Stream Dozens of Classic & Contemporary Horror Movies Free Online in October

There is a para­dox in the genre we call hor­ror. Its main engine has remained con­stant for millennia—primal fears of death (and after­life), and relat­ed­ly inescapable phe­nom­e­na like birth, aging, and sick­ness. At the same time, hor­ror is always con­tem­po­rary, reflect­ing “society’s col­lec­tive anx­i­eties through­out the decades,” writes Lau­ren McGrail at the Lights Film School blog.

We can see this in hor­ror movies, divid­ing them by decade accord­ing to their most press­ing con­cerns. 1920s Ger­man expres­sion­ism recoiled from the grow­ing threat of fas­cism. The 1930s and 40s cre­at­ed a cult of per­son­al­i­ty around death­less hor­ror icons.

“In the 1950s,” McGrail writes, “the fear of inva­sion and atom­ic war fueled films in which the effects of radi­a­tion cre­at­ed larg­er-than-life mon­sters.” The 60s saw devian­cy every­where, espe­cial­ly among the sup­pos­ed­ly nor­mal.

“In the 1970s, Hol­ly­wood looked inward, invent­ing threats that sprung from with­in,” some­times quite lit­er­al­ly. The ‘80s dealt in pan­ic over satanism, teenage promis­cu­ity, and child­hood abuse. The ‘90s gave us charm­ing socio­path­ic killers, hor­ror par­o­dies, (and bees). “More recent­ly, an uptick in pres­ti­gious ‘ele­vat­ed hor­ror’ films is tack­ling mod­ern social issues head-on.” Get Out uses dis­ori­ent­ing shocks and scares for a heady exam­i­na­tion of racism. Mid­som­mer rep­re­sents the fear of iso­la­tion­ist, homo­ge­neous com­mu­ni­ties (eth­nos­tate hor­ror, if you will).

Kanopy, the free film stream­ing ser­vice, has made its hor­ror film cat­a­logue avail­able online, allow­ing us to test this the­o­ry by watch­ing clas­sic movies from near­ly every decade of cin­e­ma his­to­ry. They’ve includ­ed a gen­er­ous por­tion of recent high­ly acclaimed hor­ror films, like Ari Aster’s Hered­i­tary, Robert Eggers’ The Witch, and Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In. There are clas­sic sub­genre-defin­ing films like George Romero’s Night of the Liv­ing Dead and Robert Wiene’s Cab­i­net of Dr. Cali­gari.

Even the old­est of hor­ror movie tropes get updat­ed every few years to illus­trate con­tem­po­rary social con­flicts. Franken­stein and his mon­ster, Drac­u­la: such 19th cen­tu­ry lit­er­ary char­ac­ters came to life on cel­lu­loid again and again in the first half of the 20th cen­tu­ry, when Hol­ly­wood hor­ror was still fig­ur­ing itself out. These oft-campy char­ac­ters aren’t well-rep­re­sent­ed in the Kanopy col­lec­tion. But there are off­beat psy­cho­log­i­cal thrillers like Denis Villeneuve’s Ene­my, crime thrillers about real mon­sters like David Fincher’s Zodi­ac, and hor­ror come­dies like Kevin Smith’s Tusk.

The hor­ror film arrived before the 19th cen­tu­ry end­ed, with Georges Méliès’ 1896 The Haunt­ed Cas­tle, a visu­al effects feast for 1890s film­go­ers’ eyes. Its imagery now calls to mind a sea­son­al can­dy aisle—bats, witch­es, dev­ils, skele­tons, and a bub­bling caul­dron. Fall is a com­mer­cial bonan­za for fun-sized can­dy bars and scary movies. Like phar­ma­cies stock­ing giant bags of can­dy come sum­mer’s end, no major stu­dio should find itself with­out a hor­ror release—or re-release—this time of year.

Halloween—the harvest-festival-turned-quasi-Christian/occult-ceremony-turned-major-shopping-season—may do as much to keep hor­ror alive in pop­u­lar cul­ture as Christ­mas does for films about fam­i­ly dys­func­tion. Whether they’re dig­ging up the corpses of ancient evils or invent­ing new metaphors for old-fash­ioned fears, hor­ror films give Hal­loween its best cos­tume ideas, and the best rea­son to gath­er up friends and fam­i­ly and get scared out of your wits togeth­er (ide­al­ly).

Should you be host­ing such a gath­er­ing, or look­ing to freak your­self out, you’ll find con­tem­po­rary hor­ror aplen­ty free to stream at Kanopy. All you’ll need is your local library card. (To check and see whether your library–or university–is among Kanopy­’s part­ners, just type it into the search win­dow on this page.) “We stream thought­ful enter­tain­ment to your pre­ferred device with no fees and no com­mer­cials by part­ner­ing with pub­lic libraries and uni­ver­si­ties,” says Kanopy­’s about page, explain­ing that you need only “log in with your library mem­ber­ship and enjoy our diverse cat­a­log with new titles added every month.” A very small price to pay indeed for such high-qual­i­ty con­tent. Enter Kanopy’s hor­ror col­lec­tion here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The First Hor­ror Film, George Méliès’ The Haunt­ed Cas­tle (1896)

Mar­tin Scors­ese Cre­ates a List of the 11 Scari­est Hor­ror Films

Time Out Lon­don Presents The 100 Best Hor­ror Films: Start by Watch­ing Four Hor­ror Clas­sics Free Online

What Makes a Good Hor­ror Movie? The Answer Revealed with a Jour­ney Through Clas­sic Hor­ror Films Clips

Stephen King’s 22 Favorite Movies: Full of Hor­ror & Sus­pense

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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