The 35 Best Horror Movies on Netflix Right Now

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The 35 Best Horror Movies on Netflix Right Now

Assessing the quality of offerings available from Netflix in 2021, it quickly becomes clear that their horror library is a real mixed bag. 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, and its library becomes more static and reliant upon Netflix Originals on a monthly basis. At various points in the last year, for instance, Netflix could boast The Shining, Scream, Jaws, The Silence of the Lambs or Young Frankenstein, along with recent indie greats like The Witch, The Descent or The Babadook. All of those films are now gone—usually replaced by low-budget, direct-to-VOD films with suspiciously similar one-word titles, like Demonic, Desolate and Incarnate.

Still, there are quality films to be found here, typically of the modern variety, from cheesy cult classics like Leprechaun to more obscure (and disturbing) titles such as Creep, The Invitation or newer films like His House. 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 or Bly Manor, 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 80 best horror movies on Amazon Prime
The 50 best horror movies streaming on Shudder
The 50 best movies about serial killers
The 50 best slasher movies of all time
The 50 best ghost movies of all time


1. His House

his-house-2020-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Remi Weekes
Stars: Wunmi Mosaku, Sope Dirisu, Matt Smith
Rating: NR
Runtime: 93 minutes

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Nothing sucks the energy out of horror than movies that withhold on horror. Movies can scare audiences in a variety of ways, of course, but the very least a horror movie can be is scary instead of screwing around. Remi Weekes’ His House doesn’t screw around. The film begins with a tragedy, and within 10 minutes of that opening handily out-grudges The Grudge by leaving ghosts strewn on the floor and across the stairs where his protagonists can trip over them. Ultimately, this is a movie about the inescapable innate grief of immigrant stories, a companion piece to contemporary independent cinema like Jonas Carpignano’s Mediterranea, which captures the dangers facing immigrants on the road and at their destinations with brutal neorealist clarity. Weekes is deeply invested in Bol and Rial as people, in where they come from, what led them to leave, and most of all what they did to leave. But Weeks is equally invested in making his viewers leap out of their skins. —Andy Crump


2. The Haunting of Hill House

haunting of hill house poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2018
Director: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Henry Thomas, Michiel Huisman, Carla Gugino, Elizabeth Reaser, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kate Siegel, Victoria Pedretti
Runtime: 10 episodes

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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


3. Creep

creep poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2014
Director: Patrick Brice
Stars: Mark Duplass, Patrick Brice
Rating: R
Runtime: 77 minutes

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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


4. The Invitation

invitation-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Karyn Kusama
Stars: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, Emayatzy Corinealdi, John Carroll Lynch
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 100 minutes

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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


5. The Conjuring

conjuring.jpg Year: 2013
Director: James Wan
Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor
Rating: R
Runtime: 112 minutes

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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


6. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

im-thinking-of-ending.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Stars: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis
Rating: R
Runtime: 134 minutes

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Many viewers will think of ending I’m Thinking of Ending Things not long after it’s started. A cross-dissolve cascade of crude shots details the interior of a farmhouse or an apartment, or the interior of an interior. A woman we have not yet seen is practically mid-narration, telling us something for which we have no context. It feels wrong, off-putting. Something is not right. This is not how movies are supposed to work. Finally we see the woman, played brilliantly by Jessie Buckley. She is standing on the street as puffy snowflakes start to fall, like we’re within a 3-D snow globe with her. She looks up at a window a couple stories up. We see an old man looking down out of a window. We see Jesse Plemons looking down out of a window. We see Jesse Plemmons in the next shot picking up Jessie Buckley in his worn car. The movie music twinkles and swirls. Jessie Buckley’s Lucy or Lucia or Amy is thinking of ending things with Jesse’s Jake. Things aren’t going to go anywhere good, seems to be the reasoning. Jake drives the car and sometimes talks; his behaviors seem fairly consistent until they’re not, until some gesture boils up like a foreign object from another self. Louisa or Lucy is forthcoming, a fountain of personality and knowledge and interests. But sometimes she slows to a trickle, or is quiet, and suddenly she is someone else who is the same person but perhaps with different memories, different interests. Sometimes she is a painter, sometimes a physicist, sometimes neither. Jessie and Jesse are great. Their performances and their characters are hard to describe. The best movie of 2020 is terrible at being a “movie.” It does not subscribe to common patterns, rhythms, or tropes. It doesn’t even try to be a great movie, really, it simply tries to dissect the life of the mind of the other, and to do that by any cinematic means possible. The self-awareness of the film could have been unbearable, except awareness (and our fragmentary experience of it) is so entirely the point of everything that the film is wrapped up within and that is wrapped up within it. To say the film accepts both the beauty and ugliness of life would be a platitude that the film itself rejects. To say that “love conquers all,” even moreso. But these false truths flit in and about the film’s peripheral vision: illusions or ghosts, but welcome ones. —Chad Betz


7. Crimson Peak

crimson-peak-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska
Rating: R
Runtime: 119 minutes

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Crimson Peak follows the traditions of gothic romance by design: “I made this movie to present and reverse some of the normal tropes, while following them, of the gothic romance,” del Toro says on the Arrow Blu-ray’s audio commentary track, a note made during the introduction between his protagonist, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), and her first of two love interests, Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a baronet come to the U.S. to win over her father, the magnate Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver), and obtain financial backing for his very own clay-mining contraption. The exchange between Thomas and Edith in this scene is crucial to what the film’s trying to accomplish: “I’m sorry,” he says to her, the manuscript on her desk having caught his eye. “I don’t mean to pry, but this is a piece of fiction, is it not?”

It is. It’s her fiction, in fact, a piece she’s written for publication in the pages of The Atlantic Monthly. With a glance, the story has ensnared him. “Ghosts,” he remarks, an inscrutable smile on his lips. Edith goes on defense, stammering, “Well, the ghosts are just a metaphor, really,” but Thomas isn’t finished: “They’ve always fascinated me. You see, where I come from, ghosts are not to be taken lightly.” Thomas means this as flattery and not admonition, and flattered is how Edith reacts, excitement spreading across her face at encountering a kindred spirit to accompany the actual spirits she’s yet to meet. Thomas gets it. When she speaks with him, Edith doesn’t need to compromise her fondness for ghost stories, as she must with her peers. She can openly appreciate them on their own terms. And so can Crimson Peak. Del Toro adores the production components of the gothic romance; he’s enamored with the pomp, the circumstance, the costumes. They give him a veil of propriety, because Crimson Peak doesn’t pull its punches. The audience finds out what kind of film it is from the opening shot of Edith’s face, decorated by open wounds, and from the follow-up sequence, in which young Edith (Sofia Wells) is visited in dead of night by her late mother’s blackened osseous specter. Crimson Peak doesn’t care about catering to taste or achieving universality. It cares about freaking its viewers the hell out. After all, if “horror” as a genre acts as a massive umbrella sheltering all manner of aesthetics and approaches, the exercise should always be about sending an audience away with a powerful need to sleep with the lights on. —Andy Crump


8. It Comes at Night

it-comes-at-night-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Stars: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Riley Keough
Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes

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Within seconds, It Comes at Night haunts you. In the scene from which writer/director Trey Edward Shults says the rest of his script sprung, in the very first images of the film, an old man (David Pendleton) wheezes while covered, his skin festering, in boils. It’s clear: He isn’t long for this world. Shults and DP Drew Daniels hold his face in close-up as if they’re cradling him, trying to make his passing easier. Each successive detail is revealed with a carefulness that could only be described as some sort of deep, abiding empathy for the characters, any characters, Shults has on screen: first comes the man’s defeated face, his labored breathing, then the muffled voices of reassurance, telling him it’s OK to let go and that he’s loved. Then we see that the voices are muffled because they’re coming from gas masks. Then we watch as the people wearing gas masks roll the old man in a wheelbarrow out to the woods where they shoot him in the head and incinerate his corpse in a hole. It Comes at Night is ostensibly a horror movie, moreso than Shults’s debut, Krisha, but even Krisha was more of a horror movie than most measured family dramas typically are. Perhaps knowing this, Shults calls It Comes at Night an atypical horror movie, but—it’s already obvious after only two of these—Shults makes horror movies to the extent that everything in them is laced with dread, and every situation suffocated with inevitability. For his sophomore film, adorned with a much larger budget than Krisha and cast with some real indie star power compared to his previous cast (of family members doing him a solid), Shults imagines a near future as could be expected from a somber flick like this. A “sickness” has ravaged the world and survival is all that matters for those still left. In order to keep their shit together enough to keep living, the small group of people in Shults’s film have to accept the same things the audience does: That important characters will die, tragedy will happen and the horror of life is about the pointlessness of resisting the tide of either. So it makes sense that It Comes at Night is such an open wound of a watch, pained with regret and loss and the mundane ache of simply existing: Throughout we feel as if we’re saying goodbye to these characters even as we’re just getting to know them. It’s trauma as tone poem, bittersweet down to its bones, a triumph of empathetic, soul-shaking movie-making. —Dom Sinacola


9. Creep 2

creep-2-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Patrick Brice
Stars: Mark Duplass, Desiree Akhavan, Karan Soni
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 80 minutes

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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


10. We Summon the Darkness

we-summon.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Marc Meyers
Stars: Alexandra Daddario, Amy Forsyth, Maddie Hasson, Keean Johnson, Logan Miller, Austin Swift, Johnny Knoxville
Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes

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Roughly 30 minutes into Marc Meyers’ We Summon the Darkness, the tables turn. The twist isn’t telegraphed. Paranoid viewers might catch the scent of something “off,” the way people with hyperosmia know the milk’s gone bad before opening up the carton, but noticing the clues that Meyers, screenwriter Alan Trezza and the film’s main cast—Alexandra Daddario, Maddie Hasson and Amy Forsyth—leave on the screen takes a little deductive reasoning and a lot of psychological study. No one gives anything away. Instead, Meyers carefully pulls the truth from the set-up, and in the process hints at not a small amount of relish on his part. He’s having fun. A good twist should be fun, and We Summon the Darkness does indeed have a good twist, but Meyers, Trezza and especially Daddario appear to realize that the pleasure of a twist isn’t the reveal, it’s figuring out how to hide the twist in plain sight. This is, at first, a horror story about teenagers uniting under the banner of heavy metal in 1980s America, a time when God-fearing Christian bedwetters saw proof of devil worship everywhere they gawked and blamed the rise of Satanism on objectively awesome things like Dungeons & Dragons and Dio. Half an hour in, We Summon the Darkness still is that story, but told from the perspective of religious vultures who happily exploit the fears of the flock to profit the church. It’s a ferocious joy to watch, particularly in light of how well We Summon the Darkness holds back on secrets. Tipping the hand too much would be easy; the tells only become clear after the fact, couched in a choice of words here, a moment of hesitation there, a dose of forced enthusiasm there. For as unrestrained as things get, it’s the initial restraint that’s most memorable. —Andy Crump


11. Gerald’s Game

geralds game list poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2017
Director: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 103 minutes

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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


12. 1BR

1br.jpg Year: 2019
Director: David Marmor
Stars: Nicole Brydon Bloom, Giles Matthey, Alan Blumenfeld, Celeste Sully
Rating: NR
Runtime: 90 minutes

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In the middle of a horrifying housing crisis, 1BR holds up a mirror to the isolation and desperation crushing the greater population of Los Angeles. Hollywood and the surrounding areas may be viewed globally as a home for opulence, but the majority of Los Angeles county lives closer to the poverty line than the shoreline. These extreme levels of impoverishment come with about two dozen cults masquerading as sub-culture, a mortifying picture of co-dependancy, a coerced dismissal of personal rights, and loneliness. Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom), a recent Los Angeles transplant, needs to find a place to live. She also needs to get into college. Oh, and Sarah needs to figure out how to navigate her uptight boss. She’s the blueprint for every mid-twenties late bloomer. The apartment hunt has been a nightmare with limited funds, but then she finds the perfect apartment. The space is close to work, affordable, and comes with one extremely cute neighbor. Unfortunately, the property is owned by a cult, obsessed with making a perfect community. Prone to extreme measures, the group, known only as CDE Properties, watches the little colony 24 hours a day. Their tried-and-true method of converting new tenants includes sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, and threats of extreme pain. Sarah does her best to resist these tactics while simultaneously convincing her captors that she’s becoming one of them. In his feature film debut, writer/director David Marmor crafts a chilling survival story in the sun-bleached desert and stark fluorescent lighting of wearisome offices. A visceral expression of fear and longing, 1BR could be a new cult classic. With incredible performances, a solid twist and the possibility of a franchise sequel, 1BR aims high. The good news is the film hits most of its targets. —Joelle Monique


13. Apostle

apostle-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Gareth Evans
Stars: Dan Stevens, Lucy Boynton, Mark Lewis Jones, Bill Milner, Michael Sheen
Rating: NR
Runtime: 129 minutes

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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


14. The Platform

the-platform-2019-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
Stars: Iván Massagué, Zorion Eguileor, Antonia San Juan, Emilio Buale Coka, Alexandra Masangkay
Rating: NR
Runtime: 94 minutes

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The Platform benefits immensely from the strength of its simple, high-concept premise and all the superfluous information that is withheld from the viewer. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know why exactly people are placed into this diabolical, vertical prison structure, in which the only sustenance arrives once a day in the form of a steadily descending, increasingly gross stone slab piled high with perishables. Nor do we really need to know how this apparent social experiment operates, although the repeated glimpses we get at cooks slaving over perfect dishes to be sent down to the doomed convicts is no doubt designed to needle at our curiosity. What matters is that we observe the differences in human reaction to this plight—the ways that different personalities react to adversity with an “us or them” mentality, or a predatory hunger, or a spontaneous drive toward self-sacrificing altruism. The fact that the position of the prisoners is constantly in flux is key—it gives them both a tangible reason to be the change they want to see in their world, and an almost impossible temptation to do the exact opposite out of distrust of their neighbors. One expects a nihilistic streak here, and you won’t be disappointed—but there’s a few glimmers of hope shining through the cracks as well. Just enough, perhaps, to twist the knife that much deeper. —Jim Vorel


15. Hush

hush poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2016
Director: Mike Flanagan
Stars: John Gallagher Jr., Michael Trucco, Kate Siegel
Rating: R
Runtime: 81 minutes

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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


16. Zombieland

zombieland-poster.jpg Year: 2009
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Stars: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin
Rating: R
Runtime: 88 minutes

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It seems like there’s a certain amount of blowback against Zombieland these days. Not among the general audience, where the film is still fairly well-liked, but among the horror and zombie geeks and “purists,” who don’t seem to consider it legitimate enough as a zombie film. I’m not sure why that is, in a genre where Shaun of the Dead is rightly hailed as the cream of the zombie comedy crop. Zombieland was certainly inspired on some level by the former, as it moved the action to the USA and brought together survivors who were anonymous to each other rather than a circle of friends, as in the tradition of Night of the Living Dead. Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus is the type of character we hadn’t seen in a zombie film before, even in the comedies—somewhat neurotic, not particularly well-equipped to fight, but brainy and resourceful enough to get by on his own, he presents an entirely different mold of survivor. Of course it’s Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee who really steals the show, as a short-fused drifter on a seemingly pointless quest to find the world’s last box of Twinkies. Featuring zombies that are legitimately threatening, it tows a near-perfect line between comedic (but gory) violence and character-driven humor. —Jim Vorel


17. Cargo

cargo-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Directors: Yolanda Ramke, Ben Howling
Stars: Martin Freeman, Simone Landers, Anthony Hayes, David Gulpili, Susie Porter, Caren Pistorius
Rating: NR
Runtime: 105 minutes

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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


18. The Blair Witch Project

blair-witch.jpg Year: 1999
Directors: Eduardo Sánchez, Daniel Myrick
Stars: Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adèle Haenel
Rating: R
Runtime: 146 minutes

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Where Scream reinvented a genre by pulling the shades back to reveal the inner workings of horror, The Blair Witch Project went the opposite route by crafting a new style of presentation and especially promotion. Sure, people had already been doing found footage movies; just look at The Last Broadcast a year earlier. But this was the first to get a wide, theatrical release, and distributor Artisan Entertainment masterfully capitalized on the lack of information available on the film to execute a mysterious online advertising campaign in the blossoming days of the Internet age. Otherwise reasonable human beings seriously went into The Blair Witch Project believing that what they were seeing might be real, and the grainy, home movie aesthetic captured an innate terror of reality and “real people” that had not been seen in the horror genre before. It was also proof positive that a well-executed micro-budget indie film could become a massive box office success. So in that sense, The Blair Witch Project reinvented two different genres at the same time. —Jim Vorel


19. Under the Shadow

under the shadow poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2016
Director: Babak Anvari
Stars: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Ray Haratian, Arash Marandi
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 84 minutes

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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


20. Cam

cam-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Daniel Goldhaber
Stars: Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh, Melora Walters, Devin Druid, Imani Hakim, Michael Dempsey
Rating: NR
Runtime: 95 minutes

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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


21. The Ritual

the ritual poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2017
Director: David Bruckner
Stars: Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton
Rating: NR
Runtime: 94 minutes

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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


22. The Conjuring 2

conjuring-2-poster.jpg Year: 2016
Director: James Wan
Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente
Rating: R
Runtime: 134 minutes

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The film is a blast as a funhouse-style genre exercise, but there’s very little holding it all together. If The Conjuring offended some with its historical revisionism, at least that film had cohesion. The Conjuring 2, meanwhile, plays with themes that never wind up being fully developed. Once the Warrens come to the Hodgsons’ aid, Ed explains that wicked spirits have a particular affinity for negative energy, and tend to manifest when bad things happen to people in their lives. “They like to kick us when we’re down,” he tells Peggy, and the Hodgsons are indeed down by anyone’s definition. Their home is deteriorated: The walls are peeling, the woodwork is cracked, and the cupboards are bare of biscuits. But matters of economy and class are window dressing. The film’s core is Janet’s overwhelming sense of loneliness. As the primary target of her family’s supernatural tormentor, she has become totally isolated from her friends at school. We don’t really see that, though. We just hear about it. The film’s script, penned by returning twin sibling screenwriting duo Chad and Carey Hayes, plus Wan, plus David Leslie Johnson, puts more emphasis on Lorraine’s premonitions of Ed’s death in an instance of just-too-muchery. —Andy Crump


23. Ravenous

ravenous 2017 poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2017
Director: Robin Aubert
Stars: Marc-André Grondin, Monia Chokri, Brigitte Poupart, Luc Proulx, Charlotte St-Martin
Rating: NR
Runtime: 96 minutes

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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


24. Insidious

insidious-poster-inset.jpg Year: 2010
Director: James Wan
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 103 minutes

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A couple years before he essentially perfected the modern, big-budget haunted house movie via The Conjuring, Insidious was the film where James Wan proved once and for all that his genre success in the original Saw was no fluke. It’s a film that benefits from an audience’s low expectations for its complexity—the viewer goes in assuming that they’re seeing the same basic haunting/possession/poltergeist-type story they’ve seen before, and Wan then dazzles them with a mythos that is considerably more detailed (and batshit) than what they expected to receive. So too does the film benefit from a few key performances, whether that’s Patrick Wilson as the anxious father (and secret font of psychic energy) searching for his son, or the utterly essential Lin Shaye as the knowledgeable demonologist who is the family’s only hope. The near-starring role of Shaye really is something worth acknowledging, as the presence of older women as stars/protagonists in the horror genre is close to nonexistent—the Insidious series managed the odd task of taking a character who was in the supporting role of Zelda Rubinstein in Poltergeist and somehow turning her into the legitimate hero of the franchise. Today, the film still holds up well enough, undone a bit by its sequels’ insistence on constant canonical retconning, but featuring jump scares (especially that red-faced demon) that are as effective as anything in their era. —Jim Vorel


25. The Babysitter

the babysitter poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2017
Director: McG
Stars: Samara Weaving, Judah Lewis, Hana Mae Lee, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne
Rating: NR
Runtime: 85 minutes

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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


26. Child’s Play 2

childs-play-2-poster.jpg Year: 1990
Director: John Lafia
Stars: Brad Dourif, Alex Vincent, Jenny Agutter, Gerrit Graham, Christine Elise, Grace Zabriskie
Rating: R
Runtime: 84 minutes

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Child’s Play 2 was released in theaters toward the tail end of an era when horror sequels (especially slashers) had become such an inevitability that they were almost uniformly regarded with derision by critics, if not by the horror geeks. As a result, contemporary assessments of the franchise’s first sequel have a tendency to harp on the fact that it exists at all, while ignoring much of its impeccable craftsmanship. Rest assured: Child’s Play 2 is pretty awesome—in some ways superior even to the first film. It sequelizes in the old style, taking the formula of the original outing and simply making everything bigger and more bombastic—especially the FX, which are truly impressive throughout. Chucky has never looked better than he does here, articulated to convey a harmlessly cherubic face one moment, and a snarling, swearing psychopathic visage the next. —Jim Vorel


27. Verónica

veronica horror poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2017
Director: Paco Plaza
Stars: Sandra Escacena
Rating: NR
Runtime: 105 minutes

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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


28. 1922

1922.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Zak Hilditch
Stars: Thomas Janes, Neal McDonough, Molly Parker
Rating: NR
Runtime: 101 minutes

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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


29. Little Evil

little evil poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2017
Director: Eli Craig
Stars: Adam Scott, Evangeline Lilly
Rating: NR
Runtime: 95 minutes

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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


30. As Above, So Below

as above so below poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2014
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Stars: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, Francois Civil, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

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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


31. #Alive

alive-zombie-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Cho Il-hyung
Stars: Yoo Ah-in, Park Shin-hye
Rating: NR
Runtime: 99 minutes

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Fans of zombie cinema were hotly anticipating at least one South Korean zombie feature this year: Peninsula, the sequel to the much-loved Train to Busan was heavily hyped, but ultimately fell far short of the original. Thankfully, though, there was another Korean zombie flick waiting in the wings to step into its place, in the form of the significantly more successful (if modest) #Alive. Fans of the original World War Z novel will certainly find this story familiar, as it’s suspiciously similar to one of that book’s better-loved passages, about a young gamer/hacker in Japan who is so deeply engrossed in the web, he fails to notice the world descending into a zombie apocalypse around him, before finally being forced to unplug and go on the run. Here, the same basic premise is simply transplanted to South Korea, where the introverted protagonist must rappel down the side of his apartment building to avoid the prowling dead, while also looking for other survivors hiding among the carnage. It’s a much tighter, more neatly executed story than the disappointing excesses of Peninsula, perfect for pandemic-era viewing. —Jim Vorel


32. The Blackcoat’s Daughter

blackcoats daughter movie poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2016
Director: Osgood Perkins
Stars: Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton, Lauren Holly, James Remar
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

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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


33. Would You Rather

would you rather poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2012
Director: David Guy Levy
Stars: Jeffrey Combs, Brittany Snow, Sasha Grey, John Heard, Logan Miller, Robb Wells, June Squibb
Rating: NR
Runtime: 93 minutes

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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


34. The Babysitter: Killer Queen

babysitter-killer-queen-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: McG
Stars: Judah Lewis, Emily Alyn Lind, Jenna Ortega, Robbie Amell, Andrew Bachelor, Leslie Bibb, Hana Mae Lee, Bella Thorne, Ken Marino, Samara Weaving
Rating: NR
Runtime: 101 minutes

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It’s never a particularly good sign when your sequel to a film is almost entirely absent the title character, but The Babysitter: Killer Queen does its best to work around the lack of availability of fast-rising star Samara Weaving, the titular babysitter from McG’s first film in 2017. It’s not as if we’re lacking for charismatic young stars here, after all—if anything, the film has more of them than it knows what to do with, including Judah Lewis, Emily Alyn Lind, Bella Thorne and more. So too is it not afraid to throw blood around—there are some truly wacky (and gory) deaths this time around, and the fact that most of them are happening to resurrected demon cultists means that the writers are free to be exactly as meanspirited as they’d like, cranking up the violence to Sam Raimi-like comical excess. Weaving does indeed show up eventually, if you were wondering: It’s not much, but it’s something, and it ties a decent bow on a script that won’t be winning any awards. All in all, it’s a perfectly acceptable way to get your horror comedy fix. —Jim Vorel


35. Shutter

shutter-2004-poster.jpg Year: 2004
Directors: Bangjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom
Stars: Ananda Everingham, Natthaweeranuch Thongmee, Achita Sikamana
Rating: NR
Runtime: 97 minutes

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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

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