This autumn, our world is grappling with a bevy of horrors—an ongoing pandemic, relentless unchecked racial injustice sanctified by our legal system, the gaping void of an open supreme court seat, and an election that could potentially unravel all of American democracy.
Of course, October also brings with it a far more pleasant kind of horror: The blissfully distracting, transportive, folky wonder that is Halloween season. This October, we’ll all have to intersperse pre-election phone banks and protests with some spooky autumnal entertainment in order to avoid burnout and keep our spirits alive.
The good thing is, fall offers plenty of options in the realm of transportive art and culture. Namely, these dark autumn nights are perfect for playing through your favorite horror movies. From the kitschy to the gory to the downright spine-chilling, horror movies have a way of bringing many of us an odd kind of peace. Plus, a recent study discovered that people who love horror movies might actually be faring better during the pandemic.
“We found that fans of horror films exhibited greater resilience during the pandemic and that fans of ‘prepper’ genres (alien invasion, apocalyptic, and zombie films) exhibited both greater resilience and preparedness. We also found that trait morbid curiosity was associated with positive resilience and interest in pandemic films during the pandemic. Taken together, these results are consistent with the hypothesis that exposure to frightening fictions allow audiences to practice effective coping strategies that can be beneficial in real world situations,” it reads.
So that’s all the reason you could ever need to binge horror during this coming month, as the leaves turn red and the fault lines in American democracy begin spewing hot lava.
Fortunately, if you’re having trouble picking, we’ve designed a schedule of movies for you to watch every day of the month. Start with some charming autumnal films to help ease you out of your summer daze, and you’ll find that as the month progresses and sh*t inevitably gets weirder and weirder, this list will guide you down the labyrinth of slow descents into madness and ghostly encounters—and just maybe some of these films will illuminate pathways through the darkness.
October 1st: When Harry Met Sally
It’s the beginning of October, and you’re optimistically waiting for the leaves to change and dreaming of romantic walks in Central Park that will never happen because, well, pandemics happen. Usher in the month with this classic starry-eyed rom-com, enjoy the last flickers of summer, and let your heart believe in love and possibility.
October 2nd: St. Elmo’s Fire
With October comes memories of first days of school, but wait—you’re out of school and likely not going back unless they decide to make grad school free. But you’re not alone: Remember that many 20-somethings before you have experienced these same unmoored feelings with this 90s classic starring Demi Moore and several of the cast members of The Breakfast Club as they grapple with disillusionment following a recent graduation.
October 3rd: Dead Poets’ Society
As the weather gets colder and you become increasingly lost in your nostalgia for your school days—nevermind that you actually hated school—it might be time to dive into some old Romantic poetry and, of course, Dead Poets’ Society. Secret cults, poems, the ache of adolescence, and a tough but loving teacher make this film the perfect way to celebrate autumn.
October 4th: Election
At this point it’s probably time to remember that we’re in an election year, perhaps the year of the most important election of our lifetimes, one that has the ability to determine the fate of our planet, our human rights, and America at large. To get in the spirit of politics, try the back-to-school autumn classic Election, which stars Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon as an overachieving wannabe student body president. You might recognize the desperation in Witherspoon’s eyes in the increasingly desperate tones of the recruiting texts and emails that you receive at least ten times each day. Hell, maybe Witherspoon’s tenacity will inspire you to get on the campaign trail yourself.
October 5th: Carrie
Maybe Election made you violently nostalgic, or maybe it made you remember everything you actually hated about school, which translated to a lot of what you actually just hate about the world at large: power structures that dictate where you have to be every day, ego-obsessed politicians with no vision for actual change, and, of course, cruel bullies. At this point, you’ve probably also been subjected to another bout of Trump headlines. Personally, Trump always reminds me of someone very specific: the boys who bullied me in middle school. There’s no better revenge-against-the-bullies film than Stephen King’s Carrie, which tells the vicious story of a misfit girl who—spoiler alert—is doused in a vat of pig’s blood then goes on a murderous rampage. Hey, it’s better to process your impulses in film, right?
October 6th: Pet Sematary
Since you’re already on a Stephen King kick, why not watch the classic horror flick Pet Sematary? Sure, the film might utilize the hackneyed, problematic trope of the haunted Indian burial ground, but at least Stephen King supports trans rights, and since you can’t watch Harry Potter anymore without getting in a Twitter war with a J. K. Rowling TERF army member, this seems like a good option to get you in the Halloween mood.
October 7th: The Shining
Day 3 of your Stephen King kick should certainly end with The Shining. This movie is Stanley Kubrick at his most iconic, and needs no real introduction, but the eerie series of events leading to Jack’s total breakdown always lingers a long time after the screen goes dark.
October 8th: Coco
Possibly one of the most heartwarming, devastating children’s movies of all time—hell, one of the most heartwarming, devastating movies of all time—Coco is a must-see (just be sure to bring the tissues along). This film tells the story of a boy named Miguel who dreams of becoming a musician, but on the Day of the Dead he accidentally slips into the ghostly realm. This triggers a series of events that involve a lot of fabulous music. As the veil between the worlds grows thinner and the Day of the Dead grows closer, this movie is sure to get you in the spirit while also reminding you of the power of memory and the ways we’re all connected to our ancestors and to our past.
October 9th: Coraline
The film Coraline is animated like Coco, but it presents a slightly darker look at family ties. This oddly spooky, macabre delight has a way of gripping the mind, and it’s sure to remind you that even though you love your family, the fact that some of them do support Trump is a difficult factor to ignore.
October 10th: Practical Magic
By now the trees may be fringed with red and you’re probably remembering that it’s autumn, and aching to get into the mystical spirit. It’s definitely not too late to become a witch, and Practical Magic is an ultimate classic in the witch-flick genre.
October 11th: Hocus Pocus
Staying with the witch theme, Hocus Pocus is simply a must-watch to get into the autumn spirit. It takes place in Salem on Halloween night and involves three nefarious witches, namely Bette Middler. There’s a reason why this is a Halloween cult classic. Plus, it’s great inspiration if you’re looking for an excuse to send some curses towards our president.
October 12th: The Vvitch
If you’re feeling burned out by all the twee magic and vintage spell-casting of the past two films, why not watch The Vvitch, a movie that is about Satan, puritan American colonists, and ultimately, female liberation at its most diabolical.
October 13th: A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
Now that the weather is getting colder, it’s time to slip into the world of purer horror. This vampire story made waves at Sundance in 2014. It follows a female vampire, and overall the story places a vengeful feminist spin on the classic narrative of the blood-sucking killer.
October 14th: Nosferatu
Now that the previous film has inspired you to dive deeper into vampire films, head back in time for one of the horror movie classics that started it all with Nosferatu. Pour some cider with a bit of whiskey and let the Old Hollywood horror sweep you away into the horrors of a time before vaccines and racial equality—oh wait.
October 15th: The Conjuring
At this point you probably are hungering for a truly spine-chilling scare, and believe me, the slow-burning eeriness of The Conjuring will scare even the most seasoned horror fan. If you’re feeling particularly masochistic, try watching it at night alone, in the dark, as loud as you can get it, with your windows open, then go for a walk outside without a flashlight.
October 16: Friday the 13th
So, there’s not a Friday the 13th in October (though there is a full moon on Halloween), but still, the second Friday in October feels like the right time to watch this slasher classic.
October 17th: Poltergeist
Now that you’re in the second half of October and all these movies have you completely on edge, it’s time to truly invite the nightmares in. (Remember, horror movies promote resilience!) And what could be scarier than a film that’s believed to be legitimately cursed? From start to finish, Poltergeist was a horrifying experience for its cast and crew; now it can be a horrifying experience for you.
October 18th: The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project was one of the pioneers in the found footage genre, and it’s a beautiful film from start to finish. As its protagonists are pulled deeper and deeper into the woods, you’ll find yourself glued to their screens, watching them meet their inevitable ends at the hands of a looming evil that never quite emerges but somehow seems to pervade every shakily filmed frame.
October 19th: Get Out
Jordan Peele’s Get Out is arguably one of the best horror films ever, with its richly complex, slightly sci-fi narratives and its stunning performances. It also is a devastating critique of systemic racism, a horror that is truly greater than any ghost you’ll find in these movies.
October 20th: It Follows
Now that you’ve entered the realm of truly great modern horror narratives, why not lean into the murky and bone-chilling chaos of It Follows? This film tells a story about a monster that’s basically the most terrifying STD ever. If you feel like you’re being followed by a perpetual malaise or are living in 2020, this film might resonate.
October 21st: Donnie Darko
It’s now mid-October, the election is rapidly approaching and things are beginning to feel strange and out-of-proportion as the shadows grow longer. It’s probably time to watch Donnie Darko, a film that will ease you into the surreal gore-fest that this election season is sure to be. The apocalypse occurs on Halloween in this film, which is close enough to November 6.
October 22nd: Hereditary
If Donnie Darko has you feeling unsettled, Hereditary will rip the ground out from under your feet. Ari Aster’s nightmarish film revolves around a cult, and it’ll feel relatable to anyone staring at the dumpster fire that is QAnon and wondering what demon has possessed America. It’s also really about familial trauma and the chaos wrought on the world by Boomers, which both are likely at the root of QAnon anyway, but that’s a conversation for another time.
October 22nd: Hausu
Enter the world of the surreal with Hausu, a Japanese film that tells the story of a group of girls who go visit one of their grandmothers. Its writer explained that the film is all about the horrors and trauma experienced by victims of the nuclear bomb. As you wonder whether the US is really the bad guy, this film might provide some convincing arguments for the case that we are—or at least definitely have never been truly “great”.
October 24th: Green Room
Are you scared of Trump’s neo-Nazi followers? Scare yourself even more by watching Green Room, a film about (spoiler alert) Nazi punks who go on—what else—a murderous, gory rampage. At times this film is a complete bloodbath, but the characters are just charming enough to make it work.
October 25th: Saw
Diabolical plots to sabotage America. Corrupt police officers committing legally sanctioned murders. Solutions to the climate crisis that aren’t being used because oil companies keep sabotaging them to make more profits. Sometimes it can feel like America is being guided towards its own destruction at the hands of a diabolical system that only benefits the people controlling it. If that sounds familiar, you might enjoy Saw, the gleeful, classic depiction of one villain’s wicked plot to totally destroy the minds of his victims as he destroys their bodies.
October 26th: The Rocky Horror Picture Show
By this point, you probably need some relief, as well as some fun at-home entertainment because all the Halloween parties you would’ve gone to were canceled because of, well, the pandemic. Rocky Horror is a must-see for the week before Halloween. Give yourself over to absolute pleasure, pull out the old fishnets, do the time warp, and let your true self emerge from the shadows. There’s really nothing like Rocky Horror and there never will be.
October 27th: The Babadook
If Rocky Horror has you longing to celebrate your queerness or if the season is inspiring you to unleash some of your baser impulses, The Babadook will certainly resonate. Originally a dark and haunting film about grief, The Babadook’s title monster became a queer icon a few years ago, and the film’s message will help you accept your latent queerness or come to terms with your grief over the end of the American dream or maybe a little bit of both.
October 28th: Fox News
The scariest thing you can possibly watch on TV is the news, specifically Fox News, which not only does what every news station does and describes the horrors of our world: It also propagates lies and a narrative that seems like it literally comes from a parallel dimension. Feel the true fear, then be brave and take action in the election. Believe that you are the horror movie protagonist and not the first person to die, and then create your own narrative.
October 29th: Alien
Amidst all the chaos of 2020, the facts that the Pentagon has a UFO division and signs of life possibly discovered on Venus made few waves. But really, could aliens be the way out of all this? At this point, so far gone and so close to the horrors of election season, an alien savior could be what we need—Starseeds certainly think so.
October 30th: Train to Busan
Rumors of an epidemic spreading across the country quickly blossom into a narrative about bloodthirsty zombies overtaking a train. This film is a cathartic thriller that might hit too close to home given the pandemic, but at this point, few of us would be surprised if zombies started emerging.
October 31st: Halloween
Well, it’s finally actually Halloween. You survived October, and now it’s time to face the fire and fury of the next few months. Since you won’t be going out this year, it’s really the ideal night to watch a spooky Halloween classic, then perhaps perform a few rituals under the full moon. With these horror movies under your belt, you’ll be well-prepared to battle the real evil ahead.