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The 25 Best Horror Movies on Netflix Instant

October 3, 2013  |  1:35pm

Netflix offers exactly 700 horror movies for instant streaming, including some of both the best and worst examples of the genre. We pored through creature features, slashers, and tales of zombies, vampires and werewolves to find 25 films that are scary-good. Our picks span nearly a century of horror-movie making from classics like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) to last year’s V/H/S. They include works from cinematic legends like Brian de Palma, Michael Haneke and Roman Polanski, as well as horror specialists Wes Craven and Clive Barker. These are frightening films for sure, but most will give you something more than just a cheap scare.

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25. Troll Hunter
Year: 2010
Director: André Øvredal
There’s no denying that at its beginning, Troll Hunter seems like another Blair Witch Project knock-off. The first 20 minutes show us a young camera crew investigating some unexplained bear deaths and a suspicious man who may be poaching them. But rather than drawing out the mystery, it takes a sharp turn and tells us matter-of-factly that of course it was trolls killing the bears, and not only that, here’s one of them ready to bonk you on the head. The titular Troll Hunter extraordinaire is played by the affable comedian Otto Jespersen, who brings the entire monster premise to an entirely different level through his nonchalant attitude. In every sense, Troll Hunter lives up to its ridiculous name and premise.—Sean Gandert

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24. The Grey
Year: 2012
Director: Joe Carnahan
What does it mean, on a spiritual and moral level, to be a man? What is our place in nature? When all the chips are down, what do we cling to as the measure of our character and worth as we leave the final mark of our very existence? These are the lofty questions posed by The Grey. Liam Neeson stars as John Ottway, a melancholy security guard of sorts at an oil rig in Alaska. It’s his job to protect the workers from the nasty wolves that periodically get too close to the installation. The film opens with Ottway narrating what is essentially a suicide note to his wife, glimpsed in flashbacks. He and a team from the rig are on a flight back to Anchorage when the plane crashes, stranding him and a handful of survivors in the harsh, wolf-infested wilderness. The film takes great pains to humanize the characters and to give their final moments all the horror and weight that the end of a human life actually warrants. The Grey is an exciting, if uneven, paean to the macho ideal. It metaphorically and literally strips men down to their bones to see what makes them—and us—tick.—Dan Kaufman

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23. The Signal
Year: 2008
Director: David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry
Often pegged (erroneously) as a neo-zombie flick, The Signal also takes inspiration from sci-fi nightmares like Videodrome. In a city analogous to modern America, citizens are subjected to a shifting digital signal via televisions, cell phones and radios. Results vary, but one effect is common: those exposed begin to act on their base impulses, with a severe tendency towards violence. A directorial trio (David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry) splits the film into three “transmissions.” The result isn’t an anthology, but a single story divided into three basic perspectives, each with a distinct tonal flavor. The first is almost straightforward survival horror; the second black comedy; the third ambiguous terror. It’s violent, grim and unrelenting, despite—and at moments, because of—the mid-section comic relief. Still, it’s a pleasure—punk-rock cinema, thrilling and engrossing.—Russ Fischer

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22. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Year: 2011
Director: Eli Craig
Let’s face it, hillbillies and their ilk have been getting the short end of the pitchfork in movies since the strains of banjo music faded in 1972’s Deliverance. And whether due to radiation (The Hills Have Eyes) or just good old determined inbreeding (Wrong Turn and so, so many films you’re better off not knowing about), the yokel-prone in film have really enjoyed slaughtering innocent families on vacation, travelers deficient in basic map usage skills, and, best of all, sexually active college students just looking for a good time. But fear not, members of Hillbillies for Inclusion, Consideration & Kindness in Screenplays (HICKS)—writer/director Eli Craig has your hairy, unloofahed back. His film, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, answers the simple question: What if those hillbillies are just socially awkward fellows sprucing up a vacation home and the young college kids in question are just prone to repeatedly jumping to incorrect, often fatal, conclusions? Think Final Destination meets the Darwin Awards.—Michael Burgin

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21. Beyond the Black Rainbow
Year: 2010
Director: Panos Cosmatos
Panos Cosmatos’ feature debut is an affectionate paean to that first wave of straight-to-video horror and sci-fi flicks—or, more precisely, to their cover art, since he was then too young to actually watch most of them. Quiet, portentous, and surprisingly affecting, “Beyond the Black Rainbow” shows immense confidence in its inventive visuals as well as its moving allegory of the freedoms that come with adolescence and experience. Eva Allen gives a highly charged performance without speaking a single world, but it’s Michael Rogers, as a doctor with some truly bizarre secrets, that gives this movie its heady charge. He’ll be a cult star as sure as this movie will be a perennial midnight fave.—Stephen M. Deusner

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20. Pontypool
Year: 2008
Director: Bruce McDonald
A quick plot summary of Pontypool makes it sound like just a rehash of Orson Welles’ 1938 The War of the Worlds broadcast with zombies in the place of aliens, and while it’s certainly more than a little bit indebted to that work, that would be to give the film far too little credit. The movie instead draws thematic inspiration from the words of its radio broadcast and recasts the zombie disease as verbal, a product of mindless repetition and meaningless phrases in the English language. Pontypool’s clever script is superbly acted, and the film manages to take the zombie genre in a different direction without going the route of ironic deconstruction.—Sean Gandert

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19. The Mummy
Year: 1932
Director: Karl Freund
Good lord, not the 1999 remake/atrocity with Brendan Fraser. Inspired by the 1922 excavation of King Tutankhamun’s tomb, this 1932 hit established the Mummy as one of Universal’s premiere monsters, alongside Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman. Playing both the title character as well as a mysterious Egyptian with the amazing name of Ardath Bey, Boris Karloff is supremely creepy, using his gaunt features and tall frame to instill every scene with menace.—Stephen M. Deusner

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18. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark Review
Year: 2011
Director: Troy Nixey
With Troy Nixey directing and Guillermo del Toro writing and producing, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark drips with fiendish fun from creators who adore things that go bump in the night. Adapted from the 1973 made-for-TV movie, the script follows somber lass Sally (Bailee Madison) who moves into a renovated Victorian mansion with divorced dad Alex (a wooden Guy Pearce) and his new lady friend Kim (Katie Holmes). After hearing a chorus of scratchy whispers (del Toro’s lends his own pipes) from the bowels of her new cavernous home, Sally unscrews a hearth cover to unleash a swarm of pint-sized terrors. The film is terrifically fun and suspenseful. The scares are vivid and the mood claustrophobic, leading to a series of unnerving fun-house scares.—Sean Edgar

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17. Hellraiser
Year: 1987
Director: Clive Barker
The head villain behind Clive Barker’s Hellraiser franchise is the Cenobite Pinhead, sent from the pits of hell to drag you down into the depths with him. Where he tortures you. For eternity. All because you opened a fancy Rubik’s Cube. Pinhead has zero remorse, looking you dead in the eye as he delivers a deadpan promise to “tear your soul apart.” Oh yeah, and they’re indestructible. Personally, it turned me off to puzzle boxes forever.—Rachel Haas

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16. The Phantom of the Opera
Year: 1925
Director: Rupert Julian
Although it owes an unmistakable debut to another patron of this list, Nosferatu, this ghastly and spectacular take on the story retains its shock value and preceded some honored horror traditions of its own. Garish and extravagant, the movie is unrivaled as a seedy, over-the-top epic of the macabre.—Sean Gandert

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15. Re-Animator
Year: 1985
Director: Stuart Gordon
Ironically, the most entertaining take on H.P. Lovecraft is the least “Lovecrafty.” Stuart Gordon established himself as cinema’s leading Lovecraft adaptor with a juicy take on the story “Herbert West, Re-Animator,” about a student who concocts a disturbingly flawed means of reviving the dead. Re-animator more closely resembles a zombie film than Lovecraft’s signature brand of occult sci-fi, but it boasts masterful suspense scenes, great jokes and Barbara Crampton as a smart, totally hot love interest. Jeffrey Combs established himself as the Anthony Perkins of his generation as West, a hilariously insolent and reckless genius whom he played in two Re-Animator sequels. The actor even played Lovecraft in the anthology film Necronomicon.—Curt Holman

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14. V/H/S
Year: 2012
Director: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence
The various makers of V/H/S have revisited the found-footage well and have layered on a bit of technological nostalgia for effect, using the outdated video format as the inspiration for this anthology. As a group of frat-boy thugs search for the one tape they need, they pop in some of the others, each of which contains a different horrible story. With different directors, writers, and cast for each of the individual sequences, there’s a little something for every horror fan in V/H/S, from a haunted house to a vicious monster to a mysterious crime tale. It delivers a healthy dose of atmospheric chills and scares, exhibiting a sense of style that raises it above most of the run-of-the-mill slasher sequels and retreads that pass for horror these days.—Dan Kaufman

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13. Funny Games
Year: 1998
Director:Michael Haneke
A friend of mine once compared filmmaker Michael Haneke to a scientist: In his movies, Haneke locates a functioning system, introduces an external stimulus, and observes the results. In Caché, his brilliant 2005 film, a bourgeois French family receives anonymous video tapes that show the exterior of their house, and they take them, as many of us might, to be some kind of threat. Haneke’s task is to observe their telling response. But often the subject of his experiment isn’t the family on the screen but the people in the theater, and there may be no clearer example than Funny Games, both his own 2005 remake and this, the original.—Robert Davis

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