It's October, which means there are horror movies as far as your eyes can see. For some, such as myself, this is the happiest time of the year. A few years ago, during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, I became even more of a horror fan than I already was. Me and two friends, who have a makeshift horror movie club of sorts, would group-watch scary movies remotely, using Google Meet to share our reactions in real-time.
And those shared reactions are part of why I come here to say I wish we lived in a world where everybody loved horror. Yes, October might make you think that everyone and their mother is a fan of Michael Myers and has watched the Halloween movies in order online multiple times. That everyone knows the right order to watch them in as well. That we all know the best horror movies on Netflix up and down. Recently, when the horrifying Smile outperformed at the box office (opens in new tab), it was the latest sign that scary sells.
Alas, as I've heard throughout the first week of October, some folks don't like horror movies at all. Some won't give even a slightly-scary movie a watch if it's classified as horror.
So, I thought I'd try and do what I can to help people think differently about horror. This may be a futile attempt, but I've gotten so much joy out of scares lately that I think it's worth a stab.
Horror movies deliver a powerful experience
Some people don't enjoy fear elicited from the screen, and this is why I think a clarification about horror movies is in order. The last time I saw a scary movie in theaters (Barbarian, which I loved, and also is rumored (opens in new tab) to be hitting HBO Max this month), I noticed that one of my trio of watched parts of the movie through their fingers. And this is someone who keeps going to see scary movies in theaters — which isn't cheap. As I write this, I'm hours away from seeing the new scary movie Smile with them.
So, know that even the people who are excited to see horror movies don't go in with expectations of wide-eyed enjoyment. We don't always arrive with a grin on our faces. But those chaotic moments, where we're afraid of what comes next, are utterly thrilling. That energy is almost profound.
The best horror movies, I'd argue, often have you desperate to see what comes next, even if you feel uncomfortable in the process. The Shining (available on HBO Max (opens in new tab)) is a perfect example of a scary movie that isn't bound by the normal tropes. It's a little odd and unnerving, and there are rivers of blood, but for a while, it's a family drama about life managing a remote hotel. And for most of The Shining, you probably won't feel that uncomfortable. It lures you in.
In theaters, horror movies are even more powerful. When I think of the best movie-going experiences of my life, I often think about the premiere of Jordan Peele's Us, which felt like our entire movie theater was on one long roller-coaster ride. I've enjoyed similar occasions with large groups of strangers, as the lights flickered and we munched popcorn and other food a countless number of times. This is part of why horror movies are often the most-reliable non-Marvel films at the box office.
This isn't always perfect, though. When we saw The Black Phone (opens in new tab) (now on Peacock), two people in our theater kept having very-loud reactions. It almost veered on satire. But they didn't ruin the experience, because that movie's jump-scares were well done and nobody would have accused these people of being performative.
Find your own kind of horror, scream your own scary song
To those who are confused by my love of scary movies, I suggest you think outside the (Hellraiser) box (aka The Lament Configuration). If I were being glib, I'd proffer the notion that The Social Network and An Inconvenient Truth are horror movies, as they both demonstrate scary truths about reality. That said, you can go outside of the traditional horror genre and still find unsettling and interesting films that aren't about masked slashers terrorizing teens.
Movies that show off unsettling human beings are some of my favorite horrific films, so let's start talking non-traditional horror with 2007's There Will Be Blood (on Paramount Plus. Oil spills in this film much like how blood spurts out of walls in The Evil Dead 2, but it's the way that Daniel Day-Lewis's Daniel Plainview stalks Eli (Paul Dano) in the bowling alley that's most striking to me. He's Freddy and Jason in more believable clothing, and the demonstration of his inhumanity is eye-widening.
Of course, the most buzzed-about horror movies that aren't always seen as such come from distributor and production house A24. In particular, I'd point you to the works of Ari Aster. His jaw-dropping Hereditary (watch on Showtime (opens in new tab)), is a study of familial anger and mourning is not your father's slasher. Similarly, the even-moodier Midsommar (also Showtime (opens in new tab)) — which is not for the faint of heart — will stick with you for a while.
If you enjoy campier films, watch the creepy 1977 Italian classic Suspiria (free with ads on Tubi (opens in new tab)), where aspiring ballet dancers are educated by the wrong people. Want something out of this world? Head to space, where Alien (Starz (opens in new tab)) is an unnerving classic and Moon (HBO Max (opens in new tab)) is more meditative and creepy.
Give horror another chance — what could go wrong?
Clowns are either scary or funny, which is what makes them perfect for horror movies, such as 2017's It (HBO Max (opens in new tab)) with Pennywise the Clown. But despite what Bart Simpson once said, the clowns can't eat you. I'll admit that for some, being terrified is bad enough.
To everyone who has a hard time with horror, I'll simply ask when the last time you gave a scary movie a chance was. No, I won't demand you go to the theater, plunking down time and money. Instead, with all of the above movies I've recommended and linked to, you have a chance to stream a bonafire excellent film on a service you own, without spending any more money.
Some people will read this article nodding their heads with a lot of "no, no, no" vibes, like they're watching the Ghostface killer about to stab someone in Scream (1-4 are on Paramount Plus (opens in new tab), and 5 is on Showtime (opens in new tab)). You may be comfortable with your anti-horror sentiment. All I'll say is, give fear a chance.