There’s a creepy new Ryan Murphy series on Netflix called “The Watcher,” about a couple who buy a suburban New Jersey home and soon begin receiving menacing typewritten letters. “Do you know what lies within the walls of 657 Boulevard?” the letter writer asks, signing the missives “The Watcher.”
I devoured the seven episodes of the series in two big gulps this week, even though I’d read the 2018 New York Magazine article on which the show was based and so knew how the story ended. It is spooky season, after all. The air is crisp, the shrubs betangled with ersatz cobwebs. Time to buy two-pound bags of fun-size peanut-butter cups and stream something that’ll haunt your dreams.
“The Watcher” stars Naomi Watts, who also appeared in one of the most frightening movies I’ve ever seen, “The Ring,” a remake of a Japanese horror film, which was released 20 years ago this week. The film begins with a provocation: “Have you heard about this videotape that kills you when you watch it?” a teen girl asks her friend, setting up the nightmare to follow. The near-obsolete technology that’s central to the premise notwithstanding, “The Ring” is still scary two decades on. “There’s a random element to the film, a loss of control and disruption of balance that makes it work,” the director, Gore Verbinski, told the critic Beatrice Loayza.
In trying to understand why some people love being scared senseless, Steph Yin, writing in The Times in 2016, suggested that haunted houses and other spooky trappings of Halloween can provide a “jolting escape” from the ordinary. “When immersed in a scary situation, you can suspend your disbelief and live in the moment,” she wrote, “And that loss of control can feel really good.”
For me, that checks out: It’s the immediacy of scary movies, their wholesale monopolization of my attention, that makes them so alluring. I’m drawn to thrillers more than straight-up horror films: unseen, mounting dread over explicit monsters or gore. I’m eager to watch the latest installment of the gripping anthology series “The Sinner,” which stars Bill Pullman as an idiosyncratic detective who investigates a different crime each season. The second season of HBO’s documentary series “The Vow,” about the NXIVM cult, just premiered, and it’s chilling in its own way, an examination of the forces that drew people into the thrall of a Svengali figure. And this weekend I’m planning to see the movie “Smile,” which has been compared to “The Ring” and the equally fearsome 2015 movie “It Follows.”
I’m always on the lookout for new ways to scare the wits out of myself. If you have suggestions for films that fit the bill, drop me a line.
Programming note: Starting today, the product recommendation service Wirecutter will share tips and advice every Saturday. Scroll down for this week’s offering. — Melissa
THE WEEK IN CULTURE
📺 “House of the Dragon” (Sunday): After the end of the first season of “The Rings of Power,” our (non-sports) Fantasy Fall draws to a close with this weekend’s finale to the first season of the “Game of Thrones” prequel series. If you haven’t started yet, just blaze through it this weekend — it’s only nine hours, what else do you have going on? — and follow along with our interviews and recaps here.
📚 “The Song of the Cell” (Tuesday): Siddhartha Mukherjee’s 2010 book, “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer,” remains one of the 21st century’s great works of science writing. The author-doctor’s latest, “The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human,” is the third in a projected series of books that he told The Times would amount to a “life quartet.”
RECIPE OF THE WEEK
Slow-Roasted Salmon With Mushroom-Leek Broth
The beauty of Sue Li’s slow-roasted salmon with mushroom-leek broth lies in its exquisite ambiguity. Is it soup? Is it roasted salmon? It’s a little of each. Based on traditional ochazuke (Japanese green tea over rice), this version uses broth instead of tea but is just as rich and comforting. The earthy mushrooms meld with the sweetness of the leeks to create a deep, warm complement to the salmon. It may take a little time, but you prepare the broth while the salmon roasts to velvety perfection. Or you could use almost any warm liquid, such as dashi or the traditional Japanese green tea. This is a flexible dish that defies categorization, but is always satisfying.
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What you get for $1.9 million: A 1926 Tudor Revival house in Grosse Pointe Park, Mich.; a Spanish-style home in Los Angeles; or an 1895 mansion in Apalachicola, Fla.
The hunt: They wanted a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan or Brooklyn for $1 million. Which home did they choose? Play our game.
Stop cutting out your pumpkin tops
Carving pumpkins this weekend? If you plan to cut a hole in the top to scoop out its guts, don’t. Leaving the stem intact helps a jack-o’-lantern last. “It’s almost like the top of an umbrella holding the pumpkin together,” Chris Soria, a professional pumpkin carver, told us. Instead, cut a hole in the bottom or on the back. And before you do, consider upgrading your tools: Our pick is this durable, stainless-steel carving set. — Rose Maura Lorre
GAME OF THE WEEKEND
Philadelphia Phillies vs. San Diego Padres, M.L.B. playoffs: The Phillies finished third in their division this season, behind two 100-win teams, the Braves and the Mets. And yet, of those three, they’re the last ones standing. The Phillies aren’t some scrappy underdog: They have one of the highest payrolls in baseball, with elite pitching and two of the hardest hitters in the N.L. in Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber. But a lot of money does not guarantee success in October (ask the Mets), and after a fairly pedestrian regular season, the Phillies’ expensive bet is paying off at the right time. Tonight at 7:45 Eastern on Fox.
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