Most horror films rely on things that aren’t real. Ghosts, vampires, zombies, demons, we all know these things aren’t real and we don’t need to be afraid of them. However, there are some horror films that don’t deal with the supernatural or call down aliens or other weird things to scare people. For me, I have always found these films scarier, this idea that it could happen to me, if perhaps very unlikely. Serial killers, cults, and sociopaths are real and hurt people all the time. Why be scared of a ghost when there are plenty of people out there?
“We All Go A Little Mad Sometimes” Psycho
So to start with perhaps the greatest and most famous (and certainly for me the scariest) of these films – Psycho. An Alfred Hitchcock classic of murder and horror and all of it is entirely possible. Serial killers exist, indeed, Hitchcock based it on real incidents. This film terrified me when I saw it as a child and still occupies the spot in my mind of the number 1 scariest film.
Next up is the terrifying classic Misery. A novelist crashes his car and is rescued by one of his fans who decides she will look after him until he is better…and not tell anyone about this. Things get dark very quickly and the audience comes to realise that the word “fan” doesn’t really do her feelings justice. A particular scene with a sledgehammer is seared into my memory. Toxic fandom is definitely an issue being addressed today and the idea of what this particular novelist “owes” this particular fan drives the film.
Christian Bale played one of the great horror movie villains in American Psycho. While Patrick Bateman does kill many people what is scarier is his attitude throughout, more upset about dinner reservations and business cards than all the dead bodies piling up around him. The cold sociopathy that seems to be displayed by Bateman is very chilling and the fact that he so seamlessly blends in with “normal” people, indeed, would seem to be a picture of a thriving and successful person can make you take second glances at some of the normal people around you.
“We’re Not Keeping You Here, You’re Just Staying” Green Room
Whilst not a situation everyone will find themselves in Green Room is a terrifying film, a punk band accidentally find themselves playing to Neo-Nazis, this is bad enough but after an altercation in the green room leads to a horrific siege from the neo-nazis as the band barricade themselves inside. How close we are to dangerous people can be an unsettling fact – the band finds this gig through an interview, in a sort-of friend-of-a-friend situation. Are your friends of friends people you should be scared of?
“Beauty Isn’t Everything. It’s The Only Thing” The Neon Demon
For the vast majority of the film Neon Demon is not a horror but a rather sad look at fashion, beauty and what people will do to be beautiful. And then it absolutely becomes genuinely horrific incredibly quickly. What exactly are the people around you, perhaps your professional competitors, prepared to do to succeed? How far will they go?
“Come, It’s Time To Keep Your Appointment With The Wicker Man” The Wicker Man
A film that works as horror in several ways is All My Friends Hate Me. Those who suffer from anxiety will probably be familiar with the creeping thought that all of your friends secretly hate you. After a few years apart a birthday prompts a reunion of a group of old university friends with Pete feeling out of step with his friends (who are incredibly posh). Mistrust, suspicion, paranoia both of your normal social relationships and terrifying and sinister plots runs throughout the film.
Now as we get into the still possible but getting more and more unlikely – The Wicker Man. One of the great horror films of all time The Wicker Man follows a pious police officer searching for a missing child on Summer Isle. As the police officer searches he quickly comes to the conclusion something terrible has happened to the little girl, connected to the harvest on the island. While there is perhaps a supernatural motivation behind what is going on there is no actual evidence of anything supernatural actually happening. Everyone who has seen this film and isn’t from a very rural area will always have a shiver of fear upon entering the rural world, what old traditions lurk there?
This almost shouldn’t be on the list and when I first saw this film it wouldn’t have been on it, but The Road is another horror film with no supernatural elements to it. In a post-apocalyptic world, a father and son wander the land simply trying to survive. It is incredibly bleak. But the cause of this apocalypse seems to be some manner of environmental catastrophe and when The Road was released it was a dire warning of potential future calamity…now it feels distressingly nearby.