It’s October, which means that all the Halloween lawn and store decorations are out, as are all the holiday TV specials, horror movies, and terrifying games. Which to choose for a really good scare?
We asked The Verge staff members to tell us about their favorite ways to generate chills, and they came up with a wide variety of Halloween-ish entertainment. Some of their choices are subtly tension-building, some are truly frightening, some are really nasty, and some are just great camp horror.
Whatever types of frights you’re into, you should find something here to help you celebrate what may be our favorite fall holiday.
Novels and short stories
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
I first encountered Shirley Jackson’s strange and frightening short story “The Lottery” in my freshman year of high school. My English Lit teacher spent the entire period just reading it to us and then opened the floor for what became a very lively discussion. The fact that I still remember the story so clearly so many years later and have read and reread it dozens of times since might tell you how much of an impression that tale has made on me.
“The Lottery” is the kind of story that creeps up on you; it takes place in a “normal” New England town, and as it progresses, you slowly begin to realize that something sort of, kind of may be — is, in fact — very wrong. But “The Lottery,” which was first published in 1948, is more than a weird tale, although that is certainly enough to recommend it. It can also be considered a commentary on what philosopher Hannah Arendt termed “the banality of evil,” something that is still, unhappily, very relevant in today’s world. — Barbara Krasnoff, reviews editor
A collection of short stories by the extraordinary writer Shirley Jackson.
The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike
The Graveyard Apartment has a classic Cursed Real Estate premise: in 1980s Japan, a family with a grim past moves into a cheap, amenity-rich apartment that just happens to overlook a graveyard and a crematorium. Sinister events begin almost immediately, but they don’t stop at your average ghostly presence. The protagonists are soon trapped in a place that feels like its own claustrophobic world, uncovering layer after layer of malignant secrets and bizarre supernatural happenings. The whole narrative is permeated with a sense of stifling, inescapable dread, and it ends with some of the most lingeringly creepy scenes I’ve ever encountered in a novel. I read this book four years ago, and I still think about it while I’m waiting for the elevator in my building’s basement. — Adi Robertson, senior reporter
Mariko Kotke’s suspenseful tale of evil lurking in an apartment.
Velocities: Stories by Kathe Koja
Kathe Koja wrote one of my favorite horror novels (The Cipher, which I thoroughly recommend if you’ve got a strong stomach), and I only recently realized that she published a book of short stories in 2020. Velocities spans several genres, but overall, it’s full of haunting little vignettes that leave you speculating about what’s happening outside the story’s frame. You’ll find stories like “Velocity,” where an artist tries to exorcize his dead father with dangerously self-destructive performances. Or “At Eventide,” about a man seeking out a woman who makes strange artifacts dubbed “Rorschach boxes.” And “Baby,” which starts with a horror conceit and ends with a sad and extremely relatable metaphor for adolescence. — Adi Robertson
Short stories from horror writer extraordinaire Kathe Koja.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Out of all the books I’ve read, Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves was the first one to genuinely really freak me out (as an adult, anyways). I couldn’t exactly say why, but I love recommending it to people because of how it manages to play with the mechanics of reading itself; while there are plenty of stories that could be considered page-turners, this book literally forces you to flip through pages rapidly to read a single sentence and asks you to read upside down and backward at certain points. – Mitchell Clark, news writer
Mark Z. Danielewski’s dreamlike novel plays with the mechanics of reading itself.
Movies and series
The Strangers (2008) Image: Rogue Pictures
Not long after the release of The Strangers on DVD, I was sitting in the basement of a friend’s house watching it for the first time. As we watched, my heart raced as the characters were subtly stalked in the background by masked figures. Of course, the tension was increased by a friend of ours who would quietly blow up a balloon and pop it at the most terrifying moments in the film. But I guess you’ll have that in a room full of teenagers.
Now, all these years later, I am an avid horror movie fan. This movie has solidified itself as my favorite scary movie, and I still feel the same anxious, prickling fear that I felt the first time I watched it. The Strangers builds a convincing horror story from the confines of one home in the middle of nowhere. With a small cast and an even smaller setting, the movie is adept at recreating the feeling of being isolated and helpless. The masked villains never say more than a few words, but their ability to silently appear and slowly torture the main characters through the course of the night is considerably unnerving. And yet, despite all of the purposeful jump scares and psychological tricks, the most frightening part of it all is the feeling that this could happen to the viewer at any point. After all, the terror that unfolded only happened to the movie’s victims simply because they were home. — Kaitlin Hatton, audience manager
Available elsewhere for rent or purchase
Arrebato (1980) Image: Nicolás Astiarraga
I’m usually reluctant to pitch people on art-house horror, but Arrebato (released in Spain in 1979 and largely inaccessible until a rerelease last year) is just too good. It’s a film about the transcendence and terror of filmmaking or, more concretely, a heroin-addicted horror director who receives a mysterious tape from an obsessive young man whose camera has begun capturing inexplicable red frames while he sleeps. The film is gorgeous, full of less-is-more eeriness interposed between seedy ’70s-era excess — and if that’s not enough of a draw, it’s an intriguing complement to recent “uncanny videotape” entries like Broadcast Signal Intrusion and Archive 81. — Adi Robertson
Available elsewhere for rent or purchase
Near Dark (1987) Image: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Kathryn Bigelow’s 1987 horror-western came out two months after Joel Schumacher’s better-known The Lost Boys, and on paper, they’ve got a lot in common. They’re both love stories about the travails of vampiric found families struggling with their own monstrous nature, and they both interpret supernatural creatures through the lens of biker gang-style counterculture. But Near Dark has a more somber tone and some unique selling points, including Bigelow’s typical cinematic prowess and Bill Paxton as a murderously sexy dirtbag vampire. While the film was once virtually impossible to find (legally) online, it’s started appearing on streaming services over the last few years. — Adi Robertson
Streaming on: The Criterion Channel
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) Image: Walt Disney Studios
Tim Burton and Henry Selick’s stop-motion musical masterpiece isn’t just a classic — it’s a friggin’ institution in my house. Every October, my wife and I make a fresh list of new and old horror and horror-adjacent movies to watch, and Nightmare is always on it. It usually tees off our spooky movie viewing, and we’ll double-dip it again in December since it’s also a Christmas movie. (Look, I don’t make the rules, but it’s right there in the title.)
I’ve been watching this movie regularly since I saw it in theaters as a child in 1993, and I’m glad it’s had such immense staying power in pop culture. For better and for worse, Nightmare Before Christmas merch, toys, and vibes are no longer just the denizens of Hot Topic, as, over the years, Disney has fully embraced the weirdo goths who have wanted to live like Jack and Sally. Sure, it’s been overly commercialized to Halloween Town and back, but that’s fine with me if more people are singing along with three trick-or-treaters planning to kidnap and beat Santa Claus with a stick (bless you, Danny Elfman). —Antonio G. Di Benedetto, commerce writer
Streaming on: Disney Plus
Available elsewhere for rent or purchase
The Haunting of Bly Manor
The Haunting of Bly Manor (series, 2020) Image: Netflix
I’m a huge coward despite loving the horror genre, but even I can get tired of the usual jump scares and agonizing “suspenseful” music buildups used in media. Luckily, Mike Flanagan’s Netflix shows have scared me witless these last few years, all while having a stellar cast and plot. I’ve selected The Haunting of Bly Manor as my personal favorite (it having left me unable to walk around my home in the dark for weeks), but both The Haunting of Hill House and Midnight Mass left me in similar awe and terror. — Jess Weatherbed, news writer
Any damn thing Vincent Price has ever been seen in or heard on
House of Wax (1953) Image: Warner Bros.
Sometimes the classics really do never go out of style. While many old movies can be hard to watch these days, I think just about anything involving the master of the macabre, Vincent Price, is worth checking out. From the iconic Thriller monologue and horror movies like the original House On Haunted Hill to my favorite Misfits songs that he inspired, the man is a treasure that’s fostered my love of horror. When I got my first electric bass and covered it in stickers, one of the best ones was of his devilish visage (and, yes, I still have it).
In addition to any of Price’s genre-defining films (House of Wax, The Fly, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, etc.), check out his guest appearance on The Muppet Show from 1977 on Disney Plus. You get a great sense of his dark debonair. — Antonio G. Di Benedetto
Streaming on: YouTube and a wide variety of services
Have you ever watched a slasher film and thought to yourself that if you were in a scary position like that, you would simply not make the dumb decisions the characters do? Well, The Quarry gives you that chance. It brings classic slasher film tropes to life, and that’s exactly why it’s become one of my most favorite games. It’s an immersive experience that puts you in the shoes of a group of teenage camp counselors as they run from the monsters at the camp. Without giving too much away, each choice you make has consequences that can mean life or death for the characters. I’ve played it through a couple of times now to explore the different storylines and have yet to be disappointed. The only thing that takes me out of the game is just how packed it is with recognizable celebrities. Featuring actors like Brenda Song, Skyler Gisondo, and more, the uncanny likeness of the in-game avatars to their real-life actors can be a little distracting at times. Overall, though, this is a game I will not easily tire of or forget. It will at least be an annual play for me every year when the spooky season rolls around. — Kaitlin Hatton
The Quarry is an interactive teen slasher from Supermassive Games, the studio behind horror games like Until Dawn.
World of Horror
I gushed about World of Horror back in early 2020 when the game was still in a very buggy Early Access build. Since then, a series of updates have made it bigger, better, and far more polished. Created by a Polish dentist who designed it in MS Paint, World of Horror’s immediate draw is its distinctive monochrome art inspired by horror manga institution Junji Ito. But scratch the surface, and you’ll find a challenging and complex roguelite chock-full of hidden systems, characters, and narrative twists. — Adi Robertson
Described as a “1-bit love letter to Junji Ito and H.P. Lovecraft.”
Thief: Deadly Shadows
Is this entry a Trojan horse for promoting one of the greatest video game trilogies (not quartets, sorry) of all time? Admittedly yes. Is it also accurate? Well, there’s a reason that “Robbing the Cradle,” co-designed by future BioShock 2 creative director Jordan Thomas, is regularly classed among gaming’s scariest levels. It’s a hellish time-bending jaunt through an abandoned asylum populated by creatures you’re under-equipped to fight, accompanied by fittingly tooth-grinding sound effects.
It’s just that while you’re at it, you might as well enjoy the rest of Deadly Shadows’ superb stealth, lockpicking, and exploration, which remains as good now as it was in 2004. Then you can play its predecessors, Thief and Thief II, whose straightforward mechanics belie an extraordinary depth of level design and a charmingly memorable protagonist. Then you can explore a vast library of fan missions or boot up a modding system that still works after 20 years — and whoops, sorry, now your entire life is Thief. Happy Halloween! — Adi Robertson
Become a master thief who never gets caught.
I discovered Gloom, a card game where you make all sorts of spooky and unfortunate things happen to spooky and unfortunate characters right in time for Halloween. While it’s definitely on the funnier side — one time, I had to come up with a reason why a family dog was chastised by the church — it absolutely has a macabre theme.
Gloom’s been out for a while now, but I still find its gimmick of having transparent cards that you layer on top of each other very impressive. And while I don’t think it’s the type of game I could play over and over again all year round, I think it’s perfect for bringing some joy to game nights in October. — Mitchell Clark
A humorously spooky card game.
A zero-prep tabletop storytelling game designed for one-shot, two- to four-hour sessions of tragic horror. You play in a completely dark room, and your game is timed using 10 tealight candles. When these go out — for any reason — the game is over, and your fate is sealed. I can safely say that roleplaying in this as a passenger aboard a stranded cruise liner is the scariest experience I have had across any RPG. — Jess Weatherbed
A table-top (or digital) story-telling game with for people who love spooky stories.
Did you know that Daveed Diggs, star of the Snowpiercer TV show and Hamilton original cast member, is in an experimental rap group called Clipping that makes horror-themed albums? If you didn’t, now’s the perfect time to give There Existed an Addiction to Blood or Visions of Bodies Being Burned a spin and get lost in some clever, gritty lyrics over some incredible production.
One word of warning, though: it’s not really the type of music for most Halloween parties, and you’d probably get some weird looks if you asked a DJ to play songs like “Say the Name” or “Club Down.” For those gatherings, I’d recommend sticking to “The Monster Mash” (which my wife made me promise to mention in my submission for this list, as it’s her favorite piece of spooky media). — Mitchell Clark
Chaotic, mind-blowing, and horrific (in a good way) music.
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