When I was really young, my mum used to bring me to the video rental shop at Serene Centre (now at Coronation Plaza) and I’d look at the covers of scary movies like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. The covers for those movies were always the coolest and most interesting, but I’d get scared from just reading the description on the back so I never dared to watch them. My point is that I was and am a real scaredy-cat and it’s not often that I’ll muster up the courage to watch scary movies. So, if you’re like me and want to watch a scary show with interesting characters and story, but aren’t brave enough for something like Babadook or Ringgu, here are some other scary movies that aren’t too scary!
- The Cabin in the Woods (horror with satirical elements)
Facts: It’s a very familiar set up: a group of teens consisting of an athlete, stoner, normal-guy, slu- I mean, socially active girl, and a normal-girl go to a cabin the woods to have fun. However, they get a little more excitement than they bargained for when creatures start attacking them and they can’t get out of the woods. However, this isn’t your standard horror movie where the monsters kill all the kids — there’s something working behind the scenes…
Ratio: It’s a little bit scary because some of the kids do get attacked and hurt by creatures, which are fairly competent standard-fare CGI monsters. However, the real appeal of the movie is the twist in the story, which is revealed early on but I don’t want to spoil it here, and the way they play with horror movie clichés. I’m not sure if I would go as far as to call it a horror comedy, but there are several jokes or twists that make you smile.
- Watcher in the Woods (thriller-mystery)
Facts: OK here’s something a little different from Disney. An American family moves to the English countryside and the daughters, the elder Jan and the younger Ellie, seem to become sensitive to strange phenomenon happening in the woods surrounding their new house. What’s stranger is that their creepy landlord, Mrs Aylewood (Bette Davis) seems really fixated on Jan, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Karen, Mrs Aylewood’s missing daughter.
Ratio: As with most Disney movies, it’s good family fun so it never steps too far into disturbing or shocking material. However, Watcher is a masterclass in using cinematography to create tension and suspense! There’s a good mystery to keep you interested well into the runtime, and even if you start to lose interest, there are several well-placed “scares” to pull you back into the movie. It’s not really a masterpiece, but it’s a really fun and slightly scary movie.
- The Faculty (teen horror)
Facts: Strange aliens fall to Earth in a small American town and infect a few of the teaching staff. A mismatched group of students (jock, nerd, stoner, popular-girl, outcast-girl) ala the Breakfast Club find out about it and have to try to defeat the aliens and save the town.
Ratio: The Faculty is a 90-minute audio-visual representation of everything I love about the 90s (or at least, all 3 years of it through which I existed): bad hair; bad punk rock (don’t @ me, it’s true and you know it); and bad fashion! That said, The Faculty is a seriously fun movie: the opening scene is really quite frightening, and there’s a fair amount of suspense as to how the kids will beat the aliens and it’s a bit like diet-Thing because you need to guess who’s been infected. It’s a top-quality 90s teen horror movie, which is saying a lot! More than that, I think that there’s something to be said about the kids trying to break the stereotypes they were given, and how the ending might be the most depressing thing about the movie if you think about it really hard. (See https://film.avclub.com/the-faculty-is-the-bleakest-and-most-subversive-film-of-1830833616 when you’re done with the movie!)
- Dog Soldiers (horror-action)
Facts: A British Army unit on a training exercises in Scotland against a special forces team runs into werewolves and take refuge in a farmhouse. Can they hold the monsters off until daylight?
Ratio: I’d have to say Dog Soldiers is like Aliens because it’s a “soldiers vs monsters” story, which is pretty hard to screw up because you get the scares from the monsters (more on that later) and the scares are limited since it’s tough, macho soldiers fighting the monsters so it’s not too scary. The soldiers, played by great English actors, are all really fun and you’re rooting for all of them to survive the night. It helps that there are a lot of really memorable lines.
- Housebound (horror-comedy)
Facts: Kylie, a troubled New Zealand woman is sentenced to house arrest with her estranged mother in the countryside after the last in a long line of disorderly conduct. This is bad because Kylie can’t get along with her mother, who often complains that their house is haunted. Soon, cabin fever starts to set in and Kylie starts to experience paranormal events as well…
Ratio: Housebound is a good mix between a standard haunting movie and a suspense movie like Rear Window (wheelchair- and house-bound guy with a broken leg witnesses a neighbour’s murder). At the heart of the haunting is a murder mystery, which is well-crafted and it’s not at all a McGuffin. I should highlight that it’s a horror-comedy, so it’ll make you laugh but throw scares in your face while you’re still laughing, so it’s enjoyable scary but not overly so. I think the climax at the end of the movie is especially well done and ends on a spectacular bang!
- The Evil Dead; The Evil Dead 2; Army of Darkness (horror-comedy)
Facts: Unless I’m mistaken, The Evil Dead was the first one to do the “cabin in the woods” set-up where the kids go to an isolated cabin and wake some evil which tries to kill them. Evil Dead covers the first night, Evil Dead 2 covers the survivor’s efforts to survive past that into the second day, and Army of Darkness follows the survivor’s adventure when the ancient evil sends him into medieval times (it’s as silly as it sounds).
Ratio: Evil Dead is pretty scary because there are a lot of scary special effects and the deaths are quite gruesome, so I’m not really recommending it as part of this list, but I need to talk about it to get to Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness (you don’t have to watch it to enjoy either of those two). Evil Dead 2, on the other hand, is a RIOT — it’s super, super, super, super funny movie! It’s still really scary like Evil Dead, but they add in way more jokes and gags and they play up the comedy with Bruce Campbell, which makes the horror much more bearable. Personally, although the horror effects are really good, I remember laughing more than screaming, so I don’t think it’s too scary. Army of Darkness isn’t that scary but there are some monsters and evil spirits involved, and it’s even funnier than Evil Dead 2, so I thoroughly recommend it.
- Get Out (thriller)
Facts: Black guy visits his white girlfriend’s family and gets creeped out. Can he GET OUT?
Ratio: It’s a horror film but I would say it’s more “creepy” than “scary”, so it’s OK for people who can’t handle ghosts and slashers and stuff like that. I really like the mystery behind the family — why the hell are they so damn creepy? However, I think the movie suffers in the way that the creepy characters choose to act “creepy”. I feel like nowadays everybody just uses the same expressions to look creepy (I call it the “big eyes, thin smile” technique) and it gets boring, although I vaguely remember that Get Out was one of the earlier movies to use it so maybe it’s not their fault.
- The Sixth Sense (horror-mystery)
Facts: Bruce Willis is a psychiatrist who works with Haley Joel Osment who has the sixth sense and can talk to ghosts.
Ratio: Most of the movie, I’d classify as “suspenseful” instead of “scary”, except for one scene where there’s this little-girl ghost who scared the bejesus out of me. However, I think it’s OK to tough it out through that scene to get to the rest of the movie. I really like The Sixth Sense for the mystery and it’s super satisfying when the mystery is solved. Side-note: I actually like M Night Shyamalan more than Christopher Nolan because while both Nolan and Shyamalan are utterly pretentious and can’t write dialogue for shit, at least Shyamalan knows how to show the audience a good time (don’t @ me, you know it’s true ><).
- Slither (body-horror-comedy)
Facts: Alien in a meteor falls near a small town and infects some townspeople. Some of the survivors band together and try to kill the aliens.
Ratio: It’s your standard small-town-aliens story but the monster effects are really good. It’s classified as a body-horror, so it can get a bit gross and gory, but it’s nowhere as severe as something like The Thing. Unlike the other horror-comedies like Evil Dead 2 which are a-laugh-a-minute, I thought the humour in Slither was a bit darker and drier. I don’t mean that it’s not funny, just that it’s funny in a different way.
- The Blob (1988)
Facts: Alien in a meteor falls near a small town and it’s a gelatinous blob that dissolves and assimilates people in a gruesome way. A popular girl and a delinquent need to work together to save the day!
Ratio: It’s another body-horror, mainly because the blob dissolves people quite painfully and gruesomely. It’s pretty fun to see the blob cause widespread destruction and panic in “big” scenes but there are also “small” scenes that focus on the ordeal of a few specific characters, which are even more suspenseful. The special effects here are AMAZING and hold up even today. Besides that, I think The Blob takes a few risks by killing certain characters you expect to survive, and having certain characters survive for much longer than you’d expect.
It’s a tough time for everybody during this pandemic, especially since we’ll be dealing with changing pedagogy and examination format. I’m sure many of us will be worried about all sorts of things like academics, social life or even more fundamental things like our families’ well-being and I genuinely think that movies serve a crucial function in trying times like this. Remember to take a break and turn your brain off every now and then!