Well, 2017 is officially flying by and it’s nearly October, a very special time of the year for horror fans. In the weeks leading up to Halloween, we binge-watch as many scary movies as we possibly can to get us in the spirit. We can usually even persuade our friends who don’t like scary stuff to be bold and watch a horror movie or two in the name of being festive.
Here’s some good news: Netflix is currently hosting a virtual library of great horror films, bona fide (old and new) classics of the genre guaranteed to freak you out.
Here are 10 highly recommended and extremely scary horror movies from all over the world that you can watch right now on Netflix:
1. The Babadook (2014)
William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, has famously stated that he’s never seen a more terrifying film in his life than The Babadook. So you’ve been warned, this is not for the faint of heart. Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent‘s critically adored first feature is even better than that, though. Kent uses the mechanics of a horror film to tell a soul-shaking story that will hit you right in the feels. Essie Davis plays a young widow struggling to raise her hyperactive and unmanageable six-year-old son (Noah Wiseman) after her husband is killed in a car accident. She’s already at the end of her rope when a threatening pop-up book announcing the arrival of a murderous top hat-sporting specter named Mister Babadook appears on her son’s bookshelf.
Kent’s film has virtually no onscreen bloodshed or gore, as she’s far more interested in exploring and preying upon the most primal fears of the human mind: spiritual fears like losing a loved one suddenly or being a bad parent, and more tangible, immediate fears like a boogeyman still being able to get to you in your bed even after you’ve pulled your blankets over your head. Soaked with dread from the opening shot and brimming with masterfully staged jolts, The Babadook will frighten the living daylights out of you. Davis and Wiseman give two of the most affecting performances you’re likely to ever see in a movie, and Kent brazenly blurs the line between what’s real and what’s in the characters’ heads in a way that requires us to become active viewers, connecting some of the dots ourselves.
What will stay with you long after the film is over is the emotional gut punch: just under the surface, this is a deftly written and empathetic story about a family working through obstacles like mental illness, depression and debilitating grief– real-life perils that can seem, at times, too scary to even think about. The Babadook is more than a first-rate scare-fest; it’s one of the most confident and distinct debuts by a writer/director so far this century.
2. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
Inspired and ahead of its time, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was perhaps the first “meta” horror movie before meta was even really a thing. This is technically the seventh entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, but it exists within a bubble. The sly thriller is a film within a film, with most of the cast and crew of the previous Nightmare movies and other key figures in the mid-1990’s entertainment industry playing themselves. Heather Langenkamp builds on her performance from the first film in about every possible way here, now playing herself, mother of a young son rethinking her allegiance to a genre full of killing and terror. New Nightmare delivers all the requisite slasher thrills, and it also boldly asks uncomfortable questions about why we enjoy movies like this and the effects they might have on us. Nearly a quarter century after it was released, New Nightmare still stands out.
3. The Wailing (2016)
A gem from South Korea, Hong-jin Na’s sprawling and operatic mind-bender about a demon who terrorizes a small mountain village is many kinds of horror film rolled into one. This is a zombie movie, a ghost story and an exorcism film– and it excels as all of those, but these aren’t just empty thrills. Na is a virtuoso filmmaker; The Chaser (2008) was an instant classic psychological thriller, and The Yellow Sea (2010) is a crime drama that Martin Scorsese would be proud of. With The Wailing, Na has crafted a horror film on a scale that Hollywood rarely even attempts, a lush spectacle that takes its time, develops strong characters, and isn’t afraid to be uncompromisingly weird.
The centerpiece of the film is an exorcism sequence–and if you think you’ve seen every exorcism scene movies have to offer, prepare to be surprised. This is an electrifying cross-cutting of two rituals, a vision of roaring fire, bright colors, music and dancing. It’s a widescreen showstopper that’s unlike anything else in the history of the genre. The Wailing runs just shy of three hours long, but its slow-burn sting is worth your patience. The story is wildly unpredictable, and by the end you’ll feel as if you’re in the clutches of evil, like a cold claw is gripping the back of your neck. A signature of Na’s are his unhappy endings; be warned, this one is pitch black. Na has a mastery over his craft, and it’s only a matter of time before Hollywood starts remaking these films and/or brings him overseas to direct American movies.
4. It Follows (2015)
A cold-blooded nightmare that could inspire an adult to sleep with a nightlight, David Robert Mitchell‘s supernatural thriller about a shapeshifting killer passed around like a curse exudes a blistering, downright oppressive atmosphere of menace. Mitchell throws you off balance from the very beginning in ways you might not even notice: this film is set in no discernible time period, or even a particular season, and certain details in the production design and in character’s actions just don’t make any sense. This is not unlike the method Stanley Kubrick used to make us uneasy throughout The Shining.
There is a quietness, a stillness in It Follows that you won’t find anywhere in contemporary horror hits like Annabelle: Creation or It, which rely heavily on loud noises and jump scares to shake an audience. As artful as it is frightening, It Follows is patient, rewarding perceptive viewers with a uniquely, richly disturbing experience. Many observers believe we are in something of a golden age of horror right now, with ambitious young directors pushing the genre beyond its limits to create meaningful and timeless work. Along with films like The Babadook, Robert Eggers‘ The Witch and Jonathan Glazer‘s Under the Skin, It Follows is a key film in this discussion.
5. Raw (2017) [coming to Netflix Oct. 4]
Julia Ducournau‘s cannibal drama and is so graphic and intense it made grown men faint at the TIFF last year, requiring an ambulance. Horror can always be read as metaphor, and this wickedly clever allegory uses bloody violence and shocking imagery to punctuate a story about a young veterinary student (Garance Marillier) becoming her own person, denying the patriarchy and giving in to her innermost desires. You will love or hate Raw; it’s virtually impossible to have a mixed reaction to a film this confrontational. Ducournau is wildly talented and exhibits tight control in her storytelling– running a mere 98 minutes, Raw is at once punchy and lean, robust and muscular. Though it may not be to everyone’s taste [awful pun, but I couldn’t resist], Raw is the work of a visionary, one of 2017’s most unshakeable and singular cinematic efforts.
6. Under the Shadow (2016)
An exquisitely crafted and thoroughly unnerving chiller, writer/director Babak Anvari‘s feature debut blurs the line between supernatural terror and the horrors of the real world like few films you’ll ever see. Set in 1980’s Tehran during The War of the Cities–the backdrop of Anvari’s own fear-ridden childhood–Narges Rashidi stars as medical student Shideh who is barred from her studies because of her involvement in revolutionary politics. When her husband departs for the front, Shideh is tasked with protecting their young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) as the fighting and bombings escalate around them. It doesn’t look like things can get any bleaker, and that’s when Shideh and Dorsa are haunted by an evil genie.
The performances are powerful, and the filmmaking here is impeccable, evoking a war-torn Iran that is almost suffocating to watch. Anvari grew up in a culture where VCR’s and VHS tapes were illegal, and his debut is made with the kind of passion for film that you can’t put a price tag on. The supernatural scares really work, but they’re never quite as frightening as Shideh’s reality, which seems to be Anvari’s point. Esteemed British film critic Mark Kermode named this small-scale powerhouse the best film of 2016, and it is not to be missed.
7. Train to Busan (2016)
Another slam-dunk from South Korea, Sang-ho Yeon’s Train to Busan is the freshest zombie film in at least a decade. Yoo Gong stars as a selfish workaholic who becomes trapped aboard a speeding train along with his estranged daughter and several strangers during an outbreak. No need to be wary of the subtitles, once Train to Busan gets warmed up, it never relents. Though the film is scary, gross, funny and sad–everything you want a zombie flick to be–it perhaps works best as an action film. Yeon stages set piece after thrilling set piece with kinetic energy and inventiveness that put several American summer blockbusters to shame. The biggest reason the movie clicks is the attention to character; this is a touching and well-acted father-daughter story, only with a lot of blood and guts as an added bonus.
8. The Devil’s Candy (2017)
Remember baby-faced Ethan Embry from Can’t Hardly Wait (1998)? Well, he’s all grown up now, playing a muscular, heavily-tattooed struggling painter who’s really into heavy metal in Sean Byrne‘s vivid thriller. The Devil’s Candy grabs us because it takes time to develop a sympathetic, flawed and relatable family dynamic between Embry and his co-stars Shiri Appleby and Kiara Glasco before all hell breaks loose– quite literally. The “candy” the title is referring to is children, just to give you some idea of what you’re in for. The Devil’s Candy is a lot of fun, well-paced, and it looks amazing, with a vibrant visual aesthetic that is never less than eye-popping. This film’s gifted cinematographer, Simon Chapman also shot Damien Power‘s Killing Ground, another first-rate and visually striking horror thriller from earlier this year.
9. The Invitation (2016)
Let’s face it– we’ve all been to some bad dinner parties, but I sincerely hope you’ve never been to one quite this rough. Logan Marshall Green stars as David, who takes his new girlfriend (Emayatzy Corinealdi) to a get-together at the Hollywood Hills home of his estranged ex-wife (Tammy Blanchard). And then, well I’m not going to tell you any more than that. Karyn Kusama‘s gonzo slow-burn freakout is one of those movies where giving away much of the plot at all would be a disservice. Suffice it to say, something sinister is afoot and everyone–even the luckier ones–has a really lousy night. Blanchard is the standout, playing an outspoken believer in New Age methods of dealing with grief and pain. She never shuts up about how she’s got it all figured out, which of course means she’s a ticking time bomb on the inside. My advice: grab some friends, go into The Invitation completely blind and enjoy the ride.
10. The Sixth Sense (1999)
The rare legendary blockbuster that actually lives up to all of its hype, M. Night Shyamalan‘s ghost story has lost none of its ability to terrify nearly 20 years later. An elegant and skillfully acted white-knuckler worthy of its comparisons to Hitchcock, The Sixth Sense was an international phenomenon because it inspired us to explore the dark corners of our imagination. This film held the top spot at the North American box office for five weeks was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture. If you are one of the seven or eight people out there who don’t know the twist ending, then it’s an emergency– you must watch The Sixth Sense on Netflix right now before anyone spoils it for you. Hurry!
*Quick note: Kubrick’s horror masterpiece The Shining, based on the novel by Stephen King, will be leaving Netflix Oct. 1. If you haven’t seen the film in a while, be sure to check it out while you still can. With Andy Muschietti‘s It currently devouring box office records [as of writing this article, It is the most successful King adaptation at the domestic box office in history, even after adjusting for inflation], it’s fascinating to compare It to Kubrick’s far more mysterious, labyrinthine terror. If you ever feel like you want to have your brain boiled like an egg, Netflix is also streaming Room 237, Rodney Ascher‘s absorbing and eerie 2012 documentary about the myriad of conspiracy theories surrounding The Shining. It’s essentially a 103 minute-long easter egg hunt, but it’s quite convincing and compulsively watchable. You’ll never look at The Shining in the same way again.
Do you plan on checking out any of the films on this list? What horror movies will you be watching this month? What’s the scariest movie you’ve ever seen? Sound off and let us know in the comments!
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