Halloween is a scary holiday, which I sometimes struggle to celebrate because I don’t like horror. If it’s dark or suspenseful, fine. If it’s creepy or spooky, I can take it. But I’m not into too many jump scares, or anything too unbelievable, or scenes so disturbing I won’t be able to sleep afterwards.
For me, a touch of darkness is all that’s needed to enjoy Halloween. So if you’re looking for something dark, suspenseful, or creepy to celebrate the season — instead of something that will make you scream — here are a few of my favorite moody movies, books, and video games.
Alan Wake (video game)
This was the first horror video game I ever played. The story is strange and suspenseful, following a writer whose wife is kidnapped and who finds that his unfinished book seems to be coming to life. It’s a little hard to piece things together at times, but Alan’s confused narration ushers you from one chapter to the next. Wandering around the eerie nighttime settings definitely wears on your nerves after awhile — and be prepared for a lot of fights.
Pan’s Labyrinth (movie)
This film by Guillermo del Toro is one of the strangest I’ve ever seen. It’s not exactly horror — more magic realism, or a dark fantasy. It depicts 11-year-old Ofelia living life in fascist Spain, who’s whisked away to a labyrinth that seems to be part of another world. She interacts with strange creatures such as a mantis and a faun, whose intentions are hard to decipher. What makes this movie creepy is that it’s not a traditional fantasy for any child — the atmosphere is dark, there are disturbing personal and politics scenes, and the creatures Ofelia encounters seem like they walked out of someone’s nightmares. If you haven’t seen this movie, it’s a visual feast that will keep you thinking long after it ends.
Until Dawn (video game)
Until Dawn made its debut a couple of years ago as a truly unique horror game, largely because the story was interactive. It centers on a group of teenagers who go on a cabin getaway — but a serial killer is on the loose there. The game is full of suspense, the occasional jump scare, and enough twists and turns to keep you guessing the whole way. Dialogue choices and in-game actions affect what happens next, so you may end up with a very different finale than other players. You can turn on crowd sourcing to see what other players did in different scenarios, but I preferred to play blind and see where my actions led me. I’ll just say it was not pretty, but as an interactive story it was very memorable. (Read my review here.)
The Bloody Chamber (short stories)
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter is a series of short stories, all familiar and at the same time strange. Many are dark takes on traditional fairytales, such as Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, and Sleeping Beauty. They are poetic and tense, but what makes them really interesting is the strength of the women in them. You won’t get your damsel-in-distress fairytale here. I recommend them if you want to sink your teeth into the otherworldly atmosphere of the stories.
Bloodborne (video game)
I’ll admit I didn’t play this game, because it seemed too scary for me. Then I watched my boyfriend play the game, and I totally fell in love with the dark gothic world it brought to life. The main thing that put me off at that point was the game’s difficulty, but I still enjoyed watching the game and exploring the nooks and crannies of the old city it depicts. Towering cathedrals, dark alleys, and monsters around every corner make the place feel haunted. If you’re up for a challenge, I recommend this game to really immerse yourself in a macabre world.
28 Days Later (movie)
Maybe what makes me love this movie so much is that it feels more like a dark indie film than horror. It’s about a virus sweeping through London and beyond, leaving a survivor (Cillian Murphy) to try to make his way out of his ravaged city. The story feels gritty and real, and the movie is shot in a way that gives it the grainy edge of a documentary. If you like horror, this is a gritty yet stylish take on it.
Hellblade (video game)
I’ve recently written about the early hours of this game, which depicts both a hellish Viking world and the turmoil of mental illness. The heroine must enter strange worlds to fight gods in an attempt to save her lover from hell, but the whole time she must also battle voices in her head — some of whom seem intent on defeating her. Developed by Ninja Theory, Hellblade explores mental illness in a setting that weaves history with magic in a way I’ve never seen before.
5 thoughts on “Celebrating Halloween’s Suspense (Without the Scares)”
These are some really good picks! And I’m with you on the horror stuff. I’m not a fan of the genre either, but I do like suspense and psychological thrillers the most. Those can get creepy and terrifying fast!
Ooh I like psychological thrillers too. I agree, those get scary fast and they sometimes feel more realistic than the gory or jump scare horror movies.
Like you, I’m not the biggest fan of traditional horror. This is what I appreciated about TSW. It was more about setting a mood and telling a good story than cheap scares. Been playing that a bit again lately just cause of the time of year. Might as well enjoy it while I can.
I also tend to watch a lot of old Simpsons Halloween episodes this time of year.
Oh yeah, that’s a great idea to watch Halloween episodes of shows. I never really watched the Simpsons though! I’m sorry you have to say goodbye to TSW, but nice to hear you’re enjoying it this season while you can.
If nothing else, you should try to watch the Simpsons’ take on The Raven some day. It’s a classic. Can probably find it on YouTube or something.