Suggestions for "milder" horror movies?
June 29, 2014 9:22 AM   Subscribe

After being a wimp my whole life and doing everything I could to avoid scary movies, I'd like to now slowly build up my tolerance to be able to handle them to some degree. What I really dread about them is the feeling I get afterwards of someone or something being hidden anytime I'm in the dark and coming to get me, and that's caused me to avoid watching movies with friends and miss a lot of great fiction. What are some suggestions of "easier" scary movies that I can use as a stepping stone before I start watching the really scary stuff? Books and other types of media are also welcome.
posted by PlasticSupernova to Media & Arts (32 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Older classic horror movies are best for this. I'd start with:

Wait Until Dark, with Audrey Hepburn.
Old Hitchcock films- Psycho, Vertigo, The Birds.
The Night of The Hunter.
posted by quincunx at 9:26 AM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was homeschooled and very sheltered. When I saw my first scary movie at 14 (The Haunting) I was completely terrified. Like I couldn't sleep for a week terrified.

Then I discovered the X-files, which terrified me too, but in smaller doses, and eventually I was desensitized.
posted by melissam at 9:37 AM on June 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

My suggestion would be to take up watching sci-fi/fantasy shows because a lot of them have horror-ish elements, but they're not unrelieved terror all the time, plus shorter. Supernatural and Buffy are pretty good for that sort of thing.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:40 AM on June 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Why would you do this to yourself? But ok, how about the Scream films? Understand the tropes, deconstruct the fiction, no more fear.
posted by Leon at 9:41 AM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Given that what you're afraid of is on the spectrum of "possible" - someone in the dark waiting could just be a random criminal - maybe you should try watching horror movies that don't really fit on that spectrum.

In that vein, you could try something like Jaws - first of the great summer blockbusters, and a real horror classic. But you're unlikely to worry about a giant shark lurking in the dark waiting for you (unless you're an ocean swimmer - in that case, ABORT!) Deep Blue Sea is also shark-horror, but bonus Samuel L Jackson, and bonus HILARIOUS.

You could also try campy horror, like the Evil Dead series. It's sort of horror...? But mostly it's Bruce Campbell. You can skip the first Evil Dead movie, because it's working a little harder than the later ones to be real horror, and because Evil Dead 2 is essentially a remake of the first rather than a sequel to it.

There are also a lot of horror movies that break up the horror with humor, and that might help. Something like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the movie) or Fright Night, or The Frighteners.

If I were you, I'd stay away from anything that is marketed as a "thriller" - those really are generally about bad guys lurking in the dark and leaping out at the main characters, and probably not your cup of tea.

On preview, I like the idea of starting out with TV horror, which is much tamer. Buffy, later seasons of Supernatural (the first season actually is a bit scary), The Vampire Diaries, that kind of thing.

However, I have to disagree with Leon about the Scream films, which are about 110% deranged knife-wielding lunatics jumping out at women and butchering them. I don't think it would be your cup of tea.
posted by kythuen at 9:45 AM on June 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Not a movie recommendation, but, watching the special-effects featurettes and listening to the audio commentary of a horror movie on DVD/BD can break the 4th wall and make it much less creepy afterwards. John Carpenter's The Thing is an utter mind-fuck of a movie, and not for the faint of heart, but the commentary track by Kurt Russell & John Carpenter was a joy. I wouldn't start with The Thing, because, not mild at all. But just in general, if you follow the horror movie immediately with something to burst the movie's mood like a look behind the curtain, or just something completely different & happy/goofy movie or show, you may be less likely to dwell on the horror.

How about C.H.U.D.? Cult bad horror movie with a hilarious audio commentary by the cast.
posted by oh yeah! at 9:52 AM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd start with the classic Universal horror movies like Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, etc. Other than the images of the monsters themselves, the movies are far more atmospheric and suspenseful, rather than "horror" in the way our contemporary movies are.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:09 AM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I absolutely cannot do visual horror, but Pan's Labyrinth proved to be within my tolerance range--some scary/bloody/creepy stuff, but not an all out-gore fest.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:17 AM on June 29, 2014

Was going to recommend Wait Until Dark. I feel like horror movies fall into several different categories - some are blood and gore, others are really suspenseful, others are more campy. In assuming you mean something more like gory or suspenseful but if you can narrow it down a little, that might help us give better answers.

Also, Pan's Labyrinth was really good - I've never heard it described as a horror movie but in retrospect, I don't think that's inaccurate.

I really like The Exorcist. Carrie is also good (original). Maybe watching some of the campy horror movies like Scream will help you get used to some of the horror movie conventions. I've been interested in the Saw series but that might be too much. What stuff in particular freaks you out? I get much more freaked out by stuff that has happened or could happen than things I see as unlikely, like slasher killers.
posted by kat518 at 10:28 AM on June 29, 2014

I think the answer to this depends on what you hate about horror movies: gore, jump scares, psychological dread, themes (aliens/monsters/serial killers). I will never watch the Saw movies, but love Tarantino. "Fire in the Sky scared me for months, but I love Pitch Black and Alien and pretty much any space action movie. I think the way you approach it is going to depend on what you want to desensitize yourself to.

Just as a general approach, I'd probably start with campy 80s slasher films (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street), watch them with a group, and everyone make fun of how silly they are. Or seek out more "arty" films (Pans Labyrinth, Oldboy), and try to see something lovely in it. Like I said above though, that's not going to cure you of say, gray alien xenophobia (don't watch 'Fire in the Sky' for the love of god dont).
posted by lilnublet at 10:31 AM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Scream scared the living hell out of me so I personally wouldn't recommend starting there. I was checking my back seat for weeks.

Start with some horror-comedies: I suggest Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. Both will get your heart racing a bit but the humor really takes the edge off. Plus they are just great movies. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is not a great movie but it's funny as hell in a ridiculous way. And the TV shows above are a great suggestion as a next step.

Then watch some older horror, pre-1980s. A lot of the classic horror movies like The Shining, Rosemary's Baby, and The Stepford Wives are pretty ridiculous to modern eyes. Totally OTT and with minimal actual scares. Other movies I have giggled my way through include Poltergeist, the miniseries It and the Blair Witch Project.

I find the 80s slasher movies like Nightmare on Elm Street the scariest of all because it's all hide and jump out!! They're not necessarily scary when you're watching them but they're nightmare fodder for sure, so personally I'd hold off on those until you're feeling a bit tougher.
posted by fshgrl at 10:50 AM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another Guillermo del Toro film that might work for you is The Devil's Backbone. It's more or less a coming-of-age story merged with a ghost story. Creepy and atmospheric, but (mostly) not gory. It is suspenseful and scary, but manageable.

A tip for not getting too freaked-out during a horror movie - when it starts feeling too intense, look around you in the theater or living room where you're watching it and observe the other viewers for a moment. It takes you out of the movie briefly and reminds you that this is entertainment, not something that's really happening to real people.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 10:56 AM on June 29, 2014

I can't believe I forgot this in my list of almost-scary-with-humor: The Lost Boys. Old now, but still both atmospheric/scary and funny.
posted by kythuen at 11:01 AM on June 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Seconding "The Devil's Backbone", in someways I enjoy del Toro's Spanish movies more than his English ones.

I would suggest looking for classic scary movies that go for atmosphere rather than just gore. The Changeling with George C. Scott, The Legend of Hell House, The Omen, some of the old Hammer films are actually good, try some of the anthology movies they made.

The Others with Nicole Kidman is good modern movie, as is the Awakening (almost very good, a bit flawed but worth watching).
posted by beowulf573 at 11:15 AM on June 29, 2014

Yeah, I think it would be helpful to have a better idea of what, err, haunts you when you watch scary movies. Your wording suggests that maybe it's the sudden scare scenes that get you? If so, there are many good suggestions here for films that don't focus on timing-based scares, or excessively gory chase/murder sequences. If it's the broader concept of hidden danger, well, "horror" might just not be for you.

Personally, I find the make-you-jump thing to be manipulative and tedious. And I think the Saw-type torture thing is ultimately philosophically repellant. In both cases, the scares seem cheap and the characters are poorly developed. I generally prefer "horror' movies that build tension slowly and focus on maintaining a sense of dread: The Shining and The Thing are two great examples of movies that are more about thoughtful film making choices, psychological/character explorations, and mood. More current examples might include Moon, The Others, Session 9, and Martha Marcy May Marlene. As far as gore/action is concerned, about all I can tolerate is zombie stuff, probably because the focus is more on group dynamics (heroism, sacrifice, and betrayal), rather than the monsters.

I'll nth the idea of using more humorous, tongue-in-cheek offerings as a point of entry, too. I'd suggest Cabin in the Woods as a worthy addition to the the other excellent examples in the thread; great meta-commentary on a lot of established horror tropes, with some zippy dialog and fun action.
posted by credible hulk at 11:18 AM on June 29, 2014

What I really dread about them is the feeling I get afterwards of someone or something being hidden anytime I'm in the dark and coming to get me

One excellent scary movie that doesn't have anything coming out of the dark, as far as I remember: The Fly (the one with Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis). It's horrifying in other ways.
posted by John Cohen at 11:24 AM on June 29, 2014

I've actually seen Saw, and the thing that haunted me for the next week was the fear of being forced into that kind of situation like the characters are and not feeling safe in my own home. The gore was obviously gross and repellant, but it didn't scare me.

I didn't think of TV shows when I made this thread. I'm gonna try the X-Files and see how that goes.

Thanks everyone for the suggestions so far!
posted by PlasticSupernova at 11:38 AM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding The Haunting, the 1963 original, not the awful Catherine Zeta-Jones remake, and yes, Lost Boys, definitely.
Personally, I would stay away from The Exorcist because it gave me nightmares for years along with Nightmare on Elm Street.
Lost Boys is funny and just a little scary. The Haunting is why I love ghost stories. It's based on a Shirley Jackson novel called The Haunting of Hill House, so you could read it if you'd rather. I think both the book and movie are considered classics. Now that I think of it The Lottery, a short story by Shirley Jackson, would be a good read too, if they didn't make you read it in school. The Link goes to the full story so you can start right now!
posted by BoscosMom at 12:30 PM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

There's a British film called Paperhouse, which I think might technically speaking be for children, and therefore has no gore or disembowellings, but is also really scary.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:32 PM on June 29, 2014

There's an Australian film called Lake Mungo that is really a story about grief and loss, with only very mild supernatural elements. It is so slow moving at the beginning that I almost gave up on it, as a matter of fact, but I'm glad I stuck with it. It is a good movie to use to dip your toe in the waters of scary stuff because it is fairly mild.

There is also an old tv series called The Night Gallery (note, a bit cheesy/dated, especially the music and opening setup). One of the stories in Season 2 episode 10 is called "The Dark Boy" and is a ghost story set in the old West, but after some initial scary bits with a ghost boy it does not go where you think it might, and actually has a fairly happy ending. It's maybe a half hour and you can watch it online.
posted by gudrun at 1:20 PM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dead Alive by Peter Jackson (yes, that Peter Jackson) is unbelievably gory and absolutely hilarious.
posted by gorbweaver at 2:13 PM on June 29, 2014

A simple trick allowed me to overcome my fear of scary movies: I only watch scary movies at the earliest showing! Or even earlier at home, say 9am on weekend mornings. It really makes a world of difference!
posted by powerbumpkin at 2:26 PM on June 29, 2014

The Walking Dead tv show definitely has its tense, suspenseful moments but the zombie factor might help you distance yourself from it. (The books are fantastic but don't have the scare factor I get from the tv show.) Also, the writing is very good and the stories are compelling. Warning: it's super gory, if that's an issue.

I like the X-Files idea, too! Here's a quick link I found about scary X-Files episodes but maybe some here could chime in, too. The first episode that popped into my head was "The Host" but that might just be a fluke.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:52 PM on June 29, 2014

the feeling I get afterwards of someone or something being hidden anytime I'm in the dark and coming to get me


Honestly, Wait Until Dark may not be for you - it's a fantastic movie, but even as a long-time enthusiastic horror fan I found myself getting really tense watching it and the whole premise of the film (without being too spoilery, I hope) is that Audrey Hepburn can't see who's stalking her in. the. dark.

Nthing the ideas of going with some TV horror/SF & trying the older classics from Universal or Hammer Studios.

If you can stand reading subtitles or not-so-great-dubbing, a lot of Chinese/Hong Kong supernatural films are a mix of horror & comedy, like Encounters of the Spooky Kind and the Mr. Vampire series.

Book-wise maybe try some urban fantasy, which often uses horror elements & archetypes & characters without actually being horror.
posted by soundguy99 at 3:41 PM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

What I really dread about them is the feeling I get afterwards of someone or something being hidden anytime I'm in the dark and coming to get me

A funny thing about imagination (that feeling of something coming to get you) is that even though it overpowers your rational knowledge, it can be steamrolled by... your imagination - you can fight imagination with imagination.
When I was a little kid, walking through the darkness outside, knowing there was something creeping up behind me, I discovered that a simple act of putting my hands together to pretend I was holding a sword or lightsabre and therefore more than a match for any monster that might strike - it Just Worked.
The rational part of me knew there was no sword, but then, the rational part of me knew there were no monsters. The rational part of me just wasn't especially relevant to the problem. It was the irrational part that just needed to be fooled into not fooling me, and it turns out that fooling myself is exactly what the irrational part of me was good at!
Whatever might be hidden and coming to get you, I'm sure you can think of something stronger, and award that to yourself. ;-)
posted by anonymisc at 7:07 PM on June 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

Maybe "The Ring" would be a good place to start. I was absolutely terrified (although now it's one of my top three favorite movies), but several of my friends thought it was ridiculous and made fun of me to no end.
posted by Munching Langolier at 8:45 PM on June 29, 2014

If what you dread is someone coming to get you, The Ring is exactly the wrong place to start. Great movie, but not a good way to ease into the genre.

If you want to start really slow, Ghostbusters. It's full of horror tropes (it's basically HP Lovecraft the movie), mocking and deflating them. Don't be afraid of no ghost.

As suggested upthread, Buffy. Horror with comedy is horror defanged.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:49 PM on June 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Find a friend or partner who has seen a horror move and watch it with that person. Get them to tell you how each and every scary scene works. "She's going to be scared when she looks in the closet but nothing is there. Then something startles her and it turns out to be a raccoon, and so she starts for the stairs and then the slasher-guy jumps on her..."

If you know exactly what is going to happen you eliminate the suspense.

If that doesn't work, keep your hand on the volume control and turn the sound and atmospherics off during the creepy sounds. Much of the scary is generated by the sound track.

Also, remember, in the dark they can't see you. You're generally safer in the dark.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:21 AM on June 30, 2014

You might enjoy something like the film May, which deals with an awkward young woman's struggle with acceptance. The final third of it or so IS bloody, so if you're not up for a gore fest, you may want to skip it.

Drag Me to Hell is a fun one about a gypsy curse. It's got a nice mix of horror and humor that you might find entertaining.

The Vanishing (original Dutch version only - there was a terrible American remake that you should avoid) has a terrifying villain, but from what I remember there aren't any jump scares, and therefore it might be a good choice if you want to dip your toes into "psychotic killer" territory without the usual "BOO!" moments. It's a wonderfully scary - in the atmospheric sense - film!
posted by Fiorentina97 at 7:03 AM on June 30, 2014

I am you. I hate scary movies -- not the gore, but the 'GAAAH! Okay, now I'm not turning the lights off" kind of scary. Having said that, I love the zombie genre as a whole, so I wanted to build up my tolerance, to be able to enjoy more of the best zombie films out there. Some movies that I found were a pretty good in-between for me were:

-28 Days Later (I think this one fits your bill best of all)
-30 Days of Night
-Dawn of the Dead (2004 edition)
-Drag Me to Hell
-Cabin in the Woods
-Dead Snow
-Land of the Dead

Of course, if you don't like zombie flicks, I pretty much got nothin' -- except for Cabin in the Woods, which is fabulous.
posted by liquado at 11:46 AM on June 30, 2014

Part of the fun of horror for me and friends who also enjoy horror is that lingering dread after watching. "I was checking under the bed for days after I saw that one!" is a high recommendation.

I didn't always like horror though, and built up a 'tolerance' as you say rather slowly. I started with obviously supernatural stories over crazed killer-type movies because (spoiler alert!) ghosts and monsters aren't actually real.

Another thing that helped was planning a double feature, with the second movie being a comedy or something light to cleanse the palate.
posted by lovecrafty at 5:28 PM on June 30, 2014

Agree with BoscosMom that you should definitely avoid the Exorcist and Nightmare on Elm street. I was (and still am) terrified of those movies. I literally didn't sleep well for years. I still can't look at stills form the Exorcist without getting chills.

Maybe you could try Stephen King's IT? That is pretty tame by my standards and I'm literally scared sh*tless of even the mildest horror. Although, if you don't like Clowns, maybe it's not the best place to start....
posted by JenThePro at 9:45 AM on July 2, 2014

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