For many, Halloween is a time of spooky celebration and outlandish cosplay, but for others (myself included), it’s quite the opposite. We don’t embrace the yearly scary movie marathons that are now considered a staple of the holiday season, but actively avoid them like the plague, as even the slightest on-screen jump scare is enough to leave us sleepless for weeks. Forget the best horror movies, I was freaked out by the sharks in Finding Nemo.
But if you love films, the idea of not taking part in such a big movie-watching tradition is unthinkable, and sometimes the best way to master your fears is to face them head on... right? In that case, consider the following list of scary movies, which definitely fall into the horror genre category, but are slightly more wholesome, lighthearted, and viewer-friendly than the more purist and extreme horror movies out there. Better yet, we’ve given each one a score on our super scientific scare rating scale (1 being hardly scary at all, and 10 being too scary to even feature on this list), giving you an accurate idea of what to expect before pressing play.
1. What We Do in the Shadows
Scare rating: 1/10
Comedy horrors are the ideal Halloween choice for those of us with a more sensitive temperament. While scary movies often subliminally embrace the funny side of their stories, others go much further, blending scares and laughter to create a film of two faces, from Beetlejuice to The Babysitter.
What We Do in the Shadows is one such movie, a mockumentary from Taika Waititi (of Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Thor: Ragnarok fame) about a coven of vampires living in Wellington, New Zealand. Waititi’s knack for offbeat humour finds a perfect fit in documenting the idiosyncrasies of the vampiric lifestyle, but there’s still a veneer of the heebie jeebies to the character’s exploits, ensuring What We Do in the Shadows has either foot firmly in both genres. Keep an eye out for Flight of the Conchord’s Rhys Darby as leader of a dorky pack of “werewolves, not swearwolves.”
Do you like scary movies? No? Then Scream is the perfect film to watch this Halloween. Not only is it a slasher that’s more action-packed than it is terrifying, it’s heavily linked to the horror movie genre as the murderer delights in riffing off traditional scary movie tropes. In fact, if you’re looking to do a not-so-scary Halloween movie marathon, why not binge the whole franchise and include Scream 2, 3, and 4?
All of the films are heavily links to the horror genre without actually being that scary so they really are the perfect Halloween viewing for scaredy cats. While there’s jump scares a plenty and the odd tense moment while you wondering the the killer is really dead (spoiler: he never is!), there’s nothing in Scream, or its sequels, which would be considered actually terrifying.
3. Shaun of the Dead
Scare rating: 2/10
Ok, yes, Shaun of the Dead is technically a zom-com (part comedy, part zombie movie), but I’ll happily debate anyone who says Edgar Wright’s first entry in the Cornetto Trilogy isn’t damn scary in parts. Arms are chopped off, innards are spilled, and so many of Shaun’s vintage vinyl discs are smashed to pieces in the name of self-defense.
Luckily, Shaun of the Dead is also one of the funniest Britcoms of all time, so any scares are quickly offsetted by the sharp script and physical performances from double act Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Endlessly quotable, and a superb satirical swipe at the zombie horror genre, Shaun of the Dead is a film for any time of the year, not just for Halloween.
4. A Quiet Place
Scare rating: 7/10
A Quiet Place features barely a word of spoken dialogue, or sound at all for that matter, so how scary can it really be? Pretty scary, to be honest with you, but certainly not as bad as it could be. Instead, John Krasinski’s directorial debut plays out as an apocalypse movie with a delicious twist, in which humanity’s been brought to its knees by an infestation of blind monsters who can only detect their prey through noise.
That setup is brilliant enough to warrant a viewing alone, but Krasinski wrings it for all he can, creating some ingenious moments of suspense and threat through confident direction. More often than not, you’ll be too impressed by A Quiet Place to even think about cowering behind the sofa in terror. Just try not to make too much noise once you turn the telly off.
5. Silence of the Lambs
Scare rating: 3/10
With four Oscars to its name, Silence of the Lambs practically demands a viewing regardless of your proclivity to horror. This is the role that Sir Anthony Hopkins is famous for, after all, with his performance as iconic maneater Hannibal Lecter both mesmerising and terrifying in equal measure.
As a scary movie, though, you’ll be pleased to know Silence of the Lambs is pretty measured and moderate in impact, with the pacing and tone of a crime thriller that just so happens to feature one of cinema’s creepiest villains. It’s a superbly crafted piece of work, and much less exploitative than the nastier slasher movies you see headlining theatres today, making it a healthy option for milksops everywhere.’
Scare rating: 9/10
As a movie about an extra terrestrial predator who dresses up as a clown and feeds on children from the sewers, there’s no getting around the fact that the It movie is terrifying, making it one to watch for the particularly adventurous. But it is just as much a nostalgic, Amblin-inspired coming of age story as it is a scary movie.
Amidst the clown shenanigans, there’s scenes of real tenderness, warmth, and genuine laughs, and the overarching themes of puberty, loss, and friendship make it much more relatable than your run of the mill horror flick. Yes, Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise (who’ll be back for It: Chapter 2) is one of the most harrowing performances of the decade, and his bulbous, drooling noggin will probably linger in the brain for weeks after watching, but so too will your affinity for the loveable group of kids at the movie’s heart.
7. From Dusk till Dawn
Scare rating: 4/10
From Dusk till Dawn is a wise movie choice for the thin skinned, largely because it’s not even a horror movie for the first two thirds of its runtime. Instead, it’s a strange, slightly sinister B-movie road trip starring George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino (yes, that Quentin Tarantino and that George Clooney), who play two brothers on the run from the cops.
Upon reaching an eerie Mexican bar, and having a very weird run-in with Salma Hayek, let’s just say things escalate very quickly in From Dusk till Dawn’s final act, when director Robert Rodriguez pushes the movie headfirst into the grindhouse territory he’s known for. It’s a super silly movie, and really good fun too, especially to see the unlikely pairing of Clooney and Tarantino fighting hordes of vampires together.
8. It Follows
Scare rating: 8/10
Scary movies love to play the analogy game, setting up their monsters and demons as grotesque metaphors for real world issues, but It Follows surely takes the crown for the most disturbing allegory of the lot. It’s demon is the abominable personification of an STI, and while that sounds silly and a little bit tasteless, director David Robert Mitchell brings his star fiend to life with such scary efficacy, you’ll be left a paranoid wreck by its end.
But if It Follows is so scary, why put it on this list? Because, on a moment to moment basis, the movie plays like a slow burning indie, using its scares sparingly, and finding new ways to keep audiences engaged besides the immediate impact of any on-screen viscera. Definitely not a good first choice for total horror neophytes, but give It Follows a watch once you’re a tad more confident with the genre at large.
9. Let the Right One In
Scare rating: 5/10
Who says a good scary movie isn’t allowed to turn you into a soppy mush of sentimentality? At the core of Let the Right One In is an endearing, adorable relationship between two children who find each other amid dire circumstances. Sure, one of those children may or may not be a bloodthirsty vampire, but that’s beside the point.
Horror and romance don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and this indie Swedish film makes an excellent point of proving that maxim. As a result, Let the Right One In is one of the few films where you’re rooting for the monster as much as the lead character, which makes its scarier moments easier to stomach when they do arrive in bloody fashion. And once you’re done with that, you can even check out the equally strong American remake with Chloë Grace Moretz, Let Me In.
10. 28 Days Later
Zombie movies are the perfect non-scary horror movies for those of us who can’t handle anything more frightening that the undead. Gruesome they may be, but actually scary? Not really. And 28 Days Later is the best of the bunch with its energetic ‘infected’ which are more likely to chase you through London than creepily stalk you from a distance.
A genuinely great movie in its own right, 28 Days Later is more of a survival zombie movie so while there’s the odd moment which might have you reaching for a cushion (when the lights go out in the mansion?!), the majority of the film is just plain bloody as the survivors hack and kill their way to safety.
11. The Cabin in the Woods
Scare rating: 5/10
The Cabin in the Woods isn’t so much a horror movie as it is a deconstruction of the entire genre itself. It would be wrong to spoil anything here, but let’s just say that the script is as subversive, wry, and funny as you’d expect from a Joss Whedon movie, going to places far beyond the cabin of the title.
That’s good news for scaredy cats, since there’s just as many laughs as there are more frights, where every jump scare is undercut by a dry, self-knowing gag. Better yet, by showing how silly and stupid horror tropes can be, The Cabin in the Woods is a good way to smarten and toughen you up for future viewings of more traditional material.
12. Get Out
Scare rating: 6/10
While Get Out technically falls into the horror genre, director Jordan Peele has more acutely taken to to calling it a “social thriller.” That’s because the scares of Get Out aren’t werewolves, zombies, or serial killers, they’re white people. A biting cultural commentary on the fallacies and dangers of post-racial America, Get Out finds scares by channeling real world fears through a hyperreal lens.
From a movie viewing experience, its fright factor runs at a completely different wavelength to classic horror films, getting under your skin and burrowing into your brain with sharp messaging and generously layered tension. A must watch for horror fans and scaredy cats alike.