It’s time to break out the pumpkins. It’s officially Spooky Season, even if it essentially kicked off in September with a generous offering of horror films playing the big fall festivals. Between Venice, Toronto, and Fantastic Fest, some two dozen new horror (or at least horror-adjacent) movies were unleashed on audiences, several of which will open in theaters or hit streaming services between now and Halloween. With the end of Hollywood labor strikes likely in sight, many expect this October’s mostly horror releases to be the last to premiere without stars available to promote them. Either way, the genre is always a reliable box office draw, and “horror heads” have plenty to look forward to in the coming months at theaters and at home.
Read on for our roundup of the 12 Best Horror Films of the Fall Festival circuit and where you can watch them soon.
When acclaimed auteur Pablo Larraín isn’t busy making contemplative films about iconic political wives (like Jackie and Spencer), he’s also been known to make great, slyly subversive films about the sociopolitical history of his native Chile, like No, The Club, and Neruda. In that tradition comes Larraín’s darkest and most transgressive film yet: a dark and bloody parable that reimagines infamous Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as a 250-year-old vampire, quite literally draining the lifeblood of his country. After premiering in Venice and playing Telluride, El Conde (“The Count”) is now streaming on Netflix.
Amid the gaggle of films directed by high-profile actors at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, this slasher throwback starring, written, and directed by Finn Wolfhard and Billy Bryk (co-stars of Ghostbusters: Afterlife) got overlooked in the hype cycle. But it was among the best-received of TIFF’s actor/director offerings, finishing second runner-up for the People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award. Hell of a Summer gleefully hits all the requisite beats you’d want and expect of a horror comedy at a summer camp, and it even features a suspicious character named Jason.
It’s a pleasure to report that the best title of the year is also a delightful movie. Although it’s not exactly out to scare you, Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person has plenty of blood and vampires, so it merits a mention here. As much as this is a vampire movie, it’s also a pseudo-rom-com about suicidal ideation. And yet, it’s also sweet, and co-writer and director Ariane Louis-Seize manages to blend the inherent darkness of its subject matter with a bit of a Wes Anderson vibe. She balances those differing tones with aplomb.
It was cruelly on-point for Toronto to program this as their penultimate Midnight Madness selection when we were all nine days into the fest and dreadfully behind on sleep. But that made the danger feel even more palpable in this slow-burn horror about a young Korean couple with a newborn baby looking for extreme solutions when the man’s sleepwalking takes a decidedly demonic turn. Writer/director Jason Yu previously worked as an assistant for Bong Joon-ho, and you can see the consummate skill of his mentor all over this thrilling debut.
Imagine the plot concept of Gremlins, but directed with the terror and energy of a Julia Ducournau film, and you’re just about there with Infested (which premiered in Venice under the title Vermines). The story begins with Kaleb, a young man who buys a large exotic spider in the Paris suburbs. But the spider escapes from Kaleb, and then suddenly, there are a LOT of spiders, and you get the picture. While many of the films on this list are played for laughs or nostalgia, Sébastien Vaniček’s Infested trades in genuine, discomforting terror.
It’s been 17 years since Pan’s Labyrinth, and shockingly, few other films (no other films?) have attempted to combine fairy tale horror with real-life war since then. But In My Mother’s Skin goes there — and arguably further — with the traditional horror elements in this Philippines-set story about a young girl’s encounter with a flesh-eating fairy. After becoming a critical hit at Sundance, In My Mother’s Skin also played at Fantastic Fest, and it announced the arrival of a significant new voice in international horror cinema with writer/director Kenneth Lim Dagatan.
Set in 1969, 50 years before 2019’s Pet Sematary reboot, this prequel is written and directed by first-time filmmaker Lindsey Anderson Beer. And remember that name, because she’s also attached to writing a live-action Bambi remake (a perfect double-feature partner for a Pet Sematary movie), an animated Hello Kitty feature, and the next Star Trek movie. So many influential people think Beer is the real deal. Also along for this ride are Pam Grier and David Duchovny, so that makes us especially excited for this film’s October 6 bow on Paramount+.
While other movies on this list use the ’80s as a stylistic calling card, Totally Killer raises the stakes by having its main character (Kiernan Shipka) actually travel back to 1987 and essentially land smack dab in the middle of a Halloween movie. This slasher comedy from Blumhouse is directed by Nahnatchka Khan (a veteran of Ali Wong movies and stand-up specials), and it skillfully deploys comedic veterans like Julie Bowen and Randall Park to keep the laughs coming. Following its Fantastic Fest premiere, Totally Killer will hit Amazon Prime on October 6.
For the third Fall in a row, the dependable and beloved V/H/S franchise is back for another go. And after the last two installments played in the ’90s, the newest entry journeys back to the mid-’80s (as seems to be the theme with this year’s horror offerings). Among the filmmakers handling segments this time around are David Bruckner (director of 2017’s The Ritual and last year’s Hellraiser reboot) and Scott Derrickson (of Black Phone, Sinister, and Doctor Strange fame). After premiering at Fantastic Fest, V/H/S/85 will begin streaming on Shudder on October 6.
The Canadian filmmaking collective RKSS (who also helmed 2015’s Turbo Kid and 2018’s Summer of ’84) is back, and this time, they’re somehow tackling the zombie genre and mega-corporations in the same movie. We Are Zombies follows a group of slackers who plan a side hustle involving non-cannibalistic zombies (referred to in the film as the “living-impaired”), and there’s a distinct Office Space vibe, even as the film takes the zombie genre back to its Dawn of the Dead roots as a scathing commentary on capitalism.
Set in a rural South American community, this chiller from Argentinian horror master Demián Rugna (director of 2017’s Terrified) is unrelenting in throwing you right in the deep end and keeping you there for 99 intense minutes. The plot involves two brothers trying to prevent the birth of evil incarnate, racing against time to help a possessed man from passing the demon he harbors onto its next victim. After premiering in Toronto and playing Fantastic Fest, When Evil Lurks opens in limited release on October 6 and will be available to stream on October 27.
We’re in a golden era for ’80s horror throwbacks. Suitable Flesh is one of the year’s most gleeful in proudly wearing those influences (particularly Stuart Gordon), even down to the fake folds in the awesome poster. Director Joe Lynch (who also helmed 2017’s Mayhem) has a blast with this adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Thing on the Doorstep, and former scream queen Heather Graham has never been better as a psychiatrist who unwittingly murders her patient after becoming host to an ancient curse. After delighting audiences at Tribeca and Fantastic Fest, Suitable Flesh opens on October 27.
The filmmaking family of Toby Poser, John Adams, and Zelda Adams (The Adams Family, natch) impressed audiences with films like Hellbender and The Deeper You Dig, and now they’re back with this slow-burn story set in the 1930s. (Hey, not the ’80s!) The Adamses also star, playing a family of carnival sideshow performers who get entranced by a mysterious artifact that allows one of their fellow performers to cut his fingers off and then sew them back on each night. In addition to writing, directing, and starring in the film, the Adams Family also wrote the score and the songs, and you can’t help but fall for their ultimate DIY aesthetic.
Lead Image Courtesy of Fantastic Fest