It’s almost Halloween again, which means it’s time to lock all the doors and windows, turn off the lights, break the doorbell, lock yourself in a back room where you can’t hear any misguided children knocking hopefully (and in vain) at your front door, and snuggle in with something scary. (What? Doesn’t everybody do that?)
Ok, sometimes the spousal unit passes out candy. I’m perfectly happy being the grouch who’s decided to opt out of providing other people’s children with sugar-induced highs. Plus, I hate visitors. People knocking on the door all evening frays my nerves something fierce. Yeah, I’m kind of a spaz. What of it?
Aaaaanyway… if you’re looking for some inspiration, here are some of my personal favs, from the painfully obvious to the maybe not so obvious.
Pontypool (2008). Rotten Tomatoes has Pontypool at 83% fresh on the Tomatometer, but with only 68% on the audience score. That, I do not get. (I have theories, but they’re all insulting.) Pontypool was an interesting little zombie movie with a different take on how a zombie virus could be spread. They’re not really zombies… but yeah, they’re pretty much zombies. And the tagline is, “Shut up or die.” Seriously, how can you beat that?
The Exorcist III (1990). People always looks at me funny when I tell them that this is my favorite Exorcist, but it is. Ok, yes, watch the first one (and do your best to ignore the second, because ugg), but the third movie stuck with me far longer than the first did. It’s tense, quiet, and almost has more of an art-house feel than a scary-flick feel. There are scares, of course, but there are some humorous moments that are genuinely funny and make the characters feel like real people. (Hey, priests can be funny, too.) There’s also a long shot down a hospital corridor that is pure horror genius.
The Saw series. (Yes, all of them.) I rewatch the entire series at least once every year, because they’re… kind of like popcorn. I can’t get enough of it. Yes, the series definitely has its ups and downs, but really, it’s just fun. Interestingly, the first Saw (which is a damned classic, ok?) is sitting at 48% on the Tomatometer, but at an 84% audience score. Critics, amirite? I’ll have to wait to see Jigsaw, though, because opening weekends are a “No, thank you,” for me. (Remember: Talking in the theater earns you a trip to the special hell.)
Also on my periodic series rewatch list, in no particular order: Hostel, Wrong Turn, Halloween, Hellraiser, Final Destination, Nightmare on Elm Street, House of 1000 Corpses/The Devil’s Rejects, Scream, Paranormal Activity, Child’s Play, Cube.
My standards here are a little wacky. I’m not saying that the following movies are all fabulous–some of them are, some of them are somewhat less than fabulous. They all have one thing in common: they made me pay attention, for one reason or another.
So maybe try: No One Lives (2012), Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006), Bad Ben (2016), American Psycho (2000), The Cabin in the Woods (2012), The Babadook (2014), Cry Wolf (2005), The Scribbler (2014), April Fool’s Day (1986), Would You Rather (2012), Devil (2010), Mockingbird (2014).
The Cat Lady (Steam). It’s indie, it’s freaky, it’s creepy, and it’s a must play. The Cat Lady has it all: suicide, murder, blood, gore, psychopaths, depression, compassion, and humanity. It’s difficult to describe. When I first booted it up, I was skeptical, but it didn’t take long before I was completely drawn in. It’s a short game, but well worth the time.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (PC, Xbox One, PS4). This is an obvious pick, but I have a confession to make: I haven’t finished it yet. Not even close. I don’t know if I’m just turning chicken in my old age, or if the game is just that damned good at ratcheting up paranoia to unbearable levels, but I haven’t been able to sit down and play it for more than… umm, maybe 20 minutes at a time. I have to quit and shake it off. That’s never happened to me before. So, either this game is pure gold, or I’m becoming a big wimp.
Costume Quest (Steam, PS3, Xbox 360) & Costume Quest 2 (Steam, Xbox 360/One, PS3/4, Wii U). They aren’t the least bit scary, and the mechanics are simplistic, but they have loads of charm. Whenever I feel nostalgic about trick-or-treating as a kid, I load up one of the two and spend some time crafting costumes and pounding on monsters. If you find yourself in a Halloween kind of mood, but don’t want to deal with tension, jump scares, or loads of gore, give them a try.
American McGee’s Alice, Alice: Madness Returns, F.E.A.R. (series), Silent Hill (series), Fatal Frame 1 & 2, Clive Barker’s Undying, Deadly Premonition, Heavy Rain, Until Dawn, Manhunt, The Evil Within 1 & 2, Layers of Fear, Outlast, Little Nightmares, Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
IT, Stephen King. With the movie blowing everybody away, now’s the perfect time to read the book (if you haven’t) or re-read it (which I’m doing now). If you don’t have at least some idea of what it’s about, then it’s probably past time you crawled out of that hole. Seriously, people are complaining about the smell. Also? Fucking clowns.
Swan Song, Robert R. McCammon. If you’re worried about nuclear war, Swan Song won’t help much. This was McCammon’s post-apocalyptic epic (much as The Stand was for Stephen King), and it tied with King’s Misery for the Bram Stoker award back in the 80s. Think The Stand with bombs instead of the flu, all hopped up on heroin, and seriously disturbing.
Darkly Dreaming Dexter, Jeff Lindsay (series). The Showtime series was great (up to a point), but the books are better. There’s also an element of the supernatural in the books that the series pretty much ignored (or, at least the seasons that I watched ignored it, but I think I missed the last one or two.)
Odd Thomas, Dean Koontz (series). Yes, there’s a movie. The books (the whole series) are way better. Guy who can see dead people (and some other nasty stuff, too) gets into situations that are sometimes scary, sometimes funny, and sometimes heartbreaking.
Almost anything by Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Robert R. McCammon, John Saul, or Richard Laymon. Try Clive Barker or Peter Straub. Or heck, just pull out some H.P. Lovecraft. But if the room suddenly looks like it has funny angles, get out fast.
A few final words of advice
Do not explore any supposedly haunted houses. Don’t go into a cemetery, sewer system, funhouse, or the odd little store that you never noticed before. Don’t try to read anything written in Latin out loud. Don’t use a Ouija board or tarot cards, and don’t stare into any mirrors and repeat anything more than once. Don’t burn candles. Don’t pick up hitchhikers. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t watch any unlabeled video tapes (or DVDs or Blu-rays, for that matter. Who even HAS a VCR anymore?) Don’t assume that the guy who showed up at your front door in a creepy-ass costume is the buddy you were expecting–make him take the damn mask off before you let him in. And for fuck’s sake, if you see an evil clown, just run.