Is there any cinematic season quite like the month of October? For 31 days it’s socially acceptable to binge silver screen specials with the sole intention of scaring yourself silly. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of junk to wade through when trying to decide what to watch; between B-movies and ABC family programming, it’s tough to find a comprehensive guide on frightening flicks. That’s why I’ve compiled a bit of a cheat sheet for anyone interested in getting the most out of their Halloween this year.
Below you’ll find a corresponding film for every day of the month. The selections are a healthy mix of tried-and-true genre staples and indie gems, both foreign and domestic. An appropriate amount of comedy is thrown into the fray to balance out some of the heavier scares, and any streaming service that provides the film is listed for your convenience.
Oct. 1 – Halloween (1978)
Leading off a movie marathon requires a title that puts you in the spirit of the season, and what film (save, perhaps, one other selection on this list) has been as influential on an entire genre as Halloween was for horror? It certainly contains the best performance of William Shatner’s career.
Oct. 2 – 28 Days Later (2002)
It’s difficult to remember a time zombies weren’t in vogue, but they were damned close the bottom of the apocalyptic totem pole when Danny Boyle’s take on the flesh-eating ghoul hit theaters in 2002. While not technically “zombies” by horror purist standards, there’s no denying that Boyle’s infected fiends paved the way for the subgenre’s comeback. Pair Days with its equally frightening sequel, 28 Weeks Later, and you’ve got yourself a killer double feature.
Oct. 3 – Nosferatu (1922) [Youtube]
The German Expressionist movement of the 1920’s spawned a number of creepy classics and Nosferatu rises above them all as the standard bearer. Max Schreck’s titular bloodsucker holds the distinction of being the first vampire to grace the silver screen and the character’s chill factor holds up rather splendidly. F.W. Murnau’s silent classic is a quick watch at 94 minutes and you won’t have to search far to find it, as a high-def rendering is available on Youtube.
Oct. 4 – We Are Still Here (2015) [Netflix]
Ted Geoghegan’s first real foray into directing didn’t have a wide release, but the loving send up to decades-old haunted house cinema has found a broader audience thanks to positive word of mouth, striking visuals, and appropriately timed (and used!) jump scares.
Oct. 5 – Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010) [Hulu, Netflix]
You’ve seen plenty of movies featuring beautiful teenagers being gruesomely butchered by hillbillies. But what if it’s all just a horrible misunderstanding? That’s the premise behind Eli Craig’s unique take on the backwoods slasher. Bolstered by endearing performances from Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk as the camo-clad killers in question, Tucker & Dale is one of the more delightful horror-comedies you’re ever likely to stumble across.
Oct. 6 – [REC] (2008)
In the world of “found footage” flicks, [REC] reigns supreme alongside the likes of The Blair Witch Project. The trim 75-minute runtime allows this zombie romp to jump quickly into the scares, and once they start you’ll be white-knuckling it right up to the ending credits. Avoid the American remake, Quarantine, at all costs and stick with the frantically-paced Spanish original.
Oct. 7 – The Shining (1980)
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, indeed. The Shining isn’t the most frightening film on this list, but Stanley Kubrick’s snow-covered nightmare will stick with you long after you turn off your television. Jack Torrence’s descent into madness is meticulously documented by John Alcott’s meandering camera, making this the best film adaptation of Stephen King’s horror works by a long shot.
Oct. 8 – Repulsion (1965) [Amazon Prime with CineFest subscription, YouTube]
Roman Polanski’s early works have always been considered to be ahead of their time (and another entry from his “Apartment Trilogy” will appear later on this list), but the setup for Repulsion feels surprisingly modern. That’s no mistake – the story of a young woman losing grip on reality while confined to her apartment has been the inspiration for a number of modern psychological horror productions. The claustrophobic setting and nauseating camerawork have solidified Repulsion as a masterpiece and a must-view for anyone interested in exploring the rich history of horror filmmaking.
Oct. 9 – The Evil Dead (1981) [Amazon Prime with Starz subscription, YouTube]
It doesn’t get much better than Bruce Campbell bashing baddies with common household items. Sam Raimi’s first feature film begot a trilogy of likeable horror-comedies (not to mention a worthwhile remake of the same name) but the original merits a yearly viewing come October. There’s buckets of blood and cheesy one-liners aplenty, and if you can find a drive-in theater that plays it around Halloween, do yourself a favor and make the journey.
Oct. 10 – It Follows (2014) [Amazon Prime with Showtime subscription, Hulu]
Boasting an 80’s inspired synth soundtrack and a love of dated genre cinema, It Follows took the horror community by storm after its premiere at Cannes in 2014. An indefatigable entity begins stalking Jay (Maika Monroe) after a one night stand, forcing her and a group of friends to stay one step ahead of a monster that can borrow anyone’s appearance to get within striking distance. An expert blend of dizzying long takes and jump scares elevate what could have been an average, nostalgic entry to one of the best films of the year, horror or otherwise.
Oct. 11 – The Orphanage (2007)
J.A. Bayona’s feature debut netted him a Goya for Best New Director – and with producer Guillermo Del Toro’s fingerprints all over The Orphanage, it’s easy to see why. Few genre films possess this kind of emotional impact, though that’s not to say that this Spanish-language entry is devoid of scares; the ghost of Tomás, pictured above, supplies plenty of nightmare fuel.
Oct. 12 – Under the Skin (2013) [Amazon Prime]
Scarlett Johansson reaffirmed herself as a critical darling in 2013 with several motion picture vehicles, but none were as impressive or as unsettling as Under the Skin. Jonathan Glazer’s loose adaptation of the similarly-named novel follows an extraterrestrial disguised as a stunning seductress, hunting single men through the Glasgow nightlife. Despite the alien perspective, Skin remains a surprisingly human affair.
Oct. 13 – Shaun of the Dead (2004)
The first installment in Edgar Wright’s “Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy” enjoys a reputation as one of the best horror-comedies of all time, and rightly so. Shaun’s blend of fiendishly clever dialogue, bloody slapstick, and intelligent camerawork is a tough treat to beat – you’ll be well-served by checking out his other work.
Oct. 14 – Rosemary’s Baby (1968) [Amazon Prime]
Polanski’s second appearance on this list remains the best known of his “Apartment Trilogy” and is still among the most watched films come this time of year. Rosemary’s Baby announced Mia Farrow’s arrival as silver screen royalty, too (she was only 23 at the time), and to this day it has horror fans thinking twice before accepting dessert from their creepy neighbors down the hall.
Oct. 15 – Mulholland Drive (2001)
David Lynch might not be the first director whose work comes to mind around Halloween, but his films have always straddled the line between mystery and terror and Mulholland Drive delivers both in large doses. It’s a welcome change-up, and if you’re still confused as to why it’s included, I direct your attention to this analysis and this scene…
Oct. 16 – Let the Right One In (2008) [Amazon Prime]
The lone Swedish film on the list has a peculiar bite to it. Let the Right One In is set in 1980’s Stockholm, where 12-year old Oskar dodges bullies at school by day only to return to a broken home each evening. The arrival of Eli breaks brightens his pained, monotonous existence, but it’s only a matter of time before blood begins to stain the snow in this quiet suburb. Let the Right One In is the rare genre gem whose pathos outweighs the scares – a feat not often accomplished but deserving of your evening.
Oct. 17 – Night of the Living Dead (1968) [Amazon Prime, YouTube]
George Romero’s microbudget masterpiece might have been panned upon release, but it enjoys a healthy rep these days as the granddaddy of all zombie films. Just about any horror flick – flesh-eating or otherwise – owes some sort of debt to Night of the Living Dead and the final scene remains as heartbreakingly poignant as ever in light of today’s contention between law enforcement and minority groups.
Oct. 18 – They Look Like People (2015) [Netflix]
As the stigma surrounding mental illness continues to dissipate, filmmakers are finding new and unique ways to broach the topic through a horror lens. Terry Blackshear seems to have supplied the most recent example in They Look Like People, his thoughtful debut feature that sympathizes with the very real anguish of dealing with demons beyond one’s control. A lot of heart is packed into this 80 minutes bromance.
Oct. 19 – The House of the Devil (2009) [Amazon Prime with Shudder subscription, Hulu, Youtube]
Ti West’s slow-burn throwback was a breath of fresh air at the end of a decade that seemed to default to torture porn. Proper 80’s filming techniques and technology (think slow zooms and 16mm film) were employed by West to give The House of the Devil an authentic feel. You can even find copies of the VHS release still floating around eBay if you’re going for the complete experience.
Oct. 20 – Attack the Block (2011)
Before he achieved fame as a renegade First Order trooper in the most recent Star Wars adventure, John Boyega was beating down space aliens in South London. Ingenious monster designs and witty banter are the standouts here, as a young gang dead set on defending its turf goes toe-to-toe with a bunch of “big alien gorilla wolf motherf***ers.”
Oct. 21 – Psycho (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock’s follow-up to North by Northwest was a radical departure that just so happened to set a new standard for on-screen violence and perversity, giving pause to weary motorists seeking roadside refuge for decades to come.
Oct. 22 – The Mist (2007) [Amazon Prime]
Monsters of Lovecraftian proportion invade a small Maine town under the cover of fog, prompting survivors to hole up in the local supermarket. This surprisingly effective Stephen King adaptation reminds us that people can be capable of far worse than any monster (Bonus: if you can find the special Blu-ray release, watch this film in black and white. It plays like a classic creature feature with updated scares and is well worth seeking out).
Oct. 23 – Session 9 (2001) [Amazon Prime with Starz subscription]
Location, location, location. Session 9 manages to wring the Danvers State Mental Hospital for all it’s worth in Brad Anderson’s tale of an asbestos abatement crew’s rush job of the property. As their work on the foreboding premises progresses, so too does the story of a former patient whose tapes labeled “Sessions 1-9” are exhumed from storage and played by one of the guys. As the work situation becomes pernicious, so too do the mental states of each team member.
Oct. 24 – Young Frankenstein (1974)
Mel Brooks’ wily imagining of Frankenstein’s aftermath might just be the most quotable movie ever made. From language gags (“There, wolf. There, castle.”) to a fascination with what kind of heat the reanimated monster may be packing, Young Frankenstein is a riot from start to finish. Given the untimely passing of Gene Wilder just a few weeks ago, inclusion in this year’s queue seems even more appropriate.
Oct. 25 – The Babadook (2014) [Netflix]
Essie Davis was absolutely robbed of an Oscar nod for her portrayal of unraveling mom, Amelia. She’s equal parts horrifying and awe-inducing, but The Babadook works for a number of reasons, chief among them its exploration of guilt and grief as a single mother raising a potentially troubled boy.
Oct. 26 – Audition (1999) [Amazon Prime with Shudder subscription]
Controversial upon release and difficult to watch still to this day, Audition holds a special place in genre fans’ hearts. Takashi Miike’s gonzo feature remains a cut above its imitators thanks to sure-handed direction and an emotional investment in its characters.
Oct. 27 – Kill List (2011) [Hulu]
Ben Wheatley is among the names to watch in this new crop of international horror directors. Films like Down Terrace and A Field in England (both of which are available on Amazon Prime) have garnered plenty of praise, but Kill List might be Wheatley’s most ambitious and puzzling feature yet. The story of two hitmen drawn into a world of conspiracy and deceit will leave you with few answers and a sickening sense of helplessness right up to the final few frames.
Oct. 28 – The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s gory homage is scary movie filmmaking at its most entertaining. The frights are genuine, the story’s fun and the white board is a horror nerd’s wet dream. It’d be hard pressed putting my money on anything other than the “Merman,” but “Redneck Torture Family” and “Sexy Witches” are strong contenders, too.
Oct. 29 – The Exorcist (1973)
This selection should need no introduction. William Friedkin’s classic succeeds because of the themes of faith and maternal love that it raises in the face of some truly horrific scenes. It also ruined pea soup for an entire generation.
Oct. 30 – Donnie Darko (2001)
Richard Kelly’s cult favorite isn’t an obvious choice for this list but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t fit the bill: the entire town of Middlesex is decked out in seasonal attire, one of the primary characters is a demonic bunny rabbit named Frank, and the sexual anatomy of the Smurfs is debated and emphatically decided. Sounds like Halloween to me.
Oct. 31 – Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
No film imbues the spirit of All Hallows Eve quite like Michael Dougherty’s little-seen anthology. Several stories intersect over the course of Halloween night in fictional Warren Valley, Ohio while Sam, a trick-or-treater wearing a burlap sack, observes as residents who forsake holiday traditions meet grisly ends. Trick ‘r Treat is a fun and fitting bookend to a 31-day spooky movie marathon.