13 Top-Tier Horror Movies That Don’t Resort To ‘Jump Scares’ To Be Delightfully Frightening

Some of these are straight up horror movies and others are simply horrifying. Either way, these will leave you disturbed and gasping without using “boo!” methods of freaking you out. 

1. We Need To Talk About Kevin

Possibly the best “scary kid movie” I’ve ever scene plus it stars Tilda Swinton in one of the best performances of her career.

I won’t try to summarize the film because the trailer really gives you a good idea of how the movie makes you feel, extremely uneasy and on edge. The “therapy” type flashback scenes in this that hint at a “why” to it all are amazingly realized and unlike anything I’ve seen in any other movie where the adults try to reach out to the creepy kid. It makes the life of Kevin’s mind real in a way other movies simply don’t even attempt even if that reality is revolting.

Not streaming anywhere at all. You’ll have to actually rent this one. Amazon has it for $4.99 but it’s in high-def so there’s that.

2. Frailty

A younger Matthew McConaughey gives us flashes of the acting chops that would come to full bloom in True Detective in 2002’s Frailty, a film about two brothers and their father, played by Bill Paxton.

If you’re thinking “Bill Paxton as a dad is creepy already” then you’re on the right path. Not only is he creepy but he can see demons and becomes obsessed with “doing what has to be done” aka killing demons disguised as people.

Rent it in HD (unlike the above trailer) for $3.99 on Amazon.

3. The Day After

From IMDB: “A graphic, disturbing film about the effects of a devastating nuclear holocaust on small-town residents of eastern Kansas. Filmed almost like a documentary on the effects of nuclear war.”

I saw this one years ago. It is disturbing and considering that it came out in 1983 when the Cold War was still very much a thing makes it even eerier. Watching this, you’ll finally be able to envision the idea of destroying the entire planet in a matter of hours and why you’d never ever want to survive such a thing.

This is a horror movie that doesn’t not intend to be a horror movie.

Above is the entire movie, just hit maximize and “enjoy”.

4. Threads

Threads from Peski TV on Vimeo.

Sticking with this same concept, Threads is the British version of this kind of film and came out in 1984, the year after The Day After which is an awkward sentence.

It is also horrific and disturbing and graphic in a realistic way. Both The Day After and Threads are classics at this point. In my opinion, Threads is the more disturbing of the two because British television sugar coated even less than American television did.

Here’s Threads in it’s entirety too. Bonus points if you watch this and The Day After back to back.

5. One Hour Photo

There remains nothing creepier than Robin Williams playing a psychopath. He did it well and was almost too convincing. One Hour Photo came out the same year as Insomnia so Williams was really feeling the creepy stuff in 2002.

The movie’s premise hinges on the information that we give to strangers every day and while your Google search history might be terrifying enough, you never have to go speak with a Google employee about getting your photos printed. Williams obsession with the suburban family who are the protagonists of the film gets creepier and creepier.

You can stream this one on HBO NOW (or HBO GO, I’d think) but otherwise you’re going to need to consult Amazon or iTunes.

6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Okay, you’re thinking “but isn’t that full of jump scares?” No, it’s not. It’s full of long, tense shots that precede the horrific action. It builds the tension slowly, bit by bit, and doesn’t engage in the cheap spooky kill jumps that many of its contemporaries did. And the film is so visceral and full of sweat and effort when the action does break out that it feels like the movie is doing real and savage work.

You can stream it now on Amazon Prime and you can rent it from Amazon. Oddly, this movie doesn’t appear to be available to rent or stream from anywhere else but Showtime. Check this one out now if you need an eyewash from all the comparatively glitzy sequels Hollywood cashed in on later.

Available on Amazon Prime streaming. Netflix has the 2003 remake produced by explosion fetishist Michael Bay but don’t do that to yourself.

7. Audition

Audition proves that actually fleshing out characters makes a scary movie scarier.

IMDB summary: “A widower takes an offer to screen girls at a special audition, arranged for him by a friend to find him a new wife. The one he fancies is not who she appears to be after all.”

The film mixes good personal drama with visually horrific and cringy scenes. If you are unnerved by visuals of needles in mouths then this will unnerve you. There are some truly awful images in this film that I don’t want to give away but this is real mind f*ck.

Rent it at Amazon.

8. Alien

I watched this one on TV just a couple of weeks ago after not seeing it for about ten years. I was stunned by just how well it held up and just wonderfully unnerving the whole “stuck on a ship the unknown” theme built the tension. Some people don’t like their sci-fi mixed with their horror but I think the setting still works wonderfully and delivers all the scares.

If it’s been a while since you’ve seen Alien then you’ve probably forgotten more about what it’s like than you think you have. Give it a rewatch and, if you haven’t ever seen it, you’re in for a treat.

This one is a premium movie so you’ll have to pony up the cash. It’s $3.99 to rent it from Amazon and it’s in hi-def.

9. The Orphanage

One of the few horror movies from Europe that I’ve seen, The Orphanage shows what happens when you decide to raise your adopted son in a former orphanage and then argue with them about all the invisible friends they say they have.

There are few movies that take things we’ve become accustomed to and then paints a whole different meaning for that common behavior to make it sinister, as if the horrors were there the entire time and we just didn’t see them. The Orphanage is such a movie. Also, you’ll probably cry at the end.

Available for rent on Amazon for $2.99.

10. Last House On The Left

The oldest film on the list, this Wes Craven classic takes the theme of “teen lies to parents about where she’s going” to a whole new horrifying level as 17-year-old Mari Collingwood ends up in a bad neighborhood with her friend.

This movie is brutal and actually shocking in its portrayal of cruelty and murder. There is no glossing here. To give you an idea of what I mean, here’s the original movie poster.

via IMDB
via IMDB

Craven was not messing around here and it makes Hellraiser look like a farce in my opinion.

You can rent it on Amazon for $2.99.

11. Session 9

Session 9 has one of those uncommon settings that gives real weight to the film. In this case, the premise is that an asbestos cleaning crew is clearing an old insane asylum of the cancer causing insulator when they happen upon interview tapes with former asylum patients. Of course they begin listening to them and soon wish they hadn’t as the patients begin to make their presence known.

The slow creepy burn at the beginning of the film really makes it because the setting is just so boringly ordinary, a bunch of blue collar dudes just trying to make some good money doing filthy work.

12. Zodiac

As tense and wonderful as Se7en, Zodiac has an all-star cast and is set in the late 60s/early 70s time period when the Zodiac killer had the entire state of California on edge. In that setting, a lone cartoonist takes an interest in finding the Zodiac killer (aka Ted Cruz) and eventually becomes obsessed, endangering his own life and pissing off every cop trying to solve the case.

The soundtrack for this film was poorly chosen as evidenced in the above trailer. Just pretend it doesn’t exist because it really changes the mood in a bad way.

It’s $3.99 to rent on Amazon.

13. Videodrome

I’m including this one as a bonus even though I haven’t seen it and it looks totally campy and insane. However, it came to my attention during a particularly deep IMDB dive and I wanted to share.

Videodrome is a David Cronenberg film (Scanners) that appears to be a completely off the wall horror film about a new time of television that alters the flesh instead of the mind. I assume this is a metaphor for how mass media twists us until our thoughts are no longer our own and we are more corporate messaging than our true selves…but I don’t know because I haven’t seen it. So, it appears to be a heady film but hidden in what appears to be a goofy presentation.

However, it has Debbie Harry, the lead singer of Blondie in it and it has James Woods and so I’m interested.

Ask me anything as long as it’s safe for all ages and just fantastically interesting.

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