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
Puberty can be horrifying. With the exception of Ginger Snaps, it’s surprising how rarely the werewolf film is used to showcase the terror of growing up, what with a pubescent finding hair appearing out of nowhere, undergoing unexpected growth, and hungering for something new. The Danish film When Animals Dream attempts to link lycanthropy with the horrors inherent in becoming an adult—but that’s the only surprise its meandering plot can muster. As a werewolf flick, When Animals Dream truly lacks any sort of anxiety or dread, and as simply a puberty metaphor, the film offers no explanation or context regarding how or why this is happening to Marie—almost as if it’s just not interested in explaining, period (sorry). Yet it wants to be both. And that’s that: With a running time of about 80 minutes, Arnby has plenty of time to create a beautifully dark world for us to visit, but doesn’t offer much of a reason to let it grow on us. – Ross Bonaime
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.
35. John Dies at the End
Director: Don Coscarelli
Your ability to withstand the absurdity of John Dies at the End will depend almost entirely on if you’re able to tolerate nonlinear storylines and characters who tax the lengths of the imagination. An oftimes crude and farcical combination of horror, drug culture and philosophy, it’s a film you won’t entirely grasp until you’ve seen it for yourself. Central is a drug known as “soy sauce” that causes the user to see outside the concept of linear time, existing at all times at once in a way that almost reminds one of the alien beings from Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. Also appearing: Phantom limbs, an alien consciousness known as “Shitload,” a heroic dog and an evil, interdimensional supercomputer. No drugs necessary—the film will make you feel like you’ve already ransacked your medicine cabinet. —J.V.
34. The Hallow
Director: Corin Hardy
There are mythological horror stories, and there are scientifically based horror films, and then there’s The Hallow, which splits the difference in a unique and off-putting way by fusing the two. As viewers, we’re tempted to believe that the film is simply going to give us something of a monster movie, spinning off some Irish mythology on nature spirits and whatnot as they enact terrible vengeance upon a family trespassing on their woods, but it’s actually a much ickier and invasive concept. The creatures may be of a “supernatural” bent, yes, but the film ties it all together with a certain amount of science-based physiology, referencing and drawing a metaphor to the so-called “zombie ants” that are taken over and essentially puppeted by a virulent fungus. So it is with The Hallow, which features Game of Thrones’ Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) in a supporting role and builds nicely to a conclusion where the viewer isn’t certain quite what the outcome will be. Of special note, I would be remiss to not praise the FX work on this film, which is better than you can possibly expect from your average indie British-Irish horror movie. The whole film feels like something with a substantial, well-spent budget behind it, especially in the FX work, which is really top notch. It’s an impressive debut for director Corin Hardy, that’s for certain. —J.V.
Director: Antonia Bird
Ravenous is an odd duck of a film, and it’s no wonder that the esteem it receives from certain audiences these days is of a decidedly “cult” variety. Caught between genres, it’s a blend of serious-minded historical fiction, cannibal horror and a strong streak of black comedy, although I’d hesitate to truly refer to it as a “horror comedy” outright. The film carries itself with too much gravitas for that moniker, despite the presence of David Arquette. Guy Pearce plays a Dances With Wolves-style soldier protagonist who is haunted by the horrors of war, but there are much worse fates to come. Your true reason for watching Ravenous ought to be the wonderful Robert Carlyle, who is stupendous as a cannibalism survivor with more to him than “meats” the eye (I’m so, so sorry for that one). It all builds to a conclusion that is almost Tarantino in tone, a Resevoir Dogs standoff in which the loyalties of thieves are put to the test and Pearce’s character must decide just how badly he wants to survive. It would probably be a fun movie to watch while preparing a standing rib roast. – J.V.
32. Tales from the Darkside: The Movie
Director: John Harrison
The spiritual successor to the first two Creepshow films (not on Netflix streaming, damnit) was the Tales from the Darkside feature film, also an anthology. The stories are a bit ridiculous and cartoonish, even moreso than Creepshow, but fun in their own zany way. The highlight is probably “Cat From Hell,” a segment that was originally supposed to be featured in Creepshow 2 about a seemingly evil cat tormenting and stalking a wheelchair-bound old man to punish him for his past misdeeds. Although honestly, my favorite aspect of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is the anthology framing story, which involves a child chained up in the kitchen of a witch who is planning on cooking him for dinner. Like some take on The Thousand and One Nights, the kid plays Scheherazade and distracts the witch by telling horror stories until he can engineer his escape. It’s like something from an overgrown episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? —J.V.
31. The Fly
Director: Kurt Neumann
David Cronenberg’s 1986 Fly remake with Jeff Goldblum is great (it’s not on Netflix streaming), but it’s much more visceral in tone when compared with the camp of the 1958 original, much like the 1980s remake of The Blob. In fact, the original probably isn’t quite the film you might expect it to be—the camp and ’50s sci-fi charm is indeed there, but there are also some solid performances and an intriguing structure. In many ways, the film is more of a mystery than the sci-fi or horror it purports to be, revolving around the police investigation of why a woman killed her husband with a hydraulic press. Eventually it’s revealed that it was her only recourse after he developed a bad case of fruit fly-head, but the build to that reveal is both effective and suspenseful. It’s one of the finest and most rewatchable films in the 1950s sci-fi/horror canon more than half a century later. Also: Vincent Price is there, so we rest our case. You can’t go wrong. —J.V.
30. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
“Horror” more in the conventions it borrows than its actual content, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night styled itself as the “first Iranian vampire western” when it was released last year—can you believe nobody had pulled that off before? It follows a young woman vampire in long, billowing robe/cape, simply labeled as “The Girl,” and inspects the lonely life of the undead and a potential romance that strikes up along the way with a young, idealistic man trying to take care of his addict father. The story is extremely simple, but it’s really not a film about plot. Reflecting influences from decades earlier in both Expressionism and noir filmmaking, its seemingly simple, black & white color scale takes its time and dawdles in beautiful contrasts. In the same vein as last year’s Only Lovers Left Alive, it uses vampirism as the launching point to a fairly simple dramatic story, but one beautifully shot and presented. It’s a “horror movie” to watch with film students rather than a date you’re attempting to frighten. —J.V.
Director: Leigh Janiak
The cool thing about horror is that if you just have the vision, you can make something like Honeymoon with no more resources than an empty cabin and a few weeks of spare time. The film only has four actors, and two of them barely appear, leaving everything on the shoulders of the two young stars, Rose Leslie (Ygritte from Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadway. This is the right decision to make: If you’ve got a few solid, young actors, why not let the film just become a statement of their talents? The story is extremely simple, with a newlywed couple going on their honeymoon in a remote cabin in the woods. When Bea, the wife, wanders away one night and has some kind of disturbing event in the woods, she comes back changed, and it begins to affect both her memory and sense of identity. The next hour or so is a slow-burning but well-acted and suspenseful journey for the two as the husband’s suspicions grow and the warning flags continue to mount. By the end, emotions and gross-out scares are both running high. —J.V.
28. The Sacrament
Director: Ti West
Unlike his friend and peer in horror filmmaking Adam Wingard, Ti West’s last few features have seemed to reach for a more cerebral scary movie experience. The Innkeepers (not on Netflix streaming) took the “ghost story” and put it in a perspective of very real-seeming, average Joes, and The Sacrament sort of approaches the idea of living within a Jim Jones-style cult in the same way. I’ve described some horror films on the list with words like “fun,” but there’s nothing fun at all in The Sacrament—it’s an ultra-sober, all-too-realistic imagining of a scenario that has played out in the real world on many occasions. The main criticism against it is that it’s very slow and meandering in the path it takes to reveal the darkness within, but for the savvy viewer who’s willing to put in the time for characterization, it only makes the eventual pay-off a bit more effective. The portrayal by actor Gene Jones in particular as the mesmerizing cult leader “Father” is one of the more chilling single performances in a horror movie in recent memory—eye-catching enough that Tarantino decided to cast the guy in The Hateful Eight. I doubt that’s a coincidence. —J.V.
Director: Mike Flanagan
Mike Flanagan’s Oculus was a pleasantly ambitious surprise for horror fans when it landed a wide distribution release in 2013, so looking at his new Netflix-exclusive Hush, one sort of wonders if he’s taking a step back by directing a fairly classical home invasion thriller with limited cast and locations. There are, however, just enough twists on this especially trope-laden subgenre, starting with our heroine, who is deaf. That one disability, coupled with her remote residence in the woods, makes for a uniquely frightening handicap in repelling the masked intruder who comes calling. Unavoidably evoking The Strangers and Funny Games in particular, Hush nevertheless carves out its own spot in the niche. Our lead is an unusually intelligent, resourceful (but realistic) protagonist for this sort of setting, and her reactions to each new horror ring with truth. The stakes and tension rise in a palpable, organic way that has no need to resort to further gimmickry or a third act twist. It’s simply a battle for survival, featuring a character who is impressively well developed, considering that she never “speaks” a word. —J.V.
26. Troll Hunter
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
25. The Nightmare
Director: Rodney Ascher
In my own personal estimation, this is one of the most frightening movies on Netflix right now, and one of the most unsettling documentaries I’ve ever seen. Yes, it’s a documentary, from Rodney Asher, director of the similarly horror-themed doc Room 237. The simple structure of this documentary involves in-depth interviews with eight people who all suffer from some form of sleep paralysis as they describe the horrifying visions they encounter on a nightly basis. It’s equal parts tragic and chilling to hear how the condition has made their nighttime hours into a living hell, and legitimately frightening to watch those scenes reenacted. On the other hand, the documentary is frustrating at times for not asking or answering what seem like fairly obvious questions, i.e. does medication aid with these sleep paralysis episodes? Have any of the subjects of the documentary ever been studied in an overnight sleep study? Etc. Personally, this is a fear I’ve always dreaded experiencing, so if you’re anything like me, you’ll agree with the subject who describes the terror as “the kind of horror that is worse than movies.” If you’re going to watch this documentary, you don’t want to do it before falling asleep. —J.V.
Director: Gerard Johnstone
New Zealand’s Housebound describes itself as a horror-comedy, but this is the unusual case where that label is actually fairly light on “comedy” and leans a touch more on horror. It’s an interesting, well-plotted film that initially seems a little slow: A troubled woman is sentenced to house arrest in her childhood home, which her mother believes is haunted. When unexplained phenomena begin stacking up and the house’s sordid history comes out, though, it kindles an intriguing mystery. The third-act twists in particular send the story hurtling forward into delightfully unexpected territory in ways that are alternatingly emotional, scary, gory, funny and uniformly entertaining. The film does a great job of establishing our heroine as genuinely unlikable at first before slowly and thoroughly transforming her without dropping the core of her surly, acerbic personality. On some level, it’s almost more “horror dramedy” than “horror comedy,” and that’s not a bad thing. —J.V.
23. Late Phases
Director: Adrian Garcia Bogliano
Late Phases is a limited but kind of brilliant take on the werewolf movie, featuring a truly outstanding performance by screenwriter-turned-actor Nick Damici (from Stake Land) as an elderly, blind Vietnam veteran who moves to a retiree community currently being menaced by a lycanthrope. After beginning with a bang, it unfolds slowly, developing the strained relationship between the protagonist and his son, the difficulties presented by his blindness and the search for the werewolf’s identity. The characterization of the embittered protagonist is very well developed, and the film shines with lots of the “little things”—great sound design, great dialog, well-cast minor roles. It even features a pretty awesome werewolf transformation scene that, if not quite in American Werewolf in London territory, is one of the best I’ve seen in quite a while. The actual werewolf costumes, it must be noted, look just a little bit ridiculous—like a man in a wolf-bat hybrid suit, and nowhere near as good as say, Dog Soldiers—but the blood effects are top notch. It’s far above most indie horror films in terms of performances, though, and even tugs at the heartstrings a bit with some effective drama. If werewolves are your movie monster of choice, it has to vault up your must-see list. —J.V.
22. Here Comes the Devil
Director: Adrián García Bogliano
This indie Mexican horror film from a couple years back hasn’t been seen quite enough yet, and deserves a wider audience for its legitimate shocks and hopeless tone of evil that corrupts innocence in daily life. It suffers just a bit from its low-budget video look, and there’s an almost ridiculous amount of sometimes gratuitous nudity, but the story is simple, effective and downright chilling in its best moments. When a pair of parents on vacation allow their two pre-teen children to go exploring on cursed ground, the children come back … different. Full of not-at-all subtle sexual imagery, Here Comes the Devil has very little regard for anyone’s idea of what might be taboo. It leans into and gathers strength from its own perversion in scenes that approximate reality before throwing the audience headlong into a world of insanity when things take a turn for the supernatural. It’s a genuinely creepy flick on multiple levels. —J.V.
Director: Patrick Brice
Creep is a somewhat predictable but cheerfully demented little indie horror film, the directorial debut by Brice, who also released this year’s The Overnight. Starring the ever-prolific Mark Duplass, it’s a character study of two men—naive videographer and not-so-secretly psychotic recluse, the latter of which hires the former to come document his life out in a cabin in the woods. It leans entirely on its performances, which are excellent. Duplass, who can be charming and kooky in something like Safety Not Guaranteed, shines here as the deranged lunatic who forces himself into the protagonist’s life and haunts his every waking moment. The early moments of back-and-forth between the pair crackle with a sort of awkward intensity. Anyone genre-savvy will no doubt see where it’s going, but it’s a well-crafted ride that succeeds on the strength of chemistry between its two principal leads in a way that reminds me of the scenes between Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina. —J.V.
20. They Look Like People
Director: Perry Blackshear
I fully expect there to be someone in the comments—one of the few people who has actually seen this film—arguing that it doesn’t belong on a “horror” list, but it’s in Netflix’s horror section, and that’s our only qualifier. And indeed, They Look Like People is far more genuinely creepy than many other, more traditional horror films on this list that aim to entertain more than legitimately scare. What we have here is a very unusual, unflinching portrait of mental and emotional illnesses that spin wildly out of control. It would be really easy for the story to be more conventional—guy’s friend visits, but it turns out the friend is crazy—but They Look Like People messes with the audience’s expectations for the narrative by giving both of the male leads their own mental hurdles to overcome. They never react quite like we expect them to, because neither sees the world in a healthy way. It’s a film where the threat and implication of terrible violence, evoked via constantly on-edge atmosphere, becomes almost unbearable, whether or not it actually arrives. Thanks to some very, very strong performances, you always feel balanced on the edge of a knife. Deliberately paced but thankfully brisk (only 80 minutes), it leaves much unanswered, but we still feel satisfied anyway. —J.V.
Director: Can Evrenol
It is telling that the single scariest image in Baskin emphasizes creeps over carnage. It’s a shot of a boy standing alone in his living room, illuminated only by the static glow of his family’s television set, which has inexplicably turned itself on in the middle of the night. Nothing about the scenario is overtly terrifying—at least until he shuts the TV off—but it is memorably real in a film where it’s difficult to distinguish what is and isn’t imagined. Grand guignol-level spectacle where every character in the frame is streaked with viscera? That’s one thing. Domestic peculiarities that invoke nocturnal aberrations, though, are another thing entirely. The film evokes the artistic sensibilities of both Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento with its lurid color palette, but it carves a gore-streaked path all its own. – Andy Crump
18. Mad Ron’s Prevues From Hell
Director: Jim Monaco
This is easily the strangest selection I’ve chosen for this list, but I can’t help but love it because it represents everything missing from the horror selection on Netflix streaming. I seriously have no idea how it made its way to the streaming collection, but Mad Ron’s Prevues From Hell is essentially a feature-length collection of vintage, ’70s-era grindhouse horror trailers. They’re presented in a crumbling theater by Nick, a nebbish-looking ventriloquist accompanied by an annoying puppet named Happy. “Mad Ron” is the projectionist, if you were wondering. What follows is the weirdest jumble of silly puppet shtick and super violent, gory trailers you’ve ever seen. Seriously, it’s trailers for the likes of I Drink your Blood and Blood Splattered Bride and I Dismember Mama, followed immediately by bad ventriloquist hijinks and zombie audience members pouring blood on their popcorn. The whole thing feels like something Netflix added completely by accident, and I sit here desperately hoping they don’t realize their mistake. The actual meat of the content is the trailers, and there’s some wonderfully, horribly icky stuff, all reminders of the kinds of films you’ll never see on this streaming service. It would be a great movie to put on during a Halloween party, provided your guests have very strong constitutions. —J.V.
17. The Host
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Before he was breaking out internationally with tight action films such as Snowpiercer, this South Korean monster movie was Bong Joon-ho’s big work and calling card. Astoundingly successful at the box office in his home country, it straddles several genre lines between sci-fi, family drama and horror, but there’s plenty of scary stuff with the monster menacing little kids in particular. Props to the designers on one of the more unique movie monsters of the last few decades—the creature in this film looks sort of like a giant tadpole with teeth and legs, which is way more awesome than it sounds. The real heart of the film is a superb performance by Song Kang-ho (also in Snowpiercer) as a seemingly slow-witted father trying to hold his family together during the disaster. That’s a pretty common role to be playing in a horror film, but the performances and family dynamic in general truly are the key factor that help elevate The Host far above most of its ilk. It’s not a coincidence that it became one of the most successful Korean films of all time. —J.V.
16. We Are What We Are
Director: Jim Mickle
Jim Mickle’s remake of the 2010 Mexican film of the same name is a brooding, tense blend of thriller and horror, the story of a seemingly normal (if stuffy) rural family that harbors a dark secret of religious observances based around yearly acts of cannibalism. When a family member dies and the long-held tradition is threatened, allegiances come into question, familial ties crumble and the younger generation faces an extremely difficult decision in potentially breaking away from the customs that have bound the family together for many generations. It’s part crime story, part grisly, gutsy horror, and features Michael Parks in a role that is about 100 times better than what he was sentenced to do in Kevin Smith’s Tusk. In particular, the conclusion and final 20-30 minutes of We Are What We Are is shocking in both its brutality and emotional impact. It’s a supremely intimate case study of family dysfunction driven by the changing times and impracticality of archaic, sustaining traditions. —J.V.
15. Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead
Director: Kiah Roche-Turner
It’s nearly impossible to discuss Wyrmwood without making the immediate and obvious Mad Max comparisons. Like George Miller’s seminal genre classic, this film arrives from a young Australian director with no shortage of style, but in addition to its car-focused post-apocalyptic leanings, the movie also features several other welcome twists on the zombie formula. You’d be forgiven for expecting yet another “gritty,” low-budget zombie film without any real ambition, but each minute propels Wyrmwood forward into unexpected territory, from the discovery that zombie blood can be used to power vehicles to the second-half revelations revolving around the character of Brooke and the development of latent psychic powers. The movie is many things at once: Scary without being dour, emotional without feeling pompous and gory without completely descending into the violent slapstick of Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive or Bad Taste. It features surprisingly compelling characters and develops them without relying on exposition—Brooke becomes one of the biggest stars of the film despite being a bound and gagged captive for almost an hour. In general, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is the kind of genre idea that many directors could have tackled, but few could have pulled off so stylishly or entertainingly on this kind of budget. —J.V.
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 although it’s certainly more than a little bit indebted to that work, that would be giving 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. In the end, they’re not truly “zombies,” but our insistence upon the term is part of the point the movie is trying to make. It’s a horror film where the horror is the shallowness of modern society. —S.G.
13. The Wailing
Director: Na Hong-jin
The U.S. title of Na Hong-jin’s new film, The Wailing, suggests tone more than it does sound. There is wailing to be heard here, and plenty of it, but in two words Na coyly predicts his audience’s reaction to the movie’s grim tableaus of a county in spiritual strife. Though The Wailing ostensibly falls in the “horror” bin, Na trades in doubt and especially despair more than in what we think of as representing the genre. He isn’t out to terrify us—he’s out to corrode our souls, much in the same way that his protagonist’s faith is corroded after being subject to both divine and infernal tests over the course of the film. You may not leave the film scared, but you will leave it scarred, which is by far a more substantive response than naked fear. —A.C.
12. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Director: Wes Craven
By 1994, 10 years had passed since the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Wes Craven had watched a cavalcade of directors run wild with Freddy Krueger in both good (Dream Warriors) and terrible (Final Nightmare) sequels. When he decided to return to the series, the horror visionary therefore came up with a very “proto-Scream” idea—he set the film in the “real world,” casting himself, Robert Englund and the original film’s “final girl,” Heather Langenkamp, as themselves—movie industry people making yet another Freddy sequel. Except this time, the malevolent spirit of Freddy—or perhaps the idea of Freddy, starts jumping out into the real world. It’s a concept that perfectly encapsulates the idea of memetics and how it’s applied today on the Internet in particular. The actual horror scenes can’t quite match up to the best stuff in parts 1 and 3, but unfortunately those films aren’t on Netflix. What New Nightmare does do really well is rein in the cartoonishness that the series had drifted into in order to make Freddy more clever (and frightening) once again. By approaching it from a new angle, Craven was able to reclaim some of Nightmare’s tarnished dignity. —J.V.
11. The Canal
Director: Ivan Kavanagh
This indie Irish horror film announces Ivan Kavanagh as a serious talent and remarkably skilled director—I watched it for the first time recently and it blew all my expectations away. Nominally a “ghost story” of sorts about a man who discovers a century old grisly crime that occurred in his house, it is actually much more of a psychologically intense minefield—the sort of film that Polanski would have made, if he was shooting a ghost story. Combining elements that remind one of The Shining’s superb sound design with the the red-and-blue color palette of a film by Dario Argento, it is impeccably put together and beautiful to look at. The story, unfortunately, gets just a little bit too literal and wraps things up a bit neatly in the last 15 minutes, but the movie crafts an extremely effective web of dread and genuine fear through its entire runtime. Here’s hoping that we see another horror film from Kavanagh very soon. —J.V.
10. We Are Still Here
Director: Ted Geoghegan
We Are Still Here never wants for scares. It might actually be the single most terrifying movie of 2015, even next to David Robert Mitchell’s acclaimed and unsettling It Follows. But Geoghegan handles the transition smoothly, from the story of running away from tragedy We Are Still Here begins as to the bloodbath it becomes. There’s no sense of baiting or switching; the director flirts with danger confidently throughout. Plus, there’s that New England winter to add an extra layer of despair. The elements forebode and forbid in equal measure. The weather outside is frightful…and the carbonized wraiths in the basement even more so. In the end, this is one haunted house that won’t be denied. – A.C.
9. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
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 in a film that is extremely funny and big-hearted but also doesn’t skimp on the violence. —Michael Burgin
Director: Clive Barker
The head villain/eventual hero (there’s a sickening number of terrible Hellraiser sequels) behind Clive Barker’s Hellraiser franchise is the Cenobite Pinhead, sent from the pits of his own personal hell dimension 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. As in his fiction, Barker’s obsessions with the duality of pain and pleasure are on full display in the film version of Hellraiser, an icky story of sick love and obsession. —Rachel Haas
7. Stake Land
Director: Jim Mickle
Jim Mickle is the best young horror director to get left out of most discussions on the best young horror directors, and I’m not sure why that is. From his debut work Mulberry Street (not on Netflix streaming), he’s been one of the leading auteurs of low-budget horror that still strives for ambitious ideas, and Stake Land is all about ambition rather than exploitation. Lord knows how many cheapo zombie movies have been made in the last decade, but Mickle throws a first wrench into convention by changing up the monster, essentially making a post-apocalypse zombie film, except with vampires. But Stake Land’s greatest achievement is inarguably its wonderful design and evocative landscapes—I’ve never seen a low-budget “post-apocalypse” film that can stand up to more expensive productions the way this one can. It’s a genius work of minimalism, to be able to suggest such a fleshed-out universe, where small pockets of humanity survive in barricaded cities and barter for goods with the teeth of dead vampires. Our characters and story are extremely simple—a veteran hunter and young protege traveling across the wasteland looking for safe refuge—but it’s exactly what the film needs to be. It’s a realistic, sober-minded film that looks great, boasts solid performances and accomplishes so much with so little. —J.V.
6. Starry Eyes
Director: Kevin Kölsch
Starry Eyes might be the most difficult film on this entire list to watch. Not necessarily because it will frighten you, although it will. But this is a harrowing film experience. It’s an ordeal, in the same way the protagonist’s journey is an ordeal and a transformation. At the beginning, you think you have a pretty decent idea of the surface-level points it’s trying to make, “Hollywood against Hollywood” bitterness and cynicism about fame and the film industry’s pettiness. But it’s so much more destructive and subversive than that. Our protagonist, Sarah, is a tragic figure, and this is a “horror tragedy,” if such a thing exists, made worse by the fact that she brings it all onto herself, fueled by deep-seated inadequacy and a crushing lack of self-identity. Her ambition turns her into a monster because she has nothing else. Her life is so devoid of meaning that doing the unthinkable has no downside. It’s a horrific self-destruction that leads into a orgy of truly grotesque violence, but there’s no joy or titillation in any of the ways it’s depicted. No one is going to describe Starry Eyes as “fun” or light viewing, and no one is going to laugh at the deaths. You don’t show this thing at a party—you dwell on it in the depth of night while self-identifying with its horrors. Its themes of abandonment of the self make it one of the most disturbing and well-crafted horrors I’ve seen in quite a while. —J.V.
5. It Follows
Director: David Robert Mitchell
The specter of Old Detroit haunts It Follows. In a dilapidating ice cream stand on 12 Mile, in the ’60s-style ranch homes of Ferndale or Berkley, in a game of Parcheesi played by pale teenagers with nasally, nothing accents—if you’ve never been, you’d never recognize the stale, gray nostalgia creeping into every corner of David Robert Mitchell’s terrifying film, but it’s there, and it feels like Metro Detroit. It Follows is a film that thrives in the borders, not so much about the horror that leaps out in front of you, but the deeper anxiety that waits at the verge of consciousness—until, one day soon, it’s there, reminding you that your time is limited, and that you will never be safe. Forget the risks of teenage sex, It Follows is a penetrating metaphor for growing up. —Dom Sinacola
4. The Omen
Director: Richard Donner
In the canon of “creepy kid” movies, the original 1976 incarnation of The Omen stands alone, untainted by the horrendous 2006 remake (not on Netflix streaming, thankfully for once). The film just has a palpable sense of malice to it, largely because of the juxtaposition of restraint and moments of extremity. Damien isn’t this little devil boy running around stabbing people—he’s full of guile and deceit. He knows that he’s playing the long game—it will be years and years before he achieves his purpose on the Earth, which gives him the uncomfortable attitude of an adult (and a pure evil one) in a child’s body. The film is brooding, morose, sullen, broken up by staccato moments of shocking violence—in particular, the infamous scene where a sheet of glass leads to a decapitation, or the fate of Damien’s nurse in the opening. It’s a film that genuinely can get under your skin, especially if you’re a parent. —J.V.
3. The Babadook
Director: Jennifer Kent
Between It Follows and The Babadook, the last year or so has been a strong one for indie horror films breaking free from their trappings to enter the public consciousness. Between the two, The Babadook is perhaps less purely entertaining but makes up for that with cerebral scares and complex emotion. It’s an astoundingly well-realized first feature film for director Jennifer Kent, and one that actually manages to deal with a type of relationship we haven’t seen that often in a horror film. Motherhood in cinema tends to invariably be portrayed in a sort of “unconditional love,” way, which isn’t necessarily true to life, and The Babadook preys upon any shred of doubt there might be. Its child actor, Noah Wiseman, is key in pushing the buttons of actress Essie Davis, pushing her closer and closer to the brink, even as they’re threatened by a supernatural horror. The film’s beautiful art direction approximates a crooked, twisted fairytale, with dreamlike sequences that never quite reveal what is true and what might be a hallucination. The characters of The Babadook ultimately undergo quite a lot of suffering, and not just because they’re being chased by a monster. —J.V.
2. An American Werewolf in London
Director: John Landis
Few directors have ever displayed such an innate tact for combining dark humor and horror the way John Landis does. At the height of his powers in the early ’80s, one year removed from The Blues Brothers, Landis opted for a much dirtier, grittier, scarier story that stands as what is still the best werewolf movie of all time. When two travelers backpacking across the English moors are attacked by a werewolf, one is killed and the other infected with the wolf’s curse. Haunted by the simultaneously unnerving and hilarious visions of his dead friend, he must decide how to come to terms with the monster he has become, even as he strikes up a relationship with a beautiful nurse played by Jenny Agutter. The film lulls you into comfort with its witticism before springing shocking, gory dream sequences on the viewer, which repeatedly arrive unannounced. The key moment is the protagonist’s incredibly painful, traumatic full transformation, set to the crooning of Sam Cooke doing “Blue Moon,” which is still unsurpassed in the history of the genre. Legendary FX and monster makeup artist Rick Baker took home the first-ever Academy Award for For Best Makeup and Hairstyling for creating a scene that has given the wolf-averse nightmares ever since. —J.V.
1. The Shining
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stephen King famously hates Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of his novel The Shining, which is difficult to understand until you actually read King’s original book, whereupon things become much more clear. Kubrick, ever the mad genius, largely rejected the emotional core of King’s story because he saw within the bones of The Shining an opportunity for a journey into the heart of visually and sonically inspired terror that few films have ever come close to replicating. Unlike in King’s novel, Jack is never treated with any kind of sympathy or pathos in the eyes of the audience—he’s a creep from the very first moment we meet him during his job interview, and he only gets worse from there, with the implied threat of his physical violence toward Danny and Wendy hanging over every scene like the sword of Damocles. His madness is alluded to masterfully through some of the most iconic visual and especially sound editing in cinema history—few horror films, or any film in general, has ever used sound as unnervingly as The Shining. Go watch The Witch from last year, and the aural comparisons are obvious. This movie, like The Exorcist, seeps into your bones. It becomes part of your DNA and stays there, infecting every perspective you have on the horror genre for the rest of a lifetime. It’s a monumental film. —J.V.
Jim Vorel is a Staff Writer, and his DVD plan from Netflix remains firmly intact. You can follow him on Twitter. for more film content.