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The most rewatchable horror movies of all time

Not all great horror movies are ones you necessarily feel like watching more than once. Some are too violent, some deal with intense emotional content, and some just aren't as good the second time around. There's nothing wrong with these movies, but with horror being a genre primarily intended to entertain viewers, a horror movie that isn't just a good time but demands to be revisited is something special. There are countless horror films released every year, and the genre has been popular long enough to have an established canon of must-see films. Yet a select few possess a very particular longevity, one that keeps fans coming back to them year after year. And if you've yet to see any of these films, don't worry. It's never too late to join in. 

The Guest (2014)

Throw Halloween and Nicholas Winding-Refn's Drive in a blender and you get Adam Wingard's The Guest. When a mysterious young man shows up on a family's doorstep claiming to have served in the military with their recently-deceased son, they take him in. He quickly becomes integral to their family dynamic. But their daughter suspects that he's hiding something, and she soon finds out that she's right. 

The Guest boasts strong performances by Legion's Dan Stevens and It Follows' Maika Monroe, as well as killer cinematography by Robby Baumgartner. It's the rare horror film that handles its photography with care usually reserved for Oscar contenders. The colors are radiant and the framing is stellar. It offers heart and laughs at the right times, but ratchets up the tension as well as any great horror flick as the truth about Stevens' character begins to reveal itself. This all works towards a killer climax reminiscent of greats like Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and Scream. It's infinitely rewatchable both as a study in effective genre experimentation and as a movie night selection the next time your buds come over.

The Shining (1980)

Oftentimes great horror films are made by genre specialists. Directors like John Carpenter, Wes Craven, or Ti West tend to be well-studied in the genre and know the right ways to work with it. But every now and then someone from mainstream Hollywood will give horror a shot. And never has the result of this been more iconic or masterful as the time Stanley Kubrick adapted a Stephen King novel, the result of which is the cinematic titan The Shining. 

There's very little to say about this film that hasn't already been said. It features signature Kubrick visuals, a career-best performance by Jack Nicholson, and a multitude of thematic ideas and elements. It's a layered film that benefits from multiple viewings largely due to how much there is to interpret. Much is left ambiguous in the film, from whether or not the phantoms plaguing the Torrance family are real or figments of their collective cabin fever to the haunting final shot of the film, implying anything from reincarnation to the Overlook Hotel having absorbed Jack Torrance into the fabrics of its existence. 

Combine this thematic density with it being perhaps the most outright entertaining entry in the filmography of one of the greatest directors of all time and you've got yourself a film worth watching over and over again for years to come.

Trick 'r Treat (2007)

No film is more in love with the Halloween season than cult classic turned genre staple Trick 'r Treat. An anthology film, it centers on a series of happenings occurring in a small town on a single Halloween night. Werewolves, serial killers, zombie ghost children, and more reveal themselves as the evening goes on and the ancient customs of the holiday are honored. 

It's rare that the words "charm" and "heart" apply to a horror film but that Trick 'r Treat has them in spades is largely responsible for its passionate fanbase. Sure, there's gore, murder, and (again) zombie ghost children, but there's such a palpable passion for both horror cinema and the holiday itself present throughout the film. It's impeccably crafted, yes, but that feeling that what you're watching is a celebration of why Halloween is so special is what really makes it worth watching every year. And this isn't even taking into consideration the fun in noticing on every new viewing the different ways the individual stories intersect. 

Background details that seem inconsequential in one story often end up leading directly into another. Trick 'r Treat is special. It's got the head of a truly great horror film and the heart of a Halloween TV special you looked forward to watching every year as a kid. 

The House of the Devil (2009)

It's tough for a film to strike a good balance between being fun and being genuinely frightening, and it takes a director with a deft hand to pull it off. Ti West is a director with a deft hand. He's proven it time and time again with movies like The Innkeepers and The Sacrament but none are as fun to revisit as The House of the Devil

A modern throwback to horror cinema of the '70s and '80s, the film takes a premise you've likely seen before—a babysitter accepts a last-minute job and soon realizes everything is not as it seems—and tells the story better than it's been told in ages. West shot the movie on 16mm film, creating a grainy aesthetic that, when paired with the period-appropriate soundtrack, feels like an authentic film from the era. But the film diverts from the norm in its lack of reliance on jump scares or plot contrivances. Rather, it plays out in a slow-burn fashion, taking its time in creating an escalating sense of discomfort until it hits a crescendo, paying it all off in a horrifying finale. 

Yes, it's partially worth revisiting just to see how much of the ending is telegraphed early on, but it's also just an old-fashioned good time. It's the kind of movie you want to show to friends who have never heard of it just to see their reactions as the movie ends.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Wes Craven's original A Nightmare on Elm Street has still got it, even all these years later. Don't let the countless lousy sequels distract you from the fact that Freddy Krueger's first cinematic outing is funny, engaging, and scary to boot. When a group of four friends realize they're all having the same dream about a scarred man with knives for fingers coming after them, they find themselves being pursued by a killer that exists in the world of dreams but is still capable of causing plenty of damage to the real world.

It's easy to forget these days how much of a revelation this movie was when it came out, and it still feels just as groundbreaking when viewed today. Robert Englund's performance as Krueger is easily the best slasher villain performance of all time. The protagonist, Heather Langenkamp's Nancy, is a fully-realized and active character the audience can root for, not one who is simply reactionary to the carnage around her. And the novelty of "…And Introducing Johnny Depp" in the opening credits never gets old. The frights are just as potent now as they were decades ago, and some of the effects will still leave viewers wondering how the filmmakers pulled them off on such a small budget. A Nightmare on Elm Street is essential annual Halloween viewing. Few slasher films have aged as well as this one. 

Phantasm (1979)

Don Coscarelli's Phantasm was shot in disjointed bits and pieces over the course of a year and, by some miracle, still came together to make one of the most memorable horror movies of all time. But the film's difficult shoot may have actually aided in what makes it so memorable. Phantasm, more than any other horror movie, captures the feeling of a nightmare perfectly. There's an off-tilt flow to it. Not everything makes perfect sense, but in the moment you don't question the film's logic. And there's a strong undercurrent of trauma and grief present in the plot. 

The film's surreal narrative focuses on a teenager named Michael, his older brother Jody, and their best friend Reggie being pitted against a sinister mortician known only as The Tall Man. Featuring everything from a killer fly to inter dimensional zombie dwarves, it's a bizarre movie that should not work on any level. But it does. And the result is one of the coolest, most singular horror films ever made. It might not hold the widespread popularity of horror staples like Friday the 13th but after watching it for the first time it's likely to become the kind of movie you come back to every October. Phantasm feels like the cinematic adaptation of those nightmares you had as a kid.

The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter is probably the most important director of genre fiction in film history. And while his filmography is littered with hits like Escape From New York, and Big Trouble in Little China, it's The Thing that stands out as a masterpiece. 

Steeped in paranoia, tension, and dread, the film tells the story of a group of researchers in a secluded base in the arctic who come into contact with a shapeshifting alien. Trapped in a small bunker with nowhere to run and no way to get help, the men find themselves pitted against one another, never sure if any individual crew member is who they say they are.

It is, note for note, a perfect horror film. All of the performances are strong, with Kurt Russell turning down his usual hammy charm for his role as R.J MacReady. The practical effects are gruesome and haven't aged a day since the film's release. And the whole package is accented perfectly by Ennio Morricone's haunting, subtle synth score. It's the uncommon work that is simultaneously entertaining and challenging. And it becomes more interesting with every viewing as the subtle details and nuances become more evident to the viewer. It's the rare film steeped in mystery where all of the answers are right on the screen. You just have to know where to look. And once you start realizing just how much there is to discover in The Thing, you'll want to play it again from the beginning as soon as it's over. 

Southbound (2015)

One of the more unique horror movies of its generation, Southbound is an anthology film taking place along a lone stretch of road somewhere in the desert. Each story flows into the next, forming a strange cohesive narrative about isolation and morality.

It's a film that is concrete in its smaller stories but abstract in its overarching one, and so much of Southbound's beauty comes from interpreting the latter. Different elements from each short carry over into the next, with some ever-present throughout the film. There's a tremendously effective feeling of a world outside of the story, even if that world is limited to the stretch of highway that the film takes place on. As a whole, it's about people who have done bad things finding themselves in bad places, with the task of deciding whether or not their deeds define them left to the audience.

Southbound is fun and frightening, sure. But what makes it stand out as a truly rewatchable film is how compelling it is. The questions it asks will have you coming back for answers it won't give you. But it won't stop you from looking.

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

There's a sad reality even the most die-hard fans of horror will cop to: for every great horror film there's a dozen that are awful. It's because of this that The Cabin in the Woods was such a shot of adrenaline to the genre when it first hit theaters. It turned the genre on its head and reminded horror fans that we deserve better.

Summarizing the film is counterproductive, as it's the kind best experienced with as little foresight as possible. What we will say is that through its characters and plot, director Drew Goddard and writer Joss Whedon write what they called a "loving hate letter" to the genre, demanding the death of the old ways and the initiation of new blood in horror filmmaking. They wanted something different, original, and thoughtful, and in their demands for change they gave viewers just that. Through genuinely likable characters the film dissects genre tropes and tells a great horror story while doing it. 

It's the sort of film that always offers something new for viewers to discover, no matter how many times they've seen it. Be it jokes that went unnoticed before or homages to classic horror flicks, there's always something that will stick out on a rewatch. Horror is rarely this intelligent, funny, or easy to come back to. 

Scream (1996)

Most directors are probably satisfied with only having revolutionized the genre they work in once. Wes Craven clearly wasn't, because after creating that Freddy Krueger fella you may have heard of, he made Scream, which went on to define an entire generation of horror cinema.

Boasting what might be the best script in the history of the genre courtesy of writer Kevin Williamson, Scream revitalized the slasher genre by making it self-aware for the first time. The characters aren't just intelligent, they're the very audience that flocked to cinemas to see horror movies for a generation. They understand the tropes of the story they're in, and as such the story has to defy expectations at every turn. 

From its infamous (and genuinely terrifying) opening scene to its legendary third-act twist, it's a movie you'll never get tired of watching as a horror fan. It might not offer a wealth of mysteries or dense themes to parse, but it's such a well-oiled machine of a movie with such engaging characters that horror fans aren't ever likely to tire of this one.

Grindhouse (2007)

By its very nature, Grindhouse is rewatchable. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's double feature of Planet Terror and Death Proof was made with the intention of replicating the filmgoing experiences of their youth. And they carried over everything from the trailers to the cigarette burns and distressed film. 

Individually, Planet Terror (mutant zombies descend on a small town) and Death Proof (a stuntman murders groups of girls with his tricked-out muscle car) are already great. But it's the total package of Grindhouse that makes for a film-watching experience that feels like, well, an experience. Everything from the Our Feature Presentation screen cards to the "missing reels" of film works towards the singular goal of making sure the viewer is having a blast. And it works. 

We'll never get to see movies in the theaters that Tarantino and Rodriguez grew up going to, but in Grindhouse we have all of the fun of that experience with none of the faults. It's the care put into replicating that experience that makes coming back to it time and time again such a delight.

Halloween (1978)

Sometimes you just need the original, and while it wasn't the first horror film (or even the first great one), John Carpenter's Halloween is very much the film that defined the modern horror movie. Everything present in the genre today, from story structure to individual horror movies spawning multi-film franchises can be traced back to Halloween. And decades after its original run, it still hasn't aged a day.

Carpenter made Halloween on a shoestring budget and couldn't rely on special effects or flashy trickery to make his movie work. Instead, everything that makes the movie great stems from his unrivaled technique, be it the writing, the score, or the way Carpenter shot the film. Beginning to end, it's a perfect horror movie. 

But in addition to being flawless on a technical level, it offers everything we love about the genre. Sure, you can break horror down into subgenres (haunted house movies, body horror, slashers, etc.) but at the end of the day, everything filmgoers love about horror movies is present in Halloween. It has every necessity, from the occasional laugh to relieve the tension to the compelling villain. Plus its scares will still make you jump. For these reasons, every generation of genre enthusiasts comes back to Halloween. And that likely won't ever change. New horror movies and franchises come and go. But Halloween is eternal.