A lot of people talk about gateway horror movies, the ones that usher the previously uninitiated into the hallowed halls of our beloved genre. These films usually have a few things in common like accessibility, reliability, and not being too intense. In other words, they’re easy to find, easy to understand, and showcase one or more important horror sub-genres along the way.
Many of the best gateway horror films incorporated genre elements in such a way as to ease a newcomer into the wild world of on screen scares. So, if you’re looking to help guide someone into the world of horror, you might want to hold off on THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE or THE EXORCIST and try one of these movies.
THE NIGHTMARE BEORE CHRISTMAS
Tim Burton’s THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS continues to add new fans every year thanks to endless holiday replays come December. Newcomers to the film find themselves face to face not only with themes of identity and death, but also a cavalcade of strange characters including vampires, creepy kids and a mad scientist. Luckily the charming Jack Skellington’s around to give us someone to root for with his desire to branch out into the larger world and find his true calling.
Acting as a great Litmus test for younger potential horror fans, the film’s opening “This is Halloween” will either delight the potential horror fan or turn away someone who’s not quite ready. Odds are pretty good that the former will not only watch the whole film, but also want to dig deeper into the childhood fears that many of us love embracing on film.
Moving to a new place is hard enough, but it gets way worse for TROLL star Harry Potter, Jr. as his sister starts going bug-nutty, growling like an animal and threatening him. See, she’s not just Wendy Ann anymore, but instead a troll king using a ring to control her. The troll-girl moves from apartment to apartment turning the residents — including Julia Louis Dreyfus and Sonny Bono — into fantastic creatures.
Some of the effects by director John Carl Buechler get a little intense from creepy creatures to Sonny Bono’s pulsing face, but the mixture of fantastical imagery and two kids dealing with incredible situations in very different ways should offer plenty of material for new viewers to enjoy. Plus, the sooner you can expose anyone to the genius of Michael Moriarty — who plays Harry Potter, Sr. — and quality practical effects — the better! Consider TROLL one step closer into the world of horror for fans of LABYRINTH or DARK CRYSTAL.
Whether talking about the original 1984 classic version or the Paul Feig-helmed one from last year, or even the various cartoons, the GHOSTBUSTERS franchise has been introducing audiences to ghoulish specters for decades!
Every incarnation of GHOSTBUSTERS comes wrapped in comedic performances and reactions, but still features a great deal of scares. Without being overly obvious about it, the GHOSTBUSTERS franchise opens the doors to all sorts of haunting tropes and ideas, the kinds that have been spooking viewers for generations. Sometimes, the best way to introduce fictional fright into someone’s life is by wrapping it up in a comedic comforter!
THE GATE (Cover Photo)
Growing up sucks. First your treehouse falls down, then your sister ditches you, her friends levitate you at a party, your dog dies, and the next thing you know a demon-spewing hole to hell opens up in your backyard. That’s the gist of the fantastic 1987 Tibor Takács film THE GATE. Luckily for Stephen Dorff’s Glen, his metalhead friend Terry helped him figure out how to deal with the mini monsters pouring forth.
In addition to the horror elements, THE GATE deals with parental loss, sickness, the difficulties of becoming an adult and how relationships change as we grow older. Thanks to the killer effects, heavy themes, and delightfully strange choices, THE GATE sets the table for the EVIL DEAD movies.
Getting anyone to watch an older movie can be tricky, so having a brand new, big budget gateway horror film like GOOSEBUMPS is great. R.L. Stine’s books have already inducted more people into the world of horror than we can even guess, but the 2015 Rob Letterman film featuring Jack Black and some of Stine’s most iconic scare-characters ranks up there as one of the best modern day gateways around.
Black plays Stine, who keeps his original manuscripts locked up because, otherwise, they unleash the title beasts. The town of Madison finds itself overrun when newcomer Zach and his new friends Champ and Hanna accidentally start a full-on monster-palooza. Packed with everything from overt references to THE BLOB and THE SHINING to appearances by werewolves, zombies, giant bugs and killer dummies, GOOSEBUMPS offers viewers plenty of elements to further explore. In that way, the film acts as the perfect springboard to dive deeper into just about every horror sub-genre.
THE MONSTER SQUAD
Shane Black and Fred Dekker’s 1987 offering THE MONSTER SQUAD actually makes the list for two different reasons. First, it’s an awesome 80s example of the “kids fighting supernatural forces they have no business dealing with” sub-genre in which a bunch of outcasts save their town from being sucked into a gem-generated portal.
Second, it made the Universal Monsters cool again! While Dracula, Wolfman, Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster and Gillman might be venerable classics to some, they’re old black-and-white weirdos to others. This film pumps new life into the (partially) undead characters, making new viewers curious about these classic characters who have scared audiences for generations as well as the newer takes that have come in the ensuing decades.
Don’t tell the MPAA (or our folks), but back in 1996, a LOT of kids snuck in to watch Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s dissection of slashers otherwise known as SCREAM. Sure, some were already horror fans, but others just wanted to watch the movie that seemingly everyone was talking about.
Not only did viewers get treated to a solid whodunit filled with healthy doses of gore and deception, but also a crash course in the history of the very genre in the crosshairs. Whether you got or were in on the joke at the time, you left curious about Jason’s mom or Jamie Lee Curtis. The MTV series actually carries over a lot of those elements as well, meaning a whole new generation of horror fans will get a dose of what’s available from one stabby source.
Stephen Spielberg’s 1975 classic JAWS might revolve around a group of strangers coming together to save a town, but it’s also about a murderous monster. Thanks to its status as one of the greatest films of all time, JAWS is on TV constantly, even in an age with more channels than we can count.
Over the years, it’s not only turned people off of huge-toothed water animals, but also the water in general. Many of the tricks used to hide the shark’s flaws have turned into conventions and tropes for not just the monster movie, but also the slasher genre, setting new viewers up for an understanding of what to expect from other horror films.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
Back in 1968 George A. Romero unleashed a new take on an old monster that continues to terrify our brains to this very day. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD featured the undead walking the Earth without explanation and set them upon a group of people trying to survive in a house. Thanks to an excellent script and revolutionary casting choices, the film also happens to show that horror films can not only menace, but also offer a variety of socially conscious messages as well.
Due to a mix up with the copyright, you can essentially get a copy of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in any DVD multi-pack on the planet not to mention any number of internet sources. It is one of the most influential horror films! What’s more gateway than that?
Everyone has a different favorite monster, but a lot of kids seem to have an interesting relationship with Boris Karloff’s monster in James Whale’s 1931 classic FRANKENSTEIN. They can relate to him because, in a lot of ways, he’s a child in a man’s body, bumbling around and being told what to do. That goes out the window for some when he throws the little girl in the water. Still, by the end of the film, even the biggest turncoat will feel some sympathy for the monster as all those mean grown-ups gang up and attack him.