Previously: What To Do On Halloween, 2017 Edition.
Well, looks like we’re making these “What To Do On Halloween” posts an annual tradition, because hey, guess what? Here comes What Not To Do On Halloween: 2018 Edition. Just, y’know, in case you’re still struggling with what to do on the night itself. Parties and trick-o-treating aren’t for everyone, after all; some of us would rather do something a little further off the beaten path.
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This year, we’re following the same format as last year; divided up into five sections, you’ll find below plenty of ideas for Playing Something, Reading Something, Listening To Something, Watching Something, or Doing Something. Some of the activities are on the tamer side of things; others are… shall we say, a bit riskier. (Note, though, that “risk” is sometimes relative.) Some of them you can do at a moment’s notice, while others will take more preparation. (That gives you time to back out if you decide it’s Not For You.) All of them, though, will certainly keep you occupied on Halloween night — and for many nights beyond, as well.
You don’t have to dress up in a costume to fully embrace the spooky spirit of the holiday. Heck, you don’t even have to leave your house if you don’t want to — although if you do leave your house, you can go somewhere others might not think to go.
What will you do on All Hallow’s Eve this year?
If video games are your jam, a few previous suggestions can be found here and here; additionally, you can find more than 20 creepy RPG Maker games here, and around 30 cheap or free, non-RPG Maker games here.
Also, add the following titles to your list of options:
Baldi’s Basics in Education and Learning. Created in just two weeks for the 2018 Meta Game Jam, this spoof of ‘80s- and ‘90s-era edutainment computer games became the breakout indie hit of the summer — likely due to how intensely weird it is. The gameplay is the style made famous by Slender: The Eight Pages — your goal is run around your school, of which the titular Baldi is the principal, gathering seven notebooks for a friend who forgot them—but it’s, uh… well, let’s just say there’s a lot more to it than that. (Available on: itch.io.)
Welcome to the Game and Welcome to the Game II. The point of Welcome to the Game is simple: Browse the Deep Web, solving puzzles as you go, to uncover a series of hashes that will grant you access to the video feed of a “Red Room.” What’s a Red Room, you ask? Well, if you know what a snuff film is, then… well, think of it as a snuff film for the internet age.
It’s sort of hard to describe exactly what kind of game the Welcome to the Game series is; it’s part hacking simulator, yes, but you also have to look up from your computer periodically and perform certain actions to protect yourself from intruders. Also, while the first game in the series just sees you trying to get access to a Red Room, the second has you doing it for a reason: You’re trying to save someone who has been caught and locked inside a Red Room — just, y’know, FYI. (You’ll want to play the first one before you play the second, though. Just… trust me on this.) They’re both really hard, so consider yourself warned. (Available on: Steam, here and here.)
Presentable Liberty. You’ve been locked in a prison cell. You don’t know for what crime. And you have nothing to occupy your time… until people begin sliding letters under your door. What on earth is going on outside your cell? (Available on: GameJolt.)
September 1999. This one is less a full game and more a brief — very brief; I’m talking about five minutes — experience. It’s sort of like what P.T. might have been like if it had been framed as a found footage horror game — and when I say “found footage,” I do mean that: Your view of the entire game is through a ‘90s camcorder. The graphics do terrific job recreating that look; it’s almost photorealistic. A nice little diversion if you’re just looking for something to fill a few minutes. (Available on: itch.io.)
What Remains of Edith Finch. From Giant Sparrow, who previously brought us The Unfinished Swan, What Remains of Edith Finch sees players assume the role of the aforementioned Edith as she explores her family’s former home, trying to figure out what terrible fate befell each of her family members. The Finch family is seemingly cursed, you see; every single one of them met an unfortunate — and often unexplained — end. The game is beautiful and sad and well worth an evening of your time. Pro tip: If you loved The Unfinished Swan, What Remains of Edith Finch does have a few connections to it. (Available on: PS4, Xbox One, Steam.)
Little Nightmares. In this puzzle platformer, guide a small child known as Six through a nightmare world known as the Maw to escape to freedom. If you enjoyed Limbo and Inside, you’ll probably dig this one. (Available on: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Steam.)
Year Walk. Year Walk is based on the ancient Swedish tradition of Årsgång — a form of divination which, honestly, sounds not unlike a Most Dangerous Game. I wasn’t expecting to be as unsettled by this little puzzle game as I was; it’s wonderfully atmospheric and deliciously spooky. If you like The Room or Rusty Lake series, this one is worth checking out. (Available on: iOS, Steam.)
Paranoiac. An RPG Maker (well, Wolf RPG Editor, but same difference) game by Uri, maker of the Strange Men series. After her aunt passes away, Miki Takamura moves into her house — only to find some incredibly odd things going on there at night. (Available on: PC. An English translation by vrperson is available here.)
Visage. This one has been in development for years; it’s meant to be a spiritual successor to P.T. I haven’t played it myself yet, but word on the street is that it’s good — just bear in mind that it’s an Early Access title right now. (Available on: Steam.)
The Elevator Ritual VR. I haven’t played this one myself — it’s for the Oculus Rift only, and alas, the only VR unit I have access to is an HTC Vive (which, granted, is pretty great, too, so, y’know, you win some, you lose some.) In any event, this game is a simulation of the Elevator Game — so if you’re curious about the ritual but don’t want to risk playing it in real life, you might give this one a shot. (Available on: Oculus Rift.)
Speaking of the Elevator Game, Halloween is an excellent time of year (or perhaps ill-advised time of year — depends on your perspective) to dive into a Most Dangerous Game or two. A Small Radio, the Halloween Mirror, and the Halloween Summoning Ritual all need to be played on or around Halloween to work, so you might consider gathering a friend or two and attempting one of those options; you could also go for something with lower stakes, though, because… well, sometimes it’s best not to play with forces you don’t fully understand. The full archive of Most Dangerous Games can be found here, if you need it.
Everything by Victor LaValle. I picked up The Changeling earlier this year and suddenly discovered that I had a new favorite book — one of those books I’ll undoubtedly read and re-read and read all over again countless times. I’m working my way through The Devil in Silver now, and although it’s not grabbing me quite as much as The Changeling did, that’s purely because I have a weakness for dark fairy tales. It’s still excellent, though; beyond the beautiful prose, what both of these novels do so well is examine very real and horrific societal issues using horror as a lens. The best part? LaValle has two other novels and a collection of interconnected short stories I haven’t opened yet. There is a profound joy to be had in knowing that you have many works of an author you love still waiting for you to read.
Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix. A ghost story set inside an IKEA knock-off. As I remarked on Twitter once: Come for the funny premise; stay for the depth of the social commentary, and also the creative repurposing of affordable Scandinavian-inspired furniture. Hendrix’s other two novels, My Best Friend’s Exorcism and We Sold Our Souls, also look worth checking out; he’s also got a non-fiction book about ‘70s and ‘80s horror fiction called Paperbacks From Hell I can’t wait to dive into.
Strange Weather by Joe Hill. My favorite Joe Hill book since Horns. I love Hill’s novels, but I actually think he’s at his best when he’s writing shorter fiction; 20th Century Ghosts is sublime, for example, and Strange Weather, a collection of four novellas, blew me away. There’s not an ounce of dead wood in any of Strange Weather’s tales, all of which deal with how ordinary humans might react to extraordinary things.
The Visitors by Catherine Burns. The Visitors is more of a thriller than straight-up horror, but its premise is pretty horrific all the same: A timid single woman in her 50s who still shares the house she grew up in with her older brother finds that her brother has a few, uh, secrets tucked away in the basement.
They’re not nice secrets.
He’s not a nice man.
I’ll just… let you go on from there yourself.
Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl. From the author of Night Film, which I loved. Neverworld Wake focuses on Beatrice, who reluctantly reunites with her former friends from the prep school she attended for high school — only for all of them to be thrown into an impossible situation: Frozen in the moment before a deadly accident, they must all agree who should be allowed to escape… or keep reliving the day before the accident over and over again for eternity. (Kind of like Groundhog Day, but much, much worse.) What’s more, the decision is tied up with a mystery that defined their school days — a mystery not everyone wants to solve. If you count The Secret History among your favorites, try picking this one up.
The 1990s Teen Horror Cycle: Final Girls and a New Hollywood Formula by Alexandra West. I was a teen who loved horror movies in the ‘90s. I am now an adult who loves both horror movies and Alex West’s work. It was a foregone conclusion that I would pick up The 1990s Teen Horror Cycle as soon as it dropped — and I do not regret it one bit. Covering both the major hits of the decade and some of the lesser-known films that are still notable when considered as parts of the whole, the book’s analysis is thoughtful and thorough, positioning the cycle within its larger cultural context and raising plenty of points I hadn’t even considered before.
This one is academic in tone, so if that’s not your jam, you may not enjoy it as much as I did — but if you either don’t mind that style or actively dig it, the book is well worth your time.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. Crime writer Michelle McNamara wasn’t able to finish her work on her own; she passed away in 2016 at the far-too-young age of 46. Crime writer Paul Haynes, investigative journalist Billy Jensen, and McNamara’s husband, Patton Oswalt, worked together to finish the work McNamara had left behind—and the result is truly an experience. It’s not just a standard true crime book; it’s also sort of a memoir (hence the book’s subtitle: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer). Reading it knowing that McNamara would never completed it herself adds a whole other layer to it, as well.
Two months after the book was finally published in 2018, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department arrested Joseph James DeAngelo in connection with the crimes attributed to the Golden State Killer, also known as the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker. DeAnglo currently faces 13 counts of murder and 13 counts of kidnapping to commit a robbery, according to the Los Angeles Times, and will stand trial in Sacramento County.
Listen To Something
Astonishing Legends. Although they’re very different in format, I like Astonishing Legends for the same reason I like Lore: They’re both incredibly well-researched shows about a huge variety of weird stuff, from the paranormal to the actually-quite-normal-but-still-terrifying. I learned about Yvette Vickers for the first time from this podcast’s very first episode, for example — the weird thing not necessarily being that she died alone at home and got mummified by her proximity to a running space heater, but rather that this happened and no one knew she had died for a year. There are well over 100 episodes in the archive, including the recent multi-part series on the Black Monk of Pontefract, so that should keep you busy for a while.
Also, full disclosure: I realized after I started listening to the podcast and writing this piece that the Astonishing Legends blog’s piece about the Kiyotaki Tunnel links to TGIMM’s piece on that very subject, so, hey, thanks for the link, fellas!
Ghosts in the Burbs. Liz Sower’s podcast documenting the many ghost stories and strange goings-on her neighbors in the town of Wellesley, Mass. tell her about is delightful for many reasons, but for me, a lot of it is personal: I grew up not far from Wellesley (my hometown is even name-dropped in one episode), so this weird, privileged world of Massachusetts suburbia is very familiar to me. As such, the contrast of what I know about that world and what I know about, y’know, ghosts and stuff positively tickles me. There are a lot of podcasts out there that tell ghost stories, but none of them are quite as unique as Ghosts in the Burbs.
Cabinet of Curiosities. From Lore’s Aaron Mahnke, this short-and-sweet podcast is full of strange and wonderful oddities presented in a bite-sized format (each episode is only around 10 minutes in length).
For the curious, a cabinet of curiosities, also known as a wunderkammer, is a collection — sometimes held in an actual cabinet, although sometimes in a space as large as an actual room — of… well, curiosities: Natural, geological, archaeological, religious, and/or historical items are all on the menu. You might find anything from a religious relic to a narwhal horn in one. They were popular in Europe during the Renaissance; they took a little longer to get to the United States, however, not really taking off until the 1800s.
You might think of Mahnke’s podcast as a sort of wunderkammer of knowledge and stories.
The Last Movie. Released by the Public Radio Alliance — the folks behind Tanis et al — back in March, The Last Movie saw Tanis investigators Nic Silver and MK looking into something tangentially related to their previous research: A film that was said to drive people mad simply by watching it. The story of the podcast itself wasn’t super unique; as such, I wish it had something a little more creative with the premise. It’s still an entertaining listen, though, especially if you’re into any of Pacific Northwest Stories/the Public Radio Alliance’s other projects.
The Adventures of Memento Mori. This one is actually still on my To Listen list, but I hear good things about it; it describes itself as “a podcast exploring the science, mysticism, culture and mystery of death.” Sounds like it might worthwhile for anyone who’s into Caitlin Doughty’s work.
Project Archivist. Shameless plug: I went on Project Archivist in my capacity as TGIMM’s resident spookperson over the summer, so if you want to hear me chat about all sorts of weird urban legends and internet mysteries, you can do that right here. But don’t just stop at that one episode; do check out everything else hosts Roejen and Lobo have up their sleeves over there. Here’s a good one. This one, too. The nearly 300 episodes in the archive should give you a heck of a lot of listening material
Tons of my previous suggestions are still available, although they may have changed venues — for example, The Innkeepers, The Canal, and Hell House LLC are all on Shudder as well as Amazon Prime now; Hell House LLC also has a sequel that’s exclusively at Shudder. The Witch is now on Netflix instead of Prime, while The House at the End of Time is now on Prime instead of Netflix. Also, after having been absent from streaming platforms for quite some time, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is on Shudder and Amazon Prime now. This movie is fantastic and I highly recommend you watch it as soon as possible.
Some new picks for each platform (plus a brand-new Shudder section) can be found below; one-to-two-sentence summaries and links provided:
Raw. Vegetarian veterinary student begins craving the taste of human flesh. Not for the squeamish.
The Ritual. Based on the novel of the same name. Four friends attempt to memorialize another friend who was killed in a convenience store robbery the previous year by going hiking in Sweden. When they decide to cut through the woods, things go south real fast. Lots of familiar faces for those who are up on their British actors.
Creep and Creep 2. Or, why you don’t take jobs from Craigslist that instruct you to go deep into the woods to meet a stranger with a camera. I actually think Creep 2 is a better film — you do need to have seen the original Creep to understand it, but I felt like it subverted tropes and played with our expectation much more effectively.
A Dark Song. Looks like it’s about revenge and the occult; is actually about grief. (Not unlike The Ritual.) Devastating to watch.
The Haunting of Hill House. It’s as good as everyone says it is. I love that it’s more of a riff on the story than a direct page-to-screen translation; since the 1963 is so good, we didn’t need to see another super faithful adaptation. This version takes all the pieces of the original, scrambles them up, and does something new with them — and the result is spectacular. There’s some particularly astonishing writing in the very last episode, although it’s excellent throughout.
On Amazon Prime:
What We Do in the Shadows. Taika Waititi, pre-Thor: Ragnorak, plus Jemaine Clement. New Zealand mockumentary about vampires living in Wellington. Friggin’ hilarious.
The Monster. Alcoholic, abusive mother and daughter who has had enough of it face off with a monster while stranded in the woods after a crash. Kind of a “monstrous parent” film. Might be in your wheelhouse if you liked The Babadook or Good Night, Mommy.
Creepy. Not to be confused with Creep. Japanese thriller. Ex-criminal profiler and his wife move into a new house; they find their neighbor unsettling; then, one day, the neighbor’s daughter manages to communicate to them that said neighbor is not her father. So: Who is he and what is he doing in their house?
Absentia. A woman declares her husband dead in absentia after he’s been missing for a number of years. Also, there is something very strange about the tunnel down the road from her house.
Noroi: The Curse. A found footage film documenting the final case of paranormal investigator Masafumi Kobayashi prior to his and his wife’s untimely and unexplained death. Possibly my favorite J-horror film ever.
Don’t Look Up. Another J-horror flick (I’ve been watching a lot of them recently). An early film from Hideo Nakata of Ring (Ringu) fame. Not perfect, but I do love a good cursed/haunted television studio tale.
Starry Eyes. Not exactly enjoyable to watch, but an effective metaphor for how far artists might have to go in order to achieve their full potential — and a question of where the line between “far enough” and “too far” is. Might pair interestingly with Black Swan; the ideas they tackle are similar.
Ghostwatch. British viral legend — the early ‘90s television equivalent of the Mercury Theatre Company’s War of the Worlds broadcast. A little date, but lots of fun — and people totally thought it was real at the time.
The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs. Full marathon of Tourist Trap, Sleepaway Camp, Rabid, The Prowler, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-rama, Daughters of Darkness, Blood Feast, Basket Case, Re-Animator, Demons, The Legend of Boggy Creek, Hellraiser, and Pieces hosted by Joe Bob Briggs (John Irving Bloom).
On YouTube, etc.:
Hi I’m Mary Mary. Woman wakes up in house, has no recollection of how she got there or who she really is. No one else is around — except for the monsters that come out at night. The story is ongoing, but you can read my analysis up through video 11 here.
Petscop. What mysteries are hidden in this allegedly unfinished Playstation game from 1997? Really, really nasty ones. My analysis from 2017 is out of date now, but I still think the whole thing fits in interestingly with the wider evolution of video game creepypastas.
Soursalt. Soursalt confuses me, but it’s also weirdly fascinating. See if you can figure it out.
Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared. Like you Claymation with a side of existential dread? Check this one out. Bonus: After lying dormant for six years, a new video titled “Wakey, Wakey” popped on Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared’s YouTube channel in September teasing a new season.
Old Travel Channel specials on haunted attractions and actually haunted places, circa the mid-2000s. My love letter to this era of the Travel Channel’s October programming includes plenty of links on where to find this stuff.
Go to a strange landmark. In New Jersey? Drive by 112 — excuse me, 108 — Ocean Avenue. In the DC area? Walk (don’t fall) down the Exorcist Steps. Not too far away from Worcester (the UK one, not the Massachusetts one)? See if you can figure out who put Bella in the Wych elm. You’ve almost certainly got at least one weird landmark somewhere near where you live. Find out what it is and go see it.
Visit a haunted doll. Robert’s in Florida. Annabelle is in Connecticut. Mandy’s in British Columbia. And now we’ve got this fella named Charley in Massachusetts. You could also log onto eBay and have your very own haunted doll delivered to you by mail… but that may not be such a wise thing to do.
Surf some bizarre websites. Find out if anyone died in your house at Died In House. Give Notpron or op011 your best shot. Try to unravel the mystery of Zombocom. Wander around the still-functional Heaven’s Gate website. Try to visit the Blind Maiden website… or don’t.
Have fun, kids. And hey — happy Halloween.