for the small screen instead of the large the resulting product is automatically inferior. Maybe it’s all those cheesy after school specials we were subjected to as kids or the melodramatic Lifetime and Hallmark movies our moms watched in the 90s. Deserved or not, the TV movie has always had a bad rep.
But not all TV movies suck. The 70s and 80s produced a few gems worth seeing and discussing, and Dark Night of the Scarecrow is definitely one of them. Though short on gore for a slasher, Dark Night of the Scarecrow is loaded with foreboding and atmosphere, and an ending so subtly creepy that it more than makes up for anything it might lack because of its made-for-television format.
Day 17—The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
I just think this should be a yearly watch for, well, everyone. It is the ultimate Halloween party movie. A horror musical with catchy tunes and fantastic characters with the fantastic Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, an eccentric bisexual transvestite scientist. It has garnered an incredible cult following where people will dress up as their favorite character from the film with several gags being acted out in the theater itself. Do yourself a favor by press play and turning up the surround sound.
Day 18—Under the Shadow (2016)
In the real world, few things are more horrific than war. Under the Shadow capitalizes on this fact to great effect as the horrors of war play out in the background, whilst a more supernatural affair manifests itself closer to home. Set in 1980s Tehran during the Iraq/Iran war, the focus is on former medical student Shideh (Narges Rashidi), who has been banned from resuming her studies due to her outspoken politics. As explosions ring all around, she decides to stay in her apartment block with her young daughter, despite the protestations of her husband who has been called into military service. Tensions are high as we get the feeling she is trapped and isolated in her surroundings. When an unexploded missile pierces the apartment blocks roof it certainly doesn’t help matters. A superstitious neighbour suggests the bomb could be cursed and possibly carrying malevolent spirits. Shideh’s daughter begins to believe this and the fear between the two grows.
As the story progresses the two-pronged attack of a brutal society outside, along with the sinister happenings inside, produce a special atmosphere. There are a number of excellently crafted jump scares throughout as well. Not the cheap kind we have become accustomed to in recent years but well-earned jump scares that literally sent a shiver up my spine. The first half of the story moves slowly and this beautifully sets up the scares when they do come. Supernatural socio-political dramas are few and far between but the performances, varied camerawork and horror crafted in Under the Shadow are as good as anything produced in the last 5 years.
Day 19—Black Sabbath (1963)
Horror anthology films are akin to eating at a buffet. You’re swimming in variety but it’s almost always a gamble. But there’s usually one or two items they always get right that keep you coming back for more. Black Sabbath is no different. The first segment is an ok thriller with a slight twist, the second is such a solid take on the vampire mythos, that another film took its plot, stretched it out, and made it feature length. That film was Night of The Devils and although it’s a pretty good horror film, the segment in Black Sabbath is way more effective.
The third and final segment is ‘a drop of water’ and that’s the segment that landed this film on the list. It’s about a nurse that takes something from a dead patient that she definitely shouldn’t have taken. It’s impossible to watch this film without the imagery burning their way into your subconscious. It’s a gorgeous slice of terror that only Bava can deliver. It’s also the reason the band Black Sabbath decided not to call themselves The Polka Tulk Blues Band.
Day 20—Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Perhaps one of the most quintessential October/Fall time viewing films of all-time. Tim Burton constructs period horror film with stunning visuals and a creepy atmosphere. Everything here is top-tier from the wardrobes, the acting, the production design, and the Danny Elfman score. It’s one of the rare family horror films that is not too much for younger viewers but has enough even for the hardcore horror fan.
In this variation on the headless horseman legend, Ichabod Crane, as played by Johnny Depp, is an early proponent and practitioner of the forensic sciences, and this, along with the bright red splashes of blood and general dismemberment, adds a kick of modernity to an otherwise classical tale. Jeffrey Jones, Christina Ricci, Michael Gambon, and Christopher Walken are very theatrical with Andrew Kevin Walker’s dialogue, while the kills are nicely varied and occasionally surprising. Though Washington Irving purists might get up into a tizzy, the thematic core of Burton’s film is that progress and the modern world are integral to not only the future of societal issues but of storytelling itself.
Day 21—Poltergeist (1982)
Poltergeist is one of those films I come back to every year in October. Not only is it a solid horror movie, but it’s a good film in general. I know that Steven Spielberg isn’t credited as director and that there’s disagreement over how much of the film Tobe Hooper actually controlled, but to me it’s got all the hallmarks of a Spielberg blockbuster: children in peril, a family forms the central characters, themes of familial relationships (particularly the relationships between parents and children.) It even LOOKS like a Spielberg joint. On top of all this, it’s my go-to recommendation as an “entry level” horror flick. Poltergeist is good for older kids who are testing the waters of the genre as well as adults who don’t usually dig more intense horror fare. There are some good scares (the appearance of the “beast” in the closet sequence was a big deal to my young brain the first time I saw it) and there are a few gross-out moments as well (the scene in the kitchen when one of the researchers gets a snack comes to mind.) Round it out with good performances from the actors and you’ve got a great choice for October viewing.
Day 22—The Addams Family (1991)
The Addams Family is essentially a family that celebrates Halloween year-round without knowing it. They celebrate death, darkness and the macabre routinely on a day in and day out basis that most of us save for only this one special time of year. A black comedy based on the 1960s TV series, the casting is practically perfect for each character who standout individually and a part of this nutty family. This film is simply a slice of October no matter when you watch it with some outstanding performances by Raul Julia as Gomez Addams, Angelica Houston (who nominated for a Golden Globe) as Morticia, and the lovable Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester. A twisted and fun family treat for all ages.
Day 23—Event Horizon (1997)
Space is fucking terrifying. It’s infinite, it’s deserted and it’s more silent than a grave. So naturally, It’s the perfect setting for a horror film. You know what else makes for a great cinematic “haunted house?” Hell. Hell is scary. Paul W. S. Anderson brilliantly decided to merge those elements to create the scariest of peanut butter cups. Event Horizon is essentially Hellraiser in space and that’s not knock against it’s derivativeness. It’s a well executed thriller that doesn’t skimp on the gore. I am still sour that the original cut is missing because apparently, it’s even more graphic.
Day 24—The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Elaborate, creepy production designs your thing? Thank the doctor. Dig the dark villains of cinema? Salute the doctor. Love a mind-bending twist ending? You guess it—straight from the doctor’s cabinet.
To call Robert Wiene’s sinister masterpiece is ahead of its time feels like an understatement. 100 years later, and it still holds up beautifully. Francis, our strapping young everyman, struggles to balance reality and love. Falling victim to the infamous Dr. Caligari’s hypnotism, the slow fade into a fractured reality and murderous tendencies create both a haunting psychosis for the leading man and the audience. We journey with him through (real?) visions; bloody deeds that cannot be washed away gripping us through to the final unveiling (and perhaps cinema’s first true surprise ending) leaving us aghast what we just witnessed…but in the most brilliant way possible.
If you’ve ventured through the slanted world of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari—then you know. But if not, you really should dive-in. You’ll be able trace the numerous classic tropes of horror history through the frames, and you just may find yourself frightened by the work of a silent film.
Day 25—Evil Dead (2013)
Have to have a cabin in the woods movie on any Halloween watchlist and although Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead’s are usually at the top of that list, may I suggest an unrelenting tale of pure horror? Taking on a classic is never an easy task but Fede Alvarez is able to apply a unique and original tale by complimenting the story by utilizing the core elements of the original films. Jane Levy is a sympathetic heroine that you can get behind while the mayhem takes place with some stellar effects. A group of youngsters finding a weathered book call the Naturom Demonto (Necronomicon) can never lead to anything productive especially when they decided to open it up and read aloud an incantation that unleashes a malevolent force upon them.
Day 26—Goodnight Mommy (2014)
Suspicion and paranoia are a good base for any horror film. Throw seemingly innocent children into the mix and things start to get interesting. Goodnight Mommy focuses on twins Lukas and Elias, who are welcoming their mother back home as she is recovering from facial surgery. Welcome is probably the wrong word to use as in the twin’s eyes, an imposter is hiding under the bandages. The viewer is placed in the same scenario as we try to work out whether Lukas and Elias are succumbing to extreme paranoia or if something more ominous is actually going on. A once-loving mother is certainly displaying some erratic behavior and something feels that little bit off. The storytelling is deliberately vague and for the duration we are trying to decide who to root for. This wouldn’t work if it wasn’t for the performances of real-life twins Lukas and Elias Schwarz. Both are able to portray childlike innocence with a subtle steak of darkness lurking in the background to tremendous effect.
As the story progresses the suspicion turns to animosity and snowballs drastically. There are a number of reveals (some more obvious than others) and as the film concludes there is plenty left to think about. The pacing is slow, the tension is high and even though some of the more torturous scenes can be a little hard to watch, the final act is not to be missed. In terms of psychological horror, Goodnight Mommy ticks all the boxes.
Day 27—Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)
Ghosts are scary. Ghosts kids are scarier. Ghost kids that sound like cats in heat? Goddamn piss puddle making fright machines. There’s a phenomenon called “the uncanny valley” where human beings get unsettled by things that look human but are slightly askew. That explains why most people are afraid of clowns and why so many horror films use mannequins as a scare prop, it’s a thing that has all the characterizations of a human being but isn’t. Like a little ghost kid that makes cat noises for example. He looks like lil Timmy from down the street but…what’s that lil Timmy? Meow.
Jesus fuck me, that’s not lil Timmy! That’s a goddamn Japanese cat ghost trying suck down my delicious human meats. I’m assuming. I don’t know what cat ghosts eat and truth be told, I never want to find out. Add Japan to my anti-bucket list along with naked paintballing and watching anything with Eddie Redmayne in it.
Day 28—The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
So, which is it: thriller or horror? I’m inclined to say yes. After all, is there anything more horrifying that reliving childhood trauma to a point you start to question your own sanity? In that light, the thriller essence Lambs serves is very much grounded in the deepest sense of horror a human can conceive.
Maybe debating the “genre label” is a waste of time. Perhaps, we shy away from deeming Jonathan Demme’s magnum opus as such because it transcends the B-movie, gore-porn-baggage the h-word typically packs. But I come back to this notion, Lambs isn’t a film about serial killers—it’s a character study of a women examining her own demons as she comes face-to-face with mankind’s worst. The level of actuality lacing each moment gets under the skin in a way that only a master manipulator of emotion and human nature can conjure. We’re afraid because we find ourselves questioning if we find ourselves feeling Clarice’s horrors are plausible for us today. And we haven’t even touched Dr. Lector’s treacherously pop-culture defining presence.
My assumption is that you’re at least anecdotally familiar with The Silence of the Lambs. Nearly 30 years removed and, in many ways, still sets the standard both through the lens of major award success (Hello, Best Picture Oscar!) as well as a brilliantly nuanced character study. Give this one a re-watch—it’s one of the greats.
Day 29—One Cut of the Dead (2019)
As they attempt to make a low budget zombie movie in an abandoned WWII Japanese facility, the cast and crew involved in the production are suddenly set upon by actual zombies. One Cut of the Dead is one of those rare movies that hits every target it’s aiming at. It pumps new blood into the stale zombie genre, is one of the few horror comedies that’s both scary and funny in equal measure and somehow pulls off the film-within-a-film mechanic so many films before it have tried a failed. Every couple of years there’s an immediate candidate for a greatest horror movie ever made list and One Cut of the Dead is the strongest contender in awhile. It’s an instant classic.
Day 30—Tigers Are Not Afraid (2019)
A dark fairy tale about a gang of five children trying to survive the horrific violence of the cartels and the ghosts created every day by the drug war. Terrifying, poignant, and emotionally devastating, Tigers are Not Afraid is a mashup of Pan’s Labyrinth and City of God but scarier than the former and as brutal as the latter. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to show children in peril, not for the shock value ala Troma films but because for many, death is an everyday occurrence. With terrific performances from the five leads and a sense of dread that permeates throughout every frame, Tigers are not Afraid is a devastating piece of cinema not to be missed.
Day 31—Dealer’s Choice
It’s Halloween! Which means you get to watch whatever the hell you want. You can go with the obvious such as Halloween (any version since there’s now three to choose from) or Halloween III: Season of the Witch. The kid friendly classics like Hocus Pocus, Halloweentown, The Nightmare Before Christmas or maybe try something new. You could even play a spooky video game like Until Dawn or watch the new Creepshow show on Shudder. The holiday is your oyster, now go fuck it up.
Keep track of the films you’ve watched with our ScreenAge Wasteland 31 Days of Halloween Checklist.
How many will you commit to watching this October?