If you’ve been following Awards Radar for any length of time, you may be familiar with my annual #31DaysOfHalloween challenge that’s usually documented on Twitter, our podcast, and of course, in a wrap-up article not unlike the one that you’re reading now. If you’re not familiar with the above, I feel like it’s pretty self-explanatory: every year in October myself and many others commit to watching something horror (or horror-adjacent) for all 31 days.
In the past I’ve used this as an opportunity to catch up on various genre blind spots, as well as catching up my ever-resilient wife, Kelly, on all sorts of classics or obscure favorites that I’d previously seen without her (every now and then she’ll return the favor, which is just as fun). Sometimes there’s a broader theme or criteria, but this year we just focused on things we’d been meaning to see, mostly from the 1980s through today, though with some notable exceptions.
So without further ado, here is everything we watched this October. Let us know which of these you’ve seen, and if you participated in this challenge, I’d love to see your list in the comments below! Without further ado:
- Cobweb (2023)
Dir. Samuel Bodin
Drenched with seasonal atmosphere and propelled by some insidiously creepy work from Lizzy Caplan and Antony Starr. The script is a little on the nose at times, but it’s building up to one doozy of a third act. Go in knowing as little as possible.
Spookiest Scene: Without going into spoilers, once the big reveal comes along, the film is basically a non-stop thrill ride until the credits, with a gruesome flair reminiscent of Sam Raimi.
- Basket Case (1982)
Dir. Frank Henenlotter
There’s a scrappy, nutty quality here that’s endlessly endearing. Every performance is dialed up to 11, every shot of the creature is a delight of handmade ingenuity. We had so much fun that we ended up altering our schedule to accommodate the sequels.
Spookiest Scene: Though Belial’s murders are every bit as goofy as they are gory, an extended flashback showing how the brothers were split apart might be the most disturbing scene.
- Basket Case 2 (1990)
Dir. Frank Henenlotter
A surprise masterclass in how to expand the world of your sequel, this features a significantly improved budget while still retaining the bonkers sensibilities that made the first film so enjoyable. The outstanding practical creations are a highlight.
Spookiest Scene: Annie Ross is perfectly convincing as a kindly old lady who provides a home for the “unique” individuals outcast by society, until it’s time for her to rally her children to prepare for war, at which point she delivers a fiery, near-hysterical sermon that’s likely to elicit goosebumps.
- Basket Case 3 (1991)
Dir. Frank Henenlotter
The brotherly tension and grungy horror elements from the prior films are largely absent here. Though there’s still plenty of demented fun to be had, the high points are fewer and further between. Annie Ross clearly understood the assignment.
Spookiest Scene: The Basket Case films have often been cited as a direct ancestor to James Wan’s Malignant, and while the comparisons are more about the basic concept, there sure is a massacre set in a police station here that may have been a direct inspiration for the one in the latter film.
- It’s Alive (1974)
Dir. Larry Cohen
An early genre film from Larry Cohen that’s far more interested in the psychological ramifications of having a mutant baby than it is with the mutant baby itself. A mellow atmosphere and a groovy Bernard Herrmann score keep things moving along.
Spookiest Scene: When the father realizes that the mutant baby may have returned to the house, and may be lying in wait within its own bedroom, the tension is definitely real.
- Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)
Dir. Larry Coehn
In typical Cohen fashion, what starts as a rampaging monster movie reveals a character study about a lowlife taking advantage, bolstered by Michael Moriarty’s stellar performance. The beast is a stop-motion treat whenever it strikes.
Spookiest Scene: Suffice it to say that the titular winged serpent does not take kindly to a police operation to raid its nest, and retaliates in kind.
- The Stuff (1985)
Dir. Larry Cohen
This is peak “genre movie as critique of 80s consumerism” with plenty of intrigue and impressively goopy effects. Michael Moriarty kills it as always, and Paul Sorvino is a fun third act inclusion. Would make a great double feature with They Live.
Spookiest Scene: Considering that the primary threat is really just sentient pudding, it’s impressive how scary the film is able to make it. This peaks toward the end, where an infected character reveals just how wide his mouth can open.
- Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
Dir. E. Elias Merhige
My birthday movie this year is a marvelous piece of historical revisionism that imagines a far grislier backstory to F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. John Malkovich is ideally cast, and Willem Dafoe’s hypnotically creepy performance is one of his best. Slow, but satisfying.
Spookiest Scene: As haunting as the vampire’s presence can be, the lengths to which this fictional Murnau is willing to endanger his cast and crew ends up being far more chilling, especially when it comes to a head in the finale.
- The Frighteners (1996)
Dir. Peter Jackson
This ghost comedy from pre-Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson has plenty of spirit, but the hijinks are more wacky than funny. Michael J. Fox gives it heart, and Jeffrey Combs is making some fascinating choices, but the tone never really gelled for me.
Spookiest Scene: Part of the film’s tonal issue comes from the surprisingly morbid backstory of its villains, which is so dark and out-of-step with what came before that it can be disarming. Jake Busey is also making some choices.
- When Evil Lurks (2023)
Dir. Demián Rugna
A possession thriller with truly inspired world-building and no compunctions about treating its characters with the most vicious cruelty it can imagine. Masterfully done, but avoid it if you can’t handle violence against kids or animals.
Spookiest Scene: Speaking of kids and animals, the altercation between a big dog and a little girl is definitely seared into my brain, as well as a later moment involving a mother feasting on brains.
- Totally Killer (2023)
Dir. Nahnatchka Khan
Recent hits like Freaky and Happy Death Day show there’s plenty of juice in the high-concept sci-fi slasher subgenre, but this one can’t rise above its half-baked period gags or its underwhelming horror elements. Not terrible, just fine.
Spookiest Scene: I dunno, some of the dialogue is definitely cringe-inducing (lots of the kind of “that just happened” insincerity that the MCU often gets accused of), but beyond that, the slasher beats here feel like such an afterthought that nothing spooky really comes to mind.
- The Fog (1980)
Dir. John Carpenter
John Carpenter’s peerless ability to send shivers down the spine with little more than shadows and synths is on full display in this spooky seaside ghost story. Effectively paced, gorgeously shot, and eerily scored. Sit back and watch him cook.
Spookiest Scene: The atmosphere of a campfire story come to life is established very literally by an opening scene that introduces the film’s lore via a tale told to terrify kids. A brilliant suggestion of what’s to come.
- Jason X (2001)
Dir. James Isaac
It would have felt inappropriate to let a Friday the 13th in October pass without hanging out with my buddy Jason. This space adventure is far from his best, but there’s something enduring about just how hilariously stupid it is. Very watchable.
Spookiest Scene: This is not the film to seek out if you’re looking for any actual tension, but a sequence where classic Jason slowly picks off a security team features a handful of creative kills.
- Possession (1981)
Dir. Andrzej Żuławski
After noodling on this one for a bit, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a film I admire far more than I enjoy (likely by design). Unflinching in its chaotic depiction of a couple losing their minds, with ferocious performances from Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill. But it’s artsy to a fault, making the narrative difficult to track.
Spookiest Scene: Adjani’s freak-out in the subway station is iconic from a performance standpoint, with the actress baring her soul and then some. Unfortunately, as soon as I realized what was actually happening in the scene, it left me feeling sick to my stomach.
- Pontypool (2008)
Dir. Bruce McDonald
Among the most ingenious approaches to a viral outbreak I’ve seen on film. The bare-bones, near-theatrical staging benefits enormously from the wily presence of Stephen McHattie. Reach exceeds grasp at times, but it’s one heck of a spooky ride.
Spookiest Scene: The gradual devolution of the radio station’s poor tech assistant is among the film’s most chilling elements.
- Come to Daddy (2019)
Dir. Ant Timpson
Bit of an odd duck, this one. Outside of a few gruesome deaths, I really wouldn’t classify it as horror. More like a quirky crime thriller in the Coen Brothers mold. Keeps you guessing throughout, but ultimately less than the sum of its parts.
Spookiest Scene: The initial idea here was to create something of a Stephen McHattie double-feature with this and Pontypool. Not only does McHattie’s ultimately limited screen time render this moot, but he’s got a unpredictable edge to his performance that makes one really miss him when he’s gone.
- Resolution (2012)
Dir. Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
One of the major blind spots we decided to check off this year is the early filmography of Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, starting with this meta-textual slow burn. Though the concept is more interesting than the execution, it kept me invested throughout.
Spookiest Scene: The entity at the center of the film’s events is wisely left unseen, but the pieces of stray media it leaves around the place are effectively unsettling.
- Spring (2014)
Dir. Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
Although never subtle about its influences (namely Linklater and Lovecraft), this love story feels fresh and distinct. Takes full advantage of inherently romantic locations and innately likable protagonists to largely defy most genre conventions.
Spookiest Scene: The secret that the mysterious woman is hiding manifests itself in several brief, but startling moments. When all is finally laid bare to see, the results are absolutely in keeping with the film’s cosmic horror inspirations.
- The Endless (2017)
Dir. Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
The sturdy emotional core of Moorhead & Benson’s previous outings fails to translate to the brotherly dynamic they write for themselves here. Some interesting ideas, but the execution is too drawn out with too little energy to sustain itself.
Spookiest Scene: The unexpected revelation that the film is a pseudo-sequel to Resolution, complete with a surprisingly involved cameo appearance from that film’s leads. Discovering their ultimate fates is sad, yet fitting.
- Tenebrae (1982)
Dir. Dario Argento
Dario Argento’s giallo bonafides are the primary highlight of this strong but unremarkable thriller. The score is a banger, and there’s some pleasingly gory death scenes, but the wild inspiration of his best work is less noticeable on the whole.
Spookiest Scene: The way that one victim is separated from her arm creates the kind of blood splatter that would be right at home in Kill Bill.
- Opera (1987)
Dir. Dario Argento
Now here is the weird, perverse, unhinged Argento that I know and love. A combination of striking visuals, top-notch camerawork, and plenty of outrageous kills make this a winner. Makes great use of beautiful settings and juxtaposing music choices.
Spookiest Scene: A flock of ravens being unleashed into an unsuspecting audiences in a gambit to identify the killer features some of the most impressive cinematography of Argento’s filmography, building up to a beautifully nasty reveal.
- The Craft (1996)
Dir. Andrew Fleming
The 90s sure were a vibe, weren’t they? This delightfully spooky tale of teenage sisterhood gone awry features a perfectly period soundtrack and infectious chemistry amongst its lead quartet. Fairuza Balk is a chaotic force of nature. Loved it.
Spookiest Scene: The girls deciding to push their powers further by making each other levitate does an excellent job of making their blend of terror and excitement feel palpable.
- Tragedy Girls (2017)
Dir. Tyler MacIntyre
Another fantastic look at the complexities of female friendship that somehow feels more upbeat despite a higher body count. Alexandra Shipp and Brianna Hildebrand are a dynamically deranged duo, delivering kills and laughs in equal measure.
Spookiest Scene: The death scenes are frequently just as funny as they are horrifying, but an incident involving a shop-class saw may very well be the highlight.
- Witching & Bitching (2013)
Dir. Álex de la Iglesia
A bank heist gone wrong, a hostage situation gone right, a coven of cannibalistic witches, satanic rituals, and everything in between comes together in an irreverent, action-packed roller coaster of a film with madcap energy to spare.
Spookiest Scene: Far be it from me to reveal all the insanity that the film has in store. I’ll just say that we do get a look at the goddess whom these witches worship, and she is guaranteed to make quite an impression.
- The Lost Boys (1987)
Dir. Joel Schumacher
Yes, we’ve seen this one many times. Yes, we even watched it for a previous year’s 31 Days challenge. But sometimes, after several solid yet underwhelming first-time watches, you just need an old favorite. As always, an ideal comfort watch.
Spookiest Scene: What did I say back in 2020? Kiefer Sutherland’s creepy bat feet? Yeah, that’ll do. If you need another one, the final stand of the would-be vampire hunters against the bloodsuckers has several effective jump scares.
- Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)
Dir. Mel Brooks
At his best, Mel Brooks can deliver some of the most timeless and hilarious spoof humor ever committed to film. This is sadly not his best, and while a handful of gags still land, they’re mostly repetitive and in short supply.
Spookiest Scene: The unholy, albeit amusing fusion of Leslie Nielsen’s head with a bat’s body is probably the closest this comedy comes to anything actually frightening.
- Arachnophobia (1990)
Dir. Frank Marshall
Kelly went to go see Five Nights at Freddy’s without me on this night, which was fine as I had no real interest (I’m not against it, just not for me). So I decided to watch something that she’d never want to see. Full credit, this one got under my skin even without the title phobia. The climax goes especially hard.
Spookiest Scene: The final showdown with the mother spider really captures the “kill it with fire” anxiety that I’m far too familiar with as the husband of someone so terrified of spiders that I had to promise to kill them on sight in my wedding vows.
- Lights Out (2016)
Dir. David F. Sandberg
The acting is stilted and the dialogue falls flat, but when this supernatural stalker flick turns its attention to being scary, it’ll take an inch of the effectively creepy premise and run a mile. The jump scares are obvious, but they work.
Spookiest Scene: The basic gimmick of a creepy woman who’s only visible in silhouette never gets old, and is perhaps at its most unsettling when she is seen creeping up behind a terrified little boy as his mother attempts to justify her presence.
- From Beyond (1986)
Dir. Stuart Gordon
A trio of horror icons anchor this psychosexual fever dream, with Stuart Gordon reassembling his Re-Animator crew to spectacular effect. Moves at a clip, with gorgeously tactile special effects bringing the nightmare to life. Very underrated.
Spookiest Scene: Ken Foree, despite playing the film’s most likable character, ultimately gets the gnarliest death when 70% of his body is melted, leaving the remainder to look on in horror.
- It Follows (2014)
Dir. David Robert Mitchell
Inspired by that day’s surprising but welcome announcement of a sequel, I decided to finally show Kelly this dreadfully atmospheric modern classic. As soon as she saw the clam phone, she couldn’t focus on anything else for the rest of the film.
Spookiest Scene: Seeing the thing take on the form of a boy’s mother, only to do… something that presumably kills him. The unnatural positions of their bodies and the incestuous undertones make this a real gross one for sure.
- The Invisible Man (1933)
Dir. James Whale
Closing out the month with this unseen Universal horror flick turned out to be the right move. James Whale may have been one of the finest directors working in this era of film, and Claude Rains delivers a commanding performance with mostly his voice.
Spookiest Scene: The unnatural way that Rains takes off his bandages when confronted by townspeople, revealing the invisible head underneath, is still a remarkable special effect, especially for the era.
Thank you so much if you made it all the way to the end of this list! I hope you have a very safe and happy Halloween, and stay tuned for more fun content from Awards Radar!