Scary movies for people who don't like scary movies?
October 27, 2020 4:53 PM   Subscribe

A friend wants to watch a spooky movie on Halloween. She's asked me to pick the movie. The thing is, she doesn't really "do" scary movies – she gets freaked out by them, so she's kinda climbing out on a limb here. What's a good movie that's heavy on spooky themes and atmosphere, but light on scares? (Gore and jump scares are probably off-limits.)

A classic haunted house movie might be good. I have a thing for them myself – I'm considering the original House on Haunted Hill or Crimson Peak.

But, I welcome all suggestions – as long as they're rich with Halloween vibes.

posted by escape from the potato planet to Media & Arts (46 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Let The Right One In (the Swedish original) has very little gore (and no jump scares that I remember) but is spooky and thought-provoking.
posted by cyndigo at 5:01 PM on October 27, 2020 [11 favorites]

The Others.
posted by Kafkaesque at 5:04 PM on October 27, 2020 [10 favorites]

Adam Sandler's movie, Hubie Halloween.
posted by crw at 5:05 PM on October 27, 2020

Recently I rewatched the Sixth Sense and the gore is mild, applied to people who appear (to young Cole and the audience) to be alive and animate. The scariest scene, I'd argue, is when Cole sees the ghost of a dangerously aggressive, angry mother, an unfortunately un-supernatural scary thing to see. But the scares are all mollified somewhat by the pity you have, both for Cole and the ghosts. It's marvelously spooky as the psychologist character gradually starts to believe in ghosts, and... do you remember how good that twist is, the first time you saw it?

How about The Addams Family, which is a spooky comedy, in effect.
posted by Sunburnt at 5:14 PM on October 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

Nightmare Before Christmas, The Craft (go for the original, the remake is also just out but pays heavy homage to the original so see that first, Edward Scissorhands or Beetlejuice or Corpse Bride, Hocus Pocus, Coraline.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:17 PM on October 27, 2020 [10 favorites]

'The cabin in the woods' definitely has a bunch of gore and a few jump scares, but enough humor that it doesn't really become unsettling or upsetting. There's also a whole mystery angle to it and the dialogue is all pretty clever. It's Joss Whedon so if either of you got into Buffy it will be familiar territory. Plus, fun, weird twist ending and surprise Sigorney Weaver.
posted by sexyrobot at 5:17 PM on October 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

I don't know how you or your friend are but if you were anywhere near your teen years in the 90s, The Craft is just so fun. There's general situational scariness because of witchcraft, but the only jumpy surprise type scares really come in one short scene toward the end. It won't win any Oscars but it's very Halloweeney and very teen girl wish fulfilmenty, and who doesn't love that.
posted by phunniemee at 5:19 PM on October 27, 2020 [12 favorites]

'The Raven' (1963) is the lighter side of the classic Corman/Price/Poe cycle, if you're okay with the vintage style.
posted by ovvl at 5:23 PM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don't do horror movies, either, but my girlfriend does, and we recently watched Oculus together. There are a couple of mildly gory scenes, but no jump scares. Mostly, it's tension horror.

Also, Get Out is mostly tension, with few jumps scares, mild gore, and amazing social commentary.
posted by hanov3r at 5:39 PM on October 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

I hate scary anything but I watched Poltergeist this summer for the first time and with the exception of one jump scare it was pretty gentle and actually warm and funny at parts.
posted by kimberussell at 5:47 PM on October 27, 2020

Witches of Eastwick?
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:49 PM on October 27, 2020 [5 favorites]

Came here to say Witches of Eastwick. Or Beetlejuice. Or Sleepy Hollow. Basically anything with a New England camp vibe.
posted by caek at 5:52 PM on October 27, 2020 [8 favorites]

These were intended to be scary 50-60 years ago, but today they're just good, spooky, and free to watch on Tubi (Viy is my favorite among them--it looks like you have to click its CC button):

Black Sunday (1960)
Viy (1967)
The Vampire Doll (1970)
posted by Wobbuffet at 6:03 PM on October 27, 2020

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is a classic spooky haunted house picture. It has a startling moment or two, but nothing I'd call a jump scare.
posted by holborne at 6:04 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

There's a lot of spooky comedies out there! These have been my jam lately because, while I do love horror, I've needed something more light-hearted lately. My watchlist:

The 'Burbs
Hocus Pocus

The Addams Family would also be on there if I hadn't rewatched it fairly recently.
posted by rhiannonstone at 6:04 PM on October 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

Please don't watch Coraline!! I went to see it in the theatre thinking that it's a kids movie so not that scary (I really don't do horror/scary movies) and I had nightmares. It is TERRIFYING.

The movies that I enjoy in the spooky season are Nightmare Before Christmas, Hocus Pocus, and Practical Magic. I havn't seen the craft but I've always wanted to and it seems like a great spooky season not very scary movie.
posted by ruhroh at 6:14 PM on October 27, 2020 [6 favorites]

Carnival of Souls from 1962! Lots of spooky weirdness and atmosphere but it's not really scary, exactly (and no gore). It still feels fairly modern, although it's maybe a bit slow in places. The soundtrack is weird and creepy! It's great!

It's streaming a bunch of places & also available to rent from most of the major places.

I'd also recommend Ghostwatch but it's harder to find (there is a copy streaming on the Internet Archive, though). There are a few jump scares, though, but nothing too intense. It's a slow build of creepiness.
posted by edencosmic at 6:16 PM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

My pal who doesn't do scary movies really enjoyed watching Knives Out with me. Not exactly Halloween-y, but it was enjoyable for both of us.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:16 PM on October 27, 2020 [7 favorites]

The Love Witch
posted by oflinkey at 6:18 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

The most recent Ghostbusters!! I loved it.

(I loved the original ones too, but haven't seen them for a long time. I assume there's nothing too scary in them though because I was just a kid when I watched them.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:23 PM on October 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

Good grief, do not watch Ghostwatch. It’s very good, but it’s also one of the most terrifying and genuinely upsetting things ever made for television.
posted by caek at 6:25 PM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

It’s been a long time but what about Rosemary’s Baby? No gore or jump scares.
posted by vunder at 6:28 PM on October 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

I also do not like gore or jump scares. I second "Let the Right One In," "The Others," "Carnival of Souls," and "Get Out."

I also will plug my favorite 1970s Hammer-inspired film, "The House That Dripped Blood," which is an anthology of four creepy stories linked by the same house....with a seriously great cast that includes Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Nyree Dawn Porter, Denholm Elliott, and Jon Pertwee.
posted by desuetude at 6:28 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Casper (the 1995 movie) actually holds up really well.
posted by limeonaire at 6:31 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Also, maybe A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (aka the feminist Iranian vampire movie). No jump-scares, a little bit of gore. Very atmospheric.
posted by vunder at 6:35 PM on October 27, 2020 [5 favorites]

Not a "Halloween Movie" but The Goonies certainly has spooky themes and atmospheres (pirates, skeletons, lost treasure, caves, etc.)
posted by niicholas at 7:22 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Crow is a classic in my circles for a reason - it's very gothic and dark but while it's pretty violent it's not gory and features very little by way of jump scares.
posted by Jilder at 7:33 PM on October 27, 2020


The Mist, Planet Terror, The Frighteners, What We Do in the Shadows...

Edit: The Mist is probably too much.
posted by jmfitch at 8:38 PM on October 27, 2020

IMDB is currently running a poll, which if you ignore the poll aspect is a list, of the scariest horror movies with no jump scares. However some are definitely gory, so you'll have to filter for that.
posted by Jahaza at 10:33 PM on October 27, 2020

Halloweentown is excellent if you're in the right generation.

Could be worth identifying which elements of horror are ok and which are not. (For example, I hate tension but don't mind gore. I generally refuse to watch scary movies but watched Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses with an enjoyable amount of discomfort).

If you just want something in the spirit of Halloween, Over the Garden Wall comes in under 2 hours and has a decent amount of spookiness but won't be scary at all.
posted by meemzi at 12:12 AM on October 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

Possibly the Lost Boys? It's been so long since I saw it, but I remember putting it on specifically because I needed some sort of Halloween "scary" movie but I didn't want a real scary movie. It's about vampires in Santa Cruz and it stars all the big late 80s teen stars.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:43 AM on October 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

I'm in the same dilema! My solution was The Nightmare Before Christmas. Spooky enough for kids, which is about her level.
posted by LizBoBiz at 7:32 AM on October 28, 2020

I second Hocus Pocus! it's pretty great.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:44 AM on October 28, 2020

The Haunting (1963) might be on the edge of acceptability?
posted by robself at 8:02 AM on October 28, 2020

I'm going to drop back in and suggest Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away. It's a very Japanese animated movie with fairly high creepy factor but no gore and no jump scares, and lots and lots of monsters (most of them just hanging around being monstrous). Nobody dies and everything turns out ok for the protagonist, but it's so unreal and unusual to "western sensibilities" I think it might be perfect.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:45 AM on October 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

the Simone simon cat people
posted by brujita at 9:23 AM on October 28, 2020

My sister wanted to watch Blade Runner but was concerned about being too scared. I had recently watched it, so I watched it with her and let her know whenever the suspense was just music and when something was about to happen.

Just about any not too gory movie would work if you warn your friend where the jump scares are going to occur. So I would recommend whichever horror movie you like the best and have seen the most often so that you are familiar enough to warn her about any scene that would potential upset her. I'd suggest that you watch it again and then when you know where the upsetting scenes are with fresh memories you recommend it with the warnings necessary so nothing is startling.

Of course if your friend is averse to spoilers they may not like this. But most horror movies you don't have to give away the plot to provide the warnings. "There's a scene where someone gets strangled in a shop," and "There's a scene where two guys are playing hide and seek in an abandoned building - one of them will punch through the wall to grab the other," is not enough information to ruin the movie and reveal the plot but is enough information to reduce the suspense fear.

Another thing fearful people can do is to set a timer and every fifteen minutes shut off the movie for a few seconds and look around the room. This does not work for documentaries or movies closely based on real events but does work for films that are based on entirely imaginative writing.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:43 AM on October 28, 2020

Troll Hunter is a Norwegian dark fantasy mockumentary about some students who discover that trolls are real. There are mild scares and gore. A good creepy fantasy film for people not into actual horror (like me).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 10:20 AM on October 28, 2020

How about Rebecca? It's spooky and kind of a ghost story, but it's not actually paranormal, really. The 1940 Hitchcock one is great, the 2020 Netflix one is, you know, aight.
posted by dirtdirt at 10:26 AM on October 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

The 1963 film of The Haunting is very spooky but it has a massive jump scare towards the end.

The new Netflix series The Haunting of Bly Manor is creepy without being too scary. Also seconding The Others.
posted by essexjan at 10:41 AM on October 28, 2020

E.T. is a Halloween movie! It’s not your typical scary but it is kind of creepy and upsetting in moments. Halloween is woven into the plot - the kids sneak him out under a ghost sheet to trick or treat.

Also not scary at all and legitimately one of my favorite movies, but it is very spookily flavored, Death Becomes Her is hilarious and features some great practical effects, Bruce Willis with a dad mustache, Isabella Rossellini playing herself maybe, and lots and lots of undead shenanigans.
posted by Mizu at 11:40 AM on October 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Hitchcock? Maybe start with Rope, or Rear Window.

Twilight Zone (the original series).

The Exorcist

posted by at at 5:04 PM on October 28, 2020

Highly recommend "Coherence," which is pretty much exactly what you describe: heavy on atmosphere - mysterious/spooky (it's a night of a comet, what's haaaaaaappening) but there are really no jumpscares. Maybe about as scary as "Rear Window."
posted by mark7570 at 6:23 PM on October 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Clue is sorta spooky given murder mystery, but unbelievably funny that its become a Halloween traditional for us in the miasma household.
posted by miasma at 8:11 PM on October 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Old black and white horror films might fit the bill. “The Hands of Orlac”, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, “Nosferatu”, etc.

There was also just a blurb on this in the New Yorker
posted by donut_princess at 4:02 AM on October 29, 2020

Did you and your friend have a spooky Halloween? I just watched this video: Top 10 HallowSCREAM BOOvies GHOSTalgic Watchlist by my new favorite youtube person, Jenny Nicholson, and thought of this question. Maybe for next year?
posted by Mizu at 10:33 PM on November 6, 2020

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