People love to be scared. It’s why we go on terrifying roller coasters and see horror films in dark movie theaters. But what if something is so scary it makes you get queasy or pass out? If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone—and I’ve got some films that’ll give you the chills without making you hit the floor.
I’ve long been a fan of scary movies, but I can’t actually watch most of them. That’s because I have a condition called vasovagal syncope, which is the fancy catch-all term for being prone to fainting. It’s usually caused by certain triggers, and mine is the sight of excessive blood or gore. That’s not uncommon, but boy does it suck. My strongest memory was passing out in a movie theater during Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and then throwing up in a trash can—while on a first date. Spoilers: There was no second date.
I used to faint a couple of times per year until I learned to mitigate it, although it can still happen (the latest episode was in January). Since then, I’ve gotten to the point where I can watch an episode of Game of Thrones or Westworld, but I have to close my eyes occasionally. And don’t even get me started on scary movies. Some of the best horror films and franchises of our time, like Get Out, The Witch, American Horror Story, and Crimson Peak are pretty much off the table. I can sometimes work my way around them if I close my eyes a bunch, but what’s the fun in that? Sometimes I want to be free to be scared, without worrying if it’s going to make me keel over.
So, I’ve put together a list of largely gore-free horror films you can watch—whether you don’t enjoy seeing blood onscreen, or simply want to be scared in a different way. Some of the movies still have occasional moments of ickiness, so I’ll make a note in each entry of what they are just in case.
The Blair Witch Project might be one of the scariest films of the past few decades, but you may be surprised to learn it has very little in the way of blood or gore—but that doesn’t mean it’s not creepy as hell. Instead, it chooses to terrify audiences with everything that isn’t shown onscreen, making it just as intense for the people watching as it is for the characters living it. Just don’t watch the sequel... for many reasons. (Rated R)
Look out for: Body parts (like teeth and hair) wrapped in a shirt; a dead mouse.
This 1980 horror film starring George C. Scott is about a widower who moves into a Victorian mansion, only to discover the place is haunted by the spirit of a young boy. It’s part ghost story, part investigative mystery, and all hair-raising. It’s no surprise The Changeling is getting a remake after all these years: It packs a lot of punch into that PG rating! Of course, that was before PG-13 really existed, but still. (Rated PG)
Look out for: A car accident involving a woman and child; a piece of glass flies into a character’s neck (little blood is shown).
Both Ringu and its American remake are solid candidates for scary movies that won’t leave you feeling too queasy (there are a few moments, but they are easy to avoid). Both of them tell the story of a videotape that, if watched, will kill the viewer within seven days. The American version is directed by Gore Verbinski and his slow, deliberate pacing makes for a moody piece that will leave you thoroughly spooked. It’s also enhanced by David Dorfman’s performance as Aidan, the young boy with an unsettling connection to the tape and the ghost of Samara Morgan. (Ringu Not Rated, The Ring Rated PG-13)
Look out for (Ringu): Bloody fingernails embedded in a wall.
Look out for (The Ring): The movie on the videotape shows nails going through fingers (no blood); decomposing and dead bodies; a horse gets caught in a boat propeller, with its body parts seen in the water; bloody noses; and blood going down a drain.
Following in the footsteps of The Blair Witch Project’s found footage frights, Paranormal Activity managed to make a glorified security camera look terrifying. The movie is about a couple grappling with the fact that one of them is being targeted by a demonic creature, one that has seemingly been following her for her entire life. The movie thrives on its extremely slow burns, making the occasional jump scares stand out even more. I’d avoid watching the alternate endings, as they’re way more violent than the one shown in theaters. (Rated R)
Look out for: A body thrown at the camera plus blood on hands and a shirt.
Early on, The Others was dismissed as a Sixth Sense copycat, but over the years it’s developed a following of its own for telling a damn good Gothic horror tale. It’s about a woman named Grace Stewart, played by Nicole Kidman, who lives in a remote house with her two children and servants. The family learns that there are “others” occupying the home, who insist the house is theirs and will do anything to take it from Grace. I won’t spoil what happens, but it’s a movie with amazing pacing and some impressive twists and turns. (Rated PG-13)
Look out for: Nothing of note.
This movie traumatized me as a child. The simultaneous remake and standalone is about a race of alien creatures who’ve landed in San Francisco and start “duplicating” humans by creating new bodies, which kill the original ones. It mainly happens to people when they’re sleeping, which means everyone who wants to avoid being duplicated need to avoid that. But how long can you stay awake? If the ending is any indication, it’s something none of us could ever be prepared to do. (Rated PG)
Look out for: Bloody noses; a man is stabbed in the neck with throwing darts; a woman’s body shrivels and falls apart.
The horror genre has an amazing way of conceptualizing our fears, turning them into literal monsters that haunt us everywhere we turn. In It Follows, it’s a manifestation of sexual intimacy—and, by some interpretations, sexually transmitted disease. The story follows a young woman who, after having sex with her new boyfriend, finds that she’s the latest victim of an entity that will follow her until it either kills her or she passes the curse to someone else. The entity can take the form of any person, which only serves to increase her paranoia—and ours. (Rated R)
Look out for: A woman’s body is seen early in the film with one leg twisted and the other missing a foot.
It’s the kind of movie that makes you wonder whether you can actually trust the people close to you. Michelle Pfeiffer stars as a housewife named Claire who starts investigating a woman’s mysterious disappearance, which leads her to fear and doubt her own husband (Harrison Ford). As the hauntings, tensions, and jump scares rise, things start taking a turn that will make you feel every moment of Claire’s isolation. (Rated PG-13)
Look out for: Someone steps on a shard of glass (no blood); someone hits their head on a sink; blood spots on walls and floors; a body is seen with a bloody face and hands.
There’s a reason The Conjuring not only launched a billion-dollar franchise, but is also on our list of top horror films of the past decade. It knows how to bring the frights! Loosely based on the exploits of demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, it’s about a family who unknowingly moves into a haunted house and contacts the Warrens to drive the spirits out. It’s surprising how scary this film manages to be without a bunch of blood and gore, considering it comes from notable “torture porn” director James Wan. But with this one, he swapped out the icky bits to instead harken back to the early days of classic horror films—which brings us to our final entry. (Rated R)
Look out for: A dead dog and pigeons; a woman spits blood; someone bites a police officer (little blood); a ghost spits something like blood into someone’s mouth.
No, I’m not talking about the ‘90s film where Owen Wilson got decapitated by a fireplace. In this classic horror film, a woman named Eleanor (a magnetic Julie Harris) participates in a study to examine possible supernatural activity at the long-abandoned Hill House. Eleanor slowly becomes terrified of and obsessed with the house, believing that not only are there ghosts on the property, but that they also want her for some reason. What’s great about this movie is that it’s never clear whether the home is actually haunted by spirits. Instead, it’s a terrifying look at the idea of fear, and what happens to the human psyche when we truly believe we’re being haunted—even when we’re not. (Rated G)
Look out for: Nothing of note.
This isn’t a horror film, but for my fellow fainters I thought I’d point this one out as a fun (and safely violent) alien invasion film. In The World’s End, a group of guys must fight aliens during a nostalgic bar crawl. Most of the baddies who are decapitated, shot, blown up, and the like all have thick alien blood... that happens to be blue. It actually made it easier to disassociate, so it didn’t give me any problems watching it. You can also try watching films in black and white—I saw the black and white version of Logan and that was easier to digest, though I still had to look away during some parts. (Rated R)
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