The “scary” films to watch that aren’t all that scary

I am the easiest person to startle. I will jump a mile at simple occurrences, like when a person taps my shoulder to get my attention, or when someone appears from behind the corner on my walk to Asa Briggs.

Growing up, my Halloween experiences were always PG. I dressed up as The Grudge but seeing the movie poster made me feel uneasy. I loved trick-or-treating but if a house looked too creepy, I preferred to sacrifice my candy instead of my dignity.

This time of year is a paradox for me because I hate to be scared, but I love Halloween. I’m always looking for ways to get into the spirit, but watching It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown — as entertaining as it is – just isn’t enough.

Which leaves the question: how do you find a scary movie that doesn’t cause insomnia?

If you want to get into the Halloween spirit and still be able to sleep at night, here are the films that aren’t made scary with heavy horror and cheap jump-scares, but instead use the uncanny to activate your psychological fears.

The Shining (1980)

A classic Stephen King novel brought to life by Stanley Kubrick, the story of the seemingly happy Torrance family becomes a tale of hidden secrets and a descent to insanity, all while they’re stranded in the macabre Overlook hotel.

The Shining’s gradual, methodical approach to horror sets the groundwork for a horror classic. The story progresses steadily with the inclusion of significantly horrific plot points: the twins in the hallway, the mystery of room 237, and of course, “Redrum”.

However, these scenes – while eerie and unsettling – are all a part of the story’s clever unraveling.

The most frightening parts are saved for the film’s climax. While Kubrick does successfully add unexpected elements to surprise the viewer, that initial progression simply serves to build up the inevitable downfall of Jack Torrance.

Here’s Johnny:

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video, 3.49 to rent or free with membership.

Misery (1990)

Another fantastic film adaptation of a Stephen King novel, this film is the story of successful author Paul Sheldon having a terrible car accident on a blizzarding mountain. He is “rescued” by Annie Wilkes, his eccentric and jubilant number one fan.

With two broken legs, Paul is nursed by Annie in her own home, but his fate in the house becomes uncertain as Annie’s psychopathic identity reveals itself.

Misery is more thriller than horror yet carries similarly unsettling and chilling elements typical of the genre.

Kathy Bates’ portrayal of Annie is a crucial component of the film’s anxiety-inducing yet intriguing aura. The character is clearly delusional, but Bates brings an inexplicable charm to an otherwise psychotic Annie.

I know she’s psycho, but don’t tell me you haven’t reacted the same way when one of your favourite book/movie characters die:


Where to watch: Netflix

A Quiet Place (2018)

Even though the horror movies of this decade tend to be too intense, A Quiet Place invokes a balanced amount of psychological fear and unsettling tension.

The director, The Office’s John Krasinski (who also stars in the film), takes the audience to a world that is conquered by mysterious monsters, who hunt their victims solely by sound. One’s survival in this apocalyptic world is dependent on his or her ability to stay silent.

There are only 25 lines of dialogue in the two-hour film, which tends to be an obstacle for most directors. However, Krasinski’s creative use of silence stimulates the viewer’s internal fears of being caught, being deprived of communication, and being separated from your loved ones.

Think about not being able to make a sound during an event like this:

Even Stephen King, the master of psychological horror (who’s also earned two places on this list) was impressed by this film.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video, 3.49 to rent or free with membership.

Train to Busan (2016)

This thrilling South Korean zombie film is set on a train traveling from Seoul to Busan, which soon turns into the worst ride of everyone’s life as a zombie epidemic breaks out on the moving train and spreads to the rest of the country.

Focusing on the strained father-daughter relationship of Seok-woo and Su-an, the story, for a zombie flick contains an impressive emotional range. The audience experiences not only fear and anxiety; they also feel anger, sadness, and empathy, making Train to Busan a horror film that manages to be human.

Maybe the real horror isn’t the apocalypse after all, but it is the loss of a loved one.

In many aspects, Train to Busan carries the same impressive qualities and emotional range as The Walking Dead. However, Korean zombies are nothing like the Walking Dead zombies. Korean zombies are incredibly fast and will chase after you.

If you’re anything like me and haven’t hit the treadmill since high school, your chances of survival are probably low.

A scene from Goblin, a popular Korean drama, where actor Gong Yoo (who stars in Train to Busan) screams at a viewing of Train to Busan.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video, free with membership.

Psycho (1960)

The classic Hitchcock film follows Lila Crane, a secretary on the run from the law. She finds shelter at the seemingly harmless Bates Motel. However, Lila’s encounters with owner Norman Bates soon becomes a thrilling tale of crime, mystery, and a complex mother-son relationship.

Older horror classics such as Psycho are always a great way to go if you’re easily frightened since the threshold for horror has risen significantly for modern times. Looking at this decade’s horror films like Insidious, The Conjuring, or Paranormal Activity, the scare factors are much more intense than the films on this list.

As a result, the classic horror movies — which were believed to be the scariest content at the time – now become bearable to watch today, especially for those who scare easily. Though I’m sure Hitchcock or Kubrick wouldn’t appreciate me saying that!

The iconic shower scene:

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video, 3.49 to rent.

Everyone has a threshold of what “scary” means, so do take these suggestions with a grain of salt. But coming from a person who screams when a balloon pops, these films are bearable for me to watch. They all include aspects of good quality horror, and exclude the overuse of jump-scares and gory faces.

With this Halloween watch list, you can grab your laptop and your popcorn, watch a “scary” movie, and appreciate the spooky spirit of the holiday.