The 50 Best Horror Movies on Netflix Right Now

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The 50 Best Horror Movies on Netflix Right Now

To date, 2019 has been a mixed bag as far as the breadth of the Netflix horror library is concerned. As competing services, and especially genre-specific ones such as Shudder, continue to expand their horror movie collections, it’s harder and harder for Netflix to project any sense of comprehensiveness. At various points last year for instance, Netflix could boast The Shining, An American Werewolf in London, Jaws or Young Frankenstein, along with recent indie greats like Starry Eyes, The Descent or The Babadook. All of those films are now gone—typically replaced by low-budget, direct-to-VOD films with suspiciously similar one-word titles, like Demonic, Desolation and Satanic.

Still, there are quality films to be found here, typically of the modern variety, from classics like Carrie to more obscure (and disturbing) titles such as The Endless or The Invitation. Don’t expect to find many franchise staples in the mold of Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street, but don’t sleep on The Haunting of Hill House, either. It’s not technically a movie, but it’s impossible to leave off this list.

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 essentials.

You may also want to check out the following horror-centric lists:

The 100 best horror films of all time.
The 100 best vampire movies of all time.
The 50 best zombie movies of all time.
The 40 best horror movies on Hulu
The 60 best horror movies on Amazon Prime
The 50 best movies about serial killers
The 50 best slasher movies of all time
The 50 best ghost movies of all time

Also check out our ongoing Century of Terror project, a 100-day journey through the best horror films of 1920-2019.


the monster 2016 poster (Custom).jpg 50. The Monster
Year: 2016
Director: Bryan Bertino
Bryan Bertino’s The Monster takes place at the crossroads between a serviceable drama and a middling horror film. Each exists in its own parallel dimension, and despite the director’s clear intentions to bring those dimensions together, each is a detriment to the other. On one hand, we have a family drama revolving around an addict single mother and her nebulously aged daughter, who I believe the film would like me to describe as “precocious” for reasons that are in no way earned. Mom hits the bottle hard, and perhaps dabbles in some other substances as well, while fighting anyone who gets close enough for her to yell at. Some of these sequences are effective enough, such as the flashback to a screaming match the mother and daughter have in the garage as their relationship fractures further. Others are genuinely irritating, especially any instance where the daughter, clearly too old for stuffed animals, escapes into fantasy with a stuffed dog that plays a maddening version of “Pop Goes the Weasel” whenever it’s squeezed. And that’s all before the titular “monster” finally shows up. Regardless, The Monster ultimately feels like a film reaching desperately for profundity and missing by a country mile, notable only for solid performances by Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine. —Jim Vorel


texas-chainsaw-2003-poster.jpg 49. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Year: 2003
Director: Marcus Nispel
The early 2000s were the era wherein our current cinematic “reboot” culture really got rolling, and horror was often its leading edge. Judging from some of the results, it was also the era when producers stopped even pretending to ask the question “Do we really need a new version of _____?” The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, distinguishable from the original title by having “chainsaw” as one word rather than two, is the perfect case in point. On its own, it’s a fairly competent, brutal, decently shot and gritty horror feature. As a new version of Tobe Hooper’s infamous 1974 grindhouse classic, though? Profoundly unnecessary. Still, the film at least makes an attempt at preserving the hopelessly nihilistic tone of the original, and does a good job of recreating the costuming and dirty 1970s aesthetic of that film as well. A 21-year-old Jessica Biel steps into the shoes of this film’s Sally Hardesty equivalent, providing a serviceable final girl, but without the raw, naturalistic shock of Marilyn Burns in 1974. It is, in other words, pretty much exactly what you would expect it to be. —Jim Vorel


velvet buzzsaw poster (Custom).jpg 48. Velvet Buzzsaw
Year: 2018
Director: Dan Gilroy
With 2014’s chilling Nightcrawler, writer/director Dan Gilroy and stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo created a potent critique of the media’s “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality. Four years later, the same team is back with Velvet Buzzsaw in order to ostensibly skewer the shallowness and materialism of art profiteering, told through a gaudy blend of pretentious B-horror and on-the-nose satire. Nightcrawler’s solidly structured and thematically laser-focused existence makes Velvet Buzzsaw that much of a baffling experience, since what we get from Gilroy here is the exact opposite: A muddled, morally confused and, worst of all, woefully predictable genre rethread with a laughably transparent art house veneer. Hidden underneath Gyllenhaal and Russo’s scenery-chewing cartoon versions of highfalutin art expert types, the premise of a mysterious collection of apparently haunted paintings killing all those who try to profit from it presents not much more than a typical slasher flick. Whenever a character is left alone every 20 minutes or so, you can bet they’ll be toast or mince meat—in one case literally—by the time the scene’s over. One can expect such a flimsy narrative used solely to prop up a series of exuberantly gory set-pieces from a medium-grade giallo auteur of the ’70s, but more cohesive work is expected from the likes of Gilroy and his powerful cast. If you’re a horror fan who’s in it only for the blood, go for it. Other buyers, beware. —Oktay Ege Kozak


pretty thing inset (Custom).jpg 47. I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House
Year: 2016
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. A staid, extremely patient haunted house yarn with some intriguing performances, it’s likely to be too slow to be appreciated by bingers on the streaming service. A woman (Ruth Wilson) moves into a creaky old home to serve as live-in nurse for an elderly horror author with dementia (Paula Prentiss), but soon finds herself sucked into the ghost story that makes up the author’s most famous book. Which sounds like a fairly conventional horror movie premise, but it’s the delivery that sets this film apart rather than the summation. Every shot lingers. We glide through the house with minimal, whispered dialogue 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. —Jim Vorel


shutter-2004-poster.jpg 46. Shutter
Year: 2004
Directors: Bangjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom
Right around the same time when the American horror film market was excitedly green-lighting remakes of Japanese horror films such as The Ring and The Grudge, Thailand produced what is likely its largest genre hit to date, Shutter. This is an uncomplicated, old-school kind of haunting story that is given a modern twist in its reveal of the connection between victim and tormenter—themes that are handled more fluidly here than in the overly dramaticized 2008 American remake of the same name. It thrives on the strength of its two central performances, particularly that of Ananda Everingham, who plays a man whose sins come back to revisit him, big-time. The final nature of his personal haunting is captured on a screen in a way that is both scary and familiar feeling, with an “urban legend”-like quality that sounds like it would make for a perfect campfire story. With that ending in particular, it’s little wonder that the American remake followed, but the Thai original more accurately conveys the film’s eventual tone of social criticism. —Jim Vorel


before i wake poster (Custom).jpg 45. Before I Wake
Year: 2016
Director: Mike Flanagan
Director Mike Flanagan seems to have become Netflix’s go-to guy when it comes to directing Original horror movies—see: Hush and Gerald’s Game—and Netflix returned the favor by acquiring and then releasing the somewhat less inspired Before I Wake in 2016. Originally titled Somnia, the film was passed to several potential distributors, and even had in-theater advertising at one point, but its plans for a theatrical release were ultimately scrapped. The story of a young boy (Jacob Tremblay of Room and Wonder) with the unconscious power to manifest his dreams in reality, it draws obvious parallels to Nightmare on Elm Street, but especially to the astral plane-tripping excursions of the Insidious series, without quite having the verve of either. Still, it could be an interesting genre footnote in the career of Tremblay if this kid grows up to be an Oscar-winner someday. —Jim Vorel


life after beth poster (Custom).jpg 44. Life After Beth
Year: 2014
Director: Jeff Baena
Life After Beth is a story of life and love lost and found, starring Aubrey Plaza and Dane DeHaan in a more cellular interpretation of star-crossed lovers. DeHaan plays Zach Orfman, a young man beside himself with grief after the death of his, girlfriend Beth Slocum (Plaza), and for whom her parents (Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly) are his only sources of comfort. Not long after her funeral, he starts to notice some unusual occurrences around town—strange things are afoot at the Circle-K—and Zach discovers that Beth has risen from the grave. His initial reservations about her resurrection are quickly subdued by his tunnel vision of love. But soon he finds she’s not the same as when she left. —Melissa Weller


terrifier-poster.jpg 43. Terrifier
Year: 2016
Director: Damien Leone
It’s really no easy feat to put together a modern slasher movie with retro inspiration, walking the delicate line between genre parody and loving homage. Too many have tried exactly this and ended up with a result that spends all its time winking at genre tropes, rather than simply delivering the goods. Terrifier is one of the few that at least partially works in the spirit in which it was intended, thanks to its depraved attitude, stylish bloodletting and key central performance. This movie hinges entirely around the quality of David Howard Thornton’s performance as “Art the Clown,” elevating it from what could be perceived as simply a riff on Stephen King’s It to a genuine genre effort of merit. Much of that just boils down to Thornton’s terrific facial expressions as Art, and his stellar costuming and design—he is tailor made to be a recurring slasher film character, and had this series first cropped up in 1982, we probably would have seen half a dozen Art the Clown sequels. The rest of the production is on the cheap side—it often feels like they’re going for the degraded film stock look of Tarantino’s Death Proof, but can’t quite pull it off—but there’s enough gore to satisfy any horror fan’s hunger. If killer clowns are your thing, it’s essential. —Jim Vorel


the perfection poster (Custom).jpg 42. The Perfection
Year: 2019
Director: Richard Shepard
What should horror movies be judged by? Airtight narrative logic, or imaginatively deranged imagery? Scores matter, scripts matter, but by the end of the movie what tends to matter most are the visuals, and Richard Shepard’s new movie, The Perfection, sears its visuals into the viewer’s mind like branding on livestock, right up to its final shot, one of the genre’s most indelible since horror became the taste of the day in the mid 2010s. It’s a twisted kind of miracle that anyone who watches The Perfection will never be the same, and a testament to horror’s power to bend minds and spur nightmares with a single picture. But the movie also reminds us that as much as pictures often come first, plotting usually should come a very close second. The film begins promisingly enough: After abandoning her career to care for her dying mother, cello prodigy Charlotte (Allison Williams) returns to the music world to reclaim her standing as the Bachoff Academy of Music’s star pupil, which means sabotaging the current title holder, Lizzie (Logan Browning). Charlotte reaches out to her old teachers, Anton (Steven Weber) and Paloma (Alaina Huffman), travels to Shanghai as Bachoff selects its latest student, and cozies up to Lizzie. They flatter each other. They flirt. They drink, go partying, then make passionate love in a hotel, filmed with cinematographer Vanja Cernul’s lurid gaze. Maybe Charlotte bears Lizzie no grudge. Maybe they really do admire each other to romantic heights. And then they travel to rural China, where Lizzie grows increasingly sick, starts puking up bugs, discovers yet more bugs dithering about under the skin on her arm, and, when offered a butcher’s cleaver by Charlotte, chops off her hand. This is the climax to The Perfection’s first half hour, ruined by a single viewing of the trailer. It’s also where Shepard springs the first of several fakeouts, stealing a page from Michael Haneke’s playbook. At its best, The Perfection is an homage to 1970s horror movies and 1980s thrillers, a glorious, multi-hewed mind screw. When Shepard sticks to this aesthetic, the movie soars on grotesque wings. When he commits the cardinal sin of demystifying the mysterious, it’s a major drag. A little ambiguity goes a long, long way in horror. —Andy Crump


scream 3 poster (Custom).jpg 41. Scream 3
Year: 2000
Director: Wes Craven
Scream 3 is the redheaded stepchild of Wes Craven’s iconic meta-slasher series, a film that clearly can’t stand up to the originality of either Scream or Scream 2, but is generally regarded to still contain some small spark of the divine. It at least aims to close the series (until it was reanimated in 2011’s Scream 4) with a deeper bit of context into what kicked off the events of the first film, but it does so in a way that lacks the subtlety of either previous installment—seemingly every reviewer felt it necessary to point out that “Scream has become the thing it was originally parodying.” Neve Campbell is resourceful as ever as ultimate final girl Sidney Prescott, but it’s the supporting cast that has now worn thin—even with a visit (via video) from dead horror geek Randy Meeks, who informs the cast of the tenants surrounding a horror trilogy. Still, for the horror completionist, its ending provides a worthwhile sense of closure for Sidney. The fourth film, unsurprisingly, remains unnecessary as a result. -Jim Vorel


all the boys love mandy lane poster (Custom).jpg 40. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
Year: 2006
Director: Jonathan Levine
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a pseudo-slasher that falls somewhere in the middle ground between Scream, Carrie and Friday the 13th, incorporating a certain ’70s grindhouse sensibility along the way that might occasionally remind one of The Hills Have Eyes or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was an early starring vehicle for Amber Heard, who is appealing as the “sweet young thing” considerably more twisted than meets the eye. The film veers away from classical slasher in the sense that the kills are more on the realistic side than the cartoonish, although the latter might actually have made it more memorable. As is, there’s nothing particularly wrong here—a certain lack of unique ideas, certainly, but a competently executed high school horror story that will feel comfortably familiar, right down to its third act twist. You’ve been here before, but you probably won’t regret stopping by again. —Jim Vorel


the-cell-2000-poster.jpg 39. The Cell
Year: 2000
Director: Tarsem Singh
The career of director Tarsem Singh has never quite managed to live up to the promise first seen in 2000’s The Cell. This futurist, fantasist spin on The Silence of the Lambs sees a psychologist (Jennifer Lopez, back when she was an actor first and foremost) descending into the twisted mind of a serial killer (an unrecognizable Vincent D’Onofrio) via an experimental piece of technology that allows one person’s consciousness to be inserted into the subconscious of another. Presaging the likes of Inception, The Cell is startlingly imaginative at times, a visual feast that recalls Clive Barker’s fixations upon grandiosity and sadomasochism, as Lopez comes up against the killer’s mental projection, who dresses and behaves as an omnipotent god-king in a twisted dream world like something out of H.P. Lovecraft. Unpolished and self-congratulatory at times, one still has to admire its sheer chutzpah. If any of these films were going to be remade as an episode of Black Mirror in 2018, it would probably be this one. —Jim Vorel


blackcoats daughter movie poster (Custom).jpg 38. The Blackcoat’s Daughter
Year: 2016
Director: Osgood Perkins
Looking at his first two horror features, it becomes clear that director Osgood Perkins seems to have a distinct distaste for both plot and film convention. His films defy easy description, as anyone who watched I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House on Netflix could attest. The Blackcoat’s Daughter, meanwhile, was completed and exhibited as early as 2015 under the title February, but has been floating around in limbo ever since until A24 decided to finally give it a limited release this spring. Compared with Pretty Thing, Blackcoat’s Daughter is at least easier to grasp and marginally brisker, which makes it more effective overall. Perkins’ style is languid, atmospheric and deliberate, favoring repetition and a slowly multiplying sense of unease and impending doom. The story follows two high school-aged students who are both left relatively alone at their uptight Catholic boarding school over break when their parents fail to pick them up. As one descends into what is implied to be either madness or demonic possession, the events are interwoven with another story about a young woman journeying on the road in the direction of the boarding school. The two stories inevitably intertwine. The film’s pace sometimes leaves something to be desired, but patience is largely repaid by its final third, which contains several moments genuinely disturbing in their violence and transgressive imagery. In the end, The Blackcoat’s Daughter comes together significantly more neatly and logically than one might consider while watching its first hour, rewarding careful attention to detail throughout. —Jim Vorel


would you rather poster (Custom).jpg 37. Would You Rather
Year: 2012
Director: David Guy Levy
Would You Rather is the kind of 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 protagonist—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 or self-parody. If this movie had been made in 1985, perhaps it would have been a minor classic. —Jim Vorel


scream-4-poster.jpg 36. Scream 4
Year: 2011
Director: Wes Craven
Most horror fans should really be able to agree: We only truly needed one Scream sequel. Scream 2 gave us everything we needed in terms of a satire on the conventions of horror sequels, leaving both Scream 3 and Scream 4 with increasingly meager pickings to zero in on. Both films ultimately end up as testaments to Wes Craven’s considerable ability as a director, but simultaneously struggle to overcome their inherent lack of impetus for existing. In the case of Scream 4, this is particularly apparent—Scream 3 was tailored from start to finish to close an arc for Sidney Prescott’s character, and the only way Scream 4 is able to get away with starting it all up again is to invoke the idea that it’s satirizing “remakes,” which is a tad desperate. Still, the film flows a bit more smoothly than Scream 3 did, with some decent new characters (who’d have thought Hayden Panettiere would be the highlight of a Scream entry?), although actively scaring its audience is low on the film’s list of priorities. It’s meant to be self-referential, lightweight entertainment, and at that it mostly succeeds. —Jim Vorel


as above so below poster (Custom).jpg 35. As Above, So Below
Year: 2014
Director: John Erick Dowdle
In the wake of Paranormal Activity, “found footage” as a horror sub-genre had a pretty tough time getting a fair shake from critics, and often from audiences as well. It’s not as if it wasn’t often warranted—anyone who remembers the likes of Apollo 18 can attest to that. Unfortunately, though, it often meant that even found footage movies with more ambition or verve than typical, such as Grave Encounters or As Above, So Below, went overlooked. This one gets by on high concept more than anything else: A camera crew descends into the legendary catacombs beneath Paris, but finds much more there than bargained for. One might expect such a story to involve mutants, or marauders, but As Above, So Below is considerably more cerebral—instead, the story unfolds as a metaphysical descent into hell with numerous parallels to Dante’s Inferno, the crew confronting various sins and failings. Even the jump scares are solid; in an era when shoddy found footage movies were being churned out en masse, As Above, So Below hardly deserves to be lumped in among its more forgettable peers. —Jim Vorel


little evil poster (Custom).jpg 34. Little Evil
Year: 2017
Director: Eli Craig
Seven years after he gave us Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, one of the best horror comedies in recent memory, director Eli Craig has finally returned with an exclusive for Netflix, Little Evil. An obvious parody of The Omen and other “evil kid” movies, Little Evil wears its influences and references on its sleeve in ways that, while not particularly clever, are at least loving. Adam Scott is the sad-sack father who somehow became swept up in a whirlwind romance and marriage, all while being unfazed by the fact that his new step-son is the kind of kid who dresses like a pint-sized Angus Young and trails catastrophes behind him wherever he goes. Evangeline Lilly is the boy’s foxy mother, whose motivations are suspect throughout. Does she know that her child is the spawn of Satan, or as his mother is she just willfully blind to the obvious evil growing under her nose? The film can boast a pretty impressive supporting cast, from Donald Faison and Chris D’elia as fellow step-dads, to Clancy Brown as a fire-and-brimstone preacher, but never does it fully commit toward either its jokes or attempts to frighten. The final 30 minutes are the most interesting, leading the plot in an unexpected direction that redefines the audience’s perception of the demon child, but it still makes for a somewhat uneven execution. Tucker & Dale this is not, but it’s still a serviceable return for Craig. —Jim Vorel


1922.jpg 33. 1922
Year: 2017
Director: Zak Hilditch
A chameleonic performance from Thomas Jane anchors this understated, gothic story set in Depression-era Middle America, told in the style of a confession by the husband (who we can tell right from the get-go is haunted by some horrible crime). When his wife (Molly Parker) insists on selling the land she’s inherited rather than work it, Jane’s unsophisticated field hand harangues their son (Dylan Schmid) into becoming an accomplice in her grisly murder. As with every Grand Guignol tale, though, we already know that the worst part isn’t the act of killing, but the endless paranoia of living with it. In the case of the movie’s guilty narrator, that means a vengeful and inevitable haunting filled with all the foreboding and creepy imagery you came to see. Stephen King adaptations have their hits and their misses, but this is a straightforward story that gets by on the power of a dread-steeped plot and some compelling performances by good character actors you’ll most likely always be happy to see get screen time. —Kenneth Lowe


cult of chucky poster (Custom).jpg 32. Cult of Chucky
Year: 2017
Director: Don Mancini
The Child’s Play series has managed the supremely rare accomplishment of actually improving itself in its direct-to-video era, clawing its way up from the abyss that was the Seed of Chucky days with its last two installments, Curse and Cult of Chucky. This latest, the seventh in the series, is possibly the best since Child’s Play 2, weaving together a complex web of characters from the history of the series. The voodoo mumbo-jumbo at the heart of the plot has gotten more fiendishly complicated than ever, resulting in not one but a small army of Chucky dolls, each containing the soul of Brad Dourif’s iconic serial killer, Charles Lee Ray. Stark and futuristic-feeling, the film is set in a brilliantly white-toned mental health institution, where recovering hero Nica (Dourif’s daughter, Fiona Dourif) must grapple with the legacy of Chucky, while also bringing original hero Andy Barclay back into the fold. This Chucky is certainly a return to the original film in many respects, especially in its depraved attitude and copious amounts of gore. And unlike Curse of Chucky, most of the FX are rendered practically, to boot. Ultimately, Cult is a far better entry than you could ever hope for in the seventh film of a horror franchise, and it should be commended for that. Don Mancini never says “die” with this series, it would seem. —Jim Vorel


veronica horror poster (Custom).jpg 31. Verónica
Year: 2017
Director: Paco Plaza
Paco Plaza, the Spanish director of landmark 2007 found footage horror film R.E.C., has largely delivered diminishing returns via R.E.C. sequels. Verónica, therefore, has been received as a welcome venture into a new concept for the director, even if the results are decidedly on the derivative side. A spirit/demonic possession movie in the vein of Witchboard, the film follows a 15-year-old Spanish student (Sandra Escacena) who unwittingly invites evil into her home while conducting a ouija seance with her school chums. Where the movie shines best is largely on the presentation side: It looks great whenever its images aren’t too dark, capturing an interesting moment in history by setting the film in 1991 Spain. Charismatic performances from multiple child actors serve to bolster a story that unfortunately feels frustratingly familiar, recycling elements of Ouija, The Last Exorcism and practically every possession film ever written. This is very well-trodden ground, but Verónica is at the very least more than competent, even if it’s not the revelation for which we were hoping from the director. —Jim Vorel


the babysitter poster (Custom).jpg 30. The Babysitter
Year: 2017
Director: McG
The Babysitter is a little guileless in its overt desire to be lovingly described as an ’80s slasher homage, but simultaneously effective enough to earn a good measure of that approval it craves. With twists care of Fright Night and Night of the Demons, it’s at its best not when trying to slavishly recreate a past decade, but when letting its hyper-charismatic teenage characters run wild. Stylish, gory and profane to a fault, The Babysitter features a handful of bang-up performances, like Judah Lewis as a late-blooming 12-year-old, Robbie Amell as a nigh-invincible football jock and Samara Weaving as the title character, the girl of Lewis’s dreams—right up until she tries to sacrifice him to the devil. Fast-moving (only 85 minutes!) and frequently hilarious, it’s probably the best unit of popcorn horror entertainment that Netflix has managed to put out so far. —Jim Vorel


cloverfield 2008 poster (Custom).jpg 29. Cloverfield
Year: 2008
Director: Matt Reeves
When Matt Reeves dropped Cloverfield on unsuspecting multiplex audiences in 2008, it quickly became painfully clear that the average viewer wasn’t quite ready to absorb what he was dishing out. Today, the same film would no doubt arrive as a streaming original feature from the likes of Netflix or Amazon, where its genre-redefining camera perspective would be less of a risk. That Cloverfield hit theaters in wide release at all is actually something of a marvel, considering how profoundly different it was in a visual sense from anything that the majority of its viewers had ever seen before. The film is of course on some level a “monster movie,” but it’s one where the primary creature is never the center of the film’s attention, precisely because we spend our time following regular folks who are in no way responsible for or connected to its rampage through New York City. For the film’s entire duration, we see only what they see, cleverly capturing one aspect of the true horror present in disaster situations—the very likely reality that no one present will have any idea what is happening, or any idea of what to do about it. Cloverfield puts its characters into some insane situations, but never breaks the trust it establishes that this is a bystander-eye’s view. No four-star general suddenly shows up to explain what’s going on, or empower our protagonists to take on the creature. No key to the creature’s origin is unearthed. It’s just a shaky-cam tribute to the idea that utter chaos can run rampant in one’s life, and there may be not a damn thing you can do about it. —Jim Vorel


ravenous 2017 poster (Custom).jpg 28. Ravenous
Year: 2017
Director: Robin Aubert
Genre geeks didn’t seem to take a lot of notice of Ravenous, beyond its Best Canadian Film award at the Toronto International Film Festival—perhaps the result of an “indie zombie drama” subgenre that seems to have run its course through films such as The Battery, and perhaps because it’s performed in French rather than English. Regardless, this is a competently crafted little drama thriller for the zombie completist, full of excellent performances from no-name actors and an intriguing take on the results of zombification. The infected here at times seem like your standard Romero ghouls, but they’re also a bit more: lost souls who have hung onto some kind of strange, rudimentary culture all their own. These aspects of the zombie plague are always hinted at, never extrapolated, but it enhances the profound feelings of loss and sadness present in Ravenous. —Jim Vorel


the ritual poster (Custom).jpg 27. The Ritual
Year: 2017
Director: David Bruckner
A prime example of what might be termed the “bro horror” subgenre, The Ritual’s characters are a band of lifelong mates united in mourning a friend who has recently been killed in a brutal liquor store robbery. Luke (Rafe Spall) is the member of the group who shoulders the greatest burden of guilt, being the only one who was in the store at the time, paralyzed with indecision and cowardice while he watched his friend die. The other members clearly blame Luke for this to varying degrees, and one senses that their decision to journey to Sweden for a hiking trip deep into the wilderness is less to honor their dead friend’s memory, and more to determine if their bond can ever be repaired, or whether the recrimination stemming from the death is insurmountable. Where The Ritual excels is technically, in both its imagery and sound design. Cinematographer Andrew Shulkind’s crisp images and deep focus are a welcome respite from the overly dark, muddy look of so many modern horror films with similar settings (such as Bryan Bertino’s The Monster), and the forested location shots, regardless of where they may have been filmed, are uniformly stunning. Numerous shots of tree clusters evoke Celtic knot-like imagery, these dense puzzles of foliage clearly hiding dire secrets, and we are shown just enough through the film’s first two thirds to keep the mystery palpable and engaging. Director David Bruckner, who is best known for directing well-regarded segments of horror anthologies such as V/H/S, The Signal and Southbound, demonstrates a talent here for suggestion and subtlety, aided by some excellent sound design that emphasizes every rustling leaf and creaking tree branch. Unfortunately, the characters are a bit thin for what is meant to be a character-driven film, and the big payoff can’t quite maintain the atmosphere of the film’s first two acts. Still, The Ritual is a great-looking film, and one that features one of the more memorably “WTF!” monster designs in recent memory. It’s worth a look for that alone. —Jim Vorel


cam-movie-poster.jpg 26. Cam
Director: Daniel Goldhaber
As so many films in 2018 have shown us, the identities we create online—that we digitally design, foster and mature, often to the detriment of whatever we have going on IRL—will inevitably surpass us. The horror of Daniel Goldhaber’s Cam, based on the Isa Mazzei’s script (in turn, based on her real experiences as a sex worker), is in this loss: that no one is ever truly in control of these fabricated identities; that the more real they become, the less they belong to the person most affected. Welcome Alice (Madeline Brewer), an ambitious camgirl who compensates for the exhausting rigor of online popularity (and, therefore, economic viability) with gruesome stunts and a rigorous set of principles dictating what she will, and won’t, do in her capacity as female fantasy. She’s successful, tossing funds to her mom (Melora Walters) and brother (Devin Druid) without being totally honest about her job, but she could be more successful, trying whatever she can (within reason) to scale the ranking system enforced by the site she uses to broadcast her shows. With dexterous ease, Mazzei’s script both introduces the exigencies of camgirl life while never stooping to judge Alice’s choice of employment, contextualizing an inevitable revelation to her family not as one of embarrassment, but as an impenetrable morass of shame through which every sex worker must struggle to be taken seriously. So much so that when someone who looks exactly like Alice—who operates under her screen name but is willing to do the things Alice once refused—gains leaps and bounds in the camgirl charts, Goldhaber and Mazzei derive less tension from the explanation and discovery of what’s really going on rather than the harsh truth of just how vulnerable Alice is—and we all are—to the cold, brutal, indifferent violence of this online world we’ve built for ourselves. —Dom Sinacola


gremlins.jpg 25. Gremlins
Year: 1984
Director: Joe Dante
In the same vein as Die Hard, Joe Dante’s Gremlins is a yearly Christmastime argument waiting to happen: Both are annually tossed onto “best Christmas movie” lists, but when it comes to the latter, at least, those debates often overlook the dark comedy of an expertly crafted ‘80s horror film from Dante at the height of his powers. Taking the lessons he learned as a ‘70s Roger Corman protege, Dante borrows character actors like Dick Miller to create a cynical, biting rebuke of maudlin sentimentality and children’s entertainment. The film’s surprising counterpoint between comedy and graphic violence was a source of consternation that led directly to it being in the early class of genre films that led to the PG-13 rating, but its more important impact was shaping the aesthetic of nearly every horror comedy to come. —Jim Vorel


under the shadow poster (Custom).jpg 24. Under the Shadow
Year: 2016
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 statement of rebellion and tribute to his own mother. It’s a distinctly feminist film: Shideh (Narges Rashidi) 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. 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


cargo-movie-poster.jpg 23. Cargo
Year: 2018
Directors: Yolanda Ramke, Ben Howling
We’ve had enough takes on worldwide zombie apocalypses to last undead enthusiasts long through, well, a worldwide zombie apocalypse. Of those takes, few are inspired, a few more are watchable though workmanlike and most are dreck, whether in TV or movie form. Cargo, a collaborative directing effort between Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling, falls somewhere in between “inspired” and “workmanlike,” which is to say it’s well worth seeking out on Netflix if you’ve a powerful need to watch twitching, walking corpses menace a family trying to survive while isolated in Australia’s Outback. Martin Freeman plays Andy, stubborn husband to his wife, Kay (Susie Porter), and loving dad to their daughter, Rosie; he’s piloting a houseboat to safer shores, or that’s the hope. Then Kay takes a zombie bite, forcing a change of plans and setting them down the path to ruin and tragedy. For a certain kind of horror purist, Cargo denies the expectations of the genre. It’s not an especially scary movie. It is, however, a moody, atmospheric movie, replacing scares with a nearly overwhelming sense of sadness. If that’s not enough for you, then at least be sated by the excellent FX work. Here, zombies present as victims of debilitating illness: A waxen, carious fluid seeps from their eyes and mouths, which is suitably nauseating in the stead of workaday splatter. All the same, Cargo is never half as stomach-churning as it is simply devastating. —Andy Crump


hush poster (Custom).jpg 22. Hush
Year: 2016
Director: Mike Flanagan
Hush is a simple, intimate film at heart, and one that takes more than a few cues from Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers, among other home-invasion thrillers. Director Mike Flanagan, whose Oculus is one of the decade’s better, more underrated horror films, remains a promising voice in horror, although Hush plays things considerably safer than that ambitious haunted mirror tale did. Here, the gimmick is that the sole woman being menaced by a masked intruder outside her woodland home is in fact deaf and mute—i.e., she can’t hear him coming or call for help. At first, the film appears as if it will truly echo The Strangers and keep both the killer’s identity and motivations secretive, but those expectations are subverted surprisingly quickly. It all boils down into more or less exactly the type of cat-and-mouse game you would expect, but the film manages to elevate itself in a couple of ways. First is the performance of actress Kate Siegel as protagonist Maddie, who displays just the right level of both vulnerability and resolve, without making too many of the boneheaded slasher film character choices that encourage you to stand up and yell at the screen. Second is the tangible sense of physicality the film manages in its scenes of violence, which are satisfyingly visceral. Ultimately it’s the villain who may leave a little something to be desired at times, but Hush is at the very least a satisfying way to spend a night in with Netflix. —Jim Vorel


xx.jpg 21. XX
Year: 2017
Directors: Roxanne Benjamin, Annie Clark, Karyn Kusama, Jovanka Vuckovic, Sofia Carrillo
It’s important that the scariest segment in XX, Magnet Releasing’s women-helmed horror anthology film, is also its most elementary: Young people trek out into the wilderness for fun and recreation, young people incur the wrath of hostile forces, young people get dead, easy as you please. You’ve seen this movie before, whether in the form of a slasher, a creature feature, or an animal attack flick. You’re seeing it again in XX in part because the formula works, and in part because the segment in question, titled “Don’t Fall,” must be elementary to facilitate its sibling chapters, which tend to be anything but. XX stands apart from other horror films because it invites its audience to feel a range of emotions aside from just fright. You might, for example, feel heartache during Jovanka Vuckovic’s “The Box,” or the uncertainty of dread in Karyn Kusama’s “Her Only Living Son,” or nauseous puzzlement with Sofia Carrillo’s macabre, stop-motion wraparound piece, meant to function as a palate cleanser between courses (an effectively unnerving work, thanks to its impressive technical achievements). Most of all, you might have to bite your tongue to keep from laughing uncontrollably during the film’s best short, “The Birthday Party,” written and directed by Annie Clark, better known by some as St. Vincent, in her filmmaking debut. XX is a horror movie spoken with the voices of women, a necessary notice that women are revolutionizing the genre as much as men. —Andy Crump


mohawk poster (Custom).jpg 20. Mohawk
Year: 2017
Director: Ted Geoghegan
Mohawk orbits a trio of polyamorous lovers in the forests of New York during the War of 1812—Joshua (Eamon Farren), a Brit treating with the state’s Mohawk tribe, Calvin Two Rivers (Justin Rain), a Mohawk warrior, and Oak (Kaniehtiio Horn), daughter of one of the tribe’s leaders, Wentahawi (Sheri Foster)—as they evade a group of American trackers out for their blood. See, Calvin has a surplus of pride and an excess of common sense. Where everyone else prefers avoiding open conflict with their American neighbors, Calvin prefers literally burning everything down, so he sets an American encampment on fire in the middle of the night, leaving no survivors—or so he thinks. The trackers, led by the grizzled and imminently menacing Hezekiah Holt (Ezra Buzzington), want their vengeance, in keeping with Mohawk’s overarching theme: It’s a story of the cycle of getting even, with one wronged party seeking to harm those who wronged them in a Mobius strip of violent death. The film is more interested, however, in confronting the inevitable conclusion of that cycle than presenting it with a shrug. The old proverb is right. An eye for an eye does leave the world blind, or in this case devoid of life. Where Geoghegan angles his focus inward in We Are Still Here, telling a story of a family struggling to recover from unspeakable loss, here he aims it toward extinction-level warfare. He doesn’t sacrifice intimacy in that perspective shift, of course: He couches Mohawk in the tender and genuinely moving love triangle between Joshua, Calvin and Oak, in its closed quarters setting, in Geoghegan’s up-close stylized violence and most of all in the relationships drawn between parents and their children. Oak loses her mother early on. Holt loses his son. Those losses feed vengeful desires while humanizing these characters and validating their humanity. If Holt is a nationalist bastard, he’s still a person. We empathize with him, though we’re never given a reason to forgive him. He represents a particular and sadly relevant kind of evil. Mohawk’s time and place keep its political implications from striking as too obvious, but suffice to say that for a period movie driven by cultural xenophobia, it’s tragically contemporary. You can appreciate its surface pleasures (stomach-churning brutality and its proudly DIY design sensibility), or you can appreciate it in its capacity as a remark on America in 2018. Or both. Come for the carnage, stay for the social introspection. —Andy Crump


apostle-movie-poster.jpg 19. Apostle
Year: 2018
Director: Gareth Evans
After the first two entries of The Raid made him a monolithic figure among action movie junkies, Apostle functions as the wider world’s introduction to the visceral filmmaking stylings of Welsh director Gareth Evans. Where his first films almost had the aesthetic of a videogame come to life—they’re about as close to a big screen adaptation of Streets of Rage as you’re ever going to find—Apostle might as well represent Evans’ desire to be taken seriously as a visual director and auteur. To do so, he’s explored some well-trodden ground in the form of the rural “cult infiltration movie,” making comparisons to the likes of The Wicker Man (or even Ti West’s The Sacrament) inevitable. However, Apostle forces its way into the year-end conversation of 2018’s best horror cinema through sheer style and verve. Every frame is beautifully composed, from the foreboding arrival of Dan Stevens’ smoldering character at the island cult compound, to the fantastically icky Grand Guignol of the third act, in which viscera flows with hedonistic abandon. Evans knows exactly how long to needle the audience with a slow-burning mystery before letting the blood dams burst; his conclusion both embraces supernatural craziness and uncomfortably realistic human violence. Gone is the precision of combat of The Raid, replaced by a clumsier brand of wanton savagery that is empowered not by honor but by desperate faith. Evans correctly concludes that this form of violence is far more frightening. —Jim Vorel


geralds game list poster (Custom).jpg 18. Gerald’s Game
Year: 2017
Director: Mike Flanagan
Director Mike Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game trims fat, condenses and slims, stripping away some of the odder quirks of Stephen King’s novel to get at the heart of themes underneath. The result is a tense, effective thriller that goes out of its way to highlight two strong actors (Bruce Greenwood and Carla Gugino) in an unfettered celebration of their craft. This is nothing new for Flanagan, whose recent output in the horror genre has been commendable. It’s hard to overlook some of the recurring themes in his work, beginning with 2011’s Absentia and all the way through the wildly imaginative Oculus, Hush and Ouija: Origin of Evil. Every one of these films centers around a strong-willed female lead, as does Gerald’s Game. Is this coincidence? Or is the director drawn to stories that reflect the struggle of women to claim independence in their lives by shedding old scars or ghosts, be they literal or figurative? Either way, it made Flanagan an obvious fit for Gerald’s Game, an unassuming, overachieving little thriller that is blessed by two performers capable of handling the lion’s share of the dramatic challenges it presents. —Jim Vorel


mad rons poster (Custom).jpg 17. Mad Ron’s Prevues From Hell
Year: 1987
Director: Jim Monaco
This film represents everything missing from the horror selection on Netflix streaming. I seriously have no idea how it made its way into the 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. —Jim Vorel


creep-2-movie-poster.jpg 16. Creep 2
Year: 2017
Director: Patrick Brice
Creep was not a movie begging for a sequel. About one of cinema’s more unique serial killers—a man who seemingly needs to form close personal bonds with his quarry before dispatching them as testaments to his “art”—the 2014 original was self-sufficient enough. But Creep 2 is that rare follow-up wherein the goal seems to be not “let’s do it again,” but “let’s go deeper”—and by deeper, we mean much deeper, as this film plumbs the psyche of the central psychopath (who now goes by) Aaron (Mark Duplass) in ways both wholly unexpected and shockingly sincere, as we witness (and somehow sympathize with) a killer who has lost his passion for murder, and thus his zest for life. In truth, the film almost forgoes the idea of being a “horror movie,” remaining one only because we know of the atrocities Aaron has committed in the past, meanwhile becoming much more of an interpersonal drama about two people exploring the boundaries of trust and vulnerability. Desiree Akhavan is stunning as Sara, the film’s only other principal lead, creating a character who is able to connect in a humanistic way with Aaron unlike anything a fan of the first film might think possible. Two performers bare it all, both literally and figuratively: Creep 2 is one of the most surprising, emotionally resonant horror films in recent memory. —Jim Vorel


green-room.jpg 15. Green Room
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
What’s perhaps most refreshing in Green Room is writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s lack of interest in the kind of moralizing that made his last film, Blue Ruin, ultimately seem conventional. Instead, Saulnier simply presents us this nutty scenario without feeling the need to lard it up with anything as cumbersome as topical commentary or moral ambiguity. He proceeds to wring as much tension and suspense from its pulpy retro plot as possible, adding a few entertaining grace notes along the way, which can best be seen in its performances. In the ensemble-based Green Room, Saulnier revels in the contrasts of personalities and styles: band bassist Pat’s (Anton Yelchin) Bill Paxton-like desperation, for instance, set alongside the weary, near-drugged-out deadpan of Amber (Imogen Poots), a friend of the woman whose murder sets off the film’s violent chain of events; or the imperial calm of Darcy (Patrick Stewart), the ruthless leader of the band of white supremacists who attempt to kill Pat, Amber and the rest. It’d be a stretch to call these characters three-dimensional, but nevertheless, under Saulnier’s writing and direction, they all manage to stand out just enough as individuals for us to become emotionally involved in their fates. Meanwhile, Saulnier supports these characters and plot turns with filmmaking that is remarkable for its economy and patience. D.P. Sean Porter gets a lot of mileage out of the cramped quarters and grimy lighting of the bar, lending its wide (2.35:1) frames an appropriately nightmarish feel amidst many suspenseful set pieces. In those ways, the lean, mean Green Room stands as one of the best B-movie genre exercises in many years. —Kenji Fujishima


tucker and dale vs evil poster.jpg 14. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Year: 2010
Director: Eli Craig
Let’s face it, hillbillies and their ilk have been getting the short end of the pitchfork in movies since the strains of banjo music faded in 1972’s Deliverance. And whether due to radiation (The Hills Have Eyes) or just good old determined inbreeding (Wrong Turn and so, so many films you’re better off not knowing about), the yokel-prone in film have really enjoyed slaughtering innocent families on vacation, travelers deficient in basic map usage skills, and, best of all, sexually active college students just looking for a good time. But fear not, members of Hillbillies for Inclusion, Consideration & Kindness in Screenplays (HICKS)—writer/director Eli Craig has your hairy, unloofahed back. His film, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, answers the simple question: What if those hillbillies are just socially awkward fellows sprucing up a vacation home and the young college kids in question are just prone to repeatedly jumping to incorrect, often fatal, conclusions? Think Final Destination meets the Darwin Awards. —Michael Burgin


autopsy of jane doe poster (Custom).jpg 13. The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Year: 2016
Director: André Øvredal
Men don’t understand women. It’s the oldest cliché in comedy, in psychology, in nearly every book Dave Barry has ever written, in men’s and women’s health magazines alike. In André Øvredal’s The Autopsy of Jane Doe, the cliché is no less clichéd, but he does appropriate it for use in a powerful metaphor for male blindness to female traumas: The film is about a woman’s invisible suffering, the kind experienced beneath her exterior and which men can neither see nor comprehend, even when they have the benefit of being able to literally peel back her layers. You can probably guess from the title exactly what layers are being peeled, which is to say that you’ll know right off the bat whether The Autopsy of Jane Doe is for you or not. What you won’t discover without watching the film is the source of Jane’s anguish, though by the time Øvredal is done with us, you may wish you’d never looked close enough to learn for yourself. —Andy Crump


invitation-movie-poster.jpg 12. The Invitation
Year: 2016
Director: Karyn Kusama
The less you know about Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, the better. This is true of slow-burn cinema of any stripe, but Kusama slow-burns to perfection. The key, it seems, to successful slow-burning in narrative fiction is the narrative rather than the actual slow-burn. In the case of The Invitation, that involves a tale of deep and intimate heartache, the kind that none of us hopes to ever have to endure in our own lives. The film taps into a nightmare vein of real-life dread, of loss so profound and pervasive that it fundamentally changes who you are as a human being. That’s where we begin: with an examination of grief. It’s remarkable for its foundation, for all of the substantive storytelling infrastructure that Kusama builds the film upon in the first place. The film starts in earnest as Will (Logan Marshall-Green in top form) arrives at a dinner party his ex-wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard), is throwing at what once was their house. He has brought his girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), along with him. But something is undeniably off at Eden’s place, and because Will is the lens through which Kusama’s audience engages with the film, we cannot tell what that something is. There is oh so much more to be said about The Invitation, especially its climax, where all is revealed and we see Will’s fears and Eden’s spiritual affirmations for what they are. Until then you’ll remain on tenterhooks, but to Kusama, jitters and thrills are sensations worth savoring. Where we end is obviously best left unsaid, but The Invitation is remarkable neither for its ending nor for the direction we take to arrive at its ending. Instead, it is remarkable for its foundation, for all of the substantive storytelling infrastructure that Kusama builds the film upon in the first place. —Andy Crump


the-endless-movie-poster.jpg 11. The Endless
Year: 2017
Director: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Brotherhood’s a trip. Just ask Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, the horror filmmaking duo responsible for 2012’s Resolution, the “Bonestorm” segment in 2014’s VHS: Viral, and, in the same year, the tender creature romance Spring. Their latest, The Endless, is all about brotherhood couched in unfathomable terror of Lovecraftian proportions. The movie hinges on the petulant squabbles of boys, circular arguments that go nowhere because they’re caught in a perpetual loop of denial and projection. If the exchanges between its leads can be summed up in two words, those words are “no, you.” Boys will be boys, meaning boys will be obstinate and stubborn to the bitter end. Though, in The Endless, the end is uncertain, but maybe the title makes that a smidge obvious. Brothers Aaron and Justin Smith (played, respectively, by Moorhead and Benson, who gel so well as brothers that you’d swear they’re secretly related) were once members of a UFO death cult before escaping and readjusting to life’s vicissitudes: They clean houses for a living, subsist primarily on ramen, and rely so much on their car that Aaron’s repeated failure to replace the battery weighs on both of them like the heavens on Atlas’ shoulders. Then, out of the blue, they receive a tape in the mail from their former cultists, and at Aaron’s behest they revisit Camp Arcadia, the commune they once called home. Not all is well here: Bizarre bonelike poles litter Arcadia’s outskirts, flocks of birds teleport from one spot to another in the time it takes to blink, Aaron and Justin keep having weird déjà vu moments, and worse: There’s something in the lake, a massive, inky, inexplicable presence just below the surface. (Its image is only seen on camera once, but once is enough to make an impression.) Woven through the film’s eldritch dread are Moorhead and Benson. Their characters are locked in a cosmic struggle with a nameless adversary, but the narrative’s gaze is focused inward: On the Smiths, on brothers, on how far a relationship must stretch before it can be repaired. Intimacy is a staple element of Moorhead and Benson’s filmograpy. Here, the intimacy is fraternal, which perhaps speaks to how Moorhead and Benson feel about each other. They may not be brothers themselves, but you can’t spend your career making movies with the same person over and over again without developing an abiding, unspoken bond with them. —Andy Crump


the nightmare poster (Custom).jpg 10. The Nightmare
Year: 2015
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. —Jim Vorel


creep poster (Custom).jpg 9. Creep
Year: 2014
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. —Jim Vorel


the conjuring poster (Custom).jpg 8. The Conjuring
Year: 2013
Director: James Wan
Let it be known: James Wan is, in any fair estimation, an above average director of horror films at the very least. The progenitor of big money series such as Saw and Insidious has a knack for crafting populist horror that still carries a streak of his own artistic identity, a Spielbergian gift for what speaks to the multiplex audience without entirely sacrificing characterization. Several of his films sit just outside the top 100, if this list were ever to be expanded, but The Conjuring can’t be denied as the Wan representative because it is far and away the scariest of all his feature films. Reminding me of the experience of first seeing Paranormal Activity in a crowded multiplex, The Conjuring has a way of subverting when and where you expect the scares to arrive. Its haunted house/possession story is nothing you haven’t seen before, but few films in this oeuvre in recent years have had half the stylishness that Wan imparts on an old, creaking farmstead in Rhode Island. The film toys with audience’s expectations by throwing big scares at you without standard Hollywood Jump Scare build-ups, simultaneously evoking classic golden age ghost stories such as Robert Wise’s The Haunting. Its intensity, effects work and unrelenting nature set it several tiers above the PG-13 horror against which it was primarily competing. It’s interesting to note that The Conjuring actually did receive an “R” rating despite a lack of overt “violence,” gore or sexuality. It was simply too frightening to deny, and that is worthy of respect. —Jim Vorel


14. scream (Custom).jpg 7. Scream
Year: 1996
Director: Wes Craven
Before Scary Movie or A Haunted House were even ill-conceived ideas, Wes Craven was crafting some of the best horror satire out there. And although part of Scream’s charm is its sly, fair jabs at the genre, that didn’t keep the director from dreaming up some of the most brutal knife-on-human scenes in the ’90s. With the birth of the “Ghost Face” killer, Craven took audiences on a journey through horror-flick fandom, making all-too-common tricks of the trade a staple for survival: sex equals death, don’t drink or do drugs, never say “I’ll be right back.” With a crossover cast of Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan and Drew Barrymore (okay, for like 10 minutes), Scream arrived with a smart, funny take on a tired genre. It wasn’t the first film of its kind, but it was the first one to be seen by a huge audience, which went a long way in raising the “genre IQ” of the average horror fan. —Tyler Kane


the sixth sense poster (Custom).png 6. The Sixth Sense
Year: 1999
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Featuring great performances by Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment, along with a legitimately chilling atmosphere, The Sixth Sense was nothing short of a phenomenon when it hit multiplexes in 1999. Critical examination aside, it truly is a frightening film, from the scene where Cole is locked in a box with an abusive ghost to the little moments (I always found the scene where all the kitchen cabinets and drawers open at once while off-screen to be particularly effective). For better or worse, though, this is the defining film of M. Night Shyamalan’s career, and its success was a double-edged sword: It bestowed the “brilliant young director” label on him, but also pigeonholed his personal style as a writer to the extent that his next five features at least were all reshaped by the aftershocks of The Sixth Sense. Rarely has the danger of success been so clearly illustrated for an artist—Shyamalan crafted a scary film that still holds up today, and then spent most of the next decade chasing that same accomplishment with rapidly diminishing returns that have only recently been rehabilitated with the likes of Split. —Jim Vorel


train-to-busan.jpg 5. Train to Busan
Year: 2016
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Love them or hate them, zombies are still a constant of the horror genre in 2016, dependable enough to set your conductor’s watch by. And although I’ve probably seen enough indie zombie films at this point to eschew them from my viewing habits for the rest of my life, there is still usually at least one great zombie movie every other year. In 2016, that was Train to Busan, a film that I sadly hadn’t yet seen when I wrote the 50 Best Zombie Movies of All Time. There’s no need for speculation: Train to Busan would undoubtedly have made the list. This South Korean story of a career-minded father attempting to protect his young daughter on a train full of rampaging zombies is equal parts suspenseful popcorn entertainment and genuinely affecting family drama. It concludes with several action elements that I’ve never seen before, or even considered for a zombie film, and any time you can add something truly novel to the genre of the walking dead, then you’re definitely doing something right. With a few memorable, empathetic supporting characters and some top-notch makeup FX, you’ve got one of the best zombie movies of the past half-decade. —Jim Vorel


haunting of hill house poster (Custom).jpg 4. The Haunting of Hill House
Year: 2018
Director: Mike Flanagan
The aesthetic of The Haunting of Hill House makes it work not only as horror TV, but also as a deft adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s classic novel. The monsters, ghosts, and things that go bump on the wall are off-screen, barely shown, or obscured by shadow. The series even goes back to some of the first film adaptation’s decisions, in terms of camera movement and shot design, in order to develop uneasiness and inconsistency. Well, maybe “inconsistency” is the wrong word. The only thing that feels truly inconsistent while watching it is your mind: You’re constantly wary of being tricked, but the construction of its scenes often gets you anyway. By embracing the squirm—and the time necessary to get us to squirm rather than jump—The Haunting of Hill House is great at creating troubling scenarios, and even better about letting us marinate in them. —Jacob Oller


carrie 1976 poster (Custom).jpg 3. Carrie
Year: 1976
Director: Brian De Palma
The tropes and individually famous scenes of Carrie are so well known and ingrained into the pop cultural consciousness that you’d be forgiven for thinking you didn’t really need to see the original film to understand what makes it significant. But Carrie is much more than a precariously balanced bucket of pig’s blood: It’s a film that vacillates between darkly humorous and legitimately disturbing, mean-spirited and cruel, that terrifying mix of tones set immediately by what happens to poor Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) in the school’s locker room. Rarely has abject terror and helplessness been so perfectly captured as it is here, Carrie desperately, pathetically clinging to her classmates in terror of her first menstruation, only to be derided and pelted with tampons as she lays in a screaming heap. There’s simply no coming back from the kinds of humiliations she suffers, and none of her peers care to find out that Carrie’s home life is even more abusive. Spacek was rightly rewarded with an Oscar nomination for her performance in this, the first film adaptation of a Stephen King work, as was Piper Laurie as her mother—this is back in the ’70s when not one but two actresses from a horror film could actually receive Academy Award nominations (my how things have changed). Carrie is a brisk film which thrives on those two strong, central performances, building to the gloriously cathartic orgy of revenge we all know is coming. —Jim Vorel


the-witch.jpg 2. The Witch
Year: 2016
Director: Robert Eggers
From its first moments, The Witch strands us in a hostile land. We watch (because that’s all we can do, helplessly) as puritan patriarch William (Ralph Ineson) argues stubbornly with a small council, thereby causing his family’s banishment from their “New England” community. We watch, and writer-director Robert Eggers holds our gaze while a score of strings and assorted prickly detritus—much like the dialogue-less beginning to There Will be Blood —rise to a climax that never comes. It’s a long shot, breathing dread: The wagon lurches ever-on into the wilderness, piling the frontier of this New World upon the literal frontier of an unexplored forest. It’s 1620, and William claims, “We will conquer this wilderness.” Eggers’ “New England Folk Tale” is a horror film swollen with the allure of the unknown. To say that it’s reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials, which take place 70 years after the events in the film, would be an understatement—the inevitable consequences of such historic mania looms heavily over The Witch. All of this Eggers frames with a subconscious knack for creating tension within each shot, rarely relying on jump scares or gore, instead mounting suspense through one masterful edit after another. The effect, then, is that of a building fever dream in which primeval forces—lust, defiance, hunger, greed—simmer at the edges of experience, avoided but never quite conquered. But what’s most convincing is the burden of puritanical spirituality which blankets the film’s every single moment, a pall through which every character—especially teenage Thomasin (Anya Taylor Joy)—struggles to be, simply, a regular person. There is no joy in their worship, there is only gravitas: prayers, fasting, penitence and fear. And it’s that fear which drives the film’s horror, which eventually makes even us viewers believe that, at the fringes of civilization, at the border of the unknown, God has surely abandoned these people. —Dom Sinacola


zodiac.jpg 1. Zodiac
Year: 2007
Director: David Fincher 
I hate to use the word “meandering,” because it sounds like an insult, but David Fincher’s 2007 thriller is meandering in the best possible way—it’s a detective story about a hunt for a serial killer that weaves its way into and out of seemingly hundreds of different milieus, ratcheting up the tension all the while. Jake Gyllenhaal is terrific as Robert Graysmith, an amateur sleuth and the film’s through line, while the story is content to release its clues and theories to him slowly, leaving the viewer, like Graysmith, in ambiguity for long stretches, yet still feeling like a fast-paced burner. It’s not Fincher’s most famous film, but it’s absolutely one of the most underrated thrillers since 2000. There are few scenes in modern cinema more taut than when investigators first question unheralded character actor John Carroll Lynch, portraying prime suspect Arthur Leigh Allen, as his facade slowly begins to erode—or so we think. The film is a testament to the sorrow and frustration of trying to solve an ephemeral mystery that often seems to be just out of your grasp. —Shane Ryan

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