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Fall Horror Movie Preview: A Definitive Guide to the Season’s Macabre Offerings

2ND UPDATE (9/23, 3:23 PDT): An earlier version of this article listed Elle Evans as the actress who plays the title role in The Love Witch. That distinction in fact goes to Samantha Robinson. We regret the error.

UPDATE (9/22, 11:37 PM PDT): The same day this article was published, Paramount pushed back the release date for Rings from October 28 to February 3, 2017.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE:

Fall has traditionally been viewed as the prime time of year for the horror film, but this summer was actually a pretty good one for the genre, with movies like The Conjuring 2, Lights Out, and the surprise smash Don't Breathe doing gangbusters business in the midst of blockbuster season. But the year's not over yet! With September in full swing, there are a number of worthwhile (and, yes, questionable) titles looming on the release calendar over the next three months.

Below, you can find a rundown of 12 upcoming horror films, along with my unfiltered opinions on which titles look worthwhile and which we should remain skeptical of as we head into sweater season.

Blair Witch

Release date: In theaters
Director: Adam Wingard
Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott, Valorie Curry

I know what you're thinking: Blair Witch already came out! But because I neglected to cobble together this preview prior to the film's release, I figured it was only right to include it here given that it is, after all, the first major horror movie of the fall season. To be honest, I was actually a little surprised this one didn't do better over opening weekend. While there was no way it was going to match the blockbuster original, I expected the nostalgia/die-hard audience to turn out in bigger numbers than they did. For my money, Blair Witch is legitimately scary, particularly when it devolves into utter chaos in its final third, and director Adam Wingard brings a claustrophobic feel to the last half hour that had me clutching at my armrests in spite of myself. Is Blair Witch a necessary sequel? Not even close. But taken on its own merits, it's an efficient scare machine that probably deserved a tad more credit than it's been given.

31

Release date: Out now on VOD, October 21 (limited theatrical)
Director: Rob Zombie
Cast: Sheri Moon Zombie, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Meg Foster, Malcolm McDowell

Though he achieved some mainstream success with his two Halloween films in the late '00s, at this point Rob Zombie caters to a more specialized audience. And if you continue to like what he does, you'll probably like 31, a '70s-set horror film about a group of carnival workers who are kidnapped and forced to play a deadly game by a group of sadistic, powder-wigged lunatics. Gorehounds, get your fill here. This one's already out on streaming platforms.

The Greasy Strangler

Release date: October 7
Director: Jim Hosking
Cast: Michael St. Michaels, Sky Elobar, Elizabeth De Razzo

What is The Greasy Strangler? Only one of the most repulsive-sounding horror films in many a moon, with Michael St. Michaels and Sky Elobar playing father-son “Disco walking tour” operators who compete for the love of a beautiful woman, all while the oily title serial killer begins stalking the streets. Called “a brutal, stomach-churning cinematic endurance test” by one critic, the trailer for this one alone is nausea-inducing. But if you're into John Waters-style indie gross outs, this may be right up your alley.

Under the Shadow

Release date: October 7
Director: Babak Anvari
Cast: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Ray Haratian

Chosen as the official British entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2017 Oscars, Under the Shadow won raves at this year's Sundance and currently boasts a perfect 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Starring Narges Rashidi and Avin Manshadi as a mother and daughter struggling to survive in post-revolution Iran in the 1980s — only to be haunted by a “mysterious evil” in their own home — the feature directorial debut of Babak Anvari promises smart allegorical frights for those not deathly afraid of subtitles.

Fear, Inc.

Release date: October 21 (VOD)
Director: Vincent Masciale
Cast: Lucas Neff, Caitlin Stasey, Chris Marquette, Stephanie Drake, Abigail Breslin

Fear, Inc. is a feature-length adaptation of Masciale's short of the same name, about a group of friends who sign up with a company that promises to “bring their customer's greatest fears to life.” First mistake! The trailer looks like a lot of fun thanks to a comedic bent a la Scream and Cabin in the Woods, though given how many of these “meta” horror films we've seen over the past two decades, Fear, Inc. has its work cut out for it in bringing something new to the horror-comedy sub-genre. Look for a brief turn by 2007 Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin, who is most certainly not long for this particular world.

Ouija: Origin of Evil

Release date: October 21
Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, Lulu Wilson, Henry Thomas

Universal and Blumhouse made a concerted effort to correct the wrongs of 2014's widely-reviled Ouija by hiring Oculus and Hush helmer Mike Flanagan to direct this follow-up, and the first trailers for the 1960s-set prequel look appropriately spooky. Flanagan won the respect of genre fans and critics alike with his last couple of features, and if he can deliver here I have no doubt he'll hit the big leagues, a la James Wan, who steadily broke into blockbuster filmmaking on the strength of genre efforts like Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring.

The Love Witch

Release date: October 28
Director: Anna Biller
Cast: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise

One look at the trailer for The Love Witch and it's clear we're in fertile “cult film” territory here. Director Anna Biller shot the film — about a witch (Samantha Robinson) who uses magic to seduce men, only for things to of course go horribly wrong — in the style of a 1960s Technicolor movie, and it functions as a love letter/knowing tribute to the “horror sexploitation” films of the '60 and '70s. This one certainly won't be to all tastes, but for lovers of retro kitsch (with an arch sensibility), it promises to be a delight. The critics already love it, by the way.

Rings

Release date: October 28 February 3, 2017
Director: F. Javier Gutierrez
Cast: Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Aimee Teegarden, Vincent d'Onofrio

Fans have been waiting a long time for Rings, a follow-up to/reboot of the popular “J-Horror” series about a cursed videotape. I'm not at all sold on the first trailer, which has the aesthetic of a Michael Bay-produced horror flick of the — yes — Ouija variety, and its promise to deepen the already-convoluted mythology of the first two films at this point sounds more like a threat. That said, the promise of “Samara on a plane” is, on reflection, not a totally un-fun idea. (As noted above, Rings has now been pushed back to February 3, 2017.)

Shut In

Release date: November 11
Director: Farren Blackburn
Cast: Naomi Watts, Oliver Platt, Charlie Heaton, David Cubitt, Jacob Tremblay

In Shut In, Naomi Watts stars as an isolated, recently-widowed child psychologist caring for a paralyzed son who takes in a young boy during a winter storm and then…weird things start happening. There's an unshakable familiarity to the film's trailer, which plays like leftover bits from other recent supernatural horror flicks, so I'm guessing this one could be a dud. Blackburn is a well-respected TV director with one other feature credit to his name (Hammer of the Gods), but until I hear something different, I'm gonna remain skeptical for now.

Evolution

Release date: November 25
Director: Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Cast: Max Brebant, Roxane Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier

Dropping into the foreign-arthouse-horror space that recently proved so fruitful for Goodnight Mommy, Evolution is the third feature from French director Lucile Hadzihalilovic, who last helmed the 2004 boarding school mystery-drama Innocence featuring a pre-stardom Marion Cotillard. As I wrote previously, it's a great trailer, and the film's setting — a remote island that consists only of women and young boys, the former of whom conduct strange rituals on the beach at night and the latter of whom are “subjected to a mysterious medical treatment” — is intriguing in its mythical outlines.

The Eyes of My Mother

Release date: December 2
Director: Nicolas Pesce
Cast: Diana Agostini, Olivia Bond, Will Brill, Joey Curtis-Green

The trailer for The Eyes of My Mother just dropped today, and it looks like a seriously twisted ride. Described by Variety as “reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock meets Roald Dahl meets the Saw franchise,” the black-and-white film is so intense that several patrons at its Sundance debut reportedly fled the theater. Which is some kind of an endorsement.

Keep Watching

Release date: December 2
Director: Sean Carter
Cast: Bella Thorne, Ioan Gruffudd, Natalie Martinez, Chandler Riggs, Leigh Whannell

When it comes to Keep Watching, there's not really a lot to go on right now. We know the film stars Bella Thorne (Scream: The Series, The Duff) as a teenage girl who's imprisoned by a trio of psychopaths in her home along with the rest of her family, and we know it was directed by editor/first-time feature-length filmmaker Sean Carter. But beyond that, it's a little hard to know what to expect here given that we haven't seen a trailer and the folks responsible don't have many credits to judge from. Still, given that Keep Watching is one of only two horror films set to hit theaters in December, I'm hoping it gives horror fans a good excuse to hit the local multiplex during the holiday season.

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