It's officially October, which means it's time to willingly scare ourselves for the thrill of it—if you're into that, anyway. For horror film fanatics out there, watching a scary movie can feel distinctly gratifying and euphoric (aside from being a festive thing to do during spooky season). Plus, in a year like 2020, when turning on the news can be enough to incite terror, watching a horror film on your own terms, in the safety of your own home, can feel like an oddly comforting escape.
For some of us, though, we'd prefer the cinematic frights and thrills without all the guts and gore. As someone whose knees get weak whenever I even think about needles let alone see them on a TV screen (which is why I've never been one for hospital dramas), I wouldn't willingly sign up to watch something that's filled with constant slashing and dismembered body parts. Fortunately, there are still plenty of options out there that can deliver a psychologically tantalizing scare without the stomach-churning effects. Below, see a list of scary movies that are good, clean (and relatively blood-free) fun.
11 scary movies that aren't gory:
It Follows (2015)
It Follows is a coming-of-age horror film that takes real-life, intimate fears to imaginative and frightening depths. After Jay, the film's lead, has a seemingly innocent hookup with her new boyfriend, she learns that she's become the latest recipient of a fatal curse that is passed on through sexual encounters. The STD-like curse, which causes a human-like embodiment of death to follow whoever is affected, can only be avoided by passing it on to another person by way of sex. Quick warning: There is one brief scene at the beginning that shows a dead girl whose leg is bent backwards, but the rest of the film mostly omits the gruesome stuff and focuses on Jay running from the figures that lurk behind her.
It Follows is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
The Others (2001)
Nicole Kidman plays a devoutly religious mother of two children in this 2001 film set in post-World War II England. Because the children suffer from a rare photosensitivity disease that causes the sun to harm them, the curtains in the house are always drawn, which creates the perfect dark and eerie setting for when supernatural activity starts to occur. The slow-burn film, which builds without an ounce of bloodshed, makes you question who to believe throughout its progression and delivers a satisfying twist at the end.
What Lies Beneath (2000)
What Lies Beneath is another 2000s horror film with big-name movie star leads. The film stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford as a husband and wife who seem to have the perfect marriage. Then, Claire (Pfeiffer) starts hearing voices and seeing images of a woman. She is dismissed by her husband as delusional, later finding out that she's being haunted by the ghost of a woman her husband slept with behind her back. I'm not sure what's scarier, the ghost haunting or the gaslighting, cheating husband—but either way this film checks out as a gore-free thriller.
The Witch (2015)
The Witch is a film that both period piece- and indie-lovers alike can get behind. The 2015 A24 film takes place in 1630 New England and follows a god-fearing family whose son Samuel suddenly vanishes early on. Though viewers can see that a frightening witch who is in the woods is responsible, the isolated family blames Thomasin, the daughter who was watching the baby at the time of his disappearance—and the family's mounting paranoia throughout the film aids in their own demise.
The film isn't entirely devoid of gore—there's a bloodletting scene that might make you flinch and a few instances of slaughter-induced splattering—but it's not central to the plot. The thrill of the film relies mostly on the suspense and haunting music that builds and lingers far past what's comfortable. In this film, as a reviewer wrote in Time, the things you don’t see are more horrifying than those you do."
The Ring (2002)
The Ring is the 2002 remake of the original 1998 Japanese film, which tells the tale of a cursed videotape that dooms all those who watch it to die seven days later. What's most satisfying about the film—aside from a few throw-your-popcorn-in-the-air moments—is that it doubles as both a horror and a mystery film.
When a teen girl (Amber Tamblyn) dies along with three others who watched the videotape together, her aunt Rachel (Naomi Watts), a reporter, heads out on a mission to find out more about the tape-related deaths and the troubled soul who's behind it all. Since Rachel watches the tape as research, her days are numbered as she investigates the phenomenon, which makes watching the film a tense, full-body-clenching experience. Heads up: There are a few brief moments that show the faces of those who've died from watching the video (and it's not pretty), but the film relies primarily on suspense.
Paranormal Activity (2009)
Paranormal Activity became so popular when it was released in 2009 (making $193 million in the U.S. and internationally) that five more films followed in the franchise. The story follows a young couple who moves into a new home. After growing concerned that there's a supernatural presence in their house, they set up a video camera to record what's happening while they sleep. Since most of the terror comes from blurry figures and inanimate objects moving seemingly on their own, there aren't any gruesome scenes to fear. But the movie can still give you a solid spook, especially if your fears consist of worrying about the things that go bump in the night.
The Conjuring (2013)
Perhaps the scariest thing about this movie is that it claims to be based on a true story, which involves a family being haunted and possessed by spirits after moving into a new home. The thrilling effects rely mostly on sounds, not sights, so you don't have to worry about seeing any gag-inducing gore. Along with echoes of children's laughter (when the kids in the house are all asleep), the defining sound of the film is that of phantom hands clapping twice—and it's sure to give you a good jump.
The Conjuring is available to watch with an Amazon Prime Video premium subscription.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Blair Witch Project is thought to have changed the landscape of horror films because of its found-footage, documentary-style storytelling and the fact that some of the original viewers in theaters didn't even know the film was fiction. The movie is pieced together with "footage" from three film students who travel to a small town to make a documentary about the Blair Witch. After conducting interviews with townspeople and trying to gather clues, the students lose their way in the woods, and things get increasingly frightening. Though it was marketed as a true story at the time, the footage isn't real—but the experience of watching it is all the more fun if you allow yourself to buy into it.
The Craft (1996)
This cult-classic film has a lot to offer: witchcraft, '90s rebellious school-girl fashion, and the iconic line, "We are the weirdos, mister." In the film, Sarah (Robin Tunney), the new girl at school with a telekinetic gift, joins a group of three wannabe witches who are seeking a fourth member for their rituals. The plot intensifies as the witchy girl gang gets into some darker magic and things go awry. While the film doesn't include much gore, there are some brief disturbing moments to be aware of, like when one of the witches uses magic to slit another's wrists. Or, if you have nightmares about losing your hair, this film could truly freak you out.
However, the movie is still worth a watch because it's so distinctly creepy and absurd—and, if you love it, you can watch the reboot when it's released on October 28th.
The Orphanage (2007)
This 2007 horror film begins when a woman, Laura, returns to the dilapidated orphanage where she grew up (obviously a cursed idea) alongside her husband, Carlos, and their 7-year-old son, Simón. Simón claims he's been seeing a child named Tomás and that the young boy, who wears a sack mask, told him he was going to die. Eventually, Simón goes missing, and the parents begin searching for him while also trying to find out what happened to the young boy in the mask. There's no gore to worry about here—just dark and disturbing child's play.
Practical Magic (1998)
Nicole Kidman with red hair alongside 1998 Sandra Bullock is reason alone to watch Practical Magic. The film, which features Kidman and Bullock as sister witches, is mostly lighthearted and fun, complete with a strong sisterly bond, a midnight margarita ritual, and Kidman's iconic line, "Hang on to your husbands, girls." However, the story takes a scarier turn when an abusive ex-boyfriend's ghost starts haunting the sisters and they have to work together to save their lives. Though this movie isn't going to keep you awake at night, it's perfect for Halloween season, especially if you gather a coven for a virtual watch party.