Here is a list of smart horror movies with nuanced plots, deep meanings, intelligent screenwriting and traditional scary movie elements. All of these movies will spook you but also stimulate you philosophically, or at the very least spook you and make you think at the same time.
The Shining is a movie so smart there are other movies about how many philosophical layers are in it. Was Jack Torrence haunted by the ghosts of of the Overlook hotel — or was his mental health slipping as a result of cabin fever? Was he crazy, or could that happen to any of us. And then there’s the meaning behind some of Kubrick’s directorial decisions to think about.
Don’t let the subtitles lure you into watching the American remake of this intelligent film. This Swedish film about friendship and murder is perfect in first and original incarnation and smart take on the vampire film. You won’t think kids are so innocent afterwards.
Triangle, a British-Australian psychological thriller, isn’t the right kind of movie to watch if you aren’t going to fully pay attention to it. You can’t play on your phone for awhile and then ask whoever you’re watching with to catch you up. A bunch of friends are boating (in the Bermuda Triangle — get it?) when some pretty strange things start happening, and for the rest of the movie, it keeps getting weirder and you need to think philosophically about what is going on.
The Scream series is consistently underrated for being a cliche horror movie series when the reality is it’s a horror movie series about cliche horror movie series. If you thought this was just another silly horror movie, think again and watch it as meta-commentary on the whole scary movie and horror genre — and you’ll see that the director and screenwriter had a lot of interesting thoughts and ideas playing throughout the film.
David Fincher’s psychological thriller is a timeless serial killer classic with a trippy storyline. Who is John Doe and what could possibly motivate him to pull of such a sick series of murders? Why are they motivated by Christian theology and what is in that box? Seven is a movie that makes you think as much as it horrifies you.
Directed by Peter Medak, The Changeling is an intense (and scary) you know it’s based on a real life mystery. Transport yourself to a creepy old Victorian mansion and see if you can solve it. Prepare to be confused, stimulated, and horrified in this early 80s classic smart horror movie.
Here is an intelligent horror movie straight from the 1970s. Wicker Man is a true British classic and with good reason: it’s a weird and terrifying story of a vanished girl with a very, very juicy twist ending. Here’s a tip though: don’t watch the American remake The Wicker Man (2006) with Nicholas Cage until you’ve seen the original version.
There should be a support group for people who snuck a VHS of Jacob’s Ladder into a slumber party when they were a kid and it ruined their childhood. Directed by Adrian Lyne, and written by Bruce Joel Rubin, Jacob’s Ladder is the inspiration behind the Silent Hill series.
In addition to being absolutely terrifying, Candyman also contains some smart social commentary. What’s easy to pass off as a silly urban legend, the tale of the Candyman, is actually one part history and one part supernatural and there is much to be gleaned from this one.
Directed and written by Ari Aster, Hereditary is on the surface a film about demons and the devil. It’s beloved by intelligent horror fans as well though because of the deeper metaphor of family trauma that stirs beneath it. Is this movie just one big metaphor? It gives you so much to ponder upon, and leaves a lasting impression even days after you finished watching it.
Suspiria is one of those movies that separates casual horror fans from diehards — if you don’t know and love it, you’re not a diehard. Yeah, if you haven’t seen Suspiria you better go check out the blu-ray right. now. This is a cult classic.
Cabin in The Woods (2011)
Cabin in the Woods is a horror movie but also a comedy movie with a great deal of awareness. That is why this is a great horror movie for smart people. It even has a character, Marty, that becomes aware and mocks all the horror movie tropes happening throughout the movie. Watch this piece of cinema if you’re looking for a super well-done post-modern ‘scary’ movie.
If you can figure out the twist in this movie before it happens, you’re way smarter than most people. The ending aside, the whole movie is brilliant in how creepy it manages to be. Even after it’s all over and the lights are on, Session 9 will linger in your head for a long time.
It takes smart writing to make a movie about dumb characters seem intelligent. Shaun of the Dead pokes fun at all the overdone tropes in the horror genre. We also get a glimpse of a truth often avoided by zombie films — even after the zombie apocalypse our dumb human relationship drama goes on.
This is one American remake that is really decent and stays extremely to the original. Funny Games is about the sheer terror of a pair of killers without any motive at all, a Dostoevskian tale indeed.
Say what you will about the never-ending Saw franchise, the first one was just so original. We hadn’t seen anything like this before and the movies brings up many philosophical questions about human suffering.
You absolutely cannot watch the American remake before you have seen the original The Vanishing. Even though Sandra Bullock and Keifer Sutherland are in it. It’s universally revered among smart horror fans for being one of the most intense and unsettling movies of all time.
A common theme among the “smart” horror movies is they play with epistemology — what is reality? Do we know “what’s real”? Are the lives of the Stewart family real, or those of The Others? This gothic supernatural film from Alejandro Amenábar will dive you deep into the ontology of horror.
Bret Easton Ellis is such an insanely good writer and the film adaptation of American Psycho delivers. The movie is funny, scary and smart culture analysis of capitalism, greed, and insanity. Just like the movie, there are so many different ways to read American Psycho, which is why it’s a favorite among horror movie nerds.