A full month of spooky recommendations to stream, from horror movies to Halloween specials and everything in between
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Is there anything better than Halloween season?
Sure, here at Polygon we cover horror year-round. We have our rolling lists of the best horror movies you can watch at home and the best horror movies on Netflix that are updated every month of the year.
But even for year-round horror fans, Halloween is a special time of year.
For the past two years, Polygon has put together a Halloween Countdown calendar, offering a Halloween-friendly movie or TV show available to watch at home every day of October. We’re delighted to bring that back once again, with 31 spooky selections to keep the mood going all month long.
Every day for the entire 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 host of Halloween surprises.
In Audition, Takashi Miike’s 1999 psychological horror-thriller, love is a consensual fiction. Years after losing his wife to a terminal illness, widower Shigeharu Aoyama is urged by his son to get back out in the world and find someone. Aoyama agrees to a proposal by his friend, a film producer, to take part in an audition for a nonexistent film in order to find a potential bride from the candidates. His search ultimately leads him to Asami Yamazaki, a beautiful former ballerina with a murky past.
As Aoyama grows closer to his new love interest, he finds himself caught deeper and deeper in a web of intrigue that threatens to tear him apart emotionally, psychologically, and yes — even physically. There is something dark inside Asami, yes, but there is a latent darkness inside of Aoyama too, arguably even darker. The only difference is that Asami has embraced that darkness and made it her own.
Miike’s film holds its cards relatively close to its chest for most of its run time, unspooling its tightly wound mystery like garrote wire before peeling back its skin of meet-cute artifice to reveal a pulsing mass of horrors roiling beneath. The film descends into a macabre fugue state of assumptions, misdirections, and cinematic sleights of hand, with dreams that feel almost real set against a reality too terrifying to be anything but. In the end, though, these are just words. Only pain can be trusted. —Toussaint Egan
Audition is available to stream on Arrow Video and Hi-Yah!, for free with ads on Tubi, and for free on Kanopy with a library card. It is also available for digital rental or purchase on Vudu and Apple.
It’s not a horror movie, per se, and yet Stanley Kubrick said that The Vanishing was the most frightening film he had ever seen. This Dutch thriller from 1988 — often referred to by its original title Spoorloos, so as not to confuse it with an inferior 1993 American remake by the same director, George Sluizer — plays it cool, like a simple missing person case. Rex and Saskia are a young couple road-tripping through France. They are taking a break at a service station when Saskia abruptly, and completely, disappears.
Initially, the horror of the situation is in the banality of it: the feeling that it could happen at any time, to anyone. Sluizer underlines this with the matter-of-fact realism of his location shooting. Then, barely more than 20 minutes in, he wrong-foots the audience with an abrupt shift: We are following Raymond, a contented French family man who appears to be rehearsing a kidnapping. The mystery of what happened to Saskia seems already to be solved. What next?
The way the film — based very closely on Tim Krabbé’s novella The Golden Egg — skips so quickly past the expected structure of a mystery thriller ought to sap tension, but in fact it builds an almost philosophical unease. As Raymond, played with a chilling brightness by Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, walks us through the “how” of his crime, the “why” becomes a gnawing, much more troubling question. We skip forward three years and find Rex obsessed with finding out what happened to his lost love. When an answer is offered, we share his hunger for it completely, and follow him to what might be the most plainly horrifying ending of any film, ever. This is a minimal masterpiece of existential dread. —Oli Welsh
The Vanishing is available to stream on The Criterion Channel, or for digital rental or purchase on Apple and Amazon.
One of the great joys of horror is the array of subgenres it offers, and the subgenres within subgenres that spool out of that. Take the monster movie, for instance. It’s a subgenre of horror on its own, and within it you have the vampire movie, the werewolf movie, and the zombie movie, just to name a few. And then you can dive even deeper and find something like Rampant, which combines the zombie subgenre with an unlikely pairing: the historical court drama period piece.
The movie takes place during the 17th century, under the Joseon dynasty in Korea. The movie is filled with political intrigue: The protagonist is an arrogant young prince called back home after his brother’s death only to find political machinations already in progress when he arrives. The court is struggling to figure out how to deal with the nearby Qing dynasty in China (where our protagonist grew up), with different factions forming.
And then there are the zombies. Yes, a zombie outbreak arrives, recalibrating the importance of this royal conflict for some (but not all) of its players. Our protagonist discovers this on his way home, and attempts to convince his father (and his father’s advisors) to do something about it. That leads to some breathtakingly brutal swordplay action in a pitch-perfect genre mashup for the ages. –Pete Volk
Rampant is available to stream on Hi-Yah!, FuboTV, and Viki, or for free with ads on Tubi, Crackle, Plex, Pluto TV, and Freevee. It is also available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple, Vudu, and Google Play.
Werewolves, vampires, zombies, and aliens have nothing on the unstoppable process of aging. All of us will get older, life will get exponentially difficult, and the only person waiting for us at the finish line is Death. John Frankenheimer built Seconds around such midlife terrors, granting New York banking exec Arthur Hamilton the opportunity to fake his own death, reconstruct his body in the form of Rock Hudson, and move to sunny Southern California as a hot, younger dude named Tony Wilson. Like a small animal tramped under the sunlamp of the Santa Barbara sun, we see Hudson spiral through paranoia and regret, replete with naked grape mashing and alcohol-fueled breakdowns. Needless to say, the grass is rarely greener, and the only thing scarier than getting old is staying young.
The film met boos at Cannes and puzzled critics who were accustomed to leading man Rock Hudson being just that — a traditional leading man. But the film has aged well, pun fully intended. James Wong Howe’s cinematography, nominated for an Academy Award, holds the viewer inches from Hudson’s face, bends reality through a fish-eye lens, and somehow makes beautiful young bodies into nauseating bundles of limbs and flesh. And Hudson, now detached from his Personal Brand for most viewers under the age of 70, undercuts his Hollywood good looks with a humble performance of a man in full collapse. —Chris Plante
Seconds is available to stream for free with ads on Pluto TV, or for free with a library card on Kanopy. It is also available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, and Google Play.
The fourth movie of the wickedly funny Child’s Play franchise takes the killer doll series in an exciting new direction. Bride of Chucky ditches Andy, the young boy followed by the murderous Chucky doll in the first three movies, and instead follows two clueless teenagers (Katherine Heigl and Nick Stabile) who unwittingly take two murderous dolls on a road trip and start to suspect each other when the bodies start dropping.
The sinister inversion of the teen road trip movie would be fun enough, but it’s the addition of Jennifer Tilly that really makes Bride of Chucky sing. For the uninitiated in the Child’s Play universe: The Chucky doll is possessed by the soul of serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif). Tilly plays Ray’s former lover and accomplice, Tiffany, who brings the doll back to life and becomes a murderous doll herself.
The result is two couples road-tripping together but unable to communicate with each other. Heigl and Stabile’s Jade and Jesse are your typical youths in love — still getting to know each other and not fully trusting yet — while Chucky and Tiffany’s bickering and subtle manipulations make this a joyous and twisted fun time. Add in some breathtaking imagery from director Ronny Yu (Freddy vs. Jason) and cinematographer Peter Pau (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; The Killer) and you have a franchise sequel well worth your time. —PV
Bride of Chucky is available to stream on Peacock. It is also available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, and Google Play.
Visually, 1988’s Dead Ringers must be one of David Cronenberg’s tamest movies — with the exception of one extremely disturbing dream sequence around halfway through, and one grisly but out-of-focus long shot at the end. Otherwise, this is a film composed of talking heads in pristine, orderly spaces, and varnished in 1980s designer opulence: tearooms, operating theaters, penthouses. His usual body horror is more implied in the gleaming, twisted contours of medical implements than actually shown. Yet it might be his most devastating film.
Jeremy Irons plays identical twin gynecologists Beverly and Elliot Mantle, who run a successful fertility clinic in Toronto. Beverly, quiet and sensitive, tends to the practice and the patients while the urbane Elliot climbs the medical establishment ladder. They live together and sometimes pretend to be each other, so shy Beverly can enjoy the fruits of Elliot’s womanizing. But their symbiotic relationship starts to fray and peel when Beverly falls in love with Claire (Geneviève Bujold), an actress and patient who can’t bear children because she has three chambers in her womb.
Beneath Dead Ringers’ glassy surface, feeling runs deep and cold. The intense psychodrama that develops between the three characters — but mostly between the twin brothers — builds to a conclusion that’s both appalling and moving. At the film’s heart are the incredible performances given by Irons and captured by Cronenberg with careful, unshowy craftsmanship. Without leaning too heavily on identifying makeup or tics, Irons not only innately distinguishes Bev and Ellie, but builds an intimacy between them that’s as tender as it is eerie. It’s like watching one person tear themselves in two and then clumsily try to seal the wound. Dead Ringers is the stuff of tragedy as well as horror. —OW
Dead Ringers is available to stream on HBO Max. It is also available for free with a library card on Hoopla and Kanopy, or for digital rental or purchase via Amazon and Apple TV.
Michael Mann has a reputation as a slick, streetbound auteur. Films like Thief, Heat, and Collateral embrace the metropolis as a labyrinth, and crime as a psychological test. The Keep, his 1983 jump to more blockbuster fare, is really nothing like those films — except for an excessive amount of mood.
Set in 1941 Romania, around the time the Nazis invade the Soviet Union, the film finds a German battalion stumbling upon a mysterious structure dubbed “The Keep.” Two savvy soldiers hope to loot what they think is treasure inside. Instead, their heist unleashes Radu Molasar, a golem-like destroyer of worlds. Whoops!
When members of the infantry start winding up dead, a vile SS commander (played with ruthlessness by Gabriel Byrne) shows up to figure out what the heck is going on. Naturally, he starts killing people, too. Mann slides between more stark drama that one might expect from a film plunging headfirst into World War II geopolitics, while throwing supernatural curveballs that ensure every corner of the story feels haunted. Eventually, Scott Glenn shows up as a protector of the local village, which is being tortured by both Nazis and Radu Molasar, and the race is on to put an end to it.
Backed by Tangerine Dream’s ecclesiastic synth score and staged in some of the most beautiful, light-streaked stone sets ever made (can a Romanian temple be a liminal space?), The Keep is, no doubt, B-movie schlock. But in the hands of a master like Mann, it’s given the artful haze of a nightmare. —Matt Patches
The Keep is available to stream on The Criterion Channel, and for free with ads on Pluto TV. It is also available for digital rental or purchase via Amazon and Apple TV.
Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack is a series that contains multitudes. The premise of the show, concerning a samurai prince who is transported into a dystopian future by his nemesis, a tyrannical shape-shifting demon, and forced to trek across a strange and alien new world in search for a way back home, is one that afforded a wealth of storytelling opportunities that ranged from epic and comical to somber and horrifying. Episode 35, “Jack and the Haunted House,” fits squarely in the latter category.
While traveling alone one night, Jack happens upon a little girl crying in a forest. Chasing after her in an effort to console her, he finds himself drawn to a mysterious house whose malevolent energy plagues him with starting visions of an evil force preying upon helpless family. Jack’s drive to rescue the girl and her family from mortal peril however threatens to ensnare himself in the clutches of a spirit who thrives on transforming the house into an impossible labyrinth from which there is no escape.
“Jack and the Haunted House” is an especially impressive episode, not just for its explicit horror-centric premise, but for its depiction of the demon itself — a writhing mass of dark tendrils that coalesce into a ukiyo-e-style dragon with a leering jaw and piercing eyes. It’s a fantastic episode that strikes a keen balance between unnerving terror and the more action-focused emphasis of the series as a whole. —TE
Samurai Jack is available to stream on HBO Max. It is also available for digital rental or purchase via Amazon and Apple TV.
Steven Universe is no stranger to horror, and particularly body horror. A Crystal Gem’s body is the manifestation of their Gem — which itself is immutable — allowing them to shape-shift at will. It’s part of what makes the show beautiful; the Gem characters are all canonically nonbinary and can choose the body and gender expression that suits them. It also gives the show fertile ground to do terrifying things, like depict the consequence of Gem “experiments” that produce disgusting, roiling masses of animated disembodied limbs.
In this vein, “Chille Tid” gives kid-accessible visual language to serious concepts like power, consent, codependency, and martyrdom. The episode focuses on fusion, which up until this point has been depicted as incredibly beautiful. Fusion allows two Gems to morph together to create a larger Gem with the personality of their relationship. And the show treats this act with joy and reverence, building so much storytelling around the power of loving others. It also teaches the lesson that coercing another Gem into fusion is a deep breach of trust. (And by the way, in Gem World culture, fusing with a different type of Gem is a huge taboo — another bit of incisive real-world commentary from Steven Universe.)
In “Chille Tid,” Lapis, a depressed and incredibly powerful Crystal Gem, fuses with Jasper, a mercenary sent to destroy the Crystal Gems on Earth. The fusion is repugnant. Lapis martyrs herself — shackling herself to an abuser and sinking them into the ocean. You can see the large character they create fighting against water-created handcuffs that spring from the sea. This is only made worse when you know Lapis’ backstory: She only recently escaped imprisonment from an enchanted mirror. It’s a deeply frightening episode, especially for children’s television, but also as an adult — if you have ever escaped an abuser, you know the feeling too well. The imagery is unforgettable because it is real.
For those of you who worry, Lapis does break free. And she does eventually live in a renovated barn with Peridot, resulting in one of the best fanons of the show. —Nicole Clark
Steven Universe is available to stream on HBO Max and Hulu. It is also available for digital rental or purchase via Amazon.
Larry Fessenden’s underseen 2006 horror masterpiece The Last Winter was way ahead of the climate-horror wave that the rest of the world is only just catching up on. The movie follows a hodgepodge mix of government officials, scientists, and researchers sent to the freezing wilderness of Alaska in hopes of finding oil. The team is most concerned with digging into a wildlife reserve, and while the government’s liaison, Ed Pollack (played with menacing cruelty and almost-cartoon levels of evil by Ron Perlman) is gung-ho about drilling, a few of the scientists aren’t so sure. After several warnings not to, the group digs into the ice and disrupts long-dormant spirits, causing, of course, all hell to break loose.
Fessenden’s movie is notable not just for how great and watchable (and scary) it is on its own terms, but also for how effectively it synthesizes so many of the greatest horror subgenres into one story. It’s one of the best climate change horror movies, one of the best native-spirits-and-disturbed-land movies, a fantastic addition to the classic horror canon of the arctic expedition gone horribly wrong, and even fits nicely next to other government-creep-in-way-over-their-head movies like Aliens.
But for all its time spent tapping into horror history, The Last Winter’s best feature is how unsettlingly it presents its own theme. As far as the movie is concerned, humanity is essentially a parasite to the natural world, and everything that goes wrong is the world simply fighting back to defend itself. Plenty of movies provide visions of the end of civilization, but few other than The Last Winter make it seem like the only reasonable option. —Austen Goslin
The Last Winter is available for digital rental or purchase via Amazon and Apple TV.
“Can I have a bite?”
A sexy vampire western positively oozing with “cool,” there is no other movie like Near Dark. Kathryn Bigelow’s remarkable solo directorial debut started an excellent streak, leading right into Blue Steel, Point Break, and Strange Days.
Bigelow wanted to make a Western, but studios weren’t exactly champing at the bit to fund those in the 1980s. So she and co-writer Eric Red set out to combine the Western with another genre nearly as old as cinema itself: the vampire movie. The recent successes of Fright Night and The Lost Boys didn’t hurt, either.
Near Dark has fantastic action set-pieces — a barroom brawl and a shootout in a bungalow stand out in particular for their tension building and use of light, respectively. It’s also darkly funny, and filled with biting dramatic irony (a vampire giving a hickey to an unsuspecting neck, some acute early wordplay where your knowledge that this is a vampire movie changes everything).
The costumes are pitch-perfect, and the makeup is out of control (the effects to create the illusion of burning skin are simply astounding). But I can only go so far without talking about Bill Paxton. Paxton, who plays the out-of-control vampire Severen, is a force of nature in Near Dark. He is an electric presence at every turn, equal parts menacing and sexy, and is the most memorable part of an extremely memorable movie. —PV
Near Dark is available to stream on The Criterion Channel.
There are a lot of creative ways to describe Shinya Tsukamoto’s 1989 body-horror masterpiece: “cult classic,” “visionary,” “incredibly fucked up,” to name a few. The description I’ve more or less settled on is “transhumanist body-horror supervillain love story.”
The first 15 minutes of Tetsuo hit like an adrenaline boost shot straight to the occipital lobe, chronicling the story of a salaryman and his girlfriend who accidentally run over a mysterious eccentric with a body-morphing “metal fetish.” Later, upon realizing they have both been infected with same affliction, the couple probes at the newfound physical, psychological, and sexual dimensions of their bizarre condition, all while their victim turned adversary plots his revenge from the shadows.
Tsukamoto’s magnum opus is horrifying, horny, and endlessly original, constantly reinventing itself with frenzied stop-motion montage and cackling quick-cut audio cues that keep the viewer at the edge of their seat. Chu Ishikawa’s score feels like the spiritual antecedent to electronic music acts like Nine Inch Nails and Portishead, with its droning industrial clamor and burst-fire drum loops searing into your eardrums like acid eating away at sheet metal.
While a natural precursor to contemporary films like Julia Ducournau’s Titane and David Cronenberg’s Crash, you’ll soon enough discover — even after more than three decades and two sequels — there still hasn’t been anything else quite like it since. If you don’t have the stomach for sadomasochistic body-modding or gore, it’s totally fine to give this one a pass. If you do happen to give it a chance, though, you’ll be treated to a visceral and unforgettable experience. –TE
Tetsuo: The Iron Man is available to stream on The Criterion Channel and Shudder, or for free with a library card on Kanopy. It is also available for digital rental or purchase via Apple TV.
Describing this Hong Kong vampire movie is an extremely complicated process. On its surface, Rigor Mortis is a vampire/demon/ghost action movie. But when you dig a little deeper, it’s also a mini time capsule and a tribute to the supernatural horror cinema of Hong Kong’s past.
The movie follows a man who arrives at a massive concrete apartment building that seems to be haunted by every spirit you could imagine. He’s a past-his-prime actor and intends to take his own life. When he tries, twin spirits attempt to possess his body, but then they’re stopped by a retired vampire hunter who now runs the apartment’s restaurant. What else would a vampire hunter do when there are no vampires left?
This entire sequence only covers the movie’s first 10 or so minutes, and is a perfect setup for the specific brand of knowing, in-on-the-joke supernatural action ever present in Rigor Mortis — which of course does eventually involve a vampire. It’s the kind of early-2010s movie where the entire environment is gray, just so the production has an excuse to paint it red when the fights come. All of this may sound ridiculous (and it definitely is), but somehow Rigor Mortis manages to strike the perfect balance of a so-serious-it’s-silly tone and modulates between the two moods with ease. It pivots from scenes of people trapping spirits in wardrobes to someone desperately trying to perform a spiritual ritual to resurrect their loved one, giving enough gravity to each that they can all come off as sincere.
As entertaining as Rigor Mortis is, it also has a secret. While not necessary to getting the movie, it does add another level of enjoyment. See, the protagonist is named Chin Siu-ho, which is also the name of the actor who’s playing him, who also happened to be the star of the legendary Hong Kong horror series Mr. Vampire. In other words, it’s a movie about a real-world retired actor/martial artist who once played a vampire hunter, now meets a fictional retired vampire hunter, and then joins in on the vampire hunting one more time. –AG
Rigor Mortis is available to stream on Peacock and Hi-Yah!, for free with ads on Plex and Tubi, or for digital rental or purchase via Amazon and Apple TV.
Vincent Price is an icon of horror whose camp yet commanding presence defined so many of the lurid, theatrical British and American horror movies of the 1960s and ’70s. His 1968 star vehicle Witchfinder General looks like it’s going to be one of those films, but beware. This is a bitter, realist, historical kind of horror, and both the film and Price’s performance are deadly serious.
Witchfinder General was adapted from a novel, and loosely based on the exploits of a historical character: Matthew Hopkins, an English witch hunter who claimed, falsely, to have been awarded the title of “witchfinder general” by Parliament. During the English Civil War of the 1640s, a time of paranoia and lawlessness, Hopkins rampaged freely around the East Anglian countryside, sending over 100 people to the gallows on suspicion of witchcraft.
Although it plays fast and loose with the historical record, this grim, low-budget thriller doesn’t truck with the supernatural. It’s all about the evil of man. Price, in one of his iciest performances, plays Hopkins as a manipulative fascist and sadist; in a way, a kind of serial killer. When he targets a kindly priest and the priest’s niece Sara (Hilary Dwyer), he’s pitted against the niece’s betrothed, a valiant Roundhead soldier (Ian Ogilvy).
But there’s nothing heroic about the struggle in this film, which, playing out in an eerily becalmed country landscape, feels desperate and suffocated. Dwyer unleashes some of cinema’s most unnerving and memorable screams over the bleak final scenes. Director Michael Reeves was just 24 when he made Witchfinder General, and died of an overdose shortly after its release: a tragic early end to a promising career that has only added to the mystique of this unsparing movie. –OW
Witchfinder General is available to stream for free with a library card on Hoopla. Enterprising readers can also find the whole thing on YouTube.
How many other vampire movies open with a subterranean goth nightclub scene set to Bauhaus’ “Bela Legosi’s Dead” featuring David Bowie, the Thin White Duke himself?
The late Tony Scott’s 1983 vampire horror film stars Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie as Miriam and John Blaylock, two vampires living in New York who spend their time in relative leisure, playing the cello in their darkened mansion by day and stalking their prey at night.
As John inexplicably finds his vitality and youth sapped away despite his immortal body, he seeks out answers and aid in the form of Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), a gerontologist studying effects of different blood types on the process of aging. It’s not long, however, that Miriam, who first sired John 200 years ago, sets her sights on claiming Roberts as the latest in her long line of lovers.
Shot with icy blue color grading and lighting juxtaposed with cavernous shadows shot inside John and Miriam’s luxurious New York penthouse, The Hunger is an absolute feast for the senses. Bowie delivers a characteristically phenomenal performance as John, equal parts charming and aloof in his brief yet memorable on-screen presence, and Deneuve is a sultry and tragic antagonist in her performance as Miriam. Sarandon gives an equally captivating performance as a scientist who yearns for immortality in the form of fame and recognition only to find it in the physical and spiritual form of vampiric longevity. If you’re looking for a horror film as terrifying as it is sexy, look no further than Scott’s horror classic. –TE
The Hunger is available to stream on HBO Max and Watch TCM. It is also available for digital rental or purchase via Amazon, Apple TV, Vudu, and Google Play.
At a lean 78 minutes, the 1962 mind game Carnival of Souls has no time to waste on scene-setting or character-building: It opens two seconds before the action starts, with a drag race that quickly goes wrong, plunging one of the competitors into a murky river. When one of the car’s passengers, Mary (Candace Hilligoss), improbably emerges from the water a full three hours later, it’s clear that something’s off about her, but it takes writer John Clifford and indie director Herk Harvey the rest of the film’s unnerving run time to fully reveal what’s really going on.
Compared to modern horror, Carnival of Souls is lacking in big scares and gory terror, but it became a cult hit (and a major influence on horror directors like George A. Romero) for a reason: Harvey has a strong command of eerie tone and unsettling imagery. A creepy organ score, an escalating sense of something just not right, and a sense of deep dread all hang over the film, casting a dreamy spell as Mary staggers through her subsequent life. Harvey himself shows up in the film as an eerie presence, stalking Mary with ill-omened intent.
Hilligoss’ huge, haunted eyes and overall sense of fragility make her a memorable protagonist, but the real star of Carnival of Souls may be the abandoned Saltair Pavilion in Salt Lake City, Utah, where Harvey sets much of the action. He paid $50 for the rights to shoot in the disintegrating, isolated old spa, a setting that looks like it has its own ghosts and its own nightmarish backstory. Carnival of Souls is vintage cult horror, but it stands up today as a memorable experience, and the trek through that nightmare pavilion is a big reason it’s endured. —Tasha Robinson
Carnival of Souls is available to stream on HBO Max, Paramount Plus, The Criterion Channel, and Prime Video, for free with a library card on Hoopla, or for free with ads on Vudu and Tubi.
Horror movies are often vehicles for creators to give insight into big, complicated topics like religion, hope, death, or even fear itself. But rarely has any horror movie met the subject of grief as head-on as Don’t Look Now does, or managed to tackle the challenge in such a profound and sad way.
This 1973 horror classic from director Nicolas Roeg follows a couple who move to Venice after their daughter tragically drowns (yes, Venice the city full of canals; yes, it is a bad idea). From there, the couple meets a pair of older women, one of whom claims to have psychic powers and insists that the couple’s daughter is still alive, which simultaneously heals and hurts the couple’s quickly fraying relationship.
To help sell the overwhelming weight that grief can put on a person and the way it can reshape their world, Roeg turns Venice’s endless alleyways, bridges, and water into something like a dreamscape, folding them in on each other and creating vast distances out of each canal. The city feels at once claustrophobic and miles wide, perfectly reflecting the confusion, and utter dismay of the characters and creating an atmosphere of tension that’s rarely achieved in a movie with as few direct and overt scares as this one. But that’s the kind of movie Don’t Look Now is, one that will sit with you like quiet grief for years to come, without ever making you jump out of your seat. –AG
Don’t Look Now is available to stream on Prime Video, for free with ads on Pluto TV, or for free with a library card on Kanopy. It is also available for digital rental or purchase via Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.
Before you see a single image, The Faculty kicks off with the blood-pumping guitar riff that opens The Offspring’s “The Kids Aren’t Alright.” It’s the film’s promise to you: This is a movie about teens in trouble. And it’s going to fucking rock.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez from a story by David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel and with rewrites from late-’90s slasher king Kevin Williamson, The Faculty is the under-sung pinnacle of teen horror’s era of self-awareness.
In The Faculty, an Ohio high school becomes hell for its students when alien parasites infect the school faculty, turning them into murderous hosts that conspire to infect a group of students at first, and then the whole town. As the parasites spread and get more powerful, the odds of survival rapidly dwindle — and a Breakfast Club-esque motley crew bands together to defeat the invaders.
Part of the fun of The Faculty is in its genre pastiche: The movie is a winking mashup of sci-fi horror classics like The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, while fitting in neatly with contemporaries like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer (both written by Kevin Williamson). Another part is its astonishing cast of early-career stars: The Fast & Furious franchise’s Jordana Brewster appears, as does Jon Stewart, Famke Janssen, Elijah Wood, and Usher himself. With a crisp script that moves at an incredible clip and wonderfully gross-but-not-too-gross practical effects, The Faculty is a goddamn rollercoaster of a film, a great horror movie for people who want some scares for sure, but are mostly down for a great time with a movie. –Joshua Rivera
The Faculty is available to stream on HBO Max, or for digital rental or purchase via Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.
In the year of our lord 2022, there’s absolutely no reason anyone needs to feel pressured to join another video call, and only slightly less reason for someone to feel utterly glued to a computer window. Unfriended: Dark Web is the psychopathic exception to both these rules, a horror movie told strictly from the desktop of Matias (Colin Woodell). During the course of his Skype call with his friends (this was pre-pandemic, if the app choice gives you pause), their night collectively descends into terror as the original owners of his laptop come a-callin’.
Though Dark Web is a sequel to 2015’s Unfriended, the two are unrelated, and, in my opinion, the pitch-black bleakness of Dark Web makes it the better spooky month watch. Here the dark web is just as otherworldly as any supernatural presence, and the film never lets up as it descends into digital chaos. There’s something to Dark Web about the ease with which our online life can bleed (literally) into our real lives, and how we’re all easier marks than we’d expect. But for those who just like to see a group of kids get taken out one by one, it’s also just straightforwardly that. Like with The Thing, there’s an appeal to watching people methodically try several reasonable steps to get themselves out of trouble.
But this being a horror movie, there’s only so much you can do. To get caught in the web of Unfriended 2 is to actually let yourself live out a slasher movie that’s darker than just another Zoom invite: a thriller based in the world we actually live in, or at least the dark underbelly beneath it. After Unfriended: Dark Web, that extra Zoom invite might not seem like the worst call in the world. But if your laptop background never fully feels secure again — well, you can always go outside. —Zosha Millman
Unfriended: Dark Web is available to stream on Peacock, or for digital rental or purchase via Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.
Despite his enormous and complicated influence, there are few good direct adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft. The best ones are indirect homages, like John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, a movie that is equal parts unsettling, meta, and just plain fun.
The film stars Jurassic Park’s Sam Neill, who plays an insurance investigator, John Trent, who’s hired to find Sutter Cane, a wildly successful horror writer gone missing. Cane’s work, some say, is so affecting that it drives them to madness, as Trent learns one day when Cane is attacked by a crazed man with an ax — a man who, Trent learns after police shoot him dead, was Sutter Cane’s agent.
This is where things get weird: In his search for Cane, Trent begins reading the novelist’s work and discovers clues that Hobb’s End, the fictional setting of many of Cane’s novels, may be a real place. As he drives off into the ominous woods of New England in search of it, the line between what is real and what isn’t begins to blur for Trent, and he begins to find himself in a horror story of his own.
A lesser-known work from a modern master, In the Mouth of Madness is a tightly wound clock of paranoia, a recursive nightmare that asks where the line is between fears real and imagined. It’s perfect for those who want a horror movie that’s more creepy than scary, and a work that effortlessly toes the line between schlock and craft. Consider it the ultimate B-movie version of the more blockbuster-friendly Cabin in the Woods: a horror story about horror stories, a fun take on a specific brand of nightmare where no one has fun at all. –JR
In the Mouth of Madness is available to rent or purchase digitally on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.
Much like the M.R. Carey book it adapts, Colm McCarthy’s bloody horror-action movie The Girl With All the Gifts is best experienced without any kind of spoilers or plot summary going in. It’s a journey of discovery that unfolds in a particularly cautious and calculated way, and discovering its exact subgenre of horror without advance warning is a big part of the experience. It starts with a classroom where children in prison jumpsuits are heavily restrained, held under military guard, and presided over by a hostile supervisor (Paddy Considine) and a patrician doctor (Glenn Close), who treat them like feral animals. Why exactly that’s the case takes a while to unfold, and if you enjoy surprises, you should stop reading right here and jump straight to the streaming links.
For people who are more specific and selective about their horror and need to know what they’re getting into before they jump in, though, here’s a little more: The Girl With All the Gifts is a straight-up zombie movie, but it’s one that sympathizes as much with the infected as the survivors making their way through the usual dangerous postapocalyptic wasteland full of flesh-eating hordes. Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a young girl infected with the zombie virus but (mostly) capable of restraint and control, winds up as the central figure in a drama built around the adults trying to use her and her classmates to understand and cure the zombie plague.
The whole story ends up being a tender fable with some particularly vivid and winning performances and a memorable-as-hell ending. This 2016 film was a little early to the ongoing wave of “What kind of world are we leaving our children?” horror and sci-fi movies, and it answers that question in a way that’s sweet and sad — after enough intense flesh-eating action to make this a solid entry in the zombie-movie canon. —TR
The Girl With All the Gifts is available to watch for free with ads on YouTube, Vudu, and Tubi, for free with a library card on Hoopla, or for digital rental or purchase via Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.
A criminally underrated horror show, Black Summer is one of the best things streaming on Netflix, full stop. A spinoff of Z Nation from Karl Schaefer (The Dead Zone) and Polygon favorite John Hyams (Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, Alone), it’s a tense, ground-level depiction of the first days of a zombie apocalypse. The show starts six weeks after the start of the apocalypse, and follows a mother (Jamie King) searching for her lost daughter, and the cast of characters she meets along the way.
What makes Black Summer stand out from the rest is the sharp direction – Hyams directs about half of the episodes, with Abram Cox (Miss Nobody) filling in for the other half. It’s the rare streaming show that has real, capable movie directors behind the camera, and that’s never been more apparent than in the season 2 premiere, “The Cold.”
Black Summer leans on sequences that read like one-takes [ed. note: it’s very rare to find a real oner out in the wild], playing up the tension inherent to a zombie apocalypse with the technical acumen to actually pull off such ambitious sequences. “Luke and Sophie” opens with one such sequence, starting with a man siphoning gas out of a car into a disgusting KFC bucket, keeping an eye on a lurking zombie about a hundred yards away, and continuing in an exhilarating seven-minute one-take sequence that includes seeing someone turn into a zombie, a temporary change in protagonists, an intense car sequence, and a contemplative zombie staring at his own reflection. It’s a great example of how the show can ratchet from 0 to 60 in an instant, with edge-of-your seat action. You can watch it without any additional context, and it’ll give you a pretty perfect idea of whether this show is for you. –PV
Black Summer is available to watch on Netflix.
Grief, ghosts, and early camera phones are at the center of this excellent Australian found-footage horror movie. Lake Mungo takes a docufiction approach to telling the story of the Palmer family, whose teenage daughter, Alice, has recently drowned while swimming in the body of water the movie gets its name from. The family is consumed with grief, but everything gets a little stranger when Alice’s brother Matthew starts discovering certain ways to seemingly make Alice’s ghost appear in their house; at least, that’s what he claims is happening.
The movie’s investigation into loss and its effects on families takes up most of its space, but it’s also full of little moments about the secret lives that teenagers lead, pulling in a half-dozen Twin Peaks-style discoveries about Alice’s secrets. Despite all this making for some fun twists, Lake Mungo is at its best when it’s a slightly slower contemplation of whether or not moving on is really possible and if memories, even the very worst ones, keep people’s spirits in the world a little longer.
Perhaps Lake Mungo’s most effective device in conveying this theme, and one place it separates from most found-footage films, is by calling into question some of the footage we’re being shown. Matthew’s ghostly images, and their legitimacy, are called into question several times throughout the movie, which ultimately leads us to question everything we’re seeing. But by giving us a purposefully unreliable perspective, one that’s manipulated so clearly by the characters themselves, it sends us further into the minds and the grief of the Palmer family in a way that simple talking head interviews or confessionals never could. —AG
Lake Mungo is available to watch for free with ads on Tubi, or for digital rental or purchase via Amazon, Apple, and Google Play.
It took years of comparisons to Evil Dead for me to sit down for a brisk 90 minutes with Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight. Learn from my mistake and don’t waste an extra second. In short, a battle between humanity and the Very Embodiment of Evil plays out in a dilapidated boarding house in nowheresville, New Mexico. Our heroes kill demons by dousing them with the literal blood of Jesus Christ, and Billy Zane punches a man so hard that his fist gets stuck in the dude’s skull. Demon Knight is that special sort of movie that makes you shout “movies rule” as Filter’s “Hey Man, Nice Shot” blares over the closing credits.
If there’s any good left in this world, everyone reading this list will watch the film, dramatically boosting its streaming numbers and convincing studio execs at whichever megacorporation owns the rights to revive Tales From the Crypt. In the 1990s, we got weird shit like this on late-night TV nearly every weekend. We didn’t know how good we had it. –CP
Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight is available to stream on Peacock or for digital rental or purchase via Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.
Eyes of Fire is not the movie you turn on when you’re looking for bone-chilling horror. The 1983 independent folk horror movie is far too bygone in its thrills, as it follows a preacher leading his followers into the Colonial-era wilderness in search of a new settlement.
But if you’re looking to better trace the evolution of horror as a genre, exploring the oft-forgotten rings of the tree that branched to where we are now, Eyes of Fire is a must. This is a dated story, made all the richer for it. The art department got looped into Nightmare on Elm Street because of their work here, and it shows, man. As the plot of land they pick slowly reveals itself to be a site of evil, the seams of the production become evident and evocative in their confounding realism, resulting in a technicolor terror that’s often kind of gross (in a fun way). It’s just fucking weird and it’s a delight to get to roam through.
Eyes of Fire is best seen through that lens: a journey into the frontier for both the viewer and the group of Colonial settlers. The movie doesn’t go all the way with its cosmic horror, but it more thoroughly engages with the extent of it than other, (maybe!) more immediately recognizable titles. In Eyes of Fire the natural world is beautiful and serene, but it’s rarely truly peaceful. That’s what’s so fucking scary about it. —Zosha Millman
Eyes of Fire is available to stream on AMC+ through Prime Video or Shudder.
American folk horror has a few different strands and subgenres, but perhaps the most prominent deal with early American witchcraft. Films like The Witch have helped resurrect the genre for modern audiences, but movies like 1983’s Eyes of Fire continue to hold up as cult classics — as this list has already described. The Last Thing Mary Saw is a relatively new addition to this specifically American subgenre, but with its unique approach to witchcraft already sets itself apart as a worthy addition.
The Last Thing Mary Saw follows Mary, a girl wearing a blindfold, telling a local authority the story of how she came to be blind and what happened to her family. During her story, the movie cuts back to earlier in Mary’s life, when she lived with an overbearing (and complicated) religious family and the family’s serving girl, Eleanor, who Mary has a secret romance with. This central relationship is tender and sweet, but the framing narrative tinges the entire story with a note of inevitable tragedy.
Of course, it’s also a folk horror movie, which means there’s plenty of terrifying witchcraft and creepy spiritualism underlying the movie’s foreboding atmosphere and tragic lost love.
While most traditional folk horror movies position witchcraft as a force of liberation, especially versus the religious conservatism of that particular moment in American history, The Last Thing Mary Saw takes a different approach, casting both belief systems as tools that can be used hand-in-hand as systems of oppression against the movie’s most vulnerable characters. By turning both witchcraft and more traditional religion into tools, The Last Thing Mary Saw goes from an intimate and creepy one-house horror movie to something far more unsettling and special. —Austen Goslin
The Last Thing Mary Saw is available to watch on AMC+ through Prime Video and Shudder. It is also available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.
Claustrophobes, steer clear of this movie; it’s terrifying even before it dips into pure horror. Writer-director Neil Marshall (who went on to tackle the metaller-than-thou 2019 take on Hellboy) sends six friends — all women — on a caving expedition in North Carolina. Interpersonal tensions, a nasty accident, and some legendarily bad decision-making has the group on edge even before the CHUDs show up to really derail everyone’s holiday.
And even before that, Marshall crafts an oppressive thriller that makes the audience really feel the weight of the rock above the protagonists, as they strain to navigate slippery slopes and painfully tight spaces. One of the hardest parts of modern horror is finding a way to effectively isolate the victims in a world of cellphones and easy interconnectivity, where help is potentially a phone call away. The Descent is a natural answer to that problem: Just seeing what the lead characters have to do to move from one hazardous cavern to the next makes it stunningly clear that they’re well beyond the range of help, and they’re going to have to forge their own survival out of physical toughness and the resources on hand.
The Descent has some all-time classic reveal scares that play with the caves’ limited light sources and intermittent visibility, but it also excels at the slow-burn tension, with plenty of nail-biting “this is not going to go well” sequences designed for a very dark room and a very good sound system. Be prepared for a strong urge to go outside and breathe some fresh, clean air afterward. —TR
The Descent is available to stream on Paramount Plus, Amazon Prime, and Shudder, or for free with ads on Tubi. It is also available for digital rental or purchase via Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.
In an era of horror when everything is more nakedly a metaphor for trauma, the concept can start to show its wear. When everything is using the genre to attempt profundity about the darkest days of our life it begins to feel like no one is, or at least not with any flair or insight.
The Invisible Man (2020) is the exception to the rule, partly because it’s actually wedding its concept to its execution at a very basic level. Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) has left her abusive boyfriend and moved in with her best friend (Aldis Hodge), and even after a few months, the sense of dread undergirding a horror-thriller is still a defining experience of her world. Until her boyfriend dies, leaving her money under the condition she’s never institutionalized — a fairly easy qualification, at least before she starts feeling like he’s still very much around, possibly even invisibly (as the name suggests) hunting her.
The film is a major departure from the classic Universal Classic Monster that inspired it (RIP to the Dark Universe, or whatever), but it’s all the better for it, using its concept to explore the absolute bleakness of the world Cecilia faces. It helps that writer-director Leigh Whannell lets the world feel tautly tense even in smaller moments, sleek and slick with unease, at almost every turn. When the Invisible Man is menacing you he is everywhere and nowhere. And that presence (such that it is) threatens Cecilia constantly, without bogging the narrative down in too much minutiae of the situation.
The Invisible Man works so well it feels like one of the reasons we keep getting inelegant trauma-as-text horror films with some regularity. Like its titular monster, the possibility that it can work is all over and hard to spot. Invisible Man just makes it look easy. —ZM
The Invisible Man is available to watch for free with ads on Freevee, or for digital rental or purchase via Amazon, Apple TV, Vudu, and Google Play.
Between Pulse and Cure, Kiyoshi Kurosawa has directed two of the most celebrated horror movies of the past 30 years. But one of his more recent efforts is just as unsettling, if not more so, earning its unnerving title and deserving your time.
A criminal psychologist (Hidetoshi Nishijima, the lead in Drive My Car) gets pulled into a cold case from his former career as a detective. As the mystifying case absorbs him more and more, odd events start happening in his neighborhood. What exactly happens is best left unsaid, but it’s a masterful work by one of our greatest living directors.
The blocking in this domestic horror drama is sensational, with Kurosawa framing characters with extreme precision, often in front of symmetrical windows or uncomfortably close to each other (after you watch the movie, check out this MUBI video essay on proximity in the movie). This precision plays up the (titular) atmosphere of the movie to a discomforting degree, and also leaves you with the impression you’ve just watched a work by someone in complete control of his visual powers. —PV
Creepy is available to watch for free with ads on Tubi, The Roku Channel, and Pluto TV, for free with a library card on Kanopy, or for digital rental or purchase via Amazon and Apple.
If you’ve ever fallen down a YouTube rabbit hole of algorithmically curated house tours and home improvement videos, this short film ought to scare the daylights out of you. Uploaded to YouTube on Oct, 16, 2016, the description for My house walk-through reads as follows: “This is not horror video [sic]. This video was created simply by filming inside my house.” At the risk of overstating the obvious, a single viewing of the film itself will attest otherwise.
Directed by the Japanese visual artist, animator, and experimental filmmaker PiroPito, the 12-minute short follows an unseen protagonist as they film a video inside their home during what they claim to be a typhoon. A recursive nightmare of impossible architecture, grotesque DeepDream-like surfaces, and purgatorial dread, My house walk-through is like if Hideo Kojima’s 2014 horror game P.T. were to channel the uncanny “everything is fine” artifice of lifestyle vlogging to nauseating effect. The horrors are unending, but hey — it’s free real estate! —TE
My house walk-through is available to stream on YouTube.
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