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Monster Mash: These are the best new horror movies to binge this Halloween

Halloween weekend is the perfect time to check out some of the best horror films released in October.
Enlarge / Halloween weekend is the perfect time to check out some of the best horror films released in October.

Photo collage by Aurich Lawson

It’s Halloween weekend, and with the ongoing pandemic putting a kibosh on the usual large parties and gatherings, it’s the perfect opportunity to order in and binge-watch horror movies. There are plenty of classic films to choose from, but if you’re keen to discover something new, October has been a remarkably good month for solidly entertaining indie horror comedies, along with a handful of films that fall under a rubric I’d call “prestige horror.” And for once there’s not a zombie in sight; we’ve got vampires, werewolves, and mutant monsters running amok instead, along with some really bad hair.

(Some mild spoilers below but no major reveals.)

Seven years after a global apocalypse, a young man braves 85 miles of mutant man-eating monsters to reunite with his high school girlfriend in Love and Monsters.

Love and Monsters

This post-apocalyptic coming-of-age adventure just might be my favorite film this year so far. The premise of Love and Monsters is that humans destroyed an asteroid hurtling toward Earth, only for the chemical fallout to turn all cold-blooded creatures into giant, mutant monsters who see humanity as one big buffet. The catastrophe separates 17-year-old Joel Dawson (Dylan O’Brien) from his girlfriend, Aimee (Jessica Henwick), as well as claiming the lives of his parents. Flash forward seven years, and Joel is living underground with a band of survivors, reduced to cooking meals and fixing the electronics because his PTSD makes him freeze in life-threatening situations.

But when he finally tracks down Aimee living amongst another band of survivors, he decides to leave his cozy bunker and trek the 85 miles to her underground bunker, despite all the ravenous monsters above ground. Fortunately, he soon joins up with a plucky dog named Boy, a wizened survivalist named Clyde (Michael Rooker), and a tough-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside precocious young girl named Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt). Clyde and Minnow teach him some basic survivalist skills, and Joe makes use of his artistic gifts to compile a kind of bestiary of the various monsters he encounters, along with their strengths and weaknesses. The film is equal parts funny, heart-pumping, and occasionally heartbreaking, in a similar vein as Zombieland or Tremors. And it has some surprising turns, which isn’t easy to pull off these days. Who knew a “monsterpocalypse” could be so much fun?

Love and Monsters is currently available via video on demand and in select theaters.

A group of young friends fights to save their neighborhood from a band of bloodsuckers in the Netflix original film Vampires vs. The Bronx.

Vampires vs. The Bronx

The title of this charming, smart horror-comedy pretty much says it all. Tween-aged Miguel Martinez, aka “Lil Mayor” (Jaden Michael), is trying to organize a neighborhood block party in the Bronx to save the local bodega from rising rents in the wake of gentrification. Bodega owner Tony (Joel “The Kid Metro” Martinez), who keeps a prized Sammy Sosa bat behind the register, does his best to adapt to a changing clientele, even if that means keeping hummus in stock. But one company in particular, Murnau Properties, is buying up local businesses at an alarming rate, and the former owners keep mysteriously disappearing. It’s assumed they cashed in and moved to the suburbs—but the fact that the company’s logo is an image of Vlad the Impaler (associated with Dracula in popular culture) is a strong hint that something more sinister is afoot.

When Miguel witnesses a vampire killing firsthand, he recruits his BFFs Bobby (Gerald W. Jones III) and Luis (Gregory Diaz IV) to discover the vampire nest and take out the bloodsuckers. None of the adults believe them, but at least Tony indulges them by introducing the boys to the movie Blade. This serves to educate them on traditional vampire lore, particularly the monsters’ weaknesses: garlic, holy water, crucifixes, sunlight, and of course, a wooden stake through the heart. The local priest, Father Jackson (Cliff “Method Man” Smith), comes around in the end, along with Miguel’s crush, an older teen named Rita (Coco Jones). Miguel and his plucky gang prove to be formidable opponents, so vampires in search of easy territorial pickings would do well to heed local livestream sensation Gloria’s closing words: “You don’t want no smoke with the BX.”

Vampires vs. The Bronx is currently streaming on Netflix.

Like Fargo, only with werewolves and a dash of Scooby Doo: Jim Cummings wrote, directed, and stars in The Wolf of Snow Hollow.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow

If you’re more of a werewolf person than a vampire fan, The Wolf of Snow Hollow is a wry, clever take on the genre that mixes elements of FargoScooby-Doo, and the lesser-known 1981 film Wolfen. In a remote ski village in the mountains, a young woman is brutally murdered in the snow outside the rustic cabin she and her boyfriend have rented. Officer John Marshall (Jim Cummings, who also wrote and directed the film) catches the case and is eager to close it quickly to impress his father, the soon-to-be-retired Sheriff Hadley (Robert Forster, in his final role).

John isn’t exactly a likable hero. He’s a recovering alcoholic with serious anger management issues, an estranged wife, and a rebellious teenaged daughter, Jenna (Chloe East). He dismisses outright the speculation that a werewolf is to blame, even as more mutilated bodies begin to pile up and reports swirl of a hairy attacker standing some seven feet tall. Fortunately, despite the general disorganization of the precinct, he finds a competent ally in Officer Julia Robson (Riki Lindhome), and together they begin to close in on the killer. The film is very well-plotted, with snippets of dry humor, genuine suspense, and solid performances—including a standout one from Forster, who died a few months after filming wrapped.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow is currently available via video on demand and in limited theaters.

Looks can kill in the new Hulu original film Bad Hair.

Bad Hair

I’m guessing this horror-satire got the green light based on the concept alone. Set in 1989, the film follows an ambitious young woman named Anna (Elle Lorraine) as she trades in her “nappy” hairstyle for an expensive weave in order to succeed in the image-obsessed world of music television. But it turns out her new hair has a mind of its own—and an appetite for human blood that soon wreaks havoc (as in, a rising body count) in Anna’s personal and professional life. The ’80s details are dead-on, and the cast is topnotch, including Laverne Cox as Virgie, the hairdresser who gives Anna her cursed weave, and Vanessa Williams as Zora, an aging model who is the new head of Anna’s network.

Granted, the film is uneven and occasionally slips into the cheesy rather than the creepy. And the whole “love your natural hair instead of trying to conform” morality tale is a wee bit heavy-handed. But everyone is so game, and having so much fun, it’s easy to forgive its flaws. Don’t be surprised if the imagery from some of those scenes shows up later in your dreams.

Bad Hair premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival and is currently streaming on Hulu, as well as playing in limited theaters. Pair with 2018’s horror satire, In Fabric, involving a haunted red dress, for extra killer fashion fun.

Two strangers stranded in a remote Catskills cabin compete to see who can tell the scariest story in Scare Me.

Scare Me

Two writers holed up in a remote mountain cabin compete over who can tell the scariest story in Scare Me, a horror-comedy written and directed by Josh Ruben. Ruben also co-stars as Fred, a struggling writer/actor who decides to rent the cabin owned by fellow aspiring writer Bettina (Rebecca Drysdale) as a writing retreat. Suffering from writer’s block, he goes for a run one day and meets bestselling horror novelist Fanny (Aya Cash, aka Stormfront in the recently concluded second season of The Boys), who is staying in another cabin nearby. When a thunderstorm knocks out the power, Fanny and Fred decide to ride it out together with alcohol, pizza, and acting out impromptu scary stories—but with two strong writerly egos, it doesn’t take long for tensions to rise and things to get nasty.

Ruben gives a solid performance as the insecure Fred, whose crumbling marriage and mental health weigh heavily on his creative drive. Cash is phenomenal as the snarky, confident Fanny, who isn’t above mocking Fred for his lack of originality and rubbing her own success in his face. And Saturday Night Live comedian Chris Redd provides some extra laughs as the pizza delivery man, a big fan of Fanny’s novel who isn’t shy about offering his own notes on Fred’s storytelling efforts. Saying any more would spoil the fun; suffice to say, this is a good film to watch with the lights dimmed and your own stash of pizza and beer.

Scare Me premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and is currently streaming on Shudder.

Amazon Prime showcases four new original horror films in Welcome to the Blumhouse anthology.

Welcome to the Blumhouse

If you’ve had your fill of horror comedies, you might try sampling the “prestige horror” of Welcome to the Blumhouse, which released the first four films (out of a planned eight) this month. It’s an intriguing mix of subgenres. Black Box, directed by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, Jr., brings a sci-fi element to its horror. Nolan (Mamoudou Athie) lost both his memory and his beloved wife in a car accident, and on the advice of Dr. Lilian Brooks (Phylicia Rashad), he opts for an experimental hypnosis treatment to walk him through select points in his life in hopes of recovering those memories. This being a horror film, he gets far more than he bargained for.

Psychological thriller The Lie, directed by Veela Sud, is a remake of a 2015 German film called We Monsters. It originally premiered in 2018 at the Toronto Film Festival. Jay (Peter Sarsgaard) is driving his daughter Kayla (Joey King) and her friend Brittany (Devery Jacobs) to a ballet school retreat. When they stop for a bathroom break, Kayla and Brittany wander into the nearby woods—and Brittany falls off a bridge and disappears. When Kayla admits she pushed Brittany, Jay calls in his ex-wife, Rebecca (Mireille Enos), a corporate lawyer, and the two embark on a series of lies to cover up Kayla’s deed, which quickly spiral out of control.

Written and directed by Zu Quirke, Nocturne is a supernatural horror film that calls to mind 2010’s Black Swan with its central female rivalry—in this case, twin sisters, Juliet (Sydney Sweeney) and Vivian (Madison Iseman), both trained as classical pianists. But Vivian has long outshone her sister, leaving Juliet to be the perennial understudy, snagging the best music tutors, the cute boy, and the coveted solo spot for their private high school’s final showcase performance. When Juliet stumbles upon the bizarre musical notebook of another student who committed suicide a few weeks before, she begins to have strange dreams and visions that seem to predict a future where she finally emerges from Vivian’s shadow to take the spotlight she craves. But what might her ambition cost her?

Finally, there is my personal favorite, Evil Eye, directed by Elan and Rajeev Dassani, and based on an audio play of the same name by Madhuri Shekar. Sarita Choudhury stars as Usha Kharti, a devoted Indian mother in Delhi who is keen for her daughter, Pallavi (Sunita Mani), to find a husband before she turns 30. Her matchmaking efforts invariably fall flat. Then Pallavi meets a seemingly perfect man, the handsome and wealthy Sandeep (Omar Maskati). But instead of rejoicing, Usha begins to suspect that something more sinister is at work and that Sandeep has a dark connection to a secret in her own past.

Black Box and Evil Eye are the best of the bunch in terms of emotional resonance—especially the cultural touches and nuanced mother/daughter dynamics that anchor the latter—but the other two are well worth watching, too. My biggest quibble is that all four of these films start off maddeningly slow, and most could have been cut down considerably without sacrificing much in terms of character development, thematic imagery, or final twisty impact. Still, it’s nice to see the work of lesser-known and up-and-coming directors showcased, and those featured here are definitely ones to watch.

Black Box, The Lie, Evil Eye, and Nocturne are all currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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