I’ve never been a big fan of the traditional horror movie. You know what I mean. I mean the horror movie with the impossible to kill bad guy and the dumber-than-dirt teenagers who always run to the attic or basement to escape the seemingly omnipotent, immortal killer. In addition to those old tropes, I’ve never been a big fan of cheap jump scares (The Nun), gratuitous violence (any of the Saw movies after the first one), or movies that don’t make sense within their own world (The Fog comes to mind).
Now, since I mentioned a few horror movies in the first paragraph, it’s obvious I don’t totally avoid horror movies. Every so often, a horror movie comes along that has a premise that seems to appeal to me. Hell, I’ve even seen some really good horror movies recently (Get Out and A Quiet Place among them). It’s actually a movie that I watched during a, “my wife’s out of town so I can binge some movies she won’t like” movie marathon that motivated me to create this list. I figured there were some people out there that were like me and wanted to see some horror movies that didn’t fit the same old mold of a horror movie, so I created this list.
Before we get to the list, there are some things I’d like to set straight. First, I’m sure some of you won’t deem some of these movies as, “horror.” Some of them might be, “psychological thrillers,” or something like that, but I figure they’re close enough to count. Second, these movies aren’t really in any kind of order. I tried to rank them as close to how I really feel as possible, but on any given day some of these positions could change. Also, while some of these movies are pretty mainstream, I tried to include some lesser-known movies to give them a little visibility. Yes, I realize Get Out is a fantastic movie, but it’s pretty well-known and doesn’t really need some website geek to promote it for it to be popular. I figured a few of these movies needed some love, hence their appearance on my list. Finally, and most importantly, I’m not saying these are the best movies for people who don’t like horror movies, I’m just saying they’re 13 of my favorites. If you read this and can think of some that aren’t on this list, that’s what the comment section is for…recommend away!
Anyway, grab that popcorn, put away that chainsaw, hang up that burlap bag mask, and get ready for the definitive list of horror movies for people that don’t really like traditional horror movies!
One thing you’ll learn as you peruse this list is that I tend to gravitate towards horror movies that are grounded in reality. Nothing is more grounded in reality than a mother and her son being trapped in a car by a rabies-infected Saint Bernard. You wouldn’t think you’d get a great horror movie out of such a simple premise, but that’s what you get here. As with most of my justifications, I don’t want to ruin too much of the movie by giving away too much, but this movie is definitely worth a watch. Sure, it’s a little dated and kinda’ cheesy, but it’s no cheesier than a machete-wielding, hockey-mask-wearing serial killer killing futuristic idiots on a spaceship.
Oh yeah, and it might be obvious, but since this movie is based on a Stephen King novel, the book is clearly better.
Don’t Breathe (2016)
Another movie that’s grounded in reality, Don’t Breathe tells the story of three thieves who think they’ve found the perfect score: the home of a blind veteran. Since a 15-minute movie where three thieves break into someone’s house and get away scot-free would be pretty boring, it’s obvious that the trio runs into some…issues during their home invasion.
Not only is this movie really good, but there’s also one sequence, particularly, that will give you goosebumps. Oh yeah, and the ending of this movie is worth the price of admission alone. `Nuff said.
Better Watch Out (2016)
This is the movie I saw that prompted me to write this list. There are a few movies with the title in IMDB, make sure you’re watching the version that stars Olivia DeJonge and Levi Miller or I can’t be held responsible for what happens.
In this holiday-themed romp, teen babysitter Ashley (DeJonge) is tasked with watching Luke (Miller) while Luke’s parents attend a holiday party. The evening becomes slightly more complicated when masked men try to break into the house.
Like with a lot of these other movies, I’m not going to say much more about this, other than it’s definitely better than (the still not so bad) holiday horror schlockfest Krampus. Better Watch Out is better if for no other reason that it takes a nifty detour about halfway through. Merry Christmas!
Happy Death Day (2017)
Sure, this movie wasn’t made with Rhodes Scholars in mind, but it’s dumb fun nonetheless. In this horror flick, that’s a lot better if you’ve seen Groundhog Day and realize that this movie is very clear in its cribbing of the aforementioned movie’s premise, the protagonist, Tree (Jessica Rothe) keeps living the same day over and over again. The problem? Well, other than the fact that it’s her birthday, it seems as if the day continues to end with Tree getting murdered by a mask-wearing psycho.
This movie might be dumb, but there’s a surprising amount of character development in it. Tree starts out as insanely unlikable and actually grows (ugh, pun not intended) by the end. While this movie might be a little too syrupy for diehard horror fans, I found myself pleasantly surprised when it was all said and done.
The Final Girls (2015)
I’m a big fan of parody, so this movie was already winning when I watched the trailer. In this movie, a girl (Max, played by Taissa Farmiga) whose mom (Nancy, played by Malin Akerman) was
I enjoyed this movie because it did what Scream and other true parody movies do; it poked fun of the genre and still stayed a relatively competent, coherent movie in its own right. Yes, it’s a tad cliché in its own right, like having the “horror know-it-all” that has to explain things to his less horror-experienced friends, but it even pokes fun at that old horror standby.
The Final Girls isn’t The Shining by any means, but it definitely has its moments, like when the teens use flashbacks to save themselves from the killer or when the ditzy, sex-crazed hottie is forced to halt her striptease because it’ll draw him out. Some good casting a decent story definitely make this a “horror” movie worth watching.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
Okay, this is probably the most horror-ish horror movie on this list. I don’t know why, but I really liked this movie. It actually made me uncomfortable throughout, and I kept having the willies even after I left the theater. In a movie landscape oversaturated with CGI, this movie might seem kinda’ simplistic 11 years later, but at the time, the little things that went bump in the night were enough to keep me jumping. The story, about a middle-class couple that moves into a boring run-of-the-mill house and start to experience weird occurrences, is about as simple as it gets, but that’s where this movie shines. The lack of big-name actors also helped me immerse myself in this contained world, where you experience the couple’s tribulations through cameras the couple sets up in the house. Sure, the movie execs made about 27 of these movies that got progressively worse, but the original was still a decent movie that’s worth giving a try.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)
What if the homicidal rednecks that you saw in dozens of horror movies were really just misunderstood? Well, in this horror comedy, the titular duo are really decent guys who always seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. When a group of frat bros and sorority girls take a trip into the woods, they stumble upon two hillbillies wearing trucker hats and overalls. And because, like us, they’ve been programmed to think that all hillbillies who wear trucker hats and overalls are murderous psychos, they do their best to stay away. When the townies’ numbers start to dwindle, who else to blame but the rubes!
This movie really does a great job flipping the script on the traditional horror movie. Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine do a great job playing the totally misunderstood title characters, and the script is witty and clever. A friend of mine recommended this to me as being similar to Shaun of the Dead, and if you liked that movie, this is definitely cut from the same cloth.
Final Destination (2000)
This is another movie series that overstayed its welcome after about the twelfth installment, but the original had a pretty interesting premise. When a group of high school seniors gets on a plane bound for Paris, one student, Alex (Devon Sawa) has a vision that the plane explodes. When he starts to see his vision take place in real life, he freaks out and (along with a teacher and a handful of other students) gets thrown off the plane. The group watches the plane take off, and explode, just like in Alex’s vision. As the story progresses, the other survivors start to meet with “accidental” deaths that might not be so accidental. Apparently, death needs those souls and wants to get them doing whatever it takes.
This movie definitely pushes the cheese factor to 11, with each sequel ramping up the ridiculousness of the deaths and the gross-out factor of the aftermath. The first iteration, however, keeps the foolishness to a relative minimum and is a really good horror movie, even if it is a tad formulaic. Besides, Tony Todd is in it, and any movie is better with Tony Todd!
Scream was clever because it broke the fourth wall without breaking the fourth wall. It didn’t blatantly poke fun at horror movies (like Shaun of the Dead or Scary Movie), but it did it subtly by including a character (Randy, played by Jamie Kennedy…in his one decent role before kinda’ going off the deep end) that knew everything about horror movies and how they went down. By having Randy explain things before they happened, he was sort of winking and nodding at us.
Even without the clever fourth-wall-breaking, the story of the movie was decent. It had enough twists and turns to keep us guessing and didn’t rely on gratuitous violence or stupid logic jumps. Finally, this movie has the honor, at least in my opinion (some reviewers might not agree), of not totally crapping the bed with its sequels. Sure, the quality decreased as they went, but at least we’re not talking about how Saw or Final Destination went off a cliff in their thirty-third (at least that’s what it felt like) movies.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012
Okay, now we’re getting into the cream of the crop. I don’t even want to say anything about this movie other than, “Go see it.” However, let me give you a short synopsis. Essentially, like hundreds of movies before it, a group of stereotypical teens (the jock, the nerd, the stoner, and so on) goes to a…cabin in the woods. They even pass a stereotypical hillbilly at a gas station. What happens from there will pretty much explain WHY EVERY HORROR MOVIE YOU’VE EVER SEEN HAPPENS!
That’s about all I’m going to say, other than the fact that, in this movie, Bradley Whitford has perhaps the greatest line in the history of all horror movies.
Oh, and at the risk of providing a small spoiler, if you dislike Chris Hemsworth and the Thor movies, you’re in for a treat in this movie.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
This is probably the one I’ll get the least flak for. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say that they don’t like this movie. There are probably some people who don’t love it, but almost everyone who’s seen this movie likes it on some level.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, loveable losers Shaun (Simon Pegg) and Ed (Nick Frost), live pretty boring lives. Boring, of course, until the zombie apocalypse strikes. Shaun has a plan to gather his friends and family and hunker down in the local pub. Of course, as is always the case, things don’t go exactly to plan, but in a pretty hysterical fashion. This movie hits all of the comedy notes: high-brow, slapstick, parody…you name it. The first 10 or so minutes of the movie, where the zombie apocalypse is teased a few times, is brilliant.
This is one of those movies that gets better on repeated viewings…gather some friends and watch this movie, especially if you’re sick of the monotony of zombie-based TV and movies, like The Walking Dead.
Hoo boy is this a great movie. This movie is the very epitome of a simple, reality-based horror movie that doesn’t rely on any of the stupid clichés of other horror movies. In this movie, which really is a classic on every front, author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) gets into a car crash, and is rescued by his “biggest fan,” former nurse Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). Annie brings him to her remote cabin to recover, where she goes pretty much apeshit when she discovers Paul’s latest novel and learns that he’s killing off her favorite character, the titular Misery.
Anyway, I’m not going to spoil anymore by providing additional details. Just know that Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes is probably one of the best characters in movie history. She proves that you don’t need a mask or a chainsaw or CGI or a crazy convoluted backstory to be a successful movie villain. If you were to tell me that one of the greatest movie villains of all time would say things like, “He didn’t get out of the cockadoodee car!” I would tell you-you’re insane, but Annie Wilkes just works.
So, listen to me and find this movie. Watch it for a master class in psychological horror done by a true genius.
Oh yeah, like with Cujo, you can be a real geek and grab the novel instead of watching the movie…surprisingly, the book is far more graphic than the movie. However, you can’t go wrong with either one.
While Misery has persevered as a classic for longer, the original Saw was pretty incredible when I first watched it. From the interesting premise to the incredible ending, this movie was an insanely clever brain-bender of a horror movie.
In this movie, Jigsaw/John Kramer (played by the brilliantly subdued Tobin Bell) chains two seemingly random men in a condemned industrial washroom. While Jigsaw plays mind games with the two men, the police are trying to find him. One of the detectives, played by an excellently-cast Danny Glover, starts to go a little crazy trying to track down the Jigsaw killer.
Again, this movie doesn’t require crazy CQI, mystical forces, or un-killable lunatics to succeed. As a matter of fact, Jigsaw does so much with so little that it truly is brilliant.
The only problem I have is with what the Saw sequels became. On one hand, they do a really good job filling in some of the backstories of John Kramer and they provide some excellent twists and turns on the Jigsaw mythology. Unfortunately, the great story in some of the sequels is lost in some pretty hideous, and often senseless, violence that borders on torture porn.
If I had to recommend movies from the Saw series, I would say definitely see Saw, Saw 2, and Saw 3D (which is the seventh in the series). The “reboot” Jigsaw isn’t bad, either. The rest of the movies in the series are totally disposable, if not outright bad.
Well, there you have them…13 movies that I highly recommend if your friends are forcing you to watch horror movies and you get to have a pick. All of these movies break the clichéd horror mold in some way. Again, I’m not saying these are the 13 best horror movies, but they are 13 pretty good movies that I hope you’ll enjoy. If you have any recommendations for me, feel free to include them in the comments…I’m more than happy to give them a try!
Happy movie watching, fellow geeks!