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.