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Best Halloween movies and TV to stream: 31 days of horror

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Heavens, I miss Halloween. As a kid in the Midwest, the holiday pulverized my senses: the potpourri of rotting leaves and Sunday barbecues, the whispers about the mysterious neighbor who never opened their door, and my friends with prosthetic gashes across their faces and plastic aliens bursting from their chests — what a sight.

Where did it go? I suppose there’s no clearer sign that I’d grown up than when Halloween became just another excuse to drink and eat candy I’d never ever eat any other day. (Have you ever actually read the ingredients of a Butterfinger?) After I moved to Texas in my thirties and went full boring adult, my favorite holiday became little more than a reminder to get serious about saving money for Christmas gifts.

So a few years ago, out of disappointment and boredom, I sparked a new tradition by creating a Google Calendar for October, assigning myself one Halloween-friendly film or TV show per evening. I finally made time for monster-movie classics, and recaptured a fraction of that Ray Bradbury brand of October energy. Over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly obsessed with making and respecting the calendar. And with COVID-19 keeping me indoors this Halloween, it’s become a fixation.

This year, I’ve decided to share the calendar with y’all. Hell, I’m already doing the work, so why not? Every day in October, I’ll reveal a new film, TV episode, or online video for you to stream. Since you have a trillion choices, I’m arranging the entries in themes, each film complementing one another. I’m also providing some context to illuminate the experience. For example, I’m starting the calendar with “unconventional ghost stories.” The ghost story is surprisingly popular among film auteurs who otherwise overlook the horror genre. The appeal of spirits connects directors from the Australian New Wave to Southern Gothic to, well, David Fincher.

If you’re following along with the viewing choices on this calendar, I strongly encourage you to share them with a friend, even if you can’t watch the picks in the same room or at the same time. One of the pleasures of great horror is its ambiguity, the empty space it leaves for us to insert ourselves and our own anxieties. It can spark epiphanies and conversation we might otherwise avoid. And what better time for us to communally process fear and trauma than right now?

Be sure to share your favorite Halloween-time favorites in the comments, too. Happy Halloween month!

UNCONVENTIONAL GHOST STORIES

Photo: The Criterion Collection

Thursday, October 1st: Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

On Valentine’s Day of 1900, a large group of schoolgirls and teachers travel to Hanging Rock, Victoria for an afternoon picnic. A band of the girls decides to ascend the rock. Atop the cliff, exposed fully to the Australian sun, the young women enter a trance and disappear into its crevices. The incident is filmed in languid shots of the teachers and students basking in sunlight that nearly blows out the picture. It’s like taking a mid-July hike on general anesthetic, the world blurry, the sound echoing, reverberating, and distant. Time is frozen, and in this brightness, the girls appear to be already dead. To the handful of men in attendance, they’re angels. But in their own absence, they become ghosts.

In the film’s second half, we get the fallout of the missing girls. The memory of them, and the accompanying guilt, haunts the classmates and townspeople who can’t make sense of how a few young lives could seemingly disappear.

If you like Picnic at Hanging Rock, you might also like: The Leftovers. The HBO show about a fraction of Earth’s population disappearing, and how the survivors respond, borrows heavily from Picnic at Hanging Rock, along with other films by its Australian New Wave director, Peter Weir.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is available to stream on Criterion Channel.


And up next:

Friday, Oct. 2: Eve’s Bayou

Saturday, Oct. 3: Zodiac

Sunday, Oct. 4: Poltergeist

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