“True to our name, we get a little grumpy when planning our Halloween watchlist every year. We’re careful not to obligate ourselves to any one thing as a ‘must watch’ each season, and because we’re cool, we avoid cliches at all costs. A lot of the time we end up with some kind of theme going (obscure Asian body horror this year? Sure!), but in 2023 we’re tired. So this list is made up mostly of horror discs we’ve bought throughout the year but haven’t gotten around to yet (regardless of first-time viewing), random downloads (shhhh), and some things we just haven’t seen in years (remember, no annual traditions in the Grumpy HQ).
Of the actual first-time views, I can’t say with 100 percent certainty that they are all recommendations. Heck, we’re saving a bunch of them for Halloweekend, so who knows if they’ll actually even make the cut! It’s mostly the slashers in this group, as they’re admittedly low on our horror scale as far as favorites go ~ and we hold firmly in our belief that if you watch a slasher on Halloween, you’re doing it wrong. Halloween is the one day of the year in which the veil between the world of the living and dead is most thin, so it’s a time of spookies, ghosties, witches, and goblins. Of course, some exceptions can be made if, for instance, the slasher takes place on Halloween, so for that this year we’ve added first-time watches for things like Hack-O-Lantern (1988) and rewatches for ‘classics’ like Murder Party (2007).
One thing we’ve been lowkey obsessed with in the Grumpire HQ lately is the drama surrounding the notorious extreme haunted house McKamey Manor. If you’re a Hulu subscriber you may have caught the documentary Monster Inside: America’s Most Extreme Haunted House (2023) revealing the dark side of this haunt, but there’s also a dedicated group of YouTubers out there who are stopping at nothing to take the Manor down. So with extreme haunts on our minds this October, we revisit one of the best fictional haunts to come out in recent years, 2019’s simply titled Haunt. And we’re throwing in a recommendation for the TCM Underground-approved Scary Movie (1991) more so for its place in Texas film history than its actual content. That’s not to say this low-budget, punk-adjacent haunted house film doesn’t have its positive aspects, though; it’s just the time you spend waiting for something to happen is only about halfway paid off at the end.
Witches were also a bit on the mind when we came up with our list: 1989’s The Black Cat is a far-out metatextual ‘sequel’ to Suspiria (1977) that is bewildering enough not to disappoint. One of our favorite folk horrors is the Soviet film Viy (1967), but a film that gets hardly any attention is the modern re-telling of the Viy story, Forbidden Empire (2014). The story of Forbidden Empire adds some complexities to the original folktale and shows off some seriously great monster design and effects. Rounding this out is Hausu (1977), which we know everyone and their mother loves, but we haven’t seen it in years so it was due for a rewatch. One thing I especially love about Hausu is that it’s basically a bizarro Babysitter’s Club novel.
For classic horror, we dipped into some of that pre-code jazz, but only for something we hadn’t seen before. I chose Doctor X (1932) because our favorite Mexican dentist goes by the same name (Dr. Xavier even!), and as it turns out, the film is wildly entertaining to boot. Thrown in the mix as well is Mario Bava’s Hercules in the Haunted World (1961), which is a color-gelled dreamscape of masculinity and wonder.
And finally, for nostalgia’s sake, there’s a Jason Lively/Jill Whitlow double feature in there of Ghost Chase (aka Hollywood Monster, 1987) and Night of the Creeps (1986). The former is notable as it’s Roland Emmerich wanting so badly to be a part of the ’80s LA art punk scene but not quite making it, so it becomes a relic of a German looking in at Hollywood and losing everything in translation. Night of the Creeps is one of those formative ’80s young adult horrors that, despite its corniness, has a deeply profound best-bro relationship between its two male leads. Andrew loves this one.
Other noteworthies: The Devil Conspiracy (2022), which we think is the greatest horror/action show to come out since The Last Witch Hunter (2015), Night Train to Terror (1985), which even though it doesn’t quite deliver, the vague promise of a scary adaptation of the Book of Job is worth a watch, and Cobweb (2023), which, with its R-rating and grown-up feel for a story about a kid, is definitely one to put on your ‘tradition’ list ~ if you play that way.
We’re saving Dark Harvest (2023) for our Halloween night viewing; it’s a first-time watch with a glowing recommendation from filmmaker Vincenzo Natali, so we figure we can’t go wrong there. By the way, all you traditionalists probably should be revisiting his superb Cabinet of Curiosities entry ‘Graveyard Rats’ yearly, too.
Oh yeah, hey! I know I mentioned ‘no cliches’ but this October had a real live Friday the 13th in it! The most sacred of days to any horror kid. But to celebrate in our own grumpirical way, we watched ‘only the stupid’ F13 entries, namely Part V: A New Beginning. We love the urgency Part V begins with: a fast-moving, exciting intro that doesn’t let up. Plus, it may be the most effective use of comedy in the entire series.”
For more October viewing selections, be sure to take a look at our 2023 Guide to Spooky Streaming
…and of course…