Halloween can be a scary time of year. Monsters. Ghosts. Demons. Being responsible for choosing the movie for your picky friends at your seasonal get-together. We’ve all been there.
I can’t help you with the monsters, but I’ve got the movies covered for you. Here’s my list of go-to recommendations: 15 scary movies that I think are undeservedly ignored, unknown, or underappreciated.
The Dead (2010)
Director: The Ford Brothers
Starring: Rob Freeman, Prince David Oseia
Subgenre: slow-burning zombie terror
In the early days of a West African zombie epidemic, an American engineer teams up with an AWOL soldier as they struggle to survive. In a sea of mediocre zombie movies, The Dead stands out due to its willingness to embrace Romero-style slow, shuffling zombies – the ones you can outrun, but never really escape. Long eerie silences, deliberate pacing, and the empty rural landscapes of Ghana and Burkina Faso make for a strange, creeping, and totally unforgettable kind of scary.
You’ll *love* this if you like: The Walking Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead
Ginger Snaps (2000)
Director: John Fawcett
Starring: Emily Perkins, Katharine Isabelle
Subgenre: teenage girl angst and lycanthropy
It’s a real shame that there aren’t more werewolf stories exploring monstrous femininity. But Ginger Snaps takes that idea and runs with it, splicing together menstruation, sexuality, violence, and transformation into weird wolfy magic. Two teenage sisters with a passion for the macabre get more than they bargained for when their boring suburban life is interrupted by an unscheduled werewolf bite. Amazing performances by Isabelle and Perkins elevate what might be a conventional monster movie into your new favorite chick flick.
You’ll *love* this if you like: The Craft, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Teen Wolf
The Last Winter (2006)
Director: Larry Fessenden
Starring: Ron Perlman, James Le Gros, Connie Britton
Subgenre: suspenseful eco-horror
At a remote oil company outpost, an isolated team of scientists is terrified by strange events and hallucinations. Set in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, The Last Winter is an environmentalist fable disguised as a psychological chiller, exploring madness on a personal and global scale.
You’ll *love* this if you like: Alien, Jurassic Park, An Inconvenient Truth
You’re Next (2011)
Director: Adam Wingard
Starring: Sharni Vinson, Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen
Subgenre: Vicious slasher-comedy
Adam Wingard’s spin on the home-invasion genre is bloody, badass, and unapologetically hilarious. Set during a family reunion gone terribly wrong, You’re Next turns WASPy domestic melodrama into a figurative and literal dismantling of the family unit. I won’t say too much, because spoilers, but you’ll also have a new favorite song by the end of the movie. You’re welcome.
You’ll *love* this if you like: Halloween, Scream, Cabin in the Woods
The Changeling (1980)
Director: Peter Medak
Starring: George C. Scott
Subgenre: classy, understated ghost story
A composer, still reeling from the death of his family, moves into an empty Victorian mansion, where he is haunted by the ghost of a murdered child. The Changeling is a great choice if you’re looking for something scary but not gory – it’s quiet, well-acted, and deeply terrifying.
You’ll *love* this if you like: The Sixth Sense, The Haunting, The Others
Director: Stuart Gordon
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton
Subgenre: schlocky mad scientist B-movie perfection
Based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, Re-Animator is a beloved cult classic and a sick little vehicle for gratuitous violence, gross zombie gore, and a brilliant old-school performance by Jeffrey Combs. It’s disgusting and hilarious and always a big hit at parties.
You’ll *love* this if you like: Evil Dead 2, Return of the Living Dead, Grindhouse
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chanéac
Subgenre: unsettling sci-fi body horror
And speaking of mad scientists, Splice is the place where all your deepest fears about cloning, body horror, parenthood, and genetic engineering come to party. Deeply disturbing and provocative, this film will rock you on an emotional level before it scares the crap out of you.
You’ll *love* this if you like: The Fly, Alien: Resurrection, Gattaca
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Director: Don Coscarelli
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis
Subgenre: poignant and silly cult classic
Trapped in a crappy rest home and a crappier aging body, Sebastian Haff is suffering from the delusion that he’s Elvis Presley. Or maybe he really is Elvis. Teaming up with his new friend Jack, who’s convinced that he’s former President John F. Kennedy, it’s up to Sebastian to save the helpless residents of the rest home from a soul-sucking Egyptian mummy. And if you find yourself getting a little teary-eyed during a movie about a cowboy-hat-wearing mummy starring Bruce Campbell, we can keep that between us.
You’ll *love* this if you like: Army of Darkness, RED, Elvis Presley, chins
The Mist (2007)
Director: Frank Darabont
Starring: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden
Subgenre: giant monsters and existential dread
After a strange storm, a bunch of small-town folks take refuge in a grocery store, where they’re surrounded by a strange white mist and besieged by unspeakable horrors. Based on a story by Stephen King, The Mist features beautiful music and cinematography, a terrifying performance by Marcia Gay Harden, and one heck of an ending.
You’ll *love* this if you like: The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, The Green Mile
Director: Bruce McDonald
Starring: Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly
Subgenre: zombie outbreak meets Linguistics 101
A local DJ is trapped in a small local radio station during the spread of a mysterious virus that seems to be contracted through language. Pontypool is a thinking person’s twist on the zombie genre, featuring an amazing performance from your new favorite actor Stephen McHattie.
You’ll *love* this if you like: Welcome To Nightvale, Dawn of the Dead, poststructuralism
Stake Land (2010)
Director: Jim Mickle
Starring: Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Kelly McGillis
Subgenre: post-apocalyptic vampire tear-jerker
Actually, scratch that – Nick Damici is your new favorite actor. Stake Land combines all the best elements of vampires, zombies, road movies, and the end of the world. If there’s a movie on this list that I personally guarantee as a Halloween crowd-pleaser, this is it. Everyone loves this movie.
You’ll *love* this if you like: The Road, I Am Legend, Zombieland
Director: Antonia Bird
Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, David Arquette, Neal McDonough
Subgenre: 19th-century horror meets cannibalism and colonialism
Set just after the Mexican-American war, Ravenous follows Second Lieutenant Boyd after he is stationed at a remote, icy fort in the Sierra Nevadas. Cut off from civilization, Boyd and his comrades are terrorized by a mysterious stranger, an insatiable hunger, and, ultimately, each other. Thanks in large part to its perfectly creepy soundtrack and cinematography, this is one of my favorite movies ever, a clever little fable about war and manifest destiny.
You’ll *love* this if you like: Deliverance, Hannibal, The Grey
Let The Right One In (“Låt den rätte komma in,” 2008)
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson
Subgenre: creepy Swedish vampire kids
Someone made an adequate but entirely unnecessary American remake (Let Me In) of this film a couple of years later, but the original, Let The Right One In, is simply *perfect*. Impeccably written, shot, and acted, it’s unsettling, sweet, and meaningful. This is might be the best vampire movie ever made, and it’s more about loneliness, adolescence, and loyalty than it’s about bloodsucking and murder. (Not that there’s not plenty of that stuff, too.)
You’ll *love* this if you like: Interview with the Vampire, The Silence of the Lambs, Hemlock Grove
The Thing (1982)
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David
Subgenre: edge-of-your-seat closed-room creature feature
I was a little hesitant about putting The Thing on this list – it’s indisputably and famously a horror classic. On the other hand, I meet people who’ve never seen it. All the time! People who love horror movies! This is just unacceptable, so here it is. If you haven’t seen The Thing, watch The Thing. This movie has everything going for it. Thick, excruciating suspense. Baby Snake Plissken. Awesome practical creature effects that still stand up after thirty years – and put the silly CGI crowd to shame, thank you very much. And above all, this is *the* definitive John Carpenter score, probably my favorite horror movie music of all time. See this movie. See this movie. See this movie.
You’ll *love* this if you like: Aliens, “Ice” (X-Files 1.07), Rear Window
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Director: John Landis
Starring: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Joe Belcher
Subgenre: very funny and very scary horror-comedy
Same goes here – this movie is a must-see. Not just for horror fans, but for movie fans. An American Werewolf in London is the perfect horror-comedy. Or maybe the perfect horror movie. Or maybe just the perfect movie. The witty script, the cool moon-inspired soundtrack, the werewolf horror balanced with relatable human drama – I could go on and on, but I’ll simply say that this is the best movie about friendship, sex, love, madness, werewolves, and the Holocaust you’re ever going to see. That’s all I’ll say.
You’ll *love* this if you like: Being Human, Shaun of the Dead, Hemlock Grove