Horror movies have progressed so far beyond simple boogeyman stories that these days, sub-genres like torture porn have become big-time box office earners. And with the emergence of The Walking Dead, the genre has inched towards the mainstream, and those who would never even give movies like Dawn of the Dead or The Exorcist the time of day are now a bit more inclined to give it a try.
Still, not everyone is convinced. They’ve seen some psychological thrillers and maybe an episode of American Horror Story or two, and are now looking to dip their toes in the proverbial horror waters. The following movies might as well be horror and could be the transition they’re looking for:
10. Under the Skin
Jonathan Glazer’s 2013 film isn’t technically horror, though it’s certainly unsettling. Its scenes of an unnamed humanoid alien (Scarlett Johansson) leading unsuspecting victims into an otherworldly void that quickly decomposes their bodies for unspecified reasons is enough to give anybody nightmares. It’s resolutely uncategorizable, and begs to be left ambiguous. Its a beautifully drab looking film to boot.
9. 28 Days Later
While horror master George Romero is responsible for creating the zombie genre, non-horror master Danny Boyle is responsible for kickstarting it in its current Walking Dead-led form.
There’s heaps of gore and throngs of the undead racing towards a not-so-fresh-faced Cillian Murphy in his breakout role as Jim in the film, so expect some gloriously disgusting stuff in there. But, like all good zombie stories, Alex Garland’s script wisely brings the post-apocalyptic focus back to human survival once Jim and two female companions (played by Naomie Harris and Megan Burns) must deal with some folks alive in a mansion fortified by soldiers led by a domineering Christopher Eccleston.
8. You’re Next
Adam Wingard’s films tend to subvert their genre so as to re-examine tried-and-true tropes. The Guest appropriated 1980s thrillers like The Terminator for a fresh and unexpected homage, but it was his 2011 film You’re Next that played with the home invasion horror genre. You’ll never look at a crossbow the same way again. Set amidst a squabbling family reunion of sorts, the film plays out the viewers darkest fantasies about hereditary allegiances, and makes you wonder what family bonds truly mean. Also, it’s surprisingly funny.
7. Let the Right One In
Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In reworked the overly bloody and increasingly YA-focused vampire genre to actually mean something beyond pale immortals sucking blood and moping around. It’s an outright frightening movie about a lonely kid who befriends an equally awkward vampire girl, and it earns its uneasy vibes by positing a coming-of-age story where one friend can’t come of age. Its final scene will haunt you more than any other overblown jump scare could ever do.
6. The Witch
Viewers weary of horror should note that even horror fans got into arguments about whether last year’s supremely creepy New-England Folktale was actually a horror movie. Will it scare you? Absolutely. Is there blood and guts and a masked killer stalking the Puritan family at the center of the film? Nope. The Witch is for non-horror fans because it shows the family slowly being torn apart because of their own moral flaws. On that level, it’s simply a very intense drama. But there also just happens to be an actual witch stalking them in the nearby woods.
5. Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller about rival ballet dancers is the kind of thing that sounds terrible when you try to explain it to someone, but absolutely riveting when you actually sit down to watch it. All non-horror fans need to do is plie into it without knowing much. Natalie Portman’s Nina Sayers is a ballet dancer who strives to be the best she can be, but never quite gets there. Her rivals continually get a leg-up, and it slowly drives her into madness. The film is a graduate student’s thesis dream, and its multi-layered commentary on the depths of artistic creation and expression is enough to mask Aronofsky’s alluring body-horror.
4. Shaun of the Dead
The best way to distract yourself by all the bodies that have risen from the dead to devour human flesh is to laugh it off. At least that’s what director Edgar Wright did in his breakout movie Shaun of the Dead, a delightfully original homage to all the zombie movie titans like Romero or Lucio Fulci that came before him. Through the relationship between lovable lead characters played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, viewers turned off by disgusting stuff might actually gain a new appreciation of the genre. What would you do during a zombie apocalypse? Probably have a pint like them, that’s what.
It’s difficult to state just how influential David Fincher’s 1995 film truly is. At once a neo-noir, a psychological thriller, and a horror movie, it masterfully blends all three in ways that have reverberated through its various genres since then - for better or worse. The film, about two detectives (Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman) attempting to track down a serial killer (Kevin Spacey) who uses the seven deadly sins as the basis for each of his murders, could lure anti-horror viewers in with its nascent True Detective police procedural approach, but it has such a tactile brutality as each killing progresses that after they watch it, viewers will be ready for anything.
2. The Cabin in the Woods
There’s no better way to confront the horror genre than by deconstructing it. While Shaun of the Dead turned up the laughs to do that, Drew Goddard’s Joss Whedon-produced The Cabin in the Woods looked inward. By beginning with what is perhaps the most obvious horror trope of all — a handful of college teens shack up in a remote cabin for the weekend — and then completely breaking more apart into a constant stream of meta-narratives, it somehow elevated what had become rote, into something fresh everyone can be terrified by.
1. The Silence of the Lambs
Jonathan Demme’s incredible adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novel remains the first and only Best Picture winner so far considered a horror film, so at least it’s got that going for it. But, The Silence of the Lambs is so much more. The film isn’t the first big-screen version of Hannibal Lecter (that would be Brian Cox in Michael Mann’s Manhunter), but the character will forever be synonymous with Anthony Hopkins’s chillingly formal performance that earned him an Oscar. Like Seven, it also has the police procedural aspect to coax viewers to watch, but all its cannibalism and serial killings were enough to truly introduce the grotesque into contemporary pop culture like no other movie has before.