The best horror gateway movies – for all you scaredy-cats out there
Horror is everywhere. It has influences in everything. Some of the most hotly discussed movies of the last few years have horror in their DNA: Parasite, Joker, The Batman, Drive, Nightcrawler, The Lighthouse, Uncut Gems, The Menu, Banshees of Inisherin, No Country for Old Men, the list goes on and on…
Here’s my pitch: You’re already a fan of horror, you just don’t know it yet. So I present to you a list of fun, accessible horror movies.
This list primarily hinges on genre hybrids, in which horror is often secondary to another category.
If there’s a genre you really love, this is a safe and familiar way to dip your toe in the pool.
They feature minimum gore, so if you’re squeamish these movies won’t ruin your day, and they’re not aggressively terrifying.
They’re less like there’s an icy fist gripping your small intestine and offer a more modest feeling of tension.
Or they’re camp and fun! Horror is not just fear, sometimes it’s gothic or transgressive or absurd.
If you can watch these movies without feeling a flicker of joy, then I redact everything. I am a fraud.
However, if you watch these movies and appreciate the experience, then you must admit a horror fan hides within you. With that being said, I must warn you, horror is highly addictive once you get a taste for it.
These ones are free, the rest cost extra.
Silence of the Lambs
Perhaps the grandaddy of them all, Silence of the Lambs has created many a horror convert.
There are endless detective movies with a finger in horror, too many to list, but this remains the very best example.
It’s essentially a feminist detective movie in which our protagonist is trapped in a swirling world of terrifying characters.
Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill are household names at this point, yet they remain two career defining performances, still as fresh and utterly captivating as their day of release.
This may be Jodie Forster’s finest hour. Lambs massively popularised the trope of the detective teaming up with criminal, but few offer anything as delicate and tense as the originator.
Obviously, Lambs is very, very famous, but it’s not easily absorbed through osmosis.
The plot contorts in all manner of interesting ways and its capacity to surprise has not been diminished.
Mean Girls by way of The Thing, Jennifer’s Body is unapologetically camp and quietly queer.
It also has some of the greatest dialogue of all time and is frequently hilarious.
It’s a wonderful time capsule for the late 2000s, it’s feminist in a way that isn’t heavy-handed, and it’s a sharp critique on the body politics of teen movies.
Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried are a rather genius pairing, who not only have excellent chemistry, but both hold their own as charismatic powerhouses.
You see, the great tragedy of Megan Fox is that she’s so conventionally attractive that she was never given a serious chance.
If you’ve seen Jennifer’s Body, you’ll know she’s a good actor and a very good comedic actor.
Here’s a quote that summarises Jennifer’s Body in a nutshell. Ready?
“You’re killing people Jennifer!”
“No, I’m killing boys.”
10 Cloverfield Lane
Made in the unfortunate window when J.J. Abrams was bizarrely hell-bent of creating a Cloverfield cinematic universe.
Ignore the title. This is not a Cloverfield movie. This is an acidic suspense movie in the same vein as Panic Room.
A young woman, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), wakes up to find herself trapped in an underground bunker with its owner, Howard (John Goodman), who claims the outside world has been destroyed by a chemical attack.
John Goodman is astounding in this movie and gives an all-timer performance.
The film plays gracefully with your empathy, in which Howard is sometimes paternal, tragic and soft, and other times hideous, unstable, and deceptive. Trying to navigate his character is immensely compelling.
What We Do in the Shadows
The TV show has become a smash hit, but the movie is very special in its own right. For my money it’s the best project Taika Waititi has made to date.
Not only is it beautifully directed (with one incredibly impressive oner) and comedically creative, but it’s also an excellent birds eye view of vampire history, and by extension horror history as a whole.
There is some gore, but always delivered with a good dose of ironic detachment.
What We Do in the Shadows is always a comedy first and foremost, and it preserves Waititi’s unique tone of voice throughout.
A great deal of comedy is found simply in the culture clash of centuries-old vampires interacting with the modern world.
Little Shop of Horrors
Pure 80s kitsch. Little Shop of Horrors follows a sad little nerd, Seymour, who discovers a new species of singing plant with a taste for blood.
It’s a delightful, pulpy musical full of interesting faces, including Steve Martin as a biker bad boy (no reason to work but it does), and Bill Murray’s strangest role as an avid dental fetishist.
The soundtrack is stellar, with Ellen Greene as the standout performance.
The plant, played fabulously by Levi Stubbs, is one of the most advanced puppets in film history, requiring a team of over 40 people to operate.
The degree of mouth articulation almost defies belief. It’s a joy just to watch this character move.
There’s nothing scary about Little Shop of Horrors, it’s pure fun from the ceiling to the floor.