Editor’s Note: A version of this story first appeared in The Good, the Bad, and the Elegy, a newsletter from the Daily Yonder focused on the best, and worst, in rural media, entertainment, and culture. Every other Thursday, it features reviews, retrospectives, recommendations, and more. You can join the mailing list at the bottom of this article to receive future editions in your inbox.
The way I see it, there are three types of people: people who watch scary movies, people who don’t watch scary movies, and people who watch scary movies only during the month of October. As a relatively new member of that third group, I’ve been well served by the launch of our new podcast project, the Rural Horror Picture Show. Here just in time for Halloween season, the five-part series examines the rural people, places, and themes that have been ever-present throughout the history of the horror genre. As the show’s description tells it, these rural depictions are often flawed, but always interesting.
If you haven’t started listening, now is the perfect time to dive in. From my perspective, it’s worthwhile regardless of your tolerance for horror fare. And if you are like me, looking for some scary movies to watch over the course of the coming days, I’ve gone one step further and gathered up some spooky suggestions for you, taking direct inspiration from the podcast’s exploration of some notable films and trends.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Even if you have never watched a scary movie in your life, there are likely certain tropes that you’ve picked up on thanks to their ubiquity and an unavoidable cultural osmosis that follows. As it concerns rural representation, one of the biggest examples of this would be the killer hillbilly, or the “killbilly.” My colleagues Anya Slepyan and Susannah Broun do a great job digging into this phenomenon in the first two episodes of the Rural Horror Picture Show, putting it in the broader context of “urbanoia,” a term that speaks to the fears city people have about rural places and their inhabitants. “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil,” upends this trope in delightful fashion, and turns a familiar horror movie setup into a comedy of errors. Be advised, the scares may be minimal, but the gore is anything but.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is currently available to watch on Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and a variety of free streaming services including PlutoTV, Roku, and Tubi.
In their discussion of urbanoia, Anya and Susannah also take a look at the inverse, cases of rural fear about the corruptive influence of the culture and inhabitants of the city. A recent example of this is “Pearl.” A prequel to the film “X” — itself another prime example of urbanoia — it tells an origin story of sorts for the main antagonist in that first film. Part of the current wave of indie horror films, “X” and “Pearl” certainly don’t shy away from horror tropes, but they do interrogate them a bit too, bringing more modern sensibilities and self-awareness to the bloody exercise. Whether you just want to partake in the visceral thrills, or you’d like to see where it’s all headed in the trilogy capper “MaXXXine,” set to release in 2024, these are decent options for your festive viewing.
Pearl is available to watch on Showtime or elsewhere via rental or purchase.
The latter episodes of the Rural Horror Picture Show focus on less straightforward threats than slashers and murderers hiding in the tall grass. They delve into the traditions of folk horror as well as deeper fears related to isolation, grief, disillusionment, and despair. Another entry in the modern indie horror genre, “Midsommar” is one of the more interesting films in this batch, for my money. Contrary to what you might expect, it’s exceedingly bright and colorful for most of its duration, but it still manages to elicit a growing sense of dread, discomfort, and foreboding throughout. And it punctuates that with some shocking moments, particularly in its final act.
Midsommar is currently streaming free on Sling TV and is also available for rental or purchase through various platforms.
Though he’s not completely absent from the podcast — what examination of rural horror would be complete without inclusion of “Children of the Corn” — I think we could have mustered an entire episode (or more) on Stephen King alone. So many of his stories draw on rural settings — often his New England home but elsewhere off the beaten path too — and bring forth terrors that descend directly from the tribulations and traumas of a particular place. This is especially true in the case of “It” and its setting of small-town Derry, Maine. I stayed far away from the 1990s TV miniseries when I was a child, but I mustered my courage and enjoyed the more recent adaptations, released in two parts in 2017 and 2019. Unless clowns are a total no-go for you, I think this makes for a good Halloween watch.
I’d be remiss if I wrapped this up without mentioning other spooky recommendations we’ve offered in the past. This time last year, my colleague Jan Pytalski joined me for a conversation on the films of Robert Eggers, which include “The VVitch“ and “The Lighthouse,” two movies that would be right at home in our podcast episodes about folk horror and rural isolation, respectively. I’ve also written about a couple of horror-adjacent sci-fi films, Jordan Peele’s “Nope” and the latest offering from the “Predator” franchise, “Prey.” You might also enjoy Liz Carey’s look back at the low-budget, drive-in classic “The Legend of Boggy Creek” or that time the Ghostbusters got out of NYC and took a detour to rural America.
Add these to the handful of suggestions above, plus all the films Anya and Susannah talk about throughout the Rural Horror Picture Show, and you’ll have no shortage of options for some spooky seasonal viewing this Halloween.
The Rural Horror Picture Show is a production of Rural Remix, a new podcast that spotlights unexpected rural stories and pushes back on stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding rural communities. You can find Rural Remix wherever you get your podcasts. Listen and subscribe today. Rural Remix is co-produced by the Daily Yonder and the Rural Assembly, both programs of the nonprofit Center for Rural Strategies.
This article first appeared in The Good, the Bad, and the Elegy, an email newsletter from the Daily Yonder focused on the best, and worst, in rural media, entertainment, and culture. Every other Thursday, it features reviews, recommendations, retrospectives, and more. Join the mailing list today to have future editions delivered straight to your inbox.