The Best Horror Films in Each Subgenre and Their Respective Recommendations
Movie Recommendations in 7 Horror Subgenres From a Life-Long Horror Fan
I've loved horror my entire life. I can't remember exactly when my love for the genre started. All I know is it started somewhere, with some movie or show or book, many years back. Honestly, it probably started earlier than it should've.
I grew up watching the original Goosebumps movies and shows with my older brother. I also read the R.L. Stine books in elementary school. I didn't care to read anything else! Anytime I had a book project or essay throughout my school years and college, I'd almost always pick a horror novel. A Stephen King novel. A Dean Koontz novel. Whatever horror novel I could read and get approved for an assignment in school, I'd read.
Along with the Goosebumps entertainment came the typical "horror" most young children watch: Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Hocus Pocus, and others. Which are more so Halloween movies than they are horror films.
In middle school and high school, my horror obsession exploded. Not just from Goosebumps to King and Koontz and more adult novels, but through TV and film as well. I began watching all kinds of horror films and shows. Children's “horror,” teenage horror, and the best kind there is (the R-rated stuff). If I could get my hands on it, I'd watch it.
I've watched everything from the classics to the modern. Everything from the good to the bad and in between. (And, let me tell you, I've seen a lot of bad ones. I mean a lot.)
So, let me, a life-long horror fanatic guide you to your favorite horror flick. I’m going to pick what I believe is the best film from seven different horror subgenres. And, I'm going to make recommendations for each subgenre.
This list is intended to educate those who are considering watching horror films for the first time on which one is the best in each subgenre, along with some recommendations. But, seasoned horror fans are more than welcome to read this article too.
Whether you're a horror junkie like yours truly, a total newbie, or something in the middle, I can confidently say you'll find something you like in the options I've listed below.
1) Subgenre: Horror-Comedy
I thought I'd kick this article off with horror-comedy for a few reasons. 1) It's a great segway into the horror genre for first-time horror viewers, 2) Comedy and horror incite similar reactions among viewers, and 3) Who doesn't love a funny movie?! I know I do! And, if there's some horror in it, it makes it all the better.
The Best Horror-Comedy Film: Shaun of the Dead
I selected Shaun of the Dead as the best horror-comedy film because not only is it a hilarious zombie flick but it's also relatable and sarcastic.
Shaun, who lives a very mundane life, keeps making all kinds of mistakes in his job, his relationships, and in just about everything he says and does. When the zombie apocalypse suddenly hits London, Shaun slowly starts to make fewer mistakes and starts to become a better, more responsible version of himself. The hilarious mistakes he makes and the obvious clues he is oblivious to make the movie a great pick for fans of comedy who are testing out if horror is a genre they'd like or not. Bonus if you're a fan of British humor, which the film certainly has.
In Tucker & Dale VS Evil, two hillbilly buddies enjoying a vacation at their cabin are stereotyped as serial killers by a group of college students camping in the woods. When accident after accident plague the co-eds, Tucker and Dale have their own misunderstanding believing the campers are offing themselves. This movie is one hilarious (and deadly) misunderstanding after another.
In The Lost Boys, Michael is forced to move to Santa Carla (a fictional town similar to Santa Cruz, CA) with his mom, Lucy, and younger brother, Sam. Michael is trying to cope with being a teenager in a new town and tries to make some new friends. He's also trying to have as much fun and freedom in the summertime before school starts. Sam quickly figures out Michael's new friends aren't the best crowd to hang around with when Michael seems to change overnight. Sam meets a duo of vampire hunters and he and Michael try to save Santa Carla from their years-long vampire problem. This film features a lot of '80s culture & style, fun & humor, and some brotherly love.
Fun side note. The majority of the film was actually filmed in Santa Cruz, CA. In parts of it, you'll notice the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Both the rides and attractions, as well as the actual beach.
Another fun side note. Do yourself a favor and don't watch the sequels to this film. They suck! (Vampire pun intended)
2) Subgenre: Monster Horror
I thought monster horror would be the best choice as the second subgenre on this list because even though it's scary, monster horror isn't as terrifying to most people as paranormal horror or slashers or psychological horror is. (Don't fret, we'll get to those later on in this list.) So, I figured it was an appropriate subgenre after comedy-horror.
The Best Monster Horror Film: Jaws
Jaws is a timeless, must-see film, which is exactly why I listed it as the best monster horror film. This classic is filled with suspense around every corner and has a memorable score that will be playing in your head on a constant loop. Sheriff Brody has to figure out what is causing terror on the beach in his small town, preferably before the Fourth of July holiday, which attracts a lot of locals and tourists to the beach. The Sheriff quickly figures out it's a great white shark and soon he's in a war with the monster.
What makes this film scary is more so what you can't see, as well as the build-up at key points in the film. It's the unknown and the strong acting that really packs a punch in Jaws.
Monster Horror Recommendations:
Dracula, perhaps the most well-known horror villain in popular culture, is the epitome of monster horror. He's charming, handsome, and looks human (most of the time)... but isn't. He may not look frightening, but looks aren't everything.
There are plenty of remakes based on the Bram Stoker novel that are far more terrifying than this black and white film. There's also plenty of bad remakes too. However, there's a certain type of beauty to the original film. And, back in its time, it was a pretty terrifying film to moviegoers.
Nosferatu is another great vampire film that came out in 1922. It's considered to be one of the greatest vampire films of all time and it's definitely worth checking out. The only reason I didn't add it on here as its own recommendation is because it's a silent film. I'm not the biggest fan of those and I find most people aren't either.
Frankenstein is based on Mary Shelley's novel of the same name. This film holds a lot of similarity to the 1931 Dracula film listed right above. Besides the obvious similarities (both films being released the same year and both being black and white films), Frankenstein is also about a monster that looks (kind of) human but isn't.
Instead of a bloodsucking, charming illusion of a man, the Frankenstein monster is a monster made from parts of corpses. Doctor Henry Frankenstein is obsessed with bringing the dead back to life and goes too far with his obsession when he ends up creating a monster from body parts he stole out of fresh graves.
Just like Dracula, there's a lot of cinematic beauty to this classic black and white film. And, it did scare many movie theatre audiences during its time. Some people even fainted in the theatre!
3) Subgenre: Sci-Fi Horror
For our third subgenre, I thought I'd go with sci-fi. It's a popular genre among many viewers, and it's similar to monster horror. Sci-fi horror was made popular by creators such as author H.P. Lovecraft, who wrote stories like The Call of Cthulu and The Color Out of Space, among others.
The Best Sci-Fi Horror Film: Alien
Alien first came out in the late '70s and it spawned more than just killer aliens from outer space. It spawned a series so popular it has developed multiple sequels and spinoffs, such as Prometheus and Alien VS Predator.
On top of spawning a popular movie series, Alien also gave cinematic audiences one of the most badass and beloved heroines in pop-culture: Ripley.
After an unknown life form clings to the mouth of one of the crew members, an alien wreaks havoc inside the Nostromo spacecraft. When everything seems to be going to hell on their spaceship, Ellen Ripley does everything she can to save the surviving members of her team and escape the Xenomorph.
Like Brody and the shark in Jaws, Ripley has a personal feud with the Xenomorph. Again, it's the build-up and what you can't see that matters most.
Sci-Fi Horror Recommendations:
I hate to admit it, but Life completely bombed in the box office, which is a shame. It gave me Alien vibes when I saw it in theatres and it had one of the best twist endings I've ever seen. On top of the suspense and terror, Ryan Reynolds' character in Life has an attitude and sarcasm similar to his most popular character to date, Deadpool.
The Fly is sci-fi horror along with a couple of other genres mixed in: romance and body horror. The main character in this film, Seth Brundle, successfully develops a machine to teleport from one area to another. When a fly accidentally enters the machine with him, he begins to change, both inside and out. His personality, his mental state, and his body start to alter over time, leaving both him and his girlfriend, Ronnie, in fear of what he's become.
Speaking of The Fly, SNL did a spoof on this film in one of their political opening skits. It was added in because of, you know, that fly. I wasn't kidding when I told you comedy and horror go well together!!
The Thing, directed by legendary horror film producer John Carpenter, is about a group of scientists in Antarctica who make a discovery at a Norwegian research facility nearby their American base. They take a burned alien creature to their base to dissect it and quickly become victims of the shape-shifting alien, which spreads through them like a virus. Because the characters' looks don't change when they're infected, it makes the experience all the more terrifying.
4) Subgenre: Supernatural
Now we're getting into the subgenre many people think of when they hear the word "horror." This subgenre doesn't need much of an explanation in my opinion. So, let's just dive right in.
The Best Supernatural Film: The Conjuring
I picked The Conjuring as the best supernatural horror film for quite a few reasons. First and foremost, this film is based on true events, which makes the film even more terrifying. The Warrens, Ed and Lorraine, were paranormal investigators and authors, who even had an occult museum (that's now permanently closed) in their own home, and this film is based on one of their cases. Secondly, The Conjuring has such an amazing cast and strong acting from everyone in the film. And, last but not least, it relies mostly on suspense and build-up, not jump scares.
Jump scares are a cheap, lazy, often overdone way to elicit fear out of an audience, but I don't mind a couple of jump scares in each film. In fact, I expect it because it's not so "cheap" if there's only a couple spread throughout a film. In The Conjuring, there are a few at most.
At first, Insidious seems like a classic haunted house story. But after a mother and father of three find their young son in a coma shortly after moving into their new home, they begin to realize it's not that their home is haunted. It's something much bigger than that.
The Exorcist shocked viewers everywhere when it first hit movie theaters. It pushed the envelope and made some viewers leave the theatre in the middle of the film. It even made some people sick. Literally, some people threw up while watching this film in the movie theatre.
Though I think the getting sick and leaving in the middle of the film part was a bit much, I can understand how shocking this film can be to most people. Even today. Between the demonic possession of a child and that crucifix scene, The Exorcist film is shocking, disturbing, and petrifying.
"Hooray... another remake..." Everyone gets *so* excited every time there's a remake, riiight?!... The Exorcist is also getting a remake that's set to premiere in 2021.
Let me tell you. This is the film that fucked me up, big time. It did that to a lot of kids when it came out in '02. I was barely in the double digits as far as my age and thought maybe I could handle it. It was all the rage in middle school, so of course, I had to watch it! More importantly, it's the film that pushed me to explore more "adult" horror.
Though many PG-13 horror films suck, The Ring is one of the few that don't. Its creepy ambiance, cringe-worthy imagery and sound, and strong acting make this supernatural mystery terrifying.
I also recommend The Ring Two, even though it's not nearly as good as the original. It's still a solid sequel though. Just stay away from the third film, Rings. It's not worth seeing, in my opinion. You'd be more entertained staring at the ceiling for a couple of hours rather than watching the third film.
5) Subgenre: Slasher
Slashers is a pretty terrifying horror subgenre. Some slashers have a bit of a supernatural quality to them (like the typical serial killer who's immortal, for example), but what makes this subgenre terrifying is the fact that it's (usually) done by people. Vampires, killer aliens, and killer videotapes aren't real, but serial killers sure as hell are.
The Best Slasher Film: Halloween (1978)
Halloween follows antagonist Michael Myers as he goes from being a six-year-old who murders his older sister on Halloween night, to escaping a sanitorium years later and committing mass murder. He becomes obsessed with babysitter Laurie Strode, as he stalks her and slowly starts killing everyone around her.
I picked the original Halloween film as the best slasher film because it's the perfect Halloween movie, given its title. It's also a great horror movie because it doesn't try too hard. It's got a simple, pretty straightforward plot, and that's perfectly fine. There's no supernatural element to it. It's just a film about a serial killer stalking and killing people.
Word to the wise: Halloween 2, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, and Halloween (2018) are all good sequels. Stay away from the other sequels though. And definitely stay far, far away from the Rob Zombie remake. One word: Yikes.
If you end up liking the Halloween films, make sure to check out the 2021 sequel to the 2018 film, titled Halloween Kills, when it hits theatres in October 2021.
In the original Friday the 13th film, camp counselors at Camp Crystal Lake are preparing for the first opening day since a drowning accident occurred many years prior. One-by-one the camp counselors go missing and end up dying in mysterious ways. Friday the 13th had an unexpected ending with an unexpected killer. But, it kind of makes sense, when the antagonist explains their reasoning.
Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street centers around an antagonist that terrorizes teens in their sleep. Freddy Krueger is a child murderer who died in the early '80s and seeks vengeance on the young inhabitants of Elm Street. Nancy Thompson and her friends do everything in their power to stop the Springwood Slasher... and to stay awake.
The sequels to this film are meh. The crossover Freddy VS Jason is alright. If you want to watch the sequels and crossover, have at it. But, do yourself a *huge* favor and don't watch the remake. The Freddy Krueger looks like a Freddy Krueger you'd order off Wish. And, the entire film delivers as such.
Another hit Wes Craven film, Scream is one of my favorite slasher horror films. Sidney Prescott is being stalked by a killer in a Ghostface costume one year after the death of her mother, Maureen. Sidney's friends, family, and high school peers start dropping like flies, and she soon realizes she's the primary target of the killer. The sadistic killer uses his knowledge of horror films to target others and leaves Sidney wondering who the killer could possibly be.
If you've ever heard someone jokingly say, "What's your favorite scary movie?" this is the film that the line is from.
6) Subgenre: Gore
I saved gore for number six on this list because it can be shocking to many that are new to horror. Also, gore is my least favorite horror subgenre, so I wanted to save it until somewhere at the bottom of the list. I find most of the gore horror films to be solely reliant on shock value and "torture porn," instead of having a decent plot to guide the audience throughout the film. However, the picks in this list are excellent examples of gore horror done right.
The Best Gore Film: The Evil Dead (1981)
The Evil Dead came out in 1981, and during its time, it pushed the limits. Its over-the-top plot and gore scored the Sam Raimi film an NC-17 rating when it was originally released.
The now R-rated film follows a group of five friends as they stay in a cabin in the woods. One of the college students finds an audiotape and a book, which is read out loud, and strange experiences occur shortly afterward. The group tries to make sense of it all as they slowly become possessed by something otherworldly.
Some argue that the film's sequel, The Evil Dead 2, was better than the original. Sequels can be hit or miss, but the sequel to the original film is definitely a hit. There's also a pretty decent remake of the original film that came out in 2013. I think the remake is worth seeing at least once.
The 1985 film Re-Animator is based on the H.P. Lovecraft horror short Herbert West - Reanimator. In the film, Herbert West is an ambitious medical student who discovers a fluid that can bring dead flesh back to life. After bringing his dead professor back to life, he experiments on different corpses with the help of his roommate, Dan, and Dan's fiance, Megan. This leads to chaos, and after his rival Dr. Hill discovers what West has done, even more chaos ensues.
A Clockwork Orange is a crazy, limit-breaking film from director Stanley Kubrick and based off the novel of the same name by author Anthony Burgess. The main character, Alex, is a sadistic, super violent young adult who eventually ends up in prison for his vast array of crimes. To earn his freedom, he has to go through a behavior modification experimental program, and soon becomes the victim of his victims.
This film is set in a dystopian future in England and is so much more than just a gore horror film. It's satire, black comedy, and musical. It's also crime and drama. And, it has social, economic, and political themes to it. This crazy overlap of genres and themes makes A Clockwork Orange one of the best gore horror films out there.
7) Subgenre: Psychological Horror
For our seventh and final horror subgenre, I saved the best (and most intense) for last. I saved psychological horror for last because this subgenre has produced some of the best, scariest films out there. What makes them so terrifying is seeing the characters go through so many different emotions while coping with the terror around them.
The Best Psychological Horror Film: The Silence of the Lambs
The Silence of the Lambs won the 1992 Oscar award for Best Picture. And, it's the only horror film in Oscar's history to win the prestigious award.
The Silence of the Lambs follows FBI trainee Clarice Starling as she hunts down the serial killer, Buffalo Bill. Not only does Clarice have to hunt down one antagonist, but she needs help from another, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who is a cannibalistic serial killer that is currently incarcerated. When Lecter escapes custody, Starling has to try and catch both killers before they harm anyone else.
Psychological Horror Recommendations:
Though Stephen King greatly disliked the film adaptation of his bestselling novel The Shining, the Stanley Kubrick film is one of the most notable films in cinematic history.
Cabin fever, writer's block, psychic abilities, and a haunted lodge high in the cold Rocky mountains slowly tear a small family apart. The pent-up anger, alcoholism, and cabin fever overcome writer Jack Torrance as he takes out his issues on his wife and son. A long stay at the Overlook Hotel turns into a fight for survival for the mother and son.
Side note: Stephen King based the book on his actual stay at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO. The Stanley Hotel is allegedly haunted and you can even stay in room 217, also known as "The Stephen King room."
In the film Rosemary's Baby, a young newlywed and her husband are trying to conceive shortly after they move into a new apartment in Manhattan. Rosemary starts to experience unusual, often unpleasant things in her new home. What makes her experiences most unpleasant are the eccentric neighbors Rosemary constantly encounters. When she eventually becomes pregnant, things only get more unpleasant and strange for Rosemary. Soon, a devil-worshipping cult takes a lot of interest in Rosemary and her unborn baby.
When I first saw Hereditary, I felt like I was watching something I shouldn't have. Not because of the horror that slowly builds throughout the film, but because of the intense family drama and emotions paired with it. Mental illness, death, and more plague the Graham family in this movie. It all starts when matriarch of the Graham family, Annie, loses her mother after her long battle with dementia. Immediately following the death of her mother, the Graham family experiences a lot of strange occurrences. And after another heartbreaking death for Annie, the family slowly goes insane when more family secrets pour out.
Well, there you have it, folks!
These are my picks for the best horror films in each subgenre and their respective recommendations:
1. Best Horror-Comedy: Shaun of the Dead, Recommendations: Tucker & Dale VS Evil and The Lost Boys
2. Best Monster Horror: Jaws, Recommendations: Dracula and Frankenstein
3. Best Sci-Fi Horror: Alien, Recommendations: Life, The Fly, and The Thing
4. Best Supernatural: The Conjuring, Recommendations: Insidious, The Exorcist, and The Ring
5. Best Slasher: Halloween, Recommendations: Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream
6. Best Gore: The Evil Dead, Recommendations: Re-Animator and A Clockwork Orange
7. Best Psychological Horror: The Silence of the Lambs, Recommendations: The Shining, Rosemary's Baby, and Hereditary
I hope you enjoyed this list and I hope you enjoy watching these films.
I'd love to hear from you and what you thought about this article and the films mentioned. Feel free to follow me and reach out to me on Instagram, and let me know what you thought! Your feedback is greatly appreciated.