Spooky houses are the setting for these scary movies. Shutterstock.com/Special View

With Halloween looming as just another 2020 milestone about to be rendered an irrelevant anticlimax by the dangerously infectious wet blanket of a worldwide pandemic, one might imagine scares are in short supply this year. (I’m speaking of the midnight movie showings and spooky costume party variety scares, and not the deadly disease and monumental elections for the fate of democracy kind.)

Well, assuming you’re being smart and responsible this Halloween and munching your way through a bulk bag of fun-size Heath Bars in front of your TV, there’s no reason you can’t get entertainingly terrified all by your lonesome. As these stay-at-home Halloween movie picks show, being a homebody isn’t any guarantee that you’re not in real, goosebumps-on-the-back-of-your-neck peril. 

“Housebound”

See? This cheeky (but enjoyably scary) 2014 New Zealand horror film shows that being stuck at home is a whole different kind of horror. Especially if, because of a young lifetime of petty chicanery, you’re strapped to a police ankle monitor and required to life with your overly chipper Mum in the creaky old house she insists is haunted. With her blinking monitor restricting her to the very place she’s increasingly convinced is home to something unseen, malevolent and effectively grabby, petty crook Kylie has to contend not just with Mum, guilt, judgmental law enforcement and stifling boredom, but the gnawing realization that everything in her circumstances has conspired to keep her right where this creepy entity wants her – at home. Available to stream, at home, on Hoopla, Tubi.

“You’re Next” and “Ready or Not”

Pair these up for a great “kick-ass female protagonist deals with suspect rich in-laws” double feature. Director Adam Wingard’s 2011 home invasion film “You’re Next” sees an awkward but otherwise uneventful weekend at the country house of a woman’s boyfriend’s extended family descend into bloody mayhem once a trio of silent killers make the wealthy family their targets. In last year’s “Ready Or Not,” Samara Weaving’s bride discovers that her new husband’s board game-dynasty family (including Andie MacDowell’s imperious matriarch) have a, let’s call it, unique family ritual to welcome any new additions. Each film relishes equally in bloody violence and infernal cleverness, all confined to one wealthy American family’s luxurious mansion. That the skeletons of each are unearthed by an unexpectedly capable woman from the wrong side of the tracks makes for a satisfying undercurrent of vengeance against the One Percent as well. Pretend you’re safe in your spacious home. “You’re Next” is on Peacock, while “Ready or Not” can be found on HBO Max.

“The House of the Devil” and “The Innkeepers”

So after all these at-home horrors, maybe you imagine that some socially distanced, away-from-home employment will keep you out of trouble. Ha, ha, haaa – you sweet kid, you. Ti West’s 2009 “The House of the Devil” plays like a throwback to the cheesy 1980s slasher genre – until it gets genuinely unsettling and stays that way. A requisite coed takes the requisite babysitting job for an eccentric older couple who just happen to live in the requisite isolated mansion. From there, nothing is expected, so much as queasily inevitable, as every creak, groan and shuffle that could be – but isn’t – just the house settling reveals the genuinely terrifying inevitable fate of all those left alone in a house in the dark of night. “The Innkeepers” of the title in (once more) Ti West’s 2011 slow-burn chiller at least have each other for safety, for all the good that does. As the last pair of employees of a closing-forever New England hotel, Sara Paxton and Pat Healy show the easy comradeship of graveyard shift workers everywhere, as they desultorily make beds, greet their one guest (Kelly McGillis as a visiting psychic), and make one last update to their blog about the hotel’s supposedly haunted legacy. (The film was shot at the still-open and reportedly very haunted Yankee Pedlar Inn in Connecticut.) At first thrilled at what appears to be some real, not-alive ghost activity on their last night, the pair gradually come to recognize that being the last people inside a spooky old hotel might not be as much fun as they thought. (For them it’s not — for us, it’s a delightfully spooky hoot.) Find out that even other people’s lonely houses aren’t safe with “The House of the Devil” (on Amazon, Hoopla, and Shudder) and “The Innkeepers” (on Hoopla).

And some quick hits for a lonely, shut-in Halloween: 

• “The Shining’s” depiction of stir-crazy madness has never seemed more relevant. 

• The original “When a Stranger Calls,” featuring a young Carol Kane, takes the old babysitter urban legend about scary anonymous phone calls right to its terrifyingly inevitable conclusion. 

• Both 2008’s “The Strangers” and 2018’s sequel “The Strangers: Prey at Night” (both featuring different Maine-based actors – Kip Weeks and Damian Maffei, respectively – as their central, masked antagonist, for added local spookiness) mine the “what was that noise?” home invasion genre for genuinely inventive terrors. 

• And Mike Flanagan’s 2016 “Hush” amps up that formula by having its hearing impaired protagonist have to rely on her other senses to finally realize that she’s in danger in the – wait for it – dark, isolated country house where she lives, all alone. Happy Halloween. Leave the lights out. I dare you. 

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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