I’ve never been shy about my disinclination for horror, which is possibly my least favorite movie genre if I had to pick one. It’s not that I hate all horror films, but very generally they don’t ever immediately appeal to me. I find that I don’t scare easily, I don’t like to look at a lot of gore and I don’t have much interest in the psychology of fictional killers or the suffering of fictional victims. Most horror movies I see bore me, even those I might appreciate as being more than just a conventional series of deaths or hauntings or other frights.
I often rationalize my disfavor as being the effect of watching a ton of horror movies at a very young age and becoming immune to their tricks and subtext. That might not be the truth, but I do remember having a dream around age 6 or 7 in which I was basically on a set visit to a horror film production, where I saw all the suicidal people who’d volunteered to play victims, because in that world the actors in horror films are literally killed. That makes me sound more messed up as a kid than I was, when really I think it was just my imagination reminding me that the actuality of horror movies is all just pretend. I’m sure my overthinking of the genre even then kept me from enjoying it.
Anyway, whatever the reasons for my being a “horror hater” (nowadays my being a documentary fan likely also keeps me more scared of real horrors out there), I thought I’d share some titles that I do in fact like a lot. I don’t think they’re the best, just my favorites. Logically due to my age, a majority of horror movies I love are 1980s releases, but I’ve excluded most of them for being mainly nostalgic choices (I mention some below in relation to my picks). Hopefully this list can spawn a discussion directed at me regarding movies I should give a try or retry, especially as based on any preferences you notice.
But just to make note of some classic titles you’ll think I’m wrong for not favoring: I admit liking much of The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, Night of the Living Dead and Don’t Look Now, I’ve never cared much for Halloween and I don’t like The Exorcist (or any religious themed horror) at all.
Anyone who reads my weekly Movies to See… lists may already know that I at least have an appreciation for this classic monster movie and how influential it’s been on horror and science fiction movies since. It’s also ever present because it’s a movie I think about a lot, as a perfect tale of a misunderstood and misunderstanding creature made unto a world he doesn’t fit in. To me, horror is about tragedy not evil, and Frankenstein’s Monster is an exemplary tragic figure. I’m probably one of the few who prefers the original, even if ever so slightly, to the campier yet still brilliant Bride of Frankenstein.
If you want to get me to see a horror movie, clever twists of plot are a good incentive. Not always (I don’t like The Sixth Sense), but particularly if the movie around those twists has other merits, such as Anthony Perkins’s performance as Norman Bates, and deeply penetrating treatment of legitimate fears, like wondering if your hotel or motel room is a stage for voyeurs if not also murderers, then it’s not really a factor that it falls in any particular genre.
I didn’t mean for this list to so heavily represent Steven Spielberg, as director or producer, but it makes sense that such a populist filmmaker has the general appeal to allow me to enjoy his entries into the horror genre. He’s the guy who seems to have precisely recreated my most recurring nightmare of apocalyptic dread with War of the Worlds, and decades earlier he crafted a monster movie that balances drama and adventure and a stack of subtexts regarding fears about family, trauma, invasion, capitalism, fascism, you name it. Like any great sea creature in fiction, the shark in Jaws can represent just about anything.
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Night of the Living Dead is a terrific dark satire, but I just enjoy the sequel and its light satire more. Zombies can also be about nearly anything you want them to be, and here they’re an amusing take on mindless consumer culture. It’s an idea stretched a little thin, but I can never get enough of the mix of scenes where the undead are so slow and oblivious and seemingly harmless and scenes where they’re a sneaky threat. I’m reminded never to take for granted the things that might suddenly kill me.
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Like Jaws, this wound up being a stronger horror movie thanks to the late decision to not show much of the monster for a long time. But it’s not shy, either. The fully grown alien might be hidden for a lot of its existence, but the initial bits with the face hugger and the chest bursting scene are very different kinds of out in the open scares. On top of that, I’ve always found the movie especially scary compared to, say, something like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There’s no running away from the alien, due to the fact that the characters are in a confined area out in the middle of space.
I was already seeing R-rated movies around the same time I saw the PG-rated Poltergeist, but this Spielberg production was far scarier than anything I was watching in Friday the 13th and Halloween. I didn’t rank these titles, but Poltergeist is a definite number one for me, partly because every frame has stuck with me for more than 30 years and can still frighten me plenty. The tree, the clown, the meat, the pool, the closet – there are few things in the movies more imprinted on my brain than the images I associated with all those words. Of course, I also love Poltergeist III, which I confess still can give me the willies about mirrors.
Unlike Poltergeist, this other Spielberg production is a little more family friendly, in spite of it having more death. I never had a plush Poltergeist toy, that’s for sure. While there’s not much to be scared of with Gremlins, it’s probably the best of its kind of monster movie entertainment, full of homage and humor and wonder but also some genuinely creepy parts (if only for that climactic killing of Stripe in the fountain). After this movie, I’ve always had a preference for the little-creature-feature subgenre, if I had to pick any favorite kind of horror movie, and enjoy anything from Critters to Ghoulies to Munchies to Grabbers. And yes, definitely Gremlins 2: The New Batch.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
The Blob (1988)
I don’t know why this movie isn’t more beloved nor why I love it so much. It’s a remake that ramped up its effects work, both for the creature and its graphic kills. Visuals from this movie just stayed with me, and not just the ones involving Shawnee Smith, who I definitely developed a crush on at the time. But I don’t think it’s mere nostalgia keeping me a fan of The Blob the way I’ve held on to my loves for, say, Maximum Overdrive and April Fools Day. I’m certain that The Blob is a good horror movie, one of the most underrated ever.
New Line Cinema
Final Destination (2000)
If there’s one thing that makes me not care for a lot of horror movies it’s their inability to get me to consider their premises as plausible and therefore scary. Final Destination is up there as far as ridiculous plots go, if only because of the instances where a supernatural force is implied, but the basic idea of exploring accidental death is totally scary. Accidents are a probable way to die, unlike being murdered by a ghost or serial killer, and every time I watch this first movie in the franchise I wind up being overly conscious of everything around me that could cause my accidental demise. Final Destination 2 is also great for at least its first two acts, giving us more clever kills of the Rube Goldberg-device variety. I saw that one just before having to drive three hours in a torrential downpour, and I’ve possibly never been more scared.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
I debated whether to include this, because to me it’s a comedy first with horror elements, not the other way around like the majority of horror-comedies. Plus, I already have a zombie comedy here with Dawn of the Dead. But I figured it should represent that side of horror movies that I tend to open up to more easily, the kind that deconstruct the genre with a fine pair of tweezers. This rom-zom-com is probably the most brilliantly written, although I think it tears down the rom-com genre more than the zombie movie. I similarly also have enjoyed The Cabin in the Woods and the first two Scream movies. As someone who can’t often be entertained by horror because I’m always overthinking things, I feel a kinship with the makers of these movies.
Related Topics: Aliens