Trump’s trials. Israel and Gaza. The House speaker debacle. Another Disneyland price hike. If only there was something else to scare us … or at least distract us from the true terrors of 2023.
The goal of this list is to help you find that sweet, spooky spot among the ghoulish obstacle course of television programming in October. Many of the releases mentioned below are available now to stream, or you’ll be able to watch them in their entirety by the time Halloween rolls around. There is one docuseries mentioned that does not come out until early November, but given the waning number of new shows arriving due to the writer’s and actor’s strikes, you’ll thank me for this creepy gem about a mom-and-pop cult disguised as an online dating site.
Or you can always watch the news.
‘The Fall of the House of Usher’
Streaming on Netflix
Think of this fantastically creepy offering as “Succession” with metaphysical twists, a wicked sense of comeuppance and blood. Lots of blood. This eight-part Netflix series from Mike Flanagan (“The Haunting of Hill House,” “Midnight Mass“) is loosely inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s short story of the same name, but its eat-the-rich themes are evergreen. It follows the obscenely wealthy and corrupt founders of a pharmaceutical company, conniving twins Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood) and Madeline Usher (Mary McDonnell). We meet them just as Roderick’s greedy and loathsome offspring are dying one by one in barbaric and gruesome fashions. Could it be payback for Fortunato Pharmaceutical pushing addictive painkillers on an unsuspecting public, or is there something even more sinister behind the success of the company and its CEOs? Look toward a mysterious woman from their past, Verna (Carla Gugino). She’s everywhere, all the time, and her name happens to be an anagram of the word raven.
‘Shining Vale,’ Season 2
New episodes air Fridays and stream on Starz
Is Pat having a mental breakdown or is there really a ghost in her new house that’s telling her to kill? Starz’s half-hour dark comedy “Shining Vale” has fun with every horror trope imaginable while exploring mental illness through the lens of a haunting. “Women are roughly twice as likely as men to suffer from depression,” says the series in an opening disclaimer. “Women are also roughly twice as likely to be possessed by a demon.” Enter Patricia Phelps (Courteney Cox), a bestselling novelist whose follow-up book is way past overdue. Suffering from severe writer’s block and a stale marriage, she and her family move from New York City to the quaint suburb of Shining Vale where she hopes to finish her manuscript and mend her relationship with her emotionally stunted husband, Terry (Greg Kinnear). But the old mansion and it’s resident ghoul (Mira Sorvino) have other plans. Now in its second season, this sharp-witted series from Jeff Astrof and Sharon Horgan reimagines the many tales of male authors suffering for their craft (“The Shining,” “Misery”) and puts a harried mom and her host of medications at the center of the story.
‘The Enfield Poltergeist’
Premiering Friday on Apple TV+
When America had “The Amityville Horror,” England had the Enfield hauntings. A single mum, Peggy Hodgson, and her four kids were terrified by the violent activity in their modest council house on a London estate, and their story would later become the basis of “The Conjuring 2.” But this docuseries from Apple TV+ takes a closer look at the terrifying yet suspicious events that made headlines by mining the 200-plus hours of audio logs made in the home between 1977 and 1978, and comparing old and new interviews with witnesses who claimed to have been rattled by shaking walls, banging doors and flying chairs. This four-part series from MetFilm and Concordia Studios goes as far as to re-create the Hodgson family home on a soundstage, replete with drab beige wallpaper and aging mid-century appliances. As actors lip-sync along to the actual recordings, cracks appear in the story, and that’s where things gets interesting. They scrutinize the late paranormal investigator Maurice Grosse’s findings, calling into question what really caused all the activity that made Hodgson an overnight celebrity in the British press.
‘The Devil on Trial’
Streaming on Netflix
Like “The Enfield Poltergeist,” this documentary looks at the conflicting stories behind a boy’s alleged demonic possession in 1980’s Brookfield, Conn. — a case that would mark the first time in U.S. judicial history that a demonic possession was used as a defense in a murder trial. Interviewed here are the folks who actually lived to tell the tale, including David Glatzel, who was 11 years old at the time his family claimed he was possessed (he’s now in his 50s), and his siblings. Together they recall when their brother’s erratic behavior caught the attention of celebrity demonologists and paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, known for their inquiry into the alleged haunting in Amityville, New York, and how the chaos in their home led to a homicide that some still blame on a hellish entity. But their conflicting narratives shed new light on the case, and the validity of the first devil-made-me-do-it defense.
Streaming on Netflix
It’s 2023 when Det. Shahara Hasan (Amaka Okafor) finds a dead body in London’s Longharvest Lane. The corpse is an unidentified naked man with a gouged out eye and a curious tattoo. Det. Alfred Hillinghead (Kyle Soller) finds the same body, in the same spot, in 1890. So does Det. Charles Whiteman (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) in 1941, and Det. Iris Maplewood (Shira Haas) in 2053. They eventually learn that their John Doe’s death is caused by someone traveling backward in time, but why? I’d love to drop a spoiler about this British crime thriller right here, but I won’t because I still don’t fully understand what’s happening in the story that’s based on the DC Vertigo graphic novel of the same name, but that hasn’t stopped me from immersing myself in it’s unnerving and ominous world. But expect gruesome autopsy scenes from various time periods because bone-snapping gore never goes out of fashion.
‘Living for the Dead’
Streaming on Hulu
Finally, a ghost hunting show with something entertaining to lean on when uncooperative apparitions don’t materialize. Hulu’s half-hour reality show follows five queer ghost hunters — a tarot card reader, a witch, a tech guru, a psychic and a paranormal researcher — as they launch investiGAYtions into paranormal activity at various haunted stops across the county. From executive producer Kristen Stewart, who narrates, and the creators of “Queer Eye,” this colorful spin on an old concept aims to “push past boundaries to bring acceptance to the misunderstood — living and dead,” while looking fabulous in the process.
’30 Coins,’ Season 2
New episodes stream Mondays on Max
Now in it’s second season, this biblical, terrifying series from Spain follows exiled priest Father Vergara (Eduard Fernández), an exorcist and ex-convict trying to escape his past in the small Spanish village of Pedraza. But the townfolk begin experiencing supernatural activity of a hellish nature, and it’s linked to an antique coin in Father Vergara’s possession. The silver piece is one of those paid to Judas Iscariot for betraying Jesus and handing him over to the Romans, so suffice to say it’s a bad penny. Enter demons, Vatican conspiracies, animals acting strangely and doomsday deadlines. This season, the battered population of Pedraza faces a new enemy played by Paul Giamatti. Director Álex de la Iglesia describes the villain as “someone so perverse that even the devil fears him.”
‘American Horror Stories,’ Season 3
Premiered Thursday on FX on Hulu
Wait, didn’t “American Horror Story” just return for it’s 12th season last month? It did, but this is a spinoff of the Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck hit anthology series, its differences connoted in the last few letters of the shows’ titles. The Halloween special offers a different tale of horror with each new episode, and there are four here to fear. A trailer for the episode titled “Tapeworm,” featuring actor and former “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Lisa Rinna, explained what to expect in this splashy logline: “An up-and-coming model will stop at nothing in her hunger for success.” It’s probably best not to snack while watching.
‘Escaping Twin Flames’
Premiering Nov. 3 on Netflix
OK, so maybe this three-part documentary drops after Halloween, but a good cult story is evergreen. This series from director Cecilia Peck goes behind the scenes of a controversial dating site that attracts an online community of mostly single women by guaranteeing it will help them find, and keep, their true soulmate, aka their “twin flame.” The site is run by the husband-and-wife team Jeff and Shaleia Ayan, and the series features the firsthand accounts of women who allege abusive indoctrination methods, encouragement to stalk their desired flame, and manipulative tactics that made them doubt their very gender and sexual identities. The Twin Flames Universe is still actively recruiting new members, so here’s a chance to witness the horror without paying thousands of dollars in class fees to the Ayans.
Bonus watching: Suspenseful series and Hammer Films
In case you missed these September releases, “The Changeling” (Apple TV+) and “The Other Black Girl” (Hulu) spin the the unfortunate realities of postpartum depression and racism in the workplace (respectively) into suspenseful tales of gas lighting terror.
And if you are in the mood for a movie instead, try streaming at least one classic Hammer horror film before handing candy out on the 31st. “Dracula A.D, 1972,” “The Mummy” and “The Devil Rides Out” are just a few of the gothic, often groovy gems that were made by the British Hammer production house throughout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. You’ll find them on Max, Amazon Prime and lots of other platforms where Anglophiles appreciate the sinister charisma of Christopher Lee and the gentlemanly ghoulishness of Peter Cushing.
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