We’re finally here, everyone. Grab your jack-o’-lanterns and your witches’ hats. It’s time for Halloween.
Born out of pagan harvest festivals like Samhain, combined with the Christian holiday for the remembrance of the dead, All Hallows’ Eve, Halloween as we know it today is, in the finest American tradition, a mish-mash of ritual and commercialism. Candy, costumes, and gruesome decorations are everywhere you look, and minor acts of vandalism are expected, if not encouraged. It’s a time for tales of haunted houses and all things that go bump in the night.
I’m not going to lie. This seasonal obsession with all things spooky? I love it. I have an elaborate witch costume specifically for handing out candy to trick-or-treaters. I have feelings about corn mazes. And I have cultivated an extensive knowledge of horror films and literature.
It’s in that spirit that I offer you these recommendations for reading or watching on a dark autumn evening.
If genuine, old-fashioned scares are what you’re looking for, check out The Conjuring. Based on a case investigated by real-life ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren, this film takes a fairly straightforward haunted house story and executes it masterfully. The characters are likable and never sacrifice their common sense for the sake of the plot, while the less-is-more approach to effects slowly builds the tension right up until the intense final act. Recommended for watching with the lights on.
If you have an interest in Japanese folklore, you could try The Girl from the Well, by Rin Chupeco. It’s the creepy story of a murdered girl’s vengeful ghost, from her point of view, centuries after her death. If you enjoyed either version of The Ring, you’ll enjoy this.
Let the Right One In (Let Me In, in the US) is a Swedish film about a lonely, bullied boy who finds a friend in a strange young girl new to his building. Then the body count starts to rise, drawing attention from local law enforcement. It’s a dark, bloody, and surprisingly quiet story with realistically flawed characters and a monster who is undoubtedly monstrous, but also sympathetic. It’s the sort of movie that makes an impression you feel for days after. I prefer the original Swedish version, but the American remake is also solid.
If you prefer your tragic vampires in book form, the book the movie is based on, by John Ajvide Lindqvist, can also be found on our shelves.
For a more lighthearted viewing experience, What We Do in the Shadows is a hilarious mockumentary about a group of centuries-old vampires living together in modern-day New Zealand. If you aren’t laughing out loud by the time the local werewolf gang makes its appearance, then I don’t know how to help you.
There were a lot of options for this movie recommendation, but I finally decided to go with my absolute favorite zombie film that probably no one has ever heard of: Pontypool.
The 3-person crew of a local radio station is broadcasting their morning show when they begin to receive reports from their man in the field of strange behavior and violent outbursts among the public. The lead actors carry the film, with the vast majority of the action in the first two acts taking place offscreen, relayed by outside sources, the chilling details left to the viewer’s imagination.
The Newsflesh trilogy, by Mira Grant, and its stand-alone companion novel, Feedback, are set in a world where the zombie apocalypse has already happened, and society has had to adapt to a world in which the dead are actively trying to kill the living. Part horror novel, part political thriller, the trilogy follows Georgia and Shaun Mason, journalists assigned to a presidential candidate. As a series of tragedies plagues the campaign, the pair begin to uncover evidence of a vast conspiracy that threatens the future of their world. Feedback is set during the same campaign, and follows the journalists assigned to the other party’s presidential candidate.
But what’s that, you say? You’re not interested in these “mainstream” monsters? Can I recommend something … different? Why yes, yes I can.
The Awesome, by Eva Darrows, is about a teenage girl trying to break in to the family monster hunting business.
If you like eldritch monstrosities and non-linear narratives (and have no desire to sleep for the next four days), there’s John Dies at the End, by David Wong.
Responses to House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski, generally range from “What did I just read?” to “This book is evil and I must burn it immediately.” You’ve been warned.
Troll Hunter, another of my personal favorites, is a Norwegian found-footage film that follows a group of journalism students as they pursue an interview with a man they believe to be a wildlife poacher, only to find themselves working a very different story straight out of Norwegian folklore.
That’s all I have for you, folks. If you have any favorites that didn’t make the list that you want to tell me about, please share them in the comments! And of course —
GIFs found on giphy.com
Images are Creative Commons