Halloween might not be my favorite holiday (see Christmas), but horror movies win me over every time when it comes to movie genre. Ever since I saw The Exorcist at the wee age of eight years old — thanks mom — I’ve had a deep love for films that make me cringe or creep me out. So, in time for Halloween (it’s not like we’re going out trick-or-treating this year or bar hopping anyways), here’s my list of favorite horror movies in each subcategory. Also these are my personal favorites (which I think are pretty solid) but not meant to be a list of the best horror movies of all time so don’t @ me. So here they are in no particular order:
Slasher: Halloween (2018)
Ok, so a lot of die-hard original horror movie fans are going to be mad at me for this one. Sure, the subgenre might have been popularized by the 1968’s Psycho and then the likes of Halloween and Friday the 13th, but the recent remake that brings back Jamie Lee Curtis and introduces her daughter and granddaughter is a pretty fun ride. Not only does it keep the jump scares that slashers are known for, it introduces new themes of feminism without being too heavy handed. Plus, it’s probably the best Jamie Lee Curtis Halloween since the 1978 original. Rent on Youtube.
Home invasion: Hush (2016)
This movie is such a refreshing take on the home invasion subcategory. The main character, Maddie, is a young deaf woman whose house gets broken into. Because of her condition, the sound effects and cinematography create ultimate suspense in this film. Also, I would argue that this is Mike Flanagan’s best horror movie despite it being so underrated. Watch it on Netflix.
Monster: The Thing (2011) & Attack the Block (2011)
This one’s a tie but they’re both so different so hear me out. The first one is another remake. The only reason it makes the cut over the original is because in the decades since the first Thing was made, special effects have come a long way and it’s worth seeing the original story played out with more realistic gore. Also, if you haven’t seen Attack the Block, it’s a fantastic romp of a movie starring a young John Boyega who fights a bunch of outer-space monsters. What’s not to love bruv? Watch on Hulu.
Sci-fi: Alien (1976) & Freaks (2018)
Here’s another movie that I probably should have waited until later in life to see. When I first saw the gut-wrenching scene (see what I did there?) from Alien, I felt my heart stop; I felt like I couldn’t breathe. There’s a reason why the movie continues to not only be on the best horror movies of all time lists but best movies of all time lists. I mean HR Giger is a genius when it comes to monster design. My second choice is a much newer, lesser-known indie film about a father who keeps his daughter locked in a bunker because of some unknown outside forces. It’s kind of like Room meets 10 Cloverfield Lane meets, well, you’ll just have to see. Fans of The Endless might like this one too. Rent Alien on Youtube and find Freaks on Netflix.
Supernatural: It Follows (2014)
This honestly is one of my favorite horror movies that have come out in the last decade. It’s smart, beautifully shot and has that sort of synthy ’80s vibe that’s making a huge comeback. But more than that, it’s just damn creepy. It’s got tons of allegory and the visuals are stunning. This is one of those that’ll make you look twice behind you when you’re out walking alone at night.
Haunted house: The Conjuring (2017)
There are soooo many haunted house movies. It’s kind of the classic subcategory of the horror genre besides maybe slasher movies but it wasn’t until 2017 when I saw The Conjuring that I felt like I had seen the perfect haunted house film. Something about the dynamic of the family, the supernatural elements, the old creepy house, the ghost hunting couple — all of it came together in one neat package with this one. I would also argue that this is James Wan’s best horror film that he’s directed besides maybe the first Saw. Plus, the whole thing was shot in Wilmington so that’s pretty cool. Rent on Youtube.
Asian-inspired: The Ring (2002)
This is the one that gave me nightmares as a kid. And it’s not the Japanese version either. That one, I had as a child on VHS in my house but I didn’t dare watch it. In middle school, during a sleepover, I watched the American version starring Naomi Watts and I thought I was going to lose my mind. The imagery, the creepy ass kid, the imagery. The imagery. That’s what gets me. The other films that followed the popularity of this film like The Grudge have nothing on this 2002 remake. And don’t come after me, but I think it’s better than the original. Rent on Youtube.
Zombie: Train to Busan (2016)
Again, fans of Evil Dead and old-school classics like Night of the Living Dead might be upset with me but this Korean zombie romp from 2016 is just so damn good. It all takes places on a train ride where people start to turn into zombies. Pretty straightforward. The effects are fantastic, the storytelling is solid and there are enough tearjerker moments interspersed with good ‘ol flesh-eating fun that this one is what I would consider the perfect zombie flick. Watch on Tubi for free.
Found footage: REC (2007) & Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
Another tie. Found footage is one of my favorite subgenres of horror films. I think they’re immersive and when done right, have the potential to be so creative. Popularized by Blair Witch Project from 1999, I believe that both REC and the second Paranormal Activity elevate the subgenre to new heights. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the first PA but the second one just amps it all up to 11, making for more shifty supernatural goodness and getting-pulled-by-the-ankle fun. REC, which is probably a bit lesser known, was popularized in the States through the American remake film Quarantine. Don’t watch that on; it’s trash. Instead, watch the original Spanish version that follows a film crew who goes into an old apartment building to capture firefighting footage. What ensues is some seriously well-shot, well-acted creepy descent-into-madness stuff as residents of the complex begin to exhibit scary symptoms. Watch Paranormal Activity 2 on Hulu and REC on Amazon or Shudder.
Thriller: Se7en (1995) & Parasite (2019) & Get Out (2017)
So this category isn’t necessarily horror but often gets lumped into the same category so I’ll include it as well. I would argue that besides found footage, that thrillers are my next favorite subgenre of films. Classics like Se7en and newer ones like Prisoners and The Invitation offer slow-building tension that pays off in the end and leaves you feeling dreadful or stressed throughout the film. Unlike jump scares in slashers or even supernatural horror, good thrillers are about pacing, tone and acting. All three that I’ve chosen I believe do a good job of all three elements, with Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite being an excellent example. Both Parasite, which won the Oscar for Best Film last year (the first time a foreign film has won that honor) if you need another reason to watch it, and Get Out by Jordan Peele offer biting social commentary whether it’s about race or class. Find Se7en on HBO Max, Parasite on Hulu and Get Out on Youtube.
Stranger danger: Creep (2014)
Ok, so I may or may not have created this subcategory just so I could talk about this film. This one, like some others on this list, definitely slid under the radar when it came out in 2014 but it’s definitely worth the watch for those that like tense thrillers. The story follows videographer Aaron who gets hired by Josef, a man wanting to record and capture his life for his unborn child. As Aaron spends time with Josef over the course of a day, he realizes that something might not be quite right with his eccentric employer. It’s pretty much in the title. Great acting and a great plot that just keeps twisting and turning til the end. Watch on Netflix.
Social media: The Den (2013)
In the last decade, there’s been a good bit of films that use social media or technology as the main lens through which to watch the film, so I figured it warranted its own category. I’m thinking of ones like Unfriended, which sounds stupid but was actually pretty fun to watch, and Cam on Netflix. But for me, The Den is a dark and twisted version of the ones I just mentioned that keeps viewers guessing until the final scene of the film. It follows a woman, Elizabeth, who uses a ChatRoulette-like program to interview subjects for her graduate project. As she scrolls through the different people, she stumbles across a woman who looks like she’s in danger and needs help and in her quest to help the stranger, Elizabeth gets tangled up a tangled sinister plot. One of the most underrated films on this list in my opinion. Watch it on Youtube.
Feminist: The Invisible Man (2020)
I mean, it’s got Elizabeth Moss in it, how bad could it possibly be? The actress of Mad Men and Handmaid’s Tale fame brings her acting chops to the big screen in this thriller from last year. Taking the classic story of a man that wreaks havoc but can’t be seen, the film takes a feminist slant as Moss plays a woman who thinks she’s being stalked by the ghost — or maybe somehow still alive entity? — of her abusive ex-husband. Moss’ acting is superb as always and the hand to hand combat plus the subtle scares make this film one of my favorite horror films of the last few years. Watch on Amazon.
One you probably haven’t heard of: I See You (2019)
This one was brought to my attention a few months ago and if I had just seen the cover of the film, I definitely would have passed on watching it. I posted the trailer but really, I encourage folks to just watch the thing and not read or watch anything about it beforehand. The film starts pretty straightforward — a few things go missing in a family’s house — but quickly takes an unlikely turn and the twists just keep coming. This one is the most underrated film on the list but one of the most fun to watch for sure. Watch on Amazon.
Scariest scenes: Hereditary (2018)
Ok, so because of its shortcomings when it comes to plot, this one didn’t make the list in terms of being the best in a category but I had to include it because of some of the imagery from the film. It’s not often that I’m rattled or unsettled while watching a horror film but this one by Ari Aster definitely left me filled with dread not unlike the first time I watched the Exorcist or The Ring. The crazy scenes (if you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about) plus the Oscar-worthy acting by Toni Collette means that I couldn’t finish the list without at least mentioning Hereditary. I really don’t know what to say about the film except that it’s one of the few that has genuinely scared me in the last decade. And in my opinion, Aster’s following film, Midsommar, doesn’t even come close to being as good as his first. The trailer doesn’t do it justice. Watch on Kanopy.