Great Halloween Films for People Who Hate Horror

Ben Friedman


Not everyone loves Michael, Jason, and Freddy. Masked killers, demonic presences, jump scares, and sleeping with a light on for a week is not how everyone wants to spend their Halloween weekend. Slashers and the supernatural are an acquired taste, and as such, it is easy to feel left out during the Halloween season.


Yet, horror is a diverse genre. Not everything has to be killing, possessions, and weird dancing robot girls. The following films embrace the Halloween spirit while offering an alternative to traditional horror films. Think of these as “horror adjacent” films. They have the aesthetics of horror, mixed with other more palatable genres, laughs, and familiar storytelling that lessen the blow of the horror on screen. The list is ranked by the pleasantness of the viewing experiences, to offer non-horror fans a chance to test their comfort within the genre.


All these films are available to stream and should make for an enjoyable and hopefully not too scary Halloween experience.


The Nightmare Before Christmas

Verdict: Not Scary

Streaming: Disney+


Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is definitively a Halloween film. While the film features Christmas imagery, appearances from Santa Clause, and the protagonist delivering presents through the chimney, at its core, this film is about the misadventures of “The Pumpkin King” Jack Skellington and the monsters of Halloween Town.


Henry Selick’s artistic direction is breathtaking. He captures the aesthetic of the horror genre and seamlessly blends it with the motifs of a fairytale. The world is fully realized, and the creature designs are fantastical. Despite being nearly 30 years old, the stop-motion animation remains fluid and beautiful.


Tim Burton’s storytelling sensibilities are present throughout. Like many of Burton’s films, Jack is a misunderstood, gentle man desperate to find his purpose in life: to love and be loved. Catherine O’Hara as Sally delivers a standout vocal performance, Jack’s love interest. It is a Halloween film that delivers scares for younger audiences, while also achieving an emotional journey of self-discovery that will resonate with older audiences.


Verdict: Spooky

Streaming: Hulu            

Zombieland follows a socially awkward nerd, a cowboy, and two sisters forced to travel cross-country to Los Angeles. The kicker? Zombies have taken over the world and to survive, these four must learn to work together.


While the film does feature gnarly violence and grotesque imagery, it is all played for laughs. Director Ruben Fleischer is both riffing and paying homage to zombie movies. Woody Harrelson delivers much of the film’s biggest laughs as Tallahassee. A hybrid of Dirty Harry meets Yosemite Sam, Harrelson is a cartoon character come to life. His over-the-top performance allows the horror elements to feel purposely campy, rather than stressful.


At its core, Zombieland is a movie about family. Tallahassee’s relationship with Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) provides a warm, emotional nucleus to the film. Alongside Columbus and Wichita (Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone respectively), these four form a pseudo-family in the unlikeliest of settings. Wildly funny, action-packed, and full of outrageous kills, Zombieland is a killer good time.

The Birds

Verdict: Unsettling

Streaming: Peacock


There is a reason Alfred Hitchcock is “The Master of Suspense.”  No filmmaker better understood the manipulation of pacing and discomfort to create horror. The Birds is an example of a storyteller flexing his creative muscles. The premise sounds ridiculous: one day, birds begin attacking the townspeople of Bodega Bay, California. At face value, birds seem like an unlikely protagonist to serve as a vehicle to center the horror around, yet Hitchcock’s diligence and groundbreaking special effects bring the scares to life.


The film is fast-paced, creating a sense of urgency within every scene. No explanation is given for the birds’ actions nor to the scale of the attacks, allowing a sense of claustrophobia to slowly engulf viewers. The terror feels inescapable. Tippi Hedren is tasked with conveying the horror of the situation and does so with ease.


Of the entries on this list, The Birds most resembles that of a traditional horror film, yet Hitchcock’s signature mysterious storytelling, comedy, and directorial flairs make for a far more palatable viewing experience for horror-apprehensive viewers.

The Fly

Verdict: Unsettling

Streaming: HBO Max


In The Fly, David Cronenberg sets out to answer one question: Is it possible to make Jeff Goldblum unsexy? The answer is yes, but to do so requires five hours of prosthetic makeup and buckets of acidic goo to achieve this effect.


The Fly remains David Cronenberg’s most mainstream film to date. It is a love story gone wrong. It is an exploration of ego, sickness, and aging. The film’s structure is that of a Shakespearean tragedy: Seth Brundle, an eccentric scientist on the verge of success in both his professional and personal life accidentally merges bodies with a fly. As he coils away his mortal flesh for that of an insect, his psychology grows unstable.


The moments the monster nicknamed Brundlefly shares with Veronica (Geena Davis) showcase Brundle’s ever-growing desperation to cling to his humanity. The Fly is deeply effective in its pathos. Goldblum’s charismatic performance allows the monster to garner sympathy. The antagonist of the film is not Brundlefly, but time itself. As the film progresses, the cruelty of Brundle’s life becomes unbearable. The horror is not the monster itself, but rather the tragic existence of Brundlefly. In typical Cronenberg fashion, the finale is unsettling, visually upsetting, and hauntingly poetic.

Speak No Evil

Verdict: Sadistic

Streaming: Shudder


The most recent entry on this list, Speak No Evil, is a film that can be best described as pure cruelty for 98 minutes. Directed and written by Christian Tafdrup, the film follows a Danish family who are invited to spend the weekend with a Dutch family they met on vacation. Upon arrival, the Dutch family tests their guests’ limits.


The film’s strength is its subtlety. The horror is internal. It is a test of the audience’s ability to handle uncomfortable situations. The action is methodical by design. Tafdrup explores the internal struggle of politeness despite growing discomfort. The Danish father Bjørn (Morten Burian) concerns himself in his self-image choosing to maintain politeness despite ever-growing reservations, whereas Louise, his wife (Sidesel Siem Koch) trusts her maternal instincts. It is a battle between complacency versus survival; in doing so, the thrills come from the exploration and commentary of gender roles.


As the conflict between the two families comes to a head, the film’s lurking sadistic tendencies explode onto the screen, crafting a finale that is remorseless and deeply effective. Speak No Evil is not for the faint of heart. It is a deeply upsetting thriller that subverts the horror premise and turns it into psychological warfare.


Author Bio:

Ben Friedman is a freelance film journalist and a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine. For more of his reviews, visit, his podcast Ben and Bran See a Movie, or follow him on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube: The Beniverse.


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