**Warning for Graphic Pictures**
For as long as I can remember I have loved horror, whether it was tearing through Goosebumps books at lightspeed in elementary school, watching eagerly as my Nana played Silent Hill at all hours of the night, or watching Night Of The Living Dead on repeat while I was still in the single digits. There as always been something about the grotesque, about monsters and decay and the slow burning dread that fills you and makes a chill run down your spine.
I have seen enough horror movies to be able to call myself an aficionado, and have the knowledge to actually back it up. Basically any time I find a horror film that looks even remotely entertaining, I’m in. In fact I’ve gone through most of what Netflix has to offer at this point, and lots of the films on this list can be found there.
Now that October (spookiest month of the year!) has rolled around again, its the perfect time to revisit old favorites as well as add some new ones to your horror collections. I’ve looked at a good amount of horror lists, and am always disappointed to see a lot of repetition within them, as well as the ever aggravating suggestion that the horror genre is dead.
That’s why I have taken it upon myself to compile a list of 31 of my favorite horror films, including everything from the under-appreciated and indie, to the classics. If you wanted you could even watch one each day of the month ramping up to Halloween. I have ordered them in a way that I think makes the most sense thematically, and added trigger warnings for certain things (gore is implied, please comment if I missed any). So without further ado, lets dive in!
An American Werewolf In London (1981)
Few films manage to blend comedy and horror as well as this one, and it’s considered one of the touchstone examples of special effects in horror. The movie centers around two young men backpacking through the British moors when they are attacked by a werewolf. David’s journey into becoming a werewolf (and his infamous transformation) are an interesting perspective switch in the horror movie genre. What happens if you’re the monster thats tearing people apart?
Also, the movie has an excellent soundtrack.
Tw; Suicide mentions
Ginger Snaps Back (2004)
A lot of people talk about Ginger Snaps, but almost no one ever talks about this sequel (prequel? AU??) that in my opinion is far superior. The movie follows two sisters venturing through the Canadian wilderness in the early 1800s. They end up at a fur trading fort that has been suffering from relentless attacks by werewolves, but which harbors an even darker secret within its fortified walls. The film is incredibly attractive visually, is led by two women leads, takes place in an interesting setting and time period, and has a completely new take on the werewolf movie.
In the years since its release CHUD (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller) has become a bit of a cult classic. If you can enjoy a movie for all its silly absurdity and just have a good time, CHUD is for you. The movie is about…well…cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers of course. It it punctuated by a few genuinely creepy moments, and I was excited to see the use of Geiger counters to track the proximity of the monsters, similar to the use of the radios in the Silent Hill series.
The Blob (1988)
In my opinion the 80’s were the golden age for horror films. It was a time when remakes were happening frequently, but they were actually good. The original The Blob of the 1950s is undeniably a classic (I mean Steve McQueen is in it for goodness sake) but it doesn’t exactly fulfill in scares. But 30 years later a new take on the movie would do just that and all with a wonderfully ridiculous 80’s flair (I’m talking Kevin Dillon as a leather clad, mullet clad punk). The movie is about a monsterous pile of goo that covers and digests most of the people in a small town. It is genuinely unsettling and has some great moments of practical effects and gore. While the film isn’t perfect (the few moments of CGI are cringeworthy) I respect any movie that is willing to “go there” and show a monster brutally devour a child.
Tw; Implied date rape
The Thing (1982)
The Thing is my favorite horror movie. It’s the kind of film I could watch a hundred times in a row and still be entertained. In my opinion it’s one of the finest examples of a horror film ever made, and John Carpenter at his best. The Thing is another example of a superior remake (a trend on this list) and I don’t just mean because Kurt Russell looks dang good in it. A team of people on an Antarctic base find a nightmarish shapeshifting creature that can mimic other lifeforms. As it picks the men off one by one they have to figure out who among them is actually who they claim to be. Between the insurmountable isolation of Antarctica, to the uncertainty of the identities or intentions of the other people you are trapped with, Carpenter plays with some of everyones deepest fears with this plot. Anyone who appreciates practical monster effects will love this film as it showcases some of the greatest monstrosities seen on the screen.
The Void (2016)
The Void is a gorgeous love letter to the genre of horror. While watching it I caught shout outs to The Thing, The Blob, Alien, Jacobs Ladder and more. Any fan should see how many they can spot. The movie makes a long awaited return to the use of practical effects, creating monsters that Carpenter must be proud of. The story centers around a cop in a rural area who becomes trapped with a few others in a desolate hospital as everything around them quickly descends into chaos. While the ending falls a little flat in my opinion, the rest of the film is so much fun its more than worth it.
Jacobs Ladder (1990)
When people think of twist endings they act like The Sixth Sense invented the idea. Those people never saw Jacob’s Ladder. The movie is a visceral experience that feels more like watching a nightmare than a movie. Tim Robbins plays a Vietnam vet who just can’t seem to escape the hell that was the war, even after he has returned home. And after he starts seeing monsters around him he has to confront his past and a terrible truth. It’s a movie that deserves to be talked about a lot more.
Tw; Graphic depictions of war
Pontypool is an incredibly innovative film, both is plot and production. It centers around a radio personality and his colleagues who slowly learn through listener call-ins and news reports that something terrible is happening in their small town. Fans of the podcast Welcome to Nightvale will appreciate the narrator’s use of absurdity and plays on language to tell the story, nearly all of which takes place in a single room of a radio station. The film is a very different kind of zombie movie, and the director and actors do a fantastic job of building tension. This is definitely one that will stick with you and make you think.
Session 9 (2001)
If there is any regret I can think of in my life, it’s that I didn’t get to visit Danvers Hospital before it’s demolition in 2006. Luckily I at least have Session 9, which was filmed in the eerily beautiful abandoned asylum. After a team of asbestos clean up workers enter the asylum for a clean up, they begin to learn the hard way about the building’s sordid past. I’m not sure if everyone would agree but I find Session 9 to be a gorgeous film. Maybe I just have a thing for peeling paint and forgotten places, but something about the fact that the movie was filmed on location in such a dark, historically charged place really does it for me.
Tw; Stay away if you can’t handle a lobotomy
The Shrine (2010)
An example of a gem I first found on Netflix. Three people go to a remote Polish village to investigate a missing girl and find some very shady villagers. Naturally everything goes to hell from there, but maybe not how you’d expect. This movie is just…plain good. It’s a real disappointment it isn’t shared more, because it delivers some real moments of unease and has a disturbing and memorable twist ending.
If you like movies about people getting trapped in buildings while monsters roam outside, you’ll love Splinter. A young couple is out driving in a remote area (I guess we’ve established by now why you should stick to city living) when they are taken hostage by a modern day Bonnie and Clyde. However things don’t go as planned for anyone when they all end up being terrorized by a parasitic monster at a gas station. This film has a fun new take on the parasite movie, instead of the usual wormlike monster this one uses the idea of something more akin to a fungus.
The Fly (1986)
What kind of horror list doesn’t include something by David Cronenburg? The Fly is yet ANOTHER 80’s remake of a classic, and this one (in true Cronenburg fashion) amps up the horror by amping up the gore effects. If you enjoy body horror…well you’ve probably already seen this honestly. But if you haven’t you are in for a real treat as you watch Jeff Goldblum’s body literally turn to mush and fall apart. The plot involves a scientist as he tries to invent a teleportation chamber and royally screws up by fusing his DNA with that of a fly that sneaks into the chamber with him. Cue the most horrific transformation you can imagine stretched out to fill a film.
Tw; Honestly just…everything.
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)
If you didn’t get your Goldblum fill from The Fly (can you ever get enough Goldblum really?) then check out baby Goldblum in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. I’m exhausted from saying it but: yes, remake. Invasion is like the horror movie that launched a thousand ships; you’d be hard pressed to find a film that influenced the genre much more than this one. The story has been remade, remixed, parodied and paid tribute to dozens of times, and it’s sort of the grandaddy of parasite/alien invasion films. There are few things scarier than the realization that the entire world has been affected by something, and that the people you loved have been replaced by very inhuman beings.
I hate including this honestly because it’s a Roman Polanski movie and the man’s a trash bag, but the fact is, it’s a good movie. Just don’t pay for it ok? Repulsion is about a woman’s descent into insanity when she is left alone in her apartment, and it excels at portraying her state of mind, symbolized by a rotting animal carcass on a platter. Even if the director is a bad person, the movie is worth seeing and is an important installment in the horror genre.
Tw; Rape in a dream
The Bad Seed (1956)
This is the oldest film on the list, but don’t discount it. While not very conventionally scary, it brings up some surprisingly thought provoking questions about nature vs nurture in the creation of a murderer. To outsiders Rhoda seems like the perfect little girl, but in truth she is a sociopathic murderer. The film follows her adoptive mothers realization of this and her uncovering of the truth of Rhoda’s parentage. This movie asks the question, could a child be raised in love and normalcy still turn out to be a killer because of some deeper genetic programming?
While I get uneasy about the use of adoption as a horror plot point, I let this one slide for its age and its interesting take.
The Children (2008)
To continue with the creepy children theme, The Children is a haunting film. This movie poses a truly horrific plot; could we fight against and kill our own babies if they tried to kill us? Parents will definitely find this one hard to forget, and even those without kids will feel a creeping sense of dread as the magnitude of the situation is slowly revealed.
The Fog (1980)
Another John Carpenter masterpiece, The Fog is the epitome of a ghost story. A small coastal town is haunted (literally) by the dark history of its founding, and when the fog rolls in it brings with it some very vengeful ghosts. This movie holds so much nostalgia for me that I may be a bit biased, but how can you not love listening to Adrienne Barbeau’s sultry radio voice welcoming you to Antonio Bay?
Please PLEASE do not watch the 2005 remake. It was a steaming pile of garbage.
The Mist (2007)
Another movie involving sight obscuring weather phenomenon, but thats pretty much where the similarities end. The Mist is based on a story by Stephen King, and is masterfully visualized by Frank Darabont. The story revolves around a group of townsfolk who become trapped in a small grocery store after a mysterious mist engulfs the area. The mist contains all manner of horrific monsters, but we learn the real threat is the townsfolk themselves, as religious zealot Ms. Carmody seizes the moment to begin her preaching and gather a following. With one of the most shocking endings in movie history, this film is sure to stay with you for a while.
Phantoms is based on a book by Dean Koontz, and it feels a lot like Stephen King but with some bullshit science thrown in. The truth is, Phantoms has everything I love in horror in it. (Also it has a weirdly recognizable cast for a movie that I oftentimes feel I may have been the only person on earth to see?) When two women arrive at a small town in Colorado they find it eerily quiet. At first they think it abandoned, but soon they find out that something is still there.
Maybe the most under-appreciated Stephen King movie, Dreamcatcher is like if IT and Cabin Fever had an awful baby…and also there’s aliens? A group of friends go out to spend time at a cabin in the middle of the woods when suddenly things start going VERY wrong. This movie mashes up a lot of fun themes, but one of the stand out plot points is the idea of the “mind” as a physical location being infiltrated. Fun fact, the plot takes place in and around Derry, Maine, King’s fictional town where IT also takes place.
Silent Hill (2006)
While it’s nowhere near as good as the games, I recognize that not everyone has the ability or interest to play a series of video games, and the truth is as far as adaptations go this one isn’t awful. Its also just a generally creepy movie, and the first half of it is spot on to the game. The story centers around a mother venturing into a fog enshrouded and seemingly abandoned town to find her lost daughter. Things start to fall apart at the end, and it’s clear the director had no idea how to turn the plot of the games into a coherent story. But the atmosphere and monsters are good enough that I let it slide, and most importantly they kept Akira Yamaoka’s songs.
I stumbled upon this one on Netflix and was surprised at how decent it was. They say that war is hell and this movie took that sentiment and ran with it. The film is about a group of soldiers in WW1 stumbling upon an abandoned enemy trench and slowly realizing that something even more horrific and insidious is going on than the war. This movie is one that has a very ambiguous end, and its fun to speculate on all the meanings.
Last Shift (2014)
A young woman’s first assignment guarding an empty police station turns into a night filled with terror as some very vicious ghosts come out to play. The ending of the film is lackluster and a bit predictable, but the journey there is fun and full of genuine scares.
Viral focuses on how two sisters deal with the sudden outbreak of a parasitic zombie disease while they are home alone. Really it’s just another parasite movie without much in the way of innovation, but its very watchable, and the relationship between the sisters has a lot of emotion to it.
Tw; parasites in eyeballs
The Carriers (2009)
I incorrectly went into The Carriers thinking it was going to be a zombie movie, which meant that I was very confused for most of it, but I was left ultimately pleased. It’s a pretty brutal version of the apocalyptic disease genre, and it isn’t so much ‘scary’ as it is a chilling downer. But it has one of my favorite lines in film in it: “Sometimes choosing life is just choosing a more painful form of death.” The movie is about a small group of survivors on the road who not only face increasingly violent opponents, but also slowly have their own humanity challenged.
Tw; Suggestions of rape, Suicide
The Burrowers (2008)
It’s not often one gets to view a horror western so this movie should truly be cherished. After a group of pioneers start being picked off by a mysterious force, they learn form a native tribe that the culprit is a species of creatures that lives beneath the ground.
Willow Creek (2014)
A modern day version of the Blair Witch Project, Willow Creek follows a young couple making a documentary about the infamous Patterson/Gimlin Bigfoot footage. I have to admit, the idea of bigfoot had never really frightened me before, but this movie succeeds in changing that outlook. The use of found footage to tell the story is justified and well executed, and the build up to the tent finale will have you on the edge of your seat. The best part of this movie is it succeeds in recognizing that sometimes it is far scarier not to see everything.
Tw; The suggestion that bigfoots..feet..? specifically keep women for some reason…coulda done without that wierd plot point tbh.
VHS 2 (2013)
The first VHS film is decent, but the sequel is vastly superior. The film is a series of short movies with varying themes and plots, presented as found footage. The stand out pieces are that of a documentary on a cult, and another with aliens invading. It’s not necessary to watch the first movie to enjoy this one, and I have to admit that this is honestly, in my opinion, one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen.
Tw; Forced offscreen demonic impregnation? Yikes
Sadako vs Kayako (2016)
You’ve seen The Ring, you’ve seen The Grudge. Now get ready for THE RING VS THE GRUDGE. While I recognize that the plot sounds incredibly stupid to the point where I put this movie on as a joke one night, I was shocked at how good it was. The director, Kōji Shiraishi, somehow formulated a sensible plot connecting these two horror legends, and it manages to deliver genuine scares. Fans of asian horror cinema will get a kick out of seeing the two heavy hitters Sadako (Ringu) and Kayako (Ju-On) crossing paths as their respective curses intersect.
Black Rat (2010)
If there is anything I have learned it’s that Japanese school kids should NEVER bully each other, because on the off chance the victim dies, it seems almost certain their ghost will come back to take extreme vengeance. Black Rat is a fun slasher flick that is pretty low commitment as far as horror goes. Sometimes its nice to watch a horror movie that doesn’t haunt you even after it’s over.
Imprint wins as the most disturbing movie I’ve ever seen. If you’re looking for a movie that will make you say WTF out loud, look no further than this Takeshi Miike short that was included in the Masters of Horror anthology. It was so graphic that Showtime wouldn’t even air it in 2006. The plot involves a man visiting a brothel and meeting a disfigured girl who tells him the story of her life. However things get progressively more brutal as the night wears on.
Tw; Basically every trigger possible. Rape, torture, aborted fetuses, you name it.
So that was 31 nights of horror, a good mixture of modern and classic films by well known and little known directors alike. If you want to suggest some movies for me to check out, or discuss those I’ve listed, please leave a comment!