You’re not imagining it – Blumhouse is back with another terrifying horror

With unsettling new horror Imaginary arriving in cinemas, Travis Johnson looks at some of famed fright factory Blumhouse Productions’ most terrifying films.

Now, we should clarify from the jump that Blumhouse doesn’t only make horror, although you’d be forgiven for thinking so. Founded by Jason Blum and Beth Israel in 2000, the company has produced award winners like Whiplash and BlacKkKlansman, the odd comedy like Tooth Fairy starring Dwayne Johnson, and… well, let’s be real, a staggering amount of horror movies.

By the numbers, they’re a horror studio that occasionally dabbles in other genres. The production model is simple, robust, and redolent of what grindhouse legend Roger Corman practiced back in the day: shoot cheap, preferably locally, hire upcoming talent and give them as much freedom as the budget allows, and market and distribute the result aggressively. And just as Corman gave filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Jonathan Demme their start in the business, Blumhouse has drawn to it creators like Leigh Whannell, James Wan, Scott Derrickson, Mike Flanagan and Jordan Peele—genre legends all.

Their latest offering is the unsettling Imaginary, courtesy of director Jeff Wadlow (Kick-Ass 2, Truth or Dare). Keying in on some primal childhood terrors, Imaginary stars DeWanda Wise (Jurassic World: Dominion) as Jessica, a woman who returns to her childhood home, her own family in tow, where her youngest stepdaughter, Alyce (Pyper Braun) finds and claims—as kids are wont to do—Jessica’s beloved teddy bear, Chauncey. But, this being a horror film after all, Alyce’s innocent games with Chauncey soon take a turn for the sinister, and Jessica begins to suspect it’s connected to some long-suppressed trauma from her own childhood…

Yep, that’s pretty Blumhouse! And if you’re looking for more chills from cinema’s leading purveyor of chills, try one of these classics from the crypt…

Paranormal Activity (2007)

The one that started it all! Or, at least, the unexpected smash hit that put Blumhouse on the macabre map. Made for pocket change by debut director Oren Peli, this found footage classic sees a young married couple (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) set up security cameras inside their home to capture the former’s sleepwalking—but they capture much more than they bargained for, as the somnambular suburbanite starts showing signs of erratic—and possibly demonic—behaviour. Critically acclaimed, wildly successful, and genuinely terrifying, it launched a franchise that’s still going today—but the first is the best.

Sinister (2012)

Ethan Hawke is true crime writer Ellison Oswalt, who moves into a new house with his wife and kids, but hasn’t told them that the last family who lived there all died by hanging, and he intends to pen a book on the topic. But when he finds a box of “home movies” in the attic, he starts to twig that those deaths are just the latest in a long chain of grisly murders, and the cause is something otherworldly. Directed by Scott Derrickson and written by C. Robert Cargill, who continued their partnership on Doctor Strange and The Black Phone, Sinister combines creeping dread with some genuinely unsettling shocks. You’ll never look at a lawnmower the same way again.

Split (2017)

M. Night Shyamalan spent a few years in the wilderness after his early successes with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, but he came roaring back with this banger which sees a before-they-were-famous Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey, a troubled young woman who is kidnapped by James MacAvoy’s Kevin, a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Some of his personae are nice, some are not… and there’s one unseen personality, dubbed The Beast, that’s threatening to emerge. McAvoy gets to pull all the tricks out of his acting box, Taylor-Joy is clearly an absolute star right out of the gate and, as Mr Glass’s mother once told him, this one has a surprise ending.

Get Out (2017)

Comedian Jordan Peele has always loved horror, and his first feature film as writer and director proved his understanding of the genre is not just theoretical. Daniel Kaluuya is Chris, a young black man who heads off for a weekend with girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) at the sumptuous country home of her wealthy liberal parents (a pitch perfect Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener). While they mouth all the right platitudes, something weird is going on. Why do the few people of colour look so dead-eyed? Why is this coterie of rich white folks eyeing him like a piece of prime meat hung on a butcher’s hook? What horrors does the Sunken Place hold? Smart, funny, steeped in racial politics and scary as hell, Get Out marked the arrival of a new star in the horror firmament.

The Invisible Man (2020)

From the ashes of Universal’s ill-conceived Dark Universe franchise comes this stunningly good thriller/chiller from Australian director Leigh Whannell, updating the old H.G. Wells sci-fi classic. This time around, our titular transparent terror is a scientist working on a military stealth suit—and a violent abuser stalking his former partner, Cecelia (a terrific Elisabeth Moss). Whannell weaves through themes of male violence and misogyny, but doesn’t skimp on the bloody spectacle, giving us an invisible human monster more horrifying than any we’ve seen before.