5. The Den
The Den has absolutely no right to be as terrifying as it is. Brightly lit Internet chat rooms, finely polished and stylized homes, and daytime-drenched treks through urban neighborhoods have no place in a film claiming membership to such a high caliber of horror.
And yet, the unexplained death of a young girl, the disappearance of the protagonist’s boyfriend, and the invasion of masked assailants amid an endless night of terror somehow feel all the more striking because of this film’s modern nuances—and all the more close-to-home thanks to its impeccable use of the World Wide Web.
The Den treads the same waters as better-known flicks such as Unfriended and its serviceable sequel; but where those movies feel less authentic in their portrayals of the feasibility of online horror, The Den sets itself apart by ratcheting up the tension in terrifyingly believable ways. The film’s freaky final shot will not be spoiled here, but it is one that’s both repulsive and memorable enough to make the audience think twice about ever turning on a WebCam again.
4. The Town That Dreaded Sundown
Serving as both an homage and a quasi-sequel to the more box-office-endowed 1976 slasher film of the same name, The Town That Dreaded Sundown deserves quite a bit of praise for its stellar delivery of all the creepy vibes that audiences have come to expect from small-town horror pieces.
The original movie is cleverly interweaved as both film and flashback into the present-day story—a grim reminder of the town’s past and a treasure trove of clues for those sleuthy viewers bent on solving the mystery before the final act.
Though present in spades, this tale’s more traditional shocks, gory freak-outs, and looming dread still remain secondary to the central storyline—and to truly memorable effect. After all, severed heads, slashed throats, and eerily choreographed chase scenes only have their greatest staying power when delivered by a killer who’s both clever and frightening enough to make each and every moment sting with his own signature style.
3. We Are What We Are
That a horror movie would be a metaphorical representation of the evils of blindly following ideology is no surprise. It’s a song whose chorus remains often parroted by many a Hollywood mogul; yet in We Are What We Are, this message has a particular edge to it—an edge that’s all the more effective due to its careful counterbalancing of subtlety and forthrightness. A family of seemingly normal individuals hides an appalling secret that’s equal parts undeniably frightening and morbidly intriguing.
Much can be said about the choices that each character makes in the wake of losing the family matriarch following her infection with a very suspicious disease; but as the story progresses and the ugly truth meets the dull gray light of day, the film’s title rings truer and truer about every single member of this twisted clan: They are what they are, and they may never be able to overcome it.
2. Trick ‘r Treat
Told as an overlapping anthology of sorts, Trick ‘r Treat rightly earns its position on this list from the sheer inventiveness of each of its stories, maintaining a powerful sense of plot and character direction all throughout its lean but satisfying runtime.
Each tale begins with somewhat relatable characters and thrusts them into mayhem—four school kids run into their less-than-popular classmate while ostensibly collecting pumpkins for charity, three young women attempt to help a fourth secure a date for a party, an esteemed school principal isn’t nearly as upstanding as he seems, and a bitter recluse gets more than just a taste of Halloween tricks after he refuses to treat a little boy in a burlap mask.
Trick ‘r Treat takes an invitingly creepy array of plotlines and tosses them into a melting pot of suspense, never allowing any one element to soak or simmer for too long. It’s clever, it’s fun, and it’s genuinely surprising, successfully uniting all the threads of its story together into a satisfyingly cohesive whole—one that’s littered with candy corn, drenched with blood, and thoroughly wrapped in spooky atmosphere.
1. They Look Like People
The final and perhaps most criminally overlooked film on this list is the psychological horror movie They Look Like People. Set in New York City, it follows the strained yet resilient friendship of two young men—Wyatt and Christian—who face sudden and significant personal agony at the film’s outset. Christian begins to buckle under the weight of his deepest insecurities, and Wyatt fears that the world around them is being invaded by horrifying monsters.
At its very base, They Look Like People is a tale of friends, a story concerned with the connection between the two leads and the unconditional love that they share—even as they attempt to hide their own struggles and pretend that all is well.
Coupled with what ranks among the most emotionally moving final scenes of any horror movie, a set of great performances and a wonderfully empathetic portrayal of the difficulty of living with mental illness elevate this film miles above its contemporaries. They Look Like People takes the horror ethic of uncanny, ominous gloom and uses it to deliver a message about friendship that is sure to stick with audiences far beyond the roll of the credits.