Ah, horror movies. Arguably one of the most creative and innovative genres of film. From horror, acclaimed filmmakers birth their careers, and cheesy villains become international icons. In just a few days, Halloween, the season seemingly inseparable from this genre, shall arrive. With this spooky and ghoulish date, thousands of people will gather for horror movie watch parties. Some may pay attention; some may only glance at the screen when the scary stuff happens.
Whatever your case, read on for 10 movies to get you and your friends into the spooky vibe!
1. Zombieland (2009)
Horror subgenres: Zombies, Comedy
To begin this list, let us start with an entry that can appeal to many. Zombieland, a horror-comedy set in a post-apocalyptic America, manages to combine laughter with some genuinely thrilling action and scares. Zombieland follows a pretty simple plot: A young man tries to make his way across America and survive the zombie apocalypse. Along the way, he runs into a badass Florida Man and a pair of con-artist sisters. Together, the ragtag group they form figures out how to survive each other, while at the same time killing zombies in the most hilarious ways possible (where else can you see a zombie get killed with a banjo?).
Did I mention the movie features an absolutely stacked cast? Zombieland combined the talents of Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, who all either received or went on to receive Oscar nominations for acting before or after this film. I’d highly recommend Zombieland for a folks who don’t watch many horror movies or who don’t like getting too scared. The film has some frightening bits, but it overall prioritizes the comedy elements. Play this one at a watch party or in the background of an actual party. Either way you can still get some good laughs out of it.
2. The Thing (1982)
Horror subgenres: Body Horror, Monster
The Thing remains an all-time classic amongst the canon of great horror movies. This 1985 flick combines the existential, Lovecraftian horror of aliens with gore effects that still hold up to this day. The Thing tells the story of a group of Antarctic researchers who accidentally stumble upon a being from another planet. This alien can shapeshift into any living thing, including the men themselves, and it actively wants to assimilate all of them. With this premise, the rest of the movie demonstrates a masterclass in isolation, paranoia and body horror.
In terms of recommending this movie, I would highly suggest it to anybody who loves a good scare and high-concept horror. The film’s terrifying premise, where anybody you know could explode into an inconceivable monstrosity and no possibility for escape exists, makes it linger in your mind. It makes you question, “What would I actually do in this impossible situation?” While the body horror elements (like weird amalgamations of flesh and limbs eating people alive) do make The Thing a fun watch, I would not recommend it for the squeamish types. Maybe ask your guests if they can handle gore before putting this one on.
3. Coraline (2009)
Horror subgenres: Family Friendly (debatably), Supernatural
Surprisingly, I have not seen the 2009 movie Coraline on many Great Horror Movie lists, something I consider quite unfortunate. In my opinion, Coraline expertly shows the potential of stop-motion animation to both frighten and amaze. Stop-motion gives its characters an “uncanny-valley” quality with their smooth yet inhuman movements, somewhere between dolls and real people. Coraline combines this feature with a spooky mood, great characters and a terrifying story by Neil Gaiman for maximum effect. When a young girl finds a tiny door in her new house, she realizes it leads to a mirrored version of her reality, a world where everything seems wonderous, and her parents spoil her. Seeing as how this film fits into the “horror” genre, however, you can tell this alternate world holds a dark secret.
With its PG rating, I would certainly recommend Coraline for those of you looking to watch a horror movie with kids. Keep in mind, the PG Rating does not mean it goes easy on the scares. I recall seeing this one in theatres as a child and leaving thoroughly spooked. Maybe stay away from this movie if you’ve got a particularly bad fear of spiders, too. If not, put this one on and enjoy some (debatably) family-friendly horror!
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Horror subgenres: Slasher, Classic
Another certified classic arrives on the scene! Now, we get to talk about the first of several slasher flicks on this list. A Nightmare on Elm Street may not have originated all of the tropes and cliches associated with the 80’s slasher genre, but it did indeed help cement them as iconic elements. For those of you who do not already know the premise of this one: A girl in high school begins to experience nightmares where a grotesque man tries to hunt down and murder her. To her terror, whatever wounds she receives in her nightmares also happen in real life. As somebody who loves sleep and gets pretty banged-up in dreams, this concept frightens me quite a bit.
As previously mentioned, this movie works very well in a group setting. From just the plot alone, you’ll find all the ingredients needed for a fun watch with friends: an interesting premise, a charismatic killer and teenagers screaming bloody murder. The extremely creative effects and kills make it entertaining to watch without paying much attention. Film buffs can enjoy the movie for its imaginative story and filmmaking, while passive viewers can scream and cheer when Freddy Kreuger attacks the teens.
5. It Follows (2014)
Horror subgenres: Monster, Thriller
The fifth film on this list follows the trend of “utterly insane concepts to keep you up at night”. When a young woman sleeps with her new boyfriend, he explains to her that she now must pass on his curse. This curse marks her for death, and a monster slowly follows her everywhere, seeking to kill her. While the monster can only move at a steady walk, it constantly knows your current location and can find you anywhere. The only way to get rid of the monster is to sleep with somebody else and pass the curse on. However, if the monster kills the currently cursed person, it goes down the line and kills the last person cursed.
Overall, I would recommend watching this one on your own or with serious movie watchers. It Follows expertly builds tension and explores its concepts of paranoia and promiscuity well, but it also moves at a slow pace and doesn’t have many campy kills. On the bright side, the lack of gore makes it ideal for friends who hate blood and guts. To fully enjoy this one, I advise giving it your full attention. Take in the mood, the soundtrack and the concept for maximum enjoyment.
6. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Horror subgenres: Slasher, Comedy
Okay now hear me out on this one: Yes, I am indeed recommending the sixth entry into a horror series instead of the original. Yet believe me when I say you do not need to watch the previous films to enjoy this one. In short: Jason Voorhees (big guy in a hockey mask who doesn’t like teenagers very much) died in Part IV, and as seen by the title, he comes back to life for Part VI. Jason Lives takes every single trope you think of when you hear “80s slasher flick” and combines them into one movie with just a hint of eye-rolling self-awareness. This film provides Campiness with a capital C: fun kills, dumb teenagers, camp counselors, cops not believing anyone about a killer on the loose and an iconic killer in a mask among other such clichés.
Jason Lives works perfectly for watch parties (with or without alcohol involved). Sure, some parts try to scare you, but with its absurd levels of camp I would almost call this film a comedy. I mean seriously, Jason’s body gets resurrected by a freaking lightning strike of all things, and after waking up he immediately punches a hole through the guy who dug up his coffin. Did I mention this all happens within the first ten minutes of the movie starting? With how little the plot matters, you can yell at the screen or laugh as loud as you please and not miss anything too important.
7. Saw (2004)
Horror subgenres: Thriller, Gore
Film number seven brings us back to the twenty-first century, with Saw from 2004. Despite the franchises’ reputation for blasting screens with mindless gore across multiple sequels, the original Saw remains a very strong and well-written horror-thriller. When two men wake up in a dilapidated bathroom, both chained to pipes and with a dead body lying between them, they need to work together to escape the room and survive an elaborate death game. As the mystery unravels we learn about the man behind their situation, the Jigsaw Killer, who uses death traps to make victims “appreciate” their lives. These traps usually involve people sacrificing more than a few drops of blood to get free or brutally die trying.
Saw works as another film that you can give your full attention or only part of it. The movie itself contains a very engaging mystery for viewers to enjoy puzzling out. On the other hand, the traps in the movie make for a gory spectacle. As with several other entries on this list, this film may hit differently for squeamish people. Maybe steer clear of the popcorn if torture and blood make you sick.
8. The Shining (1980)
Horror subgenres: Psychological, Supernatural
Now we jump back into the realm of slower, quieter horror movies. Despite its gradual pace and more subtle filmmaking, The Shining retains its title as a classic. This film, directed by the renowned Stanley Kubrick, focuses on creating a tense and maddening atmosphere with its setting and characters. Set in the Overlook Hotel, a massive building left virtually empty every winter, a man and his family move in when he becomes the new seasonal caretaker. The hotel appears normal and quiet at first, but things take a turn for the worse when the man and his son begin seeing ghosts.
Similar to The Thing, The Shining explores the concept of what people do when isolated in a snowy landscape and at the mercy of terrifying forces beyond understanding. The movie takes time to develop its twisted and eerie setting, putting viewers into the heads of the family as ghosts slowly infiltrate their repetitive and lonely days. I would definitely suggest watching this one either alone or with a serious/quiet audience for maximum effect. Viewers who enjoy a slow and tense burn that rewards them for paying attention will certainly enjoy this one. Maybe consider a faster and louder horror movie for parties involving drinks or louder guests though.
9. It (2017)
Horror subgenres: Monster, Supernatural
With a 1000-page novel as its source material and an iconic miniseries coming before, this adaptation of Stephen King’s It needed to pack a punch to truly stand out. Fortunately, this movie manages to capture the spirit of the novel, and also stand on its own as a fun and frightening flick. Taking place in the Summer of 1989, a group of kids must learn to (literally) face their worst fears when a child-eating clown runs rampant in their hometown. This clown, which only the kids can see, can shapeshift to become whatever its prey finds most horrifying. As if clowns couldn’t get any more frightening.
Fortunately, despite the disturbing and gory nature of the movie, it still makes for a fun watch party experience. The main group of kids in the movie (featuring Finn Wolfhard) play off each other very well and act with plenty of chemistry. In fact, I nearly labeled this movie as a comedy with how much it made me laugh. On the other side, however, this film gets quite generous with its scares. Just about every other scene presents some new horrifying form for Pennywise the Clown to terrorize the kids, and make your friends practically jump off the couch in fright. Get ready for plenty of screaming with this one.
10. Halloween (1978/2018)
Horror subgenres: Slasher, Classic
For my final suggestion, I decided to recommend a double feature: Halloween and Halloween! The first Halloween comes from 1978, and practically birthed the slasher genre as we know it. When remorseless killer Michael Meyers escapes a mental hospital, he dons a mask and goes on the hunt on Halloween Night. Here, all of the tropes we know and love began: the Final Girl (played by Jamie Lee Curtis in her film debut), teenagers who get killed after banging and a killer in an iconic mask all got big from this movie. The second film, Halloween, debuted forty years later in 2018. This movie ret-cons any of the other Halloween sequels before it and works as a direct sequel to the original. Forty years after the events of first film, Michael Meyers breaks free again, intent on finishing off the Original Final Girl. This time, however, she takes the offensive after preparing for forty years.
These two movies make for a great double feature! The first movie definitely takes a slower approach to its plot, but it still keeps things exciting with regular frights. The second definitely ups the ante with its action and thrills, and if you need to choose between either for a watch party, it probably makes for a more fun viewing with friends. Regardless, both films maintain solid strengths and spooks, and exemplify the fun and tension that comes with watching horror movies. Pop some popcorn, dim lights, and prepare for no better title to watch on Halloween.