Horror movies are a divisive genre. Die-hards thrill for gore and scares, while many in the movie-going public are turned off by the prospect of sweating in their seats for fear of being murdered, mauled or eaten. The Halloween season is often thought of as the perfect time for watching horror movies, but scaredy-cats like myself are frequently left in the cold. That being said, not every horror movie is created equal. To celebrate the season, we’ve prepared a list of horror films that are a good introduction to the genre and aren’t as likely to have you jump out of your skin. – Conner Dejecacion, Managing Editor
While often overshadowed by its big brother Alien, Aliens is a thrilling film that combines the sci-fi horror of the first film in the franchise with James Cameron’s trademark action. The movie follows a group of soldiers who are called to a remote space colony that’s gone dark. Along for the ride is Ripley (Sigourney Weaver <3), protagonist of Alien and supreme badass who runs circles around her trigger-happy companions. Aliens is still a scary movie, thanks in part to the horrifyingly iconic design of the Xenomorphs, as well as the sheer number of them that appear in the film. Luckily, scaredy-cats can still enjoy that the protagonists are locked and loaded – outfitted with an awesome arsenal other horror film protagonists would kill to get their hands on. Plus, it’s super quotable! “Get away from her, you b*tch!” – Conner
The Thing (1982)
Another sci-fi horror film, John Carpenter’s cult classic The Thing (1982) is basically Among Us in movie form. Set in a remote Antarctic research base, The Thing is a claustrophobic story of survival and suspicion. It still might make you jump with the gory, if campy, practical effects (CW: Tentacles!) but the best parts of the film are those when the monster isn’t in the frame at all. Watching the various characters accuse one another of being The Thing is a blast, especially on first watch, when you aren’t sure who could turn into a bizarre and terrifying creature at any moment. Kurt Russell, a frequent Carpenter collaborator, is a joy to follow (the film is actually hilarious), but there’s little to complain about overall with regards to the tight cast and its members’ performances. – Conner
As an avid horror watcher, M3GAN is the pivotal introduction that newbies need to the ‘laughing at horror’ fanbase (subculture? niche?). Spooky season is the perfect time to embrace being scary, so gaslight yourself. “It's not that serious!” “Horror movies can be funny!”
In all seriousness, with minimal gore and no sign of jumpscares, M3GAN is not your traditional horror movie. The namesake of the film, an AI robot, actually has quite a sad and absurd origin story. Jenna (Allison Williams) is left to take care of her eight-year-old niece, Cady (Violet McGraw), upon her sister's death. Instead of spending time with the little girl, she obsessively works on a robot in the garage, and sets out-of-touch rules. This includes barring Cady from playing with the “collectibles” she had covering a wall, which to me had the scariest effect in the film.
Jenna doesn’t know how to process her emotions or grief but she can program a mean American-Girl-doll-looking robot. M3GAN is created to provide the emotional support of a caretaker for Cady.
It is just so silly – and that is the prevalent theme throughout the whole movie. You'll feel like ‘whoever wrote this scene definitely came up with it sleep-deprived at 3 am’ for every scene. My favorite was the awkward, bizarre, slightly seductive dance-off that she had before shish-kebabing a guy with a giant paper cutter. Throughout the film, I would find myself gaping at the screen – unsure of whether to laugh, cringe or gasp.
M3GAN is definitely a horror-comedy that leans more into comedy and a campy vibe. – Norah
A Quiet Place (2018)
I would describe A Quiet Place as having “horror with heart.” The film follows a (honestly really cute) family living in a post-apocalyptic world with aliens that quickly kill at the smallest sound. Thus, the family must stay silent. This is a film about retaining humanity and senses of normalcy during a crisis. It also highlights many relatable family dynamics like sibling quarrels, teen angst, family dinners and rainy board game nights.
The film is tense and suspenseful, but overall, A Quiet Place is more of a family drama with beautiful acting. While there are jumpscares, the thriller also has its fair share of sad, funny and heartwarming moments. Plus, I know that if there wasn't an apocalypse, the mom, played by Emily Blunt, would be running a thriving family Instagram. – Norah
Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022)
Pete Davidson, Rachel Sennott, Amandla Stenberg and Borat 2’s Maria Bakalova in a comedy murder mystery? Please, sign me up. Bodies Bodies Bodies is an A24-produced movie directed by Halina Reijn. The movie follows a wealthy young friend group rife with unsettled history as they prepare for a “hurricane party” at David’s (Pete Davidson) mansion. After a night of drinking, drugs and dancing, the group decides to play a game called "Bodies Bodies Bodies" – basically an assassin-style game – but a fight erupts. People walk out of the room, the lights cut out from the rain and soon enough, Bakalova’s character Bee finds David outside with his throat slashed.
The rest of the movie is a tense yet hilarious process as members try to figure out who the killer is while people continue to die off. As this happens, characters are forced to unpack their wealthiness that makes them ignorant and insufferable friends. They grapple with pent up resentment and tension around gender, class and age. All of this comes this is grounded within Gen Z culture – the young adults’ accusations are filled with trendy buzzwords like “ally” and “gaslight.”
The movie has enough gore, suspense and murder to be a horror, but its humor and the plot twist at the end take away any actual scariness. – Kim
Maybe it’s just me, but the 2017 Andy Muschietti adaptation of Stephen King’s It was…silly. I grew up terrified of scenes from Tim Curry’s 1990 Pennywise, but something about Bill Skarsgård’s didn’t cut it for me. I think this is to do with how animated and simply ridiculous Skarsgård’s rendition is: Pennywise looks like a video game character with his ballooning forehead, perfectly fitted suit and childish toothy grin. That with his voice which sounds more vibrant and akin to a children show’s host than sinister made me and my friends laugh out loud in the theater.
Beyond Pennywise’s clown form, his other manifestations as a charred headless body and a contorted woman who emerges from a painting fail to make hairs stand on end. Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer) is afraid of disease and the leper that comes to haunt him seems to only villainize people with illnesses; there is no nuance to sensitively address the validity of the fear nor humanizing either victim. These characters were designed with what feels like CGI skills from the 2000s and the fears themselves are so odd and ridiculous it left me questioning why they were there in the first place.
It’s too comically direct with a ridiculous plot line and cheap in-your-face scares that didn’t move me. If you still don’t buy my explanation, view the storyline with a lighter lens when you learn this Stephen King multiverse lore: The universe where the story takes place was vomited out after a turtle named Maturin had a stomach ache. Maturin is the supreme enemy of “It” who is the ultimate metaphysical manifestation of Pennywise. To think the antagonist of the movie’s greatest enemy is a turtle tickles me. – Kim
Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
I first saw Killer Klowns from Outer Space on Chicagoland classic Svengoolie when I was just 5 years old, and while it terrified me then, I find it delightfully campy now. The basic premise is in the title – killer clowns come from outer space to a small town and start, well, killing people.
Correction: they don’t exactly kill people. More specifically, they wrap them up in cotton candy cocoons. Yes, really. Other attacks include popcorn shot from bazookas, swallowing people with shadow puppets and hunting with living balloon dogs. It looks even funnier than you’d imagine.
From the corny practical effects to the colorful set and prop design, to hilarious death scenes and unrealistic dialogue, this movie is a hidden gem that’s now considered a cult classic. It strikes the perfect balance of spooky Halloween vibes and so-bad-it’s-good energy, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone. Plus, the theme song by the Dickies has NO BUSINESS being as good as it is. – Kelly
Bonus: Silence of the Lambs (1991)
I was 13 in Spring 1991 when I first saw The Silence of the Lambs in the theater. I wasn't not scared by the only horror film to win the Best Picture Oscar. Still, both of the serial killers in the film (Anthony Hopkins and Ted Levine) follow such outlandish rituals that they felt less like monsters who might pounce outside than like concepts of evil that this profoundly tense, psychically unsettling film boldly explores. Throughout their interactions with one of the hardiest, most inspiring heroines in U.S. cinema, her strength and decency remained reassuring throughout. Even Clarice (Jodie Foster), though, especially by the nerve-shredding climax, can't escape the many forms of misogyny that are among the movie's subjects. That felt frightening at 13, and still does at 46, but it saddened me as much as it scared me. – Professor Nick Davis, English Department