I'll dispense with the formalities and dive right in here. First off, I would like to start by saying this is not a traditional list. You aren't going to find your Evil Dead (though that is my absolute favorite series), Sixth Sense, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Exorcist, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Saw, Paranormal Activity, Final Destination, Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Student Bodies, Pandemonium, Birds, Insidious, Blair Witch, Trolls, Critters, Gremlins, Hostel, Amityville Horror, Fright Night, Night of the Comet, 30 Days of Night, Underworld, Carrie, Christine, Cujo, Shining, Psycho, Alien, Thing, Rosemary's Baby, Phantasm, Chucky, Stepfather, Hellraiser, Poltergeist, Suspiria, Freaks, Jaws, American Werewolf, American Psycho, Scanners, Screamers, 28 Days Later, Ju-On, Ring, Battle Royale, Tale of Two Sisters, Omen, Fly, Changeling, Stephen King, George Romero, Hitchcock, Cronenberg, Corman, Wes Craven, or Dario Argento on the list. If that's what you're looking for, then you can use the previous sentence as a starting point.
No, this is going to be a list of fun horror films that you may not think of that would be good for a date night or to watch with a group of friends this haunted holiday season. It's by no means going to be obscure, it's just a list of films that don't usually make these sorts of lists. I selected films based on them having a good amount of scares and gore balanced with a solid cast and good writing that gives them personality.
I threw in an "Honorable Mention" for each entry in case you want to watch something different or make it a double feature. For example, if I suggest Body Snatchers (1993) with Gabrielle Anwar and Meg Tilly, I would give honorable mention to Night of the Creeps (1986) or Slither (2006) so you could watch a similar (but different) film instead or afterward. The suggestions should compliment each other well.
With 10 days left until Halloween, you'll be able to host a successful Halloween Horror movie night every day until the 31st.
10: Below  (2002):
David Twohy crafts a claustrophobia inducing horror film set inside a submarine during WWII. Most of the tension comes from the interactions among the cast, and then gets ramped up when some twists are introduced. It's a smart and tidy thriller with excellent pacing. The cast is filled with recognizable B-list celebrities bringing A-list talent to the screen - including Zach Galifianakis who is perhaps showing his first real acting chops in perhaps his first somewhat serious role.
The film does sort of miss the mark in a spot or two, but overall is an abundant wealth of entertainment. It's the sort of film you might want to watch a second time to catch things that you missed. It's definitely an underrated film. Honorable mention for this spot would go to Event Horizon  (1997) starring Sam Neill and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (his first horror film before later moving on to the Resident Evil series.
9: The Others  (2001)
This was an excellent classic period haunted house film starring Nicole Kidman in one of my favorite performances of hers (right up there with Dead Calm - an amazing thriller by the way). It was directed by Alejandro Amenábar who shot to global notoriety after directing the critically acclaimed film Open Your Eyes (which was later poorly re-made with Tom Cruise as Vanilla Sky). The Others has some real genuine chilling moments and creepy visuals. It came around at a time when the genre was getting a little stale. Though it wasn't the film that revived it, it certainly brought in a sense of high value and quality to horror that had been missing for a long time.
This film doesn't necessarily qualify as "fun," but it does qualify as good. If your crew is in the mood for a good tense haunted house film, this will satisfy. This film creeped me out and made my goosbumps crawl off my legs and arms. Best part is that this film will likely stand the test of time since it's a period piece set during the Civil War.
Honorable mention here goes to What Lies Beneath  (2000) directed by Robert Zemeckis who had to be channeling Hitchcock when he made it. If you watch this film with that in mind, you will see a lot of very thoughtful and deliberate camera angles and shots. If you've ever taken a film class, you might have that extra level of appreciation for it. Otherwise, you may find it to be a fairly ordinary ghost story. Either way though, there are some good scares in it and if you end up hating the film, you'll be able to make fun of it as you watch. Another possible honorable mention would be The Orphanage  (El Orfanato) (2007) in that it's a great haunting story with creepy children, and it has been nominated for and won loads of awards.
8: The Mist  (2007)
I know I said no Stephen King, but I mean how could he not end up on here? He'll probably sneak in somewhere else too I'm sure. Anyway, this one was directed by Frank Darabont and stars Thomas Jane as our hero. This list wouldn't be complete without a creature feature, and this one was an instant classic. A group of small town folk end up trapped inside a grocery store as a strange mist brings a swarm of insane bugs and monsters with it that all want to eat them.
The DVD allows you to watch it in color or in black and white. Either way, it's a great film with some good scares and gore. The cast is fantastic and perhaps the most interesting thing to watch about this movie is the characters unravel and turn on each other in their little micro-society. As with many Stephen King stories, this one is more about examining the human condition and how we react to extreme circumstances. I think it's something that many people don't get about King - it's easy to dismiss him as a horror writer, but he's pretty amazing at dissecting the human mind and knowing what we would do when pushed to our limits.
Honorable mentions here would have to go to Tremors  (1990) starring Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward. It's basically land Jaws. Tremors is definitely lighter and funnier than Mist, but it's an excellent alternative for a good creature feature. This film is all about how the characters play off each other. It's written for dialogue with a man-eating sand-worm thrown in to give them something to talk about. The sequels are worth watching for die-hard fans, but skippable. Another mention goes to Lake Placid  (1999) with Bill Pullman and Bridget Fonda for being just as witty as Tremors, and for being perhaps more of a send-up of giant monster movies than a serious attempt. It's highly underrated in my opinion, and definitely worth a look. Don't expect to be scared, but do expect Betty White to make you laugh.
7: TrollHunter  (2010)
I figured instead of going with the obvious Japanese or Korean horror films as my foreign selections, I would do something different (and honestly, I could do a top 10 list of just Asian horror films). This film came from Norway, and is one of the more unique experiences you're likely to have. It's filmed more or less like a student documentary about some mysterious bear mutilations and turns into something else as they come across a Troll hunter. In parts of Northern Europe and Scandinavia, Trolls are common folklore. This brings the legendary stories to life in a way we've never seen before. The visuals are stunning and the acting is great. There's plenty of scares and humor sprinkled throughout this film to keep a room full of friends entertained.
Honorable mention here goes to Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale  (2010) which is another Scandanavian film from Finland and Norway. It's also about legendary folklore like you've never seen. It's a dark and scary version of Christmas and Santa Claus. Santa's elves aren't cute little toy-making midgets - they're scary old men who want to eat your children. Anyway, this one has some humor as well, but not nearly as much. It's more on the scary side. I also put it on the list because you have to put a Christmas horror film on any list like this.
6: Idle Hands  (1999)
This film starring Devon Sawa and Seth Green is more of a comedy than a horror, but that didn't stop it from having some of the best jump scare moments of any film in a horror movie top ten list. It's about a lazy kid whose hand gets a mind of its own and goes on a killing spree. This film was critically panned, and audiences didn't have much love for it either, but I found it to be a steady stream of fun entertainment. I toss it in the DVD player just about every year, and have yet to be disappointed. It definitely helps if you have a good surround sound system.
Yes, it's kinda silly and kinda dumb, and one could argue that it doesn't really belong on any top anything list, but it's a great movie to flip on a watch among friends this season. The tone of the film never strays too far from horror film that you think you're watching a Wayan's Brothers spoof, and there's a good balance and pacing to keep you invested. If you're in doubt, then use it as a warm-up to a more serious film. This came out right before Devon Sawa hit it out of the park with Final Destination. Also, it was one of the first appearances of the lovely Jessica Alba as (technically) an adult.
Honorable mention goes to House  (1986). William Katt gets tormented by a haunted house and is forced to look at his past. There was probably some deeper and darker subtext in here that didn't translate from the original writing onto the screen. There is a lot of humor and satire injected into what should have been a pretty grim story and subject. The follow-up to this one was not quite as good, but worth a watch. Another possible option might be Waxwork  (1988), which also spawned a decent, but less exciting sequel. House and Waxwork ramp up the crazy and weird of the 80s as they try to mix in tongue in cheek humor with horror. It's interesting to see how they hold up today.
Before Peter Jackson was following Hobbits around New Zealand, he made one of the goriest horror films ever put on screen. It's a zombie film set in the '50s as well as a love story. It's not only hilarious, it's a gore-fest of insane practical effects like you've never seen before. I'll let the trailer speak for itself...
Just trust me when I tell you it's a must watch. Honorable mention goes to The Frighteners  (1996) - another Peter Jackson film. This one has Michael J Fox seeing and talking to specters in a scary/funny ghost-busting romp. It's all sorts of fun and scary, and nowhere near as gory as Dead Alive. Another option would be Cemetery Man (1994)  (aka Dellamorte Dellamore ) (1994), which is another zombie film from a brilliant foreign perspective. It's artful and fantastic and delightfully bizarre.
4: Trick 'r Treat  (2007)
This film gets overlooked, but it's a solid entry into the genre. Four chilling stories are woven together seamlessly on Halloween night. It's the kind of movie you could pop in every year and enjoy yourself watching it. There's solid scary here, but it's presented with a touch of lighthearted fun behind it to disarm you just enough to scare your pants off in the next scene.
It's wildly entertaining, and good for group watching. Make sure you grab some popcorn and a blanket to hide under. Honorable mention here would have to go to April Fool's Day  (1986) which isn't really comparable to Trick 'r Treat, but it's another film that is disarmingly charming enough that its scares are that much more effective. A group of friends meet up for a weekend at a remote island mansion and start to drop off one by one at the hands of a mysterious murderer among them. It's the sort of film that keeps you guessing if you haven't seen it before.
And if you want to pair it with something more recent, a good (and perhaps even better option) might be Bubba Ho-Tep  (2002) which is a low budget horror romp starring Bruce Campbell (who has made it on this list a few times now) of Evil Dead fame as a depressingly aging (and still alive) Elvis fighting the forces of evil yet again. It doesn't have the same tone as the Evil Dead series, but Bruce delivers a pretty swaggy old-ass Elvis in a wheelchair.
3: Shaun of the Dead  (2004)
This was the first entry of the Cornetto Trilogy (the other two being Hot Fuzz  (2007) and The World's End  (2013)), and arguably the best. It's a pretty hilarious take on a classic zombie survival movie. The filmmakers and actors are all huge horror movie nerds/buffs and it shows. The comedic timing is spot on, and there's enough gore and violence and even scares here to satisfy your thirst for blood. The comedic timing of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost is on point. It's definitely worth your time to throw the other two films in this (not really a trilogy) trilogy on for good measure.
Honorable mention here will have to go to Dawn of the Dead  (2004). This is a remake of one of Romero's best films, and it's one of the few times that a remake could be considered nearly as good as the original (if not better). It's a much more serious "of the Dead" movie to watch this October than Shaun, but there's still a good amount of humor in it. As with the original, a group of zombie outbreak survivors post up in an indoor shopping mall. It's not only a good character study, there's some genuine scary moments in it.
2: V/H/S  (2012)
This one was a surprise to me. It's a low-budget entry into the "found footage" genre that's been really popular since Blair Witch and continued with Paranormal Activity. It's about a group of kids who film themselves performing various acts of petty crime and vandalism for money and end up in a creepy house searching for a rumored VHS tape they think could earn them top dollar. While watching tapes, they start to disappear.
They have a unique take here, and they really excel at ramping up the gore and scares and creativity. They manage to interweave crazy macabre stories with a main creepy thread. There's something genuine about most of the footage in this film. Each segment was directed by different up-and-coming young directors. I want to suggest you not even watch the trailer and let the film take you on its journey unspoiled, but here it is anyway.
It's surprisingly scary and unexpectedly engrossing. The follow-up sequel V/H/S/2  (2013) kept the same formula, but with some more well-known directors this time. They turned up the gore a bit, but some shoddy effects took away from the authenticity of the first one. It's still worth checking out the sequel, and the format of it lends itself to more sequels - hopefully every year.
Honorable mention on this goes to Grave Encounters  (2011), which also spawned a sequel the following year. Again, this is a "found footage" series, but this one takes the angle of a group of reality show ghost hunters filming an episode of the show at an abandoned mental hospital and ending up unable to leave alive. It's surprisingly well-done for a low-budget feature, and it and the sequel both provided some solid scares.
1. The Cabin In The Woods  (2012)
Now, I'm not saying this is the best horror film ever by any stretch. I'm not even saying it's better than everything on this list. As I said, the purpose of this list is to give you ideas on what to watch with a group of friends on your Halloween movie party night. This recent film was hugely popular and critically acclaimed, and for good reason. It's a send-up of pretty much all horror films, while being a genuine horror film itself. I won't say any more about it because I don't want to spoil the fun, but I can tell you that it starts out as a traditional cliche group of college students heading off to a remote cabin in the woods where... stuff happens. You'll see.
This is a film for people who love horror films, and it's great for groups. I struggled a bit with coming up with a good honorable mention, but I think you'll have a good time watching Tucker & Dale vs. Evil  (2010) which is a reverse horror film in which a couple of hick buddies go on vacation to their shabby backwoods cabin and find themselves getting attacked by typical generic preppy college kids who keep murdering themselves around them. It's bizarre and hilarious and it has some entertaining scary moments in it.
Hope you have a good time this holiday season.
If you think I missed something, feel free to post a comment. There are literally thousands of great horror films, from Rec to Human Centipede to Night Watch to Descent to High Tension etc... even some of my own favorites didn't make it. I'd love to hear your thoughts and suggestions just the same.