13 Epic Horror Movies for Halloween
Without Too Many Jump Scares!by Renata Martin on Oct 24, 2021
Yes, it is that time of the year already – the favorite of many, especially of those who love eating non-stop candy and watching movies that accelerate their heart rates to the max.
We all know there is a myriad of spooky movies that have become a must-watch for Halloween eve such as Hocus Pocus, Carrie, or even the Harry Potter saga. But beyond the family-friendly and cinema classics, there is a different genre that’s been characterized, among other features, by a popular narrative resource known as the jump scare. This is basically when there is an image or sound that pops up onscreen out of nowhere intending to make the audience jump out of their seats.
Just to get this out of the way, jump scares are not bad. When used wisely, it can be the perfect ingredient for some horror movies to simply work – think of the first movie of The Conjuring, which I believe is a masterclass of how to use the right amount of jump scares at the right time, always making sure they add to the story that’s being told.
Otherwise, this resource can be a problem when it’s not used correctly because then we have so many so-called horror movies that completely lack creativity in their storylines and rely only on the scream-out-of-nowhere factor, which stops being surprising way too fast into the film. That’s why there are tons of horror pictures out there that seem like more of the same (because ultimately, they are).
Let’s now talk about 13 movies that managed to give us chills mainly through their stories and atmospheres, and didn’t need to rely on this infamous resource to become epic – yes, there are some jump scares here and there, but they’re not essential to deliver the horror bit.
You’ll find each movie’s rating and their tagline according to IMDb, which is basically the film’s catchphrase. In some cases, there were more than one so I took the liberty of choosing the tagline I consider better leads to the movie’s plot – no worries, no spoilers.
“He came as the caretaker, but this hotel had its own guardians – who'd been there a long time”
Of course Stanley Kubrick directed one of the most horrifying movies since the invention of cinema! And naturally, also a big favorite for the large majority of film critics. An icon to pop culture, it has all the necessary elements to be considered a masterpiece of the genre: an uncomfortable plot, flawless production design, a soundtrack that haunts even the bravest man in his sleep, and all-time top performances by Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall that keep being impressive to this day.
“Just because you're invited, doesn't mean you're welcome”
The public seems divided when it comes to assigning a genre to this film. Some may say is one of the greatest horror films of the century, some others consider it more of a thriller. Whichever the true genre, many of us agree with its greatness.
Jordan Peele’s Get Out is a refreshing way of criticizing the same old issues that poison our society. It’s scary because, despite the sci-fi mix, the whole vibe that surrounds it does not seem that far away from being based on true events. Moreover, Daniel Kaluuya’s first-class performance left us all in awe, didn’t it?
3. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974, 7.5/10)
“For five young friends, a typical summer afternoon drive becomes a terrifying nightmare”
If this movie had been premiered during the last decade, it would have no excuse for the criminal number of blind spots that were poorly executed. However, given the year of production and low budget available, it’s fair to say Tobe Hooper achieved something pretty special.
If the word “creepy” was a movie, then this is it. It’s profoundly uncomfortable to watch, and that’s a big win for a horror picture. It’s also considered a cult film that served as an inspiration to dozens of movies to come – or am I the only one who saw a big wink to Leatherface’s iconic final scene in Todd Phillips’ Joker?
“One witness. One camera”
Are zombie movies horror movies? Regardless of the answer, Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s [REC] surely has earned the right to be cataloged as one. There is more than zombies (are they even zombies?) to it, but I will say no further to avoid giving away any spoilers.
This film has an American version called Quarantine, but the latter it’s objectively not as raw and scary as the low-budget original film from Spain, and scary falls short to describe it. It is enveloping and horrifying.
5. Hereditary (2018, 7.3/10)
“Evil runs in the family”
It’s a very unpopular opinion, but I’ll admit it. I didn’t love Hereditary; it just was not for me. That been said, I recognize a masterpiece when I see one, and that is what it is. Ari Aster created a narrative so complex yet so well curated that is hard not to feel that your stomach is in knots the whole time. This is one of those films where you will lose the track of the story if you take your eyes off the screen even for two seconds.
The picture is not only a creative way to address the subject of possession but it’s backed up with memorable performances by Toni Collette and Alex Wolff deserving of all the praise in the world.
“You'll float too”
Purists tend to defend the idea that the original films are always better than the remakes, but that’s not necessarily true, and Andy Muschietti’s It is a good case of refutation.
For an all-children-led cast, plus Bill Skarsgård’s outstanding performance as Pennywise the clown, this movie checks all the boxes. It’s an effectively achieved narrative that navigates between horror, adventure, thriller, and coming of age. To successfully embrace so many genres in a single film is no easy task, and It manages to do so.
7. The Conjuring 2 (2016, 7.3/10)
“Enfield, London 1977. The next true story from the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren”
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga will undoubtedly transcend as two of the most iconic horror cinema performers, and so will James Wan in the director seat. In this sequel, we find a story with a slower pace that really focuses on building an atmosphere of tense desperation.
8. Ringu (1998, 7.2/10)
“One curse, one cure, one week to find it”
The US version, The Ring (2002, 7.1/10), is not a bad shot at all. Naomi Watts delivers a good performance (does not outperform Nanako Matsushima though), and the special effects are evidently more expensive and up to date.
But it’s precisely that rawness to Hideo Nakata’s original that gives it the lead when it comes to credibility. On another note, the color correction of the American version makes it feel like we’re watching Twilight… no offense.
“Let the festivities begin”
Isn’t this the ultimate cult movie? Following his out-of-script DNA, Ari Aster yet again brought a psychological horror baby to life that is truly one of its kind. Like most of the other films on this list, it’s led by the flawless acting of the actor who gives life to the main character, Florence Pugh’s Dani. Pugh has gained recent acclaim for her performance as Yelena Belova in Marvel Studio's Black Widow. In Midsommar she's joined by another Marvel newcomer, Will Poulter, who was recently cast to play Adam Warlock in Marvel's upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy 3 film.
For most of Midsommar, the horror is disguised in the metaphors and hidden details and, because of that, it may seem like too much the first time. Due to this, Midsommar is a movie worth rewatching because you’ll probably find more and more pieces to the puzzle every time.
10. The Witch (2015, 6.9/10)
“Evil takes many forms”
This is one of those movies that really get under your skin. Fear is not a factor immediately, but the story builds its horrific feel slowly and steadily throughout the timeline of the movie.
This Robert Eggers’ work is creepy, dark, and most of all, it’s utterly disturbing. It also stars the talented it girl of recent years, Anya Taylor-Joy, who never fails to deliver roles that are easy to empathize with.
11. It Follows (2014, 6.8/10)
“It doesn't think. It doesn't feel. It doesn't give up!“
If you read the plot, you will think David Robert Mitchell wasn’t serious with this film. What could seem a ridiculous scenario, surprisingly turns out to be one of the most ingenious among the widely acclaimed horror films out there.
It’s not a perfect movie, but sometimes, defects are more than welcome in this genre to help make the film something more organic and unique. Despite its flaws, It follows is pleasing to the eye and the brilliant soundtrack is a big part of the experience as well.
12. The Babadook (2014, 6.8/10)
“If it's in a word. Or it's in a look. You can't get rid of... The Babadook”
The whole point of Jennifer Kent’s movie seems to be that mental health disorders can look and feel like disturbing, horrific monsters. The Babadook symbolically addresses the issue that it’s a real-life demon for so many people.
“We are our own worst enemy”
It’s not demons, or wild creatures, or ghosts, or even serial killers that embody the enemy in this film. At some point, the script may suggest it’s the government, but truth is, the title gives it away.
The Best of the Rest
Finally, these didn’t make the cut, but they’re outstanding films worth mentioning:
The Conjuring (2013, 7.5/10)
“Evil loves innocence / Based on the true case files of the Warrens”
The only reason why this is not on the main list is simply that I find the second part to be even scarier, and a bit more unpredictable.
The beginning of the Ed and Lorraine Warren real-life paranormal investigators’ film adaptations by James Wan set a mark in pop culture as one of the greatest horror movies of all time. For sure, the complete movie saga has its weaknesses, but The Conjuring stands out with a strong story and characters development, as well as top-notch acting.
Insidious (2010, 6.8/10)
“It's not the house that's haunted”
It may be because it’s directed by James Wan, led by Patrick Wilson, or because of the demonic possessions going on, but for many, Insidious is the predecessor to The Conjuring. They’re both great horror films that navigate the paranormal spectrum with such care and attention to detail, that they don’t miss a single chance to make your heart drop.
Insidious is a faster-paced film that doesn’t give the audience the chance to take a break, using a considerate amount of jump scares all around (and that’s why it didn’t make the cut). Because of this and the fact that The Conjuring is based on true events, I prefer the latter. Some may otherwise go for the rollercoaster-like experience as their top choice.
There are many other iconic films like Psycho (1960), Halloween (1978), Ich seh, Ich she (2014), Sinister (2012), The Exorcist (1973), The Descent (2005), Paranormal Activity (2007), and The Blair Witch Project (1999) that I decided to leave out because of these reasons: I haven’t had the chance to watch some of them, other movies on the list cover similar storylines, and thirteen seemed like a badass thematic number to round up the list.
Spooky fact: Sinister (2012) is said to be the scariest movie ever made according to a scientific study denominated the Science of Scare Project. It’s now on top of my watchlist!
So, what do you think? Have you watched any of these? Do you have a new bunch of films added to your list? Maybe you even watched one, or two, or all of them, and now believe I have either an excellent or a very bad taste when it comes to the horror genre. Both are fair takes, though.
Horror movies are a field of disagreement between audiences because they will never come to a consensus regarding what’s downright scary – everyone has different fears and perceptions of what qualifies as disturbing or terrifying based on their own life traumas and experiences. That is what makes it so hard to assemble a good horror film (whatever that means), but also what makes this genre so beautiful, as odd as it may sound to use that word to describe it.
Horror, more than any other film genre, is aimed to make the audience feel something so intense they won’t get it out of their heads for a while… or ever, in some cases.
It’s completely logical if you think about it: we watch horror movies to have a taste of something awful, but all in a safe space. We will feel desperation, discomfort, fear, a void of darkness if you might; but that will all be over once we leave the cinema or turn off the TV. Right after, we get to go back to our routines with the certainty that any of the things that awoke such horrible emotions didn’t just happen to us.
How could you describe that with any other word than beautiful?
About The Author
Monterrey Institute of Technology
Bachelor's Degree in Communication and Digital Media
with certificates in Film Studies, Directing and Film Production