The fear within: 10 of the best scary films that aren’t horror movies

Not all scary movies are horror films: here’s a selection that can give you goosebumps without resorting to gut-churning terror. David Lynch’s 1977 feature film debut was an uncategorisably bizarre freakshow about a man with very tall hair, a woman with giant hamster cheeks, and a grotesque baby. Supposedly a fable about Lynch’s fear of fatherhood, it is both brilliantly, hermetically weird and frightening as hell.
Available on DVD

A creepy kid-oriented bone-chiller. Adapted from Antonia Barber’s novel The Ghosts, this mystery film was Lionel Jeffries’ 1972 follow-up to The Railway Children, to which it bears similarities – the Edwardian setting and brother-sister protagonists, who go back and forth in time to help two ghost children against their murderous guardians.
BFI Player (£)

We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Breaking bad … We Need to Talk About Kevin. Photograph: Nicole Rivelli

Although the subject is horrible – a school shooting, and the teenager responsible for it – this isn’t a horror film in any traditional sense. Arguably director Lynne Ramsay’s masterpiece, the 2011 film focuses on the debilitating estrangement between new mother Tilda Swinton and her deeply worrying son, played as a teen by Ezra Miller.
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Much of contemporary Korean cinema treads a fine line between ultraviolent thriller and formal horror territory; this emotionally perverse and stylish 2003 film by Park Chan-wook pointed the way. A man is caged in a locked room for 15 years, then released, and tries to hunt down whoever is responsible.
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The Coens have always had one toe in the horror camp (Fargo, Blood Simple). Barton Fink from 1991, though, is their most sustained exercise in creepiness: John Turturro is the playwright holed up in a hotel trying to write a film script, and John Goodman the over-friendly guy in the next room.
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The British answer to Bambi emotionally scarred a generation of schoolkids. A 1978 animation based on Richard Adams’s bunny-oriented epic, with John Hurt, Hannah Gordon and Zero Mostel (!) among the voice cast, it included apocalyptic visions, hawk attacks and fights with a neofascist warren.
Sky Store (£)

Ivor Novello and June Tripp in The Lodger.
Ripper rip-off … Ivor Novello and June Tripp in The Lodger. Photograph: Allstar/Gainsborough

Alfred Hitchcock was not known as the master of suspense for nothing. In this 1927 silent film – a rip-off of the Jack the Ripper story – Ivor Novello plays a mysterious gent occupying a rented room who may be the mass killer of chorus girls stalking London. Hitchcock lays the foggy atmospherics on thick.
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Hayao Miyazaki’s beautifully rendered 2001 Japanese animation was a real breakthrough – an international arthouse hit on its own mysterious terms. A Lewis-Carroll-esque tale about a girl whose family turn into pigs after they visit a haunted bathhouse, it is both wonderfully moving and ineffably creepy, with one of modern cinema’s most alarming-looking creations: the lonely spirit No-Face.
Netflix

Ryan Gosling in Only God Forgives.
Thai die … Ryan Gosling in Only God Forgives. Photograph: AP

Peak arthouse nastiness in Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2013 thriller, which combines intense cruelty, gruesome savagery and dreamy aesthetics. Ryan Gosling is the mother-dominated Muay Thai fighter (and what a mother: a blond-wigged, southern-fried Kristin Scott Thomas), ordered to take out super-brutal local cop Chang in revenge for his brother’s death.
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The Vanishing

I remember staggering out of this when it was released in 1988, sideswiped by its shattering final scene. No spoilers here, but this Dutch-produced study of a man spending years searching for his girlfriend after she disappears is really something else. Not to be confused with the unforgivable remake, with Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland.
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The Guardian

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