Netflix Horror Picks
for Halloween 2015
Last year, I reviewed a horror movie every day for the month of October. Well, that's not gonna happen again, champ. It was also brought to my attention at the time that many of the films about which I wrote were unavailable to the home viewer. So this time, I am putting you in charge of the watching, because I know you like it that way. There are a ridiculous number of top-drawer horror films on Netflix right now (and some real stinkers) so I have prepared this guide for plenty of options to carry you through All Hallow's Eve.
These are, for my money, the best horror movies on Netflix right now. Most of them should appeal to people who just plain enjoy a good movie, whether or not they're strictly a horror fan -- which isn't to say that these are the milquetoast selections. If you only watch one horror movie on Netflix this Halloween season, make it one of these.
The Babadook - 2014
The Babadook is the boogeyman-type character featured in a mysteriously appearing children's book, which begins to cross over into the life of a potentially disturbed young boy, and his potentially disturbed mother. The Babadook is also an effective metaphor for the lack and loss of control felt by a single mother experiencing the kind of over-her-head moment in life that hides just around the corner for more of us than would care to confess it. The manipulation of parental fears is on par with Dark Water or The Shining. Spooky, intense and scary in some very relatable ways.
The Babadook on Media Bliss
Byzantium - 2012
Director Neil Jordan (Interview with the Vampire) returns to the bloodsucking undead with a very different tale about very different vampires. "Sisters" Gemma Arterton and Saorise Ronan live a repetitious and directionless life, echoing the people that they were when they were alive, yet always running from their past. It's vastly more human than Interview. When I wrote about Byzantium previously, I declared that it was close in the running for my favorite vampire movie ever, and I've only come to hold that view more since then.
Byzantium on Media Bliss
American Mary - 2012
After I first saw American Mary, I went on a raving spree about it. It was an original concept that tapped into some fresh, real, disturbing horror. The one friend whom I know took me up on my suggestion said it was the first time she'd ever cried at a horror movie. After I saw See No Evil 2, the follow-up film by directors The Soska Sisters, I momentarily feared that I'd misjudged American Mary, but another viewing reminded me just how fine a film Mary is. See No Evil 2 is everything wrong with horror. American Mary is everything right.
American Mary on Media Bliss
The Seasoning House - 2012
The Seasoning House is a relentless and brutal film, rooted in real-world horrors. Angel is a captive in a nameless Balkan war sent to a house for sex slaves. Perhaps due to her deafness, and perhaps due to some undefined infatuation on the part of the pimp, she's spared from serving customers. Instead, she's the house servant, forced to give the other girls the drugs that keep them docile and dependent. This thin slice of freedom, coupled with her seeming insignificance afford her the means to fight for her life and freedom when the situation explodes. A misstep in the finale disappoints both the story and the verisimilitude, but not enough to undermine the breakneck tension and the unnerving horrors linger in the conscience.
The Seasoning House on Media Bliss
The Others – 2001
Alejandro Ammenabar's The Others cribs only as much of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw as it needs to saturate the film with all the elements of a classic haunted house film. The story is uncomplicated by the unnecessary. It builds a mystery and suffuses it with spooks, and pays off with a highly effective twist that makes the story a nice complete little gem. One of the top few ghost stories ever.
The Others on Media Bliss
Maybe not quite as delicately prepared as the Choice Cuts, but make up in flavor what they lack in finesse.
Housebound - 2014
Housebound, like Grabbers [below] is an import that recalls the young lions of American cinema in the 1980s. This Kiwi thrillhorror-comedy uses a young woman's house arrest – at her estranged parents' house – as a vehicle for a journey into Hell... or Heck, really. Perhaps a “bloody hell” here or there.
Housebound on Media Bliss
I Saw the Devil – 2010
Bleak, black and brutal, to the point that it either becomes, or reveals that it always was, a savage satire of itself. A strangely brilliant and completely moronic serial killer makes the unlucky mistake of selecting the fiancee of a South Korean special agent, which sets into motion what we assume will be standard (albeit particularly violent) revenge/chase action. When the agent catches the killer early in the second act, it becomes clear that there is much more going on here. What follows is the kind of ode to and indictment of violence and revenge that must have had Quentin Tarantino kicking himself in envy.
I Saw the Devil on Media Bliss
An unexpected collection of elements, twists and embellishments on what is essentially a mystery. Daniel Radcliffe is accused of murdering his true love, and even he can't quite be sure he didn't do it. When he starts growing giant devil's horns, as one does, it could be his damnation, or the key to the truth.
Horns on Media Bliss
Come Back to Me - 2014
The less you know about the story, the better it will be. Seriously, don't even read the blurb on Netflix. I'll just tell you this; it's about a young couple who move into a new home in a recession-ravaged Las Vegas, and then strange and disturbing things start to happen. It's creepy, and then it's really creepy, and then it's OH MY GOD SO CREEPY. If that's something you can deal with, just press Play.
Come Back to Me on Media Bliss
Neverlake - 2012
Jenny is visiting her semi-estranged father in Italy, where he has been studying Etruscan artifacts, particularly those relating certain mysteries about the lake upon which they live. In a ramshackle hospital nearby, she meets a group of children with a variety of mysterious ailments. Nice, creepy haunted mystery.
Neverlake on Media Bliss
Insidious: Chapter 2 - 2013
Insidious 2 requires a familiarity with the first film, which is no longer on Netflix. But if you've seen it and you've been on the fence due to the usual law of diminishing returns with sequels (and horror sequels in particular), then you can probably rest assured. Everybody hates something and everything has someone who hates it, but it is my strongly held opinion that the follow-up is not merely at least as good as the original, but it actually makes the original better by filling in some massive gaps.
Insidious: Chapter 2 on Media Bliss
Teeth – 2007
She has teeth.
Things get... complicated.
Monsters will always have a special place in my heart. Please don't let that be my ironic epitaph.
Monster movies also tend to be some of the most fun, if you ask me, and if you've read this far I am going to take it as implicit that you did.
From Dusk Till Dawn - 1996
This Rodriguez/Tarantino joint is slightly psychotic. It starts out as a brutal crime flick, following a pair of remorseless bank robbers (George Clooney & QT) on the run from a dragnet, and the family of a faithless preacher (Harvey Keitel) on their collision course to a Mexican cantina, just over the border. Then Salma Hayek gives everyone erections, and then the vampires come... from dusk until dawn. Savage, cool, and SO damned fun.
Grabbers - 2012
Speaking of fun, Grabbers recollects the horror/comedies of mid-80s, minus the loudmouth kids. Director Jon Wright backed up my theory with his more recent Robot Overlords, which does bring the kids. In Grabbers, however, an alien invasion of squiggly multipodes requires a more adult solution... a grand piss-up.
Grabbers on Media Bliss
The Host - 2006
This South Korean film about a mutated river creature centers heavily on some sentimental family drama and intense thrills to keep us invested. It's uneven at times and I have some reservations about the last act, but the overall package delivers.
Slashers were never my favorite genre (so take that as you will) but I have come to appreciate them when they do something interesting and/or new with the concept (so take THAT as you will, too).
The story in Maniac isn't really anything new or different, but by doing one other thing differently, it gives the story new meaning. That “one thing” is to show everything through the eyes of a serial killer with a mannequin fetish (Elijah Wood). The viewer is made complicit, no longer as witness, not merely as partner, but possibly as the reason the killing must happen at all.
Saw - 2004
Saw isn't strictly a slasher in the traditional teenage body count way. There is some killing, there is some gore, and there is a sadistic, franchise-spawning costumed killer. Most of all, however, Saw is a brutally intense psychological thriller, predominantly based around two men in a single room. Absolutely worth seeing once. The many sequels become increasingly gore-dependent and nonsensical.
Old School Kicks
If we're going to be perfectly honest with ourselves, there is a definite generational divide in the horror movies of the horror films of today and those of, say, 15 – 20 years past. The technology has changed radically, as have the expectations of a generally more grumpy audience in the 21st century.
But that doesn't mean the old stuff isn't still good.
Wes Craven's New Nightmare - 1994
It's not mere vanity titling that Wes Craven's name leads the title of this very "meta" not-quite-sequel to the Nightmare on Elm Street series he originated. It's Craven's and star-of-Nightmare Heather Langenkamp's dreams. It's an imaginative and entertaining approach to a new kind of nightmare. I like it at least as much as the original, and it makes a nice bridge to Craven's Scream series.
Day of the Dead - 1985
I, personally, am not really a fan of George Romero's original Night of the Living Dead, but I really like the sequels, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. Day of the Dead suffers from a little bit of the 1980s, but the story, satire and zombie effects are still as sharp as ever.
I suppose it was meant to be funny at the time, but it's really funny now. A totally 80s splatterfest adaptation of a Lovecraft story that sort of bridges Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to George Romero's zombies. If you love old school creature effects – and I do – Re-Animator is essential viewing. If you're looking for subtlety, that is simply too damned bad.
Nightbreed - 1990
Nightbreed is adapted by Clive Barker from one of his own books. It's part slasher, part “I'm a vampire?” type relationship drama and a LARGE part monster mash. The monster mash is the part that works. Really works. Netflix is currently hosting the recent Director's Cut, which seems to help, although to be honest I couldn't tell all that big a difference. Like Re-Animator, it's essential for fans of creature effects.
Nightbreed on Media Bliss
The series was a breath of fresh viscera when it came out. The stories become progressively messier, but we get more of the gore and freaky monster effects that we came for while the mythology deepens.
These are getting to be good times for fans of the horror-comedy. There are a few on Netflix already, but you should be able to expect more to come.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil - 2010
Turns the slasher film sideways. If the slow-witted yokels are the good guys, who's the serial killer?
Odd Thomas - 2013
An unexpected combination of romantic comedy supernatural thriller. Thomas can see... things, harbingers of ill tidings. He does what he can to help. But when he sees a lot of things, he's going to have to do a lot more. Not terribly horrific, but certainly has ample thrills and a lot of charm.
The Brass Teapot - 2012
Sort of a “monkey's paw” tale about a couple who discover a cursed teapot that pays cash for pain. To what lengths will they go to give the teapot the ever-increasing “kicks” it needs? To what lengths would others go to possess it?
The Brass Teapot on Media Bliss
Zombeavers - 2014
It is what it is, man.
If you're the kind of person who thinks that sounds funny and you'd like to find out if it is – it is.
If you're the kind who thinks that sounds stupid and you're pretty sure it's something you'd hate – it is.
Zombeavers on Media Bliss
There are a TON of “found footage” horror films made these days. Most of them suck. A few are good. Fewer still are on Netflix, but there are some interesting variations on the style, between these and the V/H/S anthologies.
Troll Hunter- 2010
Researchers is Norway pursue the legendary giant trolls of the northern mountains. A series of set-pieces ramps up the wonder and danger with each expedition. It seems like giants shouldn't work this well, but they totally do.
Troll Hunter on Media Bliss
The Taking of Deborah Logan - 2014
A team making a documentary about Alzheimer's patients encounters a subject whose behavior blurs the line between dementia and demonology. The script bites off a little more than the budget can deliver in the third act, and the “found footage” perspective cheats a lot, but it's a good twist on a haunting/possession with a reasonably well-handled metaphor.
Gonna be passing out the candy on Halloween and want so bite-sized horror to get you through the night? Anthologies bear the blessing and curse of their structure. They can be as bad as their worst piece and as good as their best, but they can also give you a lot of different treats to try, and so what if you get a few pennies?
The ABCs of Death - 2012
The ABCs of Death 2 - 2014
The premise of the ABCs series is that 26 international film makers get one letter of the alphabet, and they have to make a short film about death on a theme beginning with that letter. The results are ALL over the place. Some are incredible. Some are mediocre. Some a totally, completely bug-shaggin' insane. A few are even boring, but at least there will be another one coming at you in about 4 minutes. I prefer ABCs 2 to ABCs 1.
ABCs of Death 2 on Media Bliss
V/H/S - 2012
V/H/S/2 - 2013
V/H/S Viral - 2014
Each V/H/S film collects a group of found footage shorts (presented as mysterious video tapes) from different creative teams, then wraps them together with an overarching story about an unknown evil that collects such videos, and uses them as a conduit to spread evil and terror. My order of preference is Viral > 1 > 2, but I'm not necessarily typical.
VHS on Media Bliss
VHS: Viral on Media Bliss
I Been All Around This Great Big World...
By coincidence (or not, or not really) these international films all feature girls (sort of) who may or may not kill. Or something.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – 2014
Made by Iranian filmmakers in California, AGWHAaN is your best bet for foreign arthouse buffs. It's slow, in a good way. It's spare, in not quite as good a way. I felt held at a distance as a viewer which I'm not really used to and not sure I liked, but maybe I needed that. Despite a great deal of coldness, signs of life are revealed by the end of this tale about the death of more than a vampire's dinner.
Thale – 2012
Another fairly spare tale; this time from Norway. Two hazmat clean-up guys are assigned to clean up a remote cabin in the woods – the scene of a recent, grisly death. They're mostly wrapped up in their personal problems, until they discover a long disused secret laboratory housing a speechless girl in a tub of milk. The mysteries concerning her folkloric origins put them in exactly the kind of dangerous position they were trying to avoid.
Thale on Media Bliss
Let the Right One In - 2008
I'm going to do something I never do. I'm going to go ahead and endorse this even though I haven't seen it yet. Why? Why would I do that? I was very fond of “Let Me In,” the American adaptation of this Swedish film. The original is pretty widely considered to be superior, which doesn't really matter to me, but since it's on Netflix and “Let Me In” isn't, we're working with what we have. The story concerns a young boy who is bullied at school and ignored at home. Then he meets a girl with secrets who tells him that they cannot be friends. The impact that they have on each other will change lives, and not just their own.
I will watch it in October because I'm a pro like that.
Won't Kill You
They're not the top shelf hooch, but they get the job done. Suitable for late night snacking.
Black Death - 2010
One of the things I like about Black Death is being able to tell D&D players, “Go check out what a paladin is really like.” Sean Bean heads up this grim band of knights under warrant of the Church as they escort a friar (Eddie Redmayne) to search for a rumored cure to the plague. The combat is brutal. The story is a little vague about where it's going, if indeed it's going anywhere at times in the middle. But it pays off in the end and packs in a twist that actually serves the story rather than itself.
Kiss of the Damned - 2012
A ridiculously gorgeous vampire wrestles with the implications of a new relationship with a human man, and goes ahead and does it anyway. Just as they are embarking on their new lives together, her unstable and self-serving sister shows up to turn sexy-bitey time into bullshit drama time. I was strongly reminded of KotD whenI saw Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive." They certainly have some similarities, but they take those ideas and run in radically different directions with them, and that's not a bad thing in either case.
Kiss of the Damned on Media Bliss
Haunter - 2013
Abigail Breslin's family doesn't seem to notice much, and she's not sure why. They never change. They never question. They just live the same day over and over again. It's a haunted house story that definitely takes things off in its own direction. It doesn't always work when a movie writes new rules for the supernatural that challenge tradition, but Haunter works well enough to keep the tension and the pace ratcheting up all the way through.
Haunter on Media Bliss
Honeymoon - 2014
There were two very similar films in 2014; Honeymoon and The Device. Honeymoon is the much better one.
A pair of newlyweds decide to spend their honeymoon in her family's vacation cabin. Things get weird and super creepy. The weirdness around them agitates their unresolved anxiety about marriage, but becomes much more. The mystery is better than the payoff, but it does enough things right to make it not a waste of time.
Honeymoon on Media Bliss
These listings were roughly accurate as of the first week of October, 2015 in the United States. I can't promise anything you read here will still be on Netflix at any point past then. The assessments will remain essentially true, although they may compare less favorably to the entirety of horror film history, than they compared to what Netflix had available at that time -- y'all dig?