Back when humans would have to actually walk through stores and physically touch copies of the movies they wanted to watch, only six genres were acknowledged: Comedy, Drama, Action, Foreign, Kids and Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror/Whatever-Else-You-Weird-Nerds-Like. Some video stores had a seventh genre, and legends were told of youths who dared enter the Adult section.
Netflix-ization has gone the other way with things, sewing gangly genre appendages onto one another, creating lumbering monsters, like Black & White, Neo-Noir Slapstick Adventures Featuring an Overweight, Balding Oscar Winner. However, if used correctly, the subgenre is your friend, and none more so than with horror movies. Halloween season is all about two things: mainstream media making lame jokes about pumpkin spice items because they’re predominantly enjoyed by women and thus subjected to undue ridicule, unlike consumables such as craft beer, and watchin’ horror stuff! I can help with that second one!
Because when you’re in the mood for spooky cinema you often have a specific flavor in mind, here are recommendations for you broken down by subgenre:
Action Horror: Blade II
This was the very first movie I ever reviewed for The Reader and remains my favorite Guillermo del Toro movie. Sorry, aquatic perverts! Filled with great little gross horror beats and the last recorded footage of Wesley Snipes actually trying, this one is still surprisingly watchable. I stand by my 2002 rating, which I believe was “Cool Beans.”
Body Horror: Raw
Like all veterinarians, Justine (Garance Marillier) develops a taste for human flesh during her training. This coming-of-age parable is only for people not immediately turned off by cannibalism as a metaphor. It’s less of a “scary movie” and more of a brilliantly gross slice of cinema, so please warn anybody who may be watching with you what they’re getting into.
Comedy Horror: Little Evil
A Netflix original skewering of creepy-kid movies, this did not get much love when it was released a few years back, probably because y’all don’t have dueling shrines to Evangeline Lilly and Adam Scott like I do. It’s no Shaun of the Dead, but we’ve all got that one memorized by now and hilariously quote it all the time to our friends still, right?
Creature Horror: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Wolf, Train to Busan
The unholy trinity of creatures featured in horror has to be vampire, werewolf and zombie. If you want some bloodsucking that doesn’t suck, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night offers atmospheric, trippy vampire shenanigans with an exceptional soundtrack and plenty of macabre pouting. If you love you some werewolves, I really need you to remember that Jack Nicholson’s Wolf is a real movie that really exists, and he pees on James Spader in it. This was a big budget movie with legitimately high expectations, and it has aged into glorious hilarity. Finally, zombie movies will never be better than 28 Days Later, but you maybe haven’t seen Train to Busan, which doesn’t so much reinvent the undead wheel so much as Die Hard-s it by setting most of the action in a confined space. If you hated public transport before, just wait!
Found-Footage Horror: Trollhunter
Outside of Cloverfield, the beloved location of the hill I will still die upon, most found-footage horror is a cheap way to have a quick seizure. With shaky-cam footage and jump scares, very few films have improved upon what The Blair Witch Project did to kick things off. Trollhunter isn’t true “horror,” but it legally counts, with dead bodies and monsters. I thought this would build a cult following, but I guess people said “Norway” to that. Get it? Because it’s Norwegian and Americans consider reading to be too much physical exercise.
Psychological Horror: Hereditary
Because supernatural elements are involved in writer/director Ari Aster’s debut film, this is maybe not a true “psychological horror” movie. But it’s my list, and I’m too cool for rules, fools! Honestly, the most scarring, shocking moments in the film involve mental trauma, with Toni Collette giving a criminally underseen masterclass in depicting genuine emotional torment. Maybe she’d have won an Oscar if her character was also a hooker or she wore a wig or something.
Science-Fiction Horror: eXistenZ
David Cronenberg is a master of body horror, which is on par with having mastered your horrible body. eXistenZ is weird in more ways than its capitalization. It goes to strange simulated reality/Matrix-esque places via the single most disgusting user interface ever conceived. It may sound like a straight-up sci-fi film, but there’s an organic gun that uses human teeth for ammunition. Have fun with that nightmare!
Slasher Horror: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Slasher movies are easily parodied and largely quite similar, save for the only film to go bonkers with meta-awareness, and nothing is more terrifying than meta-awareness. Conceptually just incredibly fun, this forgotten Elm Street sequel sees the actress who played opposite Freddy Krueger the first time playing herself opposing the “real” Freddy Krueger. As the first horror franchise sequel to try something truly, uniquely different, it deserves better than being remembered only when it’s time to rank all the Elm Street sequels.
Torture Horror: None
Stop it. Please stop it. Let this subgenre die. Go read a book or something. A nice one about puppies.