There are, of course, hundreds of horror movies available on Netflix Watch Instant, but the vast majority of them are pretty horrendous (and not in the good way). The budgets are low, the acting is awful, and the scares are minimal.
But, there are a few diamonds in the rough; horror movies that few people know about, but deserve to be seen by any self-respecting horror fan. Many of my recommendations are fairly recent, but they can also date as far back as the Silent Era. So, sit on down, pull up your Netflix account, and prepare to be creeped out.
1. THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI– Robert Wiene’s seminal German Expressionist masterpiece about a nefarious showman who blows into town and turns it upside down still retains much of its power today. Film historians will appreciate the effect that this film has had on directors throughout the ages, most notably Tim Burton, whose Edward Scissorhands bears quite a resemblance to Cesare the somnambulist and whose Penguin owes a lot to Caligari himself. The story is effective and creepy, complete with a twist that- like THE USUAL SUSPECTS and THE SIXTH SENSE decades later- will cast everything we’ve just seen in a completely different light. However, what is probably most striking about the film are its visual choices. Like NOSFERATU and METROPOLIS, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI set the standard for unnerving, shadowy, oppressive atmosphere. It takes place in a world we would never want to live in, but can’t turn away from due to its grotesque beauty. It is a horror film that you will not soon forget.
2. ROSEMARY’S BABY– Roman Polanski has made an entire career out of telling stories about paranoia and isolation. CHINATOWN, THE NINTH GATE, REPULSION, even OLIVER TWIST. His films feature characters alone in a hostile world. This is never truer than in ROSEMARY’S BABY, the story of an innocent young housewife named Rosemary who finds herself mixed up with what she thinks is a Satanic cult. Pregnant and with her husband regularly out of the house, Rosemary is reliant on her neighbors and doctor, whose motives and actions become more and more suspicious as the film goes along. When the truth is finally revealed, it is dark, disturbing, and maybe even a little amusing, which is a very unsettling combination.
3. WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE– Before he directed SCREAM, Wes Craven was already feeling rather introspective about his career. Having become the master of horror in the 1980s, Craven felt that there were only so many scares that could be had sincerely. Audiences were getting savvier and most slasher movies were becoming repetitive. So, since horror fans were already pretty comfortable with the rules and expectations of the horror genre, Craven decided to go at it from a different angle. Rather than tell yet another straightforward Freddy Krueger story, he opted to address the cultural phenomenon of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, and do so in a way that assured us that all we think we know isn’t going to save us in the end. Like Freddy himself, true horror is adaptable and will always find a new way to terrify us.
4. RAVENOUS– Antonia Bird’s off-beat period cannibalism film features an eclectic cast of character actors in the middle of nowhere, trying desperately not to eat each other… and not always succeeding. Taking place in the secluded California mountains in the 1850s, the film invokes our knowledge of the doomed Donner Party and their horrific ordeal. Few things can be more disturbing than the necessities of survival, and that bloody kill-or-be-killed mentality is on full display, as wounds are licked, throats are cut, and guts are eaten. It is a manic, insane movie that still manages to have real emotional power, as our “hero” must choose between his sanity and survival.
5. THE OTHERS– With Guillermo Del Toro’s CRIMSON PEAK recently released in theaters, it’s only fair to bring up Alejandro Amenabar’s THE OTHERS, a lush and moody haunted house movie that takes place in a 1940s English country house. An overprotective mother- played with a quickly-unraveling poise by Nicole Kidman- tries to take care of her two young children while their father is fighting in the war. She soon finds that she’s not alone, as creepy noises and ghostly figures flash through the house. The patience with which Amenabar tells his story keeps us on the edge of our seat, finally culminating in a climax that is as revelatory as it is horrifying.
6. TUCKER & DALE vs EVIL– Yes, I recognize it’s a comedy, but Eli Craig’s unhinged film contains just as much blood and gore as any FRIDAY THE 13th film, maybe even a bit more. And, like so many modern horror movies, it’s a film that approaches a conventional horror story from a different angle, making it feel fresh and new. We’ve been taught to believe by WRONG TURN, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, and even DELIVERANCE that it’s the lonely mountain folk that are the biggest threats, but what if the real monsters are those entitled, judgmental college kids, so convinced of their open-mindedness and intellectual superiority? TUCKER & DALE vs. EVIL is funny, grisly, and even has a neat little message for those paying attention.
7. THE AMERICAN SCREAM– A documentary that any true horror fan can appreciate. With the popularity of haunted mazes on the rise, there are some that decide to turn their homes into their own personal houses of horror. We see these people get their families involved, with their small children covered in fake blood and reveling in the opportunity to terrify their peers. And as we follow three men in the same Massachusetts town whose love of Halloween borders on obsessive, we see our own obsession with the macabre reflected back at us. It is funny, touching, and even a bit cautionary.
8. THE BABADOOK– C.S. Lewis once “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” He would have loved Jennifer Kent’s THE BABADOOK, which features a widowed mother trying to raise her weird and annoying son while wrestling with the loss of her husband. Her resentment grows until she is faced with the living embodiment of her grief, a quirky and terrifying creature known as Mister Babadook. The themes of the film are soaked into every frame, as our main characters inhabit a house that is gray and mournful, filled with shadows and cobwebs. When the final showdown happens, we’ve been put through the emotional wringer, feeling alternately terrified and sad and wishing- like the character herself- that we can finally find some peace.
9. THE GUEST– Adam Wingard’s film is part THE STEPFATHER and part THE TERMINATOR. When the mysterious but polite young veteran named David enters the lives of his fallen comrade’s family, he is welcomed with open arms. Their grief and sadness have left a void in their lives that he is only too willing to fill. Played with smoldering charm by Dan Stevens, David even starts to win us over. Not only is he a good-looking guy, but he is also a tremendous badass. And yet we also sense that something’s just not quite right about him; a feeling confirmed by his growing obsession with making his new family’s lives as perfect as can be. By the time the family realizes just what David is, it’s too late and the bodies start piling up. THE GUEST is a fun, tense thriller that takes us back to the 1980s, when thrillers were as unrelenting and paranoid as they come.
10. THE NIGHTMARE– Sleep is meant to be a welcome relief from the stresses of the day; a time when we can be rejuvenated. However, in Rodney Ascher’s documentary THE NIGHTMARE, we learn that, for some, sleep is a thing to be feared. The film documents that phenomenon of sleep paralysis, that surreal state between awake and asleep, in which the mind plays scary tricks on those with the misfortune to suffer from this awful condition. But Ascher wisely goes beyond merely interviewing these people. In an attempt to illicit the viewer’s sympathy for these people, he recreates their visions, often featuring shadowy figures invading their bedrooms and inspecting their bodies. It is a truly harrowing experience, made all the more so because, for many, it is a nightly experience.
So there we have it. Ten films that you can watch on Netflix right now that will put you in the Halloween spirit. Enjoy!