A tier list of the best scary movies for scaredy cats to horror lovers
Horror for all
Horror isn’t for everyone. While some anticipate the season of haunted houses, creepy costumes and the plethora of new horror films they willingly pay to scare themselves with, others stray far away from these for the sake of their own sanity. However, there are also people who fall into the grey area of liking the creativity of the horror genre and have the fright limit of a 12-year-old child (ahem, yours truly).
Truth be told, I am a self-proclaimed scaredy cat who yelps when someone even says my name above the average decibel (wait, I could probably make a pretty good Scream Queen…) and watches pretty much every horror film through the gaps between my fingers—but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the genre.
In order to resolve this inner conflict and to stop being such a wuss, I’ve devised a tier list of horror movies that I can hopefully work my way up to (I’ve already knocked some of them out of my list!). If you’re someone who also relates to my predicament, feel free to use this list to watch horror movies that best fit your current spook levels.
From jittery scaredy cats to seasoned horror fans, these are the best scary movies to win over your heart!
Level one: Scaredy cat who gets spooked by anything
The easiest way to ease into the horror genre for jumpy watchers is to mix it in with comedy. Even though they are marketed as horror movies, I categorise these films as level one because they are only a *little* scary—again, take it from someone who has a very low horror tolerance. Just when it starts to get scary, you’ll be riddled with laughter. Thus, the films below are palatable and the perfect way to exercise your horror-watching muscles.
If there’s someone who balances the creepy-but-not-scary line, it’s Tim Burton. This classic 1988 film is the definition of horror camp that the director is known for such as over-the-top character and set designs and gothic motifs. The horror comedy follows a family who moves into a new home but is haunted by the ghosts of a married couple who once lived there. So what do they do? Try to out-scare the spirits by employing the antics of another ghost, Beetlejuice played by Michael Keaton. Jenna Ortega is also set to star in the upcoming sequel so it’s a perfect time to start!
Happy Death Day
Don’t let the creepy mascot fool you into thinking this is a full-blown horror movie. Rather, scaredy cats will enjoy watching Happy Death Day for its cutthroat humour and meta-commentary. The film stars Jessica Rothe as Tree, a college student who has to relive the day of her murder over and over again Groundhog Day style. Because of the time loop, viewers can easily predict what’s coming next as it always ends with Tree’s death (albeit some in creative ways). Mix in a whodunit mystery of finding her killer and dark humour, you’ve got yourself a fun watch!
I don’t see this film actually inducing fear in audiences, even in the most anxious of watchers which is why Megan sits comfortably at level one. Directed by horror maestro James Wan, it does get in some scares for its kills but for the most part, the movie is overridden by the absurd plot of a killer AI doll who dances TikTok choreography. It’s campy and clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Okay, hear me out. I know adding The Shining, considered one of horror cinema’s most enduringly frightening films, to level one for scaredy cats sounds ridiculous. And I would have agreed with you if I hadn’t already given it a go and came out triumphant on the other side. To be clear, there is no denying The Shining is downright terrifying. However, the Kubrick classic shows how terror instead of horror works. Rather than an in-your-face type of scare, it’s an unsettling feeling of dread that never leaves you from the film’s beginning. For that reason, it’s a great entry for scaredy cats as it skillfully shows that horror is not always physical and visceral but what’s in your head.
Always wanted to watch a zombie flick but you were too frightened to? Zombieland is your answer. This fan-favourite horror comedy film is perfect for audiences who struggle with the blood and gore that usually comes with this genre. In Zombieland, you follow a college student and patriotic hillbilly who work together to find a safe haven in a zombie apocalypse. The tone of the film is consistently funny thanks to Jesse Eisenberg’s quippy narration of his survival tips and Woodie Harrelson’s impeccable comedic timing. Of course, expect the occasional blood splatter but it’s an easy breeze through with minimal jump scares.
Level two: Semi-brave soul who is a bit more adventurous
So you’re feeling braver and are open to watching more extreme horror territory? Welcome to level two. Currently, this is the level I’ve managed to work myself up to (still can’t completely get rid of the scaredy cat, though). In this category, we’ll step away from the minor horror codings of level-one films and delve into scary movies that will actually make you jump out of your seat.
Slasher films are the bread and butter of the horror genre. To get a real taste of a spatterfest, there’s no better way than to start with the Scream franchise. While Halloween and Friday the 13th are also popular, Scream deserves a shoutout for its unique meta-narrative that pokes fun at its own tropes. Following the unhinged killings of Ghostface, the franchise has spawned six films and a TV show, which means more content for you to binge! Expect plenty of gory deaths and jump scares.
Considered one of Ridley Scott’s best works, Alien needs no introduction. This iconic sci-fi horror film set a precedent for the future of extraterrestrial horror films and the final girl archetype when it came out in 1979. Featuring the bone-chilling character design of the Xenomorphs that violently kill a space crew one by one, Alien is a fantastic horror film that keeps viewers at the edge of their seats with palpable suspense and striking cinematography.
A24 is known for producing top-quality horror films and Hereditary is no exception. A story about generational curses, the movie proves that slow-burn horror does work and every scene expertly builds until it reaches its disturbing climax in the third act that will stick with you for a long while. The film follows a grief-stricken family dealing with the death of their matriarch. As strange things begin to happen, the horrifying truth of their ancestry begins to come to light.
Fear Street trilogy
Released in 2021, the Fear Street trilogy is an American horror film series that blends tropes from the slasher and supernatural subgenres. In my personal opinion, it’s one of the best horror series to be released as of late because it is a homage to classic slasher cinema whilst being driven by a compelling storyline. Told in reverse chronology, each film takes you further back in time to understand the curse that has befallen the town of Shadyside. It’s much more violent than the original PG-13 R.L. Stine books (meat slicer death, anyone?) but you’ll want to watch to catch every detail of the story.
Talk To Me
Regarded as one of the best horror films to be released in 2023, Talk To Me is a film that shows you’re ready to take on bigger and scarier things. This Australian scream fest and second A24 film on the list follows a group of friends who discover how to conjure spirits with a mysterious embalmed hand. The high-stakes game is fun for the teens until one of them goes too far and unleashes terrifying supernatural forces. If you can watch this without covering your eyes too much, you’re ready to take on level three!
Level three: The more gore and ghastly ghosts, the better
On this level, you love the gruesome kills and bone-chilling supernatural stories—in fact, you hardly jump at any of them anymore. Congratulations, you’re a bonafide horror buff! This is the type of content that only certain horror fans will appreciate as they will be above most people’s comfort levels. In saying that, I won’t be recommending films like Human Centipede or Terrifier because I wouldn’t wish those movies on anyone. Below are scary movies on my personal list that I hope to tackle one brave day.
If you love blood and fascinating lore, Hellraiser is a franchise you should definitely check out. Based on the novella The Hellbound Heart by English author Clive Barker, the horror movie centres on a species of monsters from a Hell-like realm, known as Cenobites, that prey on humans for their sadistic and twisted games. The Big Bad of Hellraiser is the iconic villain known as Pinhead who is quite literally the stuff of nightmares. The franchise already has 10 movies in its name and was recently rebooted in 2022 with an 11th film on Hulu. Apart from the obvious torture the characters are put through, there are fantastical elements with religious imagery that make Hellraiser a compelling watch.
Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum
Personally, I always find the found footage subgenre in horror cinema to be one of the scariest. There’s something about a ghostly figure being captured on screen that hits too close to home for me as a chronically online millennial. I couldn’t even make it through the trailer of Gonjiam which makes the South Korean horror flick easily level three for me. The 2018 movie follows a crew of an online horror show who decide to explore an abandoned psychiatric hospital and stream their experience for views. If you enjoy Asian horror, this is right up your alley.
A shape-shifting extraterrestrial life-form that can turn into any organism? Check. A small group of American researchers in Antarctica slowly losing their minds? Check. Kurt Russell in a glorious beard? Check. It’s hard to believe that The Thing was considered a box office bomb when it premiered in 1982 when it is now considered one of the greatest horror films ever made. What stands out is the film’s incredible special effects—The Thing is body horror at its finest. We’re talking giant flesh-eating mouths for stomachs and decapitated heads with sprouting spider legs. But most of all, The Thing’s horror comes from the paranoia and distrust that fester between the small crew. Unable to tell the real from the imposter, you too will be guessing until the very end. This is the only film in this category I watched all the way through and I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Out of all the horror subgenres, I am the least terrified of gore and slasher films. Therefore, I think the Saw franchise is one that I can work my way through eventually. Critics have regarded Saw as essentially torture porn but I think the added layer of morbid ingenuity and wit in the horrid contraptions the franchise is known for gives it a more enjoyable edge (if you think about it, the films predicted the thrill of escape rooms before they were even a thing—minus the life-ending traps, of course). First released in 2004, the franchise has spawned a total of 10 films, the latest being just this year, proving the pop culture phenomenon is still thriving. Out of the roster, fans generally regard Saw 2, Saw 6 and Saw 3 to be the best of Jigsaw’s deviousness.
Speaking of what scares me the least, what scares me the most in anything horror-related is the paranormal. The ghostly realm is one which I have infinite fear of and the fact that the events of The Conjuring are based on true events? Immediate red flag. First released in 2013, The Conjuring has three movies in its name which tells the real-life story of world-renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. Full of jumpscares and a terrifying mystery, I applaud anyone who can watch The Conjuring without covering their eyes.
For more film and TV show recommendations, head here.
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