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The 50 Best Horror Movies on Netflix Right Now (Spring 2019)

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To date, 2019 has been a mixed bag as far as the breadth of the Netflix horror library is concerned. 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. At various points last year for instance, Netflix could boast classics The Shining, An American Werewolf in London, Jaws or Young Frankenstein, along with recent indie greats like Starry Eyes, The Descent or The Babadook. All of those films are now gone—typically replaced by low-budget, direct-to-VOD films with suspiciously similar one-word titles, like Demonic, Desolation and Satanic.

Still, there are quality films to be found here, typically of the modern variety, from classics like Poltergeist and The Silence of the Lambs, to more obscure (and disturbing) titles such as A Dark Song or Raw. 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, 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 60 best horror movies on Amazon Prime
The 50 best movies about serial killers
The 50 best slasher movies of all time
The 50 best ghost movies of all time


50. Stake Land 2: The Stakelander
Year: 2016
Director: Dan Berk, Robert Olsen
I am a big fan of Jim Mickle’s 2010 film Stake Land, as its consistent high rankings in this list would attest to, but I can’t say that I was holding out much hope for the belated sequel, which arrived six years later with a TV premiere on SyFy and without input from the previous film’s director and co-writer. Still, Stake Land 2 does manage to bring back the two principal leads, one of whom is the previous film’s co-lead, Nick Damici, and a spark of the original does remain. It can’t quite recapture the bleak beauty and surprisingly effective world-building of the original, as a pair of vampire hunters sojourn across the American west in search of shelter, but it does at least have the benefit of being set in a memorable world. As the previously “scruffy young kid” Martin, Connor Paolo has aged nicely, taking on a believable level of grit. Damici, as in the previous film, is the real highlight, having become even more of a grizzled font of wisdom over the years. It’s all a little reductive, but the production quality is still high enough that it would feel out of place in the DVD bargain bin. —Jim Vorel


49. Velvet Buzzsaw
Year: 2018
Director: Dan Gilroy
With 2014’s chilling and poignant Nightcrawler, writer/director Dan Gilroy and stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo created a morally potent critique of the media’s “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality. Four years later, the same team came back with Velvet Buzzsaw in order to ostensibly skewer the shallowness and materialism of art profiteering, told through a gaudy blend of pretentious b-horror and on-the-nose satire. Nightcrawler’s solidly structured and thematically laser-focused existence makes Velvet Buzzsaw that much of a baffling experience, since what we get from Gilroy here is the exact opposite: A muddled, morally confused, spectacle-over-substance, and worst of all woefully predictable lazy genre rethread with a laughably transparent art house veneer. Hidden underneath Gyllenhaal and Russo’s scenery chewing cartoon versions of highfalutin art expert types, the premise of a mysterious collection of apparently haunted paintings killing all those who try to profit from it presents not much more than a typical slasher flick. Whenever a character is left alone every twenty minutes or so, you can bet they’ll be toast or mince meat in one case literally by the time the scene’s over. One can expect such a flimsy narrative used solely to prop up a series of exuberantly gory horror set-pieces from a medium-grade giallo auteur of the ‘70s, but more cohesive work is expected from the likes of Gilroy and his powerful cast. If you’re a horror fan who’s in it only for the bloody set pieces disconnected from plot or theme, go for it. Others should just watch Nightcrawler twice. —Oktay Ege Kozak


48. I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House
Year: 2016
Director: Osgood Perkins
This somewhat labored ghost story premiered at the Toronto International Film Fest before being picked up by Netflix for distribution, but the festival circuit is really its natural home. A staid, extremely patient haunted house yarn with some intriguing performances, it’s likely to be too slow to be appreciated by bingers on the streaming service. A woman (Ruth Wilson) moves into a creaky old home to serve as live-in nurse for an elderly horror author with dementia (Paula Prentiss), but soon finds herself sucked into the ghost story that makes up the author’s most famous book. Which sounds like a fairly conventional horror movie premise, but it’s the delivery that sets this film apart rather than the summation. Every shot lingers. We glide through the house with minimal, whispered dialog and occasional narration, and although it does build a palpable sense of unease, the payoffs are few and far between. I couldn’t help but be reminded of H.P. Mendoza’s similarly experimental 2012 film I Am A Ghost, which is equally laconic but more visually arresting. I Am the Pretty Thing has grand artistic aspirations of some kind behind it, but has trouble giving them vibrancy. This is a horror film for audiences with solid attention spans. —Jim Vorel


47. Before I Wake
Year: 2016
Director: Mike Flanagan
Director Mike Flanagan seems to have become Netflix’s go-to guy when it comes to directing Original horror movies—see: Hush and Gerald’s Game—and Netflix returned the favor by acquiring and then releasing the somewhat less inspired Before I Wake in 2016. Originally titled Somnia, the film was passed to several potential distributors, and even had in-theater advertising at one point, but its plans for a theatrical release were ultimately scrapped. The story of a young boy (Jacob Tremblay of Room and Wonder) with the unconscious power to manifest his dreams in reality, it draws obvious parallels to Nightmare on Elm Street, but especially to the astral plane-tripping excursions of the Insidious series, without quite having the verve of either. Still, it could be an interesting genre footnote in the career of Tremblay if this kid grows up to be an Oscar-winner someday. —Jim Vorel


46. Life After Beth
Year: 2014
Director: Jeff Baena
Life After Beth is a story of life and love lost and found, starring Aubrey Plaza and Dane DeHaan in a more cellular interpretation of star-crossed lovers. DeHaan plays Zach Orfman, a young man beside himself with grief after the death of his, girlfriend Beth Slocum (Plaza), and for whom her parents (Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly) are his only sources of comfort. Not long after her funeral, he starts to notice some unusual occurrences around town—strange things are afoot at the Circle-K—and Zach discovers that Beth has risen from the grave. His initial reservations about her resurrection are quickly subdued by his tunnel vision of love. But soon he finds she’s not the same as when she left. —Melissa Weller


45. The Village
Year: 2004
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
After the warning shot that was Signs’ batshit ending, The Village was the moment that Hollywood officially began reconsidering all the praise and expectations they had lumped on M. Night Shyamalan. It’s a frustrating film that still has some admirers out there today, mostly for specific elements such as its performances or its lauded soundtrack. William Hurt in particular is really quite good in The Village, but it’s also the point where critics and audiences had caught up to the expectation for Shyamalan-style twist endings. And the “twist” of The Village is so laughably obvious that it recasts your entire perspective of the film—what’s supposed to be a big revelation instead has the viewer saying “Yeah … and ... ?” But there’s no “and”; the film should just jump to a cutaway of the director shrugging at you. It’s like driving across country, only to have your car die 10 miles away from your destination and walking the rest. Or as Roger Ebert said, “To call the ending an anticlimax would be an insult not only to climaxes but to prefixes.” —Jim Vorel


44. Tales of Halloween
Year: 2015
Director: Various
As the title suggests, the film occurs over the course of a single Halloween, settling on one American suburb where ten yarns unfold against a backdrop of festivity. On occasion, the segments intertwine, either through the appearance of recurring characters or references to the aftermath of preceding material. Each short is as different in content as in style: “Sweet Tooth,” by Dave Parker, follows the tried-and-true method of the cautionary tale, while Axelle Carolyn’s “Grimm Grinning Ghost” sticks to the “vengeful ghost” paradigm with considerable success. Meanwhile, Darren Lynn Bousman keeps tongue firmly in cheek with “The Night Billy Raised Hell”; Neil Marshall skewers cop shows and cheesy monster flicks with “Bad Seed”; Mike Mendez blows kisses at slasher fare with “Friday the 31st”; Adam Gierasch corrals murderous kids in “Treat”; Paul Solet tells a tale of hellbound revenge with “The Weak and the Wicked”; the typically reliable Lucky McKee slips into incoherence with “Ding Dong”; Ryan Schifrin gets demonic in “The Ransom of Rusty Rex”; and, finally, Andrew Kasch teams with John Skipp to show what happens when home haunters clash in “This Means War.” Every viewer will have their favorite story in anthology horror comedy Tales of Halloween. Half the fun of films like this lies in arguing with friends over which narrative is best, after all, and while there are clear standouts among the pack, the real pleasure of Tales of Halloween is the ride rather than the destination: For as long as you’re held in the movie’s thrall, you’ll be celebrating Halloween. There’s something here for everybody, whether you prefer your horror goofy or gory, but no matter your tastes, it’s the film’s love of Halloween—not to mention its general dedication to practical effects over CGI—that makes it worth attending. —Andy Crump


43. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
Year: 2006
Director: Jonathan Levine
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a pseudo-slasher that falls somewhere in the middle ground between Scream, Carrie and Friday the 13th, incorporating a certain ‘70s grindhouse sensibility along the way that might occasionally remind one of The Hills Have Eyes or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was an early starring vehicle for Amber Heard, who is appealing as the “sweet young thing” who is considerably more twisted than meets the eye. The film veers away from classical slasher in the sense that the kills are more on the realistic side than the cartoonish, although the latter might actually have made it more memorable. As is, there’s nothing particularly wrong here—a certain lack of unique ideas, certainly, but a competently executed high school horror story that will feel comfortably familiar, right down to its third-act twist. You’ve been here before, but you probably won’t regret stopping by again. —Jim Vorel


42. Jaws 2
Year: 1978
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Jaws 2, even more than most sequels, suffers in comparison to the original classic it follows despite being a competent film in its own right. It was a different time in film promotion—even for a blockbuster, a sequel wasn’t a forgone conclusion, and even then you weren’t likely to be working with a comparable budget. Jaws 2 didn’t hurt for funding, but it did miss the presence of Steven Spielberg, whose empathy and pathos for everyman characters can’t quite be replicated, even by the returning cast. Too many aspects of Jaws 2 simply ring hollow—would it really be THAT hard to convince local government and law enforcement that another shark was around, only a couple of years after the events of the first film? Must we really spend our time with the townspeople demonizing poor Brody for trying to bring this shark business to the forefront once again? Still, the grisly shark attack scenes of Jaws 2 (especially the iconic waterskiing bit, or the shark-destroyed helicopter) are much closer to being on par with the original, and they vastly outstrip the shoddy, budget-limited dreck in Jaws 3-D or Jaws: The Revenge. On its own, Jaws 2 is perfectly serviceable … but it’s the last entry in the series you could ever describe as such, and the last worthwhile “shark movie” released for a decade or more. —Jim Vorel


41. Would You Rather
Year: 2012
Director: David Guy Levy
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


40. Extraordinary Tales
Year: 2013
Director: Raul Garcia
There is so much bargain bin, straight-to-VOD horror trash streaming on Netflix that it’s all too easy for something like Extraordinary Tales to go completely unnoticed. This anthology of animated, narrated stories by Edgar Allen Poe may be uneven in terms of quality, but dammit if it’s not far more artistically interesting than another found footage horror turd that was shot in the course of a weekend in Bulgaria. Extraordinary Tales is remarkable for the level of talent the filmmakers were able to bring on as narrators or voice actors: Christopher Lee, Guillermo Del Toro, Julian Sands and Roger Corman, reprising his own interest in Poe that led him to direct films such as House of Usher and The Raven in the ’60s. There’s even a unique rendition of The Tell-Tale Heart that is narrated via archival recordings by Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi! Each story is likewise presented in a different style of animation, but for the sheer novelty of hearing Christopher Lee perform “The Fall of the House of Usher,” or the attractive animation of “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” Extraordinary Tales is worthy of attention. —Jim Vorel


39. As Above, So Below
Year: 2014
Director: John Erick Dowdle
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 would meet the eye. 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, as the camera crew confronts their own 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


38. I Know What You Did Last Summer
Year: 1997
Director: Jim Gillespie
It’s sort of ironic that writer Kevin Williamson followed up Scream (no, Wes Craven didn’t actually write the screenplay for Scream), the film that revitalized the tired slasher genre in 1996 by examining its tropes and cliches, by writing a true-to-form, classical, ’80s-style slasher, but that’s exactly what he did. Whereas Scream sets out to reinvent—or more accurately, wink at—the wheel, I Know What You Did Last Summer had no such grand ambitions in mind. This is instead a movie made to capitalize on the former, although it does so with style. In truth, it seems heavily inspired by slashers in the mold of Prom Night in particular, wherein the guilty parties in an old crime are hunted down one by one. As for the cast, it’s just about the most ’90s assemblage in horror history, from Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jennifer Love Hewitt to Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prinze Jr., each more perfectly coiffed than the last. Even the famous chase scene of Prom Night gets revisited, but even more than was true in the ’80s, the true purpose of the film is to show off its nubile young cast of budding stars. It’s fun as a time capsule—perhaps more fun now than it was in 1997, truth be told—but it will always find itself in Scream’s shadow. —Jim Vorel


37. Little Evil
Year: 2017
Director: Eli Craig
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


36. From Dusk Till Dawn
Year: 1996
Director: Robert Rodriguez 
I can’t help but wonder, watching From Dusk Till Dawn, what the film might have looked like if Robert Rodriguez wrote it as well, rather than Quentin Tarantino. Would the Mexican vampire element have been introduced before the halfway mark? Probably. But there’s Tarantino for you, not content to tell one story—instead, he delivers what almost becomes two entirely separate movies starring the same characters. In the first half we get a crime dramedy about a pair of sociopathic brothers on the lam, taking hostages down the Mexico. When they finally get there, the switch flips and it turns into a gory vampire western. Both halves are entertaining in their own way, although genre purists who went in expecting a vampire film were probably perplexed by the lead-in to the payoff. That payoff is satisfyingly pulpy, though, and there’s a certain pleasure in going back to see the earlier era of George Clooney, when he thought the idea of fighting Mexican vampires seemed like a good career move. —Jim Vorel


35. 1922
Year: 2017
Director: Zak Hilditch
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 insists on selling the land she’s inherited rather than work it, Jane’s unsophisticated field hand harangues their son 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 solid, 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. —Ken Lowe


34. Cult of Chucky
Year: 2017
Director: Don Mancini
The Child’s Play series has managed the supremely rare accomplishment of actually improving itself in its direct-to-video era, clawing its way up from the abyss that was the Seed of Chucky days with its last two installments, Curse and Cult of Chucky. This latest, the seventh in the series, is possibly the best since Child’s Play 2, weaving together a complex web of characters from the history of the series. The voodoo mumbo-jumbo at the heart of the plot has gotten more fiendishly complicated than ever, resulting in not one but a small army of Chucky dolls, each containing the soul of Brad Dourif’s iconic serial killer, Charles Lee Ray. Stark and futuristic-feeling, the film is set in a brilliantly white-toned mental health institution, where recovering hero Nica (Dourif’s daughter, Fiona Dourif) must grapple with the legacy of Chucky, while also bringing original hero Andy Barclay back into the fold. This Chucky is certainly a return to the original film in many respects, especially in its depraved attitude and copious amounts of gore. And unlike Curse of Chucky, most of the FX are rendered practically, to boot. Ultimately, Cult is a far better entry than you could ever hope for in the seventh film of a horror franchise, and it should be commended for that. Don Mancini never says “die” with this series, it would seem. —Jim Vorel


33. Verónica
Year: 2017
Director: Paco Plaza
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 that certain Twitter users have been making it out to be. —Jim Vorel


32. The Babysitter
Year: 2017
Director: McG
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 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’ 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. The Babysitter’s character chemistry actually justifies a second go-round, which I’d be happy to watch. —Jim Vorel


31. Ravenous
Year: 2017
Director: Robin Aubert
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


30. The Devil’s Candy
Year: 2015
Director: Sean Byrne
The set-up of The Devil’s Candy—Australian filmmaker Sean Byrne’s follow-up to his 2009 Carrie meets Texas Chain Saw Massacre riff The Loved Ones—suggests a cross between the haunted house and serial killer subgenres. The movie centers on a child murderer, Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince), escaping the house that Jesse (Ethan Embry), his wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and his daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) subsequently move into, not fully aware of the extent of the supernatural horrors contained within. And with Ray first seen playing loud chords on an electric guitar to drown out the voices in his head, and with Jesse characterized as a long-haired artist with a predilection for heavy metal, the film initially appears like it will play around with that connection between metal music and devil worship, with which many have often decried that particular musical genre. The Devil’s Candy turns out to be more complicated than all that, though, in ways that are genuinely fascinating. Byrne’s film turns out to be less about heavy metal or even Satanism than about the psychological perils of artistic obsession. What makes The Devil’s Candy work beyond its allegorical ambitions is its refreshing attention to characterization, to the point where you respond to the people on screen as flesh-and-blood human beings rather than just cannon fodder. Much credit for this goes not only to director Byrne’s writing, but to actor Ethan Embry, who imbues Jesse with equal parts sensitivity and a machismo that can occasionally veer into the terrifyingly imposing. Beyond just his fondness for heavy metal and his shoulder-length hair, he’s completely credible as both loving father and obsessive artist. Embry’s scenes with an equally terrific Glasco, especially, exude a warmth that makes those demon-possessed moments in which he fails his daughter even more heartbreaking. The Devil’s Candy is as much about one father’s paternal anxieties as it is about an artist teetering on the edge of losing his soul. It is, in other words, the kind of horror film that transcends genre and reaches that rare but exalted sweet spot of touching on genuine human fears. —Kenji Fujishima


29. The Ritual
Year: 2017
Director: David Bruckner
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


28. Cam
Director: Daniel Goldhaber
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—and we all are—is to the cold, brutal, indifferent violence of this online world we’ve built for ourselves. —Dom Sinacola


27. Under the Shadow
Year: 2016
Director: Babak Anvari
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


26. Cargo
Year: 2018
Directors: Yolanda Ramke, Ben Howling
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

25. The Void
Year: 2016
Directors: Steven Kostanski, Jeremy Gillespie
Viewers should grade writer-directors Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie’s The Void on a curve: While the low-budget Canadian production earns an “A” for ambition, its mélange of The Thing-inspired body horror, ‘80s nostalgia and Lovecraftian cosmic terror doesn’t quite cohere into a satisfying whole by the time its chief antagonist peels away his skin to reveal a bodysuit that looks like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’ Lord Zedd. The first half of the film demonstrates much more restraint, building tension as triangle-branded cultists isolate a mismatched group of (mostly) innocent people—led by Aaron Poole as an out-of-his-depth small-town cop—in a (mostly) vacant hospital. Kotanski and Gillespie build in too many potentially conflicting twists—who, exactly, is impregnated with what?—but the grotesque practical effects and descent-into-Hell structure at times pass for a solid Silent Hill adaptation. Some of horror’s most recent, popularly memorable features (say: It Follows, The Babadook) have wisely employed relatively narrow scopes. Instead, The Void attempts to push audiences into another dimension, but manages at least a few successful frights along the way. —Steve Foxe


24. Hush
Year: 2016
Director: Mike Flanagan
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


23. XX
Year: 2017
Directors: Roxanne Benjamin, Annie Clark, Karyn Kusama, Jovanka Vuckovic, Sofia Carrillo
It’s important that the scariest segment in XX, Magnet Releasing’s women-helmed horror anthology film, is also its most elementary: Young people trek out into the wilderness for fun and recreation, young people incur the wrath of hostile forces, young people get dead, easy as you please. You’ve seen this movie before, whether in the form of a slasher, a creature feature, or an animal attack flick. You’re seeing it again in XX in part because the formula works, and in part because the segment in question, titled “Don’t Fall,” must be elementary to facilitate its sibling chapters, which tend to be anything but. XX stands apart from other horror films because it invites its audience to feel a range of emotions aside from just fright. You might, for example, feel heartache during Jovanka Vuckovic’s “The Box,” or the uncertainty of dread in Karyn Kusama’s “Her Only Living Son,” or nauseous puzzlement with Sofia Carrillo’s macabre, stop-motion wraparound piece, meant to function as a palate cleanser between courses (an effectively unnerving work, thanks to its impressive technical achievements). Most of all, you might have to bite your tongue to keep from laughing uncontrollably during the film’s best short, “The Birthday Party,” written and directed by Annie Clark, better known by some as St. Vincent, in her filmmaking debut. XX is a horror movie spoken with the voices of women, a necessary notice that women are revolutionizing the genre as much as men. —Andy Crump


22. Mohawk
Year: 2017
Director: Ted Geoghegan
Where Geoghegan angles his focus inward in We Are Still Here, telling a story of a family struggling to recover from unspeakable loss, here he aims it toward extinction-level warfare. He doesn’t sacrifice intimacy in that perspective shift, of course: He couches Mohawk in the tender and genuinely moving love triangle between Joshua, Calvin and Oak, in its closed quarters setting, in Geoghegan’s up-close stylized violence and most of all in the relationships drawn between parents and their children. Oak loses her mother early on. Holt loses his son. Those losses feed vengeful desires while humanizing these characters and validating their humanity. If Holt is a nationalist bastard, he’s still a person. We empathize with him, though we’re never given a reason to forgive him. He represents a particular and sadly relevant kind of evil. Mohawk’s time and place keep its political implications from striking as too obvious, but suffice to say that for a period movie driven by cultural xenophobia, it’s tragically contemporary. —Andy Crump


21. Apostle
Year: 2018
Director: Gareth Evans
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


20. Gerald’s Game
Year: 2017
Director: Mike Flanagan
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 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


19. Mad Ron’s Prevues From Hell
Year: 1987
Director: Jim Monaco
This film represents everything missing from the horror selection on Netflix streaming. I seriously have no idea how it made its way into the collection, but Mad Ron’s Prevues From Hell is essentially a feature-length collection of vintage, ’70s-era grindhouse horror trailers. They’re presented in a crumbling theater by Nick, a nebbish-looking ventriloquist accompanied by an annoying puppet named Happy. “Mad Ron” is the projectionist, if you were wondering. What follows is the weirdest jumble of silly puppet shtick and super violent, gory trailers you’ve ever seen. Seriously, it’s trailers for the likes of I Drink your Blood and Blood Splattered Bride and I Dismember Mama, followed immediately by bad ventriloquist hijinks and zombie audience members pouring blood on their popcorn. The whole thing feels like something Netflix added completely by accident, and I sit here desperately hoping they don’t realize their mistake. The actual meat of the content is the trailers, and there’s some wonderfully, horribly icky stuff, all reminders of the kinds of films you’ll never see on this streaming service. It would be a great movie to put on during a Halloween party, provided your guests have very strong constitutions. —Jim Vorel


18. Creep 2
Year: 2017
Director: Patrick Brice
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


17. Green Room
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
What’s perhaps most refreshing in Green Room is writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s lack of interest in the kind of moralizing that made his last film, Blue Ruin, ultimately seem conventional. Instead, Saulnier simply presents us this nutty scenario without feeling the need to lard it up with anything as cumbersome as topical commentary or moral ambiguity. He proceeds to wring as much tension and suspense from its pulpy retro plot as possible, adding a few entertaining grace notes along the way, which can best be seen in its performances. In the ensemble-based Green Room, Saulnier revels in the contrasts of personalities and styles: band bassist Pat’s (Anton Yelchin) Bill Paxton-like desperation, for instance, set alongside the weary, near-drugged-out deadpan of Amber (Imogen Poots), a friend of the woman whose murder sets off the film’s violent chain of events; or the imperial calm of Darcy (Patrick Stewart), the ruthless leader of the band of white supremacists who attempt to kill Pat, Amber and the rest. It’d be a stretch to call these characters three-dimensional, but nevertheless, under Saulnier’s writing and direction, they all manage to stand out just enough as individuals for us to become emotionally involved in their fates. Meanwhile, Saulnier supports these characters and plot turns with filmmaking that is remarkable for its economy and patience. D.P. Sean Porter gets a lot of mileage out of the cramped quarters and grimy lighting of the bar, lending its wide (2.35:1) frames an appropriately nightmarish feel amidst many suspenseful set pieces. In those ways, the lean, mean Green Room stands as one of the best B-movie genre exercises in many years. —Kenji Fujishima


16. The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Year: 2016
Director: André Øvredal
Men don’t understand women. It’s the oldest cliché in comedy, in psychology, in nearly every book Dave Barry has ever written, in men’s and women’s health magazines alike. In André Øvredal’s The Autopsy of Jane Doe, the cliché is no less clichéd, but he does appropriate it for use in a powerful metaphor for male blindness to female traumas: The film is about a woman’s invisible suffering, the kind experienced beneath her exterior and which men can neither see nor comprehend, even when they have the benefit of being able to literally peel back her layers. You can probably guess from the title exactly what layers are being peeled, which is to say that you’ll know right off the bat whether The Autopsy of Jane Doe is for you or not. What you won’t discover without watching the film is the source of Jane’s anguish, though by the time Øvredal is done with us, you may wish you’d never looked close enough to learn for yourself. —Andy Crump


15. The Invitation
Year: 2016
Director: Karyn Kusama
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. 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


14. The Endless
Year: 2017
Director: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Brotherhood’s a trip. Just ask Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, the horror filmmaking duo responsible for 2012’s Resolution, the “Bonestorm” segment in 2014’s VHS: Viral, and, in the same year, the tender creature romance Spring. Their latest, The Endless, is all about brotherhood couched in unfathomable terror of Lovecraftian proportions. The movie hinges on the petulant squabbles of boys, circular arguments that go nowhere because they’re caught in a perpetual loop of denial and projection. If the exchanges between its leads can be summed up in two words, those words are “no, you.” Boys will be boys, meaning boys will be obstinate and stubborn to the bitter end. Though, in The Endless, the end is uncertain, but maybe the title makes that a smidge obvious. Brothers Aaron and Justin Smith (played, respectively, by Moorhead and Benson, who gel so well as brothers that you’d swear they’re secretly related) were once members of a UFO death cult before escaping and readjusting to life’s vicissitudes: They clean houses for a living, subsist primarily on ramen, and rely so much on their car that Aaron’s repeated failure to replace the battery weighs on both of them like the heavens on Atlas’ shoulders. Then, out of the blue, they receive a tape in the mail from their former cultists, and at Aaron’s behest they revisit Camp Arcadia, the commune they once called home. Not all is well here: Bizarre bonelike poles litter Arcadia’s outskirts, flocks of birds teleport from one spot to another in the time it takes to blink, Aaron and Justin keep having weird déjà vu moments, and worse: There’s something in the lake, a massive, inky, inexplicable presence just below the surface. (Its image is only seen on camera once, but once is enough to make an impression.) Woven through the film’s eldritch dread are Moorhead and Benson. Their characters are locked in a cosmic struggle with a nameless adversary, but the narrative’s gaze is focused inward: On the Smiths, on brothers, on how far a relationship must stretch before it can be repaired. Intimacy is a staple element of Moorhead and Benson’s filmograpy. Here, the intimacy is fraternal, which perhaps speaks to how Moorhead and Benson feel about each other. They may not be brothers themselves, but you can’t spend your career making movies with the same person over and over again without developing an abiding, unspoken bond with them. —Andy Crump


13. The Nightmare
Year: 2015
Director: Rodney Ascher
In my own personal estimation, this is one of the most frightening movies on Netflix right now, and one of the most unsettling documentaries I’ve ever seen. Yes, it’s a documentary, from Rodney Asher, director of the similarly horror-themed doc Room 237. The simple structure of this documentary involves in-depth interviews with eight people who all suffer from some form of sleep paralysis as they describe the horrifying visions they encounter on a nightly basis. It’s equal parts tragic and chilling to hear how the condition has made their nighttime hours into a living hell, and legitimately frightening to watch those scenes reenacted. On the other hand, the documentary is frustrating at times for not asking or answering what seem like fairly obvious questions, i.e. does medication aid with these sleep paralysis episodes? Have any of the subjects of the documentary ever been studied in an overnight sleep study? Etc. Personally, this is a fear I’ve always dreaded experiencing, so if you’re anything like me, you’ll agree with the subject who describes the terror as “the kind of horror that is worse than movies.” If you’re going to watch this documentary, you don’t want to do it before falling asleep. —Jim Vorel


12. Creep
Year: 2014
Director: Patrick Brice
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


11. The Conjuring
Year: 2013
Director: James Wan
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


10. The Sixth Sense
Year: 1999
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Featuring great performances by Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment, along with a legitimately chilling atmosphere, The Sixth Sense was nothing short of a phenomenon when it hit multiplexes in 1999. Critical examination aside, it truly is a frightening film, from the scene where Cole is locked in a box with an abusive ghost to the little moments (I always found the scene where all the kitchen cabinets and drawers open at once while off-screen to be particularly effective). For better or worse, though, this is the defining film of M. Night Shyamalan’s career, and its success was a double-edged sword: It bestowed the “brilliant young director” label on him, but also pigeonholed his personal style as a writer to the extent that his next five features at least were all reshaped by the aftershocks of The Sixth Sense. Rarely has the danger of success been so clearly illustrated for an artist—Shyamalan crafted a scary film that still holds up today, and then spent most of the next decade chasing that same accomplishment with rapidly diminishing returns that have only recently been rehabilitated with the likes of Split. —Jim Vorel


9. The Wailing
Year: 2016
Director: Na Hong-jin
The U.S. title of Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing suggests tone more than it does sound. There is wailing to be heard here, and plenty of it, but in two words Na coyly predicts his audience’s reaction to the movie’s grim tableaus of a county in spiritual strife. Though The Wailing ostensibly falls in the “horror” bin, Na trades in doubt and especially despair more than in what we think of as representing the genre. He isn’t out to terrify us—he’s out to corrode our souls, much in the same way that his protagonist’s faith is corroded after being subject to both divine and infernal tests over the course of the film. You may not leave the film scared, but you will leave it scarred, which is by far a more substantive response than naked fear. —Andy Crump


8. Train to Busan
Year: 2016
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Love them or hate them, zombies are still a constant of the horror genre in 2016, dependable enough to set your conductor’s watch by. And although I’ve probably seen enough indie zombie films at this point to eschew them from my viewing habits for the rest of my life, there is still usually at least one great zombie movie every other year. In 2016, that was Train to Busan, a film that I sadly hadn’t yet seen when I wrote the 50 Best Zombie Movies of All Time. There’s no need for speculation: Train to Busan would undoubtedly have made the list. This South Korean story of a career-minded father attempting to protect his young daughter on a train full of rampaging zombies is equal parts suspenseful popcorn entertainment and genuinely affecting family drama. It concludes with several action elements that I’ve never seen before, or even considered for a zombie film, and any time you can add something truly novel to the genre of the walking dead, then you’re definitely doing something right. With a few memorable, empathetic supporting characters and some top-notch makeup FX, you’ve got one of the best zombie movies of the past half-decade. —Jim Vorel


7. Poltergeist
Year: 1982
Director: Tobe Hooper
They’re heeeeeeeeeere… Steven Spielberg’s first big success in the producer’s chair (and notionally directed by Tobe Hooper) was released concurrently with ET: The Extraterrestrial and could arguably be seen as the dark side of a dyad about alienation in suburbia. Nonetheless, it retains the Spielberg Feel Good Stamp even as a horror film. The Freelings are a “typical” unassuming middle class family living in a peaceful suburb that becomes not-so-peaceful as the house is caught in the grip of supernatural disturbances. The pet canary dies. There are bizarre weather events. Youngest-kid Carol Ann (Heather O’Rourke) stands entranced in front of the TV in one of the most iconic moments in horror film history, lit by a mysterious beam of green light while the room begins to shake. As Carol Ann is repeatedly drawn to the television, where she begins to talk to “the TV people,” and eventually gets sucked into a dimensional vortex in the closet, father Steve (Craig T. Nelson) consults parapsychologist Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight). Lesh finds she’s in over her head and calls for an exorcist. The anatomization of the “happy family” is lavishly paced, making the ensuing horror all the more vivid. Not the deepest movie ever made, certainly, but an enduring classic of the genre, a highly detailed take on the “unassuming regular-Joe family savaged by invisible menace” trope, and still pretty damn creepy. —Amy Glynn


6. A Dark Song
Year: 2016
Director: Liam Gavin
In Liam Gavin’s black magic genre oddity, Sophia (Catherine Walker), a grief-stricken mother, and the schlubby, no-nonsense occultist (Steve Oram) she hires devote themselves to a long, meticulous, painstaking ritual in order to (they hope) communicate with her dead son. Gavin lays out the ritual specifically and physically—over the course of months of isolation, Sophia undergoes tests of endurance and humiliation, never quite sure if she’s participating in an elaborate hoax or if she can take her spiritual guide seriously when he promises her he’s succeeded in the past. Paced to near perfection, A Dark Song is ostensibly a horror film but operates as a dread-laden procedural, mounting tension while translating the process of bereavement as patient, excruciating manual labor. In the end, something definitely happens, but its implications are so steeped in the blurry lines between Christianity and the occult that I still wonder what kind of alternate realms of existence Gavin is getting at. But A Dark Song thrives in that uncertainty, feeding off of monotony. Sophia may hear phantasmagorical noise coming from beneath the floorboards, but then substantial spans of time pass without anything else happening, and we begin to question, as she does, whether it was something she did wrong (maybe, when tasked with not moving from inside a small chalk circle for days at a time, she screwed up that portion of the ritual by allowing her urine to dribble outside of the boundary) or whether her grief has blinded her to an expensive con. Regardless, that “not knowing” is the scary stuff of everyday life, and by portraying Sophia’s profound emotional journey as a humdrum trial of physical mettle, Gavin reveals just how much pointless, even terrifying work it can be anymore to not only live the most ordinary of days, but to make it to the next. —Dom Sinacola


5. The Haunting of Hill House
Year: 2018
Director: Mike Flanagan
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


4. Raw
Year: 2016
Director: Julia Ducournou
If you’re the proud owner of a twisted sense of humor, you might tell your friends that Julia Ducournau’s Raw is a “coming of age movie” in a bid to trick them into seeing it. Yes, the film’s protagonist, naive incoming college student Justine (Garance Marillier), comes of age over the course of its running time; she parties, she breaks out of her shell, and she learns about who she really is as a person on the verge of adulthood. But most kids who come of age in the movies don’t realize that they’ve spent their lives unwittingly suppressing an innate, nigh-insatiable need to consume raw meat. “Hey,” you’re thinking, “that’s the name of the movie!” You’re right! It is! Allow Ducournau her cheekiness. More than a wink and nod to the picture’s visceral particulars, Raw is an open concession to the harrowing quality of Justine’s grim blossoming. Nasty as the film gets, and it does indeed get nasty, the harshest sensations Ducournau articulates here tend to be the ones we can’t detect by merely looking: Fear of feminine sexuality, family legacies, popularity politics, and uncertainty of self govern Raw’s horrors as much as exposed and bloody flesh. It’s a gorefest that offers no apologies and plenty more to chew on than its effects. —Andy Crump


3. Se7en
Year: 1995
Director: David Fincher 
It’s hard to think of a ’90s movie that did more short-term damage to the length of your fingernails than David Fincher’s Se7en. Sticking close to detectives David Mills (Brad Pitt) and almost-retired William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) on the trail of John Doe, a murderer who plans his kills around the seven deadly sins, the film allows us to watch Somerset teach a still-naive Mills valuable life lessons around the case, which has morally charged outcomes aimed at such victims as a gluttonous man and a greedy attorney. For all the disturbing crime scenes considered, Se7en’s never as unpredictable or emotionally draining as in its infamous finale, in which Mills and Somerset discover “what’s in the box” after capturing their man. —Tyler Kane


2. The Witch
Year: 2016
Director: Robert Eggers
From its first moments, The Witch strands us in a hostile land. We watch (because that’s all we can do, helplessly) as puritan patriarch William (Ralph Ineson) argues stubbornly with a small council, thereby causing his family’s banishment from their “New England” community. We watch, and writer-director Robert Eggers holds our gaze while a score of strings and assorted prickly detritus. The wagon lurches ever-on into the wilderness, piling the frontier of this New World upon the literal frontier of an unexplored forest. It’s 1620, and William claims, “We will conquer this wilderness.” Eggers’ “New England Folk Tale” is a horror film swollen with the allure of the unknown. To say that it’s reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials, which take place 70 years after the events in the film, would be an understatement—the inevitable consequences of such historic mania looms heavily over The Witch. All of this Eggers frames with a subconscious knack for creating tension within each shot, rarely relying on jump scares or gore, instead mounting suspense through one masterful edit after another. The effect, then, is that of a building fever dream in which primeval forces—lust, defiance, hunger, greed—simmer at the edges of experience, avoided but never quite conquered. —Dom Sinacola


1. The Silence of the Lambs
Year: 1991
Director: Jonathan Demme
The camera hugs her face, maybe trying to protect her, though she needs no protection, and maybe just trying to see into her, to see what she sees, to understand why seeing what she sees is so important. Not even 30, Jodie Foster looks so much younger, surrounded in The Silence of the Lambs by men who tower over her, staring at her, flummoxed by her, perhaps wanting to protect her too, but more likely, more ironically, intimidated by a world that would allow such a fragile creature agency, that would let her freely wander the domain of monsters. As Clarice Starling, FBI agent-in-training, Foster holds her performance in suspension, an innocent who’s seen more than any of us could ever imagine, and a warrior who seems unsure of her prowess. That Jonathan Demme—a director who came up under the tutelage of Roger Corman; a journeyman capable of helming the greatest concert film ever made (Stop Making Sense) as adroitly as a screwball thriller/rom-com (Something Wild), adopting then immediately shedding genres at whim—corners Starling within the confines of a “Woman in Peril,” only to watch her shrug off every label thrown at her, is a testament to The Silence of the Lambs as a feminist masterpiece, not because it so thoroughly inhabits a female point of view, but because its violence and fear is clearly the stuff of masculine toxicity. Demme’s film is only the second to adapt Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter novels to the screen (the first being Michael Mann’s hyper-stylized Manhunter, a brutal dream unto itself), but it’s the first to draw undeniable lines between the way men see Clarice Starling and the way that serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) projects his neuroses onto his victims.

Harris obviously has a fascination with the idea of “seeing” and how that manifests maliciously in those whose self-perception is already mangled by traumatic experiences, but Demme’s film is the only iteration of Harris’s stories which links seeing to transformation to one’s need to consume, all pursued through a gendered lens, represented by the seemingly omniscient perspective of Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a borderline asexual cannibal who literally consumes those over whom he holds court. Buffalo Bill is a monster, and so is Lecter, but the difference is that Lecter does not attempt to possess Clarice Starling, though he sees her, because he is past transformation, is in control of that which he consumes. Buffalo Bill isn’t, because as a man he believes that by consuming femininity he can become it, too stupid and too self-absorbed to realize that to consume it is to delete that femininity—to admit that the world is a dangerous, predatory place, and that to protect a woman is only a matter of admitting that the World of Men is a weak and evil failure of the very ideals it strives to preserve. —Dom Sinacola

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