The last three times I’ve compiled this list for Paste, this space has amounted to a bully pulpit where I railed against the continually shrinking/cheapening horror selection available to stream on Netflix. For horror geeks like myself, it has been clear for a long time that Netflix isn’t particularly interested in “genre film” audiences, and rarely makes an effort to specifically court them. The last time I compiled this list before Halloween of 2016, the service didn’t even bother to add any significant horror films for the one month of the year that most people watch them. Is it any wonder that horror-only services such as Shudder seem to be thriving and growing? By the way—you can check out our ranking of films in Shudder’s library here.
This time, however, some things have changed. For the first time, I’ve actually increased the size of this list—from the 60 best to the 70 best horror movies on Netflix. As per usual, we’ve lost some great films since the last time it was updated: Previous #1 pick The Exorcist, Spielberg’s classic Jaws and Stuart Gordon’s amazing Re-Animator among them. But for the first time, Netflix may have actually added more quality than it lost, from classics such as The Shining and An American Werewolf in London to brand new indie horror films like Baskin or Under the Shadow. Other recent horror films such as It Follows and We Are Still Here have finally joined the service as well, broadening its horror appeal. So as much as I’m surprised to say it: Netflix actually seems to have improved its horror selection this time. Go figure.
Still, there are a few things to keep in mind. For example, Netflix is very lacking in classics and franchise staples. Don’t expect to find any Halloween or Friday the 13th entries, or a single one of George Romero’s zombie classics—not even Night of the Living Dead, which is free in the public domain for them to exhibit. What they can claim, though, is a decent number of more recent, solid indie horror pictures such as The Babadook, Starry Eyes or The Canal. The key is knowing which films to watch, and not getting sucked into watching the direct-to-VOD trash.
Thus, we invite you to use this list as a guide. The lowest-ranked films are of the “fun-bad” variety—flawed, but easily enjoyable for one reason or another. The highest-ranked films are obviously classics. Check them out, and let me know about any great horror films currently on Netflix that you think deserved a spot on the list.
70. The Brainiac (El Baron del Terror)
Director: Chano Urueta
I honestly wish Netflix had more films in the library akin to The Brainiac, and less of the modern horror trash. Seeing this weird old gem of ’60s Mexican zero-budget horror makes me curious how exactly it ended up on the streaming service—what’s the story behind how this random film, about a sorcerer who returns from the dead as a brain-sucking ape man, was deemed worthy? Did someone from Netflix actually watch it at some point, or was it accidentally uploaded as part of a package deal of some kind? Has anyone (besides me) ever streamed it? Who cares? It’s a film that looks like it could very well have been shot by a young Roger Corman, featuring some guffaw-inducing monster costumes and delightfully incompetent performers. All that it’s missing is a luchador hero, but you can’t have everything. — Jim Vorel
Director: Anthony C. Ferrante
B-movie geeks and bad movie fans are not kind to the original Sharknado, and I don’t think that’s entirely fair. It gets flak from that audience for being “purposefully bad,” but it is possible to make an entertainingly goofy film in this way … it’s just pretty rare. Now dragged down by an increasingly forced run of sequels, all of which I’ve reviewed for Paste because I’m a crazy person, it’s easy to lose sight of how slapdash (and thus amusing) the first film was. There’s absolutely no budget behind Sharknado, which makes the gaffes introduced by a tight shooting schedule all the more apparent and hilarious. The sky goes from dark to sunny in between shots in the same scene. The film idles in place for 20 minutes while trying to get kids out of a school bus, just to shamelessly pad itself out to “feature length.” Tara Reid tries to get dialog to come out of her mouth, and fails spectacularly. In short: There’s fun stuff here. Don’t be a bad movie hipster; embrace the original Sharknado. The sequels, feel free to ignore. – J.V.
Director: Jordan Rubin
Look, if you don’t know before you ever hit “play” exactly what you should be expecting from Zombeavers, I’m not sure how much I can help you. It’s a film about toxic waste-spawned zombie beavers, people. It’s halfhearted as both a horror film and a comedy, with a preponderance of jokes that thud and just enough that will draw an ashamed chuckle. It feels like a throwback to the straight-to-VHS horror schlock of the ’80s and ’90s—simple, kitschy premise, plenty of gratuitous nudity, lots of attempts at humor. By the time people start turning into WERE-BEAVERS near the film’s end, you’ll have settled into a good groove of mocking its flaws and enjoying its alternating shamelessness and reverence for the genre—because at least they attempt some interesting practical effects. Good on you, Zombeavers. It’s trash, but a step above the bottom of the barrel. —Jim Vorel
67. 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.
66. Stephen King’s Thinner
Director: Tom Holand
Thinner is certainly quite a few rungs down the Stephen King adaptation ladder, but it’s also a curiously memorable movie. Everyone in it is a sleazeball—including our would-be protagonist, Billy—and the town is like the one in Napolean Dynamite, in the sense that failure and degradation just permeate seemingly every facet of the lives of its residents. No wonder they decided to bring in a carnival run by gypsies to cheer everyone up, right? After smacking one of them with his car, obese lawyer Billy ends up cursed with a spell that causes him to rapidly lose weight and waste away to nothing. It’s sort of like Drag Me to Hell, except without any characters you actually want to root for. But at least it’s fun to chuckle at Robert John Burke’s fat suit and prosthetic chipmunk cheeks, while they last. – J.V.
65. Dead Silence
Director: James Wan
This film actually has a small if significant fanbase among the horror community—you’ll often see people citing it as “underrated,” possibly because it comes from Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring maestro James Wan. It is, however, Wan’s weakest film, one that feels somewhat like a perfunctory follow-up to Saw, which is pretty much exactly what it is. Screenwriter Leigh Whannell has said as much; that it was a film he was essentially made to write as quickly as possible to capitalize on the success of Saw. It is, however, a very different movie than the former—a combination of ghost story and Twilight Zone-like urban legend/morality tale about an evil ventriloquist who returns from the dead to stalk a family through dolls—but she can only kill you if you scream, hence the title. Wan’s signature visual style goes a long way toward making Dead Silence interesting, but the plot and characters seem closer to something you’d see in a FearNet or Syfy television movie. There are kernels of an interesting film here, but the best work of both Wan and Whannell was still yet to come. —J.V.
64. I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House
Director: Osgood Perkins
This somewhat labored ghost story premiered at the Toronto International Film Fest before being picked up by Netflix for distribution, but the festival circuit is really its natural home. It’s a staid, extremely patient haunted house yarn with some intriguing performances, but it’s likely to be too slow to be appreciated by many modern audiences. A woman moves into a creaky old home to become the live-in nurse for an elderly horror author with dementia, but she soon finds herself being sucked into the ghost story that makes up the author’s most famous book. That likely sounds like a fairly conventional horror movie premise, because it’s the delivery that sets this film apart rather than the summation. Every shot lingers. We glide through the house with minimal, whispered dialog and occasional narration, and although it does build a palpable sense of unease, the payoffs are few and far between. I couldn’t help but be reminded of H.P. Mendoza’s similarly experimental 2012 film I Am A Ghost, which is equally laconic but more visually arresting. I Am the Pretty Thing has grand artistic aspirations of some kind behind it, but has trouble giving them vibrancy. This is a horror film for audiences with solid attention spans. – J.V.
63. What We Become
Director: Bo Mikkelson
The thing that limits a film the likes of What We Become is its familiarity. It’s a tight-knit family drama zombie movie, following a single family unit as they experience the tropes we’ve seen in nearly every “serious” indie zombie film of the last 15 years. Even the title is taken directly from one of the trade paperbacks of The Walking Dead comic, and that comic’s modern, Romero-esque outlook feels like heavy inspiration for the film. It’s not to say that it isn’t effective … but it’s a question of what still remains to be said with a film about a small family trapped inside their home by zombies that hasn’t already been said. What We Become is well shot and handles its minimal story effectively, but it struggles somewhat to justify its own existence. The third act, thankfully, does ratchet up both the tension and action, paying off in some effective bloodletting that takes a bit too long to arrive. It’s a film that is very indicative of the state of modern indie zombie films, both in the U.S. and abroad—competent, fairly entertaining, but struggling for purpose. – J.V.
62. The Fury
Director: Brian De Palma
Two years after Carrie, Hollywood came calling to Brian De Palma, asking “Hey, want to make more or less the same film again?” Brian’s presumptive response: “Sure, let’s do exactly that.” Okay, to be fair it’s not exactly the same as Carrie, but it’s still a horror movie about psychic teens with telekinesis, so we’re more than halfway there. In reality, the premise reminds one almost of say, the Maximoff twins’ depiction in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—two gifted young people who are taken advantage of and imprisoned by governmental forces trying to tap into weaponized uses for their abilities. Kirk Douglas stars as a father trying to find one of those teenagers, who happens to be his psychic son—it’s not every day that you can see a horror movie with Spartacus in it. All in all, it’s sort of a bland film, in a staid, ‘70s way … EXCEPT for the very final scene, which is absolutely magnificent. Finally unleashing her full powers, it features the female protagonist using her mind to cause the antagonist to erupt into a red mist of gore, in one of the most shockingly violent sequences on this entire list. I mean honestly, I’ve seen a lot of people get blown up in movies over the years, but even I’ve never seen anything like the exploding guy in The Fury. It’s easy to see why they simultaneously filmed it from like half a dozen angles—they knew just how good that explosion was going to be. – J.V.
61. Odd Thomas
Director: Stephen Sommers
2016 was a year we lost numerous Hollywood icons, but the loss of Anton Yelchin is especially bitter, as he was only 27. The Star Trek star had already put together one hell of an incredible portfolio, and he radiated an innate likability that could well have made him an A-list leading man in Hollywood. With that said, Odd Thomas isn’t exactly his best film—it’s a shame that his underrated Fright Night remake with Colin Farrell isn’t on Netflix right now. But Yelchin is most definitely the best thing in this movie, playing the title character of “Odd,” a young man with abilities to both see and fight restless ghosts and malevolent spirits. The script is jumbled and has a tendency to loop back in on itself repeatedly, but Yelchin is charming, and it’s buoyed by a fun supporting role from Willem Dafoe as the unusually open-minded town sheriff—refreshing, given that this type of character almost never is helpful to the protagonist. It’s not without its problems, but it deserved better at the American box office than the “bomb” status it earned. – J.V.
60. Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead
Director: Tommy Wirkola
The sequel to Dead Snow (and there’s a third coming, by the way), Red vs. Dead completely abandons the true horror elements of the first film in favor of straight-up camp and horror comedy, a shift that I always take as a sort of admission—“We can’t legitimately frighten you with this, so let’s make it funny instead.” The resulting film is fun and colorful, bringing back the nazi zombies of the first installment for mayhem that becomes more over the top and gory, in the style of say, Dead Alive/Braindead. The main character from the previous film has had a zombie arm stitched onto him, which grants him both super strength and the ability to raise his own zombie army of dead Russian soldiers, i.e. the “Red” of the title. It’s ridiculous and full of action, which is great, but is slowed down throughout by thudding comic relief characters who you’d rather see eaten than speaking more lines. But in terms of being a splatter spectacle? Both Dead Snow films are great at that. —J.V.
59. The Awakening
Director: Nick Murphy
A competent but rather paint-by-numbers ghost story from 2011, The Awakening was released in theaters with little fanfare and didn’t get much notice. A period piece set in 1921, it follows a supernatural debunker played by the charming Rebecca Hall as she visits a boys’ boarding school to investigate its resident spooks. It has some DNA of Del Toro’s superior The Devil’s Backbone, as its protagonist seeks answers in the mystery of what is causing the local haunting, but gets a little ridiculous when her secret backstory begins spilling out. It’s nicely shot, but the sepia-toned visuals suck away some vitality from the color palette. It still retains a little bit of that residual Hammer Horror feeling, though—billowing curtains and candles and ornate British mansions always go a long way toward setting the scene. A good watch for those seeking classic ghost story beats rather than gore or more overt violence. — J.V.
58. Last Shift
Director: Anthony DiBlasi
Last Shift doesn’t really aspire to much, other than to be cheap and to hit all the notes the director believes it’s supposed to hit. Essentially a one-woman, one-location show, it follows a rookie police officer on her first day on the job, working the overnight shift in an old police station that is about to be shuttered. Unfortunately for her, the various atrocities and bits of violence committed at the location over the years have made this station somewhere between “paranormal hotspot” and “portal to hell dimension.” We’re given some minor exposition about a cult who met a grisly end around the premises, but the majority of the film is simply a procession of well-worn tropes, as our heroine wanders the office, makes terrible choices and observes spooky phenomena. One can at least say that Last Shift looks quite nice for its budget, and there are a handful of effective jump scares sprinkled throughout, but it has a definite air of “bargain bin” about it. —J.V.
57. The Blair Witch Project
Director: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez
It is genuinely difficult for just about any horror fan to evaluate The Blair Witch Project with any sense of objectivity in 2017. It’s hard to overstate its influence in terms of the found footage horror films it inspired—it wasn’t the first found footage movie, but it’s by far the most influential. It was a case of an independent movie coming along at exactly the right moment, and being marketed in exactly the right way, which led to a sensation that only the first Paranormal Activity film managed to partially replicate. When an unaware filmgoing audience saw this movie in theaters, it caused them to do something that almost no film ever succeeds in doing—it made them suspend their disbelief in a palpable way. Otherwise rational human beings walked out of movie theaters, thinking they’d just seen the last transmission of a doomed group of kids murdered by supernatural forces in a forest. That’s a powerful thing. No, The Blair Witch Project doesn’t really stand up today as a filmmaking work, and yes, it drags along through most of its runtime, but there are a few sublime moments in there that would be impossible to replicate today. Look no further than the abortive Blair Witch remake in 2016. This is lightning that simply cannot be bottled again. – J.V.
56. Curse of Chucky
Director: Don Mancini
Curse of Chucky is one of those rare cases where a direct-to-video horror film exceeds its limited aspirations and makes a case for getting a theatrical release. It’s understandable why Universal didn’t consider it for that role after the diminishing returns of the horror comedies Bride of Chucky and especially Seed of Chucky, but Curse arrived in 2013 as an unexpected return to form more in line with the 1988 original, Child’s Play. Brad Dourif is back as the voice of the killer doll once again of course—it’s not like you could do it without him—and the film also stars his daughter Fiona in the interesting role of a paraplegic protagonist. The film shows us clearly that although Child’s Play will always be a goofy concept, and defined by its dark humor, there needs to be a more serious, visceral side to the production as well for it to really work. Curse brings back that gory physicality that had been missing, and features more of the great puppet work that is the series’ signature. The only downside: Some scenes use a CGI Chucky (presumably to save costs), and the results are absolutely abominable. Here’s hoping Mancini sticks exclusively with the puppet in his next entry in the series, Cult of Chucky. – J.V.
55. When Animals Dream
Director: Jonas Alexander Arnby
Movie monsters are beloved foremost for their baser expectations: We watch vampire flicks because we want to see fanged horrors drain humans of their life force, zombie flicks because we want to see some flesh and maybe some brains get chowed down on, and ghost flicks because there’s nothing quite like a haunted house to make you feel uneasy falling asleep at night. We watch werewolf movies, then, to bask in primal, unbridled ferocity, which means right off the bat that When Animals Dream may not be your jam. Here’s the rule to follow: If you couldn’t stand Let the Right One In, steer clear of When Animals Dream. If you do, however, appreciate horror films that lend their monsters layers of humanity, then Danish filmmaker Jonas Alexander Arnby’s feature debut will make you reconsider the werewolf sub-genre single-handedly. Taking a cue from Ginger Snaps, When Animals Dream trades masculine studies for a young woman’s coming of age, heralded by the traces of beastly ancestry in sixteen year old Marie (Sonia Suhl) as she grapples with her changing body and endures social isolation in the fishing village she calls home. Arnby’s pacing is deliberate; the film is in no hurry to get where it’s going. But the destination isn’t When Animals Dream’s best merit. The journey is. You’ll want for the bloody savagery that is the werewolf film’s birthright, but its combination of dread and compassion easily make up for the deficit. – Andy Crump
54. Would You Rather
Director: David Guy Levy
Would You Rather is the kind of somewhat reductive horror film that follows in the wake of the Saw and Hostel generation of the 2000s, where characterization is just an excuse to reduce each character to one driving motivation. Here’s our heroine—oh, she needs money to pay for the treatment of her sick brother, but what will she do to get it? Films like this are careful to not present any of the other characters as equally or more sincere in their desire than that protagonist, because that would introduce real moral ambiguity rather than the illusive choices here. Regardless, you’re not watching for the story—you’re watching to see what a bunch of strangers will be forced to do to each other in order to win a demented millionaire’s payday. ’80s horror icon Jeffrey Combs plays that villain, and although he’s clearly having a good time, there’s some spark of vitality to his performances in Re-Animator or From Beyond that has long since been reduced to paycheck-minded professionalism. If this movie had been made in 1985, perhaps it would have been a minor classic. —J.V.
53. 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
52. The Craft
Director: Andrew Fleming
The Craft is one of those touchstones of ‘90s, teen-friendly horror (see: I Know What You Did Last Summer) that has blossomed into the ranks of “cult films” in recent years, whether or not it really deserves the nostalgia. You can at least admire its deft evolution of John Hughes-era high school movie tropes, presenting an almost Mean Girls clique of girls with the added fun of witchcraft, although the inspiration might be more accurately attributed to the likes of Heathers. This film came along during that brief, odd period of the ‘90s when “starring Fairuza Balk” was not an altogether weird thing to see on a movie poster, and it’s a better, quirkier film for it. We all know where the story is going, once these gals start dabbling in witchcraft for the causes of popularity and petty revenge—nobody gets away with being this bitchy in fiction. It’s hammy, and melodramatic, and protagonist Robin Tunney is easily the least interesting of her own clique, and yet The Craft is still oddly watchable today. It’s a well-preserved time capsule of a very specific moment in the twilight of the MTV Generation. – J.V.
51. The House at the End of Time
Director: Alejandro Hidalgo
I earlier made the mistake of thinking this film was part of the prolific Spanish indie horror market, which has given us the likes of Nacho Vigalondo and Guillermo Del Toro, but The House at the End of Time is actually Venezuelan in origin. It’s ambitious but somewhat messy, a story about a family that undergoes a traumatic, fracturing event and its fallout over the course of 30 years. The eventual revelation of the twist pushes the story into more of a “sci-fi horror” direction, and feels somewhat inspired by the prime-era films of M. Night Shyamalan in execution. The film simply isn’t quite as profound as it would like to think it is, and the visual fidelity holds back its “cinematic” quality slightly, but it gets the most out of a strong central performance from its lead. If you get on a South American horror kick, you’ll end up watching it eventually. —J.V.
Directors: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence
We already mentioned that horror anthologies are, by nature, almost always uneven in terms of quality, but if there’s one constant, it’s usually that fewer stories is better than MANY stories. That’s one of the factors that helps V/H/S work better than say, the unrestrained insanity of The ABCs of Death, along with a more coherent framing narrative. It features segments by some of the best young directors in horror such as Adam Wingard and Ti West, but it’s ultimately David Bruckner, who also directed the genre-bending 2007 horror flick The Signal, who steals the show with his segment, “Amateur Night.” That story, about a group of douchey guys who bring home a strange girl from the bar and get much more than they bargained for when she turns out to be a literal monster, is now getting the full-on feature film treatment under the title of Siren. As for which of the first two V/H/S entries is strongest, though, it’s a bit of a toss-up. Both of them have highlight segments and a few downers. The one thing there’s no doubt about is that both of them are fun, and MUCH better than the abortive 2014 second sequel, V/H/S: Viral. —J.V.
As we just said in the last entry, your taste in the V/H/S series will likely depend on which entry has your personal favorite segment, but the first two are relatively neck and neck. At the very least, this one contains what might be the single best segment in the entire series, Eduardo Sanchez’ “A Ride in the Park.” Without giving everything away, it involves bicyclists, zombies and helmet-mounted GoPro cameras, which help give us a perspective we’ve never really seen in horror while deftly avoiding the question of “Why would anyone be filming this?” There’s still some not-great segments—really the ideal V/H/S would be a compilation that takes only the best segments from each entry to create a really solid horror anthology. One has to wonder if Viral killed this series for good, or whether they’ll eventually act like it never happened and release a straight-up V/H/S 3. —J.V.
Director: Jason Lei Howden
New Zealand is seeing a revival as a hot-spot for indie horror comedies these days, between this film and others such as What We Do in the Shadows and its upcoming sequel, We’re Wolves, harkening back to the days of Peter Jackson. Deathgasm is a simple film, but a fun one that doesn’t aspire to much. A band of surly heavy metal-worshiping high school students stumbles upon “The Black Hymn,” a piece of medieval-era sheet music that has the power to summon demons and possibly bring about the end of the world. Naturally, they adapt it into a garage rock song, and soon enough, the neighborhood is abuzz with gore-heavy scenes of demonic possession. The humor is crude, and not quite as funny as it thinks it is, but the horror scenes are fun, and Deathgasm never drags. It’s been hailed as a new classic by metalheads, but I still think there’s an even better heavy metal horror film waiting to be made out there. Fun trivia note: Walmart refused to sell copies of the film without changing its title to “Heavy Metal Apocalypse,” so they did. —J.V.
47. Stage Fright
Director: Jerome Sable
Stage Fright came and went pretty quickly in 2014, 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.
Director: Scott Derrickson
Sinister made a pretty sizable splash when it arrived at the U.S. box office in 2012, with a reputation for terror that is partially earned. Ethan Hawke plays a father who works as a true crime writer, investigating the seemingly linked deaths of several families across the country. The film is at its best when it’s reveling in its disturbing “found footage” aspect, playing back the creative and harrowing films that Hawke discovers in his attic. However, once the connection is made between the films and a pagan deity named Bughuul, they’re somewhat stripped of the mysterious and realistic quality that makes them frightening. Still, it’s a stylishly shot feature that doesn’t sugarcoat anything, and goes all-in on its WTF ending. At the very least, it’s a couple steps above most horror films that get a wide release in the U.S. – J.V.
Director: Gareth Edwards
The last few times I put this list together, I left off Monsters only because I couldn’t decide if it truly qualified on any level as “horror” despite being subcategorized as such on Netflix. It is, however, a well-made little film that gave the world its first look at director Gareth Edwards, who parlayed his micro-budget success (budget under $500,000) into a chance to direct blockbusters Godzilla and now Rogue One: A Star Wars Story—an incredible leap forward in prominence in the film community. Monsters, on the other hand, is almost like a sci-fi relationship drama, a film about a journalist tasked with escorting a tourist across a dangerous, quarantined zone of Central America that has become home to alien lifeforms. Edwards skillfully makes the most of on-location shooting and very limited FX to evoke a sense of how the aliens are changing the planet, and of how their arrival changed everything for mankind. Ultimately, though, you’re watching this film for the performances and subtle interplay between its characters rather than any kind of spectacle. Go in looking for a scary movie or action romp, and you’ll be disappointed. You need to take it for what it is: A realistic story about what it might be like for two average people with complicated emotional baggage being thrust into a challenging scenario. Whatever you do, just don’t see the 2014 sequel in name only, Monsters: Dark Continent. —J.V.
Director: Lowell Dean
Wolfcop is full-on horror comedy, but it’s delirious good fun. When an alcoholic small-town Canadian cop gets cursed and turned into a werewolf, he retains all of his human faculties—above all, a respect for the LAW. Using his newfound werewolf superpowers, he opposes the local cabal of reptilian shapeshifters. Yep. That’s your film. It’s one of those carefully calculated modern, indie horror-comedies that was created explicitly in the hopes of someday being labeled “cult classic,” but it does its job better than most. It feels at times a bit like the neo-grindhouse aesthetic of Hobo With a Shotgun, perhaps thanks to the gore effects, although it’s nowhere near as nihilistic. More than anything, you feel a very genuine love for the utter ridiculousness of the premise. It’s a film that people clearly enjoyed the hell out of making, which makes that fun infectious to the viewer. —J.V.
43. Europa Report
Director: Sebastian Cordero
This is definitely a stretch, but I wanted to give some recognition to an interesting indie sci-fi film with some definite horror elements. Europa Report is rather stunning in how awesome its production design pulls off a realistic-looking spacecraft traveling to one of Jupiter’s moons. With The Martian fresh in peoples’ minds, consider this film as it tackles similarly science-based issues of the dangers of space travel, along with the question of other forms of life—possibly hostile life—once the destination is reached. Featuring a cast of lesser-known actors, it nevertheless has both Neill Blomkamp favorite Sharlto Copley and Daniel Wu, who has now been exposed to a wider audience as the lead protagonist of AMC’s Into the Badlands. The film’s first half impresses via both characterization and its realistic portrayal of one possible mode of space travel, before the second half unexpectedly ratchets up the suspense and introduces some genuine horror elements. Detractors would say that it’s tonally inconsistent—I say that it’s two different types of effective, and super-impressive on a smaller budget. —J.V.
42. 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 ridiculous 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.
Director: Lewis Teague
Cujo is a very modest, intimate horror film, as sad as it is potentially frightening. There’s something really tragic in the degradation of Cujo the St. Bernard after he contracts rabies, the way his eyes and mental state begin to crumble in the face of the disease. He’s made into a monster, but it’s an unwilling transformation from his normally friendly state, a stripping away of non-sentient good-naturedness—one might call it a metaphor for the corrupting power of evil in society. It’s well-structured to lead itself to a long, tense stand-off between a mother, her young son and the dog, as they sit trapped in their car in the broiling heat, trying to make a decision between heatstroke or the vicious dog waiting for them outside. As if it needs to be said, you shouldn’t watch this if you’ve ever had any doubts about the loyalties of the family pooch, as it will only exacerbate them. —J.V.
40. Hellbound: Hellraiser 2
Director: Tony Randel
Hellbound is a somewhat divisive sequel among horror fans, but we can all at least agree on one thing: It’s much, much better than any of the approximately 57 additional Hellraiser sequels that followed, most of which will make you wish the Cenobites were gouging your eyes out with their rusty hooks. It’s actually a more ambitious, somewhat less intimate film than the first Hellraiser, greatly expanding upon the mythos of the series as Kirsty must journey to the hellish dimension of the demonic Cenobites to oppose an evil doctor whose dreams of power transform him into a Cenobite himself. The lovely Ashley Laurence returns as the protagonist, along with a young, emotionally disturbed girl who is adept at solving puzzles, which almost gives it the feel of a Nightmare on Elm Street sequel such as Dream Warriors. The Cenobites themselves get a little bit watered down from their nigh omnipotence in the original film, but the settings and effects are great for the meager budget and do as good a job as anyone could reasonably do of translating the twisted vision of Clive Barker to the screen. —J.V.
39. From Dusk Till Dawn
Director: Robert Rodriguez
I can’t help but wonder, watching From Dusk Till Dawn, what the film might have looked like if Robert Rodriguez wrote it as well, rather than Quentin Tarantino. Would the Mexican vampire element have been introduced before the halfway mark? Probably. But there’s Tarantino for you, not content to tell one story—instead, he delivers what almost becomes two entirely separate movies starring the same characters. In the first half we get a crime dramedy about a pair of sociopathic brothers on the lam, taking hostages down the Mexico. When they finally get there, the switch flips and it turns into a gory vampire western. Both halves are entertaining in their own way, although genre purists who went in expecting a vampire film were probably perplexed by the lead-in to the payoff. That payoff is satisfyingly pulpy, though, and there’s a certain pleasure in going back to see the earlier era of George Clooney, when he thought the idea of fighting Mexican vampires seemed like a good career move. —J.V.
38. Under the Shadow
Director: Babak Anvari
For most of the film, Babak Anvari is crafting a stifling period drama, a horror movie of a different sort that tangibly conveys the claustrophobia of Iran during its tumultuous post-revolution period. Anvari, himself of a family that eventually fled the Ayatollah’s rule, has made Under the Shadow as a statement of rebellion and tribute to his own mother. It’s a distinctly feminist film: Shideh is cast as the tough heroine fighting back against greater hostile forces—a horror movie archetype that takes on even more potency in this setting, while evoking other recent films such as The Babadook in the nature of its troubled mother-child relationship. Seeing Shideh defy the Khomeini regime by watching a Jane Fonda workout video, banned by the state, is almost as stirring as seeing her overcome her personal demons by protecting her child from a more literal one. —Brogan Morris
37. The Invitation
Director: Karyn Kusama
The “dinner party horror movie” is not quite frequent enough a thing to warrant its own, personal subgenre, but they do seem to pop up with regularity. Just look at this list—Would You Rather also revolves around the same concept, and they appear in a few of the other films in more limited capacities as well. They’re the perfect setting for psychological thrillers and horror films, bringing together a diverse group of people into a small, confined area where tensions can reach a boiling point. In Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, it’s a man who lost his son, invited along with a large network of friends to reconnect with his ex-wife and her new husband at the dinner party. Once the guests arrive, the suspicions begin to mount. Why are there bars on the windows? Where’s that one, missing friend? And how much of this is all in our protagonist’s head, as he’s eaten up by the memories and profound guilt he feels for the accidental death of his son? It’s a bit of a meandering film that could likely lose a few minutes of introspection and be stronger for it, but it’s simultaneously suspenseful and visceral when it should be. It takes a bit too long for the pot to boil, but when it does, things get out of hand quickly. Unrelated note: There’s a great appearance by creepy, unnerving character actor John Carroll Lynch, who also played the suspected serial killer in David Fincher’s Zodiac. —J.V.
36. The Horde
Directors: Benjamin Rocher, Yannick Dahan
The Horde plays a bit like someone in France saw From Dusk Till Dawn and wondered what the format of that movie might be like with zombies instead of vampires. Like the Robert Rodriguez film, we get sucked into a tense crime story first, following a group of police officers as they storm a mostly abandoned apartment high-rise to take down a gang of drug dealers who killed one of their own. And then, 20 minutes in … a bunch of zombies arrive! You almost have to admire the total lack of foreshadowing—it’s a unique take on “the world has come to an end,” because in this story, the world comes to an end while the two sides (cops and drug dealers) are in the midst of a very pitched confrontation. They have no access to information on the wider world, and can only watch as Paris apparently tears itself apart. Naturally, the cops and robbers then need to team up in order to survive, in a strange mix of sadistic humor and emotional turmoil. As for the zombies, they actually look pretty awesome, although their abilities tend to vary wildly from scene to scene. An odd quirk: The zombies actually remove their own dead from the battlefield for reasons never fully explained, a trait I’ve never seen in another zombie movie. —J.V.