Few film genres are as underappreciated as horror. Though modern flicks rely on jumpy scare tactics to deliver audiences an extra rush of adrenaline, there are just as many deeply complex and terrifying films released.
The Conjuring serves a different horror audience than Midsomer, for example, though both have their place in Hollywood. With fewer numbers fans than other genres like superhero flicks and romcoms, it may seem like truly stirring horror films are hard to come by.
However, there are plenty of genre-bending flicks that incorporate the most important themes of horror. Just because there’s no slashing or an appearance from Pinhead doesn’t mean there aren’t all the key ingredients, like fear of the unknown, plummeting emotional depths, and unique characters. Even as a supporting theme, horror goes the distance in heightening the stakes.
Let’s take a closer look at five films that have drawn on elements of horror with great success.
Molly’s Game (2017)
The novel-turned-movie documents the high-stakes poker games overseen by Molly Bloom, a former skier. Though not technically a horror flick, the crime drama hits notes so tense that it’s landed a spot on this list. Typically, the Aaron Sorkin flick is clumped with other poker films, but it stands out on the list of leading movies from titles like Casino Royale and Bet Raise Fold.
The slow descent of Bloom’s character into a world that’s far out of her depth hits on deeper notes of horror. Most characters see the writing on the wall, but fail to realize they’re in danger. Seduced by high-profile players and big money, Bloom’s descent and eventually detention hits a little too close to home for many.
Let the Right One In (2010)
Coming of Age
Though the American version of this film is listed alongside other popular films, the original Swedish version hits notes much darker and much lighter at the same time. Though some consider Let the Right One In to be a horror romance, the plot more closely resembles a coming of age story—just with a few more fangs than usual.
The story covers Oskar as he tries to navigate an increasingly grim world, bullies and home issues included. Eli is a vampire with a thirst for blood, but she’s also a friend, confidante, and defender of Oskar.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
To be fair, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night could reasonably fit into multiple genres beyond horror—romance, noir film, spaghetti western, and Iranian new wave cinema. It defies simplified labels while delivering on something truly unique: a vampire love story set in the Middle East.
The film covers a nameless vampire heroine as she navigates the dark streets of Bad City at night. She grows close to a character named Arash, and the pair eventually run away together after a string of deaths. What the film lacks in narrative complexity it makes up for in originality.
Van Helsing (2004)
Officially, Stephen Sommer’s Van Helsing is labeled as an action gothic horror film. However, it also checks plenty of boxes in the fantasy category, including fictional beasts, vampires, curses, and rich (gothic) settings.
Similar projects, like Underworld, have also delivered on gothic horror that draws on elements of fantasy (and star Kate Beckinsale). Van Helsing began the trend in the early 2000s, drawing on elements of classic literature and grim folktales while paying homage to monster flicks from the early 1900s.
Similar to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Zombieland could reasonably fit into an array of categories; post-apocalyptic action, comedy, romance, horror, or zombie. In this unique case, there are equal parts of each— jokes and terror abound as one college student attempts a road trip across the US during a zombie apocalypse.
The film was a box office hit, drawing on unique aspects like ‘the rules’. These are a set of rules the main character tallies throughout the film, which are both hilarious and macabre. Take Rule 3, for example, which warns against getting caught unawares by a wandering zombie with a simple ‘beware of bathrooms’.