Best Halloween movies to watch: 31 days of horror this October

Barbara Merkley

If there’s one thing we love here at Polygon, it’s the Halloween season.

We cover horror year-round, whether it’s the best horror movies you can stream at home or the best horror movies on Netflix, and generally, we have our finger on the undead pulse of the newest and ghastliest releases in horror. We even have a list of the best horror movies of the year (ranked by scariness, of course).

Even still, Halloween is an especially spooky time of year, and it warrants special attention and celebration.

For the past three years, Polygon has put together a Halloween countdown calendar, selecting 31 of our staff’s top horror-themed or Halloween-adjacent picks across movies and TV throughout the month of October, all available to watch at home. We’ve loved doing it, so much so that we’re bringing it back again — this time with a whole new batch of films and shows to choose from.

Every day for the month of October, we’ll add a new recommendation to this countdown and tell you where you can watch it. So curl up on the couch, dim the lights, and grab some popcorn for a terrifying and entertaining marathon of horrific delights.

Oct. 1: Messiah of Evil

A distressed woman in a red sweater stands unsuspectingly in a grocery store aisle as a man in a brown suit stalks behind her in Messiah of Evil.

Image: Diamond Entertainment Group

Where to watch: Prime Video, Shudder, Pluto TV, Plex

A undersung classic of ’70s cosmic horror, Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz’s Messiah of Evil is a surreal and nightmarish experience that more than deserves its status as a cult horror classic.

The film centers on Arletty, a young woman who journeys to the remote coastal town of Point Dume, California, to track down her missing father, a reclusive painter who is plagued by disturbing visions of an impending apocalypse. After crossing paths with an eccentric aristocrat and his groupie companions, the group bears witness to the realization of the painter’s prophecy, as the townspeople are transformed into flesh-eating ghouls and the messiah of evil makes his return to the mortal realm.

At times convoluted and bizarre, Messiah of Evil is a genuinely entertaining horror thriller filled with memorable scares and chilling set-pieces. From a cross-eyed albino man gleefully devouring a field mouse whole to a unsuspecting woman watching a Western as the theater around her slowly fills with ravenous undead zombies, it’s a dreamy and frightening experience that lands somewhere between the ineffable gothic horror of H.P. Lovecraft and the anti-consumerist allegories of George A. Romero. The horrors hold up over 50 years after it was first released, and with just the right combination of inadvertent silliness and legitimate terror, Messiah of Evil is a satisfying watch and an excellent start to a month of horrors. —Toussaint Egan

Oct. 2: Ginger Snaps

A black and white photo of a dead woman with pennies place over their eyelids in Ginger Snaps.

Image: Scream Factory

Where to watch: Criterion Channel, Shudder, Peacock, Vudu, Tubi, Freevee, Plex

There’s a sizable hole in the monster movie canon: There just aren’t enough good werewolf movies! Ginger Snaps is here to fix that. And if you love Jennifer’s Body, you’re in for a bloody treat.

Directed by future Orphan Black co-creator John Fawcett, Ginger Snaps is a delightfully gruesome story about two sisters. One of them has gotten her period for the first time, and is turned into a werewolf shortly after. Things get messy, fast.

Ginger Snaps doesn’t just do a great job filling in the werewolf canon. It’s a grisly body horror story placed onto an effective puberty allegory, with a compelling central sister relationship. If you’ve ever watched something like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and thought, This is great and surprisingly gooey, but give me stories like this about teen girls, then Ginger Snaps is for you.

The movie has amassed a dedicated cult following in the years since its release. You’re next up to join the ranks — see you at the next full moon! —Pete Volk

Oct. 3: Creepshow

A skeleton bathed in red light looks like it is crawling out of a grave in Creepshow.

Image: Warner Bros.

Where to watch: Kanopy

The new Creepshow home video release — presented in vibrant 4K UHD Blu-ray — is the best way to revisit this horror anthology classic. You can see individual bubbles in the foam of the ocean as it slowly drowns Ted Danson. This is why it made our list of the best Blu-rays of 2023.

But reader, while I’m one of those sickos who obsesses over video resolution and bitrate, I’ll be honest: You don’t need the fanciest version of Creepshow to enjoy its comedic chills. In fact, the most aesthetically harmonious format might be a poorly treated VHS tape that recorded the film off TBS in the mid-1990s.

Horror anthologies have most recently been used to condense as much terror into a tiny package, like chugging a shot glass of hot sauce. Creepshow is a throwback to a softer, more leisurely style of horror — a middle ground between the plodding tinglers of Poe and contemporary slashers.

Plus, Stephen King performs a one-person show as a hillbilly. So like, that should be enough. —Chris Plante

Oct. 4: Pulse

Kumiko Asō as Michi Kudo holding a corded telephone receiver to her ear in Pulse.

Image: Magnolia Pictures

Where to watch: Prime Video

What if technology could be used to communicate with the dead? It’s an idea that dates as far back as the spiritualism movement of the late 19th century, and one that takes on a frightening and fascinating dimension in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s post-Y2K horror-thriller Pulse.

Alternating between two storylines, Kurosawa’s film follows a group of young adults and university students as a rash of inexplicable disappearances and suicides occurs around Tokyo. As the protagonists investigate further, they slowly uncover a shocking revelation: The souls of the dead are spilling over into the mortal world and ensnaring their unsuspecting prey through the very infrastructure of the internet. By the time they realize this, however, it’s too late; the unearthly contagion has taken on a life of its own, and the only way to survive is cling to what few connections they have left.

Produced after Kurosawa’s Cure (which we featured on last year’s Halloween calendar), Pulse is widely celebrated as one of the foundational texts in the canon of J-horror cinema, alongside Hideo Nakata’s Ring and Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on: The Curse. Eerie and methodical, Kurosawa’s film is a nihilistic meditation on technology and human relationships that presages an advent of loneliness in a world growing more and more “connected” with each passing day. Rife with imagery that will stay with you long after it’s over, Pulse is a tremendous and terrifying movie worth experiencing. —TE

Oct. 5: Apostle

Dan Stevens as Thomas Richardson in Apostle looks out the window suspiciously while reading The Bible

Image: Netflix

Where to watch: Netflix

Don’t confuse Gareth Edwards (director of The Creator and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) with Gareth Evans, director of the Raid movies. If you do, you may sit down to the Netflix-exclusive Apostle expecting expansive, detail-driven science fiction, and be unpleasantly surprised when you get a grimy, extremely gory period piece that goes to startling extremes.

Evans’ mesmerizing Apostle deliberately starts in roughly the same place as the classic 1973 suspense thriller The Wicker Man, with a lone man heading to a remote Welsh island after getting a letter suggesting his sister is being held against her will there by a dangerous cult. Worming his way into the community by pretending to be a convert, Thomas (Dan Stevens, even more feral and intense than he is in The Guest or Beauty and the Beast) inevitably discovers a lot of nasty work going on on the island.

Evans charts his own course with Apostle, veering far from the Wicker Man mold and into much bloodier territory. But he takes advantage of some of the same ideas: the ominous isolation of the island, the close-knit secrecy of its community, the predatory ideas that have flourished there under charismatic leadership. Stevens is particularly terrific in this movie, lunging from one scene to the next like a humanoid wolf who can barely contain his bloodlust. (Thomas has plenty of closely held secrets of his own.) And Evans’ commitment to violent mayhem gives this one some memorable moments that are likely to haunt you later, in the dark. —Tasha Robinson

Oct. 6: Dracula 2000

Gerard Butler as Dracula, emerging from a pool of red viscous liquid and barring his fangs in Dracula 2000.

Image: Walt Disney Home Video

Where to watch: Max

With the scars of nu-metal having healed and Olivia Rodrigo’s Paramore-infused pop tracks having gone full “vampire,” now is the time to give Gerard Butler’s half-bare-chest take on Dracula the respect it’s due.

Maybe the most Dimension Films movie to ever bear the Dimension Films studio logo (close second: The Faculty), Dracula 2000 finds a group of thieves — including of-the-moment faces like Omar Epps, Jennifer Esposito, and Shane West! — transporting a stolen silver coffin from London to New Orleans. They think there’s treasure inside. Are they idiots? Absolutely. And when they find Dracula instead of gold doubloons or whatever, they unleash hell. Overacted, canted-angled, seven-string-guitar-plucking HELL. Luckily, as Dracula hunts down local college student Mary Van Helsing (Justine Waddell), with whom he already shares a psychic connection, Mary’s dad’s new vampire-hunter assistant Simon (young Jonny Lee Miller!) is on his tail.

Butler, never more a heartthrob, plays Dracula in a mesmerizing, baroque manner; think Nicolas Cage doing Dracula if this year’s Renfield was emo turn-of-the-millennium trash. And he’s constantly biting unsuspecting B-list actors to add to his army of hot people, who fight the heroes in multiple obligatory scenes of wire-fu. Writer-director Patrick Lussier cuts it all up like it’s the video for “Freak on a Leash,” and, well, objectively, it’s quite unlike most horror movies you can watch today! Enjoyment of Dracula 2000 may vary depending on a tolerance for Hot Topic goofs, but if you don’t catch up with it, you can’t enjoy Lussier’s sequel, Dracula II: Ascension, starring Jason Scott Lee as a martial-arts-fighting priest who kicks Dracula’s ass! —Matt Patches

Oct. 7: Prince of Darkness

A woman with a skinless face coated in blood and slime recoils in horror in Prince of Darkness.

Image: Scream Factory

Where to watch: Peacock

There aren’t enough movies about the end of the world. Sure, there are plenty of movies about preventing catastrophe at that scale, but rarely do they have the follow-through to truly get existentially terrifying. Thankfully, John Carpenter is no coward, and he made three movies about different kinds of apocalypses. But while The Thing is the best known, and In the Mouth of Madness is the zaniest, Prince of Darkness might be the scariest of the trilogy.

Prince of Darkness follows a group of college researchers who are sent to study a strange canister found in the basement of a church. The canister is filled with some kind of liquid that defies science, and when it starts to get released, a strange evil seems to come into the world with it.

This is Carpenter at his most ambitious. While most of this movie is set in just one building, all manner of horror makes its way inside. There are people made of bugs, horrific zombies, an extradimensional Satan, and things even worse to behold. The entire movie is an onslaught of creepy, skin-crawling images, all built out of a unique mythology about the relationship between good and evil that underpins the world. And, most importantly, after this parade of horrors seems to come to an end, Carpenter saves Prince of Darkness’ biggest, weirdest, most dreadful scare for last. —Austen Goslin

Oct. 8: Gravity Falls – Northwest Mansion Mystery

A screaming, burning skeleton has an axe in its head in an animated image from Gravity Falls.

Where to watch: Hulu, Disney Plus (season 2, episode 10)

The more time that has passed since Gravity Falls concluded, the more miraculous it feels in hindsight. Alex Hirsch’s paranormal comedy show about 12-year-old twins Dipper and Mabel, who solve supernatural mysteries in their great-uncle’s home in rural Oregon, is the perfect entry point for young horror-loving audiences. It’s a pastiche of The X-Files, Twin Peaks, and Adventure Time all rolled into one, with the freewheeling, funloving spirit of a summer vacation. There’s tons of fantastic episodes to choose from, but if you’re looking for an especially spooky one to get in the Halloween spirit, you can’t go wrong with “Northwest Mansion Mystery.”

A ghost has taken up residence in the mansion estate of the wealthiest family in Gravity Falls on the eve of their annual party, and Dipper has been enlisted to exorcize it. Upon arriving at the mansion, Dipper and popular girl Pacifica Northwest uncover a dark family secret that’s been buried for generations, one that threatens to not only tarnish the family’s reputation, but engulf the entire town. For a series ostensibly aimed at young children, it’s kind of wild just how scary “Northwest Mansion Mystery” gets, with taxidermy animals bleeding from their mouths, flaming skeletal lumberjacks, and hapless partygoers being petrified into screaming wooden statues. It’s a blast, and a solid stand-alone episode to introduce new audiences to the all the spooky (and “spoopy”) delights Gravity Falls has to offer. —TE

Oct. 9: The Scooby-Doo Project

A black-and-white image of Shaggy from The Scooby-Doo Project.

Image: Warner Bros.

Where to watch: YouTube

Scooby-Doo got extremely dark for a few years in the early 2000s, which also happened to be the best years of the series since its heyday in the 1970s. But while movies like The Witch’s Ghost and Zombie Island are absolutely excellent (and still hold up), among the most interesting hidden gems of the series is The Scooby-Doo Project.

Like its name implies, this was a parody of The Blair Witch Project that stars the Mystery Inc. gang. Scooby, Shaggy, Fred, Velma, and Daphne set off in the Mystery Machine to the remote woods of Casper County. The movie is filmed in the same documentary style that The Blair Witch Project made iconic, and mostly inserts the gang into live-action locations like real woods or a real town where they interview locals.

The project was originally created as a bumper to bookend segments of a 1999 Scooby-Doo marathon (just a few months after the movie it was based on was released), but after Cartoon Network saw what the creators put together, it wisely decided to re-air the short segments end-to-end as a movie.

The Scooby-Doo Project not only stands alongside the original Blair Witch as an impressive and loving parody, but also as a similarly unnerving found-footage horror movie. The gang standing around among live-action backgrounds is creepy enough on its own, but hearing the beloved characters be accosted by unseen forces as they sprint through the woods is downright scary — particularly if you were a kid watching this for the first time in 1999, well before you saw The Blair Witch Project.

But the best part of The Scooby-Doo Project comes at the end when, much like the other Scooby-Doo movies of the time, we get a soft implication that the supernatural elements of the story were actually real and the horrors won’t stop when the villain’s mask comes off. It’s a downright haunting ending, and manages to match the excellence of its source material, which is high praise for any horror movie, let alone a Scooby-Doo parody. —AG

Oct. 10: Saloum

Three men wearing ponchos look inside a box and smile in Saloum

Image: Shudder

Where to watch: Shudder, AMC Plus

One of the best movies of 2022 was this criminally underseen Senegalese thriller. Saloum follows three extremely cool mercenaries whose post-mission flight home gets interrupted. The trio find themselves in a mysterious village where something is off, and the tension slowly ramps up into a chaotic finale.

The trio of lead actors are absolutely magnetic — Yann Gael (1899), Roger Sallah, and the late Mentor Ba bring the trio of loyal friends who also happen to be extremely deadly professionals fully to life. And with fantastic costume design, a stirring score, and compelling images from award-winning music video director Jean Luc Herbulot, Saloum is 84 minutes of genre-bending excellence.

Saloum first premiered at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, and the movie went on to win awards at Fantastic Fest and the Vancouver International Film Festival. And yet, way too few people have seen it. This is your chance to correct the record and help make Saloum the cult classic it deserves to be. —PV

Oct. 11: Heck

A bunch of children’s toys on the floor in Heck.

Image: Kyle Edward Ball

Where to watch: YouTube

Skinamarink has proven to be one of the most polarizing horror releases of 2023. Kyle Edward Ball’s feature debut about two children trapped alone inside their home by a malevolent entity eschews the formal conventions of traditional cinematography and plot, consisting instead of a series of canted-angle shots of dark hallways and yawning darkness that forces the audience to ruminate on the horrors that lay therein. Personally, I vibed with it heavily, and so it should come as no surprise that I quite enjoyed Ball’s 2020 short film Heck as well.

Conceived as a “proof of concept” for Skinamarink, the short is told from the perspective of a young child who wakes in the dead of night to the blaring sound of their mother’s television set. With their mother seemingly nowhere to be found, the child is left to their own devices, with no means of either leaving the house or calling for help. As the interminable night drags on, with hours morphing into days morphing into weeks morphing into months of penumbral isolation, the child grows more fearful and feral, resorting to increasingly more desperate acts of disobedience in hopes of rousing their mother from sleep. This effort, however, is ultimately proven to be in vain.

Heck circles the same rough ideas and themes of Skinamarink to different effect, channeling the vulnerability of a child and the horror of abandonment and neglect to create an experimental horror experience that demands the audience’s full attention. It’s a fascinating companion to Skinamarink that shows just how far Ball has come as a director honing in on this particular strain of horror, and makes it all the more intriguing to speculate on what he might conjure up next. —TE

Oct. 12: Harper’s Island

A blonde woman (Cameron Richardson) screams in terror while climbing a fence in Harper’s Island.

Photo: Chris Helcermanas/CBS

Where to watch: Available to purchase on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu

In theory, slasher TV should be easier to pull off. Episodic structure lends itself well to a slowly dwindling cast, with a killer on the loose and a different death each episode. This, as Lizzie McGuire (as Isabella the pop star) says, is what dreams are made of. And yet, show after show flubs it, because they can’t find interesting enough characters or dilemmas in what should be an endlessly engaging premise.

But the rules are different on Harper’s Island.

The small Pacific Northwest island was home to a serial killing where Abby (Elaine Cassidy) lost her mom almost a decade ago. She only returns at the start of the series under the most extreme of circumstances: her best friend Henry’s (Christopher Gorham) wedding. And unfortunately, the island’s deadly legacy is about to get a whole lot worse.

The thing is: The show is a perfect low-rent masterpiece. Being from 2009, it feels like a time capsule for both bootcut jeans and miniseries. At a tight 13 episodes, Harper’s Island knows what it’s about (killing people) and gets right to it (brutally). And yet, the beauty of Harper’s Island and its antics is how long it’s able to sustain a levelheaded approach to a purely absurd And Then There Were None scenario, right down to how long nobody knows they’re being picked off. Almost no death is like the last, which seems purely impractical from a serial killing perspective but makes for great TV. The episode titles are the onomatopoeias for how people die, for Christ’s sake! It’s all very fun and twisty, as bodies and mystery continue to mount. Harper’s Island makes slasher TV look fun and easy. More TV should be like Harper’s Island. —Zosha Millman

Oct. 13: American Horror Story: NYC

A red-tinged skull is held by a muscular person from American Horror Story.

Image: FX

Where to watch: Hulu

I have already gone on record about how I cannot look away from the trash fire that is most seasons of American Horror Story. But last season really solidified the reason I even watched the show in the first place. Namely, when AHS is good, it’s really good.

AHS: NYC opens up with a serial killer on the prowl. That, coupled with the leather-clad spectral figure that seems to be haunting the main characters, seems like it’s just typical AHS schlock. But it’s so much more than that. Yes, there is a serial killer who uncannily resembles Jeffrey Dahmer, and the scenes where he stalks and tortures his victims are pretty scary. And yes, there is a leather daddy ghost that has no name or face. And yes, there’s a lot of dubiously consensual BDSM scenes. But the real horror comes from the powerlessness of the queer community in the face of the AIDS crisis.

Creator Ryan Murphy builds this overwhelming, inescapable sense of dread. All AHS seasons hinge on their titular premise, which, more often than not, is a location. It’s not always done effectively, but in NYC, Murphy and the writers heighten the foreboding terror of being alone in a city of millions, of feeling helpless in a crowded room, of knowing that there’s something out to get you but not being able to do anything about that.

The whole season is surprisingly subdued for AHS (yes, even with the sex cages), and it builds up to a painfully poignant finale scene where, for 10 minutes set to Kraftwerk’s “Radioactivity,” one of the main characters wordlessly trudges through the next 10 years of his life, watching everyone around him slowly succumb to AIDS, as horror and reality blend together. —Petrana Radulovic

Oct. 14: Cat People

Simone Simon talks on the phone in a black-and-white image from Cat People.

Image: RKO

Where to watch: Max

Want to be a smarter horror fan this October? Watch the movie that originated the modern jump scare, and then impress people at Halloween parties with this knowledge.

Cat People is not only a key part of horror movie history, it’s a delightfully dark and sexy time positively radiating with atmosphere. The movie follows a woman (Simone Simon) who is caught between her desire for a new man in her life (Kent Smith) and her belief that she is cursed to turn into a panther if she becomes aroused. And at 73 minutes, it’s one of the shorter horror classics you can watch this fall.

Now for that jump scare origin. There’s a tense sequence in this movie where one character stalks another. Director Jacques Tourneur lets the tension build to an unbearable level before surprising the audience with the sudden appearance of a bus. Often considered the first example of the modern jump scare, it was called the “Lewton Bus” after producer Van Lewton, who used the technique again in later movies. —PV

Oct. 15: The Neon Demon

Elle Fanning lies on a silver couch with brightly colored makeup in The Neon Demon.

Image: Amazon Studios

Where to watch: Prime, Hoopla, Freevee

Modeling is a cutthroat industry, and that goes double in Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2016 horror movie The Neon Demon.

The movie follows Elle Fanning as Jesse, a young model who just moved to Los Angeles and quickly gets taken under the wing of makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone). As Jesse becomes more successful as a model, she meets various members of the industry who are willing to part the seas for her even as she makes enemies who get caught up in a wake she unknowingly creates. Even when people are being nice to her, no one lets Jesse pass without making it clear they’re jealous of her beauty and curious about what she can give them… or that they can take from her.

Here, like in Drive, Refn’s version of LA is soaked in dread and seediness in every corner. Every person reads like a threat, and every new competitor or friend seems to be looking for a new way to drain the life out of the people around them — until they finally actually do it. But, like all Refn projects, what really sets The Neon Demon apart is how it looks. The griminess of the movie’s world turns brightly lit photo shoots into shadow-filled nightmares, with people who stalk the sets like jungle predators.

Though The Neon Demon didn’t get the same acclaim as other so-called elevated horror movies from the time, looking back, it fits perfectly among the ranks of The Witch, It Follows, and Under the Skin. Refn’s nightmarish modeling movie is dripping with cynicism, cruelty, and a creeping atmosphere, with more meanness than almost any other movie from the era could muster. But it’s all in the pursuit of beauty, of course. —AG

Oct. 16: Project Wolf Hunting

A man in a bloody white undershirt and an orange unbuttoned collared shirt fires a gun while other criminals in various states of bloody clothing stands behind him in Project Wolf Hunting.

Image: Well Go USA Entertainment

Where to watch: Hi-Yah!; available to rent on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu

Sometimes, what you’re looking for is just literal tons of blood and gore. And when that’s contained in a premise that’s essentially “Con Air meets Predator, with a bit of The Last Voyage of the Demeter,” that’s hard to beat.

Project Wolf Hunting is a Korean monster mash built out of an extremely fun idea. “What if a bunch of dangerous criminals rebelled on the cargo ship they were being transported on, only to discover the ship is also transporting a monster?”

The story is necessarily light, and the characters are thinly drawn (although the effective costuming and makeup work go a long way), but that’s not what you’re here for if you’re watching Project Wolf Hunting. You’re here for gory violence, and boy, is there a lot of it. The director has bragged that the team used 2.5 tons of fake blood while filming the movie, and it certainly shows. It’s one of the goriest movies I’ve ever seen, and that gore is augmented by terrific sound design, which builds the monster up into something well beyond the realm of humankind by making its movements sound metallic. It’s a machine designed for killing, and Project Wolf Hunting is a movie designed for a bloody good time. —PV

Oct. 17: Kuroneko

A ghostly person chews on a furry arm in Kuroneko.

Image: Toho Co. Ltd

Where to watch: Criterion Channel, Max

Like his 1964 film Onibaba (which we featured in our 2021 Halloween countdown), Kaneto Shindo’s 1968 supernatural horror film is a cerebral, gorgeous, and eerie drama set amid the tumultuous Sengoku period of Japanese history.

Kuroneko centers on the story of two women, a mother and her daughter-in-law, who are raped and murdered by a wandering band of samurai who set fire to their family home. Haunted by vengeance, their spirits forge a pact with the demons of the underworld, resurrecting them in exchange for the death of any samurai unfortunate enough to cross their paths. As the death toll rises, a young samurai is enlisted to fend off the wayward spirits once and for all, unaware of either the origins behind their malice or their tragic connection to his own past.

Kiyomi Kuroda’s cinematography in Kuroneko is a master class in minimalism, employing an intense contrast of light and shadow to produce sequences that feel downright otherworldly to behold. Whether it’s scenes of samurai wandering through a void of darkness by the Rajōmon gates or a dreamlike pan through a bamboo thicket overlaid as a character ruminates over the past, the film is a gorgeous display of deft cinematic craftsmanship in service of telling a dramatic and terrifying story of love, revenge, and regret. —TE

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