20 Terrific Horror Movies to Watch This Halloween

We explored this topic—in part—because a Bitch reader asked us to look into it. Got a question about feminism and pop culture that you want answered, too? Tell us

 

This piece was originally published on October 17, 2016.

It’s almost Halloween, and we’ve been working on the ultimate Bitch horror movie list—not just a list of horror films, but horror films that lend themselves especially well to feminist analysis. We asked the Bitch community for your favorite horror films, and you did not disappoint.

Have you ever noticed that many horror films seem to focus on women? What about imagery that links becoming a woman with becoming a monster? Horror as a genre is ripe for feminist examination because gender, sexuality, and fears related to the human body are very often at the heart of horror. Women also see more horror films than men do, perhaps because they are able to identify with the women they see onscreen—they see themselves represented: having adventures, being the heroes, being the monsters, fighting, and sometimes conquering, evil.

We pared your suggestions down (we got more than 130 individual film recommendations!) to get to the twenty films that were suggested again and again. If you see a movie you don’t recognize, click its poster to watch its trailer! Listed in chronological order, the first film on the list is from the 1940s and the last is the best horror film of 2016. As is a hallmark of the horror genre, some of these films contain violence, including rape.

Thanks to everyone who suggested a movie—looking through your recommendations was a delight. Enjoy your film frightfest!

1. Gaslight

DIRECTOR: George Cukor
{ MGM }
RELEASE DATE: 1944

Gaslight actually gave name to the psychological term gaslighting, in which a person is gradually manipulated into doubting their own sanity.  In the film, pictures are going missing from walls, there are footsteps in the attic, and the gaslights are dimming and brightening for no apparent reason, but Gregory assures his wife Paula that she’s just imagining things. He’s just keeping Paula inside, isolated and away from other people for her own good, right?


2. The Haunting

DIRECTOR: Robert Wise
{ MGM }
RELEASE DATE: 1963

The queen of horror’s masterpiece! The Haunting is based on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House about a group studying paranormal activity at a house where four women were killed or died. Lonely Eleanor Pence joins the crew when the death of her mother leaves her alone and untethered. There are doors that open and close on their own, ominous warnings, and nights of ghostly laughter, but the longer Eleanor stays at Hill House, the more it feels like home—and the less she wants to leave.


3. Carrie

DIRECTOR: BRIAN DE PALMA
{ UNITED ARTISTS }
RELEASE DATE: 1976

Carrie White is shy, friendless, and sheltered by her cruel and devoutly religious mother. But Carrie has powers she can’t even imagine—and they’re going to come out to play when the wrong kids mess with her at prom.


4. Suspiria

DIRECTOR: DARIO ARGENTO
{ Seda Spettacoli }
RELEASE DATE: 1977

Suspiria is set at a ballet academy in Germany and follows new student Suzy Bannion as she uncovers a secret coven of witches lurking within the school. Be thrilled and awed by the gorgeous sets and technicolors, very creepy soundtrack by a band named Goblin, and just generally the fantastic idea of witches at a ballet boarding school.


5. Halloween

DIRECTOR: JOHN CARPENTER
{ COMPASS INTERNATIONAL }
RELEASE DATE: 1978

After killing his sister on Halloween night, Michael Myers was institutionalized. Fifteen years later on another Halloween night, he escapes and terrorizes a group of teenagers. Halloween helped popularize the Final Girl Trope, in which the last woman alive in a horror film is the one to finally confront the killer—and then becomes the only one left to tell the tale.


6. Alien

DIRECTOR: RIDLEY SCOTT
{ 20TH CENTURY FOX }
RELEASE DATE: 1979

We have a poster of Ellen Ripley, our Lady of Survival, at Bitch HQ, so we’d be remiss in not mentioning this sci-fi horror juggernaut. In Alien, the spaceship Nostromo is returning to Earth when it picks up a strange SOS call. The ship lands on a distant moon to explore, but when a strange alien attacks the crew, they realize that the SOS wasn’t a distress call—it was a warning. And the alien is on their ship. H.R. Giger’s design work in this movie is so freaky and nightmare-inducing that a tagline like “In space, no one can hear you scream!” becomes bone-chilling.


7. The Craft

DIRECTOR: ANDREW FLEMING
{ COLUMBIA PICTURES }
RELEASE DATE: 1996

So many good things to say about The Craft, the movie that inspired teenagers across the country to play “Light as a feather, stiff as a board” at every sleepover. So many good ‘90s outfits, too. In The Craft, a coven of teen witches at a Catholic high school discover their magical powers—but will they use that power for good or for evil?


8. Ringu

DIRECTOR: HIDEO NAKATA
{ RINGU PRODUCTION COMMITTEE }
RELEASE DATE: 1998

Ringu introduced J-horror (Japanese horror fiction) to many when the film was remade in the U.S. in 2002, but sadly, the popularity of The Ring spurred more American remakes of J-horror instead of drawing interest to the original Japanese films. J-horror loses a lot of its punch when it’s divorced from its original context because much of the genre is based on Japanese folk tales. If you’ve seen The Ring, you know the story—a reporter investigates a videotape that kills everyone who sees it after seven days—but the original is definitely worth seeing (and still very creepy). Ringu’s videotape curse is going strong, too, since another sequel to the American film is due next year.

Want to know more about Ringu? Our cofounder Andi Zeisler wrote about it when she examined the feminist power of female ghosts!


9. Ginger Snaps

DIRECTOR: JOHN FAWCETT
{ MOTION INTERNATIONAL }
RELEASE DATE: 2000

Girls becoming women; women becoming werewolves—who among us isn’t familiar with this traditional rite of passage? When Ginger gets her first period on the night of a full moon, a werewolf bite changes everything between Ginger and her sister, Brigitte. Brigitte desperately tries to find a way to stop her savage sister, but Ginger really leans into the whole werewolf thing when she finds she has a taste for blood.


10. Mulholland Drive

DIRECTOR: DAVID LYNCH
{ UNIVERSAL PICTURES }
RELEASE DATE: 2001

In typical David Lynch fashion, Mulholland Drive is a maze that doubles back on itself, filled with jitterbugging, auditions, nightclubs, hit men, ‘50s tunes, and a truly terrifying scene at a diner. Rita escapes a deadly car accident on Mulholland Drive and wakes up with amnesia. With nowhere to go, Rita befriends Hollywood-hopeful Betty and the two women become close as they work together to discover Rita’s true identity—and why someone was trying to kill her. But of course, in typical David Lynch fashion, there’s much more to this story than meets the eye.


11. May

DIRECTOR: LUCKY MCKEE
{ LIONS GATE FILMS }
RELEASE DATE: 2002

May has never really had any friends, but like her mother always said, “If you can’t find a friend, make one.” May is woefully underrated and masterfully weaves traditionally feminine pastimes—sewing and dolls—into the background of this modern-day Frankenstein story.


12. A Tale of Two Sisters

DIRECTOR: KIM JEE-WOON
{ BIG BLUE FILM }
RELEASE DATE: 2003

A Tale of Two Sisters, based on a Korean folk tale, is the highest-grossing Korean horror film of all time and the first to be screened in the U.S. When two sisters return home, they’re faced with the horrors of ghosts, periods, and an evil stepmother, but there are a few more unexpected twists and turns before we’re through with this tale.


13. The Descent

DIRECTOR: NEIL MARSHALL
{ PATHÉ }
RELEASE DATE: 2005

A group of friends get lost spelunking in the Appalachian Mountains and realize that there’s something else in the cave when they find the remains of the spelunkers that came before them. Trapped and injured, the women must defeat the monster predators known as “crawlers” if they’re going to get out of the cave alive!


14. Pan’s Labyrinth

DIRECTOR: GUILLERMO DEL TORO
{ WARNER BROS. }
RELEASE DATE: 2006

In Spain a few years after the Spanish Civil War, young Ofelia moves into a new house with her mother and her new stepfather, a violent and volatile army Captain still hunting rebels. One night, Ofelia follows a fairy into the forest where she meets an eerie fairy-tale faun. Believing her to be a long-lost princess of the underworld, the faun gives Ofelia three perilous trials she must complete in order to regain immortality and return to her real family to reign in the underworld.


15. Teeth

DIRECTOR: MITCHELL LICHTENSTEIN
{ ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS }
RELEASE DATE: 2007

Dawn is a Christian teen abstinence advocate until she accidentally discovers her superpower—vagina dentata (it’s what you think it is)—and embarks on bloody misandrist revenge. Teeth is a dark comedy that delightfully skewers purity culture and could be read as the origin story for a very dangerous superhero.


16. The Cabin in the Woods

DIRECTOR: DREW GODDARD
{ LIONSGATE }
RELEASE DATE: 2012

The Cabin in the Woods is a very meta choice for this list because it pokes fun at many of the tropes common amongst horror films and features a cameo from a Final Girl featured in this very list! In a high-tech underground facility, technicians discuss a mysterious ritual while controlling the events occurring aboveground, where a group of friends are spending the weekend at a cabin. But what happens if the ritual fails? And what exactly does it entail? You’ll put your horror trope knowledge to work watching this clever horror-comedy.


17. The Babadook

DIRECTOR: JENNIFER KENT
{ UMBRELLA ENTERTAINMENT }
RELEASE DATE: 2014

In The Babadook, widowed mother Amelia and her young son Sam read a strange pop-up book before bed featuring the ominous line: “If it’s in a word or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.” As Sam grows increasingly troubled and Amelia begins to see the Babadook following her, the two withdraw and are left alone in their house to grapple with the sinister Babadook himself, grief, and the unspeakable horrors of motherhood.

Want to know more about The Babadook? We reviewed it when it came out!


18. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

DIRECTOR: ANA LILY AMIRPOUR
{ VICE FILMS }
RELEASE DATE: 2014

In the Iranian ghost-town Bad City, a lonely skateboarding vampire known only as “the girl” listens to music and preys on bad men. How can you resist a movie that calls itself “the first Iranian vampire western”?

Want to know more about A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night? We reviewed it when it came out!


19. It Follows

DIRECTOR: DAVID ROBERT MITCHELL
{ RADIUS-TWC }
RELEASE DATE: 2014

It Follows depicts a hazy summerland in suburban Detroit where a group of teens face off against a relentless evil determined to kill. The soundtrack is straight from the best of ‘70s/‘80s horror and the plot feels like the urban legend that kept you up all night at a sleepover; It Follows will have you looking over your shoulder long after the movie ends. Remember: It doesn’t think. It doesn’t feel. It doesn’t give up. It follows.


20. The Witch

DIRECTOR: ROBERT EGGERS
{ A24 }
RELEASE DATE: 2016

The Witch picks up the Black Forest fears of the Brothers Grimm and drops them into a New England colony where a family has been banished from town and must make their own way in the wilderness. When baby Samuel suddenly disappears under his sister Thomasin’s watch, the family blames Thomasin, but each member secretly struggles to find a rational explanation for the disappearance. As more and more misfortune visits the Puritan family, family members point fingers at each other until all fingers are pointed at Thomasin and she must decide how she will survive. And what evil is lurking in the woods?

Want to know more about The Witch? We reviewed it when it came out!

Note: Many Bitch readers suggested the 1968 Roman Polanski film Rosemary’s Baby. Rosemary’s Baby is a fascinating horror film to view through the lens of feminist analysis, but we did not include it in this list because of Roman Polanski’s history of sexual assault.

by Dahlia Balcazar
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Dahlia Balcazar is a contributing editor at Bitch Media. She’s passionate about horror films, ’90s music, girl gangs, and Shirley Jackson. She is the artist formerly known as Dahlia Grossman-Heinze. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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1 Comment Has Been Posted

Let the Right One In?

Although the boy, Oskar, is the main character in Tomas Alfredson's "Let the Right One In" I find it ripe for feminist deconstruction. Oskar's bullied victim status is for not being man enough, living with his mother and away from his father and being quiet and weak. The social system is set enough against him that he is alone at home and his mother (and everyone else; the school is de-pressing) is unaware of the bullying, mom working a lot to put a roof over their head. He is alone a lot, often late.

Then comes Eli, a vampire. She has the power that Oskar imagines (he has clippings of her violence) and befriends him. Eli's "caretaker" is an older man who Eli controls, and he dies for her. In the end, Eli takes care of Oskar when he cannot take care of himself, and the story ends with each taking care of each other. Eli even abandons his own mother for her, because Eli makes him whole.

My clumsy analysis could be refined much better by others, but I throw this on the list.

As an aside, I'd also call for "Rosemary's Baby" to be seen apart from its creator, or the crimes of its creator incorporated into an analysis of why it seems to have meant something to many respondents. Can a predator make a feminist film? If the door is opened for recommendations those opinions should be respected.

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