Horror Movies That Are Way Scarier to Watch at Home
Sometimes the comforts of your own living room are spooky enough.
We turn to horror movies to scare ourselves silly, to have a fun time with friends, or to catch some new or old special effect that's frightening enough to shiver our skin from our bones. The best part about a lot of these movies is many of them take place inside houses—maybe houses much like your own, maybe houses with plenty of things that go bump in the night. As the cinephiles we are, we still believe the theater is the best place to catch a new film, but many horror movies are actually even more frightening when viewed on your own TV, in your own darkened living room, with your own walls closing in around you as the trees in your own front yard make claw-like shadows on your ceiling.
With streaming and various environmental factors making it more prudent these days to stay home once in a while, we're taking a look at the spookiest horror films that get even spookier when you watch them far away from a grand, crowded movie theater, huddled up on your couch and jumping every time your floor creaks. Wrap yourself in a fuzzy blanket and read on.
Japanese director Takashi Miike has long been a favorite among horror fans, and his prolific back catalog of movies (nearly 100!) and his genre-hopping interests means there's a little something for everyone. But his fame in the US arguably began with the release of Audition, about a lonely man who agrees to trick women into "auditioning" for the role of his new lover. What begins as the setup for a creepy tale in its own right gives way at the very end to a visceral, vengeful, blood-soaked climax that you'd probably much rather experience in your own home—if only so that the general public aren't subjected to your horrified squeals.
The Babadook (2014)
Australian director Jennifer Kent's breakout horror hit is disturbing to watch wherever you may be, but the way it plays with both supernatural and psychological terrors hits harder when you're at home. Could there be a Babadook in your basement, either literally or metaphorically? Kent's allegory for parenthood and grief follows the widowed Amelia (Essie Davis, phenomenal) whose troubled young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) finds a mysterious and disturbing pop-up book telling of a creature called "The Babadook." Realizing it's infecting her child's brain, Amelia tries to dispose of the book, but it keeps reappearing no matter how hard she tries. Eventually the paranoia seeps into her own mind, and their house becomes a terrifying prison they can't escape. By the unnervingly sweet ending, you'll be emotionally exhausted and wondering whether you've got a friend cooing dook dook dook of your own.
Black Christmas (1974)
The original "call coming from inside the house movie," this slasher film set on a college campus over holiday break never reveals the identity of the killer, but his misogynistic spewings from the other end of a telephone line are enough to make you never want to pick up the phone again. Throughout much of Bob Clark's film about a serial killer who picks off a group of sorority sisters, the villain is coexisting among the protagonists and they are unaware of his presence. What we don't find out makes the whole thing even creeper.
The Conjuring (2013)
There are few things scarier than feeling unsafe in your own home, and James Wan's The Conjuring, inspired by the very real reports that birthed The Amityville Horror in the '70s, sets us down inside a cozy Rhode Island farmhouse before systematically peeling away any feelings of coziness we have left. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson play paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren (also real people), who are summoned to the Perron family's new home and conclude it may be inhabited by a malevolent spirit. Their research unearths a centuries-old curse that leads them to a climactic final battle, but the most unsettling bits are at the very beginning: a house a family dog refuses to enter, a boarded-up cellar door, the single scariest clap ever committed to film.
The Exorcist (1973)
William Friedkin's exploration of a Georgetown demonic possession, based on 1971 bestseller by William Peter Blatty, is a horror movie where the design of the house plays a significant role in establishing a foreboding tone. (Just think of the poster or the DVD cover: a hat-wearing figure framed in silhouette by light pouring from a window.) The DC setting evokes a specific strand of American affluence, a level of comfort disrupted by the horrific events that transpire, but the interiors, mostly shot in New York, create a bedridden feeling of claustrophobia that proves surprisingly effective on a dusty laptop screen. Just don't let Pazuzu get control of your hard drive.
Do you really need us to convince you to watch John Carpenter's horror classic? No! It's a masterpiece, plain and simple. The reason that the original works so well is how Carpenter plays with perspective as he observes Michael Myers terrorizing Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her babysitter friends. The way the camera watches from Myers' viewpoint convinces you that someone (anyone) could be looking at you from behind any door in your home. So turn it on, crank up that score, and get freaked out.
Hereditary opens with the text of an obituary appearing on the screen, establishing a tone of ominous dread. The dead woman's daughter Annie (Toni Collette) is struggling with her grief, which becomes clear as she delivers a caustic eulogy for her mother that describes her as a "secretive" and "private" woman. Annie's quiet husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) keeps his distance; her young daughter Charlie (Milly Shaprio) scribbles gruesome portraits in a journal; her teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff) treats his anxiety with copious bong hits. Together they live in a large, creepy house with an upstairs workspace where Annie builds tiny miniatures of her own family life. It's inside the family's house that the scares start coming when the creepy supernatural stuff ramps up, one dimly lit shot of a child's bedroom providing one of the most frightening images ever put to film.
While films like the classic Wait Until Dark and the recent Don't Breathe have wrung scares from blind heroes and villains, deaf characters haven't been placed at the center of many mainstream horror movies. And what's scarier—especially for those of us who are non-hearing impaired—than the thought of being unable to hear your pursuer while trying to get away from them? Enter (very quietly) Hush, a low-budget home-invasion thriller about a deaf and mute woman (Kate Siegel) being terrorized by a masked home invader (The Newsroom's John Gallagher Jr.). Director Mike Flanagan and Siegel, who co-wrote the film together, deliver a wonderfully tense, terrifying tale that pulls no punches (or crossbow bolts).
I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016)
A meditative horror movie that's more unsettling than outright frightening, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House follows the demise of Lily, a live-in nurse (Ruth Wilson) who's caring for an ailing horror author. As Lily discovers the truth about the writer's fiction and home, the lines between the physical realm and the afterlife blur. The movie's slow pacing and muted escalation might frustrate viewers craving showy jump-scares, but writer-director Oz Perkins is worth keeping tabs on. He brings a beautiful eeriness to every scene, and his story will captivate patient streamers. Fans should be sure to check out his directorial debut, The Blackcoat's Daughter.
This French film (À L'intérieur) is not for those with a weak stomach; Inside is a brutally bloody home-invasion fright about Sarah, a depressed, recently widowed pregnant woman, alone on Christmas Eve until a knife-wielding woman who wants to rip out her unborn baby manipulates her way into the house. Its lurking tension builds as Sarah tries to evade the intruder, who impersonates Sarah to police and other strangers that come to the front door, and the body count piles up leading to the women's final unthinkably gory face off. Nobody wins in this movie that'll have you rethinking pregnancy and answering the door when you're the only one at home.
The Invitation (2015)
Awkward dinner parties are their own realm of real-life horror, but there's nothing more awkward than realizing you've been invited to your ex-wife's fancy Hollywood Hills mansion because maybe she plans to murder you in ritual cult sacrifice. What a faux-pas! When Will (Logan Marshall-Green) brings his new girlfriend along to a get-together at his ex-wife's house, at first he thinks the worst that could happen is they'll be subjected to a few hours of draining conversation and avoiding eye contact before trundling back to their own lives. But things start taking a turn when Will begins to believe that what looks like an odd party is actually something much more sinister. Before delivering its final one-two punch (and a closing shot that you'll be thinking about for weeks afterward) Karyn Kusama's film delights in making its characters and viewers as uncomfortable as possible, luxuriating in the stomach-churning tension in every awkward moment.
Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
You probably know The Grudge, the 2004 movie starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as an expat living in a haunted house in Tokyo, but it's the original Japanese version that you should flip on when you want something to make you subsequently wary of every nook and cranny of your living space. Writer/director Takashi Shimizu (who also made the English language film) exploits interiors to make them feel as dreadful as possible, shrouded in rage-filled curses that will appear in the form of a black cat or a little boy painted ghostly white, that are practically impossible to exorcise and indiscriminately haunt anyone who enters. Even in scenes during the middle of the day, you can sense something evil in the shadow of every dark closet or crack in the ceiling.
Let the Right One In (2008)
The One Major Vampire Rule you must remember is this: Vampires cannot enter your home unless you invite them inside. And Oskar, the 12-year-old protagonist of this grimly brilliant Swedish adaptation of John Lindqvist's celebrated novel, does exactly that with Eli, his new neighbor and vampire stuck in an 11-year-old girl's body. There's no home invasion here, but it does bring the monster inside. Instead of Eli terrorizing the bullied Oskar, she takes out his enemies with disturbingly creative methods. As Eli and Oskar build trust between each other, one moment your heart will soften to their relationship and the next it'll be ripped out of your chest and doused in hydrochloric acid.
After watching Oculus, you will absolutely never want to go antiquing again. Before Hill House and Bly Manor, Mike Flanagan made this genuinely horrifying ghost story about a possessed mirror that terrorizes a family. The time-hopping narrative about two adult children (Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites) reckoning with their parents' (Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane) descent into madness and ultimate deaths at the hands of this beautiful, evil item is as tragic as it is spooky, and the ending is so upsetting it will have you gasping.
The Orphanage (2007)
J.A. Bayona's debut feature El Orfanato is the kind of movie that takes on a much different tone on rewatch, once you're familiar with all of its twists and turns, but we guarantee you your first watch will FREAK you out. Belén Rueda plays Laura, a woman who returns with her family to the orphanage she lived in as a child, planning to convert it into a home for disabled children. But, when her young son Simón goes missing during a party, she begins to suspect that something supernatural has inhabited the house in her absence. The film interrogates the nature of memory, trauma, and heartbreak, while also delivering its fair share of frights—including one unforgettable scene where a medium, played by Geraldine Chaplin (yes, that Chaplin), conducts an absolutely terrifying séance.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
When Paranormal Activity hit rental and VOD in the late '00s, you can bet that it scarred more than a few tweens and teenagers who were coerced into watching it at slumber parties or in their friend's basement. There's something about watching Oren Peli's "found footage" movie about a couple being menaced by a demon in their new house in a regular old home—clustered together on a living room couch, clutching at each other's hands when the bedsheets move by themselves and the clawed footsteps appear in the flour. It's the kind of viewing experience that continues to haunt you ever after the movies over, when you realize that the study hum of your air conditioning makes the same exact sound that accompanies the demon's nightly manifestations. Seriously, watch it at home and you won't sleep a wink.
The People Under the Stairs (1991)
While it's not exactly scary throughout, frequently flirting with frenzied camp and winking comedy, Wes Craven's The People Under the Stairs is a great example of how to upend the conventions of the home-invasion thriller. "Sometimes in is out," says A.J. Langer's Alice, the girl held captive in a tricked-out mansion with a basement prison full of cannibalistic ghouls. Mixing landlord-slamming social commentary, Home Alone-style brick-tossing shenanigans, and Lynch-genuflecting bursts of the surreal, assisted by Twin Peaks cast members Everett McGill and Wendy Robie as the deeply troubled villains, the movie pings from one idea to the next with cartoon-like glee. Inside or outside, the movie casts a singular spell.
This should go without saying, but never build a house on top of a bunch of ancient graves, or the ghosts of those displaced headstones will kidnap your child and send her to the netherworld as revenge. This Steven Spielberg-penned, Tobe Hooper-directed paranormal movie has more than stood the test of time, its homebound scares—fuzzy TV sets, self-stacking chairs, a dimension of the undead hidden in a child's bedroom closet—freaking out generation after generation of longtime fans and new converts. Always remember: Never follow the light, and if you think your house might be home to vengeful spirits that manifest as giant zombie heads and skeletal dogs, save yourself a few months of trouble and move.
Thank Hideo Nakata's Ringu, based on the 1991 novel by Kôji Suzuki, for kickstarting the American J-horror obsession and inspiring 2002's English-language The Ring that kids would freak themselves out watching at sleepovers. When you're ready to graduate to the next level of nightmare-inducing horrors, Ringu is waiting for you to find it. You know the deal here: Watch the mysterious videotape, die in seven days. There's always something especially creepy with television-based horror, as if it was really happening right on your own screen; Nakata turns the dial up with particularly eerie selective lighting, dim close-ups, and the long-haired Sadako slithering out of snowy TV sets in this truly terrifying film.
The Strangers (2008)
Few horror movies use gaps of silence and negative visual space as effectively as this stripped-down home invasion drama. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play a couple that arrives at a cozy summer home in a moment of emotional uncertainty following a rejected wedding proposal. The uneasiness grows more literal as unidentified figures lurk in the background of shots, often appearing to the audience but staying outside the view of the main characters. Why won't these silent outsiders leave these people alone? If you're in the right mood, this is one of the more viscerally unsettling horror movies of recent years, a sustained exercise in tension that also boasts an exquisitely creepy Joanna Newsom needle-drop.
Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)
Both movies in the Unfriended-verse are worth dipping into, particularly as the pandemic makes Zoom and similar video chat apps an increasingly common way to stay in touch with family and friends. But the less supernatural sequel, which has no plot connection to the first film, is the more impressive experiment, tying together a range of buzzy online topics—sophisticated hacking operations, paranoid cyber-security measures, and cryptocurrencies—with a locked-in style, almost play-like in its storytelling, that replicates the visual language of the internet with minimal amount of "cheating" to ratchet up cheap suspense.
You're Next (2011)
The home invasion genre gets a pleasingly nasty, darkly funny update in this Adam Wingard-directed thriller, which follows an Australian woman (Sharni Vinson) trekking to the Missouri childhood home of her academic boyfriend (AJ Bowen) for his parent's 35th wedding anniversary. The vaguely caustic mumblecore trappings—filmmakers Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, and Ti West all have supporting roles—quickly give way to a genuinely exciting suspense set-up, one where gruesome death is doled out with cleverness and wit. Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barret followed this one up with 2014's The Guest, another stellar study in genre-mixing mayhem that works well on the small screen.