11 Horror Movies For People Who Hate Horror
Horror movies are classics at parties and sleepovers, but they're not for everyone. And that's okay! We all have things we're not into seeing on screen, and what's a fun night of viewing for one person can be extremely unpleasant for someone else. To be fair, horror movies can very quickly devolve into torture porn and exploitative tropes that feel icky in the bad way, and they can also rely on jump scares to get a physical reaction out of an audience rather than actually exploring fear as an emotion. And sometimes they can get, well … really boring.
Like, how many stringy-haired little girls moaning at us while black goo leaks out of moldy old wallpaper can you see before it becomes stale? Luckily, there are lots of movies that are not jumpy or torture-porny and actually have something to say. Some are funny (intentionally or not), some are moody, and they're all a great way to get into a genre that's often labeled as having cheap scares and formulaic stories ...
The Haunting dir. Robert Wise, 1963. Rated G
This is a great intro horror movie because, well, nothing happens. See that G-rating? Nothing. The beauty of this classic haunted house movie, which includes the requisite group of strangers holed up together, is that the haunting primarily exists in the mind: in the minds of the characters and in yours, as well. After all, if you go looking for the supernatural like the characters in this film do, you're probably going to find it in some form. There are some low-key special effects that conjure dread rather than terror (Can a door be scary? Yes.). The lingering questions about how things -- and people -- become haunted are likely to be more unsettling than any ghostly activity. The house itself (a real and supposedly really haunted place) serves as the monster with its oppressive decor, labyrinthine halls, and dark, peering windows. This movie won't make you jump, but you'll be really aware of any creaks in your house at night after watching it.
Watch If You Like: Retro and '60s movies, The Twilight Zone, psychological horror.
What To Know: There is one scene that might cause a jump, but it's not a monster, don't worry. Early on, there is a depiction of suicide.
Fun Fact: The same house was used as a location in the Netflix adaptation The Haunting of Hill House. And if you want to laugh and laugh, there's always the objectively terrible 1999 remake with Owen Wilson.
Gretel & Hansel, dir. Oz Perkins, 2020. Rated PG-13
A dark, arty take on the classic Grimm's fairy tale, this movie has plenty of eeriness as well as a bucket of guts (they're not very realistic and border on the comical), but its PG-13 rating ensures that nothing gets too gory, and, yes, it has a happy-ish ending. The pace might be slow for some, but if you're patient, the visuals are stunning, and there's a charm in the place-less, timeless setting that uses actors with different accents and backgrounds. Traditional "fairy tale" imagery is replaced with a stark aesthetic that's at one primitive and modern; you won't find any literal gingerbread houses here. The eerie, atmospheric soundtrack is a treat, too. The retelling is dark and suspenseful enough to give a chilly little thrill, but it remains tame enough to appeal to the more squeamish and ends with an affirmative message about trusting and believing in yourself.
Watch If You Like: dark fairy tales, folk horror, happy endings.
What To Know: The basket of guts is on the level of Halloween decorations, but they have some gross-out goopiness. There's also a skeevy old guy in the beginning.
Fun Fact: If you're a Star Trek fan, you might recognize the witch as the Borg Queen.
The Lost Boys, dir. Joel Schumacher, 1987. Rated R
The Lost Boys is a classic for anyone who loves a good '80s adventure in the vein of The Goonies, only with vampires. This one stars both Coreys and Kiefer Sutherland rocking a trenchcoat-and-dangly-earring combo that would influence goth kids for decades. This isn't really a horror movie, and falls more into the adventure genre, with our main character (Corey Haim) out to rescue his older brother and others from a gang of teenage vampires who bring some serious hair metal lewks that want to induct them into their undead ranks. The scrappy kids band together to defeat the vampires and save the day (night?), and Corey Feldman wears a headband.
Watch If You Like: '80s classics with the soundtracks and the fashion, adventure movies like Indiana Jones or The Goonies, sexy male vampires.
What To Know: There are a number of silly vampire death scenes, including electrocution, dissolving, and explosion.
Fun Fact: The homoerotic undertones are legendary.
The Babadook, dir. Jennifer Kent, 2014. Not Rated (but definitely not for kids)
At first glance, The Babadook certainly seems like a pretty standard horror flick, from its blue-tinged shots and pale, solemn little kid to the croaking voice of the Babadook himself. His character design, with creepy long fingers and a Jack the Ripper-esque cloak and top hat doesn't help either. The movie also has a claustrophobic setting that ratchets up the anxiety. But hold on. This movie is actually about how trauma and grief affect mental health and what happens when you don't deal with these things appropriately, like how they might keep coming back again and again, like a malicious spirit haunting a house. Even filmmaker Jennifer Kent referred to the horror as a "byproduct" of the movie's real themes.
Watch If You Like: Psychological horror, horror movie staples like creepy kids but done in a far more interesting way.
What To Know: A dog dies, and there are some scenes of (hallucinated) violence towards a child, as well as a memory of a death.
Fun Fact: The Babadook is now, for some reason, a gay icon. Thanks, Tumblr.
Alien, dir. Ridley Scott, 1979. Rated R
Alien has all the trappings of a sci-fi movie, with a futuristic setting, a spaceship, and, well, an alien. But a better description might be a "slasher movie in space," as a mostly-unseen and totally unknown terror stalks a mining crew aboard a commercial mining ship returning to Earth. The film is taut and tense, and even though screenwriter Dan O'Bannon proudly declared he "stole from everybody!" the film ends up being a unique take on both sci-fi and horror. The aliens, famously designed by artist H.R. Giger, are also in a class of their own. While the film has horror elements like the crew being picked off, suspenseful hide-and-seek scenes, and a few slimy deaths, the movie also incorporates sci-fi elements, like what happens when corporations are in charge of science and technology. Also, how to deal with an intelligent lifeform who has no interest in cultural exchange.
Though it fails to address why a spaceship would need a room fully dedicated to loose, dripping chains.
Watch If You Like: Sci-fi, simple but good practical effects over crazy CG, aliens that don't have a shred of humanity.
What To Know: Well, there's an alien called a "chest-burster," so you can put together what that means. There are also a number of sex metaphors. But don't worry, the cat is okay.
Fun Fact: The cast was deliberately chosen to be older people, to cement them as career workers, as opposed to the usual horror movie trope of having very young characters. Sigourney Weaver is the youngest at 29.
The Cabin In The Woods, dir. Drew Goddard, 2011. Rated R
You know the story. A bunch of hot young college kids take a trip to a remote, wooded location with no cell service and stay in a creepy cabin. Only, this story is a comedy (kinda), and so all the tired tropes of horror films are exaggerated to a comedic extent, and then the story takes a wild turn to reveal what the cabin in the woods really is, and what all those horror classics were really all about. As a bonus, you'll get to see cameos from all your favorite nightmare creatures, including a Zombie Cannibal Redneck Family and a tiny ballerina with a face full of teeth, who is the best.
The film is a look at what makes a horror film and is equal parts a celebration of the genre, a parody of its more ridiculous aspects (why are we going to this gross cabin again?), and a critique of why certain elements, like the "final girl," keep appearing. It even digs a little at the audience, asking, hey, why do we like watching people die?
Watch If You Like: Snappy dialogue, dissecting movie tropes, screaming "Why would you DO THAT??" at the screen during horror movies.
What To Know: There are some violent, bloody deaths. Some, like those involving the zombie family, are legitimately terrifying, but others are definitely comedic. Also, Joss Whedon is involved.
Fun Fact: This movie is full of references to horror classics, including some of their more memorable characters, like "Fornicus, Lord of Bondage and Pain" as a Hellraiser nod. Seeing how many you can recognize is a fun game while watching with friends.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, dir. Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014. Not Rated
Billed as an "Iranian vampire Western," this moody, noirish film follows the lonely citizens of "Bad City," a fictional, crumbling Iranian city far out in the desert, full of people living on the margins of society. Among them is a mysterious, nameless vampire who travels the streets at night by skateboard and has a taste for the unscrupulous. Because of its Iranian roots, it's easy to see this movie as being full of political statements about women and queerness, and maybe it is. Or maybe it's about loneliness, addiction, connection, and desire, which can be found anywhere. The movie is a slow-burn with an arty streak, with plenty of dead-end town ennui and vinyl record listening to appeal to any film nerd, all combined with elements of Persian culture. There's also an accompanying graphic novel.
Watch If You Like: Only Lovers Left Alive and other Jarmusch movies, sad vampires, listening to Balck Sabbath on vinyl.
What to Know: This film is light on the blood and violence, but it is implied -- it's a vampire film, after all. There are also scenes of drug use. The cat in this one is okay, too. Also, this film is in Farsi with subtitles.
Fun Fact: Amirpour is a lifelong skateboarder herself and served as a stand-in for the lead character.
Wicker Man (the Nic Cage one), dir. Neil LaBute, 2006. Rated PG-13
They say a good way to conquer fear is to laugh at it and see its absurdity, and that's real easy to do with the 2006 remake of a 1973 film starring Christopher Lee as the leader of a pagan cult. Cage's acting is off the wall, and by the end, after he destroys the crops, aims his gun at random people, kicks in doors, frightens children, and punches a number of women, so you're actually rooting for the cult -- and the bees. This is a good one to enjoy with friends, and maybe some beers, and don't feel too bad if you zone out through the slower parts. While the original is a decent horror movie about an outsider trapped among mysterious backwater cult members with murderous intentions, similar in some ways to the more recent Midsommar, this version is ... not. But it did give us memes, so maybe it is culturally significant.
Academy Award-winning actor Nicholas Cage, everybody.
Watch If You Like: So-bad-they're-good movies, pausing on Nic Cage's face while he emotes, bees.
What To Know: Nic Cage punches a bunch of women in the face.
Fun Fact: This film couldn't even win Golden Raspberry Awards. It lost Worst Picture to Basic Instinct 2.
Zombieland, dir. Ruben Fleischer, 2009. Rated R
This is another movie that's more fun than scary and is a great alternative to more serious zombie movies without abandoning the deeper concepts that often crop up in zombie flicks, like what it means to be human and how we can make the future of humanity a little less bleak. The film follows a college student with a list of 33 rules to survive a zombie apocalypse, most inspired by the asinine activity exhibited by characters in zombie classics. Like The Lost Boys, this is more of an action-adventure movie with a survival horror twist and enough snarky humor to keep things on the lighter side. Along the way, he encounters other survivors and has to reevaluate his philosophy as to what survival is all about. Oh, and Bill Murray is in it.
Watch If You Like: Telling people how you would survive the zombie apocalypse, The Walking Dead, but you wish it had a sense of humor, Bill Murray doing Bill Murray shit.
We're with Woody Harrelson on this one; this would make the apocalypse kind of worth it.
What To Know: Zombie violence and gore, but it skews to the comical. There's a clown zombie.
Fun Fact: Bill Murray's role was originally written for Patrick Swayze, but he was too ill to work, so the role was re-written for Murray.
Body at Brighton Rock, dir Roxanne Benjamin, 2019. Rated R
No ghosts, no ghouls, no vampires in this movie; the terror is all very, very real. Set against the stunning beauty of a nature preserve somewhere out West, an inexperienced young park guide stumbles across a body in the woods. Despite her lack of experience, she must stay with it all night until the authorities arrive at the remote area. The gorgeous landscape becomes frighteningly impassive as she struggles to maintain composure. The scariest thing in the film might be her total ineptitude in nature. The film explores the concept of being small and alone in the face of the elements -- including the elements of bear and your own mind. There's a spooky little twist at the end, too.
Watch If You Like: Majestic scenery and lots of it, human vs. nature stories that are unflinching but not overly full of suffering, feeling a sense of "Well, at least I know not to do that."
What To Know: The movie gets tense in a survival thriller way. There are also some hallucinatory scenes about the dead man, which are freaky, but even within the story, they aren't real.
Fun Fact: While filming, the cast and crew faced their own survival scares as severe windstorms swept the location, felling trees and requiring the fire department to help them get their equipment off the mountain.
The Witch: A New England Folktale, dir. Robert Eggers, 2015. Rated R
Set against a grim New England autumn and spoken in 1630's parlance, this tale follows a banished Puritan family as they eke out existence next to a deep, dark forest -- and whatever lurks inside. The scenes look like period paintings, lit by only candles and the eternally overcast sky. Director Eggers describes his vision as a Puritan's nightmare brought to life, with a real witch stalking the family instead of the psychological terror a modern audience might be expecting. But oh no, the Devil is real here. The crew worked hard to create a historically accurate film in terms of everything from the buildings and clothing to the dialogue to culturally accurate ideas about witches (like flying ointment), learning from historians and experts of the Puritan settlements in New England. There aren't even any electronic instruments in the score.
Watch If You Like: Slow burn movies, Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie from Game of Thrones, period pieces, classic witchcraft, goats, debating about messages and intentions in a film with your friends.
What To Know: There's some brief blood and maybe one jump scare, but this film is mainly a sense of dread. There is also a surprisingly terrifying rabbit. The dog is probably not okay, but it is not harmed on screen.
Fun Fact: Black Phillip, the family's goat (his real name is Charlie), was an actual nightmare to work with.
Top image: United Artists