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The 10 Best Art-Horror Films to Start With

Updated July 19, 2018 1.4k votes 482 voters 51.2k views10 items

List RulesArt-horror film lovers: vote up the film you think deserves to be on the top of this list.

The movies on this list - from classics to more recent titles - embody the art film aesthetic by blending intellectual concepts, psychologically-driven narratives, and striking visuals with unconventional and even idiosyncratic storytelling methods, acting styles, and camera techniques.

Furthermore, each utilizes the language of horror, either by emphasizing scenarios based in fear and terror, or else carrying on the Grand Guignol tradition of shocking violence, usually to surreal, absurd or even comedic effect. In most cases, these films would not be considered "scary," at least from a conventional sense; in most cases they are concerned with unnerving or unsettling the audience.

Note that this list is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather a general overview and a starting place for anyone new to the subgenre, or anyone simply looking for some damn good horror movies.


  • Photo: Amazon

    This entry may have some of you scratching your heads: it was made by a major Hollywood studio, starred big name actor Jack Nicholson, and was based on a bestselling novel by Stephen King. Despite these mainstream considerations, director Stanley Kubrick produced a visually-striking, unconventional and difficult movie - a big budget Hollywood art horror film, in other words.

    The director took King's basic premise and made it his own by hollowing out the book's core family dynamic and casting Nicholson's Jack Torrance as an all-around f*ck-up and a monster long before he entered the haunted Overlook Hotel. The entire cast delivers what can only be described as stilted performances, with lines delivered in this hypnotically unnerving, sing-song fashion. And in this way, the audience is not watching madness unfold from afar; rather, they're smack in the middle of it.

    Is this good for art-horror beginners?
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    Very loosely based on the novel of the same name by Michael Faber, Jonathan Glazer's 2013 film literally follows a mysterious woman (Scarlett Johansson) as she cruises the streets of Glasgow in a large white van, hunting for men. In numerous cases, these scenes were filmed with hidden cameras, and the interactions were real and unscripted.

    The woman's desires are quickly revealed to be rooted neither in sex nor murder in the conventional sense, and it becomes apparent she may not even be of this Earth. Glazer and co-screenwriter Walter Campbell spell nothing out for the audience, instead simply throwing them into this gorgeously-filmed, bizarre, disturbing ocean without a paddle or a life preserver.

    Is this good for art-horror beginners?
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    An art film is, by definition, "intended to be a serious artistic work." But Hausu (AKA House) undermines the seriousness criteria by leaps and bounds. One word really captures the spirit and aesthetic of this film: bonkers. Director Nobuhiko Obayashi conceived the script with his daughter Chigumi, and the end result is basically a technicolor live-action cartoon horror comedy funhouse ride shot through with sometimes nonsensical child logic, at times intentionally campy and hilariously violent. If you have a weird sensibility, then you'll find Hausu infinitely entertaining.

    Is this good for art-horror beginners?
  • Photo: Amazon

    There is a story moving Suspiria along, but it hardly matters when compared to the spellbinding, hyper-saturated visuals on display, creating, as Wikipedia notes, "a deliberately unrealistic, nightmarish setting, emphasized by the use of imbibition Technicolor prints." Adding to this atmosphere of dreamlike dread are the imposing sets, which in addition to featuring a sumptuous color palette, also subtly showcase doors with knobs much higher than they should be, giving the impression the adults populating the screen are children.

    The violence in Suspiria is quite graphic at times, but each death set piece is executed with the same finesse as the ballet moves being taught in the film's fictional dance academy, creating something closer to high art than mere murder sequences.

    Is this good for art-horror beginners?