Whether it's about things that go "bump" in the night or it's a piece that's meant to be more psychological, there are movies galore that can teach you something about horror, something about suspense and scares — as well as about the intensity of emotions that are derived from the genre.
From various eras, we've found some of the best possible cinematic experiences to inspire or educate anyone looking to write their next horror of their own.
The Exorcist (1973)
Directed by: William Friedkin | Written by: William Peter Blatty
Some of you couldn't sleep when they first saw it: this movie is the stuff of nightmares. If you ever want to instill true evil into a script you're writing, start by watching this. Maybe with the lights on, yeah?
Pet Sematary (1989)
Directed by: Mary Lambert | Written by: Stephen King
Stephen King's answer to your questions about death. Some natural laws shouldn't be broken, some lines never crossed… but when they are, it makes for great horror.
Written & Directed by: Bong Joon Ho
Class wars, blackmail, and people who will do anything for their families. Parasite has elements of horror woven into a truly arresting and unique experience.
Written & Directed by: Ari Aster
Horror that's brutally emotional and full of true shock for an audience, Hereditary is known for its sustained suspense and its big finish. You've been warned.
Directed by: Bernard Rose | Written by: Clive Barker
Slasher-inspired horror instills superstition and legend into a world so well that its mythos is recognized by horror audiences everywhere. If you like that, you'll love that a spiritual sequel to the 1992 film is coming out this week!
Directed by: Ridley Scott | Written by: Dan O'Bannon
There's something about the loneliness of the crew and the horrific creatures inspired by the art of H.R. Giger — something we can all aspire to.
Written & Directed by: John Carpenter
From the chilling music to the iconic point of view in the opening scene, Halloween has inspired homages in every genre, but especially within horror.
American Werewolf in London (1981)
Written & Directed by: John Landis
Listen to the bones cracking, the utter intensity of the transformation sounds we hear in American Werewolf in London. With that and the dark comedy placed throughout, this horror film is truly a can't-miss.
The Descent (2005)
Written & Directed by: Neil Marshall
It's all about raising the stakes in an adventure horror. The deeper they go, the more dangerous the journey — and in The Descent, it's not just the journey that's dangerous. It's who (or what) is down there with you.
Busanhaeng / Train to Busan (2016)
Directed by: Sang-ho Yeon | Written by: Joo-Suk Park & Sang-ho Yeon
This modern zombie movie is a beautiful example of threading emotional themes throughout, while still including a dangerous, deadly threat — like a mob of Infected on a train.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Directed by: George A. Romero | Written by: John A. Russo & George A. Romero
The conception of all modern zombie movies comes chiefly from George A. Romero and this survival horror masterpiece. In it, he bred the traditional zombie with the idea of a vampire to create the most well-known fusion monster today!
Let the Right One In (2008)
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson | Written by: John Ajvide Lindqvist
A film that works mainly with deep-seated feelings, unsettling vagueness, and moments of pure shock, Let the Right One In is an unconventional horror that's very moving indeed.
A Quiet Place (2018)
Directed by: John Krasinski | Written by: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, & John Krasinski
Everyone knows, there's something disquieting about silence, about the inability to speak — and in that way, A Quiet Place makes itself known for its creative horror landscape.
The Shining (1980)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick | Written by: Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick, & Diane Johnson
It's the perfect marriage of supernatural horror and psychological torment. Anyone who fears a loss of sanity knows exactly how good The Shining is at setting your teeth on edge.
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock | Written by: Joseph Stefano
Anyone here like twist endings? I won't spoil it for you — even though this film is over 60 years old — but just know you're in for a surprise that's worth imitating.
The Thing (1982)
Directed by: John Carpenter | Written by: Bill Lancaster
Inspired and informed by another film in the '50s, The Thing is a John Carpenter film that channels the unknowable horror that makes Lovecraftian stories so immense and intriguing.
30 Days of Night (2007)
Directed by: David Slade | Written by: Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie, & Brian Nelson
This film builds its world beautifully and plays with convention and suspicion in ways that only a vampire movie will. Plus, with a month-long darkness, you already know this is meant to be a monster movie.
Fright Night (2011)
Written & Directed by: Tom Holland
Having tons of fun with its remake of the 1985 film of the same name, Fright Night is what happens when vampire horror knows how to make fun of itself. Take notes.
Directed by: James Wan | Written by: Leigh Whannell
A supernatural movie with an imaginative world of demons and possession, this movie even has a lesson to learn for those of you trying to use innocuous songs as creepy cues for the presence of evil.
28 Days Later (2002)
Directed by: Danny Boyle | Written by: Alex Garland
If Romero designed the modern zombie, then Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later introduced the idea of these creatures being a product of viral infection — and the source of diverse post-apocalyptic settings.
Get Out (2017)
Written & Directed by: Jordan Peele
To instill social horror in a film is a careful science, but Jordan Peele does exactly that in Get Out, a film steeped in racially targeted horror and other unsettling discoveries.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Directed by: Edward Wright | Written by: Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright
Comedy first, and horror second, this intelligent and hilarious Simon Pegg film pays respect to various horror movie traditions, including those by George A. Romero as the epitome of a horror-parody combo.
The Conjuring (2013)
Directed by: Michael Chaves | Written by: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
The revival of demonic horror flicks brought on a trilogy based on real events, including The Conjuring. This story shows that not everything in true history can be explained.
The Amityville Horror (1979)
Directed by: Stuart Rosenberg | Written by: Sandor Stern
Another one based on true crimes committed in the 1970s, The Amityville Horror has inspired books and films alike to make sense of the tragedy that occurred — because sometimes, the darkest tales are the most real.
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
Directed by: Alexandre Aja | Written by: Wes Craven, Alexandre Aja, & Grégory Levasseur
This movie shows just how easy it is to make a monster through disaster — especially if the government's dangerous tests created mutant people who have forsaken their humanity to become cannibals.
You've now got a list and a lot of stuff to draw inspiration from if you're ready to write a horror script. Just make sure you go to the restroom before marathoning these movies — just in case.
David Wayne Young is an independent film producer and screenwriter with years of experience in story analysis, even providing coverage for multiple international screenwriting competitions. David's obsessions include weird fiction and cosmic horror, and he's formally trained in the art of tasting and preparing gourmet coffee in various worldly traditions, from Turkish coffee to hand-tamped espresso — all enjoyed while writing, of course.