The great thing about supernatural horror movies is that we get to talk about a subgenre underrated for its versatility.
More often than not, the supernatural elements found throughout this list of the best supernatural horror movies use these portions to tell stories of family, madness, guilt, and other fun themes. Films that deal in supernatural horror, also, obviously, need to deliver on the supernatural, as well.
These have to be movies that establish and nurture a relationship with the darker parts of our imagination. They can appeal to our willingness to consider the fantastic, at least within the confines of a movie. At the same time, they also appeal to things we are genuinely scared of.
That’s where things get interesting. Because real life is scary enough. Then you throw in witches? Unseen forces of extraordinary power and unfathomable rage? Ghosts? Demons? Lovecraftian forces coming to retake the world? It’s hard enough to want to leave the house. What are you supposed to do when the walls are bleeding, and the blood turns into hands that can reach out to choke your skin from every imaginable angle?
Again, this is where things get interesting. When supernatural horror movies have powerful visuals, and those visuals are combined with interesting characters, as well as things from real life with a potential for appealing to a larger community dread, the results are among the finest to be found in the horror genre itself.
Furthermore, like any other genre, supernatural horror isn’t just scary. It can include a compelling love story, and there are certainly examples among the best supernatural horror movies of films with an emphasis on comedy. These things are sometimes obscured by Freddy Krueger rising back into existence from the hellfire one naturally finds in dog urine. Or by Pinhead answering the call of some idiot who can’t just leave well enough (or that damn puzzle box) alone.
Nonetheless, these tropes and others can be woven into everything you would expect from a supernatural horror film.
Thank goodness these creatures are (probably) not real. Can you imagine trying to mow your lawn, but having to call the afternoon off, because your moron neighbor buried his creepy twin daughters in the nearby pet cemetery?
Exactly. It would be so damn frustrating.
The Best Supernatural Horror Movies
1. The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
Director: Terence Fisher
The first Hammer Studios film made in color, The Curse of Frankenstein is as vibrant today as it was for 1957 movie audiences. Its gothic grandeur is still an influence, and it is a hallmark of the horror careers of both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
While there are more famous versions of Mary Shelley’s iconic, genre-inventing novel, The Curse of Frankenstein might be the most enjoyable. It plays pretty fast and loose with the material. Yet it also captures that novel’s most important elements with spectacular torment, Cushing as the Doctor, Lee as the Monster, and the direction of the great Terence Fisher.
Watch if: You want to see one of the best Frankenstein movies ever made. Avoid if: You can’t imagine anyone but Boris Karloff. Or whoever the case may be for you.
The dread that Rosemary’s Baby builds and maintains is almost supernatural unto itself. It was a significant entry in the universe of movies that imagined God was dead, or at least indifferent, and that Satan had some big plans for the final chapter of the 20th century. Filmmakers played with that narrative well into the late 90s.
Few make the tangible rise of Satan as plausible as Rosemary’s Baby. There is a hollowness to this world, combined with an odd touch of the bleak. It also helps that none of the characters are particularly likable. Not even Rosemary, who ultimately isn’t a match for her role as the possible mother of the Antichrist.
Watch if: You’re in the mood for a hopelessly downbeat doomsday scenario. Avoid if: You have understandable objections to watching anything directed by Polanski.
No, George A. Romero, one of the most underrated filmmakers of the 20th century, did not invent the cinematic zombie. He had to settle, albeit unintentionally, for inventing the modern zombie movie.
This straightforward story of a group of people trapped in a farmhouse, as a zombie apocalypse, is lot of zombie movies. This film has also been remade at least a couple of times. Is the original still one of the best supernatural movies ever made?
I’d say so. Night of the Living Dead is a little slower than the more modern zombies. At the same time, it hasn’t lost a shred of its excellent performances, genuine dread, and an atmosphere of doom that almost suffocates you.
Watch if: Zombies are your thing, and you want to see where all your favorites came from. Avoid if: Patience is not your strong suit with movie-watching.
One of the most financially successful horror films ever made, The Exorcist is a rare legend. This would be in the sense that it lived up to the hype it generated almost immediately in 1973. This also refers to the fact that the movie is every bit as scary as its reputation suggests.
Director William Friedkin, working from a screenplay from William Peter Blatty (from his own novel) has made a number of films with unreal elements and characters. His best work has done everything from put the supernatural at the forefront of the story, to suggesting elements of something extraordinary in the everyday, in the grimy and seemingly ordinary.
The Exorcist has a sense of sinister grandeur in its depiction of a young girl (the great Linda Blair) becoming possessed by a powerful demon. It also suggests grandeur in the forces of good (Jason Miller, Max Von Sydow) that do indeed stand against evil.
Watch if: The best demon possession movie of all time? Maybe so. Avoid if: Catholic horror movies do not strike you as a good time.
While this story, based on the breakthrough novel by Stephen King, has been filmed a few times now, the original adaptation continues to hold the most influence. There are reasons for this beyond nostalgia.
First of all, as tormented and thoroughly abused teenager Carrie White, no one has the all-encompassing fear, eventually becoming a rage that would level her high school prom, like Sissy Spacek. This is a performance steeped in the results of being subjected to absolute horror day after day. Her classmates rip her physically and emotionally to shreds. Her mother (Piper Laurie, who manages to chew the scenery while being genuinely scary) is a religious fanatic who beats and terrorizes her.
Something has to give, and Sissy Spacek’s harrowing journey to the breaking point, which connects her fully to the psychic powers suggested throughout the film, is the best depiction of breaking point to be found anywhere. This is still one of the best for director Brian De Palma. His explosive and hysterical style serves the infamous prom scene very well.
Watch if: You want to see one of the best Stephen King stories in a film by a truly unique director. Avoid if: John Travolta freaks you out.
To enjoy Phantasm, I suggest just giving in to the weirdness.
The story, in which a young boy (Bill Thornbury), his brother (A. Michael Baldwin), and their ice cream man buddy (Reggie Bannister) do battle with an interdimensional being known only as The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) is a vision of the supernatural as a force committed to complete annihilation. The problem is in getting people to believe it’s really happening.
Phantasm was way too weird for most audiences in 1979. It found a following nonetheless, which has been somewhat tested through the years with several increasingly strange sequels. Phantasm has a unique charm all on its own, supported by likable characters, some imaginative low budget effects, and a willingness to put it to film first, and figure out the logic later.
Phantasm doesn’t make a lot of sense, no. That’s fine — just go with it.
Watch if: The time is right for one of the oddest horror movies ever made. Avoid if: You have a deep fear of morticians.
The supernatural components of Stanley Kubrick’s controversial Stephen King adaptation are powerful stuff. So powerful, in fact, that they have seemingly come to life on their own, and convinced portions of viewers, and even Kubrick himself, that they don’t really exist.
It has been said that the madness contained at the secluded Overlook Hotel, where Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) has been appointed caretaker with his wife (Shelley Duvall) and son (Danny Lloyd), is all in Jack’s head. In fact, there are many, many, many ways to interpret this movie.
Me? I think it’s one of the best supernatural horror films ever made. The best part about that is that I don’t have to prove that. I just feel it. This movie leaves you with a lot of weird thoughts, especially if you watch it alone, or on acid.
Watch if: The best supernatural horror movies are the ones that mess with your perception of reality. Avoid if: You prefer your horror movies a bit more fast-paced.
While Evil Dead II presented a more polished balance of horror and comedy, there is a meanness to the spirit of this movie. It is just as worthwhile as the other entries in the series. The film helped launch the careers of director/writer Raimi, star Bruce Campbell, and others.
It’s also a more straightforward horror experience, as a group of earnest young folk head up to a cabin in the woods for the weekend, when compared to the sequels and TV series. Those would look for more opportunities at combining the monstrous demons and dizzying violence with a deep appreciation for stuff like The Three Stooges.
The Evil Dead is arguably the darkest interpretation of the demons of this cinematic universe. They’re too busy ripping your heart out through your elbows, or accosting you with sadistic branches in the woods, to crack any serious jokes.
Watch if: You’re in the mood for a classic low-budget horror film. Avoid if: You just can’t get behind characters who lack the sense to stay away from these houses, cabins, etc.
Poltergeist was an introduction to horror for many kids throughout the 80s and 90s. Directed by Tobe Hooper, the man who directed and co wrote The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, yet produced by Steven Spielberg, the movie has remained popular with new generations of kids, as well as their parents.
The movie is very clearly Tobe Hooper putting a suburban family through absolute, relentless hell. This is his film. At the same time, the presence of Spielberg as a producer could perhaps be seen as something that made the results a little easier for audiences to take than, say, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The influence is there, and as this remains a Tobe Hooper film, so there is really nothing on the planet quite like Poltergeist.
The film remains a movie with memorable performances (particularly Heather O’Rourke as the little girl who goes missing, and Zelda Rubenstein as a psychic force to be reckoned with), some infamous moments of sheer visual terror, and just the inherent fun of watching a family in a suburban development contend with an Indian burial ground and the long history of colonization.
Watch if: You want to see a classic 1980s horror movie. Avoid if: You can only take so much from fairly dumb people.
There isn’t a lot we can really say about Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, which launched one of the most iconic horror movie villains of all time. It also gave New Line Cinema a chance to move up in the world, which they certainly did.
If you don’t care about any of that, A Nightmare on Elm Street is still one of the most engaging supernatural horror films in recent history. None of the sequels have the grimy fascination that this film maintains.
The first of several sequels, a TV series, a remake, some comic books, and so much more, this movie is also proof that you can do an effective supernatural horror movie on a shoestring budget. Thanks to Robert Englund as Freddy, as well as Heather Langenkamp as Nancy, New Line Cinema would prove that budget fact with all things Elm Street, well into the 90s.
Watch if: It’s high time you meet this Freddy guy. Avoid if: You have a creepy basement and/or live in the suburbs.
Despite featuring psychics, a chimp with a razor, and a host of motivated insects, Phenomena probably isn’t the weirdest Dario Argento movie. However, it might be the weirdest Dario Argento movie in which its insanity more or less works out in the movie’s favor.
To be sure, this is one wacky story of a young girl (Jennifer Connelly) becoming invaluable to a scientist (Donald Pleasence, in one of his best) in a battle against evil. That’s a simple enough basic premise.
Dario Argento, if nothing else, has never delivered a simple premise. His movies tend to be stacked with monsters, freaks, and the machinations of powerful, ancient evils. Phenomena isn’t his best, but it might just be his best supernatural entry.
Watch if: You want an absolutely wacked-out Italian horror movie with Jennifer Connelly. Avoid if: You’re not a big fan of chimps with sharp objects.
They don’t make supernatural horror as horny and weird as Ken Russell did when he adapted the 1911 Bram Stoker novel The Lair of the White Worm.
An archaeologist finds the skull of what may be a giant worm from centuries ago. The discovery draws together a variety of people, including two young sisters, a young Lord whose ancestor may have something to do with that skull, and a woman with possible ancient connections to the serpent. This movie does not waste time in bringing everyone together.
Nor does this incredible mix of special effects, horror, and impressively nuanced comedy ever really slow down once the supernatural elements come to the forefront. The Lair of the White Worm offers Hugh Grant, Amanda Donohoe, Catherine Oxenberg, Sammi Davis, and Peter Capaldi running far with a clever script, some beautifully weird eroticism, and an atmosphere that plunges you into the stranger side of gothic horror.
The Lair of the White Worm is very, very British, and very, very entertaining.
Watch if: You’re in the mood for something that’s more entertaining than outright creepy. Avoid if: You’ve tried gothic horror in the past, and it’s just not your thing.
One of the most imaginative horror movies ever made, Nightbreed waited a long time to get its due.
Like any great cult classic, the film struggled in its 1990 release, despite being written and directed by one of horror’s leading voices. Nightbreed found its audience gradually, culminating in a gorgeous director’s cut release.
In the present, it stands as one of the most ambitious, surprising, and insightful horror movies of the 1990s. Beyond a great cast, particularly director David Cronenberg, one doesn’t want to give too many away with Nightbreed. Just go in cold. You won’t be disappointed.
Watch if: You’re in the mood for one of the great modern(ish) monster movies. Avoid if: You hate feeling weird in your own skin.
Back again with Clive Barker (he wrote the story upon which the film is based). Candyman offers one of the most unique vengeful spirit stories to be found anywhere. It also has a background in the supernatural that emphasizes just how insignificant people can be. There are other themes at play in Candyman, but that is one of the more significant.
You also have Tony Todd in one of the most iconic horror roles of all time. Later films would try to add to the story of Candyman. The first film retains an element of the mysterious so disturbing, what we imagine occasionally becomes even scarier than what’s on the screen. Only occasionally, as this is still one of the scariest horror movies of the 90s.
How many times can you say his name?
Watch if: You’re ready for one of the bleakest supernatural horror movies of the 90s. Avoid if: You can’t even say his name three times with any sort of confidence, let alone watch a whole movie.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula doesn’t feature my favorite Dracula of all time. If you’re asking, it’s a tossup between Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. However, Bram Stoker’s Dracula does feature Gary Oldman in one of his most staggering, impressive roles as the Count.
His performance draws from a number of the best movie Draculas, while simultaneously pulling off something singular on its own. There are a lot of things about this 1992 blockbuster that sets it as quite possibly the best Dracula movie of all time, and Oldman’s performance is at the center of that.
There are nonetheless many other levels and pieces to appreciate here. From the abundance of b-movie enthusiasm, to absolutely stunning sets and costumes. Say what you want about Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker (a fine actor, but accents generally don’t work for him) and Winona Ryder as Mina Harker (she fares a little better). If you can get past those parts, you’re in for a supernatural classic.
Watch if: You want to see the most lavish vampire movie ever made. Avoid if: Again, Keanu and Winona are distractingly awful at times.
Quite frankly, In the Mouth of Madness might be one of my personal favorite horror movies of all time, and easily one of the best supernatural horror movies.
Although not overtly based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, this story of an insurance investigator (Sam Neil) whose look into the disappearance of a noted horror author helps to usher in a Cthulhu-inspired apocalypse is certainly in that vein. It might be the best film made to date on the works of Lovecraft, even if it isn’t a direct adaptation of anything.
In the Mouth of Madness offers John Carpenter at perhaps his very best. The movie arguably opens at the mouth of madness, and we only go deeper into the bowels of hell from there.
Watch if: You want to see one of the best end-of-the-world movies anyone will ever make. Avoid if: You’d rather see doomsday take itself seriously.
What starts as a simple horror movie about a young woman’s date going horribly wrong quickly becomes something far more upsetting. It Follows is one of the most ambitious horror movies of the 2010s, simply in terms of what it demands from our imaginations.
The movie also certainly delivers on atmosphere, pacing, and performances, particularly Maika Monroe as the young girl with no choice but to accept the constant presence of a supernatural figure closing in.
However, at the end of the day, and putting aside whether or not the film is an allegory for HIV/AIDS, this is one of the best horror movies of the 2010s for one simple reason. Our fears can be irrational, creating an entire presence out of a noise you hear in a dark corner of your front yard.
Rarely are these fears as bad as whatever is actually there in the darkness. It Follows promises that as bad as you think it is, whatever is chasing these people, the reality is almost certainly worse.
Watch if: Tension and creative thinking go hand-in-hand with many of your favorite horror movies. Avoid if: You’re hoping for a deep social commentary.
Bathed in gothic beauty, supernatural horror, and dark family secrets, Crimson Peak is more than just the wealth of influences that clearly dictate its story, characters, set design, and special effects.
If you’ve enjoyed Guillermo del Toro creating singular, impressively mainstream works from the universe of horror and fantasy history that he possesses so far, it’s very difficult to imagine that you won’t enjoy Crimson Peak, as well.
This is also a movie that works well with its cast, particularly Mia Wasikowska as a young woman forced to deal with a plethora of dark family connections and spiritual trouble. A lot of things can happen when you marry a charming stranger (Tom Hiddleston, who naturally excels) with their own sprawling gothic estate. Crimson Peak runs through many of them with a sense of fun that never diminishes, but also a vitality in its characters and pacing that leaves it feeling like much more than just a love letter to the genre.
Crimson Peak is exactly what you think it’s going to be. With this much enthusiasm and sense of purpose, that really isn’t a bad thing.
Watch if: You want to see a classic gothic horror with modern technology. Avoid if: You’re not a big fan of Guillermo del Toro, because this won’t change that.
Is the 2018 Suspiria as good as the 1977 Dario Argento-directed original? Ultimately, I don’t think it’s worth trying to answer the question.
A preference between the two is one of thing, but we are indeed talking about two extremely different approaches to the story of a young American dancer, falling under the influence and watch of a coven of witches. They are two versions of a profoundly disturbing supernatural world, in which we are merely avenues of entertainment and terrorism for ancient beings and timeless cosmic forces.
The 2018 Suspiria digs a little deeper into this story while also offering themes of its own, which only serve to enhance not only itself, but its ties to horror film history.
Guadagnino’s Suspiria is one of the most awe-inspiring horror movie experiences you will ever find. Certainly, even for those who think they know a thing or two about film violence, it’s going to be one of the most uniquely, disconcertingly violent horror movie experiences you will ever find.
Watch if: Witches and ballet dancers? That’s practically most of your weekends. Avoid if: You have little-to-no patience for horror movies longer than 90 minutes.
An atmosphere of helplessness can be a perfect way to start strong in your supernatural horror film, and then just build the delirium and fever from there. The Empty Man begins with a mysterious unseen presence that brings a group of young men hiking in Bhutan’s Ura Valley to a terrifying standstill. Something is very wrong, and we understand that this is not something that is going to be stopped by human beings. It just isn’t going to happen.
From this helplessness, which heightens as we watch a former cop (James Badge Dale) try to investigate the connection between a missing friend’s daughter and a noticeably earnest doomsday cult, the story spirals into madness. Reality in every facet of this film is shaped by our understanding of at least what this supernatural entity is capable of.
Again, we know how this is going to go, as the investigation soon uncovers our utter lack of control over all imaginable things in this universe, so does the protagonist. Just like him, we cannot stop digging deeper.
What we find is a satisfying, apocalyptic conclusion of the highest order.
Watch if: You’re up for something vaguely Lovecraftian. Avoid if: You need at least a glimmer of hope in your supernatural horror movies.
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