“Arthouse” is a vague term that means different things to different people. What began as a piece of industry jargon to describe theaters that exist outside of the mainstream distribution ecosystem is often used as a catch-all term for thoughtful films that are elegantly composed and don’t blatantly pander to the lowest common denominator. It’s an adjective that is highly context dependent — plenty of “arthouse” films released in 2023 could have been marketed as perfectly mainstream fare a few decades ago. 

But with that caveat in mind, it can still be a useful term for those looking for cinema that will challenge them. Regardless of a film’s distribution model, declaring something an “arthouse” project can be a tacit endorsement of its cinematography, design, intellectualism, acting, and use of symbolism. That is particularly true when it comes to horror movies. Horror has long been one of the most elastic film genres under the sun, as the things that scare us are equally capable of making us laugh, cry, and think. It’s also one of the last genres that makes genuine experimentation a commercially viable option, as horror movies typically have low budgets and built-in audiences that makes it relatively easy to reach profitability. 

For filmmakers looking to explore complicated themes and ideas in a way that large audiences will actually see, horror is a natural route to explore. The success of A24’s recent slate of drama-infused horror films prompted an exhausting debate about the merits of “elevated horror,” but a deep dive through film history reveals that arthouse horror has been around for decades. From the great body horror films of the late 20th century to the dramatic nightmares of modern auteurs like Ari Aster, Julia Ducournau, Robert Eggers, the genre is full of artfully constructed films that invite multiple viewings. 

In an attempt to highlight a variety of voices, our primer on arthouse horror limits each director to one film. But each artist on this list has other films that merit exploration, so there should be no shortage of ideas for arthouse fans looking to watch something spooky this October. Keep reading for our ten favorite arthouse horror films. 

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