While Shudder has always been one of my go-to streaming services year-round, it gains a special kind of prescience in October. After all, its focus is laser-focused on horror films, from genre mainstays like Nosferatu (1922) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) to diamonds in the low-budgeted rough like Color Out of Space (2020) and The Stuff (1984). Over a week into my Halloween-themed marathon and I’ve only scratched the surface of what the service has to offer. And to be fair, these days there’s very little reason to go elsewhere for your horror fix. So consider this less a final destination as much as a good place to start: 5 astounding horror movies – some classics, some unassuming gems – to jumpstart your holiday horrors.
Of course this one was going to make the cut. How couldn’t it? The grand daddy of all Slasher movies – not so much the earliest iteration of the masked killer tropes so much as where they all coalesced and were popularized – whose title and timing coincide perfectly with the season at hand. Plus Paramount+ has that new sequel coming out that strips down all of the needlessly convoluted (and endlessly confusing) sequels of varied canonicity to just this first movie and its identically titled 2018 sequel. While there is certainly a lot to dive into here (I certainly have done my share of it in the past), the fact of the matter remains that Halloween is the perfect horror movie: stripped down to the bare bones of the genre, the perfect distillation of terror in the twentieth century.
I avoided this movie for years because, quite frankly, it didn’t look very good. An ultra low-budget slasher, made at the post-Halloween height of that sub-genre (when there were vastly more misses than there were hits), from the illustrious shlockmeister William Lustig in his earlier days as a pornographer, written by and starring Stallone’s loan shark boss from the Rocky movies? That’s rather shaky ground for any movie to stand on, but, shockingly, what plays out over its lean 87-minute runtime is less a Carpenter rip-off and more like a proto-Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986). Granted, Joe Spinell is no Michael Rooker, and the whole bloody thing is a lot more cheaply and exploitatively made than Henry, but both are less genre exercises in high body counts and creative kills as much as they are nihilistic character studies of the kind of people who would indulge in both of those vices. Early makeup effects by Tom Savini and Lustig’s economical talents behind the camera do a lot of heavy lifting to keep this lurid feature out of the gutter it easily could have found itself in, and the ultimate effect is one of the most dramatically ambitious horror films of the decade.
One Missed Call (2004)
Despite coming from the infamous Takashi Miike – the so-called “Man of 100 movies” who has, since the early 1990s, become a institution in Japan’s V-cinema boom as well as its yakuza, horror and all-around gonzo movie scenes – One Missed Call has never enjoyed the same reputation his other, equally high-profile features (such as his utterly bonkers Dead on Arrival, viscerally unforgettable Audition, genre-bending horror-comedy-musical The Happiness of the Katakuris or fetishistically bleak Ichi the Killer). Maybe it’s because, even for Hollywood remakes, the English-language One Missed Call (2008) is **particularly** despised. Maybe it’s because the movie fits so comfortably at the epicenter of the turn-of-the-millennium J-Horror craze (between the ghosts, spooky technology, youth focus and nihilistic themes) that it cannot help but feel a bit overly familiar, even while Miike’s eye for interesting compositions, graphic fixations and steady hand behind the camera make it a far handsomer film than the vast majority of its contemporaries. Regardless of the reason, this freaky little techno-horror film is definitely one to check out, especially since the occidental appetite for “exotic” horror films has been generally sated and there is so little like it to compete for our attention. It’s an oddly comforting stew of well-worn characters and tropes, yes, but it hits all of those notes perfectly and comes in a far more attractive package than you would expect.
Tigers Are Not Afraid (2019)
As I’ve already mentioned, just because it’s no longer September doesn’t mean than it’s also no longer Hispanic Heritage Month, a celebration that spans these two months and gives us ample opportunities to turn to the films and filmmakers that come from the sorely overlooked Latino populations of the Americas. Over the past few years especially, there have been ample choices to consider, more than a couple of which have found their way onto Shudder due to its singular focus on the horrific. Of these, Issa Lopez’s Tigers Are Not Afraid (2019), which remixes the familiar beats of a del Toro picture into something equal parts recognizable and revolutionary. Across its 83-minute runtime, we are given a darkly imaginative firsthand accounting of the horrors of cartel-besieged Mexico and what it takes to survive on the dark city streets. In it, you can see a direct evolution of the kind of storytelling del Toro pioneered with his Spanish-language films (Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth): something personal, fantastical and beyond the grounded logic of adults.
La Llorona (2020)
Not to be confused with the justly lambasted Curse of La Llorona (2019) from the same year, this non-Conjuring film from Guatemalan director Jayro Bustamante emerges from the uneasy intersection of history and mythology. In it, Bustamante explores the harrowing reality of real-world genocides that we still have yet to reckon with in any meaningful fashion and the primal vengeance promised by the folkloric monster La Llorona, the wailing woman who seeks to replace her drowned children and endlessly recapitulate the sins of her past. As powerful a symbol of simultaneous victimhood and vengeance, the narrative pitch of Bustamante’s La Llorona will be familiar to English-speaking audiences who have seen any of the recent crop of feminist witch movies of the preceding decade (such as Antichrist, The Witch and The Autopsy of Jane Doe) and play out just as powerfully within her narrative.