Stephen King defines “terror” as the highest form of horror. This refers to the moment of maximal suspense right before a monster is shown or a jump scare hits. It involves no blood, gore, or carnage; rather, it lets the viewer’s own imagination do most of the heavy lifting.
Terror is the most difficult type of horror to pull off but the most effective when done right. With this in mind, Redditors recently got together on r/movies, the largest film subreddit, to discuss the most terrifying horror movies that don’t rely on gore for their fights.
10 ‘The Haunting’ (1963)
The Haunting, based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, centers on Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson), an investigator of the paranormal, who assembles a group of people to spend a few nights at Hill House, a notoriously haunted mansion. There, eerie events begin to unfold, pushing the participants to the brink.
The Haunting is rightly regarded as a horror classic. Not for nothing, Martin Scorsese ranked it as one of the 11 scariest movies of all time. Naturally, it’s a little dated now, but there’s still much to enjoy in this slow-burn creep fest. “I saw it in the theater that year when I was 11. Nightmares for months thereafter,” said user Defiant_Dare_8073.
9 ‘1408’ (2007)
John Cusack stars in this horror based on a short story by Stephen King. He plays cynical, skeptical writer Mike Enslin, who specializes in debunking paranormal phenomena. However, his skepticism is put to the test when he checks into the notoriously haunted room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel in New York City.
Despite the hotel manager’s (Samuel L. Jackson) warnings, Mike enters the room determined to spend the night and document his experience. What follows is a reality-bending nightmare, as the room itself seems to come alive, tormenting Mike with his darkest fears and regrets. “1408 is one of my favorite horror movies that fits this category,” said Redditor kickintheface.
8 ‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999)
M. Night Shyamalan‘s best film, The Sixth Sense revolves around Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), a child psychologist who tries to help a young boy named Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), who claims he can see and communicate with the dead. At the same time, Crowe’s marriage and personal life are falling apart.
The Sixth Sense is well-acted and white-knuckle tense, and Shymalan’s trademark plot twists are terrific (something that would not always be the case for later projects). “[The Sixth Sense is] a classic, and fits perfectly into my idea of a non-gory ghost/horror movie,” said user GoodGriefsWhatsNext. “It made me cry at the end,” added Redditor Kindly_Samply6386.
7 ‘Poltergeist’ (1982)
Steven Spielberg enlisted Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper for this haunted house movie, and the results were spectacular. Poltergeist doubles down on everything that makes the subgenre compelling while taking the scares to a visceral new level. “That movie scared the ever-living cr*p out of me when I saw it as a kid. PG movie my ass,” said user billdasmacks.
Redditor Last-Personality1837 praised Zelda Rubinstein‘s performance as medium Tangina Barrons, in particular: “[She] was stellar. Never given sufficient credit for her outstanding skill. She made that film. She was indeed frightening and somehow comforting.”
6 ‘It Follows’ (2014)
It Follows focuses on a relentless supernatural entity that takes on various human forms and pursues its victim at a slow, unrelenting pace. The only way to rid oneself of this curse is to pass it on to someone else through sexual contact. After Jay (Maika Monroe) becomes the being’s target, she and her friends desperately seek a cure.
The film’s slow-but-ceaseless spirit was an instant hit with horror fans. “Pretty unconventional take on the genre. I’ve had people tell me it wasn’t scary. I beg to differ. I found it very unnerving. I left all the lights on for a while after that one,” said user porkchopexpress76.
5 ‘The Frighteners’ (1996)
This Peter Jackson cult classic features Michael J. Fox as Frank Bannister, a con man who uses his ghost-seeing abilities to scam people. However, Frank’s life takes a dark turn when the spirit of a mass murderer appears, seemingly with the power to harm living people. Frank has to team up with a bunch of friendly ghosts to take on the malevolent phantom.
Jackson made a string of great comedy horrors from the late ’80s to the mid-’90s, and The Frighteners is one of the most enjoyable of them. “Such an amazingly good movie,” said user Cazmonster. “Treat yourself to this ASAP,” added Redditor gladys-the-baker.
4 ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ (2001)
Set in 1939 during the Spanish Civil War, Guillermo Del Toro‘s The Devil’s Backbone follows a boy named Carlos (Fernando Tielve), who is sent to an orphanage after his father is killed in the fighting. The orphanage is a remote and eerie place, haunted both by the ghost of a child named Santi and the secrets of the adults who run it.
The Devil’s Backbone is a poignant exploration of the lingering specters of history, elevated by Del Toro’s signature visual style and storytelling prowess. “[It’s] still my personal favorite Guillermo Del Toro film which manages to be a great classic gothic ghost story without being either gory or necessarily a horror film at all,” said user la_vida_luca.
3 ‘The Orphanage’ (2007)
Laura (Belén Rueda) and her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) return to Laura’s childhood home, which used to be an orphanage, in the hopes of turning it into a facility for kids with disabilities. There, their adopted son Simón (Roger Príncep) begins talking with an unseen new friend.
Laura and Carlos’s lives are soon upended, as Simón goes missing. The Orphanage is a fine example of ‘elevated horror’, relying on narrative and subtly disturbing imagery for its thrills. “[It’s] very well done [and] not gory,” said Redditor Last-Personality1837.
2 ‘The Others’ (2001)
Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) lives in a secluded, dimly lit mansion on the British Isle of Jersey with her two photosensitive children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley). While waiting for her husband to return from the war, Grace becomes increasingly convinced that the house is haunted. At the same time, the new servants hired to care for the mansion seem to harbor their own dark secrets.
The Others is simply fantastic. It’s unsettling, but also succeeds as a finely crafted drama, with believable acting, thoughtful writing, and gorgeous visuals. “This is the goat. It’s so well-paced,” said one user. “[The Others is] so well done,” agreed Redditor ChazzLamborghini.
1 ‘The Wailing’ (2016)
Police officer Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won) heads to a remote village to investigate reports that a mysterious illness is making people violent. A shaman tells him that a demonic entity is to blame, while the locals believe it is connected to a Japanese recluse living in the nearby forest.
The Wailing, a South Korean horror movie, received rave reviews, with praise for its atmosphere, themes, intricate plot, and abundance of nightmare fuel. It plays out like The Exorcist meets Parasite. “The Wailing [is my] favorite horror movie,” said user EnterPlayerTwo simply.
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