Steven Yeun breaks away from being The Walking Dead’s resident good guy image to slaughter an office full of coworkers in Joe Lynch’s Mayhem. When a “Red Eye” virus spreads through a tense office building, it’s blood and brutality from start to finish.
Released after Greg McLean’s The Belko Experiment, Mayhem works hard not to feel like it’s trying to cash in on the popularity of the James Gunn-written film. Yeun is joined by the then up-and-coming horror queen Samara Weaving and the pair make the perfect team for leaving behind a trail of bodies. Mayhem is an undeniable comedic romp with a ton of savagery.
Watch if: you’re looking for a stylish, nonstop bloodfest. Avoid if: you have an uncontrollable rage against your coworkers.
The start of the Romero legacy, Night of the Living Dead is a hauntingly miserable horror experience that’s largely responsible for our obsession with the undead.
The slow-moving corpses of Romero’s early vision may seem less threatening than the fast-moving fiends of today, but the claustrophobia, isolation, and paranoia of Night of the Living Dead elevates viewer fear and discomfort.
Much like its leading villains, Night of the Living Dead is relentless from beginning to its unexpected end. A strong cast draws viewers in so that every shocking moment carries a weight that sticks with the audience.
Watch if: if you find slow-moving zombies scary. Avoid if: you want to feel good when the credits roll.
8. One Cut of the Dead (2019)
Director: Shinichirou Ueda
Zombie comedies aren’t a new thing, but Shinichirou Ueda works his magic to make One Cut of the Dead feel fresh and unique. Picture Tropic Thunder, but replace Vietnam with a water filtration plant and the Flaming Dragon with zombies.
As director Takayuki Higurashi, portrayed by Takayuki Hamtsu, finds that his low-budget zombie film isn’t quite working, he abandons his cast and crew moments before real zombies descends on the plant.
One Cut of the Dead is a hilarious and bloody zom-com that does what so few movies in the genre can – mixes gory horror and comedy in one attractive package.
Watch if: you’re in need of a clever zombie comedy. Avoid if: you like your zombies without the comedy.
9. Phantasm (1979)
Director: Don Coscarelli
Phantasm is the type of movie that’s as beloved and revered as it is because of its villain, the Tall Man. If you can follow the science fiction elements of Coscarelli’s image, you’re treated to one of the creepiest horror icons to come out of the 70s.
Angus Scrimm’s The Tall Man is often regarded as a symbolism for death, which only further amplifies the creep factor the well-dressed foe. There’s no doubt that Phantasm is completely out there, with dwarf zombies and distant planets and all, but it does have its fun moments of horror that fit right in with the season.
Watch if: you want a change from straight-forward horror movies. Avoid if: you’re creeped out by tall, lanky men.
The works of H. P. Lovecraft are, to say the least, eccentric. His focus on the cosmos, gigantic godlike entities, and insanity are staples of his literature.
For his Herbert West-Reanimator horror serial, he stepped away from the lore of Cthulu to deliver a clever story of science experiments and the undead. Stuart Gordon’s 1985 adaptation of the short series captures the essence of Lovecraft while working in elements of comedy.
Jeffrey Combs (The Frighteners, House on Haunted Hill 1999) plays the titular re-animator in one of his more famous roles. Re-Animator is a fun horror movie that works in much the same way a movie like Evil Dead 2 does – by being clever and over-the-top with the source material.
Watch if: you want a new take on zombies. Avoid if: you love cats.
11. The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
Director: Adam Robitel
Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease that can tear families apart. Throw in a devilish spirit that’s hellbent on immortality, and you have the trying ordeal laid out in The Taking of Deborah Logan.
This found footage possession film is rampant with jump scares, but it doesn’t cheapen the experience. If anything, the frights in Deborah Logan are well-thought-out so as not to be cheap and expected.
Robitel uses the deteriorating mind of the elderly Logan to make her more sympathetic, which only makes the second half of the movie that much more impactful.
Watch if: you’re tired of the same-old possession story. Avoid if: you’re overly sympathetic toward your elders.
12. Terrified (2017)
Director: Deman Rugna
There are many elements to Rugna’s Terrified that help make it a fun supernatural movie that goes beyond the ordinary. From a towering specter that emerges from impossible crevices to the return of a deceased boy’s motionless body, you never really know where the scares will hit from next.
While early screenings touted it as one of those movies to “keep you up at night,” Terrified is more fun than cripplingly terrifying. You’ll find yourself anticipating the next scare rather than cowering from it. That’s not because the small frights don’t work, but because they’re clever and unique and help deliver a delightful supernatural horror film that’s perfect for Halloween night.
Watch if: you’re a connoisseur of supernatural horror movies. Avoid if: you’re an aspiring paranormal investigator.
Horror movies can be many things. Funny, terrifying, dull, lazy – the range is limitless in the right (or wrong) hands. Tigers Are Not Afraid shows that horror can also be incredibly dramatic, deep, devastating, and downright emotionally painful to watch.
What really makes Lopez’s story work is how real it feels. Take away the supernatural elements, and you could be watching any upsetting drama about kids forced to make impossible decisions in a world rampant with terrible, murderous people. Tigers Are Not Afraid weaves in a ghost story to deliver unsettling imagery that will haunt you long after it’s over.
Watch if: you want a ghost story that’s so much more. Avoid if: you aren’t mentally prepared for a deep and emotional horror story.
14. Train to Busan
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Think you have the stamina to make it through an unrelenting zombie flick? One where zombies are once again terrifying and want nothing more than to spread their virus and feast on the living? One where you’ll actually like the cast of characters and feel the impact when they fall prey to the virus?
Train to Busan keeps viewers glued to the screen with horror, drama, and humor, which all primarily unfolds on the claustrophobic setting of a train. The undead action in this Asian horror is visceral and frantic and you can bet there are few moments of relief from the first transformation to the depressing end.
Watch if: you are in the mood for some zombie fun. Avoid if: you don’t want to watch likable characters being turned into mindless zombies.
15. The Wailing (2016)
Director: Na Hong-jin
A mysterious stranger arrives at a small isolated village in South Korea. The otherwise innocuous arrival turns deadly when a disease starts spreading, causing rash outbreaks of violence before victims succumb to the illness.
The Wailing uses the concept of an outbreak and interlaces it with a psychological mystery as residents of the village try to uncover the truth about the stranger. Of course, they ultimately do, and their discovery completely changes the tone and direction of the movie. The twist at the end is delightful and only enhances the devastation wrought by the disease.
Watch if: The Crazies is your kind of movie. Avoid if: you don’t want to be wary of every stranger in your life.
16. Ginger Snaps (2000)
Director: John Fawcett
Teen sisters Brigitte and Ginger Fitzgerald had a fascination with death. That is, until he was at their doorstep. In this quirky take on lycanthropic lore, John Fawcett, along with co-writer Karen Walton, crafted a film that spoke to both angsty teenage girls and lovers of werewolf movies.
When Ginger is bitten by a mysterious creature, she undergoes startling changes. An overactive sex drive, physical changes, and an increasingly aggressive personality lead to her final transformation into–wait a second, this is totally a movie about going through puberty!
Thankfully, this isn’t some awkward high school special and we’re treated to some werewolf horror at the tail end of Ginger’s transformation. Ginger Snaps may have led to some pretty forgettable sequels, but we’ll never forget the gore-filled lesson on the effects of puberty on teenage girls.
Watch if: You’re in tune with your inner angsty teenager. Avoid if: You’re a parent to teenage daughters going through puberty.
17. Dog Soldiers (2002)
Director: Neil Marshall
Werewolf movies often follow a pattern. Someone is bitten by an unknown thing. Their transformation troubles those around them. Eventually they turn into a furry beast and start killing. Sometimes they’re conflicted over their affliction.
Not Dog Soldiers. This is the Aliens of werewolf movies. When a squad of British soldiers undergo training in the Scottish Highlands, they are forced to hole up in a rickety building and battle against a pack of vicious werewolves. That’s it. That’s how simple the premise is, and I love it!
The titular beasts are tall, terrifying, and relentless. The British soldiers are loud and fun. Dog Soldiers is bloody, doesn’t take itself seriously, and has some great practical effects. There are so many homages throughout the movie you really should watch it multiple times to ensure you catch them all.
Watch if: You’re tired of the typical werewolf formula. Avoid if: You love dogs.
18. The Fog (1980)
Director: John Carpenter
John Carpenter brought together quite the cast for his 1980 movie about a paranormal fog rolling into the coastal town of Antonio Bay. Jamie Lee Curtis once again finds her footing in the horror genre while Tom Atkins, Adrienne Barbeau, Janet Leigh, and Hal Holbrook make up a delightful ensemble of characters.
The Fog’s initial reception is confusing as audiences were split. John Carpenter’s vision alone makes this a must-see for horror fans. The way it’s shot is simply creepy as full-bodied figures emerge from the rolling fog.
The Fog is your common vengeful ghost story, but Carpenter and co-writer Debra Hill help keep it from feeling too typical. While there have been dozens of versions of the same story, the revenants of the Elizabeth Dane will always have a special place in my DVD collection.
Watch if: You love coastal horror that isn’t based on Cthulhu. Avoid if: You’ve ever plundered gold.
19. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Director: Wes Craven
A classic from the film vault of Wes Craven, The Hills Have Eyes brings to life every traveler’s worst nightmare. We’ve all been on back roads in the dead of night, mildly panicked of our cars breaking down at the most inopportune moment. Since 1977, we’ve had The Hills Have Eyes to thank for that irrational uneasy feeling as we creep along darkened paths.
It’s an upsetting movie to say the least, but it could have been so much worse. Not to get into spoiler territory, but Craven’s twisted mind had a different ending for Baby Katy Wood. Originally, he wanted the baby to become a mid-movie snack for antagonist Papa Jupiter. In fact, the movie was originally pegged with an X Rating, though it was toned down for the MPAA.
Craven’s tale of a murderous family living in the hills of Nevada has left behind an incredible legacy. Among them is Michael Berryman’s fruitful career in the horror industry.
Watch if: You’ve only ever watched the remake. Avoid if: You’re planning a drive through the long and lonely roads of Nevada.
20. Audition (1999)
Director: Takashi Miike
If you go into Audition blind, you may think you’re in for an uplifting story about a widower looking to fill that void in his life. Then you’ll meet Asami Yamazaki, the leading lady and complete nut job. You may feel pity for her briefly as she’s only looking for love, but the trail of body parts will set you straight.
If you think movies like Ringu and The Grudge are the pinnacles of Japanese horror, Audition is simply going to floor you. It does so much with so little and will really leave you questioning your idea of what makes a horror villain. Sometimes, it doesn’t have to be a big grotesque monster. Sometimes, it can simply be a young girl looking for love.
Audition is going to test the strength of your stomach. And the trust you have for the opposite sex.
Watch if: You have a strong stomach
Avoid if: You’re about to get into the dating pool.
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