These are trying times. Even though my job (and my love) is writing about the horror genre, and business is booming, it can be hard to concentrate on entertainment when it sometimes seems like the world is falling apart before my eyes. There’s little place in entertainment journalism for politicizing and grandstanding, but I wanted to do something to address the sadness so many genre lovers are feeling during these turbulent and divisive times.
Whatever side of the political divide you fall on, movies can be a great form of escape from the daily chaos. While horror films aren’t made to inspire hope (their primary purpose is eliciting fear), many are nonetheless triumphant. If a “Final Girl” survives her ordeal, this doesn’t mean the film has a happy ending, as many are left broken and devastated. “Feel Good” horror movies are something else.
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No matter how much death and destruction a horror film delivers, any time characters work together to overcome a common enemy, there is hope; hope leads to inspiration and inspiration can soothe even the most troubled souls. To that end, I’ve put together this list of 15 horror movies that will entertain & terrify, but also offer some inner peace through the portrayals of good overcoming evil—triumphantly!
Have a read and let us know what you think in the Comments section! What are your favorite happy horror movies for hard times? Sound off in the Comments section!
Warning: Below There Be Spoilers!
Spring (2015, Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead)
Official Synopsis: An aimless young man (Lou Taylor Pucci) takes an impromptu trip to Italy and becomes involved with an alluring genetics student (Nadia Hilker) who harbors a transformative secret.
Spring has been called a romance disguised as a monster movie. The beauty of the Italian coastline is juxtaposed against some unnerving Lovecraftian horror, but love wins in this uniquely poignant film.
The Sixth Sense (1999, Directed by M. Night Shyamalan)
Official Synopsis: Young Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) is haunted by a dark secret: he is visited by ghosts. Cole is frightened by visitations from those with unresolved problems who appear from the shadows. He is too afraid to tell anyone about his anguish, except child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis). As Dr. Crowe tries to uncover the truth about Cole’s supernatural abilities, the consequences for client and therapist are a jolt that awakens them both to something unexplainable.
Yes, M. Night Shyamalan’s debut film is terrifying, depressing, psychologically harrowing, and sometimes disgusting, but in the end, it’s a tale of triumph over fear and emotional healing. Cole (Haley Joel Osmen) turns his curse into a gift, bringing him closer to his mother. Dr. Crowe comes to grips with the reality of his situation, bringing peace to himself and his estranged wife.
Fright Night (1985, Directed by Tom Holland)
Official Synopsis: Teenage Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is a horror-film junkie, so it’s no surprise that, when a reclusive new neighbor named Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) moves next-door, Brewster becomes convinced he is a vampire. It’s also no surprise when nobody believes him. However, after strange events begin to occur, Charlie has no choice but to turn to the only person who could possibly help: washed-up television vampire killer Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall).
In many ways, Fright Night can be viewed as a metaphor for adulthood and, specifically, the dangers of sexual awakening. By facing fears and proving his love, Charley is able to pull Amy (Amanda Bearse) back from the Abyss. The ending finds Charley and Amy back in bed, fooling around, having reclaimed the joy of youth from a monstrous world—until the sequel!
Scream (1996, Directed by Wes Craven)
Official Synopsis: The sleepy little town of Woodsboro just woke up screaming. There’s a killer in their midst who’s seen a few too many scary movies. Suddenly nobody is safe, as the psychopath stalks victims, taunts them with trivia questions, then rips them to bloody shreds. It could be anybody…
A witty script, amazing soundtrack, and amazing chemistry between actors make Scream an enduring horror mega-hit, one that completely upends established “Final Girl” horror tropes. When Sidney (Neve Campbell) finally drops Ghostface, she has taken control of her life and (more importantly) her identity. Sidney is the epitome of refusal to be a victim.
Evil Dead (2013, Fede Álvarez)
Official Synopsis: Mia (Jane Levy), a drug addict, is determined to kick the habit. To that end, she asks her brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), his girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) and their friends Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) to accompany her to their family’s remote forest cabin to help her through withdrawal. Eric finds a mysterious Book of the Dead at the cabin and reads aloud from it, awakening an ancient demon. All hell breaks loose when the malevolent entity possesses Mia.
While Army of Darkness is objectively the most triumphant Evil Dead film in the franchise, 2013’s brutal remake is brilliantly inspirational. Not only does director Fede Álvarez make a metaphorical parallel between demonic possession and drug addiction, he gives Mia’s struggle the kind of visceral intensity that terrifies our minds and claws at our hearts. The dispatching of the “Evil Mia” at the film’s conclusion is like finding the goodness within ourselves—even when it takes a life-and-death struggle to find it.
The People Under the Stairs (1991, Directed by Wes Craven)
Official Synopsis: When young Fool (Brandon Adams) breaks into the home of his family’s greedy and uncaring landlords, he discovers a disturbing scenario where incestuous adult siblings have mutilated a number of boys and kept them imprisoned under stairs in their large, creepy house. As Fool attempts to flee before the psychopaths can catch him, he meets their daughter, Alice (A.J. Langer), who has been spared any extreme discipline by her deranged parents. Can Fool and Alice escape before it’s too late?
Any movie where a kid overcomes adult horrors is inspiring, and Wes Craven’s People Under the Stairs is especially triumphant. It speaks to the underdog within us all, empowering even the smallest of us to take a stand against tyranny.
Aliens (1986, Directed by James Cameron)
Official Synopsis: After floating in space for 57 years, Lt. Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) shuttle is found by a deep space salvage team. Upon arriving at LV-426, the marines find only one survivor, a nine-year-old girl named Newt (Carrie Henn). But even these battle-hardened marines with all the latest weaponry are no match for the hundreds of aliens that have invaded the colony.
Aliens is a hugely inspiring film, one that speaks to the heroism within us all. Ripley’s trials were nothing short of epic, so sharing a tender moment with Newt aboard the Sulaco before hyper-sleep was heartwarming. Seeing them asleep side by side is a true moment of tranquility. Of course, for this to be a truly happy/feel-good ending, we have to pretend that Alien 3 doesn’t exist!
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016, Directed by Dan Trachtenberg)
Official Synopsis: After surviving a car accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up to find herself in an underground bunker with two men. Howard (John Goodman) tells her that a massive chemical attack has rendered the air unbreathable, and their only hope of survival is to remain inside. Despite the comforts of home, Howard’s controlling and menacing nature makes Michelle want to escape. After taking matters into her own hands, the young woman finally discovers the truth about the outside world.
Throughout 10 Cloverfield Lane, Michelle transforms from a passive victim who runs from her problems into a powerful fighter with a strong moral compass. The final scene of the film shows her choosing to drive straight into the danger in order to beat back the alien threat (as opposed to continuing along to a safe zone). It’s inspiring because it suggests we all have heroic intentions within—we just need the courage to harness them.
As Above, So Below (2014, Directed by John Erick Dowdle)
Official Synopsis: Archaeologist Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) has devoted her whole life to finding one of history’s greatest treasures: Flamel’s Philosopher’s Stone. According to legend, the artifact can grant eternal life and turn any metal into gold. When she learns that the stone is hidden underground in the Catacombs of Paris, she assembles a crew to guide and document her historic mission. As they begin their descent, the team-members have no way of knowing that they are entering their own personal hell.
There’s much more going on beneath the surface of As Above, So Below than most people realize. Yes, it’s a reimagining of Dante’s Inferno, but it also speaks to the Hell of regret. The film promotes cooperation and overcoming specific fears, but it also asks viewers to face their own sins while offering a road to redemption. When fighting your way out of Hell, it helps to have strong allies and a pure heart.
Let the Right One In (2008, Directed by Tomas Alfredson)
Official Synopsis: When Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a sensitive, bullied 12-year-old boy living with his mother in suburban Sweden, meets his new neighbor, the mysterious and moody Eli (Lina Leandersson), they strike up a friendship. Initially reserved with each other, Oskar and Eli slowly form a close bond, but it soon becomes apparent that she is no ordinary young girl. Eventually, Eli shares her dark, macabre secret with Oskar, revealing her connection to a string of bloody local murders.
While there are plenty of disturbing themes/elements in Let the Right One In lurking deep within the subtext, it’s an unlikely & heartwarming love story juxtaposed against the cold Scandinavian winter.
Shaun of the Dead (2004, Directed by Edgar Wright)
Official Synopsis: Shaun (Simon Pegg) is a 30-something loser with a dull, easy existence. When he’s not working at the electronics store, he lives with his slovenly best friend, Ed (Nick Frost), in a small flat on the outskirts of London. The only unpredictable element in his life is his girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield), who wishes desperately for Shaun to grow up and be a man. When the town is inexplicably overrun with zombies, Shaun must rise to the occasion and protect both Liz and his mother (Penelope Wilton).
Horror comedies aren’t inherently “feel good”; while happy endings are more common, many are just as nihilistic as their more serious counterparts (Return of the Living Dead is the perfect example). Nonetheless, Shaun of the Dead is a great horror movie to enjoy during hard times. It proves even the apocalypse can be managed, as long as you surround yourself with good people. Shaun’s emotional revelations regarding his ex-girlfriend and his step-father are legitimately poignant, and the ending proves friendship can conquer anything—even death!
Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010, Directed by Eli Craig)
Official Synopsis: Two scruffy pals’ (Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk) backwoods vacation takes a bloody turn when ignorant college students mistake them for a pair of murderous hillbillies.
Believe it or not, Tucker and Dale vs Evil has an important and inspiring message to deliver during these turbulent times. All of the horror in the film stems from misunderstandings as seemingly disparate groups of people find themselves undone by their own false preconceptions. There’s a knee-jerk tendency to consider those different from us as dangerous, but this is the essence of racism/classism/sexism, etc. Tucker and Dale vs Evil also illustrates a potential utopia for those willing to buck divisive trends.
The Faculty (1998, Directed by Robert Rodriguez)
Official Synopsis: To the students at Harrington High, the principal and her posse of teachers have always been a little odd, but lately they’ve been behaving positively alien. Controlled by otherworldly parasites, the faculty tries to infect students one by one. Cheerleader Delilah (Jordana Brewster), football player Stan (Shawn Hatosy), drug dealer Zeke (Josh Hartnett) and new girl Marybeth (Laura Harris) team up with some of their other classmates to fight back against the invaders.
Imagine if the kids from The Breakfast Club hooked up the following weekend to battle aliens; that’s what The Faculty is to me. Unlikely allies combine forces to battle a common enemy, eliminating arbitrary designations like nerd, jock, and Goth. The fact that The Faculty has a happy ending doesn’t mean the rest of the film is weak sauce—quite the contrary.
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Dark City (1998, Directed by Alex Proyas)
Official Synopsis: John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) awakens alone in a strange hotel to find that he is wanted for a series of brutal murders. The problem is that he can’t remember whether he committed the murders or not. For one brief moment, he is convinced that he has gone completely mad. Murdoch seeks to unravel the twisted riddle of his identity. As he edges closer to solving the mystery, he stumbles upon a fiendish underworld controlled by a group of ominous beings collectively known as the Strangers.
Any film with a noir aesthetic is inherently gloomy, but Dark City becomes a meditation on escape and destiny. We may feel as though we’re trapped by our positions in life (parent, student, desk-jockey) but we can become whatever we desire through visualization and persistence.
Deathgasm (2015, Directed by Jason Lei Howden)
Official Synopsis: Two teenage boys accidentally summon an evil entity by delving into black magic.
Nerds find love, bandmates find fame, and the forces of Hell are beaten back with humongous black dildos. I’m smiling already!