Want horror for Halloween? Critics pick music, books, games and more to help

From a creepy Hollywood comedy to trick or treat for gamers, Guardian critics suggest their cultural classics

Film

Forget slasher films – the essential Halloween movie is Frank Capra’s 1944 comedy Arsenic and Old Lace, which takes place one Halloween night in Brooklyn in a creepy old house next to a churchyard. Cary Grant plays Mortimer Brewster, a drama critic who discovers on his wedding day that his sweet old maiden aunts are, in fact, serial killers with bodies piled up in their cellar. Then his long-lost brother turns up – also a serial killer, with the same body count as the old ladies, and who, to evade capture, has had plastic surgery, making him resemble the horror icon Boris Karloff (played by Raymond Massey – Karloff performed the role in the Broadway version). It has to be the most meta event in Hollywood history. A rather delirious 31 October. Peter Bradshaw

***

Television

American Horror Story: Double Feature.
Something wicked ... American Horror Story: Double Feature. Photograph: FX

Nothing is as scary as familiarity, slightly twisted. American Horror Story: Double Feature (Disney+), Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s latest in their anthology series embraces that principle, mining horror from generic 20th-century American mythologies via separate but gradually intertwining storylines. The first part concerns an author battling writer’s block who attempts to free his muse, while staying in a seaside town where a picture-perfect veneer conceals unspeakable wickedness. The second dives into a world of aliens and US politics – surely the most terrifying realm of all. The great thing about drawing on events that have been marinated in conspiracy theories is that they have already taken on an almost fictive quality: this year’s Halloween fright is knowing the horror is all around you. Phil Harrison

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Games

Costume Quest.
Child fiendly … Costume Quest. Photograph: Midnight City

There are hundreds of good horror games out there, and you can watch amped-up teenagers scream over any one of them on YouTube, but none of those remind you what it was like to be a kid at Halloween. Costume Quest stars a gang of wee kids donning costumes to fight spooks, collecting candy and rescuing a kidnapped sibling. Keza MacDonald

***

Books

Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House

Is there a more deliciously terrifying moment in all of literature than this, in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House? Eleanor is lying in bed in the “black darkness”, clutching her friend Theodora’s hand as they listen to mad, wild cries of panic in the night – and then the light comes on, and Eleanor sees Theodora across the room: “Good God – whose hand was I holding?” This 1959 novel is the ultimate ghost story, never bettered, telling of anthropologist Dr Montague as he investigates a supposedly haunted house – “somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair” – along with three recruits. As Jackson shows with chilling brilliance, the people can be as haunted as the house. Alison Flood

***

Music

She wolf … Shakira.
Hungry like the wolf … Shakira. Photograph: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

Although it wasn’t specifically written for Halloween, She Wolf sees Colombian legend Shakira thriving and writhing on immaculate synthpop form, her vocals dancing with the spirit of all great accidentally spooky tunes – campy, vaguely ridiculous, but undisputedly banging in the right open-minded party setting. Has the word “lycanthropy” ever been used better in a pop song? Has it ever been used at all? On the theme of great genre-adjacent Halloween hits, this dedication to one’s inner wild side can be filed next to Nelly Furtado’s Maneater and Kelis’s Trick Me – emblems of a time when pop production was fully beginning to embrace the fun of all things dark. Jenessa Williams

Contributors

Peter Bradshaw, Alison Flood, Keza MacDonald, Phil Harrison and Jenessa Williams

The GuardianTramp

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