In late September, we put out a call for readers looking for specific horror movie recommendations. It’s an offshoot of our Dear Polygon series, where we answer questions and give recs to readers like you. To our delight, hundreds of you responded. This is the third entry answering those requests, hand-picking a horror movie to watch just for you. You can catch up with the first entry here, and our second one here.
If you’d like to get in on the fun, you can still fill out our recommendation request form.
Let’s dig in.
[Ed. note: Some questions have been slightly edited for clarity.]
I like psychological horror or thrillers. So I’m looking for a total mind f*ck. Also stupid horror humor is always good.
Christine: Congratulations; these are excellent avenues to start with as you begin your journey into the horror field. I’m going to kick you off with a thriller classic, one that’s very much in keeping with Black Swan (more on that later), and uses its medium to really fuck with your mind in the best way. —Zosha Millman
What’s it like? Mima is coming apart at the seams. She’s left her successful girl group to become an actress, taking a role in a risqué detective TV drama. Plus she’s got a stalker who seems to be privy to her innermost thoughts and doubts, putting them online — as Mima — in a special forum dedicated to her life. It is enough to make anyone’s reality come apart, and Perfect Blue is the perfect, mind-bending vehicle to snarl it all up.
What flavor of horror is it? Perfect Blue is mostly light on physical gore (though there is some), instead turning to more internal, psychological violence. As real life and fiction start to blur for Mima, the world becomes dizzyingly twisted, using the freedom of anime to further disorient and contort what either Mima or the audience knows to be true. There are slasher and thriller elements, sure, but they’re second to the film’s ability to warp reality through its own freaky hall of mirrors. Whether you’re new to horror, anime, or both, Perfect Blue is an ideal movie to show you the beauty of both art forms, becoming a true classic for a reason.
Who made it? Satoshi Kon, God rest his soul. Known for such anime classics as Paprika, Millennium Actress, and Tokyo Godfathers, Kon’s brief but mammoth legacy lives on after his death in 2010. If you’re a Darren Aronofsky fan you’ll note that he’s repeatedly cited Kon’s influence, even basing certain shots in Requiem for a Dream on Perfect Blue’s. (That being said, he draws the line at saying it inspired Black Swan.)
Who’s in it? If you’re watching with the Japanese dub, you may recognize Junko Iwao, who plays Mima, and has plenty of noteworthy anime credits to her name. Rika Matsumoto, who plays Mima’s manager, Rumi, also voiced Satoshi (aka Ash Ketchum in English) in several Pokémon projects!
How long is it? An hour and 21 wonderful minutes of mind fuck.
Comedy Horror can be really great, but it can also be overly genre-aware. What’s a comedy horror that doesn’t lean too heavily into “boy, it sure would be silly if we split up, but let’s split up”?
As we’ve documented on Polygon, horror is the tropiest genre and it’s so easy for even great horror movies with a sense of humor to fall back onto spoof. (And “genre-aware” is not always a pejorative! See: Shaun of the Dead.) But here’s an underrated pick that I think skews more comedy than horror (versus, say, your Freakys or your Screams), while still committing to the creature-feature bit. —Matt Patches
What’s it like? Think Gremlins, but about a butt monster. The film follows Duncan (Ken Marino), a stressed-out dude who knows the clock’s ticking on his chance to have kids with wife Sarah (Gillian Jacobs). His anxiety has built up to such a degree, in fact, that it’s morphed into a pudgy goblin that lives in his intestines. Like Audrey II from Little Shop, “Milo” hungers for blood — and routinely escapes from Duncan’s ass in order to feast. It does not go well for anyone.
What flavor of horror is it? With a giddiness to splatter and no hesitation to plunge the laughs from its bathroom humor, Bad Milo! falls dead center on the horror-comedy matrix. A cast of comedic actors brings a firmly weird and hilarious tone to a movie that otherwise plays it straight. And the horror of it all works, thanks to elaborate puppetry and R-rated bloodshed. It’s sick shit!
Who made it? The movie comes from editor turned director Jacob Vaughan, who lucked out by nabbing veteran puppeteers Bob Mano, Frank Langley, and Mark Bryan Wilson, the man behind Slimer in Ghostbusters, to handle all of Milo’s grislier antics.
Who’s in it? Joining Marino and Jacobs are a murderers’ row of funny people, including Stephen Root, Patrick Warburton, Mary Kay Place, Kumail Nanjiani, and Peter Stormare (who is very good at Gruff Serious Guy Comedy).
How long is it? 84 minutes
My horror movie taste is really all over the map. I’ve been obsessed with scary movies since I was a kid, good or bad, and to be fair most are bad. I’d be shocked at this point to see a movie that actually scares me, but that would be awesome. I’ll usually love a horror film if it has one or more of these elements...the movie itself is actually good, it’s fun, it fills you with dread, it’s disturbing and I love gore. I watch all year long but in October I watch 31 horror films, so recommendations are definitely needed!
Hi Britney, I love this question because it’s pretty close to how I feel about horror movies too. So in the interest of disturbing movies with some gore — that I can’t necessarily recommend to everyone — I think I’ve got a great, very recent choice that went under the radar just last year. —Austen Goslin
Wrong Turn (2021)
What’s it like? A group of teens get lost on an Appalachian trail and come across a society that’s spent years hiding in the woods. Things go predictably wrong, and then they go very unpredictably wrong, which is where the movie really hits its stride. Wrong Turn (2021) is a reimagining of the 2000s horror series Wrong Turn, but don’t worry, you won’t need to have seen any of the previous movies for this to make sense.
What flavor of horror is it? This movie is a twist on the traditional backwoods horror genre, trading out the original franchise’s bland cannibal villains for something far creepier and more interesting. As for the movie itself, Wrong Turn (2021) is full of deeply unsettling gore and grisly moments, but the movie’s startlingly realistic wounds aren’t nearly as upsetting as its tense and terrifying last 30 or so minutes.
Who made it? Wrong Turn (2021) is directed by Mike P. Nelson, a fairly new filmmaker whose most prominent movie before this was a very small indie sci-fi project called The Domestics. The movie is written by original Wrong Turn writer Alan B. McElroy, who has written on all kinds of movies and television series, including Star Trek: Discovery.
Who’s in it? The cast isn’t necessarily stacked with stars, but it does include a particularly recognizable face in Matthew Modine, who most viewers at this point are likely to know from Stranger Things.
How long is it? Wrong Turn is 109 minutes.