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.
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.
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!