October is for corn mazes and apple picking and pumpkin carving and all sorts of delightful outdoors activities that feel a little more doable this year than last year, but there's still a lot of Halloween traditions you might be missing out on. Cramped costume parties, sweaty spooky DJ nights, and lining up for all of the haunted houses you can get your hands on.
If you're not up to getting up close and personal with a bunch of strangers in a dimly lit room while an actor screams in your face this year, look no further than your TV for all of the haunted house vibes you crave. From documentaries to indie gems, we have everything you need to get into the Halloween spirit and make you feel like you've been haunted house hopping all night. No tickets required.
The Houses October Built (2014)
Kicking off with a personal favorite of mine, "The Houses October Built" follows a group of friends as they travel across the country looking for an entryway into the underground world of extreme haunts. This is a theme you'll notice a lot in the more recent films on this list, but after taboo-pushing, avant-garde haunt companies like Blackout and The 17th Door (among others) expanded beyond their core group of enthusiasts and rose in popularity in the early to mid-2010's, horror films inspired by the haunts followed suit. These "haunted houses" (most of which aren't even stylized as houses) feel more like twisted theater productions than your traditional haunt. They almost always break from common haunted house conventions; the actors in extreme haunts can touch you, you may be in close proximity with bugs, you may undergo electric shock or get pushed around, and the storyline of these haunts veers much closer to an NC-17 rating than a PG-13 rating.
Unlike in "The Houses October Built," you don't need a connection to have access to any of the well known extreme haunts, you just need to buy a ticket, but the film does a good job at using this search for the most extreme haunt to create a fervent energy and an interesting lore. It has a fun atmosphere that isn't too scary for the less horror inclined, but there are also some very tense moments and haunting images.
Hell Fest (2018)
Gather your friends, throw some popcorn in the microwave, pour yourself a drink and tune into one of the most fun films on the list, "Hell Fest." Directed by Gregory Plotkin (who served as the editor for "Get Out"), "Hell Fest" is a stylistically sleek film that follows (another!) group of friends as they cast off their college stresses and head to the local horror theme park to celebrate Halloween the right way.
The crux of this film draws from every urban legend you've heard about haunted houses, i.e., someone was killed in the haunt and their body left there because everyone thought they were a prop, but "Hell Fest" does good work with the well-trod tale. Most horror films about haunts take the subject matter as an excuse to go full low budget and keep things confined to one small location, whereas "Hell Fest" blows it out, creating an entire haunted amusement park on sprawling grounds that are full of excellent costumes and fun scares. The characters are a little one note, but you'll be cheering for their successes (and their failures) all the same.
Haunters: The Art Of The Scare (2017)
If you're more interested in the actual haunts behind these movies, "Haunters: The Art of the Scare" is exactly what you're looking for. This doc dives deep into the small haunt community, chronicling the individuals who open up their homes and dedicate their lives to scaring people. The film includes a ton of interesting videos with lifetime haunt actors and creators, which really give the doc its heart, but it also takes a long look at one of the most controversial figures in the haunting community, Russ McKamey of McKamey Manor.
McKamey runs the most extreme haunt in the film, which can include hours upon hours of simulated torture, without a safe word. He famously requires the people who apply to come to his haunt to sign a 40-page waiver and complete a health assessment and he films everyone who comes through his haunt. He comes off pretty unhinged in the documentary, which should come as no surprise, but even if you're a vehement opponent of McKamey (and there are plenty of reasons to be), this doc is still worth your time. It gives way more context for the passion and artistry that goes into constructing these haunted houses than you might have inferred from just walking through.
Hell House LLC (2015)
"Hell House LLC" is one of those movies that are beloved by found footage fanatics and there's a good reason for it: the scares hit. Instead of following a group of friends who are trapped in a haunted house or lured into a haunted house or tricked into a haunted house, "Hell House LLC" takes you behind the scenes and into the creation of one of these haunts. You might think that the people rigging up the scares and cuing up the sounds affects wouldn't be scared off their own supply, but "Hell House LLC" flips the switch, proving that even event planners have feelings.
This film works so well because it feels so DIY, and it really leans into that approach. The scares are minimalist and tight while the tension ramps up in a way that feels genuine. The friendships in this film also feel a little more realistic than in some of the other movies on this list, and I think that's mainly due to the fact that these are all friends working on a passion project, so emotions run high and arguments break out in a way that feels familiar if you've ever work with a friend (or have become friends with one of your coworkers). If you find yourself falling in love with this one, there are also two sequels that manage to tread the same ground in a way that doesn't feel overly repetitive.
This film feels sort of like "Hell Fest," but with a smaller location budget and a larger gore budget, which kind of makes sense when you realize your horror stepdad Eli Roth produced this one. While I wish it had a little more of the aesthetic ambition of "Hell Fest," the kills and brutality in "Haunt" hit harder, there are a few really memorable scenes, and the design and costuming work is solid.
Like almost every movie about a haunted house, this one follows a group of friends who get in way over their heads and find themselves trapped in a haunt with some truly maniacal characters. It's the kind of movie that makes you never want to go into a real haunt again, but it also gives you that classic horror high of knowing you're not as stupid as the characters in the movie, so you could probably take the killer, right?
Really, all of these movies are just a constant reminder that I'll never get a film adaptation of my favorite YA horror novel, "Full Tilt," and that's fine.
If you think of "Extremity" as the older, grizzlier and colder brother of "Haunt," you'll basically get the entire vibe this movie is going for. "Extremity" feels like a cinematic McKamey Manor, it's a torture zone way out in the middle of nowhere, where everyone knows what they're getting themselves into … sort of. Directed by Anthony DiBlasi, who was also at the helm for "Last Shift" and "Dread," "Extremity" breaks some of the haunted house/attraction conventions to create a movie that stands out in more ways than one.
Forget about checking out a haunted house with friends, this film tells the story of a young woman who thinks that making it through an extreme haunt might help her work through some personal traumas, so she makes her way out to an abandoned building in the middle of the winter to see what she can handle. This film totally eschews the autumn/Halloween aesthetic that accompanies so many of these films and goes for a desolate, middle of winter setting that pairs well with the solitary narrative. This isn't about group dynamics or working together, it's about survival, pure and simple.
The Funhouse (1981)
The oldest film on our list was directed by the one and only Tobe Hooper ("Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "Poltergeist") which should tell you everything you need to know about "The Funhouse." This movie basically works as the blueprint for all of the films on this list that have come after, it features a group of friends having a fun and rebellious night out which degrades into a nightmare of blood and terror as murderous carnies attack.
It's a film that feels just as '80s as it is, so in a way, it resembles more of the actual haunted attractions I've been to than the neon-lit, artistic haunts all over this list. And while the style of the film is definitely dated, it's in the best way possible. The film is an assault of primary colors and big sounds thanks to its over-the-top score and the near-constant screaming of the actors. If you've ever been to a rundown carnival IRL, this film will take you right back, sights, sounds, smells and all.
Hell House (2001)
Back to the land of non-fiction, "Hell House" (not to be confused with "Hell House LLC" or "Hell Fest") is more than a bit of an outlier, but if this subgenre has reeled you into the world of haunted attractions, your education isn't complete without watching it. "Hell House" is a gripping documentary that captures the planning of Trinity Church's annual tradition, a haunted house that has a goal of saving its guests from eternal damnation. Instead of being confronted by ghosts, witches, or haunted dolls in Trinity's "Hell House," the guests who make it to this haunted house outside of Dallas, Texas are treated to skits about suicide, school shootings, drugs, and abortion (shocker), with the hope that at the end of the house, you'll chose to be saved.
It is just as uncomfortable and insane as it sounds, which makes it an utterly captivating doc. It's the kind of movie you watch with half of your face in your hands, you can quite face it head on, but you also can't look away. If you've seen "Jesus Camp" or any other documentary that focuses on the evangelical movement, you know exactly what I'm talking about. I wouldn't want to be trapped in any of the horror films on this list, but this very really haunted house takes the cake.
Dark Ride (2006)
You could make one hell of a confusing and twisted double feature with this film and "The Many Saints of Newark." Not because this movie has any mob elements or even takes place in the same era as "The Sopranos" cinematic universe, but because it starts Jamie-Lynne Sigler, our favorite mob daughter Meadow. To be honest, I haven't seen this film since the mid-aughts, so I'd completely forgotten she was in it, but it kind of makes me want to hunt it down and watch it again.
"Dark Ride" is very much a movie of its time. It has that dark and muted color palate that all the horror films that came out in 2006 had, the one that was supposed to denote that this was a serious scary movie with serious scares, and even though that's not necessarily true, "Dark Ride" still has a little bit of magic to it. It has your requisite group of friends that go on a cursed ride, a pair of twin girls disappeared on the ride years ago, and things go from bad to worse. There are some fun kills in this one, plenty of jokes about college kids having too much sex or not enough sex, and a creepy enough killer. It'll scratch your haunted house itch and might force you into a "Sopranos" rewatch.
If you finished watching "Haunters: The Art of the Scare" and are looking for something in the same vein but a little more wholesome, look no further than "Spookers." This 80-minute romp goes behind the scenes of Auckland, New Zealand's Spookers, a horror attraction that takes place in an old psychiatric hospital. Because this doc focuses on one haunt instead of trying to get a general pulse of the haunt scene, you really get to know the inner working of the attraction.
You can see how much the staff care about each other and how much work they put into creating an immersive environment for their guests. Unsurprisingly, all of the actors have great stories, but more than that, the doc captures the beauty behind the gore. Behind all of the screaming and the zombie brides and the bloody babies, there's a very sweet found family.
Read this next: The 14 Best '80s Halloween Movies To Watch This Spooky Season
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