31 days, 31 movies — as you look for seasonally approrpriate viewing options this October, consider going beyond the classics in favor of lesser-known fare that’s no less unsettling.
For instance: When is a vampire movie more than just a vampire movie? When it’s an allegory for drug addiction with frequent philosophical musings directed by Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant, King of New York).
Directed by Bigas Luna
A movie-within-a-movie inspires Anguish‘s protagonist to carry out murderous deeds. Hopefully the same never happens to anyone watching Luna’s meta-horror flick.
Directed by Alfred Sole
Also known as Communion and Holy Terror, Alfred Sole’s slasher tells of a girl who gets murdered on the day of her first communion — and the unlikely suspect who may be responsible.
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Not for nothing is Fulci one of two filmmakers to have the nickname “Godfather of Gore” bestowed upon him. Arguably his most celebrated work, The Beyond exists at the unexpected convergence between Earth and Hell.
Directed by Mario Bava
Another giallo master, Bava wasn’t quite as gore-inclined as Fulci. By most other standards, however, Black Sunday is extremely violent — it’s been censored and/or banned many times.
Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis
The other Godfather of Gore, Lewis created the “splatter” subgenre of horror with this over-the-top exercise in cinematic brutality.
Directed by Peter Medak
George C. Scott moves into a big, empty mansion following the death of his wife and daughter. It goes about as well as you’d expect.
Directed by Ken Russell
Hugely controversial, often banned if not outright censored and still unavailable on DVD, Russell’s account of a supposed possession that took place in 17th-century France is essential viewing for anyone who has the chance to see it.
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
Grief has rarely been more haunting (or graphic) than it is in Roeg’s dissection of a marriage in the aftermath of a tremendous loss.
Directed by Georges Franju
That Billy Idol song you like wouldn’t exist were it not for Franju’s masterpiece, one of many on this list to face heavy opposition from censors at the time of release.
Directed by Tod Browning
“One of us! One of us!” Browning’s film about sideshow performers is far more sympathetic than you’d expect, not that it was well received at the time — though considered a classic now, it torpedoed his career.
Directed by Larry Cohen
Mixing horror, sci-fi and the police procedural, Cohen’s movie follows a spate of murders in which every perpetrator claims (you guessed it) “God told me to.”
Directed by John McNaughton
As important to independent film as it is to the horror genre, McNaughton’s cerebral character study puts you in the mind of a murderer.
Directed by Jack Clayton
Eerie, moody and restrained, this adaptation of Turn of the Screw is one of the most frightening haunted-house movies ever made.
Directed by Jean Rollin
Though not a vampire film, The Iron Rose maintains the dreamlike quality that long distinguished Rollin’s work.
Directed by Adrian Lyn
Tim Robbins stars as a traumatized Vietnam veteran in this psychological thriller, which by its end is as sad as it is scary.
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Wheatley’s best film touches on several different genres — domestic drama, hitman movie — on its way to a graphic, utterly disturbing finale that few are likely to see coming.
Directed by Kaneto Shindo
Shindo was a master of atmospheric horror delving into Japanese history and folklore. In arguably his most memorable film, the angry spirits of two women come back to seek vengeance on the men who raped and murderered them.
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Val Lewton produced this story of a serial killer, one of the first produced by Hollywood; in it, the escape of a leopard coincides with a string of murders.
Directed by George Romero
Romero is best known for his contributions to the zombie genre, but his vampire movie shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz
Based on the same event as The Devils but considerably more restrained in its approach, Mother Joan of the Angels serves to remind of our capacity for mass hysteria.
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Another vampire drama by a filmmaker who only strayed into the realm of horror once, Near Dark is one of the best genre movies of the ’80s.
Directed by William Peter Blatty
Taking place in a castle used as a mental hospital for Vietnam veterans, Blatty’s adaptation of his own novel begins as something like a comedy before becoming increasingly unmoored from reality.
Directed by Werner Herzog
Isabelle Adjani and Klaus Kinski star in this take on the classic vampire tale, which is unnerving in a way that only a horror movie by Herzog could be.
Directed by Kaneto Shindo
Shindo’s other horror classic can be seen in part as an allegory for Hiroshima, whose effects were still heavily felt in his native Japan 20 years later.
Directed by Andrzej Żuławski
Possession was pitched to Paramount Pictures as “a film about a woman who fucks an octopus.” Paramount passed. The result isn’t as funny as that description might make it sound, but it’s certainly out there.
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
One of Kurosawa’s best known and most celebrated works, Pulse contains a scene of such elemental terror that you’ll be replaying it in your mind over and over again whether you want to or not.
Directed by Mark Robson
Also produced by Lewton, The Seventh Victim is an old-school cult drama in which a group of satanists may or may not have something to do with a missing young woman.
Directed by Roman Polanski
Polanski’s horror bona fides are more than proven by Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion and a number of other films, but none of them are quite so strange as The Tenant.
Directed by Claire Denis
Like Herzog, Ferrara and Bigelow, Denis isn’t exactly known for making vampire movies. That’s only part of what makes Trouble Every Day worth seeking out, though.
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Originally rated X in the UK, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? received as much attention for the behind-the-scenes rivalry between stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as it did for its unsettling plot.