October’s a rough month for me. A lot of my friends are film buffs without borders, people who snatch all they can from every genre and dig in. But this time of year, when Halloween rears it’s jack-o-lanterned head, all anyone wants to do at the movies is get spooked, hard. For many of them, the scarier the better, and serious “mess your head up” horror movies like The Exorcist or Paranormal Activity are all they want this time of year. Their reaction is delight, but as someone with an overactive imagination and a wide yellow streak across my belly, mine is to head home, turn on all of the lights, and change my pee-soaked pants.
So what am I supposed to do if I want to engage in some festive-ass movie viewings without just watching It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown for 31 days every year? Well, thankfully, horror is a broad enough genre that not every film’s main goal is to scare. While I start rocking back and forth when scared, I can handle some adventurous thrills and, when used to comedic excess, gore. Hoping to aid those like me, I present a list of horror movies that wimps like me can enjoy without having their lives ruined for a week or two.*
DISCLAIMER: These movies aren’t entirely spook-free and, in more than a few cases, are extremely gross. The big difference is that these are, for the most part, designed to entertain, delight, or thrill rather than scare the living excrement out of you. I decided to use myself as the measuring stick – as the biggest man-baby I know, if I can handle it, I think you can, too.
These first films actually contain a lot of suspense, and the scariest moments of the entire list. Your horror-loving friends won’t have to compromise even a little to view these with you – at least one of them is an unassailable classic. If you are even a little nervous about giving these movies a whirl, this is the batch to skip.
The Fly (1986)
The classic I mentioned just moments before! David Cronenberg remakes a very campy 1958 Vincent Price movie with Jeff Goldblum as a scientist whose experiments in teleportation go horribly wrong. How do they go wrong, you ask? In the most grotesque way possible. Seriously, this movie is incredibly disgusting, and after amping Goldblum’s sexiness way up in the first half (see the above photo), The Fly seriously makes you rethink it hard in the second. More disturbing than scary, though, and in spite of featuring some of the most stomach-churning effects in movie history, it’s only the second grossest movie on this list.
Let the Right One In (2008)/Let Me In (2010)
Are you ready for some eeriness? Like, top shelf, mood-setting? Check out 2008’s Let the Right One In, all foggy ambiance and tension. Boldly, it came out at the height of the Twilight craze with a fresh take on vampires as tragic and horrible instead of brooding and pretty. The few bouts of action in this slow boil of tension are explosive and upsetting, but always add to the deep emotional core of the film. The 2008 original is in Swedish, so if you’re allergic to subtitles, watch the 2010 American remake Let Me In – a movie that neither improves or detracts from the original. They’re both tremendous.
The Mist (2007)
Halloween fact: the Horror Police actually issue fines if no movies on your list are based on a Stephen King story! The more you know. Frank Darabont, no stranger to adaptations of King’s material, wrote and directed this monster movie about folk trying to escape the alien denizens of a strange mist that’s enveloped their small town. Like the best monster movies, Darabont wisely waits as long as possible to show you as little as possible of the actual creatures, with the titular mist providing the perfect veil for them. Some very traditional scares in this one, but like the in classic horror fashion, guess who turns out to be the real monsters! Did you guess man? It’s man. The Mist, already a pretty film, gets an upgrade to full-on gorgeous when you watch it in black & white, as Darabont intended.
Perfection Through Parody
Still worried that even the movies listed above might be too much for you? Well, how about we exchange some of those spooks for laughs? The movies below bring a bit of wit to the genre, curbing scariness with wit, slapstick, or gross-out humor. But unlike your Scary Movies or your Dracula, Dead and Loving Its, these directors are so devoted to horror that they don’t sacrifice what makes them great for jokes.
Tucker & Dale Vs Evil (2010)
Maybe that family from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were just misunderstood! That what Tucker & Dale Vs Evil, the most recent movie on this list, puts out there. Its two lovable hillbillies (Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk) are just trying to enjoy their new cabin while, despite their best efforts to keep them alive, horny teenagers haplessly die all around them. It’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead with just as sharp a sense of humor and a whole lot more gore. Even though Tucker & Dale Vs Evil comes across as lighthearted, the creative deaths and excellent gore effects are enough to entertain horror nuts as well.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Edgar Wright takes zombie films seriously. He’s a notorious horror buff, and in this, his most well-known film, he gets to try out all the tropes and tricks that he’s seen masters like George Romero doing for years. What makes Shaun of the Dead fresh and fun even though its inspirations are so classic is that, instead of casting his film with stuffily serious characters concerned about the end of the world, Wright plops a bunch of dorks in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. These nerds care more about which Prince records are disposable enough to kill a zombie with (SPOILER: the Batman soundtrack) than they do about the actual impending zombie. The zombies are a real danger though, and since these characters in Shaun of the Dead have more charm and likability than other generic protagonists, you actually care when flesh his the fan.
Dead Alive (1992)
Are you familiar with Peter Jackson? “Oh, that nice man from the hobbit movies,” you might say. And then I might show you Dead Alive and you might say, “…I’m not sure he’s such a nice man anymore.” Dead Alive is one of the most disgusting, perverse films I’ve ever seen. Thankfully it’s also stone cold hilarious. Yes, Dead Alive‘s gross-out gore puts The Fly to shame, but every time puss or bile falls out of someone (and onto someone else) you can almost hear Jackson’s gleeful giggles from behind the camera. Jackson’s engaging with the audience in a staring contest, except he’s cheating by pinching you when you least expect it.
What you should expect if you watch Dead Alive: Sumatran Rat-Monkeys, a kung-fu priest, a zombie baby, a lawnmower the way I feel it’s meant to be used, the grosses puppet you’ve ever seen, so much black stuff, green stuff, red stuff. Seriously, the only movie more over-the-top than Dead Alive is Over The Top. And even then, it’s close.
Evil Dead 2 (1982)
An undisputed classic. For years, watching Evil Dead 2 was my Halloween tradition, until one year I couldn’t wait and have now moved on to watching it whenever I feel like it. Inspired as much by The Three Stooges as any horror film, Evil Dead 2 set new standards for how much blood is “enough” and what kind of humor is acceptable while you’re dismembering the undead. Even though people have been ripping it off for decades, director Sam Raimi imbues Evil Dead 2 with so much insane style that simple visual effects like shots from the P.O.V. of the essence of evil itself never get old.
Evil Dead 2 is actually a remake of the first film instead of a sequel, so don’t worry about jumping in late. There are some creepy moments, but any terror is quickly undercut (and made more enjoyable?) by Bruce Campbell’s bombastic, swaggering non-hero and the slapstick action he’s so good at. If you watch nothing else on this list, watch Evil Dead 2.
BONUS: if you like it, check out Raimi’s spiritual sequel, 2009’s Drag Me To Hell. Equally ridiculous and delightful, if not as groundbreaking.
Hopefully, even with a low tolerance for scares, you’ll be able to enjoy these this Halloween weekend without making your horror fanatic friends sit through another viewing of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Maybe they’ll even convert you into checking out more scary movies! It hasn’t happened for me, yet, I still turn on all the lights whenever I’m alone in the house, lest the monsters get me.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
*From the trailers, I don’t know how people can watch Paranormal Activity and not immediately declare leaving the theater, “Okay, well, I’m not sleeping again, ever. That’s decided, right? We’re all on board? Good. Where’s the nearest Starbucks?”