We’re in the last remaining days of October, meaning many of us will be trying to cram in as many horror movies as possible between now and Halloween. For my last round of Shudder picks this month, I thought I’d go with a much looser theme: there’s nothing that ties these titles together except that they’re really good movies I think you should watch. Some you may recognize, others may be less familiar to you. All of them are worth streaming on Shudder.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935, dir. James Whale) It’s not officially October without the Universal Monsters, so big thanks to Shudder for adding most of the big ones to their expanding library of streaming options. There’s no wrong choice when it comes to the classics, but I’ll make the case that Universal never got better than The Bride of Frankenstein, James Whale’s sequel to his own 1931 original. Weirder, funnier, smarter, and more inventive than its predecessor, The Bride of Frankenstein is still one of the greatest horror movies ever made even more than 80 years later. For those that complain about the glut of sequels that has long plagued the horror genre, The Bride of Frankenstein proved very, very early on that sequels aren’t such a bad thing.
Found Footage 3D (2016, dir. Steven DeGennaro) I got to see the world premiere of this excellent meta horror movie when it played the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival in Chicago last year and have been waiting to hear about a release ever since. The film is now premiering as a Shudder exclusive with multiple viewing options: a standard 2D version, a 3D version for 3D TVs, a red and blue anaglyph 3D version, and even a version with commentary from first-time feature director Steven DeGennaro. The movie, about a group of filmmakers who set out to make the first-ever 3D found footage movie before encountering something that might actually be evil, is incredibly funny and well-acted from a talented ensemble cast. More importantly, it’s a movie that embraces the stupidity of a 3D found footage movie and then immediately transcends it to be something smart, clever, aware of horror tropes and skewering them while leaning into them at the same time. It works as both the thing and as a critique of the thing.
Murder Party (2006, dir. Jeremy Saulnier) Thanks to Blue Ruin and Green Room (and now the upcoming third season of HBO’s True Detective), Jeremy Saulnier is something of a household name. Looking back at his debut feature film, the excellent horror comedy Murder Party, demonstrated early on that he was a talent to watch closely. Chris Sharp stars as a quiet, lonely schlub who finds an invitation to a Murder Party lying in the street and decides to attend. What he discovers upon arriving (dressed in his own homemade knight costume, a visual joke that never stops being funny and oddly sweet) is a gathering of pretentious artists that eventually gives way to more and more craziness. Go in knowing as little as possible and let this one pleasantly surprise you. The deadpan humor is great, as is the film's commentary on art and identity. Plus, it’s set on Halloween!
Nightmare Castle (1966, dir. Mario Caiano) The incomparable Barbara Steele has a dual role in this gorgeous gothic drama about a scientist attempting to drive Steele mad to inherit her estate. The plot is pretty familiar stuff for any self-respecting Poe reader; what makes Nightmare Castle special is the atmosphere and design work on the sets and the costumes. While director Caiano has said that the movie draws no direct influence from Mario Bava, it does feel like it could easily be a “lost” Bava film—a compliment I don’t pay lightly.
Fresh Meat (2013, dir. Danny Mulheron) One of the unsung gems of this list, this New Zealand cannibal comedy follows a Māori girl (Hanna Tevita) who returns home from boarding school to discover that her family has become cannibals… just in time for the whole family to be taken hostage by violent criminals who have no idea what they’re in for. There’s some terrific gore, a couple of funny performances (particularly from Temuera Morrison as the family patriarch), an oddly sweet love story, and even a bit of social commentary about racial tensions in New Zealand. Don’t be fooled by the terrible, terrible poster art; Fresh Meat is really, really fun.
Digging Up the Marrow (2014, dir. Adam Green) Though he’s probably best known for the Hatchet series (the fourth entry of which, titled Victor Crowley, is currently touring the country), some of Adam Green’s most interesting movies are the ones that don’t take place in a swamp. Spiral is a really strong psychological drama, while Frozen (which is also streaming on Shudder, it should be mentioned) remains, for me, his best film. Digging Up the Marrow, his most recent film prior to Victor Crowley, is his most underrated and doesn’t get talked about as much as it should be. It’s an ambitious film that doesn’t feel like anything else, combining parts of found footage, documentary, traditional narrative, and personal diary into something altogether original. As a big Adam Green fan, I like how much this movie borrows from the director’s own life. What I like more, though, is Ray Wise’s amazing performance as a former cop who claims monsters are real. The search for real-life horror gets at the heart of why we love horror movies, and Green finds a way to explore the idea in a way that’s incredibly entertaining, funny, scary, and unique. See this movie.
The Woman (2011, dir. Lucky McKee) Lucky McKee is one of my favorite modern directors, and I think both May and The Woman are two of the best horror films of the 2000s. It’s not at all a “fun” October watch, but it is visceral and powerful and full of big political ideas and rough edges. Pollyanna McIntosh is a total force of nature in the title role, and the rest of the performances by the likes of Sean Bridgers, Lauren Ashley Carter, and Angela Bettis (of course) are equally strong. This is the kind of horror movie that might start arguments, so be warned, I guess. I can’t say enough good things about it.
Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1972, dir. Christopher Speeth) Here’s one that only came on my radar because of its inclusion in Arrow Video’s excellent American Horror Project Vol. 1 box set. It’s a cheap and crude little film, but also colorful and genuinely nightmarish. The plot is simple enough: a family goes looking for their son at a carnival, only to discover it’s being run by some bad, bad people. What makes the movie so interesting is its tone and the aesthetic of the production design. The parts of me that love Tobe Hooper and Rob Zombie movies really responds to all of it. So, basically all the parts of me.
WNUF Halloween Special (2012, dir. Chris LaMartina) This is a new October staple for me. It’s a brilliant re-creation of a late ’80s local TV broadcast, complete with spot-on commercial parodies every few minutes. On first viewing, I marveled at the accuracy of it all and the way it pushed certain nostalgia buttons for me; now, though, I find myself much more involved in the goings on in the supposedly haunted house being investigated by newsman Frank Stewart, played by Paul Fahrenkopf in a performance that should have won all the awards. WNUF is perfect for setting the Halloween mood.
The Beyond (1981, dir. Lucio Fulci) Picking a favorite Lucio Fulci movie is a little like trying to pick which eyeball you’d rather have poked out with a sharp wooden splinter; the correct answer is “all of them.” If forced, however, I lean towards The Beyond, the second movie in his “Gates of Hell” trilogy. It has my favorite visuals, my favorite Fabio Frizzi score, and still feels like Fulci’s most confidently made film.
The Battery (2012, dir. Jeremy Gardner) The super low-budget (reportedly about $6,000) debut feature from writer/director/star Jeremy Gardner knocked my socks off when I first saw it (after lots and lots of hype) on Scream Factory's Blu-ray. It's a very different kind of zombie movie, which is exactly what we need at a time when the genre is so over-saturated and played out (I’m looking at you, biggest show on television). If you haven't yet seen it, you really should rectify that. Even if you don't love it—and you really ought to love it—you'll at least know you've seen something. And The Battery is really something.