I'll admit I am a huge fan of horror movies. Over the years people have called me crazy, sick, sadistic, or whacky for my love of all things gore but I can't help myself. I have my small circle of horror buffs that I talk to and discuss this great genre with, but the general consensus among true horror geeks is that the genre is still a bit underrated and often abused. That is, the true heart of the genre. Not the typical late-2000's Hollywood teen blockbusters full of jump scares and naked women. We're talking about the good stuff.
As I meet new people and discuss film with them, I find that not many people fully understand the genre. They either don't like being scared or all they've seen are the horrible American remakes of The Grudge or One Missed Call. Those movies are full of nothing but cheap plots, predictability, nudity, and jump scares No wonder people don't like the genre. Hollywood has painted a bad picture for horror. For those who want to give horror a real shot, I am here to help!
I have converted quite a few people into moviegoers who are more appreciative of the genre and are interested in the types of films released. The list below, in no particular order, contains the horror movies that I have given several people as a guide into the genre and I figured why not share it with everyone. This isn't a list that is full of the B-movie horror movies you'll find in the streaming section on Netflix and it's definitely not a list created by an intern at Buzzfeed who has no idea what they're talking about. I'll also mention not everything on this list is what you would stereotypically categorize as a horror movie. In my opinion, any film that can place that fear and tension into a viewer has horror elements and has every right to be included. Don't be surprised if you see some "horror" movies meant for children. Every once in a while you need that break to remind you that Halloween is fun and none of it is real. There's no reason to be scared to death during a movie. I tell people who are terrified by horror films what my dad told me when I was little; find ways to laugh at the characters and remind yourself how they made what's on the screen. Here are the best horror movies for beginners. Just remember... it's only a movie!
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
This is a great creature movie and honestly my favorite werewolf movie. The effects alone are enough to make any viewer look and think, wow that must have taken some serious effort and it paid off. It follows two students as they backpack across England when a giant wolf attacks them. The survivor of the attack soon learns he has been cursed as a werewolf.
The Lost Boys (1987)
This was released long before the romanticism of vampires thanks to the Twilight franchise. This is to remind you that vampires can be pretty brutal and they don't fall in love with humans. The Lost Boys introduces you to two teenage brothers who move to a Northern California town where they are soon confronted by a local vampire gang led by Kiefer Sutherland.
You've no doubt seen memes online and references for the "chestburster," and now it's time to actually see where it came from. That and find out how Sigourney Weaver rose to fame. Hop along the Nostromo, a commercial space vessel responding to a distress call from an unknown, unexplored planet. After finding no survivors the crew finds they have been joined by an extraterrestrial host.
Forget about that remake that just came out this year. Pretend it never happened. The basic plot of this movie sounds more simple than it actually is, but the basics are a family is haunted by a bunch of seemingly harmless ghosts in their house. That is until they get pissed off and kidnap the couple's daughter. Don't let the PG rating fool you because Poltergeist is pretty creepy to watch, especially if you're alone.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
Remember when I said we'd have some fun? This Disney movie has been written off by critics pretty much since it came out and it's currently in the middle of sequel rumors, but Hocus Pocus is easily one of my favorite Halloween movies of all time. The cast is fantastic and the story is not something you'd expect from a children's movie. Three witch sisters (Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker) return from the dead after being summoned by a virginal teenager on Halloween night. The sisters push forward their previously failed plan to suck the lives out of children and live forever. This gem also stars baby versions of Sean Murray, Vinessa Shaw, and Thora Birch.
While on the subject of witches, here is a horror classic surrounding witchcraft and the supernatural. A young dancer arrives at a high-end ballet academy to soon find out the secret operation behind the academy. This movie comes from iconic horror director, Dario Argento, and it considered one of the top pioneer films of the modern horror genre. It's easily one of my favorite witch movies.
The Last House on the Left (1972)
This is one of many movies that have gotten a remake/reboot treatment and is considered by many to be boring, but I appreciate the original version. It's centered around a group of teenage girls who are kidnapped and terrorized by a group of convicts. After being raped and killed by the men, the group seeks refuge at a nearby residence only to discover the house is owned by one of the girl's parents. The 2009 remake wasn't completely horrible, but it amplified the gore factor and glorified the kills as shock value. That bit was what disappointed me, but if you want to watch both I would suggest starting with the original before moving onto the remake.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Texas Chainsaw is probably one of the more popular and iconic films on this list. Leatherface is one of the most recognizable horror villains and the fact that the movie was based off a true story scared the pants off people back in the 70's. A group of five friends visiting their grandfather's house are soon hunted by a maniac with a chainsaw who is part of a cannibalistic family. This was another one that received a remake in 2003, an several after that, but similar to what I say about every one of these that has a remake... start with the original.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
This is where the zombies began and they are as creepy in this movie as they can be now. Watch it. Enough said.
The Shining (1980)
Here's Johnny! Again, one of the more popular horror films on this list but that doesn't mean it's not good. After you see a man go nuts trying to cure his writer's block, you'll think twice about secluding yourself anywhere again. This is one of many great adaptations from the mind of Stephen King. It was his first #1 bestseller for a reason. REDRUM!
Rear Window (1954)
The first from Alfred Hitchcock to be on this list, but it's not the last. Rear Window got a pseudo remake starring Shia LaBeouf in 2007 (aka, Disturbia) but the original starring James Stewart holds up to this day. Stewart plays a photographer who is confined to a wheelchair with a broken leg. He begins spying on his neighbors to pass the time and ends up witnessing a murder. Hitchcock did what he did best and amped up the tension and suspense to make the viewer genuinely stressed.
This is Hitchcock's most popular release and probably one of the most highly acclaimed films of the genre. The story follows a young woman on the lam (Janet Leigh) who decides to rent a room for the night at the Bates Motel. There she encounters Norman Bates, a man interested in taxidermy and involved in a difficult relationship with his mother. The twist alone at the end of the movie is enough to send your head reeling if you haven't somehow had it spoiled for you. Psycho got a remake in 1998 starring Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche and it's widely considered to be one of the worst remakes ever. It's true. There is also a current series on A&E called Bates Motel which is fantastic, but I would watch the original movie first before getting into all of that. It's the true classic.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Back when M. Night Shyamalan was a promising director he delivered this classic twist ending. A child psychiatrist (Bruce Willis) is assigned to a young boy (Haley Joel Osment) who reveals he can see dead people who don't know they're dead. The plot alone was scary enough for the late 90's and the subtle details (remember the color red) you begin to realize after you survive the twist at the end make you appreciate the hell out of the movie. Just stop with this one because Shyamalan turned his career into a joke and his movies are downright awful.
28 Days Later (2002)
This is when the zombie fetish society currently still has was still coming to light and as a result, it was really good. Cillian Murphy stars as a young man who awakens from a coma 28 days after the Rage Virus spread across the UK, he finds a rather abandoned city full of violent, viral zombies. This was one of the first to peg zombies as being infected by something more than just a bite or scratch on the arm and it works really well. The plot is more than people just running from their lives and the sequel, 28 Weeks Later, was just as good. Kudos to director Danny Boyle for this one.
Another story from the mind of Stephen King, Carrie is another popular installment of the genre. The story follows a teenage girl named Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) who discovers she has telekinetic powers and eventually takes her revenge by terrorizing the student body at prom. Carrie is in my top favorites and I will watch it just because I feel like it. It deals with many underlying themes including religion, abuse, and bullying and is pretty creepy for a 70's horror film. Another that received a remake in 2013 starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore, but it was honestly horrendous. I saw it in theaters and walked out of the theater genuinely angry. Stick with the original and maybe even the 1999 sequel, The Rage: Carrie 2.
American Psycho (2000)
American Psycho is one of those horror movies that is sometimes so ridiculous it's funny, but at the same time... the fact that you're laughing is terrifying. Christian Bale brought the character Patrick Bateman to life in a way that only Bale could do. Bateman, a wealthy hot-shot on Wall Street, leads a double life as a neurotic psychopath obsessed with his hatred for everything human. American Psycho is another movie like Carrie that I can just watch because I feel like it.
You didn't think I would make this list without including Tim Burton, would you? This 1988 film from Burton is truly a classic and I don't understand people who don't appreciate it. Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin are Barbara and Adam, a married couple who die suddenly in a car accident and are trapped in their house as ghosts. A family soon moves in and it becomes their mission to haunt them out of the house. That is until a freelance, bio-exorcist shows up and crashes the party. Beetlejuice has been a favorite movie of mine since I was a kid and it's great for just about any age. The characters are solid, the cast is great, and it contains one of Danny Elfman's best film scores. It's also considered by many to be Michael Keaton's best work... well, aside from Birdman.
[REC] begins my introduction of foreign horror to this list. The excuse "I don't want to read during my movie" isn't good enough for me. In recent years, I have found that a majority of foreign horror movies are superior to what America is producing and this movie is a prime example. The Spanish story brought us into a quarantined apartment building where an unknown virus beings to unleash itself among the tenants and emergency workers locked inside. This is one that sparked an American remake, Quarantine, which honestly wasn't a bad version, but given the choice I would choose to watch [REC]. The sequels aren't that bad either.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Blair Witch is easily one of the most popular horror films of the modern genre and gave birth to the found footage technique. I personally don't find it terribly re-watchable, but it's always fun to watch it with people who have never seen it. Blair Witch introduces you to three college students who disappear in the woods of Maryland while attempting to make a documentary film about the Blair Witch legend. The filmmakers were smart with this one because for quite a while people believed the film was real, so they did something right. Just don't watch the sequel.
Here's another fun one to calm your nerves. This is more comedy than horror, but it deals with ghosts so why not include it. It will hit your funny bone with Dan Aykroyd, Rick Moranis, Harold Ramis, and Bill Murray as they play scientists specializing in the occult. After losing their jobs they set up shop as a quirky team of ghost hunters where they seek to obtain and eliminate spirits, ghosts, and poltergeists for money.
Jurassic Park (1993)
You can't deny the horror elements that exist in Jurassic Park. Michael Crichton's story about dinosaurs are resurrected extinction by genetic mutations and cloning was brought to the big screen by Steven Spielberg and it made quite a few people scream back in the day. I remember seeing this movie in theaters with my dad and brother and I covered my eyes at the sight of the T-Rex. Aside from the fear brought on by the dinosaurs themselves, the tension and struggle for survival by the humans on the island is enough to stress you out. Jurassic Park is one of the best movies of the 90's and I have always seen it as a horror thriller, to an extent. The sequels weren't anything spectacular, but what else can you expect.
Donnie Darko (2001)
Donnie Darko is one that many consider to be more science-fiction, but it does have elements that can give you the serious creeps if you've never seen it before. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Donnie Darko, a troubled high school student who is motivated to commit crimes after a giant bunny rabbit reveals himself. The premise sounds dumber than the movie actually is, so don't let the whole bunny rabbit thing throw you off. Frank the Bunny is a pretty creepy character and following Donnie's psyche and intelligence is a mystery in itself. This is one to recommend to anyone, not just people curious about horror/sci-fi. It seriously makes you think.
Saw broke onto the scene with this independent release and it morphed into a 7-part franchise that is one of the most successful movie franchises in film history. I am personally a big fan of the original trilogy of Saw movies and I recommend them to just about everyone. Director James Wan and Leigh Whannell made their Hollywood debut telling the story of two men locked in a bathroom by a mysterious serial killer named Jigsaw. The players of the game (Cary Elwes & Whannell) are pinned against each other to see which would kill the other to "win" and survive. As the franchise continued, you learned the bigger picture regarding Jigsaw and the rare occurrence of actually meeting the killer face to face is an integral part of the extensive plot. If you actually pay attention, there are a lot of fun little details that are connected throughout all seven movies. Easily, the best films are Saw, Saw II, and Saw III. Saw IV was alright, but not as good. Saw V was downright awful. Saw VI was the best since III and is enjoyable enough on its own. Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (aka, Saw VII) was an insult to the fans and the franchise. I try and pretend the seventh installment doesn't even exist.
Friday the 13th (1980)
I'm not a huge Jason Voorhees fan, but I can appreciate the value Friday the 13th holds. This was another franchise that had a ridiculous amount of sequels (12 total) and another which got a mid-2000's reboot that sucked ass. However, the story of a summer camp being stalked and murdered by a masked entity caught the attention of audiences and turned Jason into a horror icon. It's not my favorite, but it is a must-see for any horror enthusiast.
This classic from John Carpenter set the pace for horror, launched careers, and spawned several sequels and remakes but it's still one of the best. A masked killer, Michael Myers, returns to his childhood home of Haddonfield, IL with a vengeance after spending the past 15-years locked in a mental hospital as a result of brutally murdering his sister at the age of 6. Halloween went on to spawn a total of 10 subsequent films with an 11th on the way. Rob Zombie rebooted the story in 2007 which yielded a 2009 sequel. A lot of people hated Zombie's take on the film, but I honestly liked it. I didn't like the sequel but I appreciated what he brought to the table.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
This franchise birthed Freddy Krueger, the iconic villain that haunts your dreams and kills you in your sleep. This is yet another multi-film franchise (9 total) with a bad remake included but Robert Englund brought Freddy to life like none other. The first installment follows a group of teenagers as they are stalked and hunted by Krueger in their dreams. I personally find the Elm Street movies more enjoyable than Friday the 13th so I'll always recommend this franchise over Jason Voorhees.
The Exorcist (1973)
No doubt you've heard about The Exorcist, but if you're one of the few who have never seen it you're in for a treat. This movie scared a lot of people and is complete with tales of people fainting in the theater, crying, and walking out. Some friends I had back in middle and high school had parents who told us stories about how the movie put the fear of the Devil in them and it never quite went away. The basis is centered around a mother who seeks the help of a priest questioning his faith after her daughter is gradually possessed by a demon. I apologize in advance if you're Catholic.
Evil Dead (1981)
The 1981 cult classic starring Bruce Campbell finds us in the woods with five friends out for a weekend in a secluded cabin. After discovering an abandoned tape recorder and a mysterious book, the group unknowingly release a demonic entity onto the woods and the cabin. This franchise is rare in the sense that all three original Evil Dead movies are excellent. Evil Dead II was a pseudo remake of itself and had the same premise, but it was amplified and served as a direct lead into Army of Darkness, a medieval themed version of what the Book of the Dead unleashes. The remake released by Fede Alvarez wasn't horrible on its own, but as a remake it was pretty lousy.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Ignore the fact that Jack Skellington has been idolized by high schoolers for the past 10-years. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a cinematic diamond and it's easily Tim Burton's best vision to date. The stop-motion feature follows Halloweentown's pumpkin king, Jack Skellington, as he discovers the Christmas holiday. Soon he inspires the other ghoulish residents of his home holiday to take over Christmas, but the lack of understanding by the residents and Jack himself leave Christmas a scary disaster. It has a stellar voice cast including Catherine O'Hara, Chris Sarandon, Paul Reubens, and William Hickey. This is another that I have loved for years and even though it's a Disney movie, don't let that sway you. It's another fun Halloween movie for all ages to love.
The Conjuring (2013)
James Wan got me believing in the genre again with this movie. Easily one of the best horror movies of the past 10 years. The film follows paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga & Patrick Wilson) as they investigate a haunted entity terrorizing a family in a Rhode Island farmhouse. This is another "based on a true story" tale, but Wan didn't make it hokey or full of nothing but jump scares. He used anticipation and human nature to scare you and it was genius. You can even spot the real Lorraine Warren in one of the scenes as she worked with Wan and agreed to a cameo.
Seeing that this is getting pretty long, I will quit with the explanations and just list other honorable mentions that I recommend to anyone wanting to explore the genre a bit more. Happy movie watching, everyone! If there is anything you think I missed or don't agree with what I put in here, leave a comment!
- Martyrs (2008)
- High Tension (2005)
- The Craft (1996)
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
- Zombieland (2009)
- Trick 'R Treat (2007)
The Babadook (2014)
- Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Let the Right One In (2008) and/or Let Me In (2010)
- Insidious (2010)
- Paranormal Activity (2007)
- The Orphanage (2007)
The Ring (2004) and/or Ringu (1998)
- American Mary (2012)
- Shaun of the Dead (2004)
- The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
- V/H/S (2012)
- Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Silence of the Lambs (1991)
- Hellraiser (1987)
- Child's Play (1988)
- Maniac (1980)
- Scream (1996)
- Sleepaway Camp (1983)
The Blob (1988)
- Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)
- The Changeling (1980)
- Creepshow (1982)
- The Hills Have Eyes (1977)