Horror Movies for Beginners: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Into the Horror Genre
I’m a huge fan of horror films and a friend of mine recently asked me to give her some recommendations. She’s never been into scary movies before so this is brand new territory for her and I decided to lay out a step-by-step process for anyone interested in getting into the horror game. It gets progressively more frightening as it goes on (depending on your personal fears of course) and attempts to introduce viewers to a variety of films within each horror subgenre.
Step 1: The Not-so-scary Ones: Hocus Pocus, Ghostbusters, and Jurassic Park
Okay so these aren’t technically horror films but to some people they can be quite scary. They’re also all film classics that are perfect for people to enjoy who don’t want to be frightened but do want to get into the spirit. These are the baby steps films. Once you’ve tackled these you’re ready to get started on your journey into horror.
Step 2: The Old School Classics: King Kong, Dracula, and Bride of Frankenstein
Not everyone likes old movies or old horror movies but I think these are so important not just because I greatly enjoy watching them, but because they are the foundation of the horror film genre as we know it today. If someone really wants to get a feel for the roots of horror, these are the top three classics I recommend. Plus, modern audiences aren’t ususally scared by these at all so they’re great for this level of the game.
Step 3: Hitchcock: Rear Window, The Birds, and Psycho
Alfred Hitchcock is a genre-bending legend. He’s known mostly for thrillers but a few of his best films fall under the horror category (at least partly). These are a step up in quality and scariness from the old school classics, but won’t make you keep your light on at night. Well, maybe Psycho will bu, you gotta dive in somewhere!
Step 4: The Creature Features: The Mist, Jaws, and The Thing
Some of these might not be scary either but there’s no doubt that when it comes to modern creature features, these three are some of the best. Whether it be the arctic, the ocean, or even your own home, you’re not safe from man-eating beasts. All three are excellent films that cross genres and are must-watches for any film buff.
Step 5: Werewolves: The Wolf Man, An American Werewolf in London, and Gingersnaps.
Werewolves films is sort of a sub-genre of the creature feature but most of them have other themes as well. Here are three of the best and most popular werewolf films spanning multiple generations. They each have different versions of the werewolf mythology and are a good example of just how diverse the werewolf genre can be.
Step 6: Vampires: Nosferatu, The Lost Boys, and 30 Days of Night
Vampires can be scary for many people but today’s romanticized vamps has taken the fear out of them for others. Here’s thre very different takes on the vampire to give you a good idea of the variety of vampire films out there and maybe even scare you a bit along the way.
Step 7: Zombies: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead (1978), and 28 Days Later
Now we’re getting into the deeper horror stuff. Plenty of people enjoy zombie films without actually being scared by them yet many others have zombies on their “things that freak me out list.” This is another great trilogy that includes zombie films from three different decades and are three of the biggest fan favorites as well. Bonus: Shaun of the Dead might be more comedy than horror but it’s amazing and must be watched.
Step 8: The Slashers: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween
Slashers are some of the most famous horror movies and the holy trinity of slasher films are A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween. Each is a classic in its own right and each has spawned a ridiculous amount of sequels and remakes. To be a true horror aficionado you have to have seen at least the original of each series and if you like it, continue on and you won’t run out of Freddy, Jason, or Michael any time soon.
Step 9: Aliens: Alien, Signs, and Dark Skies
Aliens are the scariest horror villains out there for me personally but others don’t agree. No horror marathon is complete without a watch of Alien, a fantastic blend of Sci-Fi and horror with some of the most iconic scenes in horror history. Signs is another pretty creepy film, and perhaps one of the most famous alien ones, and Dark Skies is a lot more recent but a great take on the alien mythos.
Step 10: Haunted Houses: The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist, and The Others
Haunted houses are the most classic horror themes out there and a plethora of films in this subgenre range from fantastic to terrible. These are the three I think are the most classic and well-made and will make the best introduction. If you find yourself a fan of haunted house films then you’re in luck because they make new ones almost every year.
Step 11: Possession Films: Evil Dead, The Exorcist, and The Shining
Possession films are some of the scariest films out there with The Exorcist frequently considered one of the most terrifying movies ever made. Evil Dead is a horror classic that is followed up by two great sequels and a surprisingly awesome remake. The Shining is another one of the most classic horror films and one of Stephen King’s best. All three are must-watches for horror lovers.
Step 12: Series: Paranormal Activity, Saw, and Scream
Check out the first film in each of these series and if you like them, they you have a whole bunch more to watch. Be warned, the first in each series is generally the best but the rest are still worth watching if you’re interested in the topic. Paranormal Activity is more about jump scares while Saw relies on gore and shock and the Scream series is amazing because it mixes comedy and horror beautifully.
Step 13: Modern Marvels: The Ring, The Descent, and The Conjuring
Today’s horror films tend to either do really well or really poorly at the box office. Some of the better recent American horror films are remakes and The Ring is the quintessential one to watch for that subgenre. The Descent is a truly original and terrifying story that many horror fans list as one of their favorites and The Conjuring is perhaps the best horror film to be released in the last decade. All three are different but all represent some of today’s greatest horror offerings.
Step 14: Foreign Films: Suspiria, A Tale of Two Sisters, and The Orphanage
Foreign horror films are often the best ones out there and tend to be scarier and more intense than a lot of American-made films. Suspiria is one of Italian horror master Dario Argento’s best works and holds up splendidly to this day. A Tale of Two Sisters is a super creepy film that makes a great introduction to East Asian horror and The Oprhange is a fantastic example of how great Spanish horror flicks can be.
Step 15: The Advanced Level: Martyrs, Haute Tension, and Inside
These are three of the scariest, most messed-up, and craziest horror films I could think of and they all happen to be French. I’m a huge horror fan and even I had some trouble with these. The French really know how to make an incredibly intense and terrifying horror film. Think of these as extra credit; if you’ve made it this far and think you can handle it then go for it and good luck!
Now that you’ve built up your tolerance for horror films you can watch any of them without fear! You’ve seen all the classics so you can talk horror with the best of them and you now have a taste for each different subgenre and know what you like and what to explore further. I hope this article was helpful to anyone out there looking to work their way into the world horror. Good luck on your journey!
A nice collection of classics I have seen and some I haven’t yet. Of all the ones I have seen The Ring has scared me the most. I think the term “scared the bejesus out of me” is appropriate.
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What a great article, very well done and interesting I never really realized all the different genres within the genre. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a foreign horror film and now you’ve piqued my interest. Thanks for this!
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Back again – really appreciate this post as it helped me to make out my October horror viewing schedule. 🙂
Fantastic list! Left out a few of my faves (Feast, Hostel, Frailty), but still the most comprehensive article I’ve read on horror films in a long time.
Nice list, I have a hard time doing demon films
Excellent list 😀
Suspiria is fantastic and the score is awesomely creepy. A great list overall, I have a bunch of new titles to add to my “Movies To Watch” list now! Thanks!
…And let’s be honest, the not-so-scary ones you’ve listed are really from different genres, right? I mean they can be considered horror, sure, but they’re like a different ilk. I like that you call them the “not-so-scary ones” though.
Yeah the old school classics sort of revolutionized American cinema. Maybe even foreign cinema, but their seems to be drastically different ideas of “horror” in Japan, Italy, USA, etc.
I see what you’re saying. Though again, it kind of depends on how you see things. Hitchcock, after all, was the Master of Suspense. Suspense to some people means horror, to others it doesn’t. It can, but not always, in my opinion.
Just gonna throw it out there for creature features, I did NOT like The Mist, but if that exact same screenplay had been made when creature features were abundant (i.e. the era we’re used to creature features coming from) then I’d have loved it. It’s pretty sad how the creature feature has kind of disappeared on us…
I’m ashamed to say that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single werewolf movie!
Vampire movies are great. Until they’re Twilight. God was I happy with how quickly that one faded away. It feels like no one even talked about Breaking Dawn Part 2, and yet I know they must’ve, because that day was the only day I’ve ever seen TWO concession stands open at a movie theater. Yeah I went there on opening day, but not to see Twilight. Went to see Argo, and of course that sold out too, so I went and saw Lincoln, which I believe had also opened that day, and was sold out, but a man was refunding his ticket. Poor guy missed a great movie. Anyway…
Zombies, okay. Last year’s Warm Bodies, no. Just no. Gotta be real careful who you’re talking to when you’re asking what horror movies to see. Learned my lesson the hard way with that one.
Slashers…okay, I really love these. I have to admit it. I’m a sucker for the Friday the 13th movies, and I’ve heard rumors about the next F-13 coming out 2015, but there was something about a year ago with Warner Bros. handing back the F-13 rights to Paramount so that they could produce Interstellar. I’m a huge Nolan fan and all, but PLEASE tell me I’m not the only human being on this planet who would rather see Jason again than see Interstellar.
I think 9-13 are probably the ones we can expect to succeed at the box office. Which means we’re all most familiar with them.
Foreign movies…these get remade too much. “That’s all I have to say about that.” (To quote Tom Hanks.)
For #15, would “Les diaboliques” be considered “the advanced level”? Maybe also an old classic? Also, how about “The Human Centipede”? It’s Danish (I think?), but it fits the description you give.
Nice post here!
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How to Become A Horror Film Expert; in 15 easy steps