I want to be scared, but not grossed out.
October 25, 2010 1:51 PM   Subscribe

What are some horror movies that are scary, but not gross?

I've always liked scary movies, but I'm also a wimp. I like classic horror movies and suspense, but I can't gore fests. Anything featuring graphic harm to the human body, at least in a way that shows the inside of the body is completely out of the question. (I have to hide under a blanket during surgery scenes in medical shows, too.)

For an example, I really enjoyed The Ring for the suspenseful creepiness without really any gore. Violence in and of itself doesn't really bother me. Kill Bill is one of my favorite films. But it's the destruction of people's bodies as horror that I can't stand. And I hate being spoiled for movies, so I tend to avoid all horror films since I'm afraid I'll be traumatized by something unexpectedly. An example of a movie that traumatised me: Seven.

So, since it's timely, recommend me some movies I might like.

(More favorite movies: Psycho, Jaws, Alien, 28 Days Later)
posted by threeturtles to Media & Arts (77 answers total) 97 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe The Strangers? Rosemary's Baby?
posted by justonegirl at 1:53 PM on October 25, 2010

Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
posted by Melismata at 1:55 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was definitely going to say The Strangers, and Vacancy is a good one along the same lines.
posted by yellowbinder at 1:56 PM on October 25, 2010

I think you'd really enjoy The Descent.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:56 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Jacob's Ladder isn't gory that I recall, but scared the heck out of me.
posted by Zed at 1:58 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't know, The Descent is a pretty fucked-up movie with some gross moments. It certainly is scary, though.
posted by elder18 at 1:59 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Paranormal Activity (dunno about the sequel that just came out, but the original was very scary/suspenseful without any of the stuff it sounds like you hate)
posted by brainmouse at 1:59 PM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

Dead Of Night.

Rosemary's Baby.

Peeping Tom.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 1:59 PM on October 25, 2010

Paranormal Activity.
posted by josher71 at 2:00 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Vanishing ( the original not the remake )
posted by stuartmm at 2:00 PM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

Poltergeist. The Amityville Horror.
posted by afx237vi at 2:01 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Haunting, 1963 Directed by Robert Wise and scary scary scary.
posted by Erasmouse at 2:01 PM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

The Changeling
posted by haplesschild at 2:02 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, maybe some of the older Stephen King-based films? The Shining and Christine come to mind.
posted by justonegirl at 2:03 PM on October 25, 2010

Seconding The Vanishing. More of a mystery, but still quite terrifying.
posted by santaliqueur at 2:03 PM on October 25, 2010

The Others
The Frighteners
What Lies Beneath
posted by sharkfu at 2:05 PM on October 25, 2010

I still find The Blair Witch Project one of the must durably horrifying movies I've ever seen and there is only the tiniest implication of gore. There's actually more "gore" in those jump scenes of Katie and Noah post-Samara in The Ring.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 2:08 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Blair Witch Project.
posted by anti social order at 2:08 PM on October 25, 2010

Also, along the lines of Blair Witch- if you can get your hands on The Last Broadcast, check it out. VERY scary, very clever.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 2:09 PM on October 25, 2010

2nding The Changeling (the 1980 one by Peter Medak, not the 2008 one by Clint Eastwood.) I was going to link to the trailer but it gives away too many good parts.
posted by usonian at 2:09 PM on October 25, 2010

Response by poster: I was wondering about Paranormal Activity. It sounded like my kind of thing when it came out, but I wasn't sure.

I do like The Shining, and should have mentioned that. The only other Stephen King movie I've tried to watch was Pet Cemetery and that grossed me out with the guy whose head was hit by a truck so I stopped watching right at the beginning.

And The Amityville Horror? I always got the impression that was gross somehow. But I'd like to try it if someone can reassure me.

Oh, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre was another movie that messed me up. And I only saw little bits of it.

Thanks for the recs. Keep 'em coming!
posted by threeturtles at 2:13 PM on October 25, 2010

The original Cape Fear. Scary, but not at all gruesome.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:14 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Night of the Demon is a great, terrifying-but-not-gory classic.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 2:14 PM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

The Orphanage is freaky as hell.
posted by Paragon at 2:17 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Strangers, definitely. The Descent is a great horror film, but IIRC has some serious gore in parts.

But I mostly came to second Jacob's Ladder. One of my very favorite movies, not gory at all, but has some incredibly frightening scenes and is a truly well-made movie to boot.
posted by ORthey at 2:22 PM on October 25, 2010

Another Blair Witch-ish film that I think is actually much better is The Curse. A similar one that I did not really like is Lake Mungo.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:23 PM on October 25, 2010

I watched 28 Day Later once, and slept with a knife by my bed. No kidding. Haven't been able to watch it since.
posted by elder18 at 2:23 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thirding The Strangers. It was the scariest movie I have ever seen. Some blood, no guts, and definitely not a gore fest.
posted by click at 2:24 PM on October 25, 2010

I really love "Dead Again" with Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh. It's more a thriller than a horror movie, but it's suspenseful and just a great film.
posted by BrianJ at 2:26 PM on October 25, 2010

* The Wicker Man (the original, not the Nic Cage wackofest)
* Cat People
* Carnival Of Souls
* Night of the Living Dead (the first one, make sure to get a decent print!)
* Diabolique (again, the original, not the Sharon Stone one)
* Army of Shadows
* Freaks
* Spoorlos (the original version of the Vanishing)
* Maybe try lots of eps of the orginal Star Trek, Twilight Zone, and Outer Limits?
* eps of Twin Peaks
* Primer (freaks me out)

A word that might help in your search is "Thriller", which pulls in all the Hitchcock (Psycho, Birds, Lady Vanishes, Rope, etc.), DePalma, etc.
posted by gregglind at 2:27 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

...also, it is odd that Alien and 28 Days Later are on your list :). Those are pretty righteously in the camp of body horror! Maybe they transcend it by their awesome craft? If you can handle them, consider much of Cronenberg (The Fly, in particular).
posted by gregglind at 2:31 PM on October 25, 2010

The Changeling with George C. Scott (not the recent movie).

This is more of a psychological thriller but i've always liked Blowout.

And if you like classics, there's always Gaslight.
posted by patheral at 2:34 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:36 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Mothman Prophecies is my answer of choice for creepy/eerie movie goodness. I'll just quote one of my previous descriptions of it on AskMe:
If you liked Blair Witch, The Ring, etc., you'll love this.

It's about a newspaper reporter (Richard Gere) investigating a rural West Virginia town that's being stalked by a mysterious manifestation dubbed the Mothman. It's a monstrous, terrifying, godlike presence that warns of imminent disaster with cryptic messages and warps time, space, and reality to creepy effect. You never actually see the thing directly, and there's no gore and few if any shock scenes, but the atmosphere of the movie is so intensely eerie that it worms its way into your brain. The fact that it's based on a true story sure doesn't help.

See this clip for a good sampling of the film's style, pacing, music, and general atmosphere.
posted by Rhaomi at 2:37 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm a gore wuss too. If you're like me (autopsies are mostly OK, surgeries no; dead bodies OK; torture on living people no) then you might be able to handle Silence of the Lambs, which I really like. There's a few scenes where you know WHAT someone did but the camera doesn't really dwell on it and the music/cues give you enough warning to duck behind a pillow. They don't linger on the gore like Seven did- it's sort of a quick flash so you just get the idea.

One Hour Photo is pretty creepy.

And I know people roll their eyes at it, but I got freaked out at Signs, which is not gory. You'll have to shut off the science part of your brain but that's the case with most horror films, really. It's a shame Shyamalan tanked because he could really ramp up the suspense when he wanted to.
posted by castlebravo at 2:38 PM on October 25, 2010

I thought that Stir of Echoes was very scary and not gory if memory serves me right.
posted by tomtheblackbear at 2:44 PM on October 25, 2010

Hmmm... Not sure about this one, but Event Horizon is like, the scariest movie ever, but there is Sam Neil walking around without skin (or at least that's what it looks like) and there's a flash of a pretty gross scene on a video in the movie... Others will have to weigh on in that.

Other will have to weigh in on this, too. Sunshine? I don't remember how gross most of the scenes where. I think there's a dead body at some point, and then there's the crazy sun addict who, again, looks like all of his skin was burnt off from the sun (and a really creepy scene where he loses an arm).

What do you guys think?

Movies you should never, ever watch? ALL OF THE HOSTEL MOVIES. Just. Don't.
posted by two lights above the sea at 2:48 PM on October 25, 2010

Dead Birds.
posted by coolguymichael at 2:50 PM on October 25, 2010

The original STEPFORD WIVES is a little cheesy, but also creepy but not gross.
posted by Gucky at 2:52 PM on October 25, 2010

The 1954 movie Them meets your requirements.
posted by zzazazz at 2:53 PM on October 25, 2010

I personally found Ju-on (The Grudge) terrifying. I've never seen the American version so can't speak to that, but the Japanese one STILL freaks me out just thinking about it at night. I seem to recall there being a bit of blood here and there but overall it was just fucking creepy. as. hell. Humans shouldn't crawl or make sounds like that, for one...

YMMV, I've had other people more experienced in horror say they thought it was just "meh." If you get scared by creepy ghosts though, this'll scare your pants off.

Also, Ring is supposed to be along these lines but while I watched it all the way through (a few months after Ju-on), I kept my eyes shut during some of the pivotal moments because I was too freaked out by my Ju-on experience, and hence was not as scared as I could have been (although I was still scared). But just the pictures and video (ugh, that fucking video) freaked me out...the way those Japanese manipulate their videos and pictures is godawful and enough to induce nightmares.

Um, so there.
posted by dubitable at 2:55 PM on October 25, 2010

Oh, sorry you mentioned the Ring already. But I dunno if you watched the original or the remake, so, maybe this counts as a new one...
posted by dubitable at 2:55 PM on October 25, 2010

Trash Humpers is the scariest movie I've ever seen, but it has absolutely no gore. There are dead bodies, one puddle of blood...that's really it. But it's so terrifying.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 2:57 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, ha...I also just watched this which I got off some other thread and it was pretty fun. Not exactly a film but interesting. Kinda amateurishly Blair Witch Project-y but has some great creepy moments, I think.
posted by dubitable at 2:58 PM on October 25, 2010


Careful with that one.
posted by Artw at 3:01 PM on October 25, 2010

What you want is a suspense film, not a horror film. Get ye to the Hitchcock section of the video store and rent "Rear Window", or "North by NorthWest". They will do good job scaring the hell out of you, without ever showing you the slightest trace of blood.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:03 PM on October 25, 2010

Got access to a Region 2 DVD player? Get this.
posted by Artw at 3:09 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding Event Horizon. That movie fucked me up more than any movie has a right to. There are maybe 2 or 3 brief scenes of pretty intense gore, though, one of which involves eyes. *flails*
posted by elizardbits at 3:21 PM on October 25, 2010

The Wicker Man is absolutely fantastic! (original version from 1973 of course. bonus points for its amazing soundtrack)
posted by Hazy Star at 4:05 PM on October 25, 2010

Thirding Event Horizon. I found Session 9 to be distrubing with little gore.
posted by googlebombed at 4:06 PM on October 25, 2010


Careful with that one.

(Because it's pants-wettingly spooky, that is. They had complaints when people thought it was real)
posted by Artw at 4:07 PM on October 25, 2010

It's tricky, because you don't want human insides on the outside, but some of your favourites include Alien and Jaws. As has already been recommended, definitely Robert Wise's Haunting (absolutely not Jan de Bont's dire remake) and perhaps Peter Medak's Changeling. Maybe some of Nigel Kneale's stuff? The Stone Tape, for instance, or his TV work: Beasts and Woman in Black. And that leads to Sapphire and Steel (the train station assignment in particular) and BBC's Ghost Stories for Christmas, which are mostly sleep-shatteringly terrifying without showing a hint of intestine.
posted by 4eyes at 4:15 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Watched this a couple of weeks ago thinking, oh, it's daytime, it'll be fine to watch this all alone in the house. IT WAS NOT FINE.

Session 9 is another favorite. Don't be deterred because of David Caruso; he's actually not bad, and certainly doesn't detract from the spooky.

If you don't mind a little bit of fantasy in with your spooky movies, try the Night Watch trilogy. Yes, there are vampires, but this was long before the current craze and it's not a huge deal.

There's also the scariest episode of Buffy ever, Hush, which you can probably enjoy even if you've not watched any of the series. Extra freaky because it's almost completely talk-free.

Have fun!
posted by Fui Non Sum at 4:26 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Watching the History Of Horror doc the BBC is currently putting out reminded me that the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and especially Halloween are pretty effective but actually have minimal gore.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:07 PM on October 25, 2010

The Donald Sutherland version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I don't recall much (if any) gore; it's certainly not what makes the movie so horrifying. And yes, I mean, kept-me-awake-all-night horrifying.
posted by holterbarbour at 5:09 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Hey, if we're talking Nigel Kneale, what about 'Five Million Years To Earth' (Originally 'Quatermass and the Pit)?

That one still creeps me out.
posted by lumpenprole at 5:29 PM on October 25, 2010

I hate time travel movies. HATE them. But Los Cronocrímenes (Time Crimes) and Primer were utterly fantastic, not only as science fiction films but as terror (in the literary sense) films.

Gin gwa (The Eye). Also scary as hell. Do NOT get the Jessica Alba remake.

I just re-watched the original Frankenstein and Dracula movies, and they still pack a punch after all these years.

The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not the gore-fest people think it is. It has its moments, but by and large it is a blood-free movie. The intent of the movie is incredibly gory, but the movie itself is very tame by today's standards.

Same goes for Halloween (Original). While Halloween is certainly a forerunner of splatter films to come, it actually does not go there. The first Halloween has very little blood. It no film for the kids, but it's far from being gory. This movie is all about suspense, and it builds like a Hitchcock masterpiece.

Speaking of Hitchcock: Psycho. Here's the thing. Hitchcock was an absolute master at implying, but not showing. He'd show you a knife, a shower curtain, and a shadowy figure and have you convinced that you saw Janet Leigh get her guts ripped out all over the place. Then--after you calmed down--you'd watch the scene again and go, "Huh. Didn't see anything." The whole movie is full of that sort of thing.

Speaking of masterpieces: Les Diaboliques isn't a horror movie per se, but it certainly ranks as one of the greatest suspense films of all time.

Speaking of unfaithfulness: I hated the ending, but Fatal Attraction still gets love from me as a genuinely scary movie. There's also Play Misty For Me, which has, I think, the original psychotic "girlfriend". The old line "Don't stick your dick in the crazy" takes on a whole new meaning with these films.

Speaking of crazy: Night of the Hunter and Cape Fear are not only scary, but showcase Robert Mitchum at his absolute finest.

Speaking of children and torture: The Bad Seed. Still creeps me out after all these years.
posted by magstheaxe at 5:34 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't remember exactly how graphic the one violent scene in Don't Look Now is, but I'm a lot like you and can't stand gore at ALL and was totally ok with that movie. It is super creepy atmosphere-wise. Ditto Let's Scare Jessica to Death; I think there's a tiny bit of gore but nothing too detailed or graphic, and it's almost entirely atmosphere-based.

The Others would be good.

Not exactly scary, but really good atmosphere that's somewhat creepy: maybe Spirit of the Beehive and I'm Not Scared. You keep waiting for something bad to happen. Similarly, Picnic at Hanging Rock.

The Vanishing (Spoorloos) is an ultimate example; it is wildly disturbing without any gore per se. But you might be too disturbed by it for comfort anyway; it's that affecting (at least I think so).

The original Wicker Man might fit.
posted by ifjuly at 5:57 PM on October 25, 2010

Oh god, YES to Les Diaboliques (the original). So freaking good. And you've run through all the usual Hitchcock I assume.
posted by ifjuly at 5:59 PM on October 25, 2010

Marathon Man
posted by lalochezia at 6:28 PM on October 25, 2010

Response by poster: ...also, it is odd that Alien and 28 Days Later are on your list :). Those are pretty righteously in the camp of body horror! Maybe they transcend it by their awesome craft? If you can handle them, consider much of Cronenberg (The Fly, in particular).

I have specific things that freak me out and it's kinda hard to describe. Insides on the outside is as close as I could get. I don't remember exactly, but I don't think Alien (at least the first one) is all that bad with bodily mutilation. Except the chest-bursting scene and the rubber puppet aspect of that never bothered me. To be honest, the worse the special effects, the easier it is to take, which is probably why I like older movies.

I actually just rewatched 28 Days Later and though it is scary and in some parts downright disturbing, it doesn't trigger my intense revulsion. The only part I can think of that really does is when the one guy gets cut and it shows this gaping wound in his arm. Otherwise it's really just a lot of blood flying all over the place, which doesn't bother me.

Also watched Jaws (I'm in a mood) and although there's the severed leg and head, those are after the fact and don't actually show it happening. I was surprised that it's actually rated PG. That would so never happen today.

It also helps if a film is just DAMN GOOD or has something meaningful to say other than "Boo." I can get past fleeting gore for a really great movie more easily than when it's trashy.

(Yes, love all Hitchcock, Night Watch, Freaks, Sunshine and some others mentioned. Some I wouldn't call horror movies, but thrillers. I do think it's possible for something to be horror and not be gory. The original horror films were Dracula and Frankenstein and so on and were completely G-rated, after all. )
posted by threeturtles at 6:29 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't love horror movies, but I really liked The Ring and Stir of Echoes.
posted by artychoke at 7:17 PM on October 25, 2010

More suggestions:

Try David Lynch's Muholland Drive. Which I love and which has, IMO, the creepiest _and_ unhappiest ending I've seen on film in years.

Some Asian horror:

Tale of Two Sisters
posted by magstheaxe at 8:07 PM on October 25, 2010

I almost forgot:

Donnie Darko (the Director's Cut)
posted by magstheaxe at 8:14 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thirding The Others. This is definitely one of the most suspenseful movies I've ever seen, and IMO it's Nicole Kidman's best performance.

"This house is ours..."
posted by purlgurly at 8:22 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:56 PM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

Oh yeah, speaking of Lynch, ditto on the Mulholland Drive for general creepiness (the thing behind the diner? WTF?) but also Fire Walk With Me is pretty creepy. I've always liked it even though it got panned when it came out. I find it scarier than many horror films just because of the ominous mood it sets up. I'm getting a bit freaked out thinking about it right now, actually...
posted by dubitable at 9:01 PM on October 25, 2010

Shadow of the Vampire is a great movie with incredible atmosphere, suspense, and very little gore. There is some tasteful nudity, though.

Bonus points for having Willem Dafoe, who could be creepy playing an ice cream salesman.
posted by elder18 at 9:13 PM on October 25, 2010

The Innocents. Serious low-key psychological dread.
posted by ovvl at 9:23 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, thought of another, esp. with your clarification...John Carpenter's The Thing.
posted by ifjuly at 8:14 AM on October 26, 2010

From the makers of Blair Witch: Seventh Moon. I watched it recently and was very pleasantly surprised by it.

It gets low ratings because the movie is filmed in shaky cam and parts of it are very dark. I thought the dark bits added to the movie (there's one extremely tense and spooky scene that uses dark to its advantage), but the shaky cam I could have done without. However, on a television screen, it's not too overpowering, and if you could deal with Blair Witch's shaky cam, this one should be fine.
posted by Addlepated at 11:24 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

All these will have your Netflix queue filled out for the next couple years. But if you want more, the Psychological Horror sub-genre encompasses what you're looking for, as does Psychological Thriller.

If you want a specific movie, though, gotta go with The Night of the Hunter. More Mitchum magic.
posted by world b free at 11:45 AM on October 26, 2010

Fourthing The Others.
I think you and I have similar tastes in scary movies and this is the only scary movie I actually bought on DVD.
posted by like_neon at 2:31 AM on October 27, 2010

If you don't mind animated movies (like anime), might I suggest Perfect Blue? While there are a few bloody scenes it's far from gory and it is freaky scary.
posted by patheral at 7:07 AM on October 27, 2010

Well if we're counting The Werckmeister Harmonies as horror, I'm going to recommend Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker. Like The Werckmeister Harmonies, it's long, incredibly slow-paced, and hard work on your first viewing. But it has this amazing sense of dread and fear that permeates through the entire film and it'll stick in your mind forever. I think it has a better payoff at the end than WM, but both films are beautiful and spooky in equal measures. I think they're hugely divisive though - you're either going to love them or feel completely ripped off.
posted by afx237vi at 2:33 PM on October 28, 2010

Does it have to be a movie?

These two episodes of Dr. Who are appropriately freaky, and squeaky-clean as far as gore is concerned. Plus, you don't need to have any familiarity with the series to understand what's going on, they function as standalone episodes.
posted by Ndwright at 11:05 AM on October 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fourthing The Others.

Not to be confused with THE OTHER, which also qualifies.
posted by philip-random at 12:15 AM on October 31, 2010

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