Listen, when it comes to gore and jump scares, I’ll be the first one covering their eyes. I hate being scared in a movie theater. I don’t like getting super tense and I really don’t like my brain trying to tell my body that I’m in actual danger. But every once in a while, I come across suspenseful and spooky media that’s so compelling I keep watching even when I’m scared out of my mind.
If you’re on the fence on watching scary stuff, try what’s on this list first. Just keep in mind that if you’re anything like me, you still might find yourself hiding behind a pillow on the couch to stay “safe” from whatever’s happening on screen.
From a spicy book to a true crime documentary, these are the rare stories that managed to make their way past my no horror rule and earn a place in my heart.
Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo
This spooky yet steamy book weaves Appalachian folklore with street racing — and a seriously creepy revenant. I listened to the audiobook and there were moments so creepy I had to turn the lights on. The reason I was able to cope with the gore is that this story is grounded in beautiful relationships, from intense friendship to budding romance. The journey of queer self-discovery made me feel warm and fuzzy in between bouts of feeling scared silly.
I like my horror crossed with other genres, and Summer Sons delivers that in spades. Part mystery and part romance, it follows Andrew as he enters graduate school in the footsteps of his lifelong best friend Eddie, who has recently died by apparent suicide. I’ll be honest, one of the scariest parts of the book for me was a faculty party that had truly rancid vibes. Academia is terrifying.
If you’re one of the only people left on the planet who hasn’t watched Stranger Things, let me assure you that the scary parts are scary but you’ll keep coming back for the beautiful friendships and 80s nostalgia.
Watching the actors grow up with this story makes it especially poignant as you binge and make it from season to season. Personally, I find monsters slightly less scary than human threats. Most of the baddies in Stranger Things are of the supernatural variety, making the gore and danger land on the right side of cartoonish for me.
That being said, as a parent, any time the kids were in real peril, I felt a very real desire to protect them. For this reason, I enjoyed watching in measured bursts.
The Haunting of Hill House
I assured my best friend that this show isn’t too scary and in hindsight — yes it’s terrifying. That being said, the intense family relationships, incredible cast, and gripping mystery kept me going despite the fact that one particular jumpscare almost jumpscared me to death in my own living room.
Come for the growing dread and stay for things like an incredible tracking shot, jumps between the past and present, and a lot of scares have a foundation in childhood nightmares. Of everything listed here, this is probably the most intense show. I recommend watching with the lights on. Maybe on your lunch break. Maybe while clutching a stuffed animal for fortitude.
I really am sorry for assuring someone that this show isn’t that scary though. It’s scary. It’s really scary.
While maybe not technically horror, Yellowjackets is terrifying and at times extremely gross. Forget what you think this show is about. It’s so much more than cannibalism. (In fact, it’s barely cannibalism.)
Instead, Yellowjackets delves into the horrors of growing up and the lifelong impact of rocky teen friendships. Also the lifelong impact of being in a plane crash that lands you in the middle of nowhere for a long, long time.
The reason why I can stomach Yellowjackets is because it weaves in humor and retains a sort of campy tone that feels more soap opera than psychological thriller. The drama of it all kept me going even when I had to avert my eyes over a particularly grisly amputation.
If you think a bunch of old white British dudes embarking on a notoriously failed arctic expedition might be boring, I am here to tell you that you are wrong. If you think that a supernatural, bloodthirsty polar bear might be too scary for you — you might be right. But if I can do it, you can do it.
Remember when I said that Yellowjackets isn’t that much cannibalism? The Terror is quite a bit of cannibalism. But The Terror is at heart a surprisingly soft story of the bonds that form in the face of almost certain destruction. Does it end poorly for nearly everyone? Yes. Do you slowly fall in love with every single person trying to survive an unforgiving winter on a ship with dwindling resources? Yeah, you do. Sorry.
The Terror has the unique ability to make you care about a lot of people you might not think you’d become emotionally attached to. And that’s how they get you. While there are some massively gory parts and a few legit jump scares, The Terror is certified appropriate for people who aren’t sure they can do full… terror.
Just don’t take any boat rides for a while after finishing it.
This true crime documentary doesn’t have any jump scares or overt gore, but wow does it have spookiness in spades. I could not stop watching this. In fact, I binged it so hard I ended up having nightmares.
The story follows an author who is accused of murder after his wife falls down the stairs and dies — only for the medical examiner to determine that she was killed with a weapon. The Staircase succeeds as a riveting documentary thanks to courtroom footage and incredible interviews with folks who were involved with this murder trial.
Give it a go and then check out old Reddit threads with conspiracies about how Michael Peterson’s wife died. You’ll never look at owls the same way again.