We explore four of the most popular and fear-inducing horror sub-genres and recommend the must see films from each type of fright fest.
Most people fear watching scary movies. However, there are still many fear junkies, like those of you reading this article, who love the way scary movies make your heart pump harder and keep you on the edge of the couch or movie theater seat. Us genre junkies also love how much fun these films are to watch with other people who enjoy being creeped out as much as we do.
Below are four of the core types of scary movies, along with our top ten recommendations for must-see films within each sub-genre.
Asian horror movies can be very scary. Asian filmmakers are known for producing action-packed movies, but the increase in demand for horror films has pushed these filmmakers into shooting more scary movies. As it turns out, these films are often far more terrifying than Hollywood films. The popularity of Asian Horror, especially Japanese Horror (also known as J-Horror), has prompted many U.S. studios to remake many of these films for American audiences.
However, we recommend you check out the original films in their native language (with subtitles) — especially the ones we highlight below.
- The Eye (Gin gwai) (2002) – A blind girl gets a cornea transplant so that she would be able to see again. However, she got more than what she bargained for when she realized she could even see ghosts.
- Dark Water (2002) – A divorced mother moves into a rundown apartment with her daughter, and experiences supernatural occurrences including a mysterious water leak from the floor above.
- Shutter (2004) – A young photographer and his girlfriend discover mysterious shadows in their photographs after a tragic accident. They soon learn that you can not escape your past.
- Marebito (2004) – A fear-obsessed freelance cameraman investigates an urban legend involving mysterious spirits that haunt the subways of Tokyo.
- Ju-On: The Grudge (2002) – A mysterious and vengeful spirit marks and pursues anybody who dares enter the house in which it resides.
- Noroi: The Curse (2005) – A documentary filmmaker explores seemingly unrelated paranormal incidents connected by the legend of an ancient demon called the “kagutaba.”
- Audition (Ôdishon) (1999) – A widower takes an offer to screen girls at a special audition, arranged for him by a friend to find him a new wife. The one he fancies is not who she appears to be after all.
- Infection (Kansen) (2004) – In a dark, isolated hospital, one doctor’s mistake has led to dire consequences for a patient.
- Ringu (1998) – A reporter and her ex-husband investigate a cursed video tape that is rumored to kill the viewer seven days after watching it.
- A Tale of Two Sisters (Janghwa, Hongryeon) (2003) – A family is haunted by the tragedies of deaths within the family.
In recent years, supernatural horror films, such as The Conjuring and its sequels/spinoffs, have been box office gold. Other films, like The Witch and The Babadook, have received tremendous critical acclaim (even if they tend to divide horror audiences). The spooky scary films featuring witches, demons and devils, ghosts and haunted places are some of the most popular types of horror films — and often among the scariest.
This genre is also known for heavy use of the dreaded jump scare, which can be both exhilarating for adrenaline junkies or infuriating for genre purists who prefer more subtle/organic scares. Either way, these movies are often not for the faint of heart or those who aren’t regular watches of horror films. These are the films you may not want to stream while home alone at night, as the disturbing images tend to continue ringing in your head for days after. The other outstanding feature of spooky scary is that they are generally not predictable.
If you really want to scare any of your non-horror hardened buddies, make them watch one of these movies from our recommended list below.
- The Babadook (2014) – A widowed mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.
- The Shining (1980) – A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where an evil spiritual presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from the past and of the future.
- The Amityville Horror (1979) – Newlyweds move into a large house where a mass murder was committed, and experience strange manifestations which drive them away.
- The Exorcist (1973) – When a girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her daughter.
- Paranormal Activity (2007) – After moving into a suburban home, a couple becomes increasingly disturbed by a nightly demonic presence.
- The Blair Witch Project (1999) – Three film students vanish after traveling into a Maryland forest to film a documentary on the local Blair Witch legend, leaving only their footage behind.
- It Follows (2014) – A young woman is followed by an unknown supernatural force after a sexual encounter.
- The Witch (2015) – A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.
- The Conjuring (2013) – Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse.
- The Evil Dead (1981) – Five friends travel to a cabin in the woods, where they unknowingly release flesh-possessing demons.
This category of scary movies contains disturbing scenes. If you don’t enjoy being terrified, you better not watch these movies. Storylines revolve around torture, bloodshed and brutality. They also tend to be heavy on the gore, and usually nudity as well. Most of these films follow a pretty predictable formula, but that doesn’t keep them from being highly entertaining for fans of the hack and slash, made popular during the heyday of the 80s.
These films have produced some of the most iconic, memorable and beloved icons of the genre — the unstoppable (often masked) killer who preys upon his innocent (sometimes debatable) victims with a merciless and relentless thirst for blood. These killers often seem to take sick pleasure in torturing their victims and butchering them in as many creative ways as possible. In addition, these killers (which also often fall into the supernatural category above) are often on some type of vengeance mission.
Below are some of the most iconic titles in this category — the films that launched popular franchises and/or created the most influential horror icons.
- Psycho (1960) – A Phoenix secretary embezzles $40,000 from her employer’s client, goes on the run, and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.
- A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – Several people are hunted by a cruel serial killer who kills his victims in their dreams.
- Friday the 13th (1980) – A group of camp counselors are stalked and murdered by an unknown assailant while trying to reopen a summer camp.
- American Psycho (2000) – A wealthy New York investment banking executive hides his alternate psychopathic ego from his co-workers and friends.
- Halloween (1978) -Fifteen years after murdering his sister on Halloween night 1963, Michael Myers escapes from a mental hospital and returns to the small town of Haddonfield to kill again.
- Scream (1996) – A year after the murder of her mother, a teenage girl is terrorized by a new killer, who targets the girl and her friends by using horror films as part of a deadly game.
- Hatchet (2006) – When a group of tourists in a New Orleans haunted swamp tour, find themselves stranded in the wilderness, their evening of fun and spooks turns into a horrific nightmare.
- Child’s Play (1988) – A single mother gives her son a much sought-after doll for his birthday, only to discover that it is possessed by the soul of a serial killer.
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – In this cult horror classic, five friends pick up a traumatized young hitchhiker, and find themselves stalked and hunted by a deformed chain saw-wielding killer and his family of psychopaths.
- Sleepaway Camp (1983) – Angela Baker, a traumatized and very shy young girl, is sent to summer camp with her cousin. Shortly after her arrival, anyone with sinister or less than honorable intentions gets their comeuppance.
With comical scary films, you get an equal measure of laughter and fear. These movies are highly recommended for beginners. Although they are dominated by scary themes, most of the scenes have jokes that help you remain calm for a while. Blending comedy with horror effectively can be a delicate balancing act — something many films try and fail at. It’s challenging to make a movie that is both truly funny (without being cheesy) and also full of legitimate scares.
However, several classic horror films have managed to get that balance perfectly right.
- Shaun of the Dead (2004) – A man decides to turn his moribund life around by winning back his ex-girlfriend, reconciling his relationship with his mother, and dealing with an entire community that has returned from the dead to eat the living.
- Army of Darkness (1992) – A man is accidentally transported to 1300 A.D., where he must battle an army of the dead and retrieve the Necronomicon so he can return home.
- Gremlins (1984) – A boy inadvertently breaks three important rules concerning his new pet and unleashes a horde of malevolently mischievous monsters on a small town.
- The Cabin in the Woods (2012) – 5 friends go for a break at a remote cabin, where they get more than they bargained for, discovering the truth behind the cabin in the woods.
- Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010) – Affable hillbillies Tucker and Dale are on vacation at their dilapidated mountain cabin when they are mistaken for murderers by a group of preppy college students.
- The Babysitter (2017) – The events of one evening take an unexpected turn for the worst for a young boy trying to spy on his babysitter.
- Dead Alive (1992) – A young man’s mother is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey. She gets sick and dies, at which time she comes back to life, killing and eating dogs, nurses, friends, and neighbors.
- Slither (2006) – A small town is taken over by an alien plague, turning residents into zombies and all forms of mutant monsters.
- Re-Animator (1985) – A dedicated student at a medical college and his girlfriend become involved in bizarre experiments centering around the re-animation of dead tissue when an odd new student arrives on campus.
- Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) – The next great psycho horror slasher has given a documentary crew exclusive access to his life as he plans his reign of terror over the sleepy town of Glen Echo.