The only thing worse than finding yourself trapped in a shadowy house with a knife-wielding serial killer is finding yourself trapped in the endless scroll of Netflix’s horror movie selection. “Violent movies”? “Ominous movies”? “Because you watched The Lost Boys”? Netflix’s horror subgenre breakdowns are as fun to wade through as a swim in Crystal Lake. Do not be afraid: We are here to help.
Assuming you’ve experienced Clive Barker’s classic gore-fest Hellraiser; the suffocating, spelunking-gone-wrong thriller The Descent; the psychological nightmare of The Babadook; and last year’s hit cannibalism drama Raw, we’ve slashed our way through the horror offerings on Netflix to find you 15 movies worth an evening … alone … with the lights off … and surely no one watching you through the window …
THE RITUAL (2017)
Even in our post-Cabin in the Woods world, there are still opportunities for clever filmmakers to spook us with creepy-shack-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-why-the-hell-would-you-go-in-there-what-was-that-in-the-shadows-no-no-no-no-no stories. The Ritual follows four friends who trek along northern Sweden’s Kungsleden trail as a tribute to a fifth friend, who was recently murdered in a convenience store. The death especially weighs on Luke (Prometheus’ Rafe Spall), whose drunken belligerence put his buddy in harm’s way in the first place. Luke is also the member of the group who realizes that, after discovering a wooden deer altar in an abandoned house along their unadvised detour, the group is being haunted by more than memories. Like a unique mix of Euro-horror and The Hills Have Eyes, The Ritual twists a familiar journey with creature-feature instincts to keep the genre fresh.
TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)
Imagine if, instead of eating cockroaches and warding off ax-wielding thugs on their way to the 1-percenter front carriage, the passengers aboard the Snowpiercertrain warded off zombies. OK, OK, stop imagining: Train to Busan is better than anything you’ll come up with. Propulsive, bloody and glimmering with the dark whimsy particular to Korean cinema, animator-turned-live-action-director Yeon Sang-ho’s take on the zombie apocalypse wears its heart on its sleeve … until the flesh-eating undead tear the heart to shreds. It’s a father-daughter story. It’s a husband-wife story. It’s a who-deserves-to-live-and-die survivor narrative. It’s a people story trapped in a high-speed rail train, where the only hope of escape is a well-timed leap into the baggage shelf. It’s a hell of a movie.
SCREAM 2 (1997)
In retrospect, Scream’s meta-inversion of the slasher was a home run waiting to happen. The real surprise was writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven pulling off a follow-up that still twisted and turned while goofing hard on sequel tropes (and knocking it out within a year of the first film hitting theaters). Having survived her boyfriend’s sadistic killing spree and then gone off to college, Sidney (Neve Campbell) finds herself intertwined with a murderer masquerading as Ghostface. Scream 2 ups the ante in all respects, with more self-aware wisecracks (“sequels suck,” Jamie Kennedy exclaims in a line reading that vindicates his existence), grislier acts of cartoon violence and wildly entertaining vignettes threaded throughout the plot. At the very least, the opening scene — which finds Jada Pinkett Smith and Omar Epps attending the premiere of Stab, a movie based on Sidney’s life — is worth an immediate viewing.
This slow-burn horror-thriller wastes no time getting to the hunt. To grieve the death of her husband, Abby takes her son,and her best friend out for a weekend camping trip in the woods. As soon as the hike begins, the family becomes the target of a killer mountain man. Working off a sensitive, introspective script, where conversations about life, death and moving on are as impactful as the relentless stalking, Desolation has more in common with picturesque dramas like Old Joy and Ain’t Them Body Saints than Friday the 13th or Wrong Turn. Still, as the young characters flee for their lives, you may find yourself hyperventilating along with them.
Mike Flanagan is a (newish) name horror fiends need to know. Flanagan’s growing resume includes Netflix’s unnerving Stephen King adaptation Gerald’s Game; the silent slasher Hush (also streaming on Netflix); a better-than-you-can-believe Ouija sequel, Origin of Evil; and Oculus, one of the early films from the genre boutique Blumhouse Productions and perhaps the greatest “evil mirror” movie of all time. Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Brenton Thwaites (Pirates 5) star as a brother and sister tormented by the memory of a violent incident that ended in their mother and father’s deaths. Through paranormal investigation and flashbacks, the siblings deduce that it was an antique mirror, possessing a supernatural desire to kill, that cursed their family — and could end in more bloodshed. Flanagan cleverly bounces from timeline to timeline as he unravels the mirror’s ability to conjure false visions (reminder: always check to make sure the apple you’re about to bite into isn’t a lightbulb), and ultimately transforms loving people into Boschian specters. Somehow, Gillan’s performance here is even more cranked up than her work as the vengeful Nebula.
IT FOLLOWS (2014)
Consider it a miracle that there’s no It Follows 2, 3, 4 or It Follows: Origins. David Robert Mitchell’s synthy, supernatural thriller is tailor-made for franchising and over-explanation: After having sex with a cursed young man, Jaime (Maika Monroe) is stalked by a shape-shifting, demonlike entity whose purpose … is never communicated. “It” just wants to kill the new infected target. Then the person before them. Then the next person in the viral chain. The only escape is passing the malicious force on through intercourse — an ethical quagmire. Set in a muted-hue version of Spielberg’s suburbia and invested in the teen perspective (as opposed to straight up slaughtering co-eds), It Follows is a tiny masterpiece, joyfully un-sequeled and unknown, that will have you looking over your shoulders as soon as the credits roll.
LITTLE EVIL (2017)
The glory days of Mel Brooks and Airplane! brain trust ZAZ are behind us, but a few determined filmmakers (no, not the guys behind Date Movie) still find ways to thread spoof through more traditional plots. Little Evil, from Tucker & Dale vs. Evildirector Eli Craig, is a recent, ridiculous heir to the throne: Adam Scott (Parks & Recreation) stars as the newly married Gary, who quickly realizes that his stepson Lucas is the Antichrist. The movie nods to nearly every pillar of the horror genre — a clever cutaway to two Shining-esque twins elicits both a shriek and a spit take — but it’s the whirlwind of Scott’s in-over-his-head performance, and the steady glowering of his demonic 5-year-old, that sucks up the jokes into a cohesive, and often frightening, whole. Like Shaun of the Dead or Cabin in the Woods, Little Evilis a horror-comedy that balances the act.
Well Go USA Entertainment
THE WAILING (2016)
If you loved the metaphysical hodgepodge of True Detective, the pounding atmosphere of Silent Hill games or the oddball dread of Bong Joon-ho’s detective epic Memories of Murder, then you’re luck: The Wailing ties it all together. Instigated by brutality and splintered by zombies, demons and simpler forms of murder, this sprawling, 156-minute horror epic follows a cop, Jong-goo, as he investigates a killing in a small South Korean village. As he digs deeper into the case, he encounters hermits, shamans and local folk with their own tangential stories (to paraphrase: “Oh, you saw a naked man with glowing red eyes eating a deer? OK!”). Director Na Hong-jin builds horror to a rare, operatic conclusion, and while diversions of rain pitter-pattering on rooftops may test those looking for a night of jump scares, his work in The Wailing will reward the patient with genuine nightmare fuel.
CREEP (2014) & CREEP 2 (2017)
Leave it to indie darling Mark Duplass and his regular collaborator Patrick Brice (The Overnight) to keep the found-footage horror movie kickin’ 15 years after The Blair Witch Project. In Creep, Josef (Duplass) recruits Aaron (Brice), a videographer, off Craigslist with the intention of filming a goodbye letter to his unborn son. Josef is dying … at least, that’s how he convinces his new buddy Aaron to spend the night in the woods drinking whiskey with him. The batshit revelations are best left unsaid, and just how Creep 2 picks up the story, with Girlsactress Desiree Akhavan front and center as a hopeful YouTube star, is even more of a hoot. Creep is the deranged, internet-friendly horror franchise we deserve.
UNDER THE SHADOW (2016)
During a string of Iraqi airstrikes in late-1980s Tehran, the Iranian government bars medical student and political activist Shideh (Narges Rashidi) from continuing her studies. She retreats to her family’s apartment, and despite her husband’s wishes, remains with her young daughter in the war-torn capital — this is her home, and she’s not leaving. But when a missile blasts directly through her building, the normal life Shideh and her daughter knew becomes marked by an invisible, nefarious presence. Is it a djinn? Much like in The Babadook, first-time director Babak Anvari allows the question of the supernatural to orbit the action of Under the Shadow as he captures the erosion of his plain, main set, and Shideh’s very existence.
This Australian post-apocalyptic tale, which finds Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, The Office) with 48 hours to live and miles of outback to cross, is even more terrifying if you’re a new parent. After a zombie bite turns his wife into a caramelized, undead husk, and her rabid jaws rip a chunk out of his arm, Andy (Freeman) heads into the wilderness with his 1-year-old daughter to find an antidote. As in The Road, the traveling pair encounter a handful of helpful and ignoble survivors, all looking for a way out of the living nightmare. But it’s Thoomi, an indigenous girl kidnapped by a zombie-baiting hunter, who may be able to save them. Taking advantage of lush environments down under, grappling with Australia’s history of racial tension and capitalizing on the continued peril of a defenseless child, Cargo takes a typical outbreak scenario and raises the stakes.
A DARK SONG (2016)
The toughest film on this list (or any list that doesn’t include Salo or the complete works of Lars von Trier), this sinewy Irish character study finds a grieving mother turning to occult magic to save her dead son’s soul. To summon a “guardian angel” who can fulfill a single wish, Sophia’s schlubby for-hire mystic issues a series of challenges, including rune transcription and brutal tests of physical endurance. A Dark Song locks us in the farmhouse with them, and uses photography and performance to send the woman’s pain pulsating down our spines. There are revelations and meaning beyond the breaking point, but as Sophia pushes past the mortal coil, the film’s lavish-yet-strenuous style almost intends to break weaker viewers.
I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE (2016)
”A house with a death in it can never be bought or sold by the living. It can only be borrowed by its ghosts.” The playful, poetic terror of I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, from Oz Perkins, son of Psycho star Anthony Perkins, plays like a short story from Alvin Schwartz’s classic In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories. So do the spooky camera compositions that string the story together; as Lily, the live-in nurse to aging horror author Iris Blum, actress Ruth Wilson tiptoes through the wooden hallways of a 19th-century New England manor, hears creaks in the floor and feels the ominous presence of a woman thought to be fictitious. Perkins barely lifts a finger to render his ghost tour with macabre beauty, but when it pops — an ectoplasmic echo, a murmuring cue in his brother Elvis Perkins — I Am the Pretty Thing will take your breath away.
This Eli Roth-produced horror movie has higher peaks and lower valleys than any other film on this list. The movie isn’t all that scary, and lumbers towards its climax, but the central premise hits you over and over and over again with some of the most grotesque makeup effects in recent memory, and that’s worth a recommendation. When the clown booked for his son’s birthday suddenly cancels, mild-mannered workaholic Kent grabs a harlequin costume stashed away in a creepy basement (UH, BAD MOVE) and does the job himself. Unfortunately, when it’s time to shed his kooky threads … they won’t come off. With a red nose and colorful wig-adhered body, Kent searches for a way to un-clown, while his killer instincts start bubbling to the surface. Clown is a descent into coulrophobic, Cronenbergian hell, which director Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Homecoming) pushes to a most disturbing degree, all while winking to camera.