When ancient man first huddled around the primordial campfire telling ghost stories, man’s best friend showed up to offer snuggly confidence against the night. But what about all those beasties who stayed lurking in the dark?
Creature features, at their best, beam a headlamp on cryptids, hell hounds, and interstellar invaders, and defang them with survival smarts, grit, and the occasional ax. Whether you’re in the mood for a belligerent B-movie, a stark indie scare, or a high-budget thrill, we’ve got a fun Halloween flick for you.
‘The Ritual’ (2018)
The tropes that set up this Netflix original are as well trodden as the trail our protagonists obviously should have stuck to. Of course the four middle-aged bro-trippers take a shortcut through a Swedish forest so decoratively haunted it would give the Blair Witch FOMO, complete with runes, carcasses, and compass malfunction. As the lads crack under the strain of aimless hiking and sinister nightmares (or ARE they nightmares?), you’ll feel like you’ve seen all this before. But wait for it: the film’s big, bad slow-stalking Norse cryptid is a wickedly fresh monster and masterfully done.
There was no shortage of bloodthirsty creatures in the Summer of Blockbuster Megafauna (see: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, The Meg, Rampage). But the award for most psychologically disturbing megafauna goes to Annihilation. The film follows a five-woman team on a research mission to explore the mysterious Area X, an iridescent wonderland of mind-bending mutations. The movie is a weird, psychedelic departure from the typical expedition film (and a bit of a departure from the novel of the same name), and it doesn’t always work. But when the jump scares come, they come hard. As for the megafauna, let’s just say there’s a bear thing that is deeply upsetting.
‘The Cleanse’ (2016)
This one’s for weird-indie-movie lovers who don’t super dig Halloween flicks, plus anyone else who feels a little broken but also judgy about cleanses. It’s a spare but effective narrative about a sad man who eats his feelings and a sad woman who puts up walls, brought together at a mysterious detox-and-therapy retreat to manifest and confront their literal (and frankly adorable) inner demons. The frights are few, the honesty is subtly brutal, and the Anjelica Huston (as the retreat director) is resplendent.
‘The Witch’ (2015)
When William gets his wife and kids kicked out of their 1630s New England colony for being too Puritan, you figure the family will make it to exactly one hard winter before their starving, isolation-addled brains start seeing witches. Except there really is a baby-stealing witch in the nearby woods. Satanic wildlife starts hanging around, and the family goat goes psycho, and you start to understand why people moved to Boston: for Puritans this wilderness, though sun-dappled and benign to our modern eyes, was the oppressive and terrifying realm of the Devil. That goat truly steals the show, though. Not for nothing, during filming he slammed one of the actors in the chest and dislodged a rib tendon.
‘Blood Glacier’ (2014)
There is real cause for concern that Arctic warming could unleash some kind of unthinkable plague. But don’t worry about that while watching Blood Glacier! Just kick back and enjoy as heartbroken sot Januk and his team of climate-change researchers in the Austrian alps discover a red glacial ooze with the power to unleash amusingly CGI’d Cronenberg-style genetic mutants upon the world. It’s cheesy B horror done right, with good-quality dubbing to boot. For a double feature, pair with John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).