10 not-scary horror movies for people who don’t like horror movies
So, you say you don’t like Horror Movies(tm), do ya? The gruesome sight of Jason Voorhees hacking off camper’s heads gets a firm “No, thank you!” from you, does it? Michael Myers knocks on your door on October 31st, and you push him off like a wayward Bible salesman, huh?
Well, you don’t have to be left out of the greatest time of year just because you’re not a gorehound. Horror is one of the most stretchily adaptable of genres — there are horror comedies, horror musicals, and even horror for the whole fam. So, if you’re hunting for a festive Halloweenie feeling or two to help you celebrate the season, you don’t have to submit yourself to Eli Roth’s most twisted visions. There are hundreds of choice options to choose from if you prefer spooky to scary, and we whittled it down to the best of the best. Grab your favorite treats, and get ready for some gentle tricks!
Here are our picks for the best streaming horror movies for folks who don’t like horror movies — or so they think!
1. Hocus Pocus
The infamously wicked witches of Salem, Massachusetts, known as the Sanderson sisters — Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary (Kathy Najimy) — are on the hunt for fresh souls to regain their youth, and witchy hijinks ensue. Cheesy as it may be, this one might be strictly for those people who grew up with it, and for those who want their little ones to do the same. But the cult of ’90s kids around this movie is very real and very intense, and there’s nothing much scarier here than Bette Midler’s Bugs Bunny chompers. So hop on your vacuums and cackle away, you maggoty malfeasances!
And if you’re in the mood for a double feature, well, Hocus Pocus 2 just debuted on Disney+, just a newt’s-eye short of 30 years after the first film us over. All the better to keep your Billy Butcherson’s (Doug Jones) straight from your Binx the Cats, wouldn’t you say?
How to watch: Hocus Pocus is now streaming on Disney+(opens in a new tab).
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2. Monster House
This list could very nearly consist of only animated films, as they more often manage to stay a whisper on the safe side of the gap between Scary and Too-Scary than their live-action compatriots do. But I’ve restricted myself to only two animated movies for this list, and director Gil Kenan’s trick-and-treating rollercoaster ride from 2006 clearly had to be one of them.
Written by the folks who brought you The Sarah Silverman Program and Community, Monster House is clever like those shows and funny like those shows, but it’s also a nonstop, gee-whiz, sugared-up imagination explosion. Beginning with a brilliantly simple conceit, “What if the haunted house was itself the monster?” their script then works to find a dozen ways to spin that off into brilliant little directions — “And what if the house had a uvula?!?” being my personal favorite. And then they hired Maggie Gyllenhaal, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, and best-of-the-best Steve Buscemi to do the voiceover work? Classic.
How to watch: Monster House is now streaming on Hulu(opens in a new tab).
If you want to be just mildly spooked, you can’t go wrong with any Tim Burton movie; even his Batman movies feel like Halloween freak shows more than they do summer blockbusters.
From the stop-motion sandworms of Mars to that moment when Geena Davis flicks her eyeballs down into her throat, Beetlejuice is filled with oogie boogies of the giggly sort as it plots out what nonsense happens after we die — which in Burton’s hands is mostly the same nonsense we went through during life, only twenty degrees wackier. Show up for Michael Keaton’s single greatest film performance, and leave with Harry Belafonte stuck in your head. It’s heaven.
How to watch: Beetlejuice is now streaming on HBO Max(opens in a new tab).
The stop-motion animators at Laika can do no wrong, so nearly any of their fantastic films could have made this list. Some might’ve gone with the Neil Gaiman adaptation of Coraline (and that’s also streaming one on Roku(opens in a new tab)). However, directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell’s ParaNorman is a perfectly realized little wonderment about a little boy who not only sees dead people but idly chats with them too.
By spinning a spooky story about a town’s terrible past as the site of witch trials and its enduring legacy, ParaNorman balances heart and horror — and may gently jerk a few tears from your eyes along the way. No doubt the voice-casting of the incredibly talented Kodi Smit-McPhee as Norman a dozen years before he’d wrassle with Bronco Henry’s protegee had something to do with that, but ParaNorman is chock-full of prescience on every front, including its message about the dangers of mob justice.
How to watch: ParaNorman is now streaming on The Roku Channel(opens in a new tab).
5. House on Haunted Hill
Credit: Allied Artists/Kobal/Shutterstock
Like with Tim Burton’s filmography, you really can’t go wrong with any Vincent Price feature for the nimblest of spooks. Really, you should just watch any and every Vincent Price movie! But William Castle’s 1959 skeleton-in-the-box classic is probably the simplest and most straightforwardly fun of the bunch, using the time-honored tradition of getting a bunch of random people trapped inside of a haunted house together and then just slowly having things pop out at them, one howling sheet after another.
Here, Price plays the devilish millionaire Frederick Loren, who invites a group of strangers to his wife’s birthday party inside said haunted house, promising them each $10,000 if they can last the night. The bodies start piling up, but said corpses are regular skeletons that can’t compete with the metaphorical ones jumping out of every character’s closet, including Frederick and his wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart), who plainly hate each other’s guts to hell and back. It’s a blast! (The 1999 remake is great, but it’s genuinely frightening — so maybe save it for a sunny summer day(opens in a new tab).)
How to watch: House on Haunted Hill is now streaming on Prime Video(opens in a new tab).
6. The Old Dark House
Like House on Haunted Hill, this is another bump-in-the-night flick about a group of disparate folks trapped inside a cobwebby house during a raging storm. But this film directed by James Whale is the haunted house template; everything after is just ripping it shamelessly off.
House has some choice cast members in common with Bride of Frankenstein, another stone cold horror-comedy classic from Whale. First off is Boris Karloff, who plays another sort of “monster” in House — in this case, a rampaging pervert named Morgan who keeps trying to drag the women off, which includes actress Gloria Stuart 65 full years before she oopsied that “Heart of the Ocean” off the side of that little schooner known as Titanic. But, best of all is queer horror icon Ernest Thesiger, who shows up in The Old Dark House to make lisping mincemeat out of lines such as “Have a potato,” and it is he who is my truest everything.
How to watch: The Old Dark House is now streaming on Tubi(opens in a new tab).
7. Little Shop of Horrors
While Roger Corman’s original 1960 version of Little Shop is great, Frank Oz’s 1986 adaptation of the off-Broadway musical by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman based on Corman’s flick is far more fun, creating not only an epic movie monster but also an entire generation looking for ”Somewhere That’s Green.”
There will never be movie-casting as fine as Rick Moranis as the schlubby plant shop owner and orphan Seymour Krelborn, alongside the legend, the icon, the queen of stage and screen Miss Ellen Greene as Audrey, his intended paramour. When that “mean green mother from outer space,” the blood-hungry plant Audrey II, beams down and wreaks havoc on the unsuspecting denizens of Skid Row, there’s plenty of scary to be had — ax murders and a trip to a sadistic dentist played by Steve Martin chief among them.
But mostly it’s just one perfect song followed by another, and two of the great romantic leads of our age batting eyelashes at one another over trays of frozen TV dinners. Then, on top of all that, there’s a massive, man-eating puppet who’s got otherworldly charisma courtesy of the late, great Levi Stubbs, lead singer of the Four Tops. What more could you pine for?
How to watch: Little Shop of Horrors is streaming on HBO Max(opens in a new tab).
8. Young Frankenstein
Credit: 20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock
It’s alive! ALIVE!!! We didn’t want this list to be nothing but horror-comedies, but how can you not include the greatest one of those of all? (If we’re not counting Evil Dead II anyway, and you non-horror people are going to want to stay far away from Evil Dead II.) Not that there’s anything much scary at all in Mel Brooks’s 1974 spoof of the classic Universal monster movie Frankenstein, but it’s about horror enough that it’s earned its spot on this list. It’s also arguably Mel Brooks’ funniest movie; we dare you to watch Peter Boyle’s Monster “sing” his part of “Puttin’ on the Ritz” with a straight face.
With a cast that includes certifiable comedy legends like Boyle, Gene Wilder, Cloris Leachman, Marty Feldman, Gene Hackman, Teri Garr, and the one and the only Madeline Kahn, there’s not a pair of poo-poo undies in the bunch. [Horses whinny.]
How to watch: Young Frankenstein is now streaming on HBO Max(opens in a new tab).
Credit: Vestron/Working Title/Kobal/Shutterstock
Four years before director Bernard Rose made the very scary Clive Barker adaptation Candyman, he made a small surreal British masterpiece called Paperhouse. Starring a young actress named Charlotte Burke in her only acting gig, the movie tells the story of Anna, a little girl who gets sick from falling asleep outdoors and begins hallucinating a friendship with the little boy who lives inside of her drawings. Everything Anna draws in the pictures comes to life when she ventures inside of them. This turns out to be as thrilling — free popcorn machines and bicycles! — as it can be terrifying, like how her drawing of Marc (Elliott Spiers) as just a sad face in a window leaves him with legs that don’t work. Co-starring the great Glenne Headly as Anna’s mom and Ben Cross (aka Barnabas Collins in the ‘90s Dark Shadows reboot) as her absentee father, Paperhouse has a couple of genuine scares that burned themselves into my brain as a child. But mostly it’s a gothic mood piece that’s the perfect stuff for a cold and windy October afternoon.
How to watch: Paperhouse is now streaming on Freevee(opens in a new tab).
10. Return to Oz
Credit: Buena Vista/Kobal/Shutterstock
The scariest movie on this whole list isn’t really supposed to be a horror movie at all! But you tell that to the entire generation of now-adults whose entire bodies collapse onto the floor at the mere whisper of… the Wheelers.
That’s not exactly unique for this property. Before Return to Oz, the Flying Monkeys tore the Scarecrow to shreds and generations had to sleep with the lights on, after all. But in 1985, when director Walter Murch’s sequel to the 1939 masterpiece The Wizard of Oz was released, Return to Oz was mostly scoffed at by critics and audiences alike, dropping like a stone at the box office. Yet something funny happened along the Yellow Brick Road’s dark new branch, and the film’s cast of freaky figures drawn from L. Frank Baum’s Oz books — Gump, Jack Pumpkinhead, Tik-Tok, and the shudder-inducing Princess Mombi with her closet of detachable heads — wormed their way into our collective consciousness. Justice for Fairuza Balk’s Dorothy Gale!
How to watch: Return to Oz is now streaming on Disney+(opens in a new tab).