Or as I alternatively titled this article, “Horror films for those of us who want to get into the spooky spirit of Halloween but are the type of people who lost sleep for a month after watching The Ring in theaters.”
You can finally step outside without sweating (edit: unless you’re in Florida), Starbucks is making Pumpkin Spice lattes, and a horror film is #1 at the box office. Fall is finally here!
The start of fall means two things: it’s finally socially acceptable to begin counting down the days to Halloween, and horror films are suddenly everywhere.
And while I absolutely love Halloween, I’m less enamored by the slew of horror films that suddenly crop up at every movie preview.
It’s not really because I dislike horror films — some of my favorite films fall into the horror movie genre. Unfortunately, I tend to suffer from having an overactive imagination in conjunction with a weak stomach for violence and gore, which means that many popular horror films are hard for me to sit through.
Honestly, I like my horror films like I like my roller coasters: I want to be able to appreciate the twists and turns and general experience without necessarily being driven to extreme emotional distress or feeling incredibly nauseated by what’s occurring.
With that said, here are a few horror films that will help you celebrate Halloween Eve (as I refer to all of September and October as) even if you’re the type who tends to avoid the horror genre altogether.
This horror film isn’t just one of the best horror films released in the last decade — it’s probably one of the best films, period.
Jordan Peele — mostly known prior to this movie as part of the comedy duo Key & Peele — absolutely knocks it out of the park in his directorial debut, crafting a movie that both uses and subverts common horror movie tropes in the best possible ways.
Get Out is a terrifically constructed horror film that uses tension, mood and atmosphere to keep audiences engaged and on the edge of their seat. The scares are slowly built up over time and earned by both the characters and storytelling.
And just like all great films, the story stays with you long after the screen has gone dark, unsettling you in all the best ways as you confront the horrors of a true-life terror: white privilege.
Okay, yes, I recognize that this Spanish horror film that’s set in an once-abandoned orphanage and features creepy child wearing a weird mask absolutely seems like one you should avoid if horror movies really aren’t your thing.
And while I would suggest watching this with a friend if you’re less horror movie inclined, it’s not a movie designed for or premised on providing only cheap scares and surface-level shock tactics.
Instead, the movie focuses on creating a moody story and eerie atmosphere, in which it places sympathetic and relatable characters whose journeys we actually care about.
It’s part murder mystery, part sad ghost story, in which both the history of the orphanage and use of the supernatural are less malevolent and more just a general — and at times, helpful — presence that helps title character Laura unravel the fairly straightforward mystery at the heart of this story.
There are a few times that you may jump out of your seat, but you wont go to bed wondering if ghosts are about to terrorize you.
‘Let the Right One In’ (2008 Swedish version)
Fair warning: this movie has a good amount of violence and a great amount of blood in it.
If that makes you squeamish, then it might be better for you to go with the tamer — though still relatively well-liked — U.S. version, Let Me In , which stars Chloe Moretz.
But if you can stomach the blood and violence — which occurs without having the story descend into torture porn or gratuitous gore ala the Saw movies or Hostel like films — then what you get is a fantastically constructed, beautifully shot story about loneliness, friendship, first love…
Yes, this is a vampire love story between two young adults.
And while I absolutely had a ball of a time watching the entire Twilight series in theaters, Let the Right One In gives us hard-R rated story that takes both its vampires and its storytelling seriously and the payoff is absolutely wonderful.
The brooding atmosphere and dark tension of this film make it the perfect story to get you into the Halloween mood, while the story structure and character development will keep you engaged and relatively unafraid throughout the film (though it may make you hesitate to go out jogging by yourself once it gets dark outside).
There are two really great things about Housebound: it’ll make you laugh probably as much as it’ll make you jump out of your seat, and it’s currently on Netflix.
The story centers around Kylie, a 20-something delinquent who is forced by a house-arrest order to live with her mother and stepfather in their claustrophobic and creepy home.
Of course, her mother believes that it’s haunted, and of course Kylie doesn’t believe her mother — until, of course, too many unexplained things happen and she can’t help but believe her eccentric mom.
The movie has all the things that you’d expect from this type of horror film — a house with a morbid backstory, a reclusive neighbor, creepy stuffed animals that keep popping up — but it combines them all in such a way that you find yourself doubled over in laughter even as you clutch your poor dog close to you to keep from running out of the room in fright.
This is a horror movie that gives you both legitimate scares and laughs, which is a damn fine way to get yourself ready for Halloween!
‘The Thing’ (1982 original version)
There is a 2011 prequel film of the same name, so make sure you don’t waste your time on that one and pick up this classic sci-fi horror film instead.
Though originally opening to widespread negative reaction, the film has since risen in public esteem, first becoming a cult classic and then eventually becoming recognized as a legitimately great science-fiction and horror film.
Like Let the Right One In, this movie might not be for the faint of heart in terms of its blood and gore quota.
To give you an idea of what you are in for: it’s about an alien lifeform who takes over human bodies generally by bursting through their torso.
However, if you need to distract yourself, you can instead marvel at the fantastic use of practical effects which — though not necessarily completely on par with current special effects — aged incredibly well, especially when compared with CGI renderings from even just five or ten years ago.
Also like Let the Right One In, this film is set in the bare, snowy expanse (though here it’s an isolated research station in Antarctica rather than an isolating Swedish suburb), which it uses to great effect to add both to the overall mood and tension in the story.
But while that film was about two isolated people who find comfort in one another and respite from their loneliness, this John Carpenter film focuses on how the isolation and desperation of the situation further forces people apart and the eventual futility of working together and trusting one another.