A recommendation post for my 55 favorite horror movies

It’s October, so here are my 55 favorite horror movies in no particular order! I meant to get this out toward the beginning of the month and not with only uhhh one day left. Better late than never, right? And if the rumors are true, you can watch horror movies whenever you want and not just in October. Wow! I’ve also got you covered with this Letterboxd list in case you don’t want to scroll through my unhinged rambling.

A Note Before We Begin:

I’m not particularly interested in nitpicking what is and isn’t “horror.” If you come across something on this list that you don’t think is actually a horror movie, maybe try to think about why I included it. Horror doesn’t always look like what you’d expect. Horror As Genre warrants it’s own post, but very quickly: I think horror is anything that points at something and says “isn’t this scary?” in the same way comedy points at things and says “isn’t this funny?” Horror is anything that confronts darkness, or turns our fears and anxieties into something tangible that we can no longer ignore. And, of course, horror just feels like horror. “Would you care to elaborate?” No.

With that out of the way, here we go!

The Final Girls

I know I said this list isn’t in any particular order, but let’s start with a strong contender for My Favorite Movie and a good indicator of what my Taste is like. Amanda Cartwright, an actress whose only major role was as a scream queen in the 80s cult classic Camp Bloodbath, dies in a car accident leaving her only daughter Max devastated. Years later, Max attends a 20th anniversary screening of Camp Bloodbath where she and her friends are inexplicably pulled into the movie’s fictional world. But the most compelling part of the story begins when Max comes face-to-face with Nancy, the movie version of her mother who’s slated to die first. While her friends are only concerned with surviving the movie, Max resolves to save Nancy from her fate and bring her to the real world. I think it’s a genuinely funny, vibrant movie and I like how silly it gets with horror tropes and conventions, but it’s the emotional depth of Max and Nancy’s relationship that makes this one of my favorites. Your mileage may vary with the goofing and schlock, but underneath it all is a surprisingly earnest, warm emotional core that still just gets me. “Bette Davis Eyes” makes me emo without fail.

Resolution

When people ask me what my favorite horror movie is, I usually say Resolution. Michael shows up at his friend Chris’ decaying cabin in the woods under the premise of a visit, only to shackle him to a pipe in a bid to sober him up. But things start getting weird when VHS tapes of events that haven’t happened to them yet keep appearing on their doorstep. And worse, no matter what they do, these tapes always seem to end in their deaths. Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead do so much with a small budget, spinning an intriguing horror story about storytelling and endings that leaves you with a lot to chew on. How do you know when to end a horror story? When are we satisfied? Let’s just keep doing it again and again and again until we figure it out.

The Endless

Another Moorhead and Benson feature and another absolute banger. It’s not exactly a sequel to Resolution, but I highly recommend watching Resolution first. Life for brothers Justin and Aaron (played by the directors themselves) hasn’t been too great since leaving Camp Arcadia, a UFO death cult, about a decade earlier. Justin maintains that they needed to escape Camp Arcadia, but Aaron remembers it fondly, questioning whether or not it was even a cult like Justin claims. When the remaining Camp Arcadians mail them a cryptic video message, they decide to visit just for one day. A movie about a “UFO death cult” might conjure up very specific expectations, but Moorhead and Benson have something way more interesting in mind. The Endless is phenomenal, charming cosmic horror that takes the ideas and questions raised in Resolution and just runs away with them. Maybe, the movie proposes, the scariest thing a story can do is never end. God, I love horror about storytelling.

An Aside: I had the pleasure of seeing this in theaters when it came to The Music Box in Chicago. After it ended, I went next door for some empanadas and then immediately watched it again. It rules.

Society

Angsty teen Bill Whitney doesn’t trust his obscenely wealthy high-society family, and receiving a tape recording of his mom, dad, and sister participating in what sounds like a uhh, homicidal orgy only confirms his suspicions. But as Bill tries to get to the bottom of things, he finds that the entire town seems to be conspiring against him. Well, not the entire town. Just the rich people. Oops! The straight-up weird atmosphere of the movie riffs on how it seems like The Rich occupy an entirely different reality than the rest of us normies. And in the end, Society employs some hilariously absurd and disgusting visuals to illustrate just how grotesque the obscenely wealthy in our society truly are. Bonkers and gross. I wish there was more like it.

Sole Survivor

“It’s like once, I bought this dress…Expensive, so I charged it. And it never showed up on my bill. So I thought, ‘Great! A mistake in my favor! I’ll just keep my mouth shut.’ It’s kind of the same thing I felt when I came to after the crash.”

A stronger, scarier precursor to the Final Destination series. Denise Watson is the only survivor of a gruesome plane crash. As she tries to move on, she gets the feeling that it’s more than just survivor’s guilt that’s haunting her. Sole Survivor is my favorite kind of story: generally mundane and “casual” but with a deeply Weird undercurrent. It’s extremely good at building an eerie atmosphere and pulling us into a slightly disturbed reality. There’s something deeply unsettling underneath the surface, but the movie never lets you get a good look at it. Everything is fine and normal, except for the little moments where it’s not.

Raw

Don’t worry, every French veterinary school is like this. Completely normal.

The definitive scene in Raw for me is when the protagonist eyes a raw chicken breast like she’s a cartoon wolf drooling over a T-bone steak and then proceeds to sink her teeth into it. Somehow this feels more excessive than a slasher kill scene. The movie has its fair share of blood and gore but unlike a slasher, it’s hard distancing ourselves from what we’re seeing. It’s too visceral, too close. These scenes remind us of the simple fact that we’re just meat, and brings to mind all the strange experiences associated with having a body. Raw thoughtfully employs body horror and 16-year-old Justine’s new, intense hunger for flesh to explore other burgeoning appetites and the relationship between revolting and appetizing, gruesome and beautiful.

Ava’s Possessions

right there with you, Ava

Demonic possession is just a normal thing that exists in the world of Ava’s Possessions. And rather unfairly there’s even stigma attached to it, as if possession survivors didn’t have enough to deal with. Ava is one such recently exorcized possessee struggling to, well, put together the pieces of her life. With no memory of what happened the last 28 days, she’s ordered to attend a 12-step program support group (Spiritual Possession Anonymous) while trying to figure out what actually happened while she was…away. I love that Ava’s Possessions is a pulpy noir-esque mystery that picks up where most horror movies would end. Ava’s not a detective per se, but this is an insanely stylish horror detective story nonetheless. It’s a colorful, scummy, neon world that rocks something akin to a gaudier Pushing Daisies storybook aesthetic. Ava’s Possessions risks being a little silly in the pursuit of doing something creative and it pays off.

Residue

An odd job involving an Accursed Tome plunges scruffy down-on-his-luck private detective Nick Harding and his estranged daughter into a waking nightmare. My huge crush on Nick aside, Residue is a fun cross between detective noir and cosmic horror. It’s got charm, endearing leads, pleasantly ambiguous lore, and that extremely important thin layer of grime. And also, I really do just like horror detective stories.

The Thing

[small inhale] a

I’m not really one for re-watching movies but The Thing is the one movie I try to revisit every October. Dozens of movies have tried to replicate its magic, but these Thing-Likes rarely come close. The pervasive feeling of isolation, the desolate atmosphere, the brilliant practical effects, the inspired and admirably gross body horror and creature design (yes! yes!!!) here is unmatched. And of course, it’s the escalating paranoia and mistrust that really characterizes The Thing. It’s such a [deceptively] simple, fun, eerie concept. I love this movie in which an Antarctic outpost gets a cute new dog 🙂 🙂 🙂

Alien

After a distress signal leads them to a mysterious planet that seemingly contains nothing but thousands of pulsating eggs, the crew of the spaceship Nostromo become the unwitting participants in the life cycle of a terrible alien creature. Alien is a lot like the titular alien herself: terrifyingly sleek, brutally efficient, and characterized by predatory hostility. There’s little to no waste here. Even the H.R. Giger’s insane insectoid alien creature design is perfectly at home in Alien’s depiction of space as the grimy, scuzzy outskirts of the universe. Like The Thing, this movie feels like one of those peerless, classic horror movies that dozens of others have tried to recreate — usually with middling results. Anyway, stan Ridley.

An Aside: I can’t help but compare The Thing and Alien. It’d be easy to list out their similarities, but they feel so dramatically different in a way I can’t eloquently quantify. I think a key difference is that The Thing From Another World, while gruesome and violent, doesn’t feel like a predator. Sure, it’s killing the outpost members, but not in the same way the Xenomorph is actively hunting down Ridley and her crew. There’s a painfully clear, apathetic predator-prey hierarchy that gives Alien its specific flavor.

Audition

completely unironic hashtag girlboss

I am always wailing about how romantic comedies are usually just horror movies about the nightmare called heteroromantic love. The duplicity, manipulation, and sometimes straight up cruelty are packaged as “ha ha isn’t this Romantic!” and the consequences of such behavior are usually completely brushed off by the movie’s conclusion. Not in Audition. Its title comes from its own romcom premise: middle-aged widower Shigeharu Aoyama is looking for a girlfriend, but laments that there are no “good girls” left in Japan. So, his friend offers to use his position as a film producer to host auditions for The Role of Aoyama’s Ideal Wife under the guise of trying to fill a movie part. And you know, the plan seemingly works perfectly. Aoyama meets the demure, beautiful Asami (#girlboss), the duplicity goes unpunished, and for maybe 90 minutes we’re treated to a romance movie about their developing relationship. But there are creepy moments sprinkled throughout the movie, and something ominous is lurking under the surface. When it finally morphs into a complete and utter nightmare, it’s almost expected. Audition is a wild movie with its eyes firmly locked on misogyny and patriarchal expectations of women as sites of extreme horror. It’s infamous for its final scene, but it’s violent long before the needles come out.

An Aside: The Faculty Of Horror has a great episode on Audition that I highly recommend checking out.

Scarecrows

Buncha no-good thieving dastards kidnap a pilot and his daughter. But after one of their own double-crosses them and parachutes out of the getaway plane with their recently plundered loot, they all find themselves in sprawling field full of murderous scarecrows. Yes! Yes!!! Goofy, fun, and has some delightfully creepy moments (one scarecrow design is particularly inspired, but you have to see it for yourself!) Feels perfect for an October evening.

Oh also, the dialogue rules.

Evolution

Evolution is like peering into a tide pool on the rocky shore. On paper, it might not seem that impressive. Anemones, sea urchins, seaweed, maybe a sea cucumber if you’re lucky. But when you’re there, looking at the weirdest, most beautiful living organisms you’ve ever seen, it feels like you’re catching a glimpse oft an alien world. We follow Nicolas, a young boy who lives with his mother on a strange seaside village, and the series of events that unfold after he stumbles upon a kid’s corpse in the ocean. His mother tells him he imagined it, but it’s not a satisfying answer, especially when you consider how bizarre this village is. For example, Nicolas’ daily life typically consists of swimming, diving, and trips to a decrepit hospital where doctors perform unexplained and inscrutable procedures on him and the other kids (all young boys) on the island. Hm . . . Anyway, Evolution embodies what’s bizarre, primordial, and slimy about the ocean and casts it onto people, particularly kids. The result is a surreal body horror movie that’s simultaneously grotesque and beautiful. I can’t give you a straight answer on what it’s “about,” but that’s fine. Sometimes you just have to let a movie wash over you.

Lake Mungo

After 16-year-old Alice Palmer drowns, her family begins to suspect that her ghost is haunting them. Lake Mungo is an expertly made ghost story told in the form of a documentary about the Palmer family and the secrets they uncover about their recently deceased daughter. It’s both ambitious in its scope and restrained in its execution, opting to let the legitimately chilling and eerie atmosphere develop organically as we peer into a normal family struggling to make sense out of tragedy. The movie pulls us into the Palmer household and their grief, convinces us of its reality, and then pulls us even deeper down the rabbit hole. And while it really is one of the scariest movies on this list, it’s also just, immensely sad. This deeply unnerving found footage film works on multiple levels, one of them being a lonely, dreamy reflection on death.

Dig Two Graves

Jake is too scared to leap into the local quarry, a rite of passage among the kids in her small Midwestern town. Her brother Sean tells her they can jump together, but she backs out at the last second. She watches her brother disappear into the water and his body is never found, leaving Jake wracked with guilt and grief. So when a trio of creepy old moonshiners with seemingly magical abilities offer her a way to get her brother back, she can’t help but consider it – even if it means trading a life for a life. But what Jake doesn’t know is that there’s history here. As the trio’s dark proposition takes root in Jake’s mind, she gets caught in something that started long before she was ever born. What I remember the most about this one is Jake, who makes for a very compelling, tragic protagonist. Overall though, it’s just a really good spooky story I can imagine being told over a campfire on a chilly autumn evening. Dig Two Graves weaves together a tale of buried history and a tale of a teenager confronting the darkest parts of her grief to deliver a smart, affecting folk horror story.

Black Mountain Side

It’s a little whack to only talk about a movie in comparison to another movie, but any horror movie about a group of isolated men in a cold, wintery location as something unfathomable threatens to destroy them exists in the shadow of The Thing. So yeah, Black Mountain Side, a movie about a group of archaeologists that uncovers an ancient structure in the Arctic, is definitely a Thing-Like. It’s also legitimately good and stands on its own merits. The movie’s pervasive sense of paranoia and isolation are reminiscent of The Thing in a good way, but its quieter, chillier mood sets it apart. Unlike The Thing, there isn’t really anything for the characters here to set on fire or blow up. What’s afflicting them is intangible. In the spirit of cosmic horror, we never truly figure out what’s going on, or what “the rules” are. Considering the catalyst for the characters’ unraveling sanity is only unburied thanks to rising temperatures and thawing ice, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the movie’s very much got climate change on its mind too. It’s a slow, cold burn, and I’m here for it.

The Craft

New transfer student Sarah falls in with a group of aspiring teen witches who, after following through on the “aspiring” part, wreak havok on bullies, boyfriends, and other people who generally suck. The witches in The Craft are high school girls looking to seize control over their lives and strike back at the restrictions and cruelty of an unfair world. But look, I don’t need to rationalize or intellectualize why I like The Craft. It’s a lethally 90s mess that’s maybe kind of bad but also really good and fun. I just love a teen witch story.

Get Out

Jordan Peele knocks it out of the park with this terrifying movie about a Black man visiting his white girlfriend’s family (already a harrowing enough premise) only to quickly discover that things are very, very wrong here. Every part of this movie viscerally draws on painfully real history and patterns of anti-Blackness. One of the horrific machinations central to the movie is a completely inspired and evil escalation of blackface. It’s utterly relentless. It’s a Genuinely Great [Horror] Movie that represents horror at its very finest. Get Out is incisive, thoughtful, relevant, stylish, scary, and it’s got a sense of humor on top of it all. I probably don’t need to sing its praises, but it feels wrong not to!

Perfect Blue

Mima Kiroge makes the life-changing decision to leave her career as a J-Pop idol to become a serious full-time actress. She’s determined to make it work even though her departure from the idol world has upset her fans, including one particularly intense and violent stalker. But after filming a traumatic assault scene as part of her first big role, Mima’s sense of reality begins to fall apart. Perfect Blue is a compelling, disorienting, and often just plain distressing psychological thriller grounded in the entertainment industry’s commodification of women. Satoshi Kon was ahead of the curve identifying parasocial relationships fostered by internet fandoms as a source of terror and anxiety. The themes and scares of this 1997 animated film might have gotten even more potent with age, as access to media personas keeps escalating while people’s sense of boundaries remain questionable.

An Aside: do not talk to me about Bl*ck Sw*n, aka Perfect Blue But Worse

The Babadook

Amelia Vanek is an intensely sleep-deprived single mother who could use a break. Her six-year-old son Sam is a handful to say the least, and she’s still grieving the loss of her husband who died right before Sam was born. She’s hanging on by a thread when Sam asks her to read a story she can’t remember ever seeing before about a creature known as the Babadook. Reading the storybook starts a series of spooky events, but scarier than the child-eating, top hat-wearing cockroach creature are Amelia’s buried emotions that start worming their way to the surface. As her exasperation and ire toward her son turn her into a boogeyman, and we begin seeing Sam for what he really is – a vulnerable six-year-old kid. The Babadook is a stylish, smart horror movie that balances a metaphor for depression and grief with the very real malevolence Amelia and her son are up against. It’s one of my favorites and I find myself thinking about the ending a lot. Keep your eyes peeled for the scene where the Babadook looks directly at the camera and says “Hi, I’m the Babadook and I am a gay man who loves men.”

Cam

Alice Ackerman is a camgirl who performs as “Lola” on FreeGirlsLive. Her goal to become the most popular girl on the site is going well until one morning she inexplicably finds that “Lola” is currently live, doing a show and interacting with fans. As Alice scrambles to regain control of her channel and find out what exactly is going on, her digital doppelganger keeps doing shows and progressively breaches more and more of the boundaries Alice was so careful to set. At its core, Cam is a movie about the horrifying ordeal of losing agency and control over your life and image. One of the most harrowing moments in the movie is when “Lola” gives her viewers a tour of her apartment while Alice helplessly watches as her online persona essentially doxes her. We’re all chronically online, but how much control do we really have over our online presence? Isa Mazzei draws upon her own experiences as a camgirl to tell a sex-positive horror story where we are “rooting for a sex worker to return to sex work,” and it rules.

Observance

While Parker, a grieving private investigator, listens to a recording of the random woman he’s been hired to spy on, he hears a voice hiss “stop watching.” He’s shaken, but he doesn’t stop. And neither do we. We’re in the same position. Parker is observing this woman from a distance, and we observe him from a distance. I can’t give you a definitive answer on what Observance is about, but I can’t help but think of it as horror about horror. What do we get out of looking? How do we reckon with the voyeurism of stories that often focus on the pain and suffering of others? It’s very Quiet Aesthetic Horror™ and falls into some rote pitfalls, but the atmosphere and flavor of horror it delivers fascinates me. It’s grimy and unnerving and rich. It is kind of similar to Kill List, although that feels like a strange comparison to make considering I didn’t like Kill List. I think this recommendation has the biggest chance of being a whiff out of everything on this list, but hey, I’m still thinking about it six years later.

Goosebumps

Rather than being an adaptation of any of the books, Goosebumps (the movie) takes place in our world, where Goosebumps (the book series and franchise) exists as we know it. The story starts when Zach and his mom move to a new town after his dad dies. Zach quickly finds that this town isn’t as boring as it seems when he discovers The Girl Next Door’s dad is the R.L. Stine (played by Jack Black). Turns out, every Goosebumps book is based on an actual monster, and they’re kept sealed away in their original manuscripts. Until, of course, Zach accidentally lets them all out. Your mileage might vary a bit depending on your relationship with the books (I devoured them insatiably as a kid), but the movie is fun, witty, high-energy all-ages horror with a surprisingly touching emotional core.

An Aside: Check out Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween too! Admittedly I don’t think it’s as good because it lacks that aforementioned sincere emotional core, but it’s the same evergreen flavor of silly spooky fun.

Noroi: The Curse

Noroi: The Curse meticulously and methodically constructs an entire world to tell a dreadful tale about, well, a curse. It’s found footage horror in the form of an unfinished documentary by a paranormal investigator named Masafumi Kobayashi who went missing during its production. What we’re seeing is everything he had put together so far. Kobayashi doggedly pursues seemingly disparate threads about ectoplasmic worms, missing TV psychics, occult rituals, a drowned village, demonic possession, and more. The creepiness only escalates as Kobayashi begins to connect the dots and approaches both a horrible conclusion and a horrible fate. Say it with me: Ka-gu-ta-ba.

Splinter

pictured: my hand after typing all of this out

Some people are trapped in a gas station while pointy parasitic slime brutally hunts them down! Yes!! Yes!!!!!

Zodiac

David Fincher’s tense, gripping, unnervingly quiet movie about the Zodiac killer and the people who become obsessed with catching him. In addition to just being an Extremely Well Crafted Movie, Zodiac riffs on the voyeurism associated with True Crime stories and real life events. As the hunt for the Zodiac Killer intensifies, it becomes less about finding justice for his victims and more about the Game of it all. The basement scene alone warrants its place on a list of horror movies.

The Ruins

A group of white tourists vacationing in Mexico decide to embark on a Very Cool And Well-Thought-Out Adventure into the jungle to see check out some ruins! The dude telling them to turn back doesn’t know what he’s talking about! The entire indigenous village living in the jungle warning them away also probably don’t know what they’re talking about either! It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s Fine! The Ruins is a bloody, gleefully mean survival horror movie that’s fun if you’re the kind of person who likes these kinds of movies. I am that kind of person!

An Aside: The movie is based on the Scott Smith novel of the same name. Unlike the movie, the book really, really goes in on its lethally privileged protagonists and it rules. I enjoyed it so much I wrote about it right here if you’re interested. Spoilers, of course.

The Ring

The premise is probably familiar to most people: there’s a supposedly cursed videotape making the rounds that kills anyone who watches it in . . . seven days! The movie follows journalist Rachel Keller as she tries to track down this tape, and once she does, how to break its curse. The Ring holds up absolutely. It’s got a great protagonist, an incredible atmosphere, and is genuinely scary. It also happens to be one of the prettiest movies I’ve seen, practically oozing style and dread in equal measure. I love a good ghost story.

An Aside: The Ring paints a cool and interesting idea of A Ghost. Rachel’s son delivers a particularly haunting line toward the very end of the movie that I absolutely love because it lays bare the naïve assumptions characters often make about ghosts and curses. If you’re interested, I talk more about that and Ju-On: The Grudge right here. Beware, there are spoilers!

Satan’s Slaves

In the days following their mother’s death, Rini and her two younger siblings are plagued with ghostly apparitions and other supernatural occurrences. Things only continue to escalate as Rini discovers her family’s connection to a satanic cult. The first thing I noticed about Satan’s Slaves is that it looks great. Stylistically it reminds me a lot of The Ring and it has the substance to back it up. Creepy, campy, tense, charming . . . Satan’s Slaves knows exactly what it’s doing! It’s a funhouse scare kind of movie stuffed to the brim with classic horror staples, but director Joko Anwar has fun giving them new life and a fresh coat of paint. On top of that, Satan’s Slaves has notably phenomenal, endearing protagonists in Rini and her family. It’s wild how having characters we genuinely want to root for affects a horror movie. Overall assessment: good, spooky fun. Check out Anwar’s subsequent film Impetigore too, especially if you liked this one.

The Bay

On July 4th, 2009, over 700 people died during Claridge, Maryland’s annual Independence Day festival. Three years later, a reporter has cobbled together previously suppressed footage to tell the real story – not the cover-up the feds pushed – of what happened to this quaint seaside town. Found footage and ecohorror are horror subgenres that tend to be a little goofy and this is no exception. BUT!! If you can get past that, you’ll find The Bay deftly uses found footage conventions to tell a grisly, compelling, and admirably gross story. It does what only horror can do: escalate our fears and anxieties until they’re very real, very tangible things that are literally eviscerating us. Because at the end of the day, the real horror isn’t horrid ravenous isopods (fictional mutant versions of my dear friend the tongue-eating louse) that infest the townspeople and cause them to [REDACTED], but politicians who prioritize profit over human life and the environment.

Annihilation

Every expedition into the Shimmer, a bewildering, expanding zone that’s engulfing the American coastline, has ended in failure. No one has come back. Motivated by a personal connection and a nonzero amount of self-destruction, cellular biologist Lena joins the latest expedition and enters a world where the laws of nature and physics as we understand them are mutating into something unrecognizable. My favorite image from the movie comes when the crew discovers a human corpse that’s exploded into a rainbow of fungus, lichen, and flora. It’s beautiful, morbid, vibrant, and grotesque, all at once. You can’t untangle these qualities. They only feed into each other, taking on a life of their own. Is there actual malice in the air here, or is that coming from us as we confront something so weird, so alien to us?

An Aside: Annihilation is based on a Jeff VanderMeer book of the same name, the first of a trilogy. They’re entirely different entities, but 1.) they both rule and 2.) if you like one, you should also check out the other. I think the movie effectively adapts the tone and mood of the novel into a standalone story, even capturing the sheer weirdness of VanderMeer’s work in its own compelling way. That being said, I truly love the book. It’s desolate and haunting like nothing else. It’s also extremely slimy.

The Descent

One year after surviving a car accident that killed her husband and daughter, Sarah accepts her friends’ invitation to go caving in the Appalachian Mountains. Unfortunately, things don’t go quite as planned after they find themselves trapped in an unmapped cave system. Alongside unresolved emotional trauma and complicated group dynamics, they also happen to be trapped down there with [REDACTED]. The thing I remember most about this movie is how claustrophobic it feels. I usually feel at home in enclosed spaces because I am in fact a cave-dwelling creacher, but the scene of our protagonist desperately wriggling through a tiny rocky crevice as it collapses around her gets a yikes from me. It’s a good sign when a movie is scary even before the scary parts even start, and The Descent absolutely follows through.

Spring

Yet another Moorhead and Benson feature! This time we’ve got a romantic body horror movie. We follow Evan, who travels to Italy to Find Himself after his mother dies and meets the Mysterious And Cool Nadia. Spring is a good example of what I mean when I say “I don’t think horror has to be scary.” A sense of unease and eeriness seeps into the film as it moves along, but it coexists with the scenic, leisurely holiday romance. It’s cosmic horror; the horror comes from being so utterly, completely out of your depth, confronting something you’re unable to truly understand. But maybe . . . that’s just what being in love is like?! Who can say!

We Go On

Certified thanatophobe and Good Boy™ Miles Grissom offers $30,000 to anyone who can prove to him that there is an afterlife. He gets more than he bargained for! The movie is more surprising than the premise might have you believe. It sets up expectations only to playfully follow through in unexpected ways. And for a movie obsessed with death, it spends a lot of time with the living and the mundanities (and warmth) of daily life. Miles’ mom Charlotte is the stand-out character here, with the mother-son relationship forming a major part of the movie’s emotional core. We Go On understands and respects Mom Strength, reinforcing my ardent belief that horror needs more moms. But anyway, it’s a unique ghost story that has nestled itself in my heart thanks to its distinct style and mood.

Videodrome

My favorite Cronenberg! When Max stumbles upon a plotless, senseless broadcast dedicated to graphic torture and violence, he thinks he’s found just what his sleazy TV station needs to do the numbers again. But after his girlfriend auditions for the show and subsequently disappears, Max starts digging into the truth behind “Videodrome” and begins losing himself in the process. Cronenberg’s reputation for surreal visuals and gnarly body horror is well-earned. In this case, they’re a way to grapple with our ever-evolving relationship to technology, media, and entertainment, as well as how this relationship can be exploited. The boundaries between organic and inorganic break down as meat and metal begin to fuse in this surreal, cryptic, illegally horny movie.

Us

“But your people took it for granted.”

An eerie, traumatic childhood experience haunts Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyongo!) and casts a shadow over a beachside getaway with her family. Her overwhelming sense of foreboding and dread is ultimately vindicated when a group of strangers show up in their driveway with malicious intentions. But they quickly discover that these masked figures aren’t exactly strangers. There’s no way for me to quantify the following statement but I stand by it: Us feels like a horror movie made by someone who genuinely, unabashedly loves horror. It’s a nightmare and a blast, harrowing and delightful, genuinely unsettling and genuinely fun. Lupita is absolutely incredible and delivers the single best horror performance I’ve seen. The climactic scene (the choreography!) lives rent free in my head. The social and political commentary isn’t as overt as it is in Get Out, but it’s as rich and layered as we’ve already come to expect from Peele. And the score! I remember leaving the theater with the leitmotif looping in my head and wondering if this is how people felt leaving Halloween in 1978 with John Carpenter’s synths keeping them company on the way home. An all-time great.

Of Unknown Origin

Hmm, yes, yes, tell me more…

While his obscenely rich wife and kid are away on vacation, New York investment banker Bart Hughes (Peter Weller) faces off against an extremely powerful rat (Uncredited). It’s Rat vs. Rat, babey! Of Unknown Origins is a weird little movie. I wonder if it’s intentionally drawing a parallel between the vermin that infest and desecrate big cities and rodents (zing!) In any case, it’s just fun watching this guy grow increasingly unhinged as this horrid creacher ruins his life.

Messiah Of Evil

Oh, how I long to bathe in the light of the blood red moon! Messiah of Evil is a deeply eerie low-budget cosmic horror movie from the 70s that I’m truly surprised isn’t more popular. A woman in search of her missing father arrives in a disturbed beachside town that has it all: cryptic journal entries, a ravenous cult, folklore that has a life of its own, waterlogged corpses, wow! My favorite part of the movie is how normal it all seems. Somehow, in the middle of being chased by a crowd of people you just saw eating raw meat in the supermarket at midnight, you feel like you’re the weird one.

People Under The Stairs

Seventh grader Fool (as in the tarot card symbolizing someone beginning a journey) and his family are three days late on their rent. According to the terms of their lease, they have to pay triple or face immediate eviction. Monstrous terms set by their monstrous landlords: the Robesons, a pair of abusive racists who call themselves “Mommy” and “Daddy.” No comment. With eviction imminent, Fool joins a scheme to rob these creeps of their rumored stash of gold. But there are some unsettling rumors about the Robesons and what’s really inside their house. The People Under The Stairs is a weird, campy, satirical movie that almost has the tone of an all-ages movie while very much being a gratuitous and disturbing Wes Craven movie. And if the premise didn’t make it clear, it’s intensely invested in grappling with racial violence, gentrification, capitalism, and wealth disparity. The Robesons live lavish and while exploiting and destroying a neighborhood of poor Black families. They’re cartoonishly evil and grotesque, but I mean, so are the real people they’re parodying. Anyway, I love this fairy tale about capitalism where the monsters are landlords and the silver bullet key to defeating them is, of course, explosives solidarity.

Hereditary

An absolute nightmare about what happens to Annie’s family after her mother dies, and how it becomes increasingly clear that her family tree has been rotting for some time now. I know it’s become like A Thing to talk about how horrible and dreadful this movie is, but it’s true. Three scenes in particular made me forget to breathe: a fateful car ride home, an ensuing discovery, and a dinner table monologue. Toni Collette is absolutely, insanely phenomenal. And on top of the Dread™, Hereditary has its fair share of funhouse scares. We’ve got horror coming from family dynamics and the concept of trauma as an intergenerational curse as well as just, some spooky ghosts and imagery! Great movie to watch if you want to [checks notes] feel bad.

Happy Hunting

Happy Hunting is a “Man Is The Most Dangerous Game” Western with a very intentional [American] political bent. On his way to Mexico to unite with a young son he only recently found out about, Warren becomes an unwilling participant in a small desert town’s annual culling. The folksy, deranged organizers of the hunt believe they’re doing their targets a service, ending their lives quickly instead of waiting for poverty and/or neglect to do the job. Of course, the hunters have nobly taken it upon themselves to handpick who isn’t worth saving. It’s up to you to decide how well the satire works here. I think it’s solid, and I also just appreciate the ambition here. More horror should grapple with the flagrantly cruel attitudes the government and so many people casually embody. A late-game reveal tells us the movie’s got immigration policy in its crosshairs too. It comes across as a little opportunistic and played for shock value, but I think it actually works. Overall though, it’s a solid, adrenaline-filled survival thriller.

The Invitation

I can’t claim any personal experience but I can only imagine that The Invitation is an entirely accurate depiction of what LA dinner parties are like: rich white yuppies doing lines of coke in between talking about all the spiritual retreats they’ve attended. With that in mind, I can fully understand why Will (played by Tom Hardy lookalike Logan Marshall Green) doesn’t want to attend this dinner party hosted by his ex-wife Eden and her new partner David. But when he gets there, his trepidation mutates into inexplicable paranoia about the hosts’ intentions. The movie’s strength is how it saturates Eden’s lovely home with Will’s escalating sense of unease as the night drags on. Will everything just keep simmering like this, or will it finally hit a boiling point? The answer is less important than the anticipation!

Coherence

the five people you’ll meet in LA? is that anything?

I love when horrible things interrupt dinner parties no one is particularly about!! In this case, eight friends’ dinner party to is ruined when a passing comet fractures reality into a myriad of alternate possibilities. Once again, I can only imagine this is what happens in LA. Whereas another movie might play its cerebral, high-concept premise close to the chest, Coherence lays its cards on the table almost immediately. It’s less interested in dazzling you with a single mind-blowing reveal than it is with cleverly mining a strange situation for every bit of tension it can muster. And, as we quickly find out, a friend group’s History and Baggage doesn’t go away just because the fabric of reality is unwinding. Coherence is a tense, smart thriller that doesn’t need to employ special effects or even go past the director’s own driveway to take us on a ride.

Pan’s Labyrinth

OwO

Set in Spain 1944, five years after the Spanish Civil War, Pan’s Labyrinth tells the story of 10-year-old Ofelia who, alongside her pregnant mother, has recently moved in with the sadistic fascist Captain Vidal. Ofelia’s wish to escape this new life is seemingly answered when she meets an enigmatic faun who claims she’s the long lost princess of a faerie kingdom. But before she can claim her throne alongside the king and queen, her real father and mother, she must dutifully completely three tasks. Guillermo Del Toro’s dark, devastating fairy tale about fascism, war, and a myriad of fantastic creatures is equal parts beautiful and terrifying. Every time I watch it, I’m left speechless and just, in awe. Maybe what strikes me the most is that for all its grimness and tragedy, it remains optimistic at its core. The world is cruel and violent, but we shouldn’t stop dreaming up a kinder world. A better world is possible. At least, that’s I think Pan’s Labyrinth seems to say. In any case, there’s nothing else like it.

The Wailing

Officer Jong-goo’s investigation into a reclusive stranger whose arrival in the small mountain village of Gokseong heralds an infection that compels its victims to extreme violence becomes personal when his young daughter contracts the illness as well. There’s so much going on in The Wailing. It’s got shaman exorcisms, nightmarish imagery, demons, ghosts, curses, Christian mythology, and a significant amount of stress. And on top of being stuffed to the gills with dread, it’s also genuinely funny. Thanks to the utter incompetence and inefficiency of Jong-goo and the supporting cast of characters, The Wailing has elements of a Comic Police Procedural. It all feeds back into that aforementioned dread, because for all the goofy bumbling and ludicrous plot developments, it’s clear that an undeniable malice has infiltrated Gokseong. Jong-goo simply does not know how to deal with it. It becomes more likely that the characters might just be making things inexplicably worse with their clumsy investigation and hastily drawn conclusions. The Wailing manages to be so consistently compelling throughout its runtime that I didn’t realize it was two and a half hours long until after it ended.

The Girl With All The Gifts

The Girl With All The Gifts has the typical zombie apocalypse premise but with a significant twist: second-generation “hungries” born to infected mothers retain their humanity. They crave human flesh, sure, but otherwise they’re just normal children. The star of the movie is one such child, a bright young Black girl named Melanie who might hold the key to developing a vaccine. But at what cost? Melanie is alive. She is not a thing to be dissected and thrown out, even if the military scientists holding her and others like her captive don’t seem to think so. She’s momentarily saved from being lobotomized after a zombie attack forces her to flee alongside a handful of military base personnel. Her growing understanding of herself, the world around her, and the normies who clamor for the chance to cut her up drives the story forward and conjures troubling questions. What if our time is up? What if it’s time for something new? When do we have to confront the idea that this isn’t an “apocalypse” for everyone? The Girl With All The Gifts complicates the typical zombie apocalypse story in such a simple but radical way, leading to a legitimately surprising ending that’s stuck with me.

An Aside:

House (1977)

A girl named Gorgeous (go off!!) takes six of her friends to visit her aunt in the countryside where they find themselves dealing with an onslaught of supernatural events. This description doesn’t do this utterly bonkers, surreal, playful, lovely movie any justice at all. I don’t want to describe anything that happens because 1.) letting the movie pull out surprise after surprise is a delight and 2.) it’s hard for me to recommend House as anything other than A Holistic Experience. It’s a movie I don’t imagine many people have lukewarm opinions about. Watch it with horror or weird cinema inclined friends who also have no idea what they’re getting into!

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)

Some Context: In 1946, the Phantom Killer attacked eight people within ten weeks, sending the town of Texarkana into a massive state of panic. The killer was never caught. The Texarkana Moonlight Murders went on to inspire the 1976 horror movie The Town That Dreaded Sundown, which is loosely based on the real event. This in turn inspired 2014’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown which isn’t exactly a remake or a sequel.

In TTTDS (2014), it’s a Texarkana tradition to hold an annual Halloween drive-in showing of TTTDS (1976). But on the night of one such showing, the Phantom strikes again. The Phantom attacks a couple and leaves Jami Lerner alive with a message for the town: “I’m going to do it again and again until you make them remember.” With the town once again spiraling into a panic and the police remaining as useless as ever, Jami launches her own investigation into The Phantom. It’s a slasher about a slasher that’s clever about its meta-horror aspects while being a fun and solid slasher on its own merit. What I love most about TTTDS is its distinct, dreamy atmosphere. It doesn’t exactly reinvent familiar slasher conventions, but it reanimates them. It’s also extremely 2000s, which I love. It’s not a slasher unless you have a harrowing experience in your public library’s dusty old microfiche room, babey!

The Blair Witch Project

hey stop that

I didn’t have to know that I lived about an hour away from where everything happened to be afraid the Blair Witch was going to get me. I also didn’t even have to actually watch the movie to see her in the woods by my house, or in every dilapidated shack nestled among the trees I saw out the car window on long drives. But even if you don’t have any sort of personal connection to the movie, it undeniably casts an eerie spell. The Blair Witch Project has the feel of the True Story behind the campfire story someone’s telling you. It’s arguably responsible for found footage horror’s massive popularity, and it also represents the subgenre at its very best. It understands that less is more, giving us enough to hook us and then giving our imaginations room to run wild in the dark. The scene in the basement remains one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen. Get outta there!!

An Aside: The Faculty Of Horror has a great episode that discusses the Lore and the Context of The Blair Witch Project.

They Look Like People

There’s a scene in Silent Hill 3 where Vincent berates Heather for the violence she’s inflicted on the inhabitants of this nightmarish hellscape. “Monsters…? They looked like monsters to you?” he accuses. He claims it’s just a joke, but it’s too late. Doubt seeps in. What if the “monsters” she’s been slaughtering left and right aren’t actually monsters? What if her (and by extension, the player’s) grasp on the situation is horribly, terribly wrong? This sort of fear informs They Look Like People, which follows Wyatt after he’s become convinced the people around him is being replaced by evil entities. This “mumblegore” film (a silly but accurate descriptor) is primarily concerned with Wyatt’s relationship with his best friend Christian and plays out through their conversations and interactions. In the process, it tackles toxic masculinity, mental health issues, and how men struggle to show intimacy even to their closest friends. And on top of it all, it serves up some genuinely disturbing imagery along the way.

The Shape Of Water

Ah, yes, Guillermo Del Toro’s horny fish monster movie that made me cry! Elisa is a lonely, mute custodian working at a top-secret government lab in 1962. She’s surprised to accidentally discover the lab’s latest acquisition: an amphibious, humanoid creature who happens to be caked tf up. As relationship blossoms between the two outcasts, Elisa decides to risk it all breaking him out of the lab and protecting him from the vile government fascist bent on exploiting him. The Shape Of Water is delightful mash-up of an Classic™ Monster Movie and an old Hollywood blockbuster – black and white dance number and everything. It’s a Weird Romance where our two leads fall in love with each other not in spite of their differences, but because of them. And at the core of the movie is a rejection of hierarchical relationships. The movie argues that only being able to conceive of people as either below or above you, as subhuman or superhuman, is a characteristic of the villainous and the pathetic. And like Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape Of Water remains optimistic at its core. A happy ending for people frequently denied one is worth believing in, even if it seems impossible and even if it doesn’t come to fruition. Our hopes and desires for a kinder more loving world mean something. I’m waxing poetic because I love this movie a lot. This isn’t GDT’s Beauty And The Beast; it’s something more interesting and more radical.

Knife + Heart

This homage to Italian giallo films in which someone gets stabbed with a retractable dildo knife in the first five minutes shows the most compassion and tenderness toward the queer community than any other movie I’ve seen. Anne, a gay gay pornography director, realizes there’s a killer targeting men who have acted in her films. The police are no help (of course), so it’s up to her to figure out what’s really going on here. Yes, this is a horny gay slasher and I love that, but there’s so much more to this film. I kind of resent how a lot of the media buzz is about the movie’s Spiciness when its tenderness is even more striking. One of the [many] great things it does is take an extremely common, homophobic horror trope and successfully reclaim the tragedy of it. Knife + Heart has got a gorgeous, dreamy atmosphere and gives its vibrant queer characters room to be ugly and messy without entirely demonizing them. I cried, because I’m a baby! It immediately became an all-time favorite.

“I didn’t know him that well. On set he tended to be…insatiable. He loved it, for sure. Last month we shot an orgy scene. Five men were on Karl. He went from one to another. Eyes ablaze, at the mercy of his partners, possessed. When you lose yourself with another person, or persons, when you lose control…Have you ever felt that? It’s a form of love. Powerful, voracious, boundless.”

One Cut Of The Dead

One Cut Of The Dead is a chaotic, heartfelt, hilarious celebration of indie horror productions and the insanity that is making art with other people masquerading as a shoddy indie horror movie. It is some of the most fun I’ve ever had with a movie, but my caveat here is that it requires a decent amount of patience. The first 30 minutes are kind of a slog (your mileage may vary depending on your tolerance for Bad Horror), the next 30 minutes are more compelling and clue you into what the movie is trying to do, and then the real show is the final 30 minutes which rule absolutely. I’m normally not one for being “patient” with media, but the pay-off here is spectacular. The punchline comes first in One Cut Of The Dead. When it finally decides to let you in on the joke, it does so with a huge grin and wide open arms.

The Guest

The Petersons are grieving the death of their eldest son who died overseas in combat when a man named David (Dan Stevens!) arrives on their doorstep claiming to be a friend of his. He’s polite, friendly, and most importantly, hot he reminds the Petersons of Caleb, so they quickly offer him a place to stay. David wins over the youngest son Luke after helping him out with some bullies, and even the edgy teenage Anna (Maika Monroe!) deems him certified Cool™. But, of course, He Is Not Quite What He Seems! HOOTS AND HOLLERS! This movie is just GADDANG fun!!! The Guest gleefully indulges in camp and parody and over-the-top absurdity, paying homage to classics like Halloween and The Terminator while remaining absolutely unafraid to have fun with its inspirations. I mean, part of the climax takes place in a high school’s [impressively built] Halloween Hall-Of-Mirrors with Spooky Stock Laughter playing in the background! Yes! Yes!!!!

The Wolf Of Snow Hollow

ACAB

John Marshall is a small-town Utah cop who’s already struggling to keep his personal life together when a series of grisly murders threatens to send him over the brink. Snow Hollow is an unconventional, hilarious, very sincere (yes!!) werewolf movie with the bones of a chilly thriller that seamlessly fuses horror, comedy, and character drama. The [literal] star of the show is writer and director Jim Cummings himself as John. We see him first as a blustering, immature, emotionally inept try-hard cop, which is a completely accurate assessment. But we also see the bluster putter out at times. And when that happens, all we’re left with is the sadness, stress, anxiety, anger, and self-loathing of a guy who doesn’t know what to do with any of it but just rage that after all this time, he’s still him. Part of the reason this works is that despite the all the moments of deranged, goofy comedy, John never devolves into complete clownery. He remains very real and awkward and natural, often uncomfortably so. And of course, this is all happening against a horror movie backdrop. It’s amazing how it comes together: the absurd, human comedy and the werewolf movie musings about toxic masculinity and monstrosity.

An Aside: Jim Cummings’ debut movie Thunder Road instantly became an absolute favorite of mine when I saw it. So, as you can imagine, I was extremely excited to find out that his second movie was going to be a werewolf movie. This is a literal last-minute addition to the post (I watched it last night) but hey, when you know, you know. It’s my blog and I’ll simp if I want to!


And that’s it! Thanks for scrolling all the way to the bottom. Putting this post together was a fun way of revisiting a lot of horror movies I like and I tried my best not to just keep adding to it. Wildly enough, 55 is actually less than I started with. I made a bunch of cuts after I realized the prospect of writing a little blurb for them didn’t particularly excite me. Anyway, I hope you have fun if you end up watching any of my recommendations! Tell me about it, if you feel so inclined. For now, I will leave you with this passage from I’m Thinking Of Ending Things that comes to mind when I think about Horror:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s