Every October, like many a good horror nerd, I try to celebrate the best month of the year by watching/reading/playing as much horror media as I can. It’s not like I’m not doing this in every season, of course, I even have a weekly horror/cult movie night with one of my best friends. It’s just, every October, I go for that much more of my favorite genre (alongside sci-fi), because there’s a special thrill in getting that extra scare in when the air turns brisk.
I did especially well (or got especially lucky?) this year, as the blend of old favorites and new additions did not disappoint. Here are a few of the films, TV seasons, and games I most enjoyed this spooky season, with the invitation that, like the adorable grim grinning ghosts of The Haunted Mansion like to say: there’s always room for another.
I got especially lucky on this front because I rolled the dice a little and ended up loving all three series I dipped into this month. I had never seen a season of American Horror Story (despite mightily enjoying an AHS House at Universal Horror Nights a few years back), and I chose Asylum on a whim.
Everyone warned me that AHS is packed with great elements and good episodes, but that few seasons really hang on until the end. With that in mind, I strapped in for the batshit rollercoaster ride that served as my introduction to the series, complete with demon nuns (and other New England Catholicism!), wild queer tropes, aliens, evil doctors and more!
I had no idea how openly queer the show was before diving in, so Sarah Paulson’s turn as a 1960s lesbian journalist trapped in a horrid, supposedly professional mental health institution was genuinely harrowing and powerful for me. As was Jessica Lange’s performance as Sister Mary Jude, a cruel nun with a difficult past.
In the hands of a lesser performer, the character would’ve been a shitty cartoon villain (and sometimes, she approaches that territory with relish), but Lange’s touch was so human and at times so tender that I keep replaying scenes in my head, weeks after watching them. AHS, to my mind, is like a loopy cabaret with top-notch performers, incredible production values, and wildly over-the-top writing. In this instance, it really worked for me.
I immediately started up Apocalypse after finishing Asylum. I hadn’t seen Coven, Hotel, or House before (which are related to Apocalypse in many spoiler-y ways that I won’t go into here), so, my partner filled me in. That show goes places, and while it may not be for everyone, or even many people, I loved it. The camp! The incredible actors. The lighting. It’s like a feast for my queer, horror-loving eyes. I may give 1984 a shot once it’s a little more accessible as well.
I also spent some time positively soaking in Marianne (briefly discussed on the podcast last week), a french horror series on Netflix, about a 30-ish horror author with a terrifying past and a few supernatural secrets. There are demons, there are witches, there are some truly scary scenes and disturbing images, and there are also wonderful, wistful depictions of teen friendships, family dynamics, and just how bizarre it is to go back to where you grew up after leaving. Demons or not, we all made messes when we were kids. Some are worse than others.
It’s eight episodes long and absolutely worth the binge watch.
This is where I’m going to briefly gush about my two favorite horror podcasts. I heard about Marianne from the Gaylords of Darkness, a queer horror podcast featuring Stacie Ponder (now a Fanbyte writer herself) and Anthony Hudson. Every week, the two gather and discuss a scary movie or three—or Suspiria—dish on horror tropes, and answer some listener mail. It’s never not funny, insightful, and extremely fun.
I’m also catching up on months of Faculty of Horror, a smart-as-hell horror podcast by “horror journalists and occasional academics Andrea Subissati and Alexandra West.” It’s an accessible and well-researched dive into horror criticism, typically focusing on one or two films (or occasionally a series) per episode. If you want a good starting place, the recent dive into the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise is just about perfect.
I always try to hit a nice balance in October between old favorites and anything and everything that sounds kinda cool on the streaming services I have access to. That can be a bit of a crapshoot, but with horror, I have plenty of patience.
Like I said up top, I got very lucky this time around, and almost everything I watched had at least something to recommend. The sleeper hits of the “hey, let’s give this a shot” crop were The Monster, The Perfection, and Haunters: The Art of the Scare. The Monster is a very tight, well-made thriller with a few classic elements: a mother and daughter are stuck in the backwoods, in a mangled car, while a terrifying creature stalks them. It’s a good, no-bullshit kind of scary movie that does a lot with a little.
The Perfection is a bit of a mess, but it’s an interesting one, with very good leads and one of the most horrifying (and realistic) “getting violently ill on a road trip” sequences I’ve ever watched. That’s a legit top ten fear of mine, so, it makes the list.
Haunters is a Netflix-ready documentary about folks who get really into Halloween, and create elaborate haunted houses, either professionally or as hobbyists. It includes interviews from high-level amateurs like a former Hollywood prop-maker who spends thousands on turning a neighborhood house into a favorite local scare each year, a haunter who has been a “scareactor” for decades, and… Russ McKamey, who has since been canceled time and again for his extremely-not-consensual extreme haunt.
The film is peppered with interviews from professionals who do this with big budgets, like the folks at Universal Studios, though the focus is on the smaller operations. It’s been put together with great care and craft, so much so that I would’ve really loved more, perhaps even a miniseries of episodes, all with their own subject? C’mon, Netflix, can you fund that please?
All of this was mixed in with a few long-standing genre classics. I re-visited several favorites, including Re-Animator and Hellraiser, the very best 80s horror movie about kink and queerness and one poor dude who just couldn’t get enough.
New (to me!) were the disjointed-but-moody The Seventh Victim and the absurdly delightful From Beyond, and the cute and weird The Gate, about demons that come from… a hole in a suburban backyard. Starring baby Stephen Dorff! I also saw, and fell in love with, the spooky and beautifully produced The Autopsy of Jane Doe, a modern cautionary tale about cutting into corpses.
It’s something of a trash classic, but I decided to watch Terrorvision last night, on the Night(mare?) before Halloween, and it did not disappoint. I mean, it’s not a good movie, by any stretch of the imagination: a low-budget joint about a scary alien beaming down to earth via TV signal and terrorizing a bananapants 80s satire of a family. It’s sort of competently put together with genuinely great creature effects and production design. It also has one of the most hilariously tasteless scenes ever put to film, an alien-fueled orgy where a teen girl walks in on her parents!
Cw for, lmao the world’s most horrible orgy, but this is a thing that happens in this film pic.twitter.com/2J1jmzqU7l
— Danielle Riendeau (@Danielleri) October 31, 2019
It may just be me, but it feels like there were somehow fewer horror games out this season. This is an unscientific analysis, but of the new games I played, I loved. First up, I really enjoyed Blair Witch, despite some cruft. It did terrifying things with its ever-shifting environments and also had one of the single most wrenching sequences I’ve ever played in a game. Seriously.
I’ve also been digging my time in Moons of Madness, a sci-fi horror game about a Martian base where the crew encounters some cosmic horror and starts to completely freak out. It has some of the very best evil tentacle textures I’ve ever seen in a space game! And also a crappy gym!
I’m very much hoping to also get some time in with Luigi’s Mansion 3, and slam some ghosts.
And finally, of course, I’ve been watching a lot of horror streams, mainly Bawkbasoup as he blasted through several Resident Evil games and HeyZeusHeresToast with his entertaining Bloodborne streams. Bloodborne will never not be fun for me to watch, but this month, the streamer came back from dealing with some health issues and the timing couldn’t have been more seasonally appropriate.
Now here’s the part where I tell you the spirit of Halloween doesn’t end just because the month does. If I had my way, the whole seasons of fall and winter would be one giant excuse to engage with horror media. Oh wait, they are! It’s never the wrong time to watch spooky things, or engage with media that allows you to safely confront fears about death, decay, or things that go bump in the night.
I’d argue that horror is the purest and most honest genre, thanks to those things. Thanks to the fact that we all have fears and a deep need to deal with them in some fashion. Our brains need storytelling, our brains need horror (well, ok, mine does). So, go forth, my friends, and carry the spirit of the season with you for all times.