It’s spooky season, and that means we’re brushing up on our Stephens (King and Graham Jones), catching up with Vecna and Eleven again, and buying tickets for Barbarian and all the other scary movies hitting theaters this month. But if, like me, Halloween Ends or a new Hellraiser isn’t enough to get you all the way to Halloween night, here’s a collection of lesser-known horror gems that go bump in the night to enjoy all through October…
You can never read too much Stephen King or Stephen Graham Jones (especially since they both publish like four books a year!), but if you’re looking to expand your spooky reading list, consider the following:
Queen of the Cicadas by V. Castro
A woman finds herself back in Texas for her bestie’s wedding. She’s staying at a farm that is the birthplace of the titular urban legend, La Reina de las Chicarras. What follows is a harrowing journey that jumps back and forth from the 1950s to the present, weaving Aztec religion, colonialism, misogyny, and colorism into a harrowing, powerful narrative that will leave you shaken.
Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca
Am I allowed to say we’re living in a golden age of short fiction? I’m going to say it either way, and LaRocca’s new collection is my case in point. These three works—a novella and two short stories—are loosely linked thematically by our deep need to connect to others, and what we might do in the name of that need. Perfect to read alone on an autumn night.
Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica, translated by Sarah Moses
This tasty morsel is a couple of years old, but if you haven’t had a chance to sink your teeth in yet, you should pick up a copy (after all, Chris Pine read it too!). Tender is the Flesh is gorgeously translated from Spanish (Bazterrica is Argentinian). It’s a dystopian tale of a man who works in a meatpacking plant after the world has legalized cannibalism. Somehow, Bazterrica’s gorgeous prose only makes the content more horrific—probably because we realize how little distance lies between us and her awful vision. Tender is the Flesh is Orwellian in the sense that much of the story works because of Bazterrica’s awareness of the role language plays in the dehumanization of others.
So you’ve already marathoned Season 4 of Stranger Things twice, on top of devouring Midnight Mass and all the American Horror Stories. Fear not! These spooky shows will have you looking over your shoulder and peeking under your bed in no time:
Yellowjackets (Showtime, Paramount+)
Yellowjackets is one of the best new shows in ages. A high school girls soccer team (the titular Yellowjackets) traveling to a tournament crashes in the Canadian mountains-slash-forest-slash-wilderness. The story jumps between the year of the plane crash (1996) and present day, where we learn the girls were lost for 19 months. Not all of the players survived, which leaves us wondering whether the women we meet in the present are the remaining survivors or just those the story is focused on. We’re also pretty sure at least a few of the girls who didn’t make it out were eaten by the survivors. (Look, I didn’t plan to highlight two cannibalism stories in a row. Sometimes these things just happen!) All these uncertainties coalesce into a thrilling, suspenseful mystery that draws you in at every turn.
All of Us Are Dead (Netflix)
The twelve episodes of All of Us Are Dead is an excellent new entry in the Korean zombie apocalypse subgenre (think Train to Busan or Kingdom). Even better, it features people who actually know what zombies are, and how to deal with them: Don’t let them bite you. Hit ’em in the head. You know the drill. Ground zero for this outbreak is a high school, which lets the show focus primarily on the teens who are forced to navigate the increasingly harrowing halls on their own, heightening the emotional stakes (when the show takes us outside the school, it’s significantly less interesting).
There are always plenty of new and classic horror films to choose from, but if you’re looking for something new to watch this October, why not take a detour into less familiar territory?
Every time I think zombie movies have finally run out of braaiiiins, a film like The Sadness bursts onto the scene to prove me wrong. This Taiwanese story reimagines zombies not as ghoulish, undead corpses but as victims of a disease that makes it impossible to refuse their most base impulses. The Sadness is getting a lot of attention for the levels of gore and violence involved, but it’s also sharply written and directed—growing more and more frenetic as the virus spreads.
Here’s something horror fans didn’t even know we needed: a folk horror movie set in Senegal (instead of the usual English, American, or Swedish countryside). Three legendary African mercenaries kidnap a drug lord and steal a whole bunch of gold before they’re forced to hide in the Senegalese wilderness. Saloum works on every level. The writing is sharp and engaging, the acting is stellar, and the burn is slow…until it isn’t. The film is a sharp meditation on the lingering endurance of evil, earning a place in the folk horror pantheon alongside The Wicker Man and Midsommar.
This castaway/monster movie is a few years old, and is thankfully starting to garner some well-deserved recognition and word of mouth. It’s a compelling survival horror story that succeeds almost entirely due to the performance of star Kiersey Clemons, with an assist from some terrific creature effects.
Horror comics are nearly as old as the medium itself, becoming particularly popular in the ’40s and ’50s. Tales From the Crypt started delivering thrills and chills (along with the Crypt-Keeper’s terrible puns, which are horrifying in their own way) back in 1950! Of course, plenty has changed since then: These two limited-run comics are now available in collected trades, and together they (ahem) illustrate just how far the genre has come.
MAW by Jude Ellison Doyle, Illustrated by A.L. Kaplan
Horror fans will likely know Doyle’s work—his book Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers is a terrific piece of pop horror criticism. With MAW, Doyle moves into comics with terrifying results. A five-issue limited series, MAW is ostensibly about a sexual abuse survivor seeking comfort and community among a group of fellow survivors. It ends up being Lovecraftian in all the right ways, and Doyle’s anticipation of the overturning of Roe v Wade feels prophetic here in late 2022. MAW rages against the violence of gender-based power systems, and dares the oppressed to become the monsters that those in power like to make a show of fearing. MAW is a call to revolution, an invitation to make the fear real.
The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado, Illustrated by Dani
Machado is no stranger to horror; her excellent short story collection Her Body and Other Parties weaves horror into fantasy and sci-fi and queers it all. Appropriately enough, then, her first comic feels both familiar and wholly new. Two young women sitting in a movie theater are aware, suddenly, that they have no memory of the film ending. Plus one of them inexplicably has mud on her shoes. Unravelling what happened leads to uncovering the dark history of their town and plenty of spooky revelations. Low, Low Woods is heavy on atmosphere and terrific character work; it’s sure to leave a chill running down your spine long after you finish.
You’ve played Betrayal at House on the Hill enough times to get every scenario twice and you’re finding that, as with most sequels, the repetition is getting stale. Here are a couple of other games sure to spice up any upcoming Halloween parties…
The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31
Yes, this is an adaptation of John Carpenter’s classic film. It’s a clever combination of social deduction and traditional board game mechanics. One person begins as the Thing—secretly, of course. All other players are human…for now. Players take turns selecting teams to complete missions. If the Thing goes they can choose to sabotage, or not (you don’t want to get found out, especially if another player has the flamethrower!). As the game progresses, other players might (and probably will) become infected. If you’re a Thing, your mission is death and destruction. If you’re a human, you just want to make it to the helicopter—but be sure you don’t bring any Things along with you. And don’t worry: the game ends with a blood test!
The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 began as a limited release game, but it’s now back in print and wide release, so you should be able to pick up a copy in plenty of time to ruin a few friendships before Halloween.
I’m not breaking news by observing that A Cabin in the Woods is one of those rare films that succeeds as a parody of slasher flicks while also thrilling viewers in its own right. But what about Monster Slaughter, which is essentially a board game adaptation of the same premise? Players each choose a family of monsters—vampires, mummies, aliens, werewolves, even mer-people!—and compete for the privilege of devouring those pesky, clueless college kids that show up at the cabin in the woods for a night of partying. The mechanics are fun, with enough dice rolls to ensure total mayhem. This game will generate more laughs than scares, but it’s a terrific addition to any Spooktober gathering.
There you have it! Ten masterfully morbid stories, films, and other media guaranteed to thrill and chill, plus a couple of bonus picks. Now it’s your turn—add your own favorite gruesome gems in the comments!
JR Forasteros cut his teeth on Goosebumps books and Sword of Shannara. These days, he’s a pastor, author of Empathy for the Devil and scifi/fantasy junkie in Dallas, TX. Once he makes it through his to-read list, he plans to die historic on the Fury Road. Find him on Twitter or Instagram, or on the Fascinating Podcast where he is a co-host.