I make it no secret that the fall is my favorite time of year. Fall has the best weather, the best seasonal beers, the best landscapes, and objectively the two best holidays. I’m a shameless simp for flannel and hot tea and basketball and soup. Fall also is the best time of year to freak yourself out to the point of insomnia with horror movies.

(Winter is a close second thanks to The Thing, Dead Snow, Ravenous, and other winter terrors not fit for mid-October vibes.)

Twenty-one days lie between Halloween and today. Here are 14 suggested movies and shows to get you into the spirit of the fall. This gives you a few extra days to get through the 3 TV shows.

I’ve indicated where each entry is streaming on subscription services as of this writing. Other than platform-exclusives like The Kingdom or The Vast of Night, pretty much any of these can be acquired for rental or purchased on blu ray/DVD (if you are into the physical media, I heartily recommend Best Buy over Amazon). I think that Shudder has a massive library of horror movies, so I should probably subscribe to it.


1. I like “scares,” as long as they aren’t scary: The Vast of Night

Streaming on Amazon Prime

I’ve already written favorably about this one, but here’s a quick recap. It is a desert town in New Mexico in the 1950s, and everyone is at the high school for the cross-valley rivalry basketball game except for a switchboard operator, the local AM radio DJ, and a few kooks. Weird sounds come over the airwaves, suggesting that maybe an unearthly visitor is passing through.

The Vast of Night is stylistically beautiful and the camerawork is masterful. It is more atmospheric than scary. Think E.T., not Cloverfield.

2. I like “scares,” but I need nonstop wisecracks to lighten the tension:
The Cabin in the Woods

Streaming on Hulu

You can’t get more winking than The Cabin in the Woods. Imagine if Jamie Kennedy’s character from Scream wrote an entire movie that acknowledged the tropes of horror, but then imagine that you get all-time-great character actors Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford instead of Kennedy. Despite my general distaste for the writing/directing of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, I think this one is good.

The monsters are pretty scary, the gore is gory, and honestly, I think one could make 1,000 guesses at the ending and still get it wrong.

3. Just give me an actual scary movie, please: The VVitch

Streaming on Hulu

I’ve long listed The Witch as the scariest movie that I’ve ever seen. As with any horror, your mileage may vary, depending on your hangups, kinks, traumas, and superstitions. However, I’m not remotely superstitious and this one shook me to my core. I’d honestly probably skip it entirely if you’re the kind who believes in demonic possession or doesn’t like seeing children in danger.

For everyone else, this movie is about a family that is kicked out of their 17th century New England village and they build a cabin on the edge of a giant forest. The fog and forest provide insane claustrophobia amidst the expanse of nature. Soon untold horrors are inflicted upon them via an inhabitant of that forest.

4. <Looks around nervously> I’d prefer more tentacles: The Lighthouse

Streaming on Amazon Prime

Much like The Witch, Robert Eggers’ follow-up The Lighthouse is about fraying sanity at the edges of human civilization. Also like The Witch, this movie uses nature as a malevolent force against which humanity stands no chance. And again, also like The Witch, this movie is incredibly shot, with long takes that build anxiety and a camera that refuses to look away from the horror.

Unlike The Witch, though, The Lighthouse has moments that are damned funny, and sexual frustration manifests here with the siren song of the lantern room, which Wake (Willem Dafoe) has marked as off-limits to the new keeper Winslow (Robert Pattinson). There may also be actual sirens with fishy genitalia. jussayin’.

So if you like storms and tentacles and seagull murder and characters who drink fuel oil, this one is for you.

5. I like horror, but horny: Interview with the Vampire

Streaming on Hulu

You’re just passing through town when a local rich boy catches your eye. He is the very soul of ennui and he looks like Brad Pitt. You give in to temptation and have a fling.

Unfortunately, you are an immortal vampire and now you’ve got a messy relationship with a freshly made vampire, and his ennui is no longer as cute as it was. But still, you made the commitment, so you try to make it work. You travel abroad, you try to nudge him out of his comfort zone, you adopt a child. But even though the physical attraction is still there, you often wonder if that’s all there ever was.

Then he drugs you and slits your throat and throws you in a swamp. Also your child turned out to be pure evil and she was executed for violating vampire laws. I guess the trip to France was probably a mistake, in hindsight.

It’s a tale as old as time.

6. HORNIER: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Streaming on Sling

I’ll eventually be writing a full essay on Bram Stoker’s Dracula for my Top Movies list. Until then, here’s a brief rundown. You’ve already seen 10,000 bad iterations of the Dracula novel, so why bother with this one?

First, this version is pretty faithful to the actual novel, even to the point of epistolary narration. Second, the cast is incredible (Anthony Hopkins, Richard E. Grant, Winona Rider, Gary Oldman, Keanu Reeves, Tom Waits, Cary Elwes). Third, the movie has style dripping out of its pores and I’d use the word sumptuous to describe the lighting and costumes. And, right, also it is super horny.

I think this is the best part of this adaptation. The movie captures both Victorian sexual repression and the gothic horror of an Other from outside civilization invading your country and stealing your women (this fear manifests in art from civilizations involved in colonialism, slavery, and other ways that humans with power are extremely shitty to other humans and then try to rationalize away the immorality of their shittiness).

7. I like to see the classics so I have a frame of reference, Part 1: Halloween

Streaming on Sling

Being 30-something at this point in US history is kind of weird. The ass-end of Generation X (or the oldest part of the Millennial birth cohort, depending on whatever goalposts you want to move around) puts one into a transitional period. I grew up without internet but the web and computer gaming basically aged as I did. I used rotary phones and watched a black-and-white TV at my grandparents’ house, only getting a flip phone at 19 years old.

I only mention this because I have often wondered about the way in which younger people understand the history of an art. I think that the dawn of streaming has sort of flattened movie history for people who had a tablet or iPhone in their hands before they could even read. A movie like Halloween, which revolutionized movies in general and horror in particular, is just one of 1,000 movies that one scrolls past on Netflix or Prime or whatever. If you remove context (or worse, impose computer algorithmic context like “movies which are set in Illinois” or “movies with a serial killer” or whatever the coarse recommendations are on streaming apps), what is someone’s motivation to see this movie instead of Babysitter 2: Killer Queen? One’s friends are more likely to be talking about the recent release, so why watch the old movie?

This detour is too long. Let’s get back on the road.

You’ve almost certainly seen dozens of movies that either overtly steal from Halloween or can only exist in a world in which this movie has become part of the tapestry of the genre. The thing is, though, that this movie rules, so even in a world where you have 10,000 movies at your fingertips, you should probably watch this one.

The plot is minimalist but elegant (homicidal child grows into homicidal man, escapes confinement, returns to his hometown to slay more people, with the costumes and noise of Halloween as convenient camouflage). The isolation of homes in suburbia is evocative, and the soundtrack is iconic.

8. I like to see the classics so I have a frame of reference, Part 2:
A Nightmare on Elm Street

Streaming on Shudder, I think?

The only good thing about suburbia is that it gave us good films about the anxieties of suburban life. A Nightmare on Elm Street, like Halloween, inflicts its horror upon suburban youth. Unlike Michael Myers, though, Freddy Krueger is distinctly supernatural, killing children in their dreams even as they are safely in bed in McMansions.

The special effects are the big reason to see this movie. John Carpenter’s shoestring budget and DIY ethos give Halloween a verisimilitude (and his cameras often function like the point-of-view of a peeping tom). Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street feels more lavish in comparison, especially in its iconic effects like the blood geyser.

There are serious diminishing returns on this franchise, but the first movie is a stone-cold classic.

9. I like to see the classics so I have a frame of reference, Part 3: The Exorcist

Streaming on Sling

Another iconic movie by another iconic director (this time, William Friedkin), The Exorcist has become part of the language of horror cinema. It is one of those movies that has been riffed upon or joked about so much that you can stitch together its plot just from secondhand sources.

However, that’s a bad idea. Watch the movie and be terrified, first-hand. The synopsis is simple: child is possessed, Catholic priests perform an exorcism. But that’s just a springboard from which we get insane special effects, chilling iconography, and an occasionally insightful look at how and why humans have religious faith.

So I guess come for “the power of Christ compels you,” but stay for the projectile pea soup.

10. Just give me zombies, but with some political intrigue: Kingdom

Streaming on Netflix

I told you that I’d recommend a TV show! You want four things out of a zombie narrative, with a massive debt as always to George Romero for establishing these tropes:

  1. Zombies
  2. Environments which prohibit escape from said zombies
  3. Inventive methods of dispatching zombies
  4. Futility

Kingdom manipulates these tropes in clever ways. For instance, the story is set at the end of the 16th century in Korea, so our protagonists do not get the luxury of cars, firearms are very inefficient, and isolated towns are isolated. Futility is also present in a dozen ways, from the aforementioned isolation to the speed of contagion to how the contagion is exploited for political gain.

This show has gore aplenty and I’d rewatch it 99 times before I’d waste another minute on The Walking Dead.

11. Just give me zombies, but with a cartoonish hero: The Evil Dead

Streaming on Netflix

Sam Raimi’s masterpiece has so much to love. It introduced the world to square-jawed star Bruce Campbell, the practical effects are a marvel, and the camerawork gives a Looney Tunes nihilism to the proceedings. Forty years later, we’re still enjoying riffs on high gore/low comedy and the lovecraftian “scholar reads evil book, unleashes hell on world” (I don’t know that I entirely recommend Ash versus Evil Dead, but I also don’t not recommend it).

12. I like it when a huge director started out in horror: Bad Taste

Streaming on Amazon Prime and Sling

It is well known at this point that Peter Jackson, the driving force behind the masterful Lord of the Rings trilogy (and the far more uneven Hobbit trilogy), started out with over-the-top, shoestring budget horror.

However, one does not always get the chance to watch these early movies so conveniently. I had to buy a $40 imported DVD of Brain Dead/Dead Alive back around 2002, and only saw Bad Taste because the Columbus Public Library system is one of the finest in the nation. Streaming makes it so much easier to see cult classics.

If you’re a fan of the Lord of the Rings, and particularly the effects and aesthetics, then Bad Taste can be quite fun. Jackson’s juicy/gushy effects are even more fun in a hard-R horror movie than what you get with orc beheadings and cave trolls. And the plot–aliens utilize humans as livestock for a fast food chain and some plucky Kiwis try to stop them–gives ample opportunity for gross-out gags and dismemberment.

13. I’m more into the “banality of evil,” and also prefer TV shows: Mindhunter

Streaming on Netflix

Mindhunter is sort of a police procedural and sort of a TV drama about the creation of the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI, which was made famous thanks to The Silence of The Lambs, Hannibal, and Red Dragon/Manhunter (and then cloned ad nauseum in everything from The X-Files to Bones).

Basically, the FBI realizes that profiling all of their imprisoned spree killers may be useful in identifying future spree killers. This premise gets us into scenes of frank and disturbing exposition as fictionalized versions of real-life killers detail their crimes and motivations. Along the way, the FBI team aid in investigations and clash with bureaucracy.

The first season is mostly crime-of-the-week as the team assemble their task force and begin interviewing inmates. The second season focuses more on the Atlanta child murders, and how racism kept the killings out of the national consciousness. It is grim, but compelling. Far less compelling is the storyline about Bill Tench’s son, but we are unlikely to get a third season (which likely would have focused on the BTK killer, whose activities bookend each episode of the first two seasons).

14. <Looks around nervously> That, but horny: Hannibal

Streaming on Netflix

Truly one of the strangest TV shows that I’ve seen, this show focuses on FBI profiler Will Graham, FBI assistant director Jack Crawford, and Hannibal Lecter, bon vivant, gourmand, and cannibal. (The show loosely adapts Thomas Harris’ aforementioned novels.)

The show’s genius lies in how it bends and twists the well-worn police procedural. Hannibal aids Will and Jack in pursuing serial killers. At this point, they know him only as a brilliant psychiatrist, opera lover, and foodie (the cannibal bit is revealed later). Hannibal utilizes this proximity to the FBI to keep them off of his trail. The show gets mega-horny, though, because of Mads Mikkelsen’s performance. His charisma draws every single character on the show into his orbit. Will’s love for him is weaponized as a means of distracting Will, but the love is not entirely unrequited. The theme of transformation is ever-present as we learn that Hannibal’s biggest desire is to push those closest to him to be more like him.

The show’s aesthetics are incredible, from the way it lovingly films both food and murder scenes (indelibly linking the two in the minds of the viewer) to its chilling soundtrack to its outright pschedelic explorations of madness and desire.

Bonus: You imply that all of these are good. Give me a scary story
that is actually bad: House of 1000 Corpses

Streaming on Netflix

Fine. I wholeheartedly recommend the rest of this list. But I feel it is a good idea to give an example of a bad movie so one has a point of comparison.

House of 1000 Corpses is a bad movie. The editing is choppy and the camera just kind of bounces around like a home movie. The narrative is intercut with music video style collages (writhing snakes, writhing Sherri Moon, corpses, knives, etc.) that almost certainly are there to pad the run-time. The gore is pretty tame despite Zombie’s intent, with the focus instead on the how much the killers enjoy what they are doing. But we don’t get any characterization of the protagonists, nor do we get a cathartic ending, so what are we supposed to be doing here other than being disgusted by the villains?

The story is threadbare and ludicrous: four twentysomethings are lured to an isolated house and slowly tortured to death by a creepy family, but this only happens because they really wanted to look at a tree. Also, the victims just hang around despite there being roughly a dozen scenes where they say that they want to get to a phone/safety. And again, since we don’t care about these characters, we are rudderless in these scenes (the police show up halfway through and last all of 15 minutes?).

So ignore this movie please, because it sucks. October is awesome: fill it with spooky vibes, but make them quality vibes. This time of year only comes once a year.