It’s October, which means it’s time for another round-up of Spooky Gems you might have missed! Some are old, some are new. Some are scary, some are silly. But they’ll all help you get ready to observe the creepy-crawliest of holidays. Here’s my list—what else should be on here?
The age of the portmanteau horror comedy shows no sign of coming to a close. First there was Sharknado, then Velocipastor, and now Slotherhouse. Emily wants to be elected president of her sorority (Sigma Lambda Theta, of course), but she’s not nearly as popular—or vicious—as two-time president Brianna. Her only hope is an exotic pet—Alpha the sloth! Of course, it turns out sloths have been perpetrating a massive subterfuge on us—they’re not nearly as slow as we thought, they have the ability to create Instagram accounts, and they’re quite bloodthirsty.
What follows is a slasher flick with a pretty terrific sloth puppet at its heart. Slotherhouse doesn’t take itself seriously, and wields its detachment to great effect, having a ton of fun with slasher tropes (though the kills leave a little to be desired). All that to say, if the thought of a sloth with an Instagram account got a snicker out of you, this film is for you.
Don’t Look Away (2023)
Bump the Comedy-Horror slider of Slotherhouse about 25% toward Horror and you’ve got Don’t Look Away, a movie about a killer mannequin that only moves when no one is looking at it (because, you know, it’s a mannequin). Yes, this movie is silly, but it’s also undeniably creepy—in large part because of the terrific production design of the mannequin itself. The idea that the plastic person’s blank, hollow-eyed face could embody real danger seems almost cartoonishly silly at first glance. But the longer you look at this thing, the more menacing it becomes. And if you’re thinking, “Wait, can’t a group of friends just all make sure someone is always looking at it and then it’s harmless?” Don’t worry—this is one of those films that already thought of that. So it makes you question—how long can you actually keep your eye on something? What if a staring contest had deadly consequences?
Malum is a higher-budget remake of filmmaker Anthony DiBlasi’s 2014 film Last Shift—those extra funds went into a lot more blood and a little more plot. A rookie police officer (Jessica Sula) must spend her first shift closing a retired station. Yes, Assault on Precinct 13 comparisons are not only welcome, but invited! It turns out the young officer’s father served in this precinct, and one year ago this very night went on a killing spree after arresting some cultists. This film offers a lot of atmosphere and plenty of jump scares, but they’re mostly well-deployed, and Sula does an admirable job of grounding some of the more bonkers elements that unfold.
Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017)
Issa Lopez is the writer/director for True Detective’s forthcoming fourth season. Before it drops in January, be sure to (re)visit her debut film, which illustrates her horror chops. Tigers Are Not Afraid follows the story of Estrella and her friends, inhabitants of a Mexican village overwhelmed by drug cartel-driven violence. Estrella’s mother goes missing, and the girl comes into possession of a cell phone that contains evidence that a politician is actually a crime boss behind much of the ongoing violence and human trafficking. What follows is a terrifying twist on the classic monkey’s paw story, and Estrella’s quest to find her mother feels more urgent than ever in light of the continuing crisis at the US/Mexico border.
One Cut of the Dead (2017)
If you haven’t seen this Japanese zombie flick, there’s nearly nothing I can tell you that won’t spoil this absolutely delightful film. Fair warning: 15 minutes in, you’ll be convinced that either you put on the wrong zombie film or that I have zero credibility to recommend further media. Stick with it! You’ll get it. Then you’ll be deeply confused. Then you’ll really get it.
Maeve Fly by CJ Leede
Remember how director Mary Harron’s American Psycho took a very misogynistic book and turned it into a horror classic by laughing at Patrick Bateman instead of laughing with him? Well, meet Maeve, the protagonist of this hilarious, disturbing novel. Maeve works as a certain princess with ice powers at a certain left coast, mouse-themed amusement park. She unironically loves her job; it’s the only source of pure joy in her life. What Maeve doesn’t understand is why women aren’t allowed to be psychopaths. They all have to have trauma or histories that are used to justify their anti-social behaviors. Well, Maeve isn’t interested in explaining herself to you. If you don’t like it, let it go. You don’t have to join her on this journey of self-discovery that involves a Hollywood starlet, an all-star hockey player and… well, best see for yourself.
The Haunting of Alejandra by V. Castro
Castro’s Queen of the Cicadas made my list last year, and I couldn’t help but include her latest on this year’s list. The Haunting of Alejandra is a reimagining of the La Llorona story. Castro has never shied away from weaving heavy themes like colonialism and misogyny into the blood and guts of her horror, and Haunting is no different. If you liked Jayro Bustamante’s take on La Llorona in his 2019 film of the same name, you’ll likely enjoy Castro’s take as well.
I’d Really Prefer Not to Be Here With You, and Other Stories by Julianna Baggott
Bestselling author Baggott has been publishing short stories all over the internet for a few years, and she’s finally assembled them for us in one dazzling collection. I’d Really Prefer Not to Be Here With You features horror and sci-fi that is lyrical and provocative, with plots that stand alongside those early seasons of Black Mirror (particularly when measured by the level of prophetic doom). But Baggott is captivated not by the tech or the monsters themselves, but by the human reaction to them (Baggott’s writing is so packed with empathy, one wonders whether there are any monsters in her stories at all). Fair warning: These tales will haunt you long after your brief stay in their pages. I still think about “Nest” just about every day.
Yes there are multiple official Alien board games (none of them is quite as good as Nemesis, for my money). But no other game quite captures the paranoia and claustrophobia of Ridley Scott’s 1979 film quite so well as Escape From the Aliens in Outer Space. Half the players are aliens and half are humans—and no one knows for certain which is which. The humans are trying to get to escape pods; aliens want to catch the humans. In lieu of a board, each person has a dry erase map. On your turn, you decide where to move and draw a card. Will you move silently or make a noise and have to reveal, Battleship-style, the coordinates of your position? With eight different maps and plenty of power-ups, Escape From the Aliens in Outer Space is highly replayable, and the tension that comes when an alien and human are racing toward an escape pod really can’t be beat.
Newsletter: Jude Doyle
Jude Doyle is a terrific writer (and author of both film criticism and comics) and they write a regular newsletter on horror films. Doyle is the sharpest of critics, and you’ll find their observations are provocative and illuminating. So if, like me, you don’t reserve your spooky movie-watching for October, but like to spread the fear around throughout the year, let Jude Doyle bring it to your inbox on the regular!
There you have it—ten more spooky gems to enliven your Halloween season (and if you missed last year’s list, you can find it here!). Now it’s time to dim the lights, put on the Halloween soundtrack and enjoy! And again, please add your own excellent recommendations in the comments below…
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.