It’s October, which means 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 we heard you watched the new Halloween”? 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 the post-modern romp Cabin Fever; the Puritanical nightmare of The Witch; the iconic slasher Scream; and satirical gore-thriller American Psycho (all of which are on the platform, too) we’ve slashed our way through the horror offerings on Netflix to find you a heap of movies worth an evening … alone … with the lights off … and surely … no one watching you … through the window … right now …
Head Count (2019)
Evan (Isaac Jay) meets and follows a new crush, Zoe (Ashleigh Morghan), on a weekend trip with her friends, but he soon finds himself at odds with the group for insisting there’s another person among them — one hiding behind their ability to shapeshift. The first feature film by Elle Callahan shows impressive skills in creating the feeling of distrust in the viewer even while all the characters sense nothing amiss. It’s The Thing by way of It Follows, while bringing its own style to the table.
The premise, combined with the excellent cinematography, does a great job in elevating otherwise mundane scenes into seriously scary moments.The group gathers to play a drinking game, the camera swinging in a wide arc so that nobody is visible the whole time. You’re just waiting for someone to disappear, or to appear twice, but you can never tell exactly what’s going to happen. —Jenna Stoeber
The Ritual (2018)
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. —Matt Patches
The Nightmare (2015)
This spooky documentary from Room 237 director Rodney Ascher follows eight people suffering from a debilitating phenomenon known as “sleep paralysis.” In the middle of the night, victims of the syndrome find themselves unable to move or speak, and as Ascher discovers, many of them suffer from paranormal-esque hallucinations — shared hallucinations. Recreating their sleep paralysis stories with a giallo touch, Ascher once again dives into the human psyche for a story that’s both heartfelt and haunting. —MP
With a new Candyman, written by Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld, coming in 2020, there has never been a better time to watch this horror classic. Grad student Helen (Virginia Madsen) is researching folklore when she learns of a number of murders in a near-by housing development attributed to an urban legend. In pursuit of the truth, she summons the Candyman (Tony Todd) himself, and finds herself at the center of his attention.
Candyman is a complicated story about how racism creates violent stories and then forces people to enact them, over and over. On top of that, it’s a great horror movie with evocative urban-decay set pieces, spectacular bee-laden imagery, and a career-defining performance by Todd. This one’s a classic for a reason. —JS
47 Meters Down (2017)
Intended as a direct-to-video lurker, this Mandy-Moore-fends-off-a-shark movie was shipped to theaters after the Blake-Lively-fends-off-a-shark movie success, The Shallows. Instead of being trapped on a rock in the middle of the ocean, Lisa (Moore) and Kate (Pretty Little Liars’ Claire Holt) are trapped… in a cage… underwater. Schlocky? As all hell. With jump (splash?) scares galore, this lean survival story is the kind of B-movie pleasure Sharknado wishes it could be. —MP
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 Snowpiercer train 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. —MP
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
When an untouched body (Olwen Kelly) is found at the scene of a homicide, it’s up to father-and-son coroners Tommy (Brian Cox) and Austin (Emile Hirsch) to find a cause of death. Each step of the autopsy uncovers new and conflicting information; her cloudy eyes suggest a corpse long-dead, but she has no signs of decay. Like every corpse they receive, there’s a story to Jane Doe — but this might be a story that better untold.
There’s gore aplenty (it’s an autopsy, after all) but this is far more than a splatter flick. Cox and Hirsch’s chemistry is key to selling the emotional core of the movie, providing stakes to an otherwise small-scale horror, and ultimately making me cry as much as scream. Director André Øvredal’s masterful work on Trollhunter showed that he can handle dark fantasy, and The Autopsy of Jane Doe proves he’s a master of it. —JS
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. —MP
Is there anything more Halloween-ish than turning every other holiday into a horror-fest? That’s the goal of the anthology film Holidays, and it’s hard to choose which segment is the most successful. Those who liked the unsettling atmosphere of It Follows may be drawn to “Father’s Day,” while monster fans will find terror in “Easter.” From the body horror of “Mother’s Day” to the (literal) torture-porn of “Halloween,” every short, potent story hits its mark and doesn’t overstay its welcome. So even if you don’t like one, another holiday is just around the corner. —JS
The latest from We Are Still Here director Ted Geoghegan teeters on the edge of horror and thriller, but ultimately earns its place on this list by subverting the classic stalked-in-the-woods setup. Set against the War of 1812, the film follows two members of the Mohawk tribe and a rogue British agent, their polyamorous lover, who find themselves the targets of vengeful Americans. While the micro-budget filmmaking might be a turnoff for some, the clever thrills, poignant relationship and bloody finale make this a historical horror flick full of fascinating turns. A studio would never gamble on this story. —MP
The Conjuring (2013)
In the handful of years since its release, The Conjuring has spawned a direct sequel, the spin-off haunted doll series Annabelle, and last year’s new franchise-starter, The Nun. So maybe it’s time to catch up with this one to see what all the fuss is about. A seemly standard story about a haunted house and demonic possession, The Conjuring is an unrepentantly old-school horror in the vein of The Amityville Horror. It balances out a checklist of classic spooks — eerie mirrors, children acting creepy, dark basements — with enough twists to remain engaging and consistently up the levels of intensity throughout. The cast is full of “oh, I know them!” faces, including Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, and horror-veteran Lili Taylor. The cast (and especially Farmiga) turn out excellent performances, which is the key to the movie’s successful thrills; the acting grounds the otherwise familiar tropes. —JS
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. —MP
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. Evil director 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 Evil is a horror-comedy that balances the act. —MP
The Endless (2018)
After escaping a UFO death cult years before, brothers Justin (Justin Benson) and Aaron (Aaron Moorhead) find themselves drawn back after receiving a video that suggests an impending mass suicide. Yet when they arrive, they find their old friends just as they left them, happy and thriving. Aaron is tempted to stay until the third moon rises — an optical illusion, the cult assures — but Justin finds himself harassed by impossible photographs dropped from sky by an unseen senders.
The Endless owes a lot to Lovecraftian horror, without needing to rely on it for more than a head-nod. The mystery unfolds at a satisfying pace and continues to pay off, even after it’s been revealed, and is carried through to some shocking, horrifying places. The film succeeds far past the restraints of its budgets to provide a truly cosmic horror experience. —JS
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 Girls actress 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. —MP
The Similars (2015)
Fans of the original Twilight Zone will find plenty to love in this absolutely bizarre Mexican thriller. A group of strangers are trapped in a bus station by an oncoming hurricane, when things start to go wrong. People begin suffering from epileptic fits, and nobody’s quite sure what’s causing it.
You won’t be sure what’s causing it either, even if you think you do. The Similars layers on peculiar details like there was a sale on plot twists, so it’s hard to describe the plot in any meaningful way; you just have to experience it. Alternating between silly and terrifying, this movie is above all weird, and I can promise you’ll remember this one long after the credits roll. —JS
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. —MP
After social media erupted over horror maven Jason Blum’s notion there aren’t many female horror directors, we’d be remiss not to recommend XX, a horror anthology directed entirely by women. Jovanka Vuckovic, Roxanne Benjamin (Southbound), Karyn Kusama (The Invitation) and Annie Clark aka St. Vincent direct the four main shorts, with the musician-turned-director delivering the most entertaining segment: “The Birthday Party,” in which Castle Rock star Melanie Lynskey discovers a dead party just in time for daughter’s seventh birthday —MP
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 an 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 (Simone Landers), 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. —MP
Green Room (2015)
A punk band finds themselves just desperate enough to perform at a neo-Nazi bar, deep in the woods outside Portland. As they’re leaving after the show, the bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin) stumbles on a dead body. The skinheads lock the band in the green room until the gang’s leader Darcy (Patrick Stewart) orders their execution. From there, the band’s escape attempts get bloodier and riskier as they trade weapons, hostages, and blows with the skinheads.
Green Room is an updated version of the backwoods-family-horror trope. The punk aesthetic comes through in moments of dry humor and believable attitude; The band opens their set with the Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” which goes over with the audience about as expected. That said, the movie is still a polished, high-quality production, with outstanding performances from the full cast, especially Stewart and Alia Shawkat. —JS