The 10 Best Art-Horror Films to Start With 

Christopher Shultz
Updated July 19, 2018 1.4k votes 473 voters 50.7k views 10 items

List Rules Art-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.


The Shining is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The 10 Best Art-Horror Films to Start With
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?
Suspiria is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The 10 Best Art-Horror Films to Start With
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?
Eraserhead is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The 10 Best Art-Horror Films to Start With
Photo: Amazon

Many of David Lynch's works straddle the line between horror and neo-noir (Lost Highway, Mullholland Drive, even Twin Peaks, especially the original series finale), but his first feature film definitely belongs to the horror genre. Presented in sumptuous, grainy black and white, the narrative concerns Harry Spencer (Jack Nance), who drifts through a sooty industrial landscape seemingly without purpose - until, that is, he's left to care for a horribly disfigured child he fathered with his sometimes-girlfriend (a child which does not appear to even be human). The mundanity of Harry's apartment soon gives away to surreal, nightmarish visions and hallucinations, sometimes involving the now infamous Lady in the Radiator (Laurel Near).

Is this good for art-horror beginners?
The Witch is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The 10 Best Art-Horror Films to Start With
Photo: Amazon

The most recent title on this list, director Robert Eggars's stunning debut takes several cues from Kubrick's The Shining, specifically a desire to generate psychological unease in the audience through nerve-jangling sound design and images which may or may not be hallucinations.

Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke uses a desaturated color palette, sometimes bordering on black and white, to further immerse the audience in this bleak Puritan-era landscape. As with Under The Skin,  the viewer is dropped into this world of alienating dialects and language without contextual explanations. Whatever horrors the outcast family at the center of The Witch encounters, the audience must endure as well.

Is this good for art-horror beginners?