CINEWEEN: 19 of Our Favorite Comfort Horror Films

I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ll hear this, but 2020 has been a real car fire. Odds are one or more elements of the past year have caused you and your loved ones significant amounts of stress. And what better way to deal with stress than with a nice serving of comfort food? Now, given that this isn’t a culinary website, we won’t have any recipes to share today—but we did put the call out for people’s favorite comfort food horror movies. Below we have, in no particular order, a list of horror films that Cinepunx writers and readers say make them feel better. So strap on those stretchy-waisted sweatpants and dig in.

Tremors
When I was taking suggestions for comfort movies to highlight, Brendan Agnew (who you’ll hear from later) had his picks down to Poltergeist and Tremors. I’m glad he went with Poltergeist because that gives me the opportunity to gush about the best creature feature to come out of the ’90s. How can you top a Fred Ward/Kevin Bacon buddy comedy that ALSO features giant, prehistoric worms eating anything that moves? I defy you to watch this movie and not have a shit-eating grin on your face for the duration. It’s distilled fun that holds up a quarter century later. Bryan Christopher


The Beyond

A woman inherits a run-down hotel in Lousiana — and that’s where the supernatural troubles begin. Lucio Fulci’s films aren’t known for being easy to watch, but nonetheless The Beyond gradually slid into my list of go-to horror over the last few years. The surreal, unsettling tone borrows from Lovecraft’s cosmic horror while also utilizing Fulci’s talent for nightmarish imagery and flat-out gore. Despite wearing its influences heavily on its sleeve it still succeeds in forging its own identity, and has since become oft-imitated in its own right. A great introduction to the wider world of Italian horror. Tom G. Wolf


The Fog

A crackling campfire, ocean waves crashing against the shore, cold wind blowing, and a ghost story as old as time. These are the opening moments of John Carpenter’s The Fog and it perfectly sets up the mood that is to be expected from this chilling horror film. Carried by its strong atmosphere, The Fog has always had that aura of a friend telling you a spooky tale. Populated by regular Carpenter collaborators, the familiar faces further enhance the feeling of familiarity and the film turns into a comfortable experience to enjoy. I love revisiting this film every year as the temperatures drop and the nights get longer, the visuals and haunting score make for a perfect fall afternoon that almost anyone can enjoy. Edgar Riveron


Practical Magic

Like Katherine Trendacosta, I think that Practical Magic is a perfect movie, whatever other critics have to say about it. But even if you can’t go that far with me, it’s still a perfect Halloween comfort movie. Where else would you find witches, evil children, hangings, vampire cowboys, mysterious frogs, midnight margaritas, regular cowboys, and inadvisably attempted necromancy—except at a Halloween party? The low-key magic that the film deploys—a pentagram of whip cream! A banishment potion in the pancake syrup! Witches wearing striped stockings to fly!—just makes the whole thing feel like a spoopy haunted house. And since none of us get to go to a real party this year, I say fire up the blender and let that little witch inside you out for the night. Daniel Kasper, PhD


Rosemary’s Baby

Maybe you’ve finally reached some level of stability after a few years of struggle, a career, a good apartment, the chance to start a family—but you’re scared it won’t last, scared you’ll lose it. Maybe you’re scared you’re a boring grown up now. Maybe these things you were striving for don’t seem that great anymore…and is your spouse acting strangely? This person you trust more than anyone and are trying to build a life and family with? Maybe you’re expecting a baby and the pregnancy is awful and that’s frightening. Maybe no one believes you when you tell them it’s awful and that’s frightening. Maybe you finally give birth and the coven of old, naked, rich witches won’t let you see your son and when you do he’s a cat-eyed demon. The things people were scared of in 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby still seem pretty scary, but the movie has a happy ending. It turns out the devil’s son is named Adrian and that’s very comforting. Adrian Ibarra


The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Toby Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is everything I’ve ever wanted in a horror movie and never fails to hook me in from start to finish. I’d never seen anything like it upon my first watch and, in my opinion, there hasn’t been anything like it since. From the endlessly eerie opening sounds of a phantom camera to Marilyn Burns’ deranged, triumphant final screams, TCM is truly a singular work of horror and a film I can continually get lost in as if it was the first time, every time. Simply put, if you don’t want to get eaten, don’t get killed in Texas. Brad Murphy


Phenomena

Phenomena knows exactly what I need. What might that be? Well, it’s definitely not a logical plot—nope. It’s not pitch-perfect acting, either. What I do need is a mind-bending mix of fantasy and horror. I need a young Jennifer Connelly telepathically talking to insects. I need her to team up with doddering etymologist Donald Pleasence and his faithful chimpanzee, Inga, to track down a vicious serial killer. Throw in some glorious Argento visuals and a stunning soundtrack, and Phenomena will always hold a place in my heart just above my left ventricle. Michael Medaglia


Unfriended

Unfriended is such a silly concept: a Skype horror movie. It’s so easy to roll your eyes at. But it’s one that I’ve always found so effective, from the way social media interfaces serve as obstacles to how an iTunes playlist gives the film a soundtrack. I love the buildup and pay offs that all happen in this 82-minute gem, it’s why I always revisit it when I’m craving the odd “scary movie.” When “I Hurt Too” plays as Blaire wales over the death of her boyfriend, it’s so neatly cathartic. And because I’m a sucker for effect, I always have a copy of the movie on my laptop. Claire Bamert


Dracula Has Risen From the Grave

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is not the best of the Hammer Dracula films, but it is the one that brings me the most joy. Christopher Lee is as incredible as ever as the vampire Count, and the visual style and beautifully colorful lighting all add to the Gothic mood of the film. But it’s really the characters that make me love this movie so much. Paul and Maria, the “young lovers,” are so much more interesting and likable than such archetypes usually are in old horror films. I love the idea of making the lead character in a vampire film an atheist. So many things used to fight vampires in the lore involve Christianity, and this slight change leads to some interesting difficulties Paul must face. When you throw in Michael Ripper as the innkeeper and all Paul’s friends and coworkers at the inn, it’s a really fun group to spend 90 minutes with. Come for the spooky vampire horror, but stay for lovable characters. Daniel Epler


And Then There Were None

Ten little Indians…. nursery rhyme, murder, and an island shaped like an Indian’s head. The movie, And Then There Were None, is not one of your normal horror movies. This is one of those movies that makes you think and is an absolute joy to watch. If you love a good classic movie, get comfortable, and then get ready to discover a new great movie! The premise comes from the queen of mystery herself, Agatha Christie. A rhyme turned into a children’s nursery song, and each of the guests invited to the island are killed off based on the different verses of the rhyme. The horror is subtle but enough to keep you wondering, all while enjoying a great movie and trying to figure out who is behind the deaths! Now, I can go on all day about this movie and the different reasons that you should be watching this classic film, but I am going to leave it to you to discover. –Rebecca Hill


Return of the Living Dead

As a latecomer horror enthusiast who only really began embracing the genre wholeheartedly in my mid-20s, one of my points of entry were horror comedies. Given a love of “splatstick” and punk rock, it was inevitable I’d come across Return of the Living Dead. Once I saw it, I fell in love. Imminently quotable dialogue and a stellar soundtrack meant that it grabbed me from the opening and held me all the way to the end. It became my go-to movie when I needed a pick-me-up or background noise, to the point where literally every paper when I went back to college was written with this on in the background. Nick Spacek


The Evil Dead (1981)

Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981) is one of those movies that checks all my boxes. It’s got demonic possessions, reanimated corpses, and plenty of goopy, gory effects. Of course, plenty of 80’s horror flicks feature these elements, but what sets The Evil Dead apart is its chaotic, almost manic style – which holds the film together even when its budgetary limitations become more apparent. Sure, its sequels are more technically proficient (and funnier) as both Raimi and his collaborator/star Bruce Campbell gained more experience in the industry. But there is a kind of independent DIY purity to the original film that, for me, makes watching The Evil Dead not just entertaining, but inspiring. Trey Lawson


Poltergeist

You never forget the first film that made you love the horror genre. Not just that made you feel scared, but that made you LIKE feeling scared and want to go back for more. And Poltergeist is a rare perfect blend of “kid-friendly spooks” and “genuine nightmare fuel” seemingly engineered to ensure that adventurous 11-year-olds start escalating their Halloween viewing choices. Even without the canny commentary on shake-‘n-bake suburbia (which owns) or the brilliantly-observed family dramedy (likewise), the film is a veritable buffet of scary house/monster goodness, and one I always love returning to. Similar to how Alien moved the haunted gothic mansion into outer space, Poltergeist moves it right next door and invites it in through the very screen you’re watching on, but. . . you know, in a fun way. Brendan Agnew



Popcorn
1991’s Popcorn is more of a celebration of scary movies than a horrific venture itself, and because of that, it’s become my personal one-stop-shop for a shot of the Halloween spirit any time of the year. Horror Hall of Famer Jill Schoelen and an all-night horror festival in a gorgeous theater are the story’s springboard, and elaborate horror set pieces that dip their toes in both the supernatural and slasher genre abound. We’re also treated to a handful of wonderful movies-within-a-movie that pay tribute both to low-budget genre movies from the 50’s and 60’s and to William Castle with the gimmicks. Add some groovy cult horror (that got to the Possessor title long before Brandon Cronenberg), and there really is something for everyone here. Including reggae! Stephanie Crawford


The Wizard of Gore

What defines a ‘comfort movie’? For folks my age, it’s a movie that invokes a comfortable, worry-free memory from childhood. A movie, when watched, reminds us of being stretched out on our parents’ brown (but sort of orange) carpet—in front of their floor model T.V., lavishly encased in wood. A movie that brings back the feeling of turning those cold aluminum knobs and hearing the tape wind through the V.C.R. For me, that movie is Herschell Gordon Lewis’ The Wizard of Gore. It was the tape I reached for the first time my mom let me choose something at the video store. The box art, featuring a chainsaw wielding man-magician, spoke to my twelve year old brain. And I remember that brain melting while eating pizza bagels as the opening scene unfolded. It was gloriously gory, so extremely absurd I thought it was really happening. I revisit it several times a year, when I want to shut the world out and be transported back to that shaggy brown carpet. It works every time. Bryan Darwas


The Abominable Snowman

The Abominable Snowman was unleashed in the midst of the 1950s monster craze with a script by Nigel Kneale that is far more thought-provoking than the standard monster movie formula. Peter Cushing and Forest Tucker star as leaders of a team in search of the yeti which is beset by misfortune and eventually driven into madness and death as they succumb to the psychic forces of the ancient creatures. The widescreen black and white cinematography fills the screen with menace, always lurking just out of sight and the dialogue has just enough of that 1950s pop that just sounds like a late Saturday night creature feature, giving it a warm glow despite the movie’s icy setting. Phil Bailey


The Descent

A year after a severe emotional trauma, Sarah joins her friends on a caving expedition. Underground, the women find evidence of past explorations and even inhabitants. Creatures, perhaps evolved inhabitants, stalk them through the cave system. A lot of the dread in this movie comes from the growing sense of claustrophobia that enshrouds everything. It’s this claustrophobic aspect that comforts me. With anxiety and depression, sometimes the world, and even the most mundane daily issues, seems so big and overwhelming. Tightly contained spaces or films can be like a womb, or a blanket on a frigid day; an embrace that makes the world a little smaller. Alistair Crowe


StageFright
Like a lot of you, I have a few movies I think of as comfort horror favorites. Deep Red, Phantom of the Paradise, and Q: The Winged Serpent are among my go-to films to put on when I need a pick-me-up. And when I’m in the mood for a delightfully fucked-up slasher with a dash of feathers, I throw on Michele Soavi’s StageFright. The movie is about a homicidal maniac who escapes from a hospital and takes refuge in a theatre where a group of actors are rehearsing a weird-as-hell musical. This movie has everything: inventive murders, dancing prostitutes, a giant owl headed killer. If you’re unfamiliar with the movie, I envy you experiencing the absolutely insane visuals you’re going to witness. Soavi worked for Argento for several years and his influence is seen throughout. If the thought of a killer wearing a giant owl head prancing around a stage murdering people doesn’t make you want to watch StageFright right now, what’s even wrong with you? –Sarah Jane

 


The Gate
It is strange how some of the movies that most upset me as a kid have become my go to comfort horror films as an adult. The Gate is not the kind of film that likely inspires a lot of adult nightmares. However, plenty of kids have dreamed of the little demons that giant demon broke into, the strange claymation of it all becoming grist for the anxiety centers of their brain. The Gate manages to be fun, and haunting, and have a real hessian, no poseur costume metal here. Real deal, raising the devil metal, and I am so into it. Liam O’Donnell

Bryan Christopher
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