The Projects: Yet More Horror Flicks That Don’t Suck

By Spencer Davis. Yeah, so um, it’s been a while, huh? While you might have noticed Shadows & Noise has been on hiatus for the past couple of years, it’s Halloween weekend and I just couldn’t resist revisiting one of my favorite series we’ve ever done on the site. For me, October is the time to lock yourself in the basement, turn out the lights, and scare the everloving shit out of yourself—preferably with a movie, but hey, you do you. If you’re tired of all the usual options like The Shining or The Exorcist, I’ve got a few more off-the-beaten-path horror options for you to consider. And because real life in 2020 is scary enough already, I’ve also tossed in a few lighter picks that will give you more laughs than nightmares. You can thank me with candy.

I Married A Witch (1942): My wife is picky when it comes to old black-and-white comedies, but this one earned her seal of approval. Veronica Lake stars as a witch brought back to life to take her revenge on the descendant of the man who had her burned at the stake—or at least that’s the plan, before she takes her own love potion and falls for him. And in a plot point that’s particularly timely this Halloween season, it just so happens that her target is in the last days of a campaign for governor, so the thing that scares him most is a young blonde who looks an awful lot like a sex scandal in waiting. With rapid-fire banter and twists that come every five minutes, this clever influence on later TV shows like Bewitched casts a pretty irresistible spell.

(Streaming for free on Hulu, HBO Max, Criterion Channel, and TCM; available for rental on Amazon Prime and Apple TV)

Deep Red (1975): Long-time readers of the site know I have a thing for Dario Argento, so if you’ve already taken my advice and watched Suspiria and Inferno, you’ll want to look back earlier in his career to his first big hit. Deep Red skips the supernatural elements of his later work, giving you a straight slasher movie more focused on suspense and jump scares. The kills are innovative, the neon blood flows freely, and you can’t go wrong with scary dolls either. Smarter than most other 70s slashers, Deep Red is what bought Argento his reputation as a master of horror—and set the stage for bigger things to come.

(Streaming for free on Amazon Prime and Shudder; available for rental on Apple TV)

God Told Me To (1976): The scariest thing about 70s horror is often the production values; there’s a certain creepiness that seeps in just from the stark cinematography, the flat colors, the tinny sound quality, the cheap synth music. God Told Me To is a great example, but it backs it up with an ingenuous premise: a detective is investigating a series of killings from random people who all say, when asked why they did it, “God told me to.” A little reminiscent of The X-Files, the investigation goes into bizarre territory (and offers a huge twist midway through)—but the simplest and most effective scares come from that one line of dialogue, every time it comes, morphing from a mildly creepy indicator of simple insanity to something far bigger and eerier. Because what if it’s true?

(Streaming for free on Shudder; available for rental on Amazon Prime and Apple TV)

Demons (1985): If 70s horror relies on its sense of unflinching realism, great 80s horror goes in the complete opposite direction, embracing over-the-top badness for all it’s worth. Demons is a splatter-fest that’s so bad it’s good. The plot is almost beside the point; the audience at a movie theater finds itself, one-by-one, picked off by demonic possession, turning them into violent crazed monsters who feast on one another. You get a lot of the gore and silliness of a classic zombie movie, along with the suspense of wondering which characters will die next. It probably worked even better in a movie theater, where the obvious parallels between the audience on the screen and the audience sitting all around you added an extra layer of scares, but trust me, it works just fine from your own couch too.

(Streaming for free on Shudder; available for rental on Amazon Prime and Apple TV)

The Innkeepers (2011): Can’t decide between laughs and scares? The Innkeepers gives you both. Director Ti West’s follow-up to his impressive debut (The House Of The Devil), this movie about a couple of college kids working at a haunted New England inn on its last night of operation plays it both ways. The laughs often come from the fake-outs of scares you’re trained by other movies to expect. But of course, that’s all just a ruse to get you to lower your defenses. As the story reaches its climax, the film goes for broke on true haunted house horror, with seat-jumping results.

(Streaming for free on Amazon Prime; available for rental on Apple TV)

The Love Witch (2016): The cult following that continues to adore Anna Biller’s The Love Witch is as unique as the movie itself. There’s nothing much scary here, but there’s plenty to enjoy in this feminist spoof of 70s sexploitation films. The story of a beautiful woman (initiated in the occult, of course) who lures gullible men to their deaths, part of the brilliance of this movie is the reversal of sex stereotypes. Watching one dopey white man after another get what’s coming to them, there’s a lot of #MeToo vindication to be enjoyed here. But Biller adds style to her substance, so effectively recreating the vivid technicolor imagery and bad acting of the movies she’s spoofing that it could easily be mistaken for the real thing. Hokey on purpose, with a skewering wit hiding in full view, The Love Witch is an off-kilter Halloween option—but it just might be the perfect choice for the waning days of this particular political era.

(Streaming for free on Amazon Prime and Shudder; available for rental on Apple TV)

The Vast Of Night (2020): Is The Vast Of Night horror or is it sci-fi? The answer is … yes. A surprise hit on Amazon this summer, this directorial debut from independent filmmaker Andrew Patterson is a self-made effort of shocking ingenuity. Shot like an old episode of The Twilight Zone, it fully embraces its 50s atmosphere as the residents of a small New Mexico town come to fear that the mysterious sound interrupting their radio broadcast is a harbinger of flying saucers. With Hitchcockian patience, Patterson builds the suspense, relying on dialogue and storytelling and sound in much the same way an old radio broadcast (Orson Welles’ War Of The Worlds, perhaps?) might. By withholding the visuals as long as possible, he creates an atmosphere of plausible paranoia that lets your imagination create more unnerving possibilities than anything CGI can conjure. It’s a slow boil at the start, but by the end, you’ll be wowed.

(Streaming for free on Amazon Prime)

Color Out Of Space (2020): The most effective on-point rebuttal to the charms of The Vast Of Night just might be Color Out Of Space. When you combine H.P. Lovecraft with Nicolas Cage, you know you’re not getting subtlety—and both the visuals and Cage’s performance put it all on the batshit table with this gruesome story of a family that comes completely unraveled after a mysterious glowing meteorite crashes on their front lawn. Fans of Cage’s last horror masterpiece, 2018’s Mandy, will find another brightly colored visual wonderland to enjoy as life on the farm starts to mutate in horrific fashion. But the real joy is Cage himself, ratcheting up the crazy like only he can do. The movie goes for sensory overload in the climax with an intensity that might be too much for some. But damn if it doesn’t burn itself into your memory (not to mention your eyes).

(Streaming for free on Shudder; available for rental on Amazon Prime and Apple TV)

Scare Me (2020): Closing things out this year is the impressive new horror comedy, Scare Me. If you were a fan of FX’s raunchy romantic sitcom, You’re The Worst—and if you’re not, I don’t want to know you—you’ll love watching Aya Cash take basically the same character and put her into a classic horror setting, as two writers staying at a cabin in the woods try to outdo each other telling scary stories. Unlike more traditional horror anthologies, though, the movie doesn’t actually show you its stories; it simply allows its cast to act them out verbally (with some well-placed visual and sound cues for atmosphere), like a real scary story contest. Deconstructing a lot of worn-out horror tropes along the way, the movie plays with your expectations, blurring the line between comedy and the possibility of something a lot more deadly serious. Throw in some well-executed commentary on the reshuffled perspectives of both men and women in the #MeToo era, and you get a movie that’s both laugh-out-loud funny and smartly disturbing. It’s the perfect antidote to the real-life cabin fever that’s stalking us all.

(Streaming for free on Shudder)

And for more great Halloween movie picks, check out our earlier editions of Horror Flicks That Don’t Suck:

Horror Flicks That Don’t Suck (2015): It Follows, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, The House Of The Devil, The Amityville Horror, Suspiria, Repulsion, The Haunting, The Night Of The Hunter, Freaks
More Horror Flicks That Don’t Suck (2016): The Witch, Lake Mungo, Let The Right One In, The Mothman Prophecies, The Evil Dead, Night Of The Living Dead, The Invisible Man, The Phantom Carriage
Even More Horror Flicks That Don’t Suck (2017): The Blackcoat’s Daughter, The Eyes Of My Mother, What We Do In The Shadows, Berberian Sound Studio, Inferno, Blood And Black Lace, Carnival Of Souls, Diabolique
Still More Horror Flicks That Don’t Suck (2018): Hereditary, Ash Vs. Evil Dead, A Dark Song, Hush, The Invitation, The Fog, Black Sabbath, Cat People

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