Sarah: I count myself as a fan of pretty much every movie genre, but there was always one looming genre which, due to bad experience, I had completely written off. At this time of year in particular, it is a genre which is seemingly impossible to avoid as well. Yep, I’m talking about horror!
I had a conversation with a friend recently who is a big horror fan, and I said about how sad I was that there was an entire genre out there which had so many good films to offer, but yet I couldn’t watch them as I was a big old scaredy cat! This got me thinking, I can’t possibly be the only person out there who is terrified of horror films yet wants to watch them, what if I tried to watch some horror movies with the idea of finding some which are suitable for wimps such as me?
This brings us very nicely to this post. After putting a call out on twitter, outlining my very strict criteria and the big “no-nos” (no clowns, not too many jump scares, no mannequins, no puppets, no creepy kids), I was inundated with suggestions of horror films that I might potentially be able to watch.
I put together a list of films and had well over 35, so I was incredibly grateful when the wonderful Jason Michael of The Film Faculty offered to collaborate with me on this one! Also a self-confessed wimp, Jason is the perfect person to bring balance to
the force this article, so I’m very glad to have him on board (make sure you follow him on Twitter and check out his blog/podcast which are linked just above).
Strategically placed hiding cushions at the ready, and the volume set to cautiously low, I was ready to get stuck into the spooky world of horror movies!
Jason: I’ll explain why I’m a wimp when it comes to horror films. It isn’t really my fault… Most people claim they walk into a horror film because they love the tension it builds. They like to be scared, or so I’m told. I can only speculate that those same people can dissociate reality from fiction; real world vs that of the movie experience. I, sadly, cannot.
The reason for that goes back to when I was eight years old. It was summer and I was being babysat because parents work even when kids aren’t in school, right? It was the afternoon, so I had gone for an imposed nap (I do take pride in the fact that they are voluntary now). After I awoke, I wandered back into the living room where my babysitter was watching television. Before I could signal that I was awake, my eyes set themselves on someone screaming while stabbing something in the ear with a screwdriver. The head of that “something” was light blue and looked like it was rotting… I don’t remember what happened next. I can’t even tell you who my babysitter was, when my parents picked me up, nothing. But, I haven’t forgotten that blue rotting face with a screwdriver in the ear.
A few years ago, a friend of mine told me that the scene was from Day of the Dead (1985). I can only assume they’re telling the truth because I sure as sh*t am not going to verify the validity of that statement. People have told me that the film isn’t scary and that it’s actually kind of funny. Whatever. I simply recall the terror I felt upon seeing the image and I immediately have flashes of that head and heart palpitations ensue.
Now, I don’t sleep with a night light, but I’d be lying if I said I’m comfortable in the dark. The scary films people enjoy cause me serious anxiety and insomnia. I love films and to me most of what I watch is part of the reality I live in (yes, Star Wars too) because that’s just how my mind works; flashing images all day, every day. That being the case, what horror films deal in is real to me. That’s sadly not a part of reality I’m comfortable living in, so I’ve come to avoid them.
I’m doing this “wimp horror” marathon with Sarah because I wanted to try to do two things:
- Kind of fight this fear of horror films so I can review some parts of the genre
- Please my girlfriend because she loves that sh*t.
So here goes…
The rating system
Sarah: As this is a “horror movies for wimps” post, the rating system is designed to let you know how scary the film is. It’s not your usual rating for the film’s quality, so a 1 out of 5 does not mean it is terrible, it just means it isn’t that scary…got it? With the explanation out the way, I bring you, The Pants Rating© system (as in, how many new pairs of pants will you need whilst watching these films!)
1 – Suitable for children and those of a nervous disposition
2 – Some light sweating, and at least 1-3 “oh my!” gasp.
3 – Switch the light on when you run to the bathroom to change your pants, just in case.
4 – Get the washing machine on now, check it for monsters first, I’ve heard it’s where they like to hide…
5 – Start the car and get to the nearest underwear shop right away. Once you’ve stopped crying in a corner.
Cabin in the Woods (2011)
Sarah: With an over-exposure to terrible teen slasher movies at high school sleepovers, I was incredibly excited to watch this one, knowing full well in advance that it was a film which completely picks apart the tropes of horror movies to hilarious effect. Well, I wasn’t disappointed, this film was insanely brilliant, genius and completely batsh*t crazy! It’s consistently funnier than it is scary, and whilst I don’t doubt horror aficionados will appreciate the references and nods, I actually think it is quite a good entry point for non-horror fans. To see the genre tropes ridiculed in such a way actually makes a lot of other movies seem much less scary, so this is absolutely a good one to watch, even if you’re a big old wuss like me!
Pants rating: 2.5 out of 5 (it gains most of those pants because there is a clown, and clowns are the worst!)
The Evil Dead (1981) + The Evil Dead 2 (1987)
Jason: I had heard a lot about The Evil Dead franchise because one of my close friends likes to dabble in gore-horror and he said that these two particular films were like bibles to film students and horror devotees. Well, on the positive side, I like the look of 16mm film, so The Evil Dead (1981) was a pleasant watch. I have to hand it to Raimi, he impressed me with all the technical know-how involved in the production of the film. He was able to make his cabin feel claustrophobic and spacious at the same time with his clever use of camera work. However, I have to be honest. Although I understand the cult following these two Sam Raimi films have, they just aren’t for me. To me they aren’t horror films, they’re gore/comedy films and I know that that is precisely the point, but I’ve never understood the appeal. I didn’t feel disgusted by them, but rather turned off by the pointlessness of it all. I did laugh at the over-the-top special effects as well as the exaggerated performances from the cast, Campbell especially, but these films did nothing for me. For the horror crowd, these two are considered cult-classics and that’s fine. For anyone trying to specialize in the field of horror films, these are definitely necessary viewing. But… for everyone else… Skip.
Pants rating: 2 out of 5. 5 out of 5 gore covered pants though.
Event Horizon (1997)
Sarah: I was pretty sure I’d be ok with this one; I’m a big fan of sci-fi, and how scary can space be? The answer is very, space can be hideously, traumatically scary! This film is terrifying, and well over a week later, I’m still thinking about it. Despite the fact it is a situation completely removed from our own, doesn’t make it any less scary, and whilst it might not be the greatest of films (sorry to all it’s fans, I know it has many), there is no denying that it is visually affecting, with some imagery which will stick with you for a long time afterwards. There’s a fairly steady build up of jump scares and weirdness, before all hell breaks loose in the closing act, and let me tell you, it gets CRAZY. I spent the last fifteen minutes or so just rocking on my sofa saying “nope” over and over again, and I don’t think this is one I could ever bring myself to rewatch!
Pants rating: 4.5 out of 5
Jason: I remember seeing the film when it came out in 1997 and was freaked out by it. I knew Laurence Fishburne from Othello, Apocalypse Now, and Higher Learning, and of course Sam Neill from Jurassic Park, so I was sold. I rewatched it for this particular project, and although I wasn’t as terrified this time around, there are some images in the film that I still can’t get out of my head when I close my eyes. Now, the CGI is shoddy and the characters’ decisions aren’t always the most logical, but what horror film has that, right? But, for horror aficionados, jump scares, mutilation, empty eye sockets drenched in blood and a fiery pit of hell await you when things go bat sh*t crazy in the third act. Although I enjoyed it again, the night I played Event Horizon, I didn’t sleep particularly well. #nightlight
Pants rating: 3.5 out of 5
Sarah: Making people scared of showers for over 50 years, Psycho is one of the handful on this list that I had already seen before this challenge and Hitchcock’s 1960 classic is still as fresh and exciting as it was 56 years ago. The master of the slow-build and tension, Psycho is easily amongst Hitchcock’s finest work. Everyone knows the screeching shower scene score, oft parodied but never bettered, but the rest of the score is also incredible, and still one of the most effective horror movie scores to date. Norman Bates is a legitimately terrifying character, unhinged and uneasy and you never quite know what he is going to do next. The reveal at the end still makes your skin crawl even if you can see it coming a mile off, and that closing shot of Bates smiling? Wow, just wow.
Pants rating: 1.5 out of 5
Jason: Psycho isn’t scary. Hitchcock’s classic is a film that I watch once or twice a year and I’ve never been terrified by it. I like what the film represents in terms of film history. All of the inventiveness, suspense, and subversion Hitchcock was able to conjure up is timeless. You can’t deny the impact the shower scene has had, nor the fact that Psycho was the first film to show a toilet flushing and a woman in a bra. All that must’ve been pretty taboo in 1960, but it’s tame by today’s standards. Even the conclusion of the film seems farfetched, yet Psycho’s enduring charm will never wane. I won’t get into spoilers, but what I can say is that Rohmer and Chabrol’s thesis on the Hitchcockian trope they termed “transference of guilt” is at its most explicit when Marion Crane and Norman Bates’ worlds collide. Oh “mother” is it great. Although I can’t consider Hitchcock’s Psycho as a horror film, I do consider it necessary viewing for everyone remotely interested in film as a medium.
Pants rating: 0 out of 5. Classic status 25 out of 5.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Sarah: Based on the number of “shocked” reactions I got when I posted on Facebook that I hadn’t seen this, I knew already that it was a glaring omission from my film catalogue. I’m not just ashamed that I hadn’t watched this before, but I’m upset that it has been missing from my life for the last 10 years when I could’ve, and should’ve, been enjoying it over and over again. Pan’s Labyrinth is a dark, gothic fairytale and Del Toro’s finest work! The effects and creatures still hold up, and the hand eye monster thing is all kinds of terrifying still! It’s devastatingly beautiful, surprisingly violent, and simply amazing. This is definitely going to be a film I watch and enjoy time after time.
Pants rating: 0.5 out of 5
Jason: I saw Guillermo del Toro’s fairy tale magnum opus in theatres when it came out in 2006 and it has been on my yearly watch list every year since. I do not consider it a horror film at all. The main character, Ofelia, faces some disturbing creatures, but none of them compare to the outright brutality of her step-father and Army Commander, Vidal. Set during the Spanish Civil War, the film’s plot revolves around young Ofelia who seeks to escape the atrocities of the War as well as her mother’s waning health by delving into a fairy tale book. Soon, she realizes that she is being egged on by a fairy and the Woodland creature, Pan, to fulfill her destiny as princess of realm that is beyond her known reality. In order for her to gain access to the realm, she has three tasks to complete. Only then will she have shown herself a worthy princess. As a student of the Fairy Tale genre, Pan’s Labyrinth is beyond words for me; masterpiece is an understatement. Del Toro crafted a flawless film, mixing the reality of wartime trauma and fantasy-laden innocence from awe-inspiring beginning to heart-breaking end. The only horror I can see attributed to this film is that it was robbed by the Academy for best directing and best foreign language film in 2007. I cannot speak highly enough of Pan’s Labyrinth. It is not a horror film. It is a fairy tale of resplendent magnitude that deserves everyone’s attention. If you haven’t seen it yet, please, take the day off, buy Kleenexes, and watch the film. If it doesn’t get to you, you’re a heartless bastard.
Pants rating: 0 out of 5. Classic status 50 out of 5.
Sarah: Despite the fact I spend most of my waking moments talking about this film, and boring everyone to tears with all the pointless facts I’ve learnt about it, I’m so excited to be able to include Jaws in this list, just so I can talk about it some more! Before I even had any suggestions come through on Twitter, I’d already put Jaws at the top of my list for films I wanted to talk about. Despite my complete aversion to horror, I’ve always loved Jaws, and even though it is classed as a horror, I’ve never found it scary. This might be due to the fact sharks are my favourite animals, but also in the age of countless Attenborough documentaries about sharks, they’re not quite the feared mystery beast of the sea that they perhaps were in 1975. Jaws is a cinematic masterpiece, a film which manages to create fear through what you’re not able to see, and the incredible score from John Williams creating that fear in place of the thing itself. The three central performances are unforgettable, and the effects of good old Bruce, the giant mechanical shark, hold up better than some people would have you believe. Jaws is an incredibly accessible horror film and one which everyone should be able to enjoy, unless you have a phobia of sharks, in which case you get a pass!
Pants rating: 0.5 out of 5
Jason: I must confess right out of the gate, Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) is one of my favorite films. Scott’s film has been picked apart, analyzed, parodied, venerated to the point that anything less than calling it a classic is an understatement. I even dedicated my first ever podcast recording to Alien (http://bit.ly/2eUwo6K). Now, what that means to me however, is that I consider Alien a sci-fi suspense film and not a horror film. Although the Xenomorph is exceptionally creepy, I found it to be a beautiful creation as opposed to aesthetically repulsive. On the other hand, I must say that the face-hugger and the chest-busting scene are quite exciting. They aren’t horrific per se, but they do leave an impression. Because of the Gothic, haunted house aspects and the fact that there are two jump scares in the film, I agree with the horror moniker attributed to Alien. Where I think the film may find its detractors is in the atmosphere. Scott does build suspense quite well and that can generate an overall uneasiness when watching the film; case in point, the anticipation of seeing the Xenomorph is much scarier than its actual reveal. That, to me, is the sign of a great master toying with his audience. You may sit there all tense, but it’s a tension that is worth it. Is Alien scary? Yes. But, it’s a scary that’s accessible to a mainstream audience (not kids, of course).
Pants rating: 2 out of 5
28 Days Later (2002)
Sarah: This is another one I’d been dying to watch for ages but kept putting it off because y’know, horror! With my new found braveness, I was excited to get into this one, and I absolutely loved it. Unquestionably one of my new favourites, 28 Days Later is chaotic, naturalistic, amazingly shot, and it made me fall in love with Cillian Murphy even more! The opening scenes with the eery quiet of a completely deserted London was undeniably chilling, and really gave it that feeling of realness. The weird rage zombies are pretty scary, they’re fast, frenzied and unlike their lumbering counterparts, they’re pretty difficult to get away from! It is pretty jumpy which I’m not particularly good with, but I found the story so compelling that this didn’t bother me perhaps as much as I anticipated. It’s a film which knows when to take a moment of stillness amongst all the craziness and it’s a lesson so many modern horror films could learn from. Constant jump scares aren’t needed when you have a really compelling and believable story to tell, and characters that you genuinely care about. 28 Days Later feels like a very human horror film, and there’s some truly devastating moments. I really loved this film, and was so pleased to watch a film which I know will become one of my favourites over time.
Pants rating: 3 out of 5
Jason: I. Hate. Zombies. As explained in my introduction, they are a source of dread for me. As a result, I almost sh*t my pants the first time I saw 28 Days Later. I wanted to see it though because Danny Boyle had directed Shallow Grave, Trainspotting and The Beach and I was a fan (back when I didn’t know any better…). Although I consider Steve Jobs (2015) to be Boyle’s masterpiece, 28 Days Later is right up there, almost tied for the top spot. The only reason the film doesn’t hold number 1 status is because it’s a horror film and therefore any rewatchability borders on zero for me. However, 28 Days Later is one of the creepiest, most brutal, and highly unnerving films I’ve ever watched. Having a protagonist wake up in London completely alone is already frightening in itself, but then Boyle packs on the jump scares, unreliable side characters, human greed, and terrifying motherf*cking fast zombies?! I could barely watch in the sequences where the zombies were on screen. Those penetrative yellow eyes, those violent snarls coupled with impulsive savagery redefined the zombie genre, and also what I deem appropriate for my eyes.
Pants rating: 4.5 out of 5
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Sarah: This film had been on my radar for a really long time, and I was incredibly intrigued by it, but yet I put it off because y’know, horror. Once I was assured by a good friend that I would in fact be fine with it, I gave it a watch, and I really loved it! It’s incredibly atmospheric and whilst bloody in places, and a little on the creepy side if people following you down the street scares you, it’s so gorgeous to look at that I was easily able to overlook this. The crisp black and white gives it that classic look and feel, but yet it is modern and fresh. It is a film which mixes up genres and styles to great effect; at times a western, others romantic, and also pure horror. The female empowerment undertones meant I was probably always going to love this film, but it is great in every single aspect, and absolutely one I will be watching again.
Pants rating: 1 out of 5
Dracula (1931 + 1992)
Jason: I won’t say much about Tod Browning’s 1931 adaptation of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi other than it isn’t scary, but it is a damn good time! Lugosi’s kitsch performance of Dracula fits in nice and neatly with 1930’s horror boom that included Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, Freaks, Island of Lost Souls, The Cat People, Revolt of the Zombies, culminating with The Wolf Man in 1941 (there were others after, but that 10-year period was the most prolific).
Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, is a different story altogether. Coppola tried to dial up the horror factor to 10, and in some cases it works (the ones where Keanu Reeves isn’t in…). Many of the forms Gary Oldman’s Count Dracula shape-shifts into can be grotesque and out right haunting. The wolf-like creature he morphs into as he’s “consuming” Lucy Westenra is quite striking. Lucy’s transformation in the tomb was hair-raising, the first time I saw the film, but I had watched this one with the lights on roughly 20 years ago. This time around, the climax of the film was still rather sinister, but I was surprisingly satisfied by Dracula’s fierce appearance. Coppola respects the Gothic elements of Stoker’s epistolary novel and celebrates the harrowing nature of it with the use of practical effects, gorgeous costume design, and wonderful sets. If you can get past the minor horror elements of Coppola’s Dracula, then you’ll have a grand time.
Pants rating: 2 out of 5
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Sarah: Maybe the first ever rom-zom-com, and one of my favourite movies of all time. Whilst the comedy is undoubtedly the dominant genre in this one, the zom element very much makes it a horror movie as well. It imagines a zombie invasion in a suburban setting, making it incredibly relatable and unquestionably hilarious. Think of it like a hilarious version of 28 Days Later with the scares very much down a couple of notches. It lovingly and expertly parodies Romero zombie movies and still manages to be hilariously scary in it’s own right. It certainly doesn’t shy away from the gore either, particularly in the finale, and it’s so obvious that Edgar Wright is passionate about this genre and has great fun with it. This is a great introduction to horror as it is so hilarious, you’ll forget there’s even any mildly scary bits.
Pants rating: 0.5 out of 5
The Thing (1982)
Sarah: I’d listened to so many people calling this a masterpiece, that it was impossible not to have unrealistically high expectations for this film. Fortunately however it is a masterpiece, and delivered in every possible way. I can completely see now why people love this movie so much, as it is incredible. Kurt Russell’s astonishing bouffant alone is a good enough reason to watch it, but that aside, the effects are still incredible, the general air of creepiness and unease that is created from the start is incredibly affecting, and Morricone’s score is unforgettable. I had in fact listened to the score prior to seeing the film and loved it, but it was even more amazing to listen to it in context. There’s a very human story at it’s core, underneath the sci-fi, body horror facade, and some of the scariest moments stem from human emotions such as paranoia and distrust. It contains perhaps the tensest blood test scene you’ll ever see, and that overriding sense of desolation and isolation is unbelievably effective. It is a masterpiece, and absolutely one I will be revisiting. As for whether it passes the wimp test, it is scary, gross, and jumpier than you’d expect, but when a film is this amazing, you’ll find you don’t mind at all!
Pants rating: 3 out of 5
The Shining (1980)
Sarah: This was a last minute addition to the list, and was one I added all of my own volition! I’m a big Kubrick fan and was so upset with myself for not being able to watch this film before, that I thought I’d just go for it and hope for the best! It’s so odd watching a film that you know so much about already; I knew how it ended, I had seen the “here’s Johnny” clip a thousand times, I knew exactly what REDRUM and “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” meant, and I had seen the meme of a frozen Jack Nicholson all over the internet. It’s so telling of a film that it is still so ingrained in popular culture 36 years later, and is in some way to a testament to how effective this film still is. Despite the fact one of my big horror “no-nos” is creepy kids, I was generally fine with this film, and the only thing that made me let out a resounding “NOPE” was the creepy old woman bit. Jack Nicholson’s performance is so mesmerising to watch, and really quite extraordinary. With an ending that is widely open to interpretation, this is a rich, layered and intensely watchable film, that I feel will have more to offer you every time you watch it. It’s scary in places and some of the imagery is quite unsettling, but I wasn’t left scared afterwards, rather I was left wanting to read more about what it all meant, and most importantly I was left wanting to watch it again immediately!
Pants rating: 3.5 out of 5
Jason: Halloween lives up to its reputation of classic horror. It probably won’t scare many new audiences, but it did have a profound effect on me. Although I can’t say the acting is great, I’m positive that in a movie theatre, Halloween can achieve The Shining levels of creepiness.
One of the aspects I enjoy most about Carpenter’s film is how it was informed by Frankenstein, but had a profound effect on many films that came after 1978, and that, in different genres (Terminator and The Hitcher come to mind). As for the horror, I wasn’t scared per se, but I did feel the tension Carpenter was building. The suspense in Halloween is elegantly shot, and the sound design is haunting. There’s a scene in the film where someone gets strangled and I couldn’t help but feel my breathing become stifled. John Carpenter created a genuine ghost story that has Hitchcock’s Psycho-like ambitions. I loved Halloween to the point where it has cracked my favorite films of all-time. I’m looking forward to repeat viewings and further analysis as it was the highlight of this little “wimp horror” experiment. Halloween is not just a cult horror film, it’s a masterpiece of filmmaking and an American classic.
Pants rating: 2 out of 5. But 25 out of 5 for cinematic brilliance.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Sarah: Another last minute addition, I decided to give this one a go after a friend assured me it absolutely wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. Indeed, IMDb don’t even class this film as a horror, but it has enough horrifying moments which mean I can still include it on this list without feeling bad about it! Anthony Hopkins performance is absolutely incredible, and it is easy to see why this film won so many awards. It is an absolute classic, which uses it’s relatively slow build up to its advantage. First we hear some truly horrific things being talked about, and then we see some very horrific things happen later. The payoff really feels worth it, and it is interesting to have two villains at play here, both Hannibal Lecter himself, and Buffalo Bill. I found the character of Bill to be incredibly unnerving, and no pun intended, he made my skin crawl. It’s pretty gruesome, but also an incredibly interesting character study, and as long as you’re ok with gore, this is a horror film you should be ok with! The night vision scene is legitimately terrifying though, so make sure you have a cushion/person to hide behind…
Pants rating: 3 out of 5
Sarah: Sign me up, I’m now a horror fan*! Ok, well not completely, but if the research for this post showed me anything, it was that horror is a wide and varied genre. The modern horrors which I have so many issues with, are not the only films out there, and there is a wealth of new films for me to watch, which is actually pretty damn exciting!
*By this I mean I’m a fan of things which involve monsters, gore, interesting themes and concepts, and aren’t too jumpy. I will still never watch any film that has a clown in it, or anything which involves ghosts, demons, creepy faces, creepy dolls , creepy kids, or creepy demonic kids/dolls with creepy faces, because apparently that’s what I have issues with…
Jason: I wanted to get more done. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is still beckoning me, as is Cabin in the Woods, The Thing, and The Omen. I have seen Coraline, Jaws, Shaun of the Dead, Hocus Pocus and Night of the Living Dead, but I chose to review the films above because I simply had more to say. I looking forward to discussing more film with you guys! Talk to you out there!
I hope you enjoyed reading our mammoth Horror Movies for Wimps guide, and that if you’re a wimp like us, you’ll be encouraged that there are some great movies within this genre for you to check out! Share your favourite horror movies, and any other thoughts in the comments below! Happy Halloween!