Fall is marked by the most specific and iconic symbols of any season: pumpkins and pumpkin-inspired foods, changing leaves, Halloween costumes, turkey legs and, of course, horror movies.
While 80s-camp horror and gore thrillers have their place, below are a few movie recommendations for films to watch when you want to get scared, and not just by jump scares. These are movies that make you look over your shoulder twice the day after and leave you with a lasting unsettled feeling long after the film has ended.
Pulse (2001) – Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
The early 2000s fostered a new kind of horror: As computers and the internet entered people’s daily lives, horror reflected emerging concerns about the isolation created by and the capabilities of new technologies.
Techno-horror is perhaps most iconic in The Ring (2002), a movie known for its scenes of a girl crawling out of the television and the film’s implication that the same horror could befall the viewer. Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 2001 film Pulse has similar technological elements to The Ring while also dealing with deeper and more psychologically unsettling concepts relating to the human condition.
At face value, the movie doesn’t sound too disturbing or unique: The dead are invading the world of the living through the internet. While the film incorporates classic elements of horror through creepy portrayals of ghosts with unmoving faces and bizarre gaits, the real horror of this film occurs in moments of dialogue between the small cast of characters as they confront questions related to loneliness and death.
Cure (1997) – Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Another film directed by Kurosawa, Cure, is a psychological thriller with fewer elements of classic horror than Pulse. The film, which is considered an original in the genre of Japanese horror, or “J-horror,” follows the investigation of a series of bizarre murders.
Much like Pulse, the film creates an unsettling feeling without any jump scares or overt and unnecessary gore. Kurosawa uses long shots and unsettling stares, giving the viewer time to sit in discomfort instead of anxiously awaiting the next monster. Aside from being disturbing, Kurosawa’s films are also visually engaging.
Suspiria (1977) – Directed by Dario Argento
Suspiria was remade in 2018, but I prefer the original 1977 film, partly because I’m partial to horror films from decades before I was alive. The unfamiliarity of the world’s appearance creates a defamiliarization that brings the horror elements into focus.
This Italian horror classic follows a ballerina who attends a dance academy that is plagued by the supernatural. Unlike Kurosawa’s movies, this film’s draw is less because of its psychological horror elements. The movie uses more familiar techniques to scare the viewer, with the main tension of the film being the slow reveal of information about the troubling operations of the dance academy.
While still scary, I’d recommend this movie if you’re looking for something visually exciting. The colors, lighting and music all come together in a way that leaves a lasting and unique impression.
Eyes Without A Face (1960) – Directed by Georges Franju
Eyes Without A Face is a French-Italian film that follows a plastic surgeon’s attempts to replace the face of his daughter, who was in a car accident. The daughter’s face is covered by a face-like mask for the majority of the film, and the effect is uncanny.
The film uses the classic trope of an obsessed and insane doctor, but the effect is unique. The stilted acting and bizarre, unpredictable plot leave the viewer with a disturbed feeling.
Though black-and-white horror films from the mid-20th century can sometimes feel lackluster compared to the big-budget horror films of the modern era, I encourage you to give this one a try. The film moves at a slower pace than contemporary movies, but it’s still exciting and frightening.