Fisher and Fuller’s Fall Recommendations
October 23, 2021
There’s nothing like settling in for a good movie or curling up with a great book to get you into the fall spirit, and no one knows this better than our arts writers. Here, with their scope across the genres, are Megan Fisher and Whit Fuller’s recommendations for anyone looking for Halloween-related content to celebrate the season.
Fisher’s Spooky Movie Recommendations
My first interaction with the genre of “scary movie” happened after my first watch of the animated film “101 Dalmatians,” waking up from a nightmare about the villian Cruella de Vil. But, in my love of film, I’ve also sat through many gorefests, itching to grab at my phone. The notion of fear and scary movies is subjective and what “spooks” someone else may not scare others.
While compiling this list of horror movies, I tried to glean from as many corners of the genre as possible. From winking satire to unnerving nightmares, there are many masterpieces that deserve to be seen.
I recognize that many readers may not enjoy scary movies, but I’m sure there’s something in the wide swath of film for everybody. One thing is for sure — all of them are perfect for Halloween viewing.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before — five travelers get caught in the rain and seek shelter in a creepy old house inhabited by a ghoulish family. Lights go out, doors are locked and secret rooms are discovered.
This great horror movie ancestor relies on an atmosphere of perversity and uncanniness to unsettle. Even in 2021, many of its sequences still hold power.
As director, James Whale shows an awe-inspiring control over tone, moving from scene to scene with a playful, self-satirizing wink. Like Sam Raimi would many years later, Whale is able to get screams of fear and laughter out of the same action. Any of the Universal Horror movies are a golden choice for Halloween, but this one is really special.
Philip Kaufman’s spin on “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” swaps out Cold War paranoia for post-Watergate paranoia. The movie follows a group of San Franciscans that slowly realize that humans are being destroyed and replaced by alien copies or “pods.”
Through this very potent premise, Kaufman perfectly captures the feeling of uncanny dread that someone is watching you. From the very beginning things are off, but you’re not able to put your finger on how until it’s too late.
“Coraline” is a Grimm’s fairy tale brought out of the page through gorgeous stop-motion animation.
Coraline Jones, voiced by Dakota Fanning, moves into a dilapidated old house with her neglectful parents. While wandering around the house one day, Coraline discovers a passageway to a parallel world where everyone has buttons for eyes and she has loving parents.
“Coraline” is scary, not through jump scares and gore, but through the conceit of the plot. It taps into the elemental, basic fears, grabbing at the little child under the bed covers inside all of us.
How to watch: Rent it
Screwball comedies rarely get as pitch black as “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Taking place over the course of Halloween night, as playwright Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) attempts to deal with his old biddy aunts that “compassionately” serve their boarding house guests poisoned wine, alongside the rest of his macabre family.
“Arsenic and Old Lace” is frenzied, weird and hilarious and Cary Grant provides the greatest facial expressions ever committed to celluloid.
How to watch: The Criterion Channel or rent it
“Scream” includes one of the most distressing slasher movie sequences I have ever seen. After first seeing this movie, I jumped in my skin the next time I heard the phone ring.
The town of Woodsboro, California is plagued by a slasher killer, and the twist is, “What if the characters in a horror movie had seen horror movies?” The deconstruction of horror movie tropes gets a little cute at times and perhaps influenced a generation of moviegoers for the worst, but it never gets lost in the meta. “Scream” still functions as an effective slasher film.
It’s a mischievous, entertaining movie that’s perfect for watching as a group.
How to watch: Rent it
Fuller’s Fall Book Recommendations
As fall begins and October ushers in the Halloween season, it seems only right to spend more nights indoors reading a good book. If you’re in the market for some fall reads ranging from the Victorian vampires that inspired Dracula to modern, crime, podcast-themed novels, this is the list for you.
In “The Outsider” — Stephen King’s most recent horror offering — a creature murders children by night and a local man is arrested for the crime despite his insistence that he couldn’t have done it. The evidence proves him guilty and the monster continues to take strange new forms.
King turns horror into a mysterious thriller and brings back a beloved character from a previous series in this spine chilling read. I admit to sleeping with the light on while reading it, and to the fact that I almost didn’t finish it. If horror is your genre, this is a great read.
For those less inclined towards outright horror, a Victorian vampire novel with undertones of homoerotic romance is a great option. “Carmilla” predates Bram Stoker’s Dracula by 26 years and is — in my opinion — severely underrated.
Not only is Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s prose captivating and beautiful, but so is the strange relationship between Laura and her mysterious house guest, Carmilla.
I was enthralled by the premise of subtle seduction and romance between a woman and a female vampire within a Victorian text. The addition of wonderful prose and a mysterious plot made this novel especially memorable.
“Serpent & Dove”
A fall book recommendation list isn’t complete without one monster, ghoul or incredibly fascinating witch — enter Shelby Mahurin’s debut novel “Serpent & Dove.” The magic system is incredible and the different types of witches are as unique and varied as the individual characters.
With a few tropes of the modern fiction genre, a lot of religious angst and plenty of spooky, witchy moments, this is an excellent read and a wonderful start to a trilogy. I was in love with Mahurin’s ability to create such well-rounded characters and the quintessential witch vibes that this novel gave off.
If true crime podcasts are of interest to you, Courtney Summers’ “Sadie” is the perfect fall read. Told partially in the format of a true crime podcast and partially from Sadie’s own perspective, the novel is a mystery from beginning to end.
The search for a missing girl was enough to keep me on the edge of my seat, but it was the glimpse into her experiences and the muddled moments between that kept me turning the page. I found myself crying as the details of Sadie’s disappearance and life were revealed. This book should be approached with caution due to potentially disturbing themes of child abuse and violence.
Whether your taste in books incline you to vampires and witches or mysterious investigations, there are plenty of fall and Halloween-themed reads to choose from. These are just a few of the best books that I’ve found memorable spooky season after spooky season.
Fisher’s Ultimate Halloween Playlist
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I love the atmosphere — the crisp air, crunchy leaves, smell of pumpkin, brown and orange color scheme and the music.
I have found that nothing puts me in the Halloween spirit more than spooky music. But it often gets overshadowed by Christmas in the festive music canon, and I find myself in a rut.
There are only so many times you can listen to “Monster Mash,” which is why I’ve compiled a Spotify playlist of 84 songs that are specifically not “Monster Mash.” Here, you can cover a wide variety of styles and genres, but all with the intention of getting you into the spooky spirit.
Even without any words, all of these tracks can send a chill down the spine and conjure the Halloween spirit. Camille Saint-Saens “Danse Macabre in G Minor” is instantly recognizable, with violins that speak of something supernatural.
The rustling, misty theremin on “The Journey Begins” from “Over the Garden Wall” makes one feel as though they are walking through a New England forest at night even if you aren’t.
The discordant piano piece “Musica Ricercata II-Mesto” by György Ligeti is the most frightening music I have ever heard.
Also included are pieces from horror movies and television shows, such as the themes from “Halloween,” “Drag Me to Hell,” “The Shining,” “The X-Files” and “Tales from the Crypt.”
While we may not be partying as hard as we would like this year, we could still use a pick-me-up. What better way to do that than listening to a goofy song about Dracula throwing a party?
For some dancing around the house I have chosen such songs as “Frankenstein Twist” by The Crystals, “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr., “Skully Gully” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt Kickers, “A Nightmare on My Street” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, and “Zombie Jamboree” by Harry Belafonte.
Rounding things out is a satire of the ’60s Halloween novelty song “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” from the TV Show “30 Rock.”
Halloween and its various trappings have been a frequent muse for songwriters. The holiday itself has inspired performers like Phoebe Bridgers and Siouxsie and the Banshees who both have songs titled “Halloween.”
Several talented songwriters have been able to tell mini horror stories such as in “Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads, the cover of “Me and the Devil” by Soap&Skin, “The Yawning Grave” by Lord Huron, “The Room Nobody Lives in” by Cass Elliot, “The Ghost Who Walks” by Karen Elson and “Season of the Witch” by Donovan.
Others such as “The Killing Moon” by Echo and the Bunnymen, “My Boy Builds Coffins” by Florence and the Machine and the Tethered Remix of “I Got 5 on It” by Luniz contain no overt horror themes, but manage to unsettle through a combination of macabre lyrics and eerie production design.