5 Terrifying Films to Watch This Halloween That Aren't Really Horror Movies at All

You don't need ghosts, gore, and chainsaw maniacs to scare the hell out of people.
Fantastic Planet, Heavenly Creatures, horror movies that aren't horror

You know a movie is really good when it can give you a good jolt without a single jump scare or scene of stomach-churning gore. Sometimes it’s the eerie subtleties, the stuff that's implied, and the mere suggestion that some is definitely very, very wrong that make a movie truly frightening. Here are five movies guaranteed to stick with you and give you chills this Halloween:

Dogtooth, by Yorgos Lanthimos

Dogtooth tells the story of a trio of nameless siblings who have never seen the outside world—all because they believe there are these “monstrous creatures” that will attack them if they leave the house. It's the apparent “ordinariness” of the bizarre events that happen on screen that make this film so Goddamn creepy. The adult children, kept in a state of perpetual childhood, are only allowed to watch recordings of themselves. Their parents teach them false definitions for words, rendering reality and the outside world meaningless and incoherent. The more “normally” these things are portrayed, the more revolting we find them, and the more unsettling the movie becomes.


Eraserhead, by David Lynch

This is one of those movies that’s just so visually and thematically bizarre that it delivers the chills—this movie is deeply unsettling. David Lynch offers us a glimpse into the subconscious of Henry, a man who struggles to cope with reality. What goes on in his mind evokes an air of claustrophobia and discomfort that Lynch later said he felt every day while living in the US city of Philadelphia. With scant dialogue, the movie relies heavily on visuals that create a sort of build up that demands a payoff that just… never arrives. What makes this movie so frightening is truly difficult to describe. Eraserhead is the perfect example of a movie that will leave your mind more mangled and mentally stranded than anything from the true horror genre.

Heavenly Creatures, by Peter Jackson

In 1954, two teenage girls carried out a dark pact. They murdered one of their moms, a woman who forbid the pair from hanging out once she noticed that their friendship was taking a menacing, and unstable, turn. Heavenly Creatures, starring a young Kate Winslet and directed by Peter Jackson, of Lord of the Rings fame, is a dramatic retelling of these very real events. The selling point of this movie isn’t the gore, which barely consumes any screen time, but rather the two girls’ gradual downward spiral into a state of hysterical, co-dependent madness that leads up to the murder. With fantasy elements juxtaposed against unflinchingly raw reality, it’s the perfect combination of disturbing and mesmerizing.


Fantastic Planet, by René Laloux

Is there anything more dystopian than a society of gargantuan blue-skinned humanoids who keep humans as pets and do with them what they please? This chilling concept, told with the help of colorful '70s animation, so commits to the idea of humans (“Oms”) not having any agency over their lives that you might actually believe Fantastic Planet was produced by the alien overlords on Planet Ygam. It’s not just the movie’s premise that make it so spine-tinglingly terrifying (despite the absence of a single horror movie trope; it's the fact that the animation is so stunning that it makes it all feel like some twisted children’s story—although you may go back-and-forth on whether you would want to actually show this movie to kids. Oh, and this movie has a killer soundtrack, too.

Her, by Spike Jonze

If you’re someone who can agree that technology right now is on the threshold of dangerous territory, then Her will introduce you to a harrowing direction that artificial intelligence might potentially take in the near future. The plot starts off simple and totally unalarming, but it progressively takes dark turn after dark turn until it ends up completely blown out of proportion. I mean, if an AI can be sentient and get a human to fall in love with it, what’s next? World domination?