9 Films for Horror Newbies
There seems to be a segment of the population that expresses an interest in the horror genre, but who hate gore, jump scares, and torture porn. This is totally understandable. But not all horror films are built the same, and I hate to see people avoid an entire genre based on a small segment of movies they've seen or heard about. So I've put together this list of horror films that I think serve as great jumping off points for anyone who wants to start watching horror films, but who worries about stumbling across something excessively terrifying or gruesome.
All of that being said, these films are still scary! Please don't take these suggestions to mean anything otherwise. After all, this is horror that we're talking about. However, if you've ever wanted to dip your toes into the genre, you could do worse than start with these.
In this list, I've decided to stay away from crossover horror films that many newbies to the genre have probably already seen (i.e. Jaws), as well as horror films that are fairly strict comedies (i.e. Shaun of the Dead). I've also tried to put trigger warnings if there's anything you need to watch out for, as well as suggestions of what other movies might be suitable if you'd like to watch more.
Let's get started...
ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968)
This film is considered a classic for a reason. And while Rosemary's Baby is a legitimately scary movie, it avoids many of the tactics that modern horror films use to generate scares. Instead, Rosemary's Baby is a masterful example of the "slow burn" horror film. While we can't quite fathom what is going on, we know that Rosemary isn't safe. And it's the presence of this vague danger that makes the film creepy.
Trigger warning: A somewhat disturbing rape scene/dream sequence. Creepy neighbors. And, uhhh...pregnancy. This is probably not the film for those currently expecting!
Next step: The Omen. This film is another slow burner, but with more violence, and it's a good load more terrifying.
THE BABADOOK (2014)
While I wasn't a huge fan of the film overall, I have to admit that it was a nice return to slow, psychological horror. While the Babadook book storyline is quite chilling, the narrative really revolves around how one family handles grief and loss. The film is great at building substantial tension, without resorting to cheap scare tactics. And the performances are quite good, if a bit grating at times.
Trigger warning: Bugs. Childhood fears that resonate into adulthood. And a (somehow) fucking terrifying top hat.
Next step: Don't Look Now. Another film that deals deftly with how people navigate grief after the death of a loved one.
Another Roman Polanski film. While Rosemary's Baby can be read as a woman's descent into madness, Repulsion gives us the real deal. Beautifully shot in lush black and white, the film feels noir-ish, and radiates with imagery and a narrative that is pure Hitchcockian in nature.
Trigger warning: Mental illness. Violence against men.
Next step: May. Although May centers around an awkward teenage girl, many of Repulsion's themes, such as female madness and burgeoning sexuality, are also present in May. Just a warning though - May is much, MUCH bloodier and far more gruesome.
Triangle is such an unusual little gem that it's a shame more people haven't seen it. If you're a fan of the unexpected, I can almost guarantee you'll enjoy this one. To say any more would give it away, so I'll stop there.
Trigger warning: Child abuse. Some "BOO!" moments. Serial killer. Some violence.
Next step: Session 9. While the two films have very little in common thematically, the non-linear manner in which the narratives evolve give them a similar spirit.
THE HAUNTING (1963)
Okay, fair warning: I find The Haunting to be legitimately terrifying. Don't let the fact that it's old and in black and white fool you - this one is scary. Why? Because what we don't see is far scarier than what we do.
Trigger warning: Big spooky mansion. And it's just...erm...really scary.
Next step: The Changeling (1980). Another haunted house film. Also crazy scary.
PAN'S LABYRINTH (2006)
This is labeled all over the place as a fantasy or drama film. Screw that. This movie is straight up horror. If characters like The Faun and the Pale Man don't make you lose all feeling in your legs out of fear, then you aren't the target audience for this list. The film operates on viewers' feelings of uncertainty and concern for its lead character and her surroundings. And let's face it, there's almost nothing scarier than not knowing what to expect next, or who to trust. (Fair warning: there is quite a lot of violence & brutality shown on camera in this one. It's not pretty, and it can get fairly intense at times).
Trigger warning: Domestic violence/child abuse. General cruelty. Saddest ending ever.
Next step: The Orphanage or The Devil's Backbone. Both are also Spanish horror films and carry a similar atmosphere of dread in them. However, in contrast to Pan's Labyrinth, The Orphanage and The Devil's Backbone are both told as more traditional horror films/ghost stories.
LAKE MUNGO (2008)
The triumph of Lake Mungo is that not much happens, but it still manages to feel tense throughout. This is also its downfall, as some viewers might find it to be too slow for their liking. In fact, a lot of horror fans hated this film. However, there are elements of it that still make your blood run cold, and that's why I've decided to include it on the list. The film is shot as a mockumentary, and is an interesting meditation on the grief experienced by those left behind after a family death. But it also digs deep into themes of memory, technology as a tool to legitimize reality, and how well (or if) we can ever truly know someone.
Trigger warning: Death of a teenager/family member. A dead body.
Next step: The Pact. This one also deals with the secrets left behind by a loved one after their death.
THE VANISHING AKA SPOORLOOS (1988)
This Dutch/French film is really the character study of two madmen, wrapped up in a horror film. The deliberate and slow pace draws you deeper into the puzzle, until the final horrifying moment. And let me tell you, that final moment is a shocker. What makes this film so terrifying is that it could actually happen. Make sure that if you decide to watch it, that you get your hands on the original version of the film (released in 1988), and not the American remake.
Trigger warning: Plausible storyline. Kidnapping. Serial killer.
Next step: Cache. Director Michael Haneke is the master of Nasty Surprises. His film Cache feels similarly paced, and its storyline is also one that holds a lot of plausibility.
DRAG ME TO HELL (2009)
This film is an interesting mix of horror and comedy. I say "interesting mix" because there are some genuinely creepy moments in the film that give it some darkness. But all in all, you still have enough gypsy curses, flying goats, and kooky battle scenes to keep it from becoming too much of a grind. Overall, Drag Me to Hell is a fun, spooky, silly horror romp.
Trigger Warning: (Relatively) cartoonish gore & gross-outs. Some "BOO!" moments. Body horror.
Next step: Evil Dead 1 and 2. Both are also directed by Sam Raimi and have the same madcap, campy underpinning that makes Drag Me to Hell such a weird delight.
Are you a horror fan with suggestions for people trying to get into it for the first time? Leave your ideas in the comments!