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9 Gothic Horror Movies for Spooky Season

October 10, 2021
gothic horror movies scary spooky haunted house

It’s finally October, which means festive fall activities, cozy days, and of course, ghost stories. Let’s get this disclaimer out of the way: I don’t do gore or slasher flicks. If that’s your thing — cool, but you’re not going to find that on this list. My brand of Halloween horror is of the gothic ilk: eerie tales, spooky haunted mansions, ghostly goings-on, fog and mystery and dark secrets. That might not be in keeping with current slasher trends, but there are plenty of delightfully gothic tales, classic and modern, to chill your blood. So without further ado, here are the gothic horror movies I’ll be watching to get into the spooky spirit.


Crimson Peak (2015)

In this Victorian-era dark romance from Guillermo Del Toro, a young American heiress and author (Mia Wasikowska) marries an English baronet (Tom Hiddleston) and moves into the ancestral home that he and his sister (Jessica Chastain) live in, a looming, decaying mansion (of course). Like any good gothic story, gruesome ghostly figures and dark secrets soon begin to seep out of the woodwork.

crimson peak gothic horror movies mia wasikowska

Image courtesy IMDb

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Nothing screams “Halloween” like the headless horseman (and Tim Burton), right? Based on Washington Irving’s classic ghost tale, Sleepy Hollow tells the story of a New York City constable (Johnny Depp) who travels to an odd little town to investigate the rampages of a ghostly headless horseman — and ends up with a lot more terror, murder, and secrecy than he bargained for. Yes, it’s a little campy, but the eerie mood and dramatic hauntings are perfect for a cozy October night.

The Woman in Black (2012)

A gloomy, remote village, an isolated manor house, and a vengeful ghost — it doesn’t get much more gothic than that. In Edwardian England, a young lawyer (Daniel Radcliffe) travels to a village on the marshes to deal with the estate of a recently deceased woman. Once there, however, he’s met with uncanny happenings in the old manor house and legends of a sinister figure preying on the children of the town. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, this dark tale is bound to send a chill up your spine.

The Awakening (2011)

In 1920s England, a writer (Rebecca Hall) who exposes fraudulent spiritualists is called to investigate a supposedly haunted boys’ boarding school. Intending to set to rest any idea of ghosts, she ends up questioning her skeptical beliefs — and uncovering deeply buried secrets. To be honest, this movie is part spooky ghost story and part dark mystery, but the eerie setting at an isolated boys’ school and the ghostly happenings give it a distinctly gothic mood (and there are a few heart-stopping moments, never fear).

The Haunting of Hill House (2018)

Based on the novel by Shirley Jackson (a master of the horror tale), this is the quintessential haunted house story, infused with Jackson’s classic sense of dread and mystery. The Netflix limited series (one of many Haunting of Hill House remakes) follows five siblings, both as children exploring the creepy Hill House and as adults, returning years after tragedy forces them to flee the house. As they dig into the sinister mansion, it seems the family slowly begins to go mad — or is terrorized by the house itself and its dark history.

The Orphanage (2007)

Is there anything spookier than a former orphanage? In this Spanish film, a woman (Belén Rueda) returns to the orphanage where she grew up — an imposing seaside manor house — with her husband and young son, Simón. Simón soon makes a mysterious friend who wears a sack mask — and then he disappears. The search for Simón unearths the tragic story of the orphanage, a dark past that continues to haunt the house and its residents.

orphanage gothic horror movies scary

Image courtesy of IMDb

House of Usher (1960)

No one does horror quite like Edgar Allan Poe. Based on the 1839 short story “The Fall of the House of Usher,” this eerie tale follows a young man venturing into the bleak, swamp-surrounded mansion of his fiancée’s family and features a possible cursed bloodline, likely madness, and certainly sinister plotting. The film is part of the so-called Corman-Poe cycle, a series of eight films created by director Roger Corman based off Poe stories (any of which are perfect for Halloween viewing), and features the master of old-time film horror, Vincent Price, as a deliciously deranged Roderick Usher. While modern viewers might find the dramatic acting a little over the top, there’s no denying the spine-tingling weirdness and macabre thrill of a good Poe story (and seriously, do yourself a favor and watch some Vincent Price).

The Haunted Palace (1963)

Ok, I just couldn’t resist including another Poe-Corman-Price one here (though The Haunted Palace is actually based more on an H.P. Lovecraft story and has a more supernatural/fantasy vibe). Plus, what’s Halloween without a witch story? In 1765, the residents of a Massachusetts town suspect the owner of the castle looming over their village of being a warlock and burn him at the stake — and he, of course, vows revenge. In 1875, the warlock’s descendant and his wife arrive in town, and strange things begin to happen. Has the warlock possessed his descendant to carry out his revenge?

The Changeling (1980)

In the time-honored tradition of haunted mansions and creepy ghost children, The Changeling tells the story of a widowed composer (George C. Scott) who moves into a Victorian mansion and is soon tormented by spooky happenings. Upon investigating, he uncovers a twisted past linked to the death of a little boy in the house nearly a century before. Like many movies from the ’80s, this one is a bit hokey, but it still creates a delightfully eerie web of dark secrets and things that go bump in the night — and apparently, it’s based on a true story from film writer Russell Hunter (make of that what you will).


And because part of the fun of Halloween is the nostalgia of childhood trick-or-treating and spooks, I would be remiss not to mention a few classic Halloween favorites, even if they’re not exactly gothic horror movies. We may not be ten years old anymore (at least, I’m not…usually), but you’re never too old to wait for the Great Pumpkin with Linus in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966) or battle an evil witch curse (and see Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker at their zany best) with Hocus Pocus (1993). I also love to take a trip to the crazy charm of the 24/7, 365 Halloween world of Halloweentown (1998) and, of course, the deliciously macabre home of The Addams Family (1991).

Happy spooky season!

Kansas City/ Musings

Autumn Bucket List

September 22, 2021
autumn bucket list kansas city fall

It still feels like summer in Kansas City, but it’s officially fall, and I’m in full autumn mode (admittedly, I’m pretty much always in autumn mode, but now I can really go unapologetically fall-crazy). Mid-September to November for me is all about burying myself in anything and everything that conjures up that aura of crisp, misty days; brilliant fiery colors; earthy charm; and of course, all the spookiness. Even if it’s not exactly crisp outside yet, I’ll be channeling that October spirit — bring on the autumn bucket list.


Explore the fall colors

The stunning reds, yellows, and oranges of fall might be my favorite part of the season. While KC isn’t exactly known for its fall colors, there are a number of spots where the season shows off its hues in spectacular fashion. I’m going to do a full post about finding the best fall foliage around KC, so stay tuned!


Cook something pumpkin

What screams autumn more than pumpkins? There are an embarrassing number of pumpkin-related recipes saved on my Pinterest — here are a few I’m eyeing for this season (sorrynotsorry, no PSLs here):


Enjoy ye olde English autumn at the Renaissance Festival

Weekends through October 17, Bonner Springs, KS

Huzzah! It’s time for pirates, princesses, mead, jousting, and even a touch of magic. Every fall a Renaissance village comes to life in Bonner Springs, Kansas. And yes, I realize that I’m a history nerd, but honestly, there’s a little something for everyone. Food, artisans selling everything from jewelry to beauty products to real swords, costumed performers, music, games, and yes, a jousting tournament. The village looks like it was transplanted from medieval England, and it’s honestly worth a visit simply to see the colorful characters wandering around. You might even run into the queen and her retinue meandering about.


Peruse the Plaza Art Fair

September 24-26, Kansas City, MO

The Plaza Art Fair is essentially a KC institution by now (this is its 90th year!). Every September, artists take over the Country Club Plaza, displaying every type of art you can imagine — painting, sculpture, pottery, illustration, mixed media, jewelry, photography, and more. There’s a taste of everything, from traditional landscape paintings to funky found object sculpture to tongue-in-cheek graphic art. Even if you (like me), can’t afford to buy fine art, it’s worth it to peruse the beautiful array of works, and there’s always a fun crowd, plus live music and food vendors from Plaza restaurants.

fall apples kansas city applefest autumn bucket list

Celebrate Weston Applefest

October 2-3, Weston, MO

I just got a flashback from one of my favorite childhood movies, Prancer: “We got apples. We’ll eat applesauce and apple cider and apple pie, stewed apples and baked apples and dried apples. And apple butter.” While I can’t promise Weston Applefest has all of those applecentric delights, it does offer a quintessential fall fest, with artisan vendors, live music, a parade, and food (including, obviously, lots of apples) along historic Weston Main Street. With its storied old buildings and kitschy little shops, Weston alone oozes fall charm. The town dates all the way back to 1837 and is nestled along the Missouri River, and there’s plenty to explore as you munch your apples.


Visit Louisburg Cider Mill

Apple cider donuts. Need I say more? We visit Louisburg Cider Mill every year to pick out pumpkins (usually the lazy way, from the already-picked selection, but you can also venture into the pumpkin patch to pick your own). From a charming general store with tasty local goods to a corn maze to scrumptious homemade cider and donuts, everything about Louisburg screams “fall.” You can even watch the apples going through the cider press (it’s oddly mesmerizing watching hundreds of apples tumble about).


Carve pumpkins

Halloween without jack-o-lanterns is just wrong. And to anyone who dare suggest carving pumpkins is only for kids: I’m sorry your life is so bereft of joy. (Kidding, but seriously, you’re never too old for jack-o-lanterns.) Though I don’t exactly have the patience for extremely intricate designs, I love an excuse to fall down a rabbit hole of fun designs on Pinterest (one year I did Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter). I usually pick out pumpkins at Louisburg, but you can also find them at most grocery stores, and then I put on a spooky movie to set the mood while carving my jack-o-lantern masterpiece.

halloween haunted kansas city autumn bucket list

Venture to a (real) haunted house

It’s that time of year again: everything is getting a bit darker, a bit colder, a bit more mysterious and uncertain, and the boundary between the living and the dead is a little hazy. Or at least, it’s the perfect time for a haunted house. I don’t mean a sensationalist horror house where people lunge out at you from the shadows. I mean a real haunted house, in the spirit of gothic horror tales. Old mansions and buildings with bizarre or tragic backstories and an eerie aura that makes you think that — just maybe — some of their residents have never quite moved on. These places probably won’t make your heart pound, but they are likely to make your spine tingle and your imagination run wild.


For my ghostly adventures, I’m heading to Vaile Mansion, an opulent Gothic-style 31-room mansion in Independence, Missouri. Built in 1881, the mansion has witnessed a family scandal, a tragic death, and a period as a sanitarium. Ghost tours take place throughout October. Let the chills commence…


A few honorable mentions near the KC area: Pythian Castle, an imposing fortress built as an orphanage in 1913 by the fraternal order the Knights of Pythias (does that sound sketchy to anyone else?) with later incarnations as a hospital for WWII veterans, a prison for German and Italian POWs, a social services agency, and a private home. Plenty of scope for ghostly goings-on there. Belvoir Winery in Liberty, MO, which was constructed from 1900 to 1923 by the fraternal organization — and self-proclaimed secret society — the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (don’t ask me how they came up with that name) and served as a residence for the elderly, indigent, and orphans; a hospital; and a school. It now hosts events, including murder mystery dinners and paranormal investigations. And Majors House, a KCMO homestead built in 1856 by entrepreneur Alexander Majors and now apparently home to the ghosts of a restless blacksmith and a caretaker who refuses to leave.


Visit a historic cemetery

Gothic spookiness doesn’t get much better than a historic graveyard. Is it a little odd that I love wandering around cemeteries and looking at old gravestones? Maybe, but in this instance it fits the Halloween spirit. One of my favorites is Union Cemetery, a beautiful hilly, tree-filled space built in 1857 and housing many famous Kansas Citians. Laurel Hill Cemetery in Weston (established circa 1840) is also gorgeous, and I might have to check out Elmwood Cemetery (est. 1872) in Northeast Kansas City as well. To really amp up the creepy vibes, the Coterie Theatre is performing live renditions of Edgar Allen Poe‘s The Pit and the Pendulum and The Tomb of Ligeia Thursday/Friday/Saturday nights amid the tombstones of Union Cemetery.


Ghost story galore!

To fully set the Halloween atmosphere, I like to go all-out on ghostly tales in October. Disclaimer: horror and gore is not my thing. As with haunted houses, the October/Halloween mood for me is all about spookiness, gothic horror, and eerie mystery. In other words, no slasher flicks or exorcisms (instead, think Dracula and haunted castles). As usual, I went a little overboard in investigating ideas here, so I’m writing a separate post in a couple of weeks with all the books, movies, and podcasts to fill your spooky gothic October.

autumn kansas city bucket list

Image credits: Evgenia Silaeva (pumpkins), Alina Osadchenko (haunted house), Marina Ermakova (Halloween icons), Anna Kuzmina (tombstone), Daria Ustiugova (apples)