It’s Halloween, and to get into the proper mood for the season, RVA’s own John Reinhold is binging on horror movies. Here, he presents some horror recommendations, from classics to some good ones you might not have seen.
Happy Halloween, horror fans. With the scariest holiday of the year just one day away, we’re here to go over some of the best horror movies you you might want to see again, and hopefully find some that you still need to see for the first time. Or maybe this is just a way-too-deep dive into the world of horror movies. You decide.
Horror movies are amazing and run the gamut from fun to spooky, creepy, gory, terrifying, and all the verbs together, drenched in blood. Honestly, I grade them very differently than other movies. The horror genre is unique in what I’ll let it get by with. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece every time. It can be made cheaply with shoddy cinematography, and even have bad acting, and I’m down for it. I can enjoy it on another level. And there is so much out there — a ton of movies. So when you find a good one, it’s like getting a really good cookie. You like cookies in general, but a good one really hits the spot.
Repeat after me: a horror movie does not have to actually scare me to be enjoyable or good. There, we’ve said it. As viewers, we often get caught in a cycle of grading horror movies based on whether they are “actually scary” or “not scary.” But honestly, just like comedy, each of us is affected differently, and we all have a preference for what kind of effect we want a movie to generate. I mean, most of us are grownups here, right? (Well, maybe.) Look — it’s a freaking movie. It’s not real, and a lot of us will never again experience the terror horror movies put into us when we were young. It just won’t happen.
But still, all too often, we get caught up In the old conversation. “Hey man, can you recommend a horror movie that’s actually scary?” Here’s how I handle that: I immediately ask, “What’s a movie that actually scared you?” And as soon as they answer, say, “That didn’t scare me at all.” This saves a lot of time, and puts you in control of the situation. Once we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can follow up with some recommendations that should be serviceable, whether they’re scary or not. How about a movie that’s a decently made horror story with maybe some depth — we can all agree on that, right?
Of course not. Therefore, we’ll just do our best and list some favorites. Here are some horror movies you might enjoy, and might actually be scary:
Prince of Darkness
Part of John Carpenter’s Apocalypse trilogy, from 1987. This movie terrified me as a kid. I believe it’s very undervalued as a horror classic. It’s not perfect, and has some cheesy parts. However, it also has some very chilling moments, and some great cinematography. It has Donald Pleasence, who is horror movie royalty. It’s a bit dated, but I still really enjoy this one.
Another John Carpenter Apocalypse Trilogy classic here, that sits close to the top of my favorite horror films ever. This one is solid from beginning to end. The performances are fun, especially that of a bearded Kurt Russell, who I always love. The creature design and effects by Rob Bottin really stand out as well. They are so much more believable than much of the CGI that followed in the years since. You should look him up and read about his work on this film and others. I really like the pacing and sound work — it makes you feel a part it. Trust no one, and at all costs, don’t let it get to the mainland.
This is one my favorite Christmas presents I have ever given someone. “Merry Christmas! Here, enjoy Audition, a Christmas Classic!” This began my deep dive into Takashi Miike films, a weird and wonderful ride. There are some very disturbing scenes in this one. It has a certain beauty in its colors and camera work, which are often overshadowed in discussions of the movie by the shock value. Miike flips the script in Audition by taking the usual victim in Japanese horror, a woman, and giving her the power in the story. If you can get past the shock value, this film has multiple layers to it. Eli Roth was so inspired by it that he created Hostel; many other movies considered “torture porn” were also spawned from Audition, for better or worse. In my opinion, though, none really have the depth or weird beauty of this film.
I saw this one in the theatre; the trailer and available information made it seem like it would be a sci-fi film. Going in expecting that certainly set it up well to scare the shit out of me. However, it wasn’t popular upon its release, though fortunately it gained popularity thereafter. I really enjoy the actors in this one, with Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburne leading the cast. I never have really understood the low ratings this gets on Rotten Tomatoes. I believe for a deep space flick it’s quite solid, and has some great jump scares.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
A 1974 classic right here that’s still very disturbing. It of course created the popular horror character, Leatherface. Many times in my car going down a dusty country road I find mysef saying, “It’s feeling a bit Chainsaw Massacre out here.” This film is gritty and feels like we shouldn’t be watching it. It was banned for some time in various countries. It is an assault on you, and feels like a nightmare you might have, involving the country hillbilly family you’ve always feared. Sheer terror, really, and one of the most influential horror films ever made. I do find it hard to watch and enjoy, to be perfectly honest. It’s the first of its kind, and it’s the reason why we want to run when we hear a chainsaw.
[I second this recommendation. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is without a doubt the scariest movie I have ever seen, and one of my all-time favorites. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and fix that. –Drew]
I usually recommended this film to people that want to know about a horror film they have not already seen. It caught me off guard on my first watch. At that time, I hadn’t had a horror film really effect me in quite a while. It takes a very psychological film to get into my headspace — many horror films with gore or jump-scares just seem like repeats of the same old formula. But this one made sense. The setting, the pacing, the actors, and the creepy vibes got me good. I could actually imagine this happening. The recordings of the tapes they find in the old mental ward were super creepy to me, and the use of them with the rest of the plot is just very effective. This is a mood setting psychological film, and a really good small-budget horror flick. Some might find it slow paced, but I actually enjoy that about it.
I have to include this 1960 horror classic by Hitchcock. This is the original slasher film, and a work of film art. So many of the cinematic themes, camera angles, pacing, and plot from Psycho have been studied and recreated in later horror movies. It broke a lot of barriers; Hitchcock had to fight the production code of the time to get it released as he wanted it. Take the time to see it and look up information about the film. It’s a great film to revisit, and has a giant cultural impact that resonates to this day.
This is my favorite horror film, and one of my favorite films ever. To me it’s a masterpiece, starting right away with the famous opening as the family travels up the winding road — a scene that has been recreated in so many films. Kubrick makes the hotel itself into a labyrinth of terror, both in your mind and onscreen for the actors. You have Jack being Jack, and Shelly Duvall losing her hair and her mind, live, for you to witness. The scene with the twin girls is one of the scariest use of ghosts I have ever seen; it stuck in my mind as a teen, and still gives me chills. It’s so deep on so many levels. There have been years of discussions and reviews of this film, and not all of them have been positive. Stephen King himself has voiced his displeasure with this interpretation by Kubrick, which he felt was too far from his original novel. He even made his own adaptation of it to be more true to his version. He has at least softened his stance over the years, but in the end, I disagree with his assessment. A film that makes me talk about it over and over has done something special. I highly recommend watching Room 237, a documentary about the film and various interpretations of it. It will open your eyes to some of the depths of The Shining. I can go on and on about this one — I have watched it so many times, and still enjoy it every time. It continues to haunt me, and I continue to find new things in it with every watch.
Cabin in the Woods
This is a fun one you have probably seen. On the comedy-horror tip, it has the makings of a classic. It also has produced some famous memes that you definitely have seen. Certainly during these times, the scene where the killers place bets on which monsters will get into the action has been making the rounds. Cabin In The Woods is a horror movie film for horror movie lovers; an homage to the classics of the genre. So much witty banter and classic horror movie situations. You’re also in on the joke, so it plays out from a very unusual angle for you as a watcher. Its classic cliches get very meta, so it’s a blast for the horror movie nerds, and a joy to watch with friends. For more in the comedy-horror vein, check out Tucker and Dale Vs Evil for some decent laughs.
Horror films in the 70s often had a hard time with critical response. However, this film was one of the few that was praised by major critics, including Roger Ebert. This 1977 film birthed Michael Myers one of the most famous slashers in history. I was terrified of him as a teenager. Something about the constant stalking, the building of fear and terror. Halloween — another John Carpenter film — shows real restraint; it does not go for the the straight gore that we have seen in many later slasher films. It takes a lot from Hitchcock, and has a real mood to it, which is boosted by the theme song. This film received a lot more praise as a film than that other pioneering slasher film, Friday the 13th, which was panned at the time of its release. It’s worth noting that both these films were highly grossing films on low budgets, and spawned so much of the horror genre as we know it today.
Tim Curry’s Pennywise really got me when I was younger. I really loved it. Honestly though, the 1990 version of It didn’t scare me as much as interested me in the story and Pennywise as an entity itself. It had its moments, but overall kinda dragged as a movie. But Curry certainly set us up with a unforgettable clown. A remake of that three-hour landmark is a big undertaking, and comes with a need to directly focus on the characters, especially Pennywise. The 2017 film pulled this off; I thought it was so good. The portrayal of the kids and their relationships had a real Stand By Me feel; I felt like one of the group. The actors who played the kids were all so amazing. Sofie Lillis really blew me away as Beverly; in some ways, she steals the show. But then there’s Bill Skarsgard, whose take on Pennywise is just amazing. It’s hard to step into that clown’s shoes and make it something new and scary, but I think Skarsgard’s performance works quite well. I tell ya, my kids wont even look at him. The movie’s cinematography is also a big standout for me. Its very Shining at points, and of course I like that. I think this first part and the follow-up are both good, but the kids in this first part really make it stand out as a movie. And if you’re scared of clowns, then this is that movie for you.
Other movies that should be on your list if you’re a horror fanatic:
- The Blackcoat’s Daughter
- Suspiria –the original Dario Argento version and the remake
- The Ritual
- Nightmare on Elm Street
- The Exorcist
- It Follows
- Alien and Aliens
- The Grudge
- The Ring and Ringu
- Get Out
- The Conjuring
- The Autopsy of Jane Doe
- The Babadook
- The Quiet Place
- Train to Busan
- The Host
- The Color Out of Space
- The Lodge
- Let The Right One In
- The Invisible Man (2020)
- 28 Days Later
- The Descent
- It Comes at Night
- The Wailing
- A Tale of Two Sisters
- I Saw the Devil
Hope you find something you like. Happy Halloween!