Scary movies can be pretty good, except for the scary part. If a movie’s whole design is to freak you out, the end result can be pretty dissatisfying and lame. But it’s Halloween. You want to be festive and spirited and just a tiny bit spooked, but you want to make sure you pick a horror movie that delivers on more than just the frights.
If you’re going to cower on your couch, it might as well be to the tune of a great deal of fun or something that leaves you thinking about something bigger than the horror. These will do both. Just grab a friend—no one likes to go it alone!
The Conjuring (2013)
It’s freaky, but we stand by our statement that this is one the best faith movies of the past five years. The Conjuring boasts a first-rate horror mind behind the camera in James Wan, but its greatness appears most in the script, where devoted Christians Chad and Carey Hayes weave in a slate of provocative and nuanced ideas about faith and marriage.
We’re big fans of “gimmick” horror movies, in which a wrinkle in the formula freshens up the genre like lemon juice does a piece of fish. Hush is a home-invasion movie in which a killer tries to break into a young woman’s house, but in this case, the young woman is deaf. Believe it or not, the shake-ups don’t end there. You’ll be in suspense for sure, but by the end of this one, you’ll be cheering like it’s a sporting event. It’s one of the few movies in any genre to take people with disabilities seriously—not ignoring their difficulties, but maintaining a sense of personhood, too.
The Witch (2016)
Most scary movies hide their monster. The Witch shows it, in awful fashion, within the first 15 minutes. About a Puritan family whose excommunication makes them paranoid and legalistic, the movie’s human characters are as scary as the titular entity. The Witch (often stylized as The VVitch) is not about faith. It’s about religion, and the consequences of the times faith becomes fanaticism, and that makes for some rich food for thought once the movie’s over. You’ll have to recover from the final 10 minutes, though. The Witch burns long and slow, but ends with a bang.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)
This is one of the most crowd-pleasing “horror” movies for our money. Tucker and Dale overturns the typical cannibal-backwoods tropes by telling the story from the perspective of some hapless hicks who accidentally terrorize a group of college kids. The movie has a few spooky moments, but it veers closer to comedy than horror more often than not, and in doing so, it explores how fear of “the other” can turn into paranoia. You’ll end this movie grinning, and it won’t keep you up at night. That’s always a plus in our book.
It Follows (2015)
Of all the movies on this list, interpretations vary the widest on It Follows. The movie’s monster takes the form of everyday people, it walks non-stop toward its victims, and if it touches them, it kills them. The only way a target can “pass” the monster to another person is through sex, so naturally, there are lots of readings to be had here. The most natural one touches on the loss of innocence and the unintended consequences of sexual interaction. It Follows has some of the most innovative scares in the book, drawing tactics from classics like Halloween and giving them some modern cinematic twists. This one’s scary for sure, but good for a crowd.
Though it’s not a horror movie in the traditional sense, the ideas and themes of Seven—about a killer who kills according to the seven deadly sins—examine the nature of evil with such intense consideration it becomes a hard movie to shake off, especially this time of year. The ending of this one has reached iconic status, and with actors like Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman delivering first-rate work on the front end, you’ll be in the movie’s grip from start to finish.