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Halloween special: 2021’s essential horror films and frights

Illustration of a clown with eyes shaped like knives and a mouth shaped like a person with their hands out and mouth open
(Illustration by Noma Bar for The Times)
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A Halloween treat for horror fans. Our writers scare up stories on the cult horror film of the year, the 25 most underrated fright films, revelations from Cassandra Peterson about her alter-ego Elvira, the terrors of ageism examined by star Barbara Hershey and director Axelle Carolyn in “The Manor” and a look at how changes in haunted house experiences are shaping the direction of immersive entertainment year-round.

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Expert picks: The 25 best underrated horror movies for Halloween

"Relic," "Dracula's Daughter," "Joy Ride," "Sorority Row," "Sisters," "Possession," "Pet Sematary Two," "Eve's Bayou."
Among the 25 most underrated scary movies for Halloween, clockwise from top left: “Relic,” “Dracula’s Daughter,” “Joy Ride,” “Sorority Row,” “Sisters,” “Possession,” “Pet Sematary Two” and “Eve’s Bayou.”
(IFC Midnight/Getty Images/20th Century Fox/Summit Entertainment/Metrograph Pictures/Paramount/Trimark Pictures)

By DAWN BURKES, SONAIYA KELLEY, JEN YAMATO

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Spooky thrills, gruesome chills, monsters, mayhem and macabre delights — it’s a horror hound’s favorite season. You’ve already revisited the seminal slashers, ghost stories and the usual go-to Halloween classics. But which are the most underappreciated scary movies that keep your favorite horror creators up at night?

We asked 25 horror icons, makers and experts to name the most unsung horror films not to miss, from the forgotten to the obscure to the misunderstood standouts of the genre. Here are their sinister selections, for your viewing terror… (complete with streaming and digital availability information by clicking on each film’s title). READ FULL STORY

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The making of James Wan’s ‘Malignant,’ the cult horror film of the year

A woman sits with a raised bloody hand against a door in a scene from "Malignant."
Annabelle Wallis stars as a woman tormented by visions of a serial killer in the horror thriller “Malignant,” directed by James Wan.
(Ron Batzdorff / Warner Bros. Pictures)

By JEN YAMATO

“Bonkers.” “Deranged.” “Spectacularly, unabashedly, f— nuts.Few recent horror films have drawn raves as delirious as this year’s “Malignant,” the brazenly gory giallo throwback from “Conjuring” director James Wan. It’s earned instant cult status among horror fans with its audacious twists, meme-able moments and memorable movie monster — a long-haired boogeyman named Gabriel with a penchant for murder and surprisingly agile parkour skills.

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Written by Akela Cooper and based on a story by Wan, Cooper and Ingrid Bisu, “Malignant” (now on digital and premium VOD and heading to Blu-ray on Nov. 30) stars Annabelle Wallis as Madison, a woman plagued by grisly visions of a serial killer in a leather trench coat as brutal murders begin piling up around Seattle.

That’s just the start of a twisty plot that escalates to operatic heights of terror, absurdity and intrigue, spiritually returning Wan to the indie genre roots of his early films while pushing the boundaries of modern mainstream horror. Not to mention adding a fiendish new fashion icon to your Halloween costume vision board! If you missed “Malignant,” it’s time to add it to your must-watch list. READ FULL STORY

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‘The Manor’ mines the terrors of ageism for a horror movie. Its star and director explain why

A woman sits on a bed in a scene from "The Manor."
Barbara Hershey stars in the Blumhouse horror “The Manor.”
(Kevin Estrada 2021 Amazon Content Services LLC)

By SONAIYA KELLEY

Axelle Carolyn’s “The Manor” is the rare horror movie to feature a protagonist over the age of 60. The film stars Oscar nominee Barbara Hershey as Judith Albright, a woman who recently suffered a mild stroke and is moved into a nursing home whose residents are being targeted by a supernatural force.

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The gothic horror, written and directed by Carolyn, is one of four films released in the second installment of Amazon Studios and Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” anthology, now streaming on Prime Video.

“It was a really hard script to find a home for because we’re talking about ageism,” said Carolyn. “It’s incredibly difficult to get a movie made if your lead is a woman in her 70s. A lot of places really liked the script but then wanted us to replace it with a mental institution or change it somehow so that we would get away from the subject matter.” READ FULL STORY

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Halloween queen Cassandra Peterson drags Elvira out of the dark

Cassandra Peterson in a witch costume
Cassandra Peterson, better known as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, has written a revealing new memoir.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

By JAMES REED

Cassandra Peterson swears no one will recognize her. She’s out of drag on a recent week night, free of the towering black beehive wig, garish eye makeup and that snug dress with a slit up to here. She has the regal air of a celebrity, but who is she?

“I almost got into an accident as I was looking at your billboard on Beverly trying to read the description,” a stranger says suddenly as he approaches Peterson’s table at a cafe in Larchmont Village. “And I almost hit somebody. Thanks a lot.”

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“Well, I’m very happy you’re OK,” Peterson says, smiling and lowering her sunglasses. “And that you didn’t sue me for that.”

You know her as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, the campy, vampy horror host who premiered on local television — KHJ-TV, Channel 9 — in 1981 with her own TV show, “Elvira’s Movie Macabre.” Everything about Elvira is over the top, designed as a sendup of Valley Girl stereotypes with a gothic aesthetic pitched somewhere between punk rock and “The Addams Family.”

At 70, Peterson is finally lifting the veil on Elvira and putting herself in the spotlight as an L.A. icon with “Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark.” The irresistible tell-all digs deeper than Hollywood dirt to examine Peterson’s circuitous path to stardom and reveal how private she has been. READ FULL STORY

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How 2 L.A. immersive Halloween horror shows keep changing the way we scare

A woman with her mouth open kneels in the dirt in front of a graveyard scene
Gabie Faulkner is “Lily” in the latest immersive theater experience from “Delusion” at Phillips Mansion in Pomona.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

By TODD MARTENS

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There are scares — one courtesy of synchronized puppetry — and there are impressive, in-the-flesh special effects, such as a head and neck that materialize out of a closet and keep growing. There are even haunted instruments and a talking hourglass.

But for all the theatrical wizardry of the latest iteration of “Delusion,” an interactive horror play that pops up most every Halloween season and is held this year in a historic Pomona mansion, the prevailing emotion is one of delight. That, of course, comes from interacting with the show’s cast.

Forget the abundance of jump scares that populate the high-thoroughfare horror mazes of Southern California theme parks and instead revel in the entertainment of watching an actor crawl up from a grave covered in dirt. Or enjoy a surprisingly calm chat with a murdered, bookish husband who still longs for the woman who slaughtered him. READ FULL STORY

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