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TRICK OR BEAT: Come to the dark side with non-horror horror

Halloween is here, but there's no reason you have to watch Saw or It.


Horror is overrated. There, I said it. Publicly. But the reason I find horror overrated is that I think there’s plenty of horror to be found in real life and depictions of real life. Or near-real life. Not all the media on this list is realistic. Some of it is science fiction. But there’s a realness, a grittiness, or an eerily predictive feel to all of these that help heighten the fear they bring. They each represent some kind of fear I have, and I know others have. These are in no particular order.

Phantom Thread

This isn’t a genre piece, per se, but it is a romance and a historical genre film, so it can be thought of as drama. Chilling in its depiction of a seriously messed up romantic relationship between a fashion designer and his muse, the film is fraught with passion and tension between Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps), ending in poison. But the good kind of poison, if there is such a thing. The creeping sense of fear here is about love, and all the multitudes it contains. It comes highly recommended, one of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s finest works.

Person of Interest/Westworld

These two shows go hand in hand, all about the possibility of an all-knowing AI taking over the Earth not-quite-as-we-know-it and wreaking havoc. Well, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), causes more chaos than the Machine, but both Westworld and Person of Interest are thrillers with a definite edge. The thrills can turn horrific, and the characters go through terrible things in the name of a brave new future. The horror here is about just what computers could do in the not so distant future.

Any Don Bluth film

Don Bluth films legitimately gave me nightmares as a kid. There’s something deeply twisted about all of these man’s films, which are ostensibly for children. See above for evidence; Rasputin’s entire existence in Anastasia (1997) is that of a rotting corpse–he’s constantly falling apart, until the point where he liquifies, leaving just his skeleton, before that turns to dust. The trials the rats in The Secret of NIMH (and its sequel) go through are also horrifying–a particular memory of mine has to do with rats going through a truly horrific hallucination-type sequence. Should animated kids films be horror? Don Bluth wants you to be the judge.

Cobra Kai

I know what you’re thinking. No, really, I do. Cobra Kai, The Karate Kid sequel series is horror?

Thanks for the assist, Obi-Wan. See, to me, Cobra Kai is about the terror of growing old and never having done anything solid with your life. Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) have become middle-aged, and while Daniel has been somewhat successful, Johnny’s a loser–and really, they’re both just trying to grasp at the straws of their karate champion youths. That doesn’t even go into what the next generation in the show faces, culminating in a terrifying karate beatdown at the end of season 2. Yes, Cobra Kai has a lot of laughs, but there’s a lot to fear, too.

Let us know what your favorite scary non-horror movies and TV shows are–games, too. What scares you beyond clowns and serial killers?


  1. This year’s Halloween theme has been recommending horror movies that aren’t really horror movies, in the apparent belief that the real world has become so scary, people can’t handle horror entertainment. NPR has done this, and now the Beat.

    I go with Stephen King’ argument that horror can provide a catharsis, one that reminds you the real world isn’t really that scary and threatening.

    “Horror is overrated.”

    I’d argue that sci-fi, fantasy and superheroes (the fanboys’ favorite genres) are overrated.

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