My Favourite Horror Movies

When you meet someone, what’s one of the first things that you tell them about yourself? For me, it’s that I love horror movies. I love getting scared by them, I love laughing at their campiness, and I love analysing them thematically.

Every week, I call my best friend on the phone and we pick a horror movie to watch and chat over. It’s one of the highlights of my week, and it’s got me revisiting some of my favourite horror movies, watching some new ones, and discussing how movies use horror elements to explore larger themes.

I’ve put together a list of my favourite horror movies and why I love them. I recommend them all, but keep in mind that they aren’t necessarily what I consider the best horror movies. It’s a mix of nostalgia, genuine horror, and how fun a viewing experience it is. While I love a proper scary movie, I don’t think that horror movies have to be scary to be good. I’ll include a TL;DR at the end of this post, but read on for a list of my favourite horror movies: the spooky, the fun, and the fucked up.

THE SPOOKY

The Grudge (2004) / Ju-On

Honestly, this whole franchise deserves a spot on my list. The Grudge was one of the first horror movies I ever saw, and I think it’s what really sold me on the genre. At its most basic, The Grudge is about a house that is haunted by an angry spirit, and those who go into the house suffer from her curse. Though conceptually simple, the movie combines jumpscares, subtle scares, and a pervasive feeling of dread. The Grudge isn’t a perfect horror movie; I know that my enjoyment of this film is highly influenced by nostalgia, but even over a decade after originally seeing it, I’m still jumping at the scares. As far as J-horror remakes go, The Grudge feels inspired by the slow pacing and quiet moments of Japanese horror, and has a lot of involvement from the cast and crew of the original Japanese film.

If you’re interested in exploring foreign horror cinema, I’d also recommend checking out the original Ju-On franchise, especially Ju-On: The Grudge and Ju-On: The Grudge 2. The franchise is so iconic in Japanese horror, there’s even a 2016 Freddy vs Jason syle smackdown between the ghosts from Ju-On and Ringu (The Ring). If supernatural/dread horror is your thing and you haven’t explored J-horror, you’re missing out.

Session 9 (2001)

I’m sharing a clip instead of the trailer for this movie because the marketing was abysmal.

Session 9 is one of those movies I just like to look at. Shot on location at an abandoned mental instutution, this movie feels like an urban exploration experience. An asbestos removal crew is tasked with cleaning up the abandoned asylum (based on its real life counterpart) in order to turn it into an apartment complex. The asylum in the film begins to feel like its own character in this slow-burn supernatural thriller, as the crew discovers tapes from the therapy sessions of a significantly disturbed patient. It’s not the most original concept, but it’s so well excecuted that we can go ahead and cancel the entire rest of the “asylum horror” and “abandoned building” subgenres. Based on its genre and marketing, this movie has no right to be as good as it is. It’s a mega-recommend.

Oculus (2013)

This movie scared me, and I didn’t expect it to. You can probably guess by now that my horror tastes skew supernatural (thanks, The Grudge), and while there are some excellent movies in the subgenre, there is a lot of shit to sift through to find it. I was expecting a pretty standard “haunted object” movie, but Oculus really delivers atmosphere, tension, and some damn good scares. A pair of siblings steal an antique mirror that their father had owned, seeking to prove that the mirror was responsible for their traumatic childhoods and family misfortune. This movie does not let up on the scares, and way that it blends illusion and reality means that there are some seriously shocking and scary moments in this movie.

Honourable Mentions:

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019) – A movie that taps into the millenial nostalgia for the iconic book series. A very “sleepover horror movie” movie about a small town haunting caused by a book of short scary stories coming to life.

1408 (2007) – Adapted from a Stephen King short story, this movie is an unrelenting psychological thriller about a haunted hotel room.

Mirrors (2008) – A pretty standard PG-13 supernatural horror movie, but a bit of a standout for its scary imagery.

The Mist (2007) – Another top-tier Stephen King adaptation. Almost a proto-Walking Dead story where the interesting part is the character dynamics of the survivors, rather than the threat itself.

The Fun

Cam (2018)

Cam isn’t the obvious choice for a “fun” movie – it’s not a horror-comedy, nor is it particularly campy. It’s actually a decently scary movie. However, this movie is just so enjoyable to watch. A camgirl who wants to make it big finds her online account hacked and replaced by… herself. Only it’s not her. I don’t usually like social media horror, but Cam nails it. The scariest parts of this movie derive from the main character, Alice, being a sex worker (stalker fans, exploitation, and the like). However, Alice is proud and passionate about her work, and is a badass and enjoyable character to root for. It’s interesting and exciting to see a sex-positive horror movie, and it was written by an ex-sex worker, so it feels authentic instead of exploitative. What makes the movie fun instead of scary is a script full of tongue-in-cheek humor and clever dialogue, as well as visuals that are steeped in bright colours and stripper glitter.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2011)

One of my favourite horror movie subjects is Rural horror, where good city people go to the backwoods and are terrorized by the inbred hillbillies that live there. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil takes this trope and turn it on its head. Tucker and Dale, two good country boys have just bought a fix-er-upper cottage, and some college kids from the big city are on a camping trip nearby. Thanks to a series of misunderstandings, the college kids believe that Tucker and Dale are the evil hillbillies that you’d expect from a violent slasher film. Absolutely hilarious hijinks ensue, and this movie had me laughing out loud, which doesn’t usually happen. Tucker & Dale knows exactly the type of movie that it’s making fun of, and is probably the best wide-appeal horror comedy out there.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

I don’t usually like horror comedies that debunk horror and slasher tropes. Movies like Scream and Cabin in the Woods take common horror tropes and probe the audience: “you know that horror movies do this! It’s dumb and we both know it!”, and to be honest, I don’t love it. It feels disdainful. Movies like that feel like they’re made for people who don’t really like horror.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is an absolute love letter to horror fans. It’s a mockumentary about Leslie Vernon – a man who wants to follow in the footsteps of horror icons like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers – as he sets up his “big night” of killing a bunch of teens and earning his place in horror history. He spends an inordinate amount of time discussing horror tropes, their value, and why he has to include them in his killing spree. It’s not only important to have a “final girl” (trope), but there has to be a chase down a hallway, or a tunnel, because should the final girl survive the night, it will come to represent her passage through the birth canal, being reborn as a new woman, a survivor (academic analysis). As someone who is a big fan of horror for its academic value, this movie spoke directly to my big nerd heart.

Honourable Mentions:

Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter (1984) / Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) – The two most enjoyable and campy films in the Friday franchise. Part IV for the most enjoyable group of teens, and Part VI for its self-awareness as a cheesy slasher.

Final Destination 3 (2006) – One of my favourite “teens die” movies (I can’t really call Final Destination a slasher), with creative kills and thouroughly unlikeable victims.

The Fucked Up

Hereditary (2018)

Hereditary succeeds because it was not initially meant to be a horror movie. Hereditary is a severely uncomfortable movie to watch, as it tells the story of a family dealing with grief, mental illness, and the occult. Initially, there was no occult elements, and the film was initially intended to be a family drama. I think this is why the film is so strong; the characters and their relationships are so powerful that everything that happens to them feels uncomfortably real. Toni Collette is phenomenal as the mother of a disintegrating family. I don’t want to spoil too much of this movie, and I urge you to watch it as spoiler-free as possible.

The Invisible Man (2020)

I had not expected to like this movie nearly as much as I did. It was hard to watch. Following the suicide of her sociopathic husband, Cecilia is plagued by unexplained events that others explain away as PTSD. She is convinced that her husband is alive, sabotaging her life in an effort to force her to return to him. No one believes her. It’s a surprisingly difficult watch, with high emotional stakes echoing fears that are familiar to women – having their abuse be ignored or denied, and being unable to escape from an abusive relationship. It was a difficult movie to watch, but I loved it and would highly recommend. I think it’s a great example of how modern “remakes” can do exciting and creative things with preexisting source materials.

Us (2019)

I’m a huge Jordan Peele horror fan. He’s not afraid of creating horror media that is thoughtful, but in a way that forces audiences to think about uncomfortable subjects. That’s why I’ve put Us on my list of the fucked up. While it’s a bit less gut-wrenching than Hereditary or The Invisible Man in its initial viewing, it’s the subject matter that lands it on this list. Us is an uncomfortable exploration of privilege, American identity, and government exploitation of the underclass. If you want a great deep-dive into the movie’s social commentary, check out the Dead Meat podcast episode about Us. While it’s theme-heavy, that’s not to say that it isn’t also genuinely scary. Scary concepts, creepy visuals, and a haunting performance by Lupita Nyong’o make this a top-tier horror movie.

A lot of the more fucked up horror movies I’ve seen are more contemporary. I think that we’re in a golden age for movies that incorporates real world trauma into horror, and Us is an excellent example of this.

Honourable Mentions:

Midsommar (2019) – A beautiful folk-horror movie that explores a disintegrating relationship and what it means to belong. If a movie fills you with dread while drenched in sunlight and flowers, thats how you know it’s truly scary.

Inbred (2011) – One of the most shocking films I’ve ever seen, and definitely the most fucked up on this list. An impossibly isolated Yorkshire town tortures and exploits urban community service workers for no real reason.

American Psycho (2000) – An 80’s Wall Street Yuppie struggles to balance his performative and psychopathic identities. A modern classic of psychological horror.

I don’t want to read, just give me a list!

Spooky Movies:

Session 9 (2001)
Ju-On: The Grudge (2003)
The Grudge (2004)
1408 (2007)
The Mist (2007)
Mirrors (2008)
Oculus (2013)
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

Fun Movies:

Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter (1984)
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Final Destination 3 (2006)
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2011)
Cam (2018)

Fucked Up Movies:

American Psycho (2000)
Inbred (2011)
Hereditary (2018)
Midsommar (2019)
Us (2019)
The Invisible Man (2020)

Note that for this list, I’ve skipped movies that I’ve included previously on my Favourite Halloween Movies list, since I’ve talked about them in detail in that post.

I’d love to know your thoughts on any of these movies. Did you like them? What else belongs on this list? What doesn’t belong? Let me know!

My Top 8 Halloween Movies

I’m a self-described Halloween junky. The combination of autumn and all things spooky go together better than espresso and pumpkin spice (another fall staple that I’m currently drinking while writing this). I like watching movies, and I like reading movie lists, so I’m writing a list of my favourite movies to get into the Halloween spirit.

There’s definitely a distinction between Halloween movies and horror movies. I love horror, but not all horror movies are Halloween-y. And not all Halloween movies are horror. There will be overlap on this list. I’m also going to be writing up a list of my favourite horror movies for anyone who’s seeking out some straight-up scares for their movie marathons, Halloween or otherwise.

Trick ‘R’ Treat (2007)

My favourite Halloween horror movie, Trick ‘r’ Treat is everything that you could want in a scary Halloween flick. Originally conceptualized with a tie-in comic book, it’s an anthology film telling a handful of Halloween stories. I think that horror as a genre is incredibly suited to anthology storytelling, and Trick ‘r’ Treat ties these stories together into a great non-linear narrative celebrating . My favourite short is either the party girls or the tweens at the quarry, but honestly they’re all good.

As well as the Halloween storytelling, this movie just screams Spooktober vibes. The warm autumn tones and surplus of vintage Halloween imagery have a way of making this movie feel surprisingly cozy while we watch some seriously good scares. This love letter to Halloween is capped off with the film’s mascot Sam (pictured on the poster above), who represents the importance of respecting Halloween traditions… or else.

The Haunted Mansion (2003)

I will start by saying this movie is not good. It has DCOM energy on a box office budget. Based on the iconic Disney Parks ride, The Haunted Mansion is an extraordinarily campy movie starring Eddie Murphy as a real estate agent who learns the value of family after a series of ghostly hijinks ensue at the eponymous mansion. The writing falls pretty flat, and the acting is mixed. I don’t love early 2000s comedy Eddie Murphy (it kind of works in this movie), but Terence Stamp is decidedly creepy as a mysterious butler, and Jennifer Tilly as Madame Leota is a weird casting choice that I personally liked. The movie’s sets look like a Halloween haunted house attraction, which I think really works in this case, because it adds to the camp value of the film and ties it back to the Haunted Mansion as a ride.

This movie was played on CBC Movie Nights when I was a kid, so my appreciation of it as a Halloween movie is pretty steeped in nostalgia. The cultural collective seems to agree that Halloweentown is an iconic Halloween movie, and in my opinion The Haunted Mansion is waaay better than Halloweentown. Everyone is sleeping on this largely ignored movie as the perfect campy Halloween film.

ParaNorman (2012)

Ghosts, witches, and zombies populate Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts in this spooky stop motion flick. Surprisingly cute despite its creepy premise (a young boy who can speak to the dead, uncovering a curse in the process), this movie is well worth a watch if you’re looking for something on the creepier side. The characters are very likeable, and the animation style is quite unique. If you’re a fan of Coraline, a close contender for this list, you’ll probably like ParaNorman. I watched it on Halloween night a few years ago after my mum and I handed out candy to Trick or Treaters. It was surprisingly witty and even a bit scary at times! I find it a bit surprising that this movie had an August release, because it’s obviously made for a cozy October movie marathon.

The Conjuring (2013)

This movie is a juggernaught in contemporary horror cinema. It’s spawned two direct sequels, as well as the spinoff Annabelle franchise (three films), and two more spinoffs: The Nun and The Curse of La Llorna. While not all of the “Conjure-verse” films are masterpieces, the original is a contemporary horror classic that carries strong Halloween vibes. I think that haunting and demonic films feel a lot more seasonal than slasher films. The autumnal setting and bleak colour palette further contribute to this movie’s classification as solidly Halloween, and the retro setting (1971) contributes to the same nostalgia as Trick ‘r’ Treat, but in a more perverse way.

The film tells the story of a Rhode Island family whose new home is posessed by the spirit of a devil-worshiping witch. The Warrens, famous real life demonologists from the 1960s-80s, attempt to help the family. Yes, this movie is based on a true story! Even though film studios play fast and loose with “inspired by true events” (case point being that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is decidedly not the true story of Ed Gein), and even though hauntings and possessions aren’t real, the fact that real people claim to have experienced these events is still a bit creepy. And if it doesn’t creep you out personally, it’s a good tidbit to whip out to those more faint of heart who you may be watching it with.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

The only true classic horror film on this list, as well as the only slasher. Like I said, slashers don’t really feel all that Halloween-y to me! Yes, that applies to John Carpenter’s Halloween as well – it’s a great movie, but it doesn’t have to be Halloween for the events to take place! Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street‘s supernatural elements and weird surreal deam sequences feel more appropriate for Halloween. Freddy Krueger is also the OG slasher who brought comedy to the genre with his quips. Though he becomes a pastiche of himself in the later films (which is fun in its own way), he’s definitely played on the scarier side in the original film. This movie has great camp value on top of some genuine scares, and a sequence of subsequently sillier sequels make it a great series to marathon come October.

A Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Do I need to explain? I’m not the biggest fan of some of the iconic Halloween movies like Halloweentown or Hocus Pocus, but A Nightmare Before Christmas is an iconic Halloween classic that I can fully get behind. The stop motion masterpiece is a beautiful nod to the season, and its most famous song “This Is Halloween” absolutely slaps. Fun fact: though it’s marketed as “Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas“, it’s actually directed by Henry Selick. It’s based on a concept by Burton, who acted as a producer on the project. The film acts as a testament to all things weird and wonderful about the Halloween season, and to those who identify with the spooky and sinister. Anyway, this movie is a Halloween classic, and if it’s not on your October movie list, you’re wrong.

Sinister

Rounding off this list is one of my favourite horror movies of all time. This movie scared the shit out of me, and I think it’s one of the best horror movies from the past 10 years. The plot, acting, cinematography, lighting, sound mixing, pacing… everything comes together so perfectly in this movie. Though it is a bit heavy on the jumpscares, I think that Sinister is the type of film that demonstrates just how valuable this type of scare can be when it’s used appropriately. One of the biggest jumps I had watching this film was a scene transition from the anticipation of something lurking in the dark, to a scene transition in which a teaspoon is loudly dropped into a coffee cup.

Seriously, the atmosphere of this film is so well constructed. If you’re a horror fan, or just horror curious, this movie is always one of my top recommendations for just how good horror movies can be. Like The Conjuring, Sinister isn’t explicitly Halloween-y, but it does have a similar autumnal setting and colour palette. Aesthetically autumnal and absolutely terrifying, Sinister is my number one pick for spooky fall horror.

The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror

Okay, so this isn’t a movie, but The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” Halloween specials are such a nostalgic piece of media for me. CBC would play reruns leading up to Halloween, so a lot of the earlier episodes are firmly imprinted in my mind. If you are unfamiliar with “Treehouse of Horror” specials, they are Halloween episodes divided into three shorts, typically satirizing horror or science fiction classics. This is a pretty definitive list of iconic segments from Treehouse of Horror. Yes, they are still making new Treehouse of Horror episodes, and no, they are not good.