I’ve made it my personality to love horror movies. I watch several a month, almost one a day on school breaks. I listen to horror movie podcasts and watch horror movie YouTube channels. Every other post on my Twitter feed is about horror movies. You could say I’m a horror kind of gal.
Last year, a friend sent me a YouTube video about the paradox of horror.
It addresses the question of why some people watch horror movies, why some find themselves enjoying the violence, suspense and scares when they don’t want a negative emotion like fear in their everyday life.
On one side we have Aristotle’s “Poetics” and his belief in the cathartic power of engaging in horror. He does not believe that people avoid things that cause negative emotions; instead, there is a purification of negative emotion that results from engaging in the tragic spectacle. This catharsis, in the modern age, might be thought of as “horror escapism.”
On the other hand, we have David Hume’s “Of Tragedy,” which rejects the assertion that fictional horror causes negative emotions in the first place. Because the tragic spectacle we witness is fictional, we experience a fear that is different from the fear we feel in a real-life tragedy. The fear produced by a fictional tragedy, in its fictional context, does not outweigh the pleasure granted by the tragic spectacle.
Whatever side of the philosophical fence you stand on, here are some recommendations for the squeamish, the stone-faced and the superiority-complex-holding horror explorers.
You can’t go wrong with a good classic.
The first horror movie I remember watching was “A Nightmare on Elm Street” when I was 6 years old — shoutout to my older sisters — and I went years without a sound night of sleep after that. Eventually, though, it became my favorite horror movie, and I wielded it like a shield as I dove into the genre.
Late-20th-century horror movies are scary enough to feel accomplished after watching them, but not so scary that you can’t sleep for days. So roll a die to choose between “Nightmare,” where you come for finger knives and stay for Johnny Depp in a football jersey crop top; “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” which is surprisingly not as gory as the title makes it seem; “The Evil Dead,” which inspires me to become a filmmaker; the “It” mini-series if you have 3+ hours to spare — and you should because Tim Curry as Pennywise is iconic beyond words; “The Thing,” which is the original “Among Us;” and “The Sixth Sense,” arguably the tamest one on this list.
Good luck, newbie!
Damien Leone’s “Terrifier 2” made a huge splash with its limited release in theaters this month, reportedly causing people to pass out, throw up and leave the theater. But you can’t watch a sequel without watching the first film, and “Terrifier” is, in my opinion, just as horrific as the sequel seems to be.
You can even make it a quadruple movie night by watching the “Terrifier” 20-minute short, released five years before the feature-length film, and “All Hallow’s Eve,” a 2013 anthology film which also stars Art the Clown, the gore-master of Leone’s oeuvre.
There’s no better combination than laughing and screaming!
Horror-comedies tend to combine a fun amount of gore and body horror with a witty script and loveable characters. These kinds of films are some of the most fun to watch with friends. I recommend “Zombieland” and “Freaky,” the former being a delightful take on the zombie apocalypse that stars Twinkie-obsessed Woody Harrelson and the latter being a spin on “Freaky Friday” starring Vince Vaughn, a 6-foot-5 giant who does an incomparable job of playing a teen girl trapped in a serial killer’s body.
“Elevated horror” is a term that first started appearing in 2019 in the wake of A24’s wave of horror movie releases. It’s a term used to describe films which generate fear from more than just blood and guts; there’s a theme and a message — often about the scariest parts of what it means to be human — that the film drives home under the guise of a horror movie. Critics of the term argue that these films are simply psychological horror and delineating what is “elevated” creates divisions in the horror community by attempting to legitimize a genre which historically hasn’t been taken seriously.
At the forefront of the elevated horror movement are directors like Jordan Peele (“Get Out,” “Us” “Nope”) and Ari Aster (“Hereditary,” “Midsommar”), both of whom have created some of my favorite films of all time.
But if you’ve heard these names and titles so often that they’ve stopped having real meaning, here are a couple of recommendations that still hit the elevated horror mark:
“The Night Eats the World” is a 2018 French zombie flick that plucks its strings of terror by exploring the damage isolation can have on the human psyche. It’s a mind-bender with plenty of fabulous zombie special effects to match.
“Fresh” was released to stream on Hulu this year with what I think was much less fanfare than it deserved. It has a gorgeous color palette, fantastic acting, a rockin’ soundtrack and social commentary that leans obvious (but not too obvious!).
Thought I was going to recommend “The Blair Witch Project”? Okay, you’re only half-right.
I watched this film for the first time over October break, and let me just say: it sort of, kind of is worth the hype? But if you’re looking for found-footage that is truly nightmare-inducing, consider “Incantation,” a 2022 Taiwanese found-footage horror film that pulls no punches. After watching this with some friends over the summer, we had to immediately turn on “Total Drama Island” to wipe the terror from our brains. It mostly worked.
If you’re looking for something less supernatural than what “Incantation” brings to the table, “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” is a mockumentary about a sadistic killer’s snuff films. More grounded in reality than “Incantation,” “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” completely fucked me up in a different yet still totally awesome way.
The not-like-other-horror-fans fan:
My toxic trait is listing these movies as among my favorites of the genre in hopes of impressing whomever I’m talking to. I will not comment on whether it’s successful or not. Anyway, here’s to no more gatekeeping!
A grand majority of werewolf content in horror is about men who are werewolves, so “Ginger Snaps,” where a teen girl is the werewolf, checks a lot of boxes that other films in this niche don’t.
I would’ve put “Lake Mungo” in the documentary section of this list if not for the fact that it’s a more quiet, eerie kind of horror film. This movie unsettled me so terribly that I need to rewatch it because the first time around I was shielding my eyes too much. It’s structured as a mockumentary rather than a straightforward found-footage, which is fresh in the world of “Blair Witch” and “Paranormal Activity.”
And a note to end on: what makes the horror genre so unique is that every film is an exploration into what its team is capable of. I’m constantly delighting in special effects, cackling from a sharp script or cowering in my seat as I anticipate a jump scare. Horror movies force you into a dynamic state. They encourage conversation during and after. They’re an experience I couldn’t recommend enough.