The Halloween Countdown: 31 days of horror to watch

Is there anything better than Halloween season?

Sure, here at Polygon we cover horror year-round. We have our rolling lists of the best horror movies you can watch at home and the best horror movies on Netflix that are updated every month of the year.

But even for year-round horror fans, Halloween is a special time of year.

For the past two years, Polygon has put together a Halloween Countdown calendar, offering a Halloween-friendly movie or TV show available to watch at home every day of October. We’re delighted to bring that back once again, with 31 spooky selections to keep the mood going all month long.

Every day for the entire month of October, we’ll add a new recommendation to this Countdown and tell you where you can watch it. So curl up on the couch, dim the lights, and grab some popcorn for a terrifying and entertaining host of Halloween surprises.

Oct. 1: Audition (1999)

A woman in a white shirt with black gloves prepares a deadly syringe in Takashi Miike’s Audition Image: Arrow Films

In Audition, Takashi Miike’s 1999 psychological horror-thriller, love is a consensual fiction. Years after losing his wife to a terminal illness, widower Shigeharu Aoyama is urged by his son to get back out in the world and find someone. Aoyama agrees to a proposal by his friend, a film producer, to take part in an audition for a nonexistent film in order to find a potential bride from the candidates. His search ultimately leads him to Asami Yamazaki, a beautiful former ballerina with a murky past.

As Aoyama grows closer to his new love interest, he finds himself caught deeper and deeper in a web of intrigue that threatens to tear him apart emotionally, psychologically, and yes — even physically. There is something dark inside Asami, yes, but there is a latent darkness inside of Aoyama too, arguably even darker. The only difference is that Asami has embraced that darkness and made it her own.

Miike’s film holds its cards relatively close to its chest for most of its run time, unspooling its tightly wound mystery like garrote wire before peeling back its skin of meet-cute artifice to reveal a pulsing mass of horrors roiling beneath. The film descends into a macabre fugue state of assumptions, misdirections, and cinematic sleights of hand, with dreams that feel almost real set against a reality too terrifying to be anything but. In the end, though, these are just words. Only pain can be trusted. —Toussaint Egan

Audition is available to stream on Arrow Video and Hi-Yah!, for free with ads on Tubi, and for free on Kanopy with a library card. It is also available for digital rental or purchase on Vudu and Apple.

Oct. 2: The Vanishing (1988)

A sinister looking man with a goatee smiles at another man against a pitch black backdrop in The Vanishing. Image: The Criterion Collection

It’s not a horror movie, per se, and yet Stanley Kubrick said that The Vanishing was the most frightening film he had ever seen. This Dutch thriller from 1988 — often referred to by its original title Spoorloos, so as not to confuse it with an inferior 1993 American remake by the same director, George Sluizer — plays it cool, like a simple missing person case. Rex and Saskia are a young couple road-tripping through France. They are taking a break at a service station when Saskia abruptly, and completely, disappears.

Initially, the horror of the situation is in the banality of it: the feeling that it could happen at any time, to anyone. Sluizer underlines this with the matter-of-fact realism of his location shooting. Then, barely more than 20 minutes in, he wrong-foots the audience with an abrupt shift: We are following Raymond, a contented French family man who appears to be rehearsing a kidnapping. The mystery of what happened to Saskia seems already to be solved. What next?

The way the film — based very closely on Tim Krabbé’s novella The Golden Egg — skips so quickly past the expected structure of a mystery thriller ought to sap tension, but in fact it builds an almost philosophical unease. As Raymond, played with a chilling brightness by Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, walks us through the “how” of his crime, the “why” becomes a gnawing, much more troubling question. We skip forward three years and find Rex obsessed with finding out what happened to his lost love. When an answer is offered, we share his hunger for it completely, and follow him to what might be the most plainly horrifying ending of any film, ever. This is a minimal masterpiece of existential dread. —Oli Welsh

The Vanishing is available to stream on The Criterion Channel, or for digital rental or purchase on Apple and Amazon.