5 Underrated Horror Movies for Halloween (And What to Eat While Watching Them)

The deadly curse in 'It Follows' is transmitted through sexual intercourse, and can only be overcome by passing it to another partner. (The Weinstein Company)

I don't know about you, but we arts and culture writers at KQED aren't watching the usual Friday the 13th / Nightmare on Elm Street / Halloween movies this year. Nothing in 2020 is normal—why should your horror-movie lineup be the same old same old?

Below, you'll find our picks for underrated Halloween movies, and, because you've probably exhausted your skills at home cooking, fresh ideas for what to snack upon while viewing from our food editor, Urmila Ramakrishnan.

'An American Werewolf In London' (1981)

Where to see it: HBO

What most people remember from An American Werewolf in London are its groundbreaking special effects. Indeed, the scene in which the American protagonist, David, finally transforms inch-by-agonizing-inch into a werewolf is arguably the best physical transformation ever committed to film. (Director John Landis would later reprise it for Michael Jackson's Thriller video.) But the thing that makes the movie special is its very ordinariness. The stunning werewolf metamorphosis takes place on the drab living room floor of a London flat. The bumbling detectives investigating the gory death of David’s best friend Jack, late one night on an English moor, are more concerned with tea and decorum. And when Jack visits David from beyond the grave, his face decaying more and more each time, Jack casually eats toast, complains about his state in purgatory (“Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring!”) and introduces David to the very irritated people he has killed. It’s one of the few films in horror history that successfully manages to be both laugh-out-loud funny and genuinely frightening. (The carnage in Piccadilly Circus at the finale remains distressing.) To cap it all, the soundtrack is an enormous amount of fun, featuring Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising,” and versions of “Blue Moon” by Sam Cooke, The Marcels and Bobby Vinton. All in all, a bloody good time.—Rae Alexandra

Pair with: Steak tartar and venison casserole. Based on the fact that it’s a werewolf movie, with the setting in London, it's only fitting to pair this with something a werewolf would enjoy. Tartar is, well, raw meat, and werewolves would typically eat hooved animals like deer, which is where the venison casserole comes into play.—Urmila Ramakrishnan

'Creep' (2014)

Where to see it: Netflix

For many, many years, I was allergic to horror films. What’s the point in purposely giving yourself the heebie jeebies, I reasoned, when there’s so much in the real world to cause anxiety and dread? Slowly, with much prodding, I’ve treated the condition with exposure therapy. Now I can strap in and enjoy the ride, somewhat excited for the jump scares to come. (I’ve even started to differentiate certain subgenres I find more enjoyable, specifically horror of the non-magical variety.)

Creep is one of those “this could really happen” type of films, a terrifying premise reinforced by the handheld camcorder and simple conceit: Josef (co-writer Mark Duplass), who says he has an inoperable brain tumor, hires Aaron (co-writer and director Patrick Brice) to record a video diary for his unborn child. The day’s activities take place in and around a remote cabin. It’s a strange gig, but Aaron’s a struggling videographer and $1,000 isn’t bad for a day’s work. As might be expected, things get weird, Josef maybe isn’t who he says he is (Duplass is wonderfully unpredictable), and the single camera becomes a crucial element in concealing and revealing whatever the heck is really going on.–Sarah Hotchkiss

Pair with: Meiji chocorooms, gummy worms and rock candy. This thriller takes place deep in the mountain woods, and I’d imagine foraging for sustenance while hiding from a crazy creep would be fitting. Since you’re not the one being chased down, these will give you the semblance of having that experience—albeit with a much higher sugar content to keep the adrenaline coursing through your veins.—U.R.

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'Carnival of Souls' (1962)

Where to see it: Criterion, YouTube, various public domain sites

A cabin in the woods is easily the most sure-fire horror movie location. But why not a palace in the desert? That was director Herk Harvey’s proposition in 1962 when, armed with a few cameras and a paltry $30,000 budget, he made the cult classic Carnival of Souls. Filmed in Kansas and Utah, Harvey’s film benefits from a Midwest accessibility: this is a movie your uncle could have made. Which only makes the whole thing creepier.

Candace Hilligoss plays Mary, a woman whose life is changed after a car accident. She relocates to a new town, doesn’t exactly fit in, and finds herself preoccupied with a giant empty carnival pavilion (portrayed by the Salt Lake area resort Saltair, still standing). After she gets fired from her job as a church organist for playing eerie, minor-chord dirges, she begins to experience strange visions and reality lapses while a ghostly figure (played by Harvey) follows her around. I won’t give away the ending, except to say that after 70 minutes of rudimentary cinematography, the special-effects budget finally kicks in.—Gabe Meline

Pair with: Fondue spread, Chicken in a Biskit and Fiddle Faddle. You could opt for carnival foods like cotton candy and corn dogs, but that’s a bit too easy. Think of what Mary Henry might eat before entering the pavilion. Fondue was one of the biggest food trends of the 1960s, and it’s great if you and your roommates want a communal scare. First released in 1964, Chicken in a Biskit makes a great accompaniment to your cheesy dip. (Beware, vegetarians: these crackers contain dehydrated chicken.) As for Fiddle Faddle, it came out toward the end of the decade, in 1967, as a competitor to Cracker Jack. Granted, this would be a from-the-future snack for Mary, but who doesn’t love popcorn that flies in the air during a scary scene?—U.R.

'It Follows' (2015)

Where to see it: Amazon

Ostensibly, It Follows is about a deadly curse transmitted via sexual intercourse. Once you've caught it, a shape-shifting demon begins its steady shuffle towards you. Once it catches up, it kills you. First reviews touted it as a cautionary tale about STDs, but a far more convincing argument positions the film as a story about sexual assault survivors. After Jay gets “infected” by a boy she trusted, the police prove to be useless, and her mother distant. She then turns for help to her sister and friends—kids with zero parental supervision, who are in no way equipped to deal with the gravity of the situation. No one else can see the demon Jay sees, nor can they relate to her fear of everything and everyone outside of her inner circle. As the horror creeps around and through their quiet suburb, and as the kids seek asylum in places that should be safe—their bedrooms, a playground, the beach—it becomes increasingly clear that there is no respite or sanctuary. The terror in It Follows is slow and creeping, masterfully enhanced by David Robert Mitchell’s always pivoting direction, and a soundtrack from Berkeley’s own Disasterpiece that successfully swings between creeping and jarring. Just like the ghoul in the movie, It Follows lingers long after you expect it to.—Rae Alexandra

Pair with: Roasted garlic dip with creamy garlic shrimp, a blooming onion and black coffee. Much like the curse in the movie, this will ensure that bad breath will follow you long after the credits roll.—U.R.

'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Where to see it: Criterion

For much of your first viewing, the genre of The Wicker Man isn't entirely clear. Murder mystery? Weird '70s musical? Sexy caper? The introduction of Christopher Lee as the mysterious Lord Summerisle is the first clue that this is, in fact, a horror movie—a truth that becomes indisputable after the terrifying twist at the end. The true terror of The Wicker Man, though, lies in the sense of paranoia and impending doom that builds throughout, as Scottish policeman Sergeant Howie tries desperately to unravel the secrets of the island of Summerisle. As he hunts for missing child Rowan Morrison, the remote island’s Pagan inhabitants line up deception after gleeful deception which frustrate and frighten in equal measure. The sharp contrast drawn between the stern and stiff Sergeant Howie and the playful and hedonistic Summerisle inhabitants creates an air of conspiracy so all-encompassing, it feels like slow suffocation. The moment you figure out what the island is really up to, you’ll feel your air supply has been cut off altogether.—Rae Alexandra

Pair with: Doom Cake, fairy butter and soda bread, poached canned peaches and mead. This is the last one, so I’m going to leave you with lots of options. In May Morrison’s shop, make sure you count the number of intentionally creepy cakes. No one ever eats them, but they’re on full display. Make yourself a Doom Cake and pair with some poached canned peaches, which is the only dish offered at the local pub in the movie. Lastly, the whole premise of this movie stems from Scottish pagan traditions, so here’s a simple recipe for fairy butter; you'll need orange-flower water. Wash down this feast with some mead or a good ale.—U.R.

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