What’s a fan of horror games to do when the final boss is vanquished and the credits roll but you’re not ready to say goodbye? What if you want the scary experience but you’re too tired to hold a controller and push buttons? The answer, my friends, lies in another form of entertainment: film. If you’re looking to capture the feeling certain games provide but you don’t feel like using your thumbs, I’m here to help with a handy list of horror movie suggestions.
Please note, these are not 1:1 recommendations. I’m not here to bellow “If you enjoy Alone in the Dark, go watch Alone in the Dark!” at you. First of all, I wouldn’t tell my worst enemy to watch Alone in the Dark. It’s dreadful. What I’m getting at is that this isn’t a list of adaptations. Consider these films akin to extensions of a game’s atmosphere or themes:
Sure, there are 12 Friday the 13th films out there to choose from, but if you’re looking for a stab-filled slasher-fest, why not give the underrated 1981 film My Bloody Valentine a shot? It, too, features a masked killer and a setting with a dark history, but its working-class characters and spooky coal mine locale set it apart from its teen-centric contemporaries.
For most fans of Silent Hill, this will be another no-brainer as the 1990 film was a huge influence on the series. Regardless, it’s a fantastic horror movie that deserves all the attention it can get so I’m listing it! Much like Silent Hill 2’s James Sunderland, Jacob Singer is a man haunted by his past, by grief, and by visions of terrifying figures. A true gem, Jacob’s Ladder is not to be missed.
In Fatal Frame, players use the Camera Obscura to capture the ghosts they encounter throughout the abandoned Himuro Mansion. The 1965 anthology film Kwaidan touches on many of the themes found in the game, such as corrupted spirits and dark rituals or the veil that separates life from the afterlife (and the love that can transcend both). By turns heartbreaking and horrifying, Kwaidan is a masterpiece.
A powerful evil hunts you in the dark, and your only recourse is to work with your fellow survivors to escape. There are many permutations of killers, survivors, and settings in the asymmetrical game Dead by Daylight and so there are a number of companion films in various subgenres to recommend. Any number of slasher films would be appropriate...but for my money, it’s the foggy, foreboding woods and titular monster of revenge in Pumpkinhead that best capture Dead by Daylight’s overall eerie, otherworldly vibe.
Pandorum will likely feel familiar to seasoned horror vets–it’s a bit like the long-lost lovechild of superior films Event Horizon and The Descent–but as a sucker for dark sci-fi/horror, I say it’s still a good time. It’s got enough space mania, space monsters, and space blood to appeal to fans of space engineer Isaac Clarke, who endured the same aboard the abandoned USG Ishimura in the 2008 game.
If you were terrified whilst traipsing the halls of Mount Massive Asylum in Outlast, then you might also be terrified watching the crew of a paranormal investigators traipse the halls of Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital in Grave Encounters. The green-hued first-person POV from a night-vision camera has become a horror trope, but it’s used to great effect in both the game and the movie.
Both the 2005 game and 2001 film are based on the H.P. Lovecraft novella The Shadow over Innsmouth, so pairing them up is no surprise. Dagon is woefully underrated and underseen. If you enjoyed running from murderous fish-cultists as they chased you through the streets of a soggy coastal town in Call of Cthulhu, give it a try.
Many survival fans bemoan the action-heavy slant of Resident Evil 6, but the 2009 French film La Horde proves that sometimes zombies and the frenetic pace of a shoot-em-up can co-exist. When the snarling undead storm a condemned tower block, the cops, gangsters, and eccentrics trapped inside must band together and find a way to survive.
The 2005 survival horror game Haunting Ground tells the tale of Fiona, a young woman held prisoner in a castle. With the assistance of her canine companion, Hewie, she has to fend off and hide from a plethora of homicidal weirdos. In Castle Freak (1995), the protagonists inherit a castle that’s got a homicidal weirdo tucked away in a hidden dungeon. Both underrated titles revel in grotesqueries and feature elements of sinister sexuality.
If you loved the secrets discovered—and scares endured—when playing as a disturbed painter in Layers of Fear, then you’re in for a treat with Pupi Avati’s 1976 film House of the Laughing Windows. While restoring a fresco in a rural Italian village, a young man becomes embroiled in the mystery surrounding the painter’s sordid history. You know what? Watch the movie even if you didn’t like the game. It’s a work of art in and of itself.
While Stephen King and Twin Peaks are obvious influences on the 2010 game Alan Wake, the Lovecraftian John Carpenter flick In the Mouth of Madness is also a terrific companion piece. The film centers on the disappearance of popular horror author Sutter Cane, a town full of murder-crazy, monstrous-looking people, and parallel realities. Plenty of frights with no flashlight required.
Now look, I am not here to tell you that Chernobyl Diaries is a great movie. The plot is predictable and largely in poor taste (pretty sure radiation poisoning doesn’t turn folks into crazy cannibals; it just, you know, kills you). The characters are forgettable at best . But if you dig the eerie, overgrown, abandoned environs of the game series, you might enjoy the cinematic return to Pripyat you’ll find in the film.
The psychological thriller Rule of Rose (2006) has a spiritual sister in Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975). Both focus on closed societies in the early 20th century (an orphanage in the former, a private school in the latter) and explore the nature of girls and sublimated sexuality. Each exudes a dreamy, fairy tale-like atmosphere and they’re filled with enough mystery to leave you thinking about them for a long time.
Okay, this one is a no-brainer. If you played Dead Rising and you want more zombies-in-a-mall action, you don’t have to wait for Black Friday. Much like the Capcom game, both the original Dawn of the Dead (1978) and its 2004 remake are full of cheeky humor and drenched in gore. Making a choice between the two is a matter of personal preference: do you like your zombies shuffling along slowly or running right at you?
Van Helsing is the obvious parallel to the long-running game series, but the lesser-known Solomon Kane is a superior film in the same vein. In this moody, gory film, Kane (a character created by Robert E. Howard) is a reluctant hero battling ghouls, demons, and other beasties on his own path to redemption.
There are more horror game/horror movie pairs out there to be discussed and discovered, so if you’ve got suggestions, let me know! Call me greedy, but I can’t get enough of the spooky stuff whether I’ve got a controller in hand or not.