October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article ranking the ten best Blumhouse horror movies is part of our ongoing series, 31 Days of Horror Lists.
While most studios/production companies dabble in the horror genre, a handful make terror, creepiness, and spooky thrills their bread and butter. Few, though, have managed to do so as successfully as Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Productions. Blum began producing features in 1995, but it was the explosive box office success of 2007’s Paranormal Activity that realigned his career in a big way. $195 million box office on a $15k budget? Blum was in love, and the path forward was clear.
First, keep the budget low — Blumhouse rarely spends more than $20m, and the majority of his horror films are capped closer to the $5-10m range — second, keep the marketing creative, and third, pump out a lot of movies so the ones that hit big can continue funding the Blumhouse machine. (He’s produced a hundred or so horror films since 2007…) The results speak for themselves, and while we wish he’d send and support more non-white/female filmmakers by sending them into theaters, you can’t argue that he’s not giving people the opportunity to make movies.
10. The Black Phone (2022)
Kids in peril. You love to see it, especially when the peril is as stressful and enjoyably unpleasant as in The Black Phone. Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill adapt the Joe Hill short story with vicious glee, delivering painful childhood memories propelled through a stranger danger gauntlet. Kid actors Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw give everything they have while Ethan Hawke digs his fangs into “The Grabber,” and no scenery goes unchewed. The Black Phone refuses to settle into any single horror trope, choosing instead to gobble up as much as it can. You’ve got killers. You’ve got ghosts. You’ve got hateful parents. As long as one delivers, you can forgive the other for falling short. However, The Black Phone achieves scares from each while underscoring everything with empathy. (Brad Gullickson)
9. M3GAN (2023)
People often think a horror film needs to be scary to count, but the genre thrives on fun films too that find pure entertainment in their murders and mayhem. Both director Gerard Johnstone (Housebound, 2014) and writer Akela Cooper (Malignant, 2021) are familiar with fun horror, and their combined talents result in a slight but entertaining romp into robotics, artificial intelligence, and human grief. M3GAN is a doll meant to soothe kids in distress with its calm and compassionate words, but when the prototype takes that protective nature a bit too far it leaves a trail of bodies in its wake. Even in unrated form, the movie doesn’t hit hard as it prefers a more casual and fun approach focused on audiences falling for the murderous, fashionable, dance-happy doll of the title. It worked, too, so expect M3GAN 2.0 to hit screens sometime next year. (Rob Hunter)
8. The Lords of Salem (2013)
I like Rob Zombie. I really do. I’m a fan of his music and he seems like a good dude who genuinely loves horror. And he certainly has a style all his own. With that said his movies have always left me wanting more. I finally got that more with The Lords of Salem. Salem, Massachusetts Radio DJ Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie) receives a strange record from a band called The Lords. When she spins the record, she has strange visions of women worshiping Satan. Is Heidi’s mind playing tricks on her or is there something more sinister at play? Zombie channels Dario Argento in the best possible way, churning out what is essentially a spiritual successor to Suspiria and easily the second-best film in “The Three Mothers” trilogy. Here’s to hoping Zombie can capture that Salem swagger more in the future. (Chris Coffel)
7. Happy Death Day (2017)
While Blumhouse’s output is united under a common genre, even just by looking at this list, the diversity of tones, topics, vibes, and creative voices is staggering. The same production house that backed something as grim as The Lords of Salem (or my beloved The Bay, which didn’t make this list), also put out Happy Death Day, a feel-good slasher about how dying a lot makes you want to be alive. Pitched informally as Wes Craven’s Groundhog Day, this pitch-black comedy follows Tree Glebman (Jessica Rothe), a pissy, self-centered university student who finds herself trapped in a time loop on her birthday. Oh, right, and there’s a masked killer on the loose who seems especially interested in turning Tree’s insides into outsides. Grounded by a contagiously charming performance by Rothe, Happy Death Day is a bubbly blast about growing up and letting go. It’s an immaculate pick-me-up, and just about as serious as its title would lead you to believe. (Meg Shields)
6. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)
Charles B. Pierce’s 1976 hit The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a low-budget thriller that succeeds thanks to its raw (ie cheap) nature amplifying the “based on a true story” nature. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon‘s 2014 film, ingeniously both a sequel and a remake, is a far-slicker affair that trades grit for stylish kills and beautifully shot thrills. Here the residents of Texarkana are well aware of both their own history and the film made about them in the 70s, and when a new rash of killings begins with a clear link to the original, unsolved slayings, it becomes clear that their nightmare isn’t over yet. This is a great little slasher that plays around with meta elements while still delivering the killer goods, and cinematographer Michael Goi ensures it looks better than most slashers do. A double feature of both films is a guaranteed fun three hours for genre fans. (Rob Hunter)
5. Insidious (2010)
James Wan is a filmmaker well deserving of the praise we send his way on this site, and while rankings may vary the one thing we can all agree on is the man’s gleeful approach to genre filmmaking. Sure, The Conjuring films have something of a formality about them, but even there you can see Wan having fun with the ghostly set-pieces and vengeful spirits. Insidious is the epitome of that approach as the film features more than a few beats that, out of context, are immensely silly. The look of the guy above (the demon, not Patrick Wilson), the later shot of him sewing to “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” the ghostly little person who sits unannounced (via music cue) as Rose Byrne passes by, etc. As goofy and fun as some beats are, though, the film also delivers plenty of legit scares and an uncomfortable atmosphere. One more early franchise hit for the House of Blum. (Rob Hunter)
4. Sweetheart (2019)
My gentle ribbing in the introduction about Blumhouse needing to send more varied directors to theaters isn’t a joke. Most of the company’s films end up going straight to streaming or VOD regardless of the filmmaker’s gender, but the female and/or non-white directors have much higher odds of it. Anyway… J.D. Dillard‘s Sweetheart is a slick, attractive, and thrilling one-hander about a young woman who washes up on a small island after her boat sinks. There’s no one else on the island, but she’s far from alone as she soon discovers some kind of creature is stalking her each night. It’s a tight, eighty-minute thrill ride pairing a suspenseful survival tale with a very cool creature feature. The great Kiersey Clemons owns the screen and has us cheering for her from the very start, and she does fantastic, convincing work as she fears and then fights back against the beast. (Rob Hunter)
3. Sick (2023)
There are more than a few horror films to come out of the recent pandemic that use our shared reality as part of their stories, but only two of them really work as both commentary and horror. Andy Mitton’s The Harbinger was one of my number-one horror films in 2022, and this year sees director John Hyams and co-writer Kevin Williamson deliver what’s sure to be somewhere near the top for 2023. Sick is a terrifically smart and bloody slasher that sees friends try to ride out the pandemic’s peak at a remote vacation house only to start falling prey to a vicious killer. Williamson and Katelyn Crabb have written a witty and sharp script capturing the anger and fear that pervaded the pandemic, and Hyams employs his action chops to add energy and physical thrills to the slasher horror. Huge fan of this one. (Rob Hunter)
2. The Purge: Anarchy (2013)
The second of five films in James DeMonaco‘s The Purge franchise, The Purge: Anarchy sits comfortably at the top of the pack. The first leans more heavily into the home invasion horror while later entries get chattier with the politics, but Anarchy finds the sweet spot with a hefty dose of action thrills. It’s an ensemble film, but Frank Grillo is the easy stand-out as he kicks major ass and leaves a trail of masked weirdos in his wake. While action thrives here, DeMonaco still ensures that emotional terror and social horrors remain. The film, and the franchise as a whole, showcase the variety of horrors that Blumhouse produces, and those risks continue to pay off at the box office. (Rob Hunter)
1. Get Out (2017)
Whether you like Jordan Peele’s style of horror or not, it’s difficult to deny that a paradigm shift took place in the genre after Blumhouse released Get Out. It’s effectively the textbook definition of an overnight sensation, quickly becoming a North Star for a new generation of genre filmmakers to tell nuanced horror stories that center on the lived experiences of people of color. Thanks in no small part to the overwhelming cultural success of Get Out, underrepresented genre voices now have a platform to not only tell their story — but finally have it heard too. And as Peele continues to refine his own voice, the film stands as a testament to what happens when you give wickedly talented horror fans money to make their own horror movie. In other words, deep genre knowledge produces results. (Jacob Trussell)
Blumhouse’s track record may be a mixed bag, but our ongoing 31 Days of Horror Lists are guaranteed to deliver a steady stream of inarguable opinions.