RELEVANT Roundtable is when we ask our slate of culture writers a question and compile their responses. This week’s question: What’s a good scary movie for people who don’t like scary movies?
Lesley Crews: The stop-motion helps it pass as a kids’ movie, but Coraline always freaked me out. It’s about a girl with blue hair (cool) who endures a big move from Michigan to Oregon with her “mean” parents (not cool). One night in the new house, Coraline discovers an alternate world where her parents are always nice—a little too nice, really—even if their world is marked by everyone’s uber-creepy button eyes. The alternate parents invite Coraline to stay with them, but (spoiler), they ask her to SEW ON HER OWN BUTTON EYES. You could always count me out on that note. Coraline doesn’t house a ton of jump scares, but it will make you question what the heck is happening.
Tyler Huckabee: Most horror movies rely on a sort of moral unseriousness. There’s usually plenty of violence, but it’s weightless, like Mario getting nipped by a turtle. Whelp! Game over! The Orphanage, by contrast, is a horror movie that understands its own stakes. It’s an atmospheric, beautifully shot feast; a sad mystery wrapped in paralyzing dread. Laura, her husband and their son Simón move into an old orphanage with the intention of re-opening it, but Simón vanishes and Laura’s quest to find him involves unwrapping the spooky secrets of their new home. The Orphanage shudders with unbearable, watch-through-your fingers intensity, but it’s patient. It peels back the layers of its own terror to explore not just fear, but heartbreak—and it’s the latter that will stick with you long after the movie ends.
Kara McFarlane: *Disclaimer: This pick offers more of a watch-with-your-mom-whilst-baking-ghost-shaped-cookies vibe instead of a what’s-in-the-shadows vibe. It’s a rom-com, but with witches!* If you’re looking for a seasonal scare without a lifetime of bedtime scars, look no further than Practical Magic. This heart-warming murder mystery features—prepare yourself—Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman (!) as the enchanted Owens sisters in a race to put Kidman’s boyfriend to rest…forever. It’s a fun, whimsical journey, and a spooky reminder that love is what binds us together.
Seth Tower Hurd: Growing up in west-central Illinois, there were enough mountain lions around for me to feel a shiver down my spine while deer hunting, and The Ghost and the Darkness is the embodiment of that teenage fear. A true-account monster movie of sorts, Ghost and the Darkness retells the story of two lions who killed up to 70 railway workers in 1898 Kenya. It does an incredible job of giving you the same dread and terror of those being stalked by the predators. Rather than cheap frights, it draws your mind into a “what if” game of cat and mouse.
Tyler Daswick: The Witch sold me on horror movies. Almost everything about it is untraditional. It leans into the rigid dialect of its 1600s New England setting, it relies on scary images instead of sudden jumps and it shows its monster about 10 minutes into the movie, a huge horror no-no. Nonetheless, the horror builds upon a foundation of faith-adjacent ideas like fanaticism, purity and legalism to reach a high point that hasn’t left my mind in almost three years. A horror movie has never scared me with a line of dialogue. The Witch has one that haunts me.