Let me first say that everyone should know “the classics”, the films that have defined, and redefined, the horror genre. You're probably familiar with all of them: Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, The Shining, The Omen, Halloween, The Haunting...etc. The list goes on. And yes, they're all remarkable films.
But don't screen these movies at your Halloween party.
They may still be scary, and for the most part, they all still “work”. But honestly, how many times can you rewatch Carrie before it ceases to be frightening and starts to feel more like an exercise in film history? For the most part, these “classics” are all rather slow and careful. It's what elevates them to the great pieces of art that they are. Unfortunately, it makes for rather boring Halloween parties.
When you know all the great set pieces by heart (crucifix masturbation, nanny hanging, dead naked woman in the bathtub...etc.) it often feels like you're waiting around for the next big moment. I've watched Carrie in a large group; after the shower scene it's one long crawl to the bucket of pigs blood.
Because of this, I've compiled a list of less-popular horror films more suitable for group viewing.
1. THE FLY (Cronenberg)
This is my favorite monster movie. Ever. It's a classy film, even after Jeff Goldblum starts vomiting on his food.
2. HELLRAISER/HELLRAISER 2
The franchise became something different, with numerous attempts to turn Pinhead into some kind of slasher villain. Forget about the later installments; Hellraiser is a beautifully dark love story which manages to be horrifying without relying heavily on the flayed Cenobites.
If you're too familiar with the original, or if you have a strong yearning for visions of an M.C. Escher-like Hell, go for the sequel.
3. EVENT HORIZON
The film eventually becomes outright horror, but the mysterious sci-fi premise works to hook you right from the beginning. Bonus points for the Hellraiser-inspired makeup on Sam Neil.
4. THE DESCENT
No one is going to give this film an award for its story, but it remains the most claustrophobic movie I've ever seen. It's absolutely terrifying... and then the monsters show up.
5. FINAL DESTINATION 2
Well, this movie isn't scary at all. You can almost classify it as a comedy. Regardless of the actual genre, this is a guaranteed party-pleaser and possibly the most fun I've ever had watching teens die.
6. 28 DAYS LATER
Night of the living dead wins for general filmic significance, but by now everyone knows that they all should have just hid in the basement. And yeah, it's still fucked up that they shoot the black guy in the head. Now that that's out of the way...
Danny Boyle's zombie flick is an artistic gem while also being out-right terrifying. As a bonus, you can follow-up the movie with endless argument about whether or not the last 20 minutes suck.
7. NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART IV
Yes, I'm actually advocating Nightmare part 4...
Bottom line, if you somehow haven't seen the original A Nightmare on Elm Street then you have no business reading this post anyway. Go buy it. Go watch it. Preferably alone with the lights out.
But while Kruger's over-the-top silliness might have sunk the franchise, it's precisely this carnivalesque behavior that makes this film a party favorite. Bonus points for the especially cheesy 80's feel to this film. Though the 3rd installment (The Dream Warriors) has some great sequences, nothing can top this film's traumatizing roach motel death sequence. It might be the most horrific sequence in any film. Ever.
8. THE THING (Carpenter)
Both a paranoid-thriller, and an effects-laden sci-fi horror masterpiece. Halloween might remain the iconic Carpenter horror film, but while everyone remembers Jamie-Lee Curtis stuck in the closet, few people remember the sheer brilliance of this movie's defibrillator scene.
This movie might have inadvertently created a new genre of horror known as Torture-Porn, but the film's most frightening scene takes place in a locker room featuring nothing but two guys talking. There's an ample supply of breasts in addition to murders, and while the film plays a little unbalanced, it's guaranteed to generate some cheering once the real violence kicks in.
10. JACOBS LADDER
I almost didn't include this film on the list, mainly because the rather cerebral plot might not play well with a drunk crowd. Still, this film features some of the most frightening imagery I've ever seen in a film. The ending might piss everyone off, but none of them will forget the incredible gurney trip through the asylum-hell. If your there are more wine-drinkers than keg-standers at your party, this is a great choice.