UPDATE: The new version of this list (Oct. 2015) is now available here, with updated Netflix listings.
If you’re a true horror geek, perusing Netflix streaming can be a frustrating mixed bag. On one hand, the sheer number of horror titles is impressively large, although not even close to the massive collection that still dwarfs it in the physical Netflix DVD collection. On the other hand, though, the streaming horror collection on Netflix doesn’t possess what one would call the highest “batting average.” Which is to say, it’s absolutely packed with the worst kind of disinteresting, shoddy, low-budget crap.
That’s not always a bad thing—people should know by now that I unapologetically love bad movies. I wrote Paste’s entire list of the top 100 “B movies” of all time, because I’m a masochist. But as I’ve said so many times before, there’s “fun bad” and there’s “bad bad.” And the horror collection on Netflix streaming leans uncomfortably in the “bad bad” direction, chock to the gills with the kind of zero-budget, uninspired excuses for horror films that you typically would find as part of a 3-DVD, 12-movie “box set” for $5 at your local thrift store. These films aren’t fun to watch under any circumstances—not drunk, not stoned—never.
There’s also a curious lack of many famous franchises you would probably expect to be available to stream. Want to catch up on some Friday the 13th? Not a single entry in the series is currently on Netflix. The Halloween series is represented by its two worst entries, Halloween 6 and Halloween Resurrection, because who wants crazy old Donald Pleasance when you can have Busta Rhymes pretending to be Bruce Lee and kung fu kicking Michael Myers in the face? It goes on—there’s not a single film by Dario Argento (although tons of Mario Bava, go figure). There’s not a single classic Universal monster movie. Not one entry in the Evil Dead series, even the modern remake. Even the (presumably cheaper to acquire) indie flicks have bizarre gaps—you have the sub-par Grave Encounters 2, but not the surprisingly effective original? Would that really have been a tough acquisition?
Still, despite it all, there are some great horror films streaming on Netflix, and I’m not only talking about obvious classics such as Night of the Living Dead. There are historic classics, indie gems, and a few films that are horrendously awful … but legitimately fun to watch, regardless. Here’s a top 60 to use as a guide, starting with some of the goofy, terrible stuff and working our way down into some of the unassailable classics.
60. Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead
Director: Lloyd Kaufman
As a Troma movie (which are surprisingly well-represented on Netflix), Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead promises a few staples. It will be extremely trashy. It will be violent. It will have no boundaries and no sense of good taste. The real question is the same one you ask with every Troma film: “Is it boring?” Here, the answer is “most certainly not.” Billed as a “zom-com musical,” it’s even a little bit clever in its social satire of consumer culture—you know, in an obvious sort of way. But is that really why you’re watching a film about zombie chickens that come to life in a KFC-style restaurant built on an ancient Native American burial ground? I didn’t think so. Watching a Troma movie is about embracing the gore, scatological humor and low-production values and simply appreciating some mindless storytelling. —Jim Vorel
Directors: Hugh Parks and Tom Logan
The trailer for Shakma makes it look like the most deliriously fun “killer baboon” movie in the entire proud lineage of killer baboon movies, but I predict you will be shocked to discover that this film is a stupendous piece of trash. It’s a toss-up among what is the objectively worst movie to actually squeak onto this list, between this and the next few entries, but Shakma is a rough watch that should only be attempted by seasoned fans of bad movies. The “story,” if you can be generous enough to label it as such, revolves around a group of students playing a D&D-like roleplaying game in a medical facility late at night before unwittingly unleashing a mutant, hyper-aggressive baboon, Shakma, which hunts them down—which is to say, it hops around and looks adorable and harmless, most of the time. The extremely limited sets for filming make watching Shakma a great drinking game movie—simply take a big swig every time the director re-uses the same featureless hallway as a “new” location. You’ll soon feel right as rain. —J.V.
Director: Paul Matthews
I highly recommend you fire up Breeders right now just to see the shockingly tacky opening credits sequence, which features text that looks like it was ripped straight out of a videogame FMV cutscene from 1993, as a “spaceship” cruises to Earth from Saturn before crash-landing—where else?—but an all-girls college. It raises the question of why movie aliens are always such terrible pilots, but it’s otherwise a perfectly serviceable set-up to a late ’90s piece of direct-to-video horror exploitation, and that’s precisely what Breeders is. Also, it’s a remake of what is essentially the same film from 1986, so you know there must be a story there that needed to be told. That story follows the killer alien as it stalks the buxom coeds of the all-girls school and implants them with eggs—hey folks, it’s called Breeders, I don’t know what to tell ya. I’m not sure what exactly you were expecting. It’s almost the perfect example of cheap direct-to-video horror during its time period, featuring surprisingly decent physical effects at times, horrendous acting, and lots of nudity in a last-ditch effort to appeal to the lowest common denominator. —J.V.
57. Leprechaun 3
Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
I realize that saying “the best of the Leprechaun series” is faint praise, but at least I can affirm that Warwick Davis, the guy who played the titular Leprechaun through six films, agrees with me. “The leprechaun goes to Vegas” isn’t even close to the most outlandish premise of the series (he did go to both space and “the ’hood,” after all), but this entry is where the sophomoric humor reached its zenith. It’s colorful, fun and brisk, featuring characters fighting over a piece of gold with the power to granted ill-fated wishes in the style of “The Monkey’s Paw.” The kills are insanely, absurdly over the top, and the effects are among the best in the series. Best of all, it features the protagonist being bitten by the leprechaun and infected like a lycanthrope, which results in him slowly transforming into an angry Irishman over the course of the film. The scene where he orders half-a-dozen variations of potatoes from a casino restaurant is delightfully hackneyed. —J.V.
56. Jack Frost
Director: Michael Cooney
Fun fact: This Jack Frost (the killer snowman one) actually predates the equally bad family film Jack Frost (the Michael Keaton trapped in the body of a snowman one) by a full year, so who’s ripping off whom? Like Breeders, this is the kind of cheap exploitation film some child of the ’90s would probably remember from a lurid, crazy VHS cover sitting perpetually unrented in the dusty corner of the local Blockbuster Video—or maybe that’s just me. It’s probably the cheapest-looking film on the entire list—one look at the snowman costume is evidence enough of that. Despite that, just having a silly costume wouldn’t be enough for anyone to remember the film almost 20 years later. It rises above other entries in the cheapo comedy horror pack because of its silly, almost Leprechaun-esque death sequences, highlighted by a rather infamous sequence of assault with a carrot. You will cringe. —J.V.
55. The Haunting
Director: Jan de Bont
The superior 1963 original is of course not on Netflix streaming (DVD plans, folks), leaving us with the 1999 remake that you may simply remember for starring Catherine Zeta-Jones at the height of her powers. It’s probably the first film on the list that’s not fun to watch exclusively for its poor quality or unintentional laughs, because this one is at least competently made and fairly brisk. A pretty accurate representation of a wide-release, PG-13 horror flick from the late ’90s, it features some nice art direction and production values to tell a throwback haunted house story about a group of people locked in a remote location overnight, dealing with vengeful spirits. The performances are competent—certainly better than the House on Haunted Hill remake from around the same time—and although the CGI now looks terribly dated, it’s all in good fun. You can do far, far worse as far as PG-13 horror movies from this time period go. —J.V.
54. The Dunwich Horror
Director: Daniel Haller
H.P. Lovecraft’s filmography isn’t the prettiest thing, choked with low-budget adaptations that have little if anything to do with the stories that supposedly “inspired” them. This 1970 take on a story of the same name, however, actually isn’t too bad, getting the basics of the tale right—a fiendish man with extradimensional parentage, scheming to somehow bring back the “Old Ones” connected to the heart of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. It’s certainly much more faithful than any of the Roger Corman rip-offs of Lovecraft stories from the same time period, and has a good amount of that spooky, satanist/witchcraft-fearing aesthetic that seems to have been running rampant in horror movies in the ’70s. Unique casting choices include Sandra Dee, Ed Begley Sr. in his final film and Dean Stockwell of Quantum Leap as the main antagonist. —J.V.
53. White Zombie
Director: Victor Halperin
One doesn’t need a Netflix subscription to see White Zombie—it’s readily available in the public domain, and you’ll see it included in every cheapo horror box set for that reason. Outside of star Bela Lugosi, the acting is pretty atrocious, but it’s a film that horror genre purists need to check off their lists at some point simply due to its influence and importance to the genre as the first-ever “zombie film.” Zombies, of course, had a very different connotation in the pre-George Romero world—these are Haitian voodoo zombies, with Lugosi as the spellbinding ringleader with the hypnotic eyes. This was in an age before subtlety had arrived in horror, so the name of Lugosi’s character is literally “Murder,” and he spends most of the film mucking about in the affairs of an engaged couple, zombifying the woman in the process to become his slave. It’s only 67 minutes long, so what do you have to lose? If you end up watching Revolt of the Zombies, King of the Zombies and I Walked With a Zombie afterward, I swear off all responsibility. —J.V.
52. The ABCs of Death
Directors: Various directors
The ABCs of Death is an anthology film with a great premise: 26 horror shorts about death from up-and-coming directors, one for each letter of the alphabet. Unfortunately, the results are as scattershot as you would expect, and for every good entry there are two uninteresting, confusing or just plain “gross for gross sake” ones. It’s worth seeing, however, for the two or three entries that are really great, which also happen to be from three very promising directors—Nacho Vigalondo’s “A is for Apocalypse,” Marcel Sarmiento’s “D is for Dogfight” and Adam Wingard’s “Q is for Quack.” The “D” entry is probably the star of the show and the one that attracted the most critical praise when it came out, for good reason. It’s a grungy, uncompromising, brutal inversion of a typical story between a man and his dog, and it’s beautiful looking to boot. —J.V.
Director: Zack Parker
If the measuring stick for a “horror film” is that it makes you feel vaguely unnerved the entire time it’s playing, then Proxy is certainly successful. Zack Parker’s unconventional debut feature feels in brief stretches like some kind of bizarre masterwork of squirm-inducing, uncomfortable imagery, but it eventually unravels into an overly confusing, portentous morass. It’s a film about many things—motherhood, relationships, mental illness and concepts that are almost too abstract to grasp in a conventional horror movie plot. The acting is uneven, but there’s some really disturbing, fascinating stuff in there, all beginning with the shocking opening scene, which I won’t spoil for you. But suffice to say, it’s one of the hardest-to-watch sequences on this entire list, something that will stick with you for a long time. —J.V.
50. Stage Fright
Director: Jerome Sable
Stage Fright came and went pretty quickly last year, as indie horror flicks do unless they happen to catch that rare wave of critical acclaim enjoyed by The Babadook or It Follows. This one certainly didn’t stand out like those, even as a “comedy horror musical,” which isn’t exactly a combination one sees every day. Set in the ultra-competitive world of summer theater camp, it manages to do everything pretty well—it’s funny without being hilarious, musically inclined without being mind-blowing and features impressive gore and physical effects without being truly frightening. It feels like an attempt to put a slightly different spin on the meta-horror instincts of Scream, without the burden of having a bunch of characters constantly discussing the tropes of the horror genre. It could be a good choice to watch if you want to see something that’s horror in name without making much of an attempt to keep you up at night. —J.V.
49. Children of the Corn
Director: Fritz Kiersch
It’s not often that the adults should be the ones afraid to watch a horror movie with kids, but it would be hard not to look at kids differently after 1984’s Children of the Corn, one of the higher-profile entries in horror’s “kids kill all the adults” subgenre. The film focuses on a cult in a fictional Gatlin, Neb., lead by child preacher Isaac, who is convinced by an entity called He Who Walks Behind the Rows that all adults over 18 should get the ax. We see Burt and Vicky (played by Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton) struggle to escape the small town after driving through and hitting a young, dying boy with their car. There’s plenty of slasher scares and creepy visuals, but like any good horror movie, it’s a commentary on us as a society. And like Lord of the Flies before it, this Stephen King-based story looks toward our kids to point out the oddities of our culture, including an obsession with religion. With that said, the performances are cheesy as hell—from both the adults and children. —Tyler Kane
48. Frankenstein’s Army
Director: Richard Raaphorst
Indie found footage horror, contrary to what the success of Paranormal Activity (not on Netflix, by the way) would have you believe, is not an easy proposition—not at all. The original Paranormal Activity succeeds as a low-budget triumph because it has such modest goals, and most of the other found footage successes share that in common, but Frankenstein’s Army is very different in that regard. It’s the story of a troop of Russian soldiers in the waning days of WWII, infiltrating a German compound that turns out to be the testing grounds for a Frankenstein-descendent mad scientist. When his undead soldier creations come to life, the Russian soldiers end up fighting for their lives. Plot and performances are essentially unimportant—what ends up being extremely impressive here are the fabulously grisly monster designs, practical effects and inventiveness in staging found footage action sequences. This is an ambitious film that can be dull when there aren’t monster attacks happening, but what they achieved on a limited budget in depicting their monsters is absolutely remarkable. —J.V.
47. The Prophecy
Director: Gregory Widen
If you’re anything like me, then you sometimes wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night wondering why Christopher Walken has never made a horror flick—but he has! Technically. The Prophecy exists in a weird limbo between horror and supernatural religious fantasy, the story of the renegade angel Gabriel (Walken) who has led a second insurrection of the heavenly host who are pissed off that God favored mankind over his winged forebears. The MacGuffin involves everyone searching for an evil human soul that could tip the balance of power in favor of Gabriel’s crew, but the real scene-stealing revelation is Viggo Mortensen whenever he appears as Lucifer. It may very well be the single most disturbed, chilling portrayal of Satan in movie history—seriously. Mortensen absolutely knocks it out of the park in this movie, and it’s worth watching just to see his (very short) scenes. Stay clear of the increasingly stupid sequels, which venture uncomfortably into the terrible sequelitis of the Hellraiser series. —J.V.
46. Silent House
Director: Chris Kentis
Silent House is the kind of zero-budget indie horror that Elizabeth Olsen, Marvel’s Scarlet Witch herself, wouldn’t be caught dead making in 2015, but in 2011, she was simply happy to be working full-time after catching her big break with a head-turning starring role in Martha Marcy May Marlene. Your enjoyment will almost entirely be determined by your cumulative appreciation for the filmmaking art and distaste for hokey twist endings. Like this year’s Oscar golden boy Birdman, the film is ambitiously shot in a style that approximates a single, real-time, start-to-finish tracking shot, which is quite the feat to undertake in a home invasion horror flick. Its visual aesthetic is like that of a home movie, which works with the story, and you have to give it points for venturing out into little-explored artistic territory, but at the same time the film’s twist ending knocks it down a few pegs by introducing dozens of unanswered questions and logical fallacies. Ultimately, the film’s destination isn’t one that makes much sense, but there’s plenty of valid artistic choices to appreciate on the ride. —J.V.
Director: Justin Benson
I must question whether Resolution is really horror, but I don’t know quite what else one might use as a label—it’s one of the most distinct, unusual films on the list, fully embracing its low-budget roots to make something that almost takes advantage of the limitations of indie filmmaking to comment on the genre. The framing story is of a man staging an unwanted intervention on his crack-addict friend and chaining him up in a woodland cabin until he’s clean. This would be horrific enough if handled with total seriousness, but there’s an unusual tone of humor and comedy running through their interaction and casual conversations—up until the halfway mark or so, when strange, almost supernatural events start occurring around the cabin. The film eventually devolves into some sort of horror-steeped meditation on the nature of storytelling, in a diversion that one would never see coming in advance. It’s a strange film that deals with its limitations pretty well and reaches for the stars, and comes fairly close to getting there. —J.V.
44. Dead Snow
Director: Tommy Wirkola
You’d be surprised just how many nazi zombie movies there truly are out there—it’s a subtype of the zombie film that was first made in the ’70s with films like Shock Waves and has never stopped being made since, but the highest profile version from recent years was Dead Snow and its shark-jumping sequel from last year, Red vs. Dead. The first Dead Snow, though no masterwork, is the better film because it at least partially tries to hit the horror audience instead of abandoning it for full-on horror-comedy camp. A group of students camp out in a remote, snowy cabin in Norway and unwittingly revive a regiment of Nazi zombies by appropriating their Nazi gold—pretty standard stuff for the genre. The attempts at humor and characterization are so-so, but the FX and action work are top-notch for an indie feature, with great costuming for the zombies and lots of explosive bloodletting. Go in with low expectations and just enjoy the blood ’n’ guts. —J.V.
43. The Taking of Deborah Logan
Director: Adam Robitel
This recent spin on the extremely crowded possession genre is the real definition of a mixed bag. Its initial premise is solid, as it follows a college film crew documenting a senior citizen (Deborah Logan) who is battling Alzheimer’s disease. What they don’t realize is that someone or something else may have been welcomed into Deborah’s mind as her mental faculties weaken. The film gets points for stylishness on a budget, and especially for the chilling, nuanced performance by Jill Larson as Deborah, but it’s eventually unable to sustain itself in the last third, becoming increasingly divorced from logic. There are moments of great, disturbing imagery, but that’s counterbalanced by characters who act incredibly irrationally—even for a horror film. It becomes more and more difficult to find reasons for any of the story being filmed at all, which leads to an ending that some might label a cop-out. But with that said, it’s still a far cry better than most entries in either the found footage or possession subgenres. —J.V.
42. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Director: John McNaughton
Henry stars Merle himself, Michael Rooker, as a character who is essentially meant to approximate serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, along with his demented sidekick Otis Toole. The film was shot and set in Chicago on a budget of only $100,000, and is an ugly, depraved journey into the depths of the darkness capable of infecting the human soul. That probably sounds like hyperbole, but Henry really is a gross, ugly film—you feel dirty just watching it, from the filth-crusted streets of Chicago to the supremely unlikeable characters who prey on local prostitutes. It’s not an easy watch, but if gritty true crime is your thing, it’s a must-see. Some of the sequences, such as the “home video” shot by Henry and Otis as they torture an entire family, gave the film a notorious reputation, even among horror fans. —J.V.
Director: Jon Wright
A surprisingly well-acted Irish/British indie sci-fi horror flick, Grabbers is unabashedly goofy but wholly professional and charming in spades. The story follows an alcoholic police officer who has to face a new threat to a sleepy seaside community when octopus-like aliens begin emerging from the sea and killing townspeople. These “Grabbers,” as they’re quickly dubbed, have only one weakness: Human blood is fatal to them if it’s over a certain percentage alcohol. Therefore, to combat the monsters and make themselves unpalatable, the police and townspeople have an obvious choice to make: Get totally hammered and grab a bunch of weapons. That may sound rather close to the summary of a direct-to-video movie by The Asylum, but Grabbers is surprisingly intelligent, witty and well-written in such a way that it easily escapes a fate in DVD bargain bin hell. —J.V.