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If you’re new to the genre or looking to strengthen your horror foundation, these fifteen films — new and old — are a great place to start.

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Everyone has to start somewhere, even horror fans. Be it a Stephen King novel or reruns of horror staples on TV, everyone got their first exposure to the genre in a unique way. For those of you out there who may be wondering where to start, I took my best shot at compiling the best fifteen films to help you explore different subgenres and time periods of filmmaking and storytelling. If these don’t make a horror lover, nothing will.

I wanted to reach into the past and scan the present for horror gems best suited for first-time or beginner enthusiasts. You can use these to bolster your horror knowledge or begin your genre journey.

For those horror veterans, I ask, what was your first horror experience? 

1. Alien (1979) Rated R

Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) is not just one of the best horror films; it is considered one of the best films in history.

The science fiction horror classic directed by Scott and written by Dan O’Bannon trails the crew of a commercial space rig, the Nostromo. After coming into contact with a rogue ship on an uncharted planet, the doomed rescue team faces a hostile, deadly alien lifeform.

With a cast of stars, the film was highlighted by a hallmark performance by Sigourney Weaver as Officer Ellen Ripley, helping create the mold for the “final girl,” making her so iconic as to introduce her into the ultimate modern meta moment of Cabin in the Woods as one of horror’s first and brightest female stars.

With terrifying and action-packed scenes that most are familiar with — whether they’ve seen the film or not — Alien is mandatory educational viewing for those ready for its scares. It also boasts explosive scary sequels to follow its strong first act, including its newer universal installments, Prometheus and Alien: Covenant.

Alien explores the sci-fi horror genre with intense efficiency, both gruesome and nerve-wracking, and introduces us to an extraterrestrial predator that remains iconic and unforgettable.

With tense action, a claustrophobic set, and a monster styled ahead of its time, Alien set a high standard for horror viewing and should be considered an absolute classic.

2. The Craft (1996) Rated R

A female power ballad for magic and sisterhood, The Craft (1996), directed by Andrew Flemming from the screenplay written by Peter Filardi, is a tale about a young girl — an outsider with misunderstood powers — who finds herself at the center of another band of misfits who believe they are witches.

When a ritual seems to bring the girls true power they can wield, it becomes a square-off between bad girl Nancy Downs (who could be played by none other than Fairuza Balk with equally vengeful friend Bonnie, played by Neve Campbell) and Sarah (Robin Tunney) as they put their new powers to the test.

A teen scream and feminist story, as well as a classic for supernatural witch magic and the teenaged angst of the 90s, The Craft is a story for any new horror girl to check out, even if it’s not packed to the brim with scares.

Though not necessarily terrifying, it boasts a star-studded lineup of young actors from the era and delivers a powerful message for women. It offers stunning imagery, stellar performances, a strong storyline, characters to root for, and characters whose legacy lasts through the present day.

The Craft is an introductory witchcraft and supernatural horror film that puts women and power in the forefront at their most delicate stage of development, where a girl feels out of control of her own life, her body, and her capabilities.

3. The Thing (1982) Rated R

Not to be confused with the less exciting 2011 sequel, we are talking about the 1982 horror/sci-fi behemoth, The Thing, directed by the legendary John Carpenter.

Based on a 1938 short novella titled “Who Goes There” by John W. Campbell, we follow a group of American researchers to Antarctica, who, through a chance encounter, find some life form referred to only as The Thing, which can mold itself to look like any living organism… even humans.

With a monster on the loose, no dogs to run with, and paranoia mounting among the tense, freezing men, this is one mind-bender for the books with an ending that still has audiences debating.

If you’re not up for body horror or some serious special and practical effects that made the 80s look advanced, maybe skip this one. This is not for the faint of heart or light of stomach, as some of the kills and transformations are disturbing. However, if you’re out for a real thrill and want to see if you can win this game of cat and mouse with this otherworldly shapeshifter, The Thing is worth its weight in gold.

You’ll be diving in head first with a true horror master directing at the helm and two powerhouse performances from Kurt Russel and Keith David leading the charge to where hell has frozen over.

4. Jaws (1975) Rated PG

Funny enough, the creature feature we associate most with blood and limbs in the water is rated PG, intended for most audiences.

From the singularly brilliant mind of Stephen Spielberg, with writers Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb and inspired by Benchley’s novel of the same name, springs forth Jaws, the shark movie that had people wary of the ocean for quite some time.

The now iconic tale of a thriving beach town terrorized by a large killer shark is well known. There’s a man-eater in the water, and someone has to be the one to catch it. That’s how police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) comes to be on a vessel with a marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss) and a professional shark hunter (Robert Shaw). Together, the three try to capture the beast before the beaches are back in full swing and ripe for the picking.

Jaws is an easy, classic picture with a tame PG rating in spite of what most people assume they’re going to see in a shark movie. Cinematography, effects and dialogue are so masterfully used to create homey to unsettling atmospheres that could change at any second.

Jaws is considered an essential classic for a reason, and it’s a rare example of a film that feels absolutely perfect in its understated glory and unforgettable terror. 

5. Happy Death Day (2017) Rated PG-13

A silly entry into the horror-comedy and slasher genres, Happy Death Day took Groundhog Day and every masked killer movie and turned it into a looping birthday nightmare. Directed by Christopher Landon and written by Scott Lobdell, with help from Jason Blum, the trio made a howling, laughing fever dream out of an occasion that only seems to get more tiresome the older you get.

It begins with Theresa, nicknamed Tree (played by Jessica Rothe), waking up in a strange dorm room, hung over, ignoring calls, and marching back to her sorority house. The day goes fine enough until it ends horribly with Tree’s murder. However, she doesn’t stay dead; instead, she wakes up in bed the next morning, returning to the morning of her birthday again… and again and again.

A fun, less gory genre treat, the film centers on a mystery that has left Tree suspended in a string of murders, costing her body more and more each time she dies. The story follows the paranoid, sci-fi time loop angle as well as some brutal and fun ways to stage your own death once the existential crisis has subsided.

The kills are sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, but the whole thing is full of joie de vive and a sense that, in a way, nothing matters — and everything matters.

Small events you would have blown off suddenly seem more pertinent, as we’re reminded that every day is another chance to get it right.

As we get older, celebrating another birthday loses its luster and charm. But Happy Death Day and its sequel, Happy Death Day 2 U, are here to help you get through another trip around the sun as you try again and again and again to dodge bullet after bullet and score that elusive happy ending.

6. A Quiet Place (2018) Rated PG-13

John Krasinski put on two caps for this project as both director and leading man for A Quiet Place, with the help of writers Brian Woods and John Beck. The film follows a father (Krasinski), his wife (Emily Blunt), and their children. They are some of the only survivors left in a world where extraterrestrials with no sense of sight but an unnaturally strong sense of hearing have taken up a new home and are lethal killing machines at the hint of any sound.

This movie is tense, with a few genuinely frightening moments and a fairly unique approach to the horror game.

I think new horror fans might enjoy the idea of silence and be engaged by the tactics and communication of the family in order to survive. The creatures themselves are also unnerving to look at and are wickedly fast and deadly during the few times we see them in action.

A fantastic job by Krasinski that earned him a s