Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Alright, what makes me the voice of reason and guidance on horror cinema? Nothing, but who else is going to give you this Buzzfeed-esque guide to movies you’ll never have time to watch? The goal of this article is to provide you with different options for different moods this spooky season. I’ve also taken the liberty of not numbering these movies, because though I definitely have favorites, it’s impossible to quantify across sub-genres. Now, let’s get started.
Horror is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult genres to engage with. Some people hate it, some people love it, and those who love it have some intense preferences— myself included. Whatever it is you’re looking for this month, I hope I can provide it here.
No list would be complete without Wes Craven’s classic slasher Scream, so we’ll just start there. Equal parts fun and fright, this movie takes a skeptical look at its’ slasher predecessors, simultaneously being grossly stereotypical and entirely fresh. The story follows protagonist Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) as a killer stalks her and her friends, using horror films as a motive for grisly murders. So, who’s the killer? An old foe or a best friend? An annoying reporter or a friendly cop? Whether you’re a scary movie skeptic or a devoted fan, this film has everything you need: humor, tough women, 90s clothes, unruly teenagers, and murder.
Movies Like It: Hush (2016), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Friday the 13th (1980)
The Conjuring (2013)
Nothing seemed stranger than when James Wan (the notorious director of the Saw series) decided to turn instead to haunted house films, but he has served us well. Taking inspiration from 1970s classics, The Conjuring is perhaps one of the best modern supernatural movies there is. Following the real-life notes of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, The Conjuring focuses on a haunting in the home of the Perron family in the early 1970s. Things unravel as the spirits attack each of the five children and, finally, throw their hatred on the mother. Terrifying and deeply moving, this film’s plot is as good as its characters are likable: very. If you’re looking for a good, classic scare with all of the effects of modern film, look no further than The Conjuring.
Movies Like This: Insidious (2010), The Haunting in Connecticut (2009), The Amityville Horror (1979)
The Exorcist (1973)
Okay, before I get carried away, I should disclose that this is my favorite horror movie. A classic film as well as a fantastic novel, The Exorcist is perhaps most well-known for its graphic special effects scenes. Yet, beneath its reputation of outdated terror, a dark story unfolds about a young Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), the daughter of a famous actress who becomes seemingly possessed by some cruel spirit. Her anguished mother searches for answers and eventually calls on a priest to help—a priest quite sure that there must be some psychiatric explanation. Suspenseful as well as frightening, this film has definitely earned its place in the Horror Hall of Fame.
Movies Like This: The Omen (1976), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
The Evil Dead (1981)
Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead is notable in horror history for both its fantastic low-budget special effects and the infamous series of media that followed it. Sequels, comics, and even a television series have come to capitalize on the comedy and terror born in this film. The tale, however, begins when a young group of friends who go to stay at a secluded cabin. In the basement, they find all sorts of strange things, including a supposed Book of the Dead. After a mysterious inscription is read aloud, the spirits of the dead rise to take hold of them one by one. Horrifying, hilarious, and, truthfully, pretty gross, The Evil Dead is a legend of B-Movie horror.
Movies Like This: Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Evil Dead II (1987), The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
If The Evil Dead sounded interesting, you’ll no doubt enjoy this film too. Also notorious for its dark humor and raw low budget effects, An American Werewolf in London is the perfect movie for a good laugh and a good scare. Though similar, both films are here separately, as they span different subgenres and, undoubtedly, each deserve their own highlight. The movie begins as two young men backpack their way across Europe, coming across a strange moor where they are attacked by, well, a werewolf. One dies, and the other bears the curse, as he comes to find out. This movie is a perfect modernization of the famous Creature Features.
Movies Like This: Van Helsing (2004), The Lost Boys (1987), Fright Night (1985)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
We’ve already got a slasher film, I know, but even in sub-genres there is dissonance. Before Wes Craven got meta enough to be self-referential in Scream, he was cranking out blockbusters like A Nightmare on Elm Street. The film highlights a different kind of slasher, one with serious suspense and jaw-dropping gore. Protagonist Nancy Thompson’s (Heather Langenkamp) dreams come to haunt her, the creepy man in them leaping to life and slaughtering her friends for reasons she can’t quite uncover. The lines between reality and the dream-world quickly blur, leaving her as the sole hero to fight back against this strange monster. Equal parts slasher, supernatural, and psychological, it’s impossible not to give this movie its own spotlight.
Movies Like This: Psycho (1960), Halloween (1978), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Interview with the Vampire (1994)
Unless you scare exceptionally easily, this movie doesn’t hold much in the abject terror department. Still, it seems to be a tale worth telling. After all, what scary movie compilation would be complete without a vampire film? Based on the Anne Rice novel of the same name, the story is told as a reflection of a centuries-old vampire to a young journalist in “modern day” San Francisco. He recounts his life from the 1790s until now a whirlwind of pain, love, and his ongoing search for meaning in what he is. If this sounds dramatic, don’t worry—it is. The horror of this story comes mostly from its tragedy, lightened only by the disastrous appearances of his vampire companion. It’s got everything a good vampire film needs: high fashion, terrible misfortune, grisly death, and homoerotic tendencies.
Movies Like This: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Crimson Peak (2015)
The Babadook (2014)
If you’re looking for terror, you’ve found it. This movie helped bring horror back into the mainstream, its plot and underlying themes making it admirable even to those who normally frown upon scary movies. Centering on a young widow and her extremely disobedient child, the movie tells the story of what happens when she finds a strange book about a creature called the Babadook. Frightened, she attempts to get rid of the book in various ways, only to find that it returns with its protagonist now leaping from the pages into reality. This movie plays out as a deep metaphor for grief and mental illness, and it is as terrifying as it is touching.
Movies Like This: Get Out (2017), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), The Shining (1980)
Both action and horror, Ridley Scott’s Alien is a prime example of scary science fiction. This film was universally acclaimed for its suspense and action-picked plot. Its badass protagonist, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), would become an icon of horror heroines. The film follows the commercial spaceship Nostromo as it encounters a strange transmission from a planet. Going to investigate, one crew member is attacked by an alien that infects him, bringing itself onto the ship and eventually tearing through the crew, leaving lone Ripley to fight it off. Distrust, body horror, and cats are common themes. If you want guns, strong women, and a dark look at outer space, this is your movie.
Movies Like This: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), The Fly (1986), The Thing (1982)
Marble Hornets (2009)
Category: Found Footage/Supernatural
Last but not least, the found-footage subgenre. Now while Marble Hornets is not a film, but rather a YouTube series, it still provides a great holiday scare. It begins when a guy named Jay (Troy Wagner) finds old tapes from a friend, Alex (Joseph DeLage), who had been filming a movie. Something scared Alex during filming, and he’s been missing for a few years. The tapes seem to have renewed Jay’s drive to search for him. Varying in length, each entry gives Jay’s commentary and presents different tapes, all coming together as an intriguing and freaky story with a recurring visitor– the notorious Slenderman. Yes, catching on just as the Internet legend was growing in popularity, the creators of Marble Hornets wanted to make a believable tale based on the mythos of the Slenderman, and they succeeded. Long and winding though it is, this series is as creepy as they come.
Moves Like This: Paranormal Activity (2007), Cloverfield (2008), The Blair Witch Project (1999)
So we’ve come to the end. Maybe you’re disappointed and maybe you’re not. If you didn’t spot your favorite movie in this list, my deepest apologies. For a genre so small, horror is leaping with diversity, and gathering films from every corner would make a list longer than your summer reading. Still, I hope you’ve walked away with a good number of spooky movies to enjoy, or at least a general idea of the kind of movie you’re looking for. To top us off—and in case you, like me, have seen the movies in this compilation—I’ll end with a non-descriptive list of some other great films that couldn’t quite fit in these categories.
Cheers to lack of sleep and Happy Halloween.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
It Follows (2014)
The Strangers (2008)
The Purge: Anarchy (2014)
The Purge: Election Year (2016)
Hide and Seek (2005)
The Orphan (2009)
The Woman in Black (2012)
When a Stranger Calls (1979)
Pet Sematary (1989)
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