Are you tired of watching the same horror movies every Halloween? To spice up your spooky season, here’s a list of suspenseful, unsettling films that you may not have seen or heard of before.
- Seven (1995)
If you’ve ever heard someone desperately wail “What’s in the box?” they were quoting this movie. It stars Brad Pitt in his prime, but if that’s not enough to get you interested, the plot should be. Pitt plays a young detective alongside a seasoned retiree played by Morgan Freeman, and this movie is capital “C” creepy. They’re investigating a serial killer who targets his victims based on the seven deadly sins, and tailors their gruesome style of murder to the sin they embody. The subject matter is disturbing enough, but the dark, gritty set design and cinematography by mystery movie mastermind David Fincher is what makes this a must-see. It’ll linger on your mind long after the credits roll.
- The Invitation (2015)
This intelligent, hair-raising thriller was directed by Karyn Kusama, the woman behind cult favorite “Jennifer’s Body.” It’s filled with a mostly B-list cast, some of whom you may recognize from TV shows, but don’t let that deter you from watching it. The opening scene sets an ominous tone for the film and the pacing, score and cinematography that follow are impeccably executed. The suspense builds steadily and the climax of the story hits so shockingly that I felt like I was in fight-or-flight mode throughout the entire movie. So if that’s the kind of experience you’re seeking for your Halloween movie night, look no further.
- 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Dan Trachtenberg makes his directorial debut in what is technically part of the “Cloverfield” film franchise, but it’s barely a sci-fi. It’s a grippingly suspenseful character study driven by award-winning performances from John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. If you only know John Goodman from his roles in “The Big Lebowski,” “Roseanne” or animated films like “Monsters, Inc.” I can promise you that you’ve never seen him like this before, and the result is deeply unsettling. But here’s the catch—don’t look up this movie before you watch it and don’t read anything else about it besides this blurb. The less you know going into this experience, the more thrilling it will be.
- Creep & Creep 2 (2014, 2017)
Bonus double feature! The Creep movies are found footage-style documentaries, and while I know some of you may bristle at that because you hated “The Blair Witch Project,” I still think you should give these two a shot because I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Both movies rely on very small casts, so Mark Duplass carries the films in what I believe are the best performances of his career. It’s all in the title—his character is easily one of the most skin-prickling creeps that I’ve ever encountered on the silver screen. Watch them back-to-back for a long night of terror.
- The Clovehitch Killer (2018)
Imagine finding clues that your own father might be the infamous serial killer that terrorized your hometown in the past and is still at large. Talk about living a nightmare. You may recognize the lead actor, Charlie Plummer, from Hulu’s new miniseries adaptation of John Green’s “Looking For Alaska.” He plays a pretty similar role in this film and similarly thrives in it. Dylan McDermott also gives a menacing performance as the father, and the on-screen chemistry that Plummer shares with Madisen Beaty provides a few quaint moments amidst an unsettling story that spirals into depravity. Though the ending is a little rushed, in my opinion, the understated creepiness of the setting, cinematography and performances is what makes this low-budget, limited-release IFC film worth your time.
- Mother! (2017)
If you prefer movie plots that are logical, easy to follow and don’t leave much room for open interpretation, then you might want to skip this one. Director Darren Aronofsky, whose resumé includes “Black Swan” and “Requiem For a Dream,” has said himself that the entire movie is an allegory, but there’s no real consensus on what that allegory means. Regardless of the narrative ambiguity, it’s one of the most visually striking films that I’ve ever seen. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem and Michelle Pfeiffer, Lawrence’s emotionally harrowing performance drives every scene. It’s definitely some of her best work and it stuck with me for a long time after seeing it.
- Prisoners (2013)
I’d say this movie is the most suspenseful one on the list. It’s a long one, with a run time of two and a half hours, but you’ll never be bored with raw and captivating performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman. Jackman’s young daughter goes missing on Thanksgiving night along with her friend, and Gyllenhaal plays the brooding, persistent detective investigating the case. The ominous tone of the film is accentuated by the setting, a suburban Pennsylvania town where it always seems to be dark, foggy, rainy or all of the above. The suspense is slow-burning but never too slow, and culminates in one of the most intense cinematic climaxes ever. It will have you on the edge of your seat and maybe even yelling at your TV (like I was.)
- Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
I’m sure you all know this one, but I had to put it on my list because of how wonderfully creepy it is. It’s always right up there with all of the other horror classics like “The Exorcist” and “Carrie,” but in my humble opinion, it’s much better than those films. Roman Polanski’s masterpiece has timeless value, as I believe it’s still able to captivate a modern audience. It starts off with a light comedic tone and gradually descends into horror as Mia Farrow’s expertly-acted character finds herself living a pregnant woman’s nightmare. It’s sharp, clever and profound, and the image of that dreadful black cradle will haunt you for days.
- Wind River (2017)
This ones for the true crime lovers. Supernatural happenings are unsubstantiated and serial killers are rare, so what makes “Wind River” so disturbing is that the grisly crime being investigated involves an everyday violence that is painfully real to far too many: rape. Set against an eerily colorless backdrop of snow-covered Wyoming mountains, on-screen chemistry between Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen provides a bit of warmth in this bone-chilling movie. I’ll warn you—this flick isn’t for the faint of heart. Director Taylor Sheridan doesn’t hold back and depicts the heinous crime in a scene that is so authentically, nauseatingly brutal that it hurts to watch. The worst cinematic horror is real horror, and that’s what “Wind River” is. Your spine will be so cold you’ll want to take a hot shower and curl up with all of the blankets you own.
Were to watch: Amazon Prime
- Paranormal Activity (2007)
Here’s another one that I’m positive you all know and have probably seen before, which is why I saved it for last. But, it deserves a place on this list because I think it is a perfect horror movie. If you haven’t seen it in years, it’s definitely worth a rewatch with fresh eyes. What most horror movies miserably fail at is mastering the concept of pacing. The evil is often revealed too early in the film and shown too often, to the point that the audience is desensitized to it by the end. “Paranormal Activity” revitalized the found-footage documentary genre with its effective pacing. We spend the vast majority of the film watching people sleep while nothing exciting happens. This works in a horror movie because while the nighttime camera footage scenes are still unsettling, we let our guard down a bit more each time a potential scare turns out to be insignificant. And that is why the final scene succeeds like no other. I still sleep with the lights on after I watch this movie.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime