Illustration by Caroline Bae

Horror Films That Aren’t Horror Films

By Leah Olds

All you scary cinephiles and freaky film fans think you know horror? Prepare to be humbled and beware the spoilers that follow!

1. "Sorry to Bother You” (2018, Boots Riley)

Boots Riley’s directorial debut is conscious on many levels, surreal to the max and is one of the most memorable dark comedies of the last decade.

Here’s the basic premise: A poor Oakland man named Cassius Green begins working as a caller for a soul-sucking telemarketing business. He learns from his fellow Black employees that he must imitate a white man’s voice during calls in order to boost sales and move up the company ladder. Cassius does so and starts making gobs of money, much to the chagrin of former co-workers who are unionizing and protesting the company. In the end, he must decide whether he will stand with the exploited workers or keep crossing their picket line.

And that is pretty much all you can expect to see in this flick!

Well… except for the little thing at the end where evil CEOs are turning their loyal employees, including our protagonist, into literal workhorses who get pissed and thereafter stage an “Equisapien” revolution. So if you were wondering where the spooky element can be found, just watch the last ten minutes for some human-horse body horror. It will make you think you fell asleep at some point in your viewing but rest assured, you did not.

The Big Short” (2015, Adam McKay)

Most people would sooner volunteer themselves for a helicopter bungee dive into a manmade lake – filled with horse manure, à la “Fear Factor” – than watch a bunch of white dudes in business suits discuss subprime mortgages and synthetic collateralized debt obligations. But the people who paid $12.50 to see this are not like most people.

They likely enjoy other sadist entertainment, like the “Saw” franchise. Only instead of being obsessed with guts and gore, fans of this Oscar-nominated terror take pleasure in exposition, watching Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez give funny little PSAs explaining economic jargon while a bunch of greedy Wall Street guys take advantage of the incoming Great Recession of the late 2000s. Truly chilling.

A Bug‘s Life” (1998, John Lasseter)

Pixar’s junior release hit the scene back when the studio made family flicks about existentialism and exploitation. Wait… don’t they still do that?

These bugs may seem all colorful and anthropomorphic-like, but make no mistake, they are as shifty and resilient as their real life counterparts. Hopper’s capitalist monologue will trigger the fight-or-flight response of underpaid workers all over America, and of course, his death scene is absolutely terrifying – enough to raise the eyelids of any desensitized five-year-old who found a bootleg of the film on Putlocker.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008, David Fincher)

An old man. A baby. An old man who is also a baby. A baby who begins his life as an old man and then becomes a young man who somehow becomes a baby again. And the whole time, the baby who is also an old man who is actually a young man is… Brad Pitt. Curious, indeed.

No one could ever think up a nightmare this insidious, and no amount of wishful thinking or responsible drinking will ever get the images out of your head. This material is for singular viewings only. Then, after you rock yourself back and forth a few times in the corner, you might be able to go about your day again.

Small Soldiers” (1998, Joe Dante)

Here is a title that was either a staple in your household’s VHS collection when you were small, or you have absolutely no idea what the hell this movie is but it sounds… familiar.

Why? Probably because it’s basically the evil clone of “Toy Story” (1995), but instead of cowboys and spacemen, there are alien tribesmen called “Gorgonites” (good guys) and trigger-happy “Commando Elites” (bad guys, obviously), which are action figures brought to life by military computer chips.

The creepiest scene is undoubtedly the one which finds the Commandos turning the Mattel-inspired “Gwendy” dolls into scantily clad killers who want to decapitate Kirsten Dunst’s girl-next-door character, Christy Fimple. One of the Gwendies – voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar, no less – threatens Christy with the catchphrase, “If you can’t pulverize, accessorize!” Which is just… camp. Then the dolls jump across the darkened room with piercing giggles and stick-like body movement, before getting mutilated by their human hostage.

If you have a thing for corrupted innocence and outright campiness, this is the one to know.