27 Horror Movies for People Who Don't Love Horror Movies
Any horror fan is used to hearing the words “I don’t do horror.” Which is fair enough, except I can guarantee that everyone who says they just don’t like horror movies is missing out on a number of films they would enjoy. Maybe meat cleavers to the head and things that go bump in the night aren’t for you. But do you like Hitchcock and crime mysteries? Then you’re already close to dabbling in the scary stuff.
Last year’s Oscar-winning Get Out convinced a lot of people to root for a horror movie, and the powerhouse box-office debut of the new film A Quiet Place, an elegantly spooky survivalist tale starring Emily Blunt and John Krasinski (who also directed), shows that the stigma against the genre is fading. Here are the best gateway horror and horror-ish movies for the non-horror fan.
Though it comes with one hell of a gross-out sequence, Alien mostly runs on the subtle dread taking over the passengers of a spaceship who are confronted with a nasty life form.
David Lynch’s '80s masterpiece stars with a severed ear found on the ground, but it’s calm by the standards of the macabre director, gently exploring the underbelly of idyllic America. Dennis Hopper’s lunatic performance has to be seen to be believed.
While director William Friedkin made his name with The Exorcist, his contemporary horror movies have been sadly overlooked. Bug is not as icky as its title suggests, instead burrowing into the psychological predicament of two people who believe their bodies are infested with insects (Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon, in case you needed more reason to watch).
Before he was America’s Dad, Tom Hanks was already charming everyone who managed to see this '80s horror-comedy from director Joe Dante (Gremlins), in which his manic suburban father imagines the worst of his neighbors.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
New horror movies are always trying to push the line of acceptability, which is why they can freak people out. But the oldest examples of the genre are still some of the most mesmerising, particularly this 1920 German Expressionist gem about a murderous hypnotist, which essentially invented the serial-killer movie.
Don't Look Now
A stone-cold '70s masterpiece from director Nicolas Roeg (The Witches), Don’t Look Nowexplores the grief of a married couple (Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, both at the top of their game) who have lost their daughter and the sinister warnings they find after her death.
Steven Spielberg was once the director of a pulpy TV movie, in which a polite man is terrorized by a trucker hellbent on destruction. That movie is Duel, and it basically set the path for Spielberg’s future.
William Friedkin broke all the rules of horror in 1973 with The Exorcist, in which two priests get the devil out of a literally head-spinning possessed girl. Its ghoulish effects are quaint now, but the underlying spiritual themes are still disquieting.
Jordan Peele’s rightfully beloved directorial debut mixes his skill at awkward sketch comedy with some of his favorite horror tropes to tell the story of a black man who goes to meet his white girlfriend’s family, only to find that something is very, very wrong with these white people. It’s alternately chilling and hilarious.
Horror can be hard to define. Case in point: This bloodless thriller from director Joel Edgerton, about a dickish husband (Jason Bateman) who’s revisited by an old classmate (Edgerton) with a devastating secret.
Director Joe Dante’s '80s breakout is a comedy, a Christmas standard, and a deliciously weird horror movie all in the one—and somehow great at being all of them.
One of the highlights of the modern horror renaissance, 2015’s The Invitation achieves almost unbearable tension with a tiny budget, following a couple who attend a dinner party and start to question their their hosts’ motives.
Real-life horror is always more interesting than ghosts and monsters. Jacob’s Ladder plumps the depths of its protagonist’s (Tim Robbins) mental breakdown after serving in the Vietnam War and losing his child.
In the unlikely event that you or someone you know hasn’t watched Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster-inventing movie about a shark chomping humans to bits, it’s never too late to get hooked. Move on to Piranha next.
Night of the Living Dead
Get Out is as much indebted to The Stepford Wives, with its racial twist on that suburban nightmare, as George Romero’s first zombie movie. Night of the Living Dead watches as a community protecting itself from the undead is divided by always-alive racial animosity.
Steven Spielberg had a heavy hand in this supernatural spooker from Tobe Hooper, notorious for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but its suburban ghost story is much less likely to send people running away.
All of director Alfred Hitchcock’s movies are worth watching, and nearly all of them fit squarely into the thriller category. While they’re generally light on horrific elements, he took a hard turn with Psycho, which scared the living hell out of everyone who watched it in 1960. Today, though, it’s relatively low-key. The most terrifying part is Anthony Perkins’a superb, understated performance as a troubled man with serious mommy issues.
Before Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski made another taut thriller about a woman going mad that’s just as twisted and good. Catherine Deneuve as the elegant French woman losing it inside her apartment is perfect.
A lesser-known but worthwhile Hitchcock detour, Rope starts with a murder and then milks tension out of the dead body hiding in the middle of a dinner party. It was made to look like one extended shot, and it's still a technical marvel.
The less you know going into Rosemary’s Baby, the better. Roman Polanski’s thriller about a pregnant woman with suspicions of her neighbours and what’s happening to her unborn baby makes you wonder, like her, if it’s all in your head.
The horror-comedy genre is full of many misfires and few treasures. In the latter category, there’s John Waters’s delightful oddball feature about a mom (Kathleen Turner) who takes her protective duties too far.
A stark experiment in atmosphere, Session 9 is about a cleaning crew working on an abandoned mental hospital that seems to be affected by traumas from the place’s past.
The Silence of the Lambs
The only bona fide horror movie to win the Best Picture Oscar, Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novel more than deserved it. While the story is about serial killers, Demme is much more interested in the psychological exchange between Jodie Foster’s FBI agent and Anthony Hopkins’ manipulative cannibal behind bars.
Those indoctrinated in the cult of Italian horror maestro Dario Argento love his movies as much for the beautiful production design as the murder and mayhem. This especially artful favourite is the best place to start.
Director Dario Argento is also behind this international horror movie, a deliciously meta mystery about an American crime writer in Rome who becomes involved in killings based on his work.
Under the Skin
An alien movie stripped down to its bleakest essence, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin quietly follows Scarlett Johansson’s extraterrestrial as she lures men to danger, then flips the script by giving her a conscience.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Before it became the basis for Ryan Murphy’s Feud: Bette and Joan, this hilarious but still unsettling thriller became Hollywood lore thanks to the behind-the-scenes strife between stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.