As a devoted horror movie fan, I’ll be the first to admit that the market is glutted with horror movies, most of them terrible. And not in an enjoyable, over-the-top kind of way.
If you are a horror movie novice searching for a good horror movie, the simultaneous breadth of availability and lack of choice entertainment can be discouraging. Horror fans feel that way all the time, but we know enough that we can make solid recommendations.
With Halloween fast approaching, I decided to compile a list of horror movies with solid scares and terror but that are accessible to a wide audience. The following films are perfect for a Halloween watch party because 1) they are relatively easy to find on streaming services, 2) they’re actually well-made films, and 3) they scare audiences in thoughtful, enjoyable, entertaining ways.
Even if you’re a horror movie buff, I feel like this list is a nicely packaged bundle of great horror movies that present a strong argument for the merits of horror. These movies are harrowing, smart, witty, and funny. They are heartbreaking and profound. They reinforce the magic of telling stories through the medium of film and legitimize a genre that critics loves to hate.
Mild Spoilers for Goodnight Mommy
I’d like to preface this review by assuring you that I am no lightweight when it comes to watching horror films. On-screen violence and gore usually elicits the expected level of shock and disgust, while body horror reliably grosses me out.
Part of my love for scary movies is remembering that a movie is only a movie, and art is only art. The onscreen images are powerful, but they aren’t real. I’ve never forgotten that fact. I have never had to run for a bucket, nor have I fainted in a movie theater.
So when I almost fainted during Goodnight Mommy, it was because Goodnight Mommy is so precisely calibrated to create a deeply disturbing experience that I forgot to breathe.
As I lay on the carpet in my living room, waiting for the walls to stop swaying, I realized that Goodnight Mommy is one of the most harrowing horror movies I’ve ever seen. My friend spoke softly to me, coaching me through breathing exercises and assuring me we didn’t have to finish the movie if I didn’t want to. Which was so embarrassing, to say the least.
One of my favorite things about horror movies is how long they’ve been around.
People started making scary films as soon as they could. Audiences have always loved going to horror movies. Films like Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were widely popular. A lot of these movies became genre classics. You’ll find them on many best-of-horror lists, where they are widely praised for employ innovative techniques and practical effects to terrify audiences.
There’s just one problem—the majority of those films are no longer scary by today’s standards.
This visit to the Winchester Mystery House is the latest entry in Project: Haunted House, a series of posts where I visit purportedly “haunted” places and write about my experiences. Read more here!
The crazy, reclusive woman is a well-worn archetype in literature and film. Emotionally and psychologically unstable, she is damaged goods, unable to escape from a painful past. She is isolated from others. Those around her define her by sorrow, anger, and “insanity.” Her behavior is misinterpreted and her motivations are ignored. She might start off as a psychologically stable character, but cruel psychological manipulation breaks her down. Sometimes, she really is insane, but her mental illness is far more complex than portrayed and we’re never given her full story. These portrayals twist her into something both delicate and dangerous
You know this archetype. The most famous example is Bertha Rochester in Jane Eyre, but she shows up in different versions as the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, as Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca, and Jennet Humfrye in The Woman in Black. She also appears in films like Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, Gothika, and The Ring. Some of these works are my all-time favorites. I’ve always been intrigued by these characters, probably because I’ve always seen them as very misunderstood.
The Crazy Lady also shows up in tons of myths legends, and ghost stories. One of the most famous examples of a weird, reclusive, possibly bat-shit lady is Sarah Winchester, mistress of the infamous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California.
Finally! School is out, summer is here, and we’re finally getting some good horror movies!
After a few months of anemic offerings, June is stepping up to the plate with some heavy-hitting horror flicks. Of course, the biggest name here is The Conjuring 2, sequel to 2013’s box office smash The Conjuring. But there are some other big names here too, like The Neon Demon, which offers a look into the shadowy, dangerous world of the modeling industry, and The Shallows, which serves up a straightforward horror movie involving a stranded Blake Lively and a huge man-eating shark. I don’t know if you can go wrong with any of these films.
There are some smaller titles, mostly foreign films that haven’t gained much press here in the States. But don’t let that dissuade you from checking them out in either their limited theatrical release or their digital releases on VOD. Sometimes great horror movies come out of left field.
With all the pomp and circumstance surrounding a prestigious Hollywood event, you probably wouldn’t expect a glittering affair like the Cannes Film Festival to include hard-hitting horror films. Cannes is where Hollywood finds a steady stream of award-worthy and award-baiting movies, right? The heavy, boring, historical drama stuff, right?
That’s true. Cannes is prestigious for a reason. Every year, the festival showcases emerging talents alongside master filmmakers, and many of those films are either good enough or earn enough hype to be marketed as highbrow cinema.
But it’s also true that Cannes has a deep commitment to varied viewpoints. The festival loves innovation. It pays tribute to films from different countries, different voices, and different genres, including horror.
Oh May, such a beautiful month but oh-so boring when it comes to horror movies.
Maybe it’s because May marks the official start of the summer blockbuster season, so distributors dump their mediocre movies where they can, knowing full well that the new Marvel or DC movie will dominate the box office. Or maybe we just have to wait a little longer for the good stuff (July 1 for The Purge: Election Year!!!).
Whatever the reason, May’s list of horror movies leaves a lot to be desired. Some of these have potential, like Bite or What We Become. Hell, Most Likely to Die looks hilarious. So I should reserve judgment. And honestly, I tried.
At the very least, some of these could make a really good RedBox or VOD rental.
Check them out!
I’ve only hinted at it before, but you should know that I’m a Texas Girl, through and through. While I may not agree with everything my state has done, I love living here.
I’ve lived in Texas my whole life, having been born and raised in San Antonio before moving on to attend college in Austin and eventually settling in Houston. To me, “barbecue” means brisket and a “cookout” means the event where you eat barbecue. I say “y’all” and I don’t care if you think it’s cute or not. I’ll take Whataburger over any other fast food joint any day of the week. I think winter is two or three weeks in January where the temperature may dip below 40 degrees. There’s nothing I love more than a Texas thunderstorm. I love to go camping under the Texas night sky with plenty of food, beer, and ghost stories.
But of course you already know how much I love ghost stories. Especially Texas ghost stories.
We’ve still got a long way to go until the spooky, bloody, and glorious horror films that dominate the release schedule in the summer. January and February can be really uneven when it comes to horror movies, giving us movies that run the gamut from inspired and well-crafted to lazy and cliché. But March 2016 serves up some really interesting horror releases.
I don’t know about you, but my idea of a perfect date night is a indulging in a round of classy cocktails, enjoying a nice dinner, and afterwards, maybe going out to a bar or club. Wherever the course of the date takes me, it almost always ends with watching a film of some kind. And I almost always want to watch a horror film. Especially a romantic horror film.