The Viewers' Guide to Choosing the Perfect Horror Movie for Movie Night

Photo Credit: Overture Films
October 25th, 2013

The Viewers' Guide to Choosing the Perfect Horror Movie for Movie Night

There's nothing like a movie night to make the stress of the day melt away. After a long week in the office, working on the construction site, or studying for finals, what the average person needs more than anything else is a distraction from the real world. What can be a better distraction than the crushing terror of a good horror film?

Horror is the somewhat disreputable stepchild of the entertainment industry, but the billions of dollars horror films have grossed over the last decade disprove this stereotype and reveal a movie-going public that's never happier than when watching the latest carefully crafted abomination Hollywood can produce.

All horror films are not created equal, and the wrong choice on movie night can undo an entire week of planning. The investment of time and money involved in a trip to the movie theater makes it even more important to get it right on the first try. Remember that finding the perfect horror movie is never as simple as splashing gallons of blood over a mediocre script and calling it a night. Which type of horror film will serve for the evening depends on who's watching, what they're looking for, and whether or not the movie will be watched alone, on a date, or in a group.

The movie industry identifies four major demographics: young men, young women, adult men, and adult women. To be successful, the conventional wisdom dictates that a film should be pitched to at least two of these demographics.

For young men, the recipe is as simple as scrambling an egg. Blood and death are perceived to be the favorites of draft-age males. The sixteen- to thirty-year-old male demographic is pitched films such as "The Devil's Rejects," "House of A Thousand Corpses," and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." There just isn't a limit to the violence and gore in this subgenre, and often the violence is intended for no purpose other than to shock the conscience. The idea seems to be that word-of-mouth among the target audience will overcome the inevitable NC-17 rating.

As a rule, young women are pitched horror movies as part of a date package. Horror movies in this category tend to have more plot, revolve around the exploits of actual human beings, and come to something less than an abysmally dark end. A good example here would be "28 Days Later," which made fast zombies cool. Movies aimed at young women and dating couples show an implicit awareness of the movie night experience by incorporating some eroticism—as with "Fright Night" and other vampire movies—and giving plenty of shocks that give the young man an excuse to put his arm around his date.

Older men and women make up a far smaller share of the horror market and are generally disregarded as targets for the blockbuster films in the genre. Every once in a while, however, one manages to sneak through. "The Exorcism of Mary Rose" and "The Children of the Corn" are prime examples of this breed. Often, they center on religious themes and more subtle notions of horror, such as in "The Omen" and "The Crazies."

Whatever the approach, Hollywood knows that a significant fraction of the movie market has shifted to home rentals, though it has yet to seriously address this fact in the movies it offers. For home viewing, it's a great idea to either go with last-man-on-Earth classics, such as George Romero's "Dead" series, or the kind of horror that could be happening upstairs right now. "The Haunting" and "The Ring" are good movies for an at-home scare in front of the TV.

No matter how it's perceived, the horror genre is here to stay. Its flagship movies become ageless classics, and its revenues drive season after season of ever more ambitious sequels. Whether on a date, at home alone, or snuggled up with a loved one, there's hardly a single real movie fan who can't enjoy a brief dip into the macabre now and again.