October is a great month for watching scary movies. It's getting colder out, for one, so actually leaving the house to do things is becoming less and less appealing. Plus, everything just feels creepier in the weeks leading up to Halloween. Take a look at our instant-watch picks for the spookiest month of the year (including everything from horror classics to traumatic early-’90s family fare), grab a pumpkin-flavored beverage and scour the supermarket candy aisle for your favorite sweet. We've been into Nerd Ropes lately, but you do you.
Funny Games (1997)
LIZ RAISS: Michael Haneke's films have always tripped me out in very visceral, nauseating ways. I had to watch Benny's Video (about a murderous little boy with an extensive VHS collection) for a class in college, and spent the majority of the film peering through my fingers, cowering in my seat and feeling faint. Funny Games is a sadistic cat-and-mouse masterpiece, a film about two young, handsome men who trap and torture a vacationing family for fun and sport. Haneke's work belongs to a (possibly totally made up) genre known as "horror-of-personality films": movies about people who aren't supernatural monsters, but normal monsters, human monsters, that look, walk and talk like anyone else. And those are really the scariest kind.
Black Sunday (1960)
MATTHEW TRAMMELL: I first caught wind of Black Sunday via Captain Murphy’s “The Ritual,” a creepy little diddy about driving two virgins deep into the woods for a sacrificial double-killing: “Before the moment of death,” the sample narrates, “The brand of Satan was burned in her flesh." The scene is ribbed from the Italian horror classic—a witch is burned at the stake, and returns to torment those who crossed her, all grainy atmosphere and occult porn. People always say old horror movies are “tame” by today’s standards, but I’m always more interested to see how much gore they stuffed into screamo flicks before mass desensitizing.
The X-Files, "Squeeze" (1993)
LR: I have willfully traded untold hours of sleep with a handful of episodes of The X-Files, but "Squeeze," the third episode of the first season, has taken by far the most. If you're aware of the Doug Hutchison in this day and age, it's likely because of the gleeful lens tabloids have trained on the 54 year old and his wax figure of a teenaged wife, Courtney Stodden. I prefer to remember him as the ageless serial killer Eugene Victor Tooms, who can stretch and mutate his shape to fit through any opening, build elaborate nests out of newspaper and live off the human livers he emerges from his nasty little habitat to collect every 21 years. Hutchison reprises the role once more in the same season, but if I'm being totally honest something deep and dark inside me is still holding out hope for Tooms: The Movie, 11 years later.
MT: I spent more childhood afternoons watching this film than I’d like to admit. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it was Ice Cube’s comedic genius, or Jennifer Lopez’s babe factor, or the cartoonish plot being just enough like a Goosebumps book for me to seamlessly follow along. No matter how dingy the CGI looks now, the idea of getting stalked by a giant man-eating snake with a group of people you may or may not be able to trust is still horrifying to this day—have you ever seen "Love & Hip-Hop”? I hear that if you watch the film on mute with Nicki’s “Anaconda” and J. Lo’s “Booty (Remix)” playing in the background, there are some freaky sync-ups.
All Cheerleaders Die (2013)
PATRICK D. MCDERMOTT: I saw this Lucky McKee-directed horror comedy on Halloween night last year. I had a mild fever, but I took the subway all the way to Lincoln Center anyway to see a movie about flesh-eating high-schoolers and queer witches. It’s campy and darkly twisted and weirdly female-empowering. After the movie, I was walking around Uptown, still sort of feverish, and saw droves of costumed, sugar-high children running wild through the closed-off streets. I thought I spotted a couple zombie cheerleaders, but I might have just been hallucinating.
DUNCAN COOPER: I despise scary movies, which I believe I can trace to 1992's death-obsessed Beethoven. This so-called children’s film, which I first saw at age 5, features not only a young girl of the same age falling into a pool and nearly drowning (which coincides with another of my early fears, of water/death, via anaphylactic shock, which I’d heard could be brought on by jumping into cold water), but a sadistic veterinarian being impaled by a near-dozen flying syringes. The dog's size is ungodly and his drool is profane. Watch at your own risk.
Jesus Camp (2006)
PM: This documentary follows kids—junior members of “God’s Army”—at a summer camp run by devout evangelical Christians. The way the elementary school-aged kids writhe and speak in tongues during services and participate in religious protests is,in my personal opinion, more squirm-inducing than most horror movies.
The Craft (1997)
DEIDRE DYER: I've never been a fan of scary movies, at all. Growing up I attended church school where we were told that these movies were the devil's work. I don't like being scared, I don't like missing sleep as a feeble attempt at avoiding the nightmares that were sure to come. Somewhere around my early teens, I mustered up the courage to watch The Craft with a squad of older-girl cousins. I was definitely a little scared but way more intrigued and inspired by the super cute '90s fashions that Neve Campbell and Fairuza Balk wore as they invoked spirits and bewitched high school boys. I could go on and on about their private school girl-gone-bad looks but I've already done that. And if you're ready to dive headlong into '90s teen witch nostalgia, bookmark this FuckYeahTheCraft Tumblr and then grab some homegirls to play Light As A Feather, Stiff As A Board.
RUTH SAXELBY: Stephen King struck fright night gold when he set Carrie in a high school—a space so fraught with social anxiety and pin-balling hormones that little-to-no suspension of disbelief is required for this taut supernatural thriller. I first watched it in my late 20s, during a low period when for some reason I worked my way through the crop of crass gore-porn flicks doing the rounds at that time. Carrie wipes the floor with the lot of them: subtler and scarier, with a lasting moral message. Don't bother with the glossy remake though, it's all about Sissy Spacek's brittle vulnerability in Brian De Palma's 1976 original. Kids can be so cruel.
Columbo (1968–78, 1989–2003)
EMILIE FRIEDLANDER: I am a vintage murder mystery junkie, and Columbo is my most recent before-bed, spinetingling Netflix obsession. Unlike other campy faves of mine, like Poirot, Ms. Marple, and Midsomer Murders, this long-running detectives series starring the great American actor Peter Falk has the particularity of opening each segment with the “grand reveal” that you’d usually find at the end of a mystery story. In other words, you see the murderer committing the crime at the beginning, and then watch as the series’ eponymous Los Angeles detective gradually unravels what happened. Clumsy, disheveled and a little bit of a space cadet, Columbo isn’t your typical super star detective. He’s got a superficial haplessness that helps him solve crimes, because none of the suspects he interrogates ever see him as much of a threat. Most of the perpetrators are well-to-do and in positions of power, and Columbo is a salt-of-the-earth, working class kind of guy, so there’s something slyly political about the series, wherein the guy at the bottom of the food chain ends up always outwitting everybody else.