By Will Thompson
“I don’t like horror movies,” is a common refrain among those I talk to. Upon further insistence that we discuss horror movies (I have poor social skills), the person who has been nice enough not to walk away then reluctantly admits the title of a horror movie they liked, usually something like “Alien” or “The Shining.” We talk further. “OK, I liked that movie, but I don’t like all those dumb horror movies,” the other person replies.
Horror has long-held a cultural stigma that it’s for kids and immature men, so aversion to horror is understandable. However, filmmakers have long since moved past the “man in a rubber suit” plots of ‘50’s, B-movie, horror fame, or “sexy coeds slaughtered” tropes so popular in the direct-to-video ‘80’s. There’s much more to be had. So, dear readers who claim to hate horror, put down your rom-coms and your sitcoms, and your — other -coms, and go scary. Or at least a little scary. Here, I will define and recommend movies from horror sub-genres for as many tastes as I can accommodate in my allotted column space. I’ll offer an Obvious Pick, a classic in the sub-genre, and a Deeper Cut, for those who may have seen the former.
Taking the usual conventions of a particular horror sub-genre (or several), the filmmakers inject, you know, comedy.
Obvious Picks: “An American Werewolf in London” (1981), “Shaun of the Dead” (2004).
Deeper Cut: “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon” (2006). It’s “Spinal Tap” for the horror kids. “Behind the Mask” follows fictitious, would-be slasher villain Leslie Vernon as he trains to be the next Jason or Michael Myers. Nathan Baesel’s turn as the titular Vernon is on par with Robert Englund’s peak moments as Freddy Krueger.
A series of shorts strung together, often with a host or guiding story to bridge them together. Good if you need to go to the bathroom a lot.
Obvious Pick: “Creepshow” (1982)
Deeper Cut: “Scare Package” (2020). Tied together by a series of vignettes inside a video rental shop, “Scare Package” is a bit uneven in the middle, but the bookends more than make up for that with some of the most gleeful horror filmmaking of the decade. Also, file under, “horror comedy.”
Slashers are generally just gory whodunits, with a group of hapless folks being slaughtered as one person, usually a virginal teen female, survives to kill the killer… or does she?
Obvious Picks: “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974), “Halloween” (1979), “Friday the 13th” (1980).
Deeper Cut: “Halloween” (2018’s installment) picks up essentially in real time after the events of the first “Halloween,” (see above) with Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode now in her late 50’s having lived life in the shadow of Michael Myers’ first killing spree. Not exactly a deep cut, but one that should be considered a true classic that more than makes up for the years of subpar “Halloween” sequels, “Season of the Witch” notwithstanding.
“The devil made me do it!” will most assuredly be the culprit in this genre, or maybe witches or druids or some such Pagan magic. Occult horror has seen a boom in the latter half of the 2010s.
Obvious Picks: “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), “The Wicker Man” (1973), “The Witch” (2015), “Hereditary” (2018).
Deeper Cut: “The House of the Devil” (2011) is heavy on early ‘80’s-period detail and slow on doling out the details of what, exactly, is going on in the house where Samantha is paid an outrageous sum to sit for the evening with … someone (something)?
The sins of the past come back to bite in what might be horror’s oldest genre, save the monster movie.
Obvious Pick: “The Haunting” (1963), “The Shining” (1980).
Deeper Cut: “The Innkeepers” (2011). Years of ghost rumors will be confirmed or denied in the last night of business at an historic hotel in New England. Director Ti West delivers a worthy follow up to the expertly crafted “House of the Devil.”
All this dark fantasy too much for you? There are documentaries about this stuff, you know.
Obvious Pick: “Terror in the Aisles” (1984).
Deeper Cuts: “In Search of Darkness” (2019). A four-and-a-half hour love letter to ‘80’s horror that never drags. Also, “Smoke and Mirrors: The Tom Savini Story,” which tells the remarkable journey of special effects pioneer Tom Savini.
Extra Credit: Watch a movie from one of the sub-genres you hate. You might figure out why people like it so much.
Thompson enjoys putting somewhat carefully chosen words in relatively meaningful order. He has been to college. He lives in Lewiston and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.