Craving horror that lingers long after the last scene and leaves you with plenty to think about and discuss? Dig into these genre classics.
The popularity of horror movies has grown significantly over the years. But why would people prefer watching films that evoke such intense emotions? While there’s no straight answer to this question, some of us generally like movies that make our hearts race, palms sweat, limbs go weak, and send shivers down our spines. It might be hard for some people to understand how a film that leaves you feeling exhilarated, scared stiff, and sometimes even questioning what lurks in the shadows is good for entertainment.
The truth is that some of us are more open to new experiences and have a higher sensation-seeking trait.
But you don’t have to look far. Horror is big business in this country. Halloween, for instance, is an opportunity for every Tom, Dick, and Harry to practice and celebrate the frightening and macabre. Everything goes, including scary makeup, disturbing costumes, hair-raising novels, and haunted house attractions.
For those who prefer cinema, there are so many horror movies worth watching. In this short article, we explore some of the best and tell you why we think these are well worth your time.
The Allure of Horror Movies Worth Watching
People watch horror movies for various reasons. According to a study by Johns Hopkins University, the psychology behind enjoying thrillers is both fascinating and complex. A few theories have emerged over the years explaining why some individuals are attracted to the thrill and suspense of horror films.
One theory attributes the phenomenon to an inbuilt desire to experience fear to trigger an adrenaline rush. To some people, experiencing fright and anxiety in a controlled environment unlocks a higher level of excitement. It’s not any different from taking a small dose of a scorpion’s venom.
Another theory claims it’s a form of emotional catharsis.
If you’ve not yet experienced intense pressure or repressed your emotions to remain sane, the time is coming. The world can be a cruel place, with so much to weigh you down. The frustrations from work, family, or social circles can build over time, running your overall well-being.
Watching a horror movie can help you release the built-up frustrations, leading to a feeling of relief and satisfaction.
The third theory is linked to the concept of “morbid curiosity,” which holds that humans have an inherent fascination with the darker aspects of life, especially death.
We want to know how people die, what happens when they do, what it takes to kill a person, and many more questions. But these questions are hard to answer. Therefore, horror films provide a perfect opportunity to explore and confront them.
The last theory links our love for horror films to our primal instincts.
According to Charles Darwin, humans survived millions of years of evolution through environmental adaptation. Animals incapable of adapting perished. Therefore, we still have the drive to survive. Horrors trigger this survival mode, our fight-or-flight response, which elicits a sense of arousal and heightened emotional state in others.
Unlocking Thrills and Chills: Five Horror Movies to Watch, Dissect, and Discuss
We’ve explored why so many of us love horror movies. Now, let’s delve into several standout genre films every fan of horror should watch. These films offer plenty to discuss with your horror-loving friends or to debate with members of the horror community online. They are also ripe for deeper exploration and analysis and would make a great subject for a blog article, podcast, or academic essay.
(If you are a student looking to explore these topics in your academic assignments, don’t be afraid to seek an essay writing helper with professional skills.)
1. The Exorcist (1973)
This film quite literally helped redefine horror. Despite a modest budget of $11,000,000, it grossed over $233,005,644 in the US & Canada alone, making it one of the most profitable horror movies ever made — despite the studio’s initial low expectations for the film. It’s also widely considered one of the most terrifying, even fifty years after its release.
The Exorcist explores a haunting tale of possession, faith, and the Church’s place in the spiritual realm. The movie evokes so much fear in the face of spiritual warfare. Based on a 1971 novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty, who also wrote the film’s screenplay, the story was loosely inspired by actual events.
There is an endless amount of history, intrigue, and influence to discuss when analyzing this film, including the box office, critical and audience reception, religious response, rating controversy, alleged subliminal imagery, censorship, production challenges, legal problems, and its legacy and impact on cinema.
Then there are the complex themes within the film itself, including elements of social horror and a response to the cultural, political, and social upheavals of the late ’60s. Many have analyzed the film through the lens of feminism (released during the height of the women’s liberation movement in the U.S.). It can also be viewed as a commentary on the popular trends in American religion at the time, as the film was released during a time of growing secularism in America.
The Exorcist has become a cultural reference point as much as a pinnacle of genre filmmaking.
2. Mother! (2017)
Mother! is a 2017 American psychological horror film written and directed by Darren Aronofsky. It follows a young woman whose tranquil life with her husband at their country home is disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious couple.
The film uses visual metaphors to explore social anxiety, gaslighting, and narcissism. Though critics praised it, its biblical allegories and depiction of violence sparked controversy.
It’s the kind of film you can talk about endlessly and never run out of things to say. Full of religious and political imagery, there are so many deep and complex themes explored in mother!, allowing the film to be viewed from multiple perspectives and interpretations. It’s a commentary on God and religion, a condemnation of the rape of Mother Earth, a feminist takedown of a patriarchal society, and an unflinching exploration of art from the tortured mind of an artist who understands his grotesque nature as much as his genius.
Due to its controversial narrative and severely misleading marketing, the film performed far below expectations, leaving Aronofsky to respond that he intended the film to be difficult to view for audiences. But love it or hate it, there’s no denying that it’s an ambitious and thought-provoking film that’s as breathtaking as it is disquieting.
Aronofsky’s entire filmography is ripe for discussion and thoughtful analysis, but perhaps nothing gives the viewer more to chew on than mother! — a seductively slow march to madness that works perfectly well as a work of deeply disturbing horror as it does a tantalizing think piece.
3. Us (2019)
Us isn’t your typical genre film. With a rating of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s one of the most highly-rated horror movies — and for good reason. The film follows a family that goes for a vacation only to confront a terrifying and mysterious group of doppelgängers.
Jordan Peele burst onto the horror scene in a big way with the critically acclaimed, Academy Award-winning social horror film Get Out. As good as that film is, and it is so unbelievably good, Us might be even better. A more mature, more ambitious, and in many ways, more unsettling sophomore film from Peele, Us is a shocking, philosophically challenging film about existential terrors and the everyday horrors of existence.
It’s a chilling commentary on divisiveness in America — brilliantly linking the past to the present — and the masks we wear to hide our true intentions, motives, or inner truths. The gut-punch of an ending will leave you reeling.
Full of metaphor, Peele gives viewers plenty to digest and discuss, with a bleak and brilliant look at society that demands attention and exploration.
In the end, this unnerving and deeply affecting film is about confronting one’s darkest fears and making the best of one’s life. Watch this movie if you enjoy suspenseful and intriguing rides.
4. The Conjuring (2013)
No matter how scary a horror film is, there’s always this comfort in the knowledge that it’s just a movie. The Conjuring takes that away from you, especially if you believe in the paranormal. Once you realize this film is based on purported real-life events (the veracity of those claims is also up for debate, making this film even richer for discussion, debate, and exploration), it adds to its chilling impact. There is so much to investigate here, including the real-life ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in the movie), the infamous Annabelle case, the Warrens’ Occult Museum in Connecticut, and the Perron family’s reported Rhode Island haunting that serves as the basis for the first film in the franchise.
Even if you don’t buy the paranormal claims, and even if you think the real-life Warrens are charlatans, the film itself — directed by James Wan and written by Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes — is gripping, beautifully executed, well-acted, and truly frightening. It helped reinvent how we look at modern ghost movies by going back to the basics.
Given its classic horror-inspired approach to the subject of haunting and demons and its undeniable influence on the genre, The Conjuring is a film that’s as compelling to talk and write about as it is to watch.
5. Jacob’s Ladder
This is one of the most potent psychological thrillers you’ll ever watch, effectively unnerving the viewer as you crawl inside Jacob’s fractured mental state and experience the unspeakable horrors and fears just as he does.
Directed by Adrian Lyne and written by Bruce Joel Rubin, Jacob’s Ladder centers around Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins), an American infantryman whose experiences before and during his service in Vietnam result in strange, fragmentary visions and bizarre hallucinations that continue to haunt him. As his ordeal worsens, Jacob desperately attempts to figure out the truth.
The film’s title refers to the Biblical story of Jacob’s Ladder. Inspired by screenwriter Rubin’s experience in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, the film was conceived as a deeply spiritual and thought-provoking exploration of a meditative life when you start to see the world far differently than how it appears to be. It was first sparked by Rubin’s nightmare about being trapped in a New York City Subway station. Director Lyne prepared for the film by watching countless documentary films about the Vietnam War and reading chronicles of near-death experiences.
The film addresses issues of government testing on American soldiers and the psychological impact of trauma. It’s heady, harrowing stuff, even after it was cut by 20 minutes following test screenings that disturbed audiences so badly that viewers found the experience far too overwhelming.
Despite only being moderately successful upon its release, the film garnered a cult following, and its disturbing plot and unforgettable special effects influenced various other works, such as the Silent Hill video game series.
Hungry for More? Here’s Plenty to Chew On!
Of course, we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface when it comes to must-see movies with deep meaning and satisfying subtext. If you liked this list, here’s a brief rundown of thirteen other thrilling and thought-provoking films well worth checking out.