Around this time of year, folks (normies) ask me what the best horror films are. They are looking for recommendations or they’re just engaging in normal social discourse by pretending to be interested in what I’m interested in. Either way, I always find the question hard to answer. There are SO MANY good horror films. And my favorites tend to be fluid depending on my mood, what subgenre we’re talking about, and other completely subjective factors. Moreover, I don’t think these people are really expecting me to recommend a movie like Martyrs. They’re just making conversation or they want a holiday-appropriate excuse to eat popcorn. Keep that in mind as you read the following (by subgenre).
Ghost/Old Dark House
The Haunting (1963)
Legendary director, Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, The Andromeda Strain, etc.), gave us the most terrifying haunted house movie of all time with The Haunting. It is based on “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson (of “The Lottery” fame), and tells the story of a scientist researching the paranormal who invites two sensitive women – one psychically, one emotionally – to stay in a reportedly haunted house. The future heir of the house, a playboy, is along for the ride. The story focuses on Eleanor (the emotionally sensitive one) and her experiences in the house.
The Haunting uses atmosphere (almost exclusively) to build tension and elicit fear. And it does so to great effect. The viewer is put squarely in Eleanor’s head and we feel her sanity slipping as she questions reality. I hesitate to say any more for fear of spoiling it. Just know (imaginary people asking for recommendations) that it’s legitimately scary and it influenced Sam Raimi – that guy who made Spider-Man!
Coraline moves to a new house in the country, much to her chagrin. Her parents both write on botany and/or gardening but don’t really go outside. Or engage with her. She discovers a magical parallel universe where her neighbors are interesting and her parents are doting. They DO have buttons for eyes but otherwise it’s a perfect place. Looks (and “other” mothers)can be deceiving though.
This is a genuinely scary movie aimed at kids. There is a black cat, Caroline’s neighbors are weird, she is imperiled, and the Other Mother gets insanely menacing as the story progresses. Maybe wait until your kids can handle some fright though. Start them off with something more chill. Like, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Of course it’s Jaws. Duh. Problem is most people have seen it. So…
The Birds (1963)
A woman is attacked by a seagull on her way back from a rather elaborate love bird related goof. The attack turns out to be just the tip (Tippi!) of the iceberg, as birds all over the bay start attacking folks for no apparent reason.
Another obvious suggestion. Unfortunately, most people under 40 haven’t seen the film. Loveable (if a little unrelatable) characters are beset by animals so ubiquitous that if you went outside right this second, you are bound to see at least one and probably several. Historically, they don’t tend to bother us, so we don’t pay them much attention. When they do decide to bother these characters though, the viewer is confronted with the realization that – holy shit! those things are everywhere! Features one of the most iconic animal menace scenes in film history.
Fun Modern Horror for Eating Popcorn with Whomever You Choose to Cuddle
Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Stereotypical teen horror types visit a cabin in the woods where they are attacked by zombies after reading a cursed diary. Also, a shadowy agency is controlling everything in their environment.
If that synopsis reads like I took two sentences from very different movies and mashed them together, it’s because this movie is different from other horror movies. It’s smart. It’s “meta”. It’s a ton of fun. And it has something for everyone. Even people who typically hate horror should appreciate this one.
Well, that’s it. Until next year. Then, I’ll make a few more recommendations for your normie friends.