The Halloween Countdown: 31 days of horror to watch

Is there anything better than Halloween season?

Sure, here at Polygon we cover horror year-round. We have our rolling lists of the best horror movies you can watch at home and the best horror movies on Netflix that are updated every month of the year.

But even for year-round horror fans, Halloween is a special time of year.

For the past two years, Polygon has put together a Halloween Countdown calendar, offering a Halloween-friendly movie or TV show available to watch at home every day of October. We’re delighted to bring that back once again, with 31 spooky selections to keep the mood going all month long.

Every day for the entire month of October, we’ll add a new recommendation to this Countdown and tell you where you can watch it. So curl up on the couch, dim the lights, and grab some popcorn for a terrifying and entertaining host of Halloween surprises.

Oct. 1: Audition (1999)

A woman in a white shirt with black gloves prepares a deadly syringe in Takashi Miike’s Audition Image: Arrow Films

In Audition, Takashi Miike’s 1999 psychological horror-thriller, love is a consensual fiction. Years after losing his wife to a terminal illness, widower Shigeharu Aoyama is urged by his son to get back out in the world and find someone. Aoyama agrees to a proposal by his friend, a film producer, to take part in an audition for a nonexistent film in order to find a potential bride from the candidates. His search ultimately leads him to Asami Yamazaki, a beautiful former ballerina with a murky past.

As Aoyama grows closer to his new love interest, he finds himself caught deeper and deeper in a web of intrigue that threatens to tear him apart emotionally, psychologically, and yes — even physically. There is something dark inside Asami, yes, but there is a latent darkness inside of Aoyama too, arguably even darker. The only difference is that Asami has embraced that darkness and made it her own.

Miike’s film holds its cards relatively close to its chest for most of its run time, unspooling its tightly wound mystery like garrote wire before peeling back its skin of meet-cute artifice to reveal a pulsing mass of horrors roiling beneath. The film descends into a macabre fugue state of assumptions, misdirections, and cinematic sleights of hand, with dreams that feel almost real set against a reality too terrifying to be anything but. In the end, though, these are just words. Only pain can be trusted. —Toussaint Egan

Audition is available to stream on Arrow Video and Hi-Yah!, for free with ads on Tubi, and for free on Kanopy with a library card. It is also available for digital rental or purchase on Vudu and Apple.

Oct. 2: The Vanishing (1988)

A sinister looking man with a goatee smiles at another man against a pitch black backdrop in The Vanishing. Image: The Criterion Collection

It’s not a horror movie, per se, and yet Stanley Kubrick said that The Vanishing was the most frightening film he had ever seen. This Dutch thriller from 1988 — often referred to by its original title Spoorloos, so as not to confuse it with an inferior 1993 American remake by the same director, George Sluizer — plays it cool, like a simple missing person case. Rex and Saskia are a young couple road-tripping through France. They are taking a break at a service station when Saskia abruptly, and completely, disappears.

Initially, the horror of the situation is in the banality of it: the feeling that it could happen at any time, to anyone. Sluizer underlines this with the matter-of-fact realism of his location shooting. Then, barely more than 20 minutes in, he wrong-foots the audience with an abrupt shift: We are following Raymond, a contented French family man who appears to be rehearsing a kidnapping. The mystery of what happened to Saskia seems already to be solved. What next?

The way the film — based very closely on Tim Krabbé’s novella The Golden Egg — skips so quickly past the expected structure of a mystery thriller ought to sap tension, but in fact it builds an almost philosophical unease. As Raymond, played with a chilling brightness by Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, walks us through the “how” of his crime, the “why” becomes a gnawing, much more troubling question. We skip forward three years and find Rex obsessed with finding out what happened to his lost love. When an answer is offered, we share his hunger for it completely, and follow him to what might be the most plainly horrifying ending of any film, ever. This is a minimal masterpiece of existential dread. —Oli Welsh

The Vanishing is available to stream on The Criterion Channel, or for digital rental or purchase on Apple and Amazon.

Oct. 3: Rampant (2018)

A prince in fancy white 17th century Korean garb stabs a screaming zombie right through the stomach in Rampant. Image: Well Go USA Entertainment

One of the great joys of horror is the array of subgenres it offers, and the subgenres within subgenres that spool out of that. Take the monster movie, for instance. It’s a subgenre of horror on its own, and within it you have the vampire movie, the werewolf movie, and the zombie movie, just to name a few. And then you can dive even deeper and find something like Rampant, which combines the zombie subgenre with an unlikely pairing: the historical court drama period piece.

The movie takes place during the 17th century, under the Joseon dynasty in Korea. The movie is filled with political intrigue: The protagonist is an arrogant young prince called back home after his brother’s death only to find political machinations already in progress when he arrives. The court is struggling to figure out how to deal with the nearby Qing dynasty in China (where our protagonist grew up), with different factions forming.

And then there are the zombies. Yes, a zombie outbreak arrives, recalibrating the importance of this royal conflict for some (but not all) of its players. Our protagonist discovers this on his way home, and attempts to convince his father (and his father’s advisors) to do something about it. That leads to some breathtakingly brutal swordplay action in a pitch-perfect genre mashup for the ages. –Pete Volk

Rampant is available to stream on Hi-Yah!, FuboTV, and Viki, or for free with ads on Tubi, Crackle, Plex, Pluto TV, and Freevee. It is also available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple, Vudu, and Google Play.

Oct. 4: Seconds (1966)

A man with wrappings over his face wears a suit and stands in front of a light. Two men stand around him, one wearing a doctor’s coat and the other pointing at him. Image: Paramount Pictures

Werewolves, vampires, zombies, and aliens have nothing on the unstoppable process of aging. All of us will get older, life will get exponentially difficult, and the only person waiting for us at the finish line is Death. John Frankenheimer built Seconds around such midlife terrors, granting New York banking exec Arthur Hamilton the opportunity to fake his own death, reconstruct his body in the form of Rock Hudson, and move to sunny Southern California as a hot, younger dude named Tony Wilson. Like a small animal tramped under the sunlamp of the Santa Barbara sun, we see Hudson spiral through paranoia and regret, replete with naked grape mashing and alcohol-fueled breakdowns. Needless to say, the grass is rarely greener, and the only thing scarier than getting old is staying young.

The film met boos at Cannes and puzzled critics who were accustomed to leading man Rock Hudson being just that — a traditional leading man. But the film has aged well, pun fully intended. James Wong Howe’s cinematography, nominated for an Academy Award, holds the viewer inches from Hudson’s face, bends reality through a fish-eye lens, and somehow makes beautiful young bodies into nauseating bundles of limbs and flesh. And Hudson, now detached from his Personal Brand for most viewers under the age of 70, undercuts his Hollywood good looks with a humble performance of a man in full collapse. —Chris Plante

Seconds is available to stream for free with ads on Pluto TV, or for free with a library card on Kanopy. It is also available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, and Google Play.

Oct. 5: Bride of Chucky (1998)

The Chucky doll dual wields pistols and looks past the camera in Bride of Chucky. Image: Universal Pictures

The fourth movie of the wickedly funny Child’s Play franchise takes the killer doll series in an exciting new direction. Bride of Chucky ditches Andy, the young boy followed by the murderous Chucky doll in the first three movies, and instead follows two clueless teenagers (Katherine Heigl and Nick Stabile) who unwittingly take two murderous dolls on a road trip and start to suspect each other when the bodies start dropping.

The sinister inversion of the teen road trip movie would be fun enough, but it’s the addition of Jennifer Tilly that really makes Bride of Chucky sing. For the uninitiated in the Child’s Play universe: The Chucky doll is possessed by the soul of serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif). Tilly plays Ray’s former lover and accomplice, Tiffany, who brings the doll back to life and becomes a murderous doll herself.

The result is two couples road-tripping together but unable to communicate with each other. Heigl and Stabile’s Jade and Jesse are your typical youths in love — still getting to know each other and not fully trusting yet — while Chucky and Tiffany’s bickering and subtle manipulations make this a joyous and twisted fun time. Add in some breathtaking imagery from director Ronny Yu (Freddy vs. Jason) and cinematographer Peter Pau (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; The Killer) and you have a franchise sequel well worth your time. —PV

Bride of Chucky is available to stream on Peacock. It is also available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, and Google Play.