Cool air in the evenings, pumpkins on doorsteps, and Spirit of Halloween stores everywhere you look. Yes, it is the most wonderful time of the year for a certain set of us who like our weather settings left at “autumnal” and our genre of choice to be on the spooky side of things.
With that in mind, one of the most pleasurable things to do each October is curl up with a good horror movie and feel the goosebumps gather on the back of your neck. But how do you know if something is a good horror movie, exactly? You watch it for yourself, or you trust the experts, of course! For instance, the most popular streaming service in the world, Netflix, offers a cornucopia of chillers, but which are the ones that might be worth your time? Our staff has put their heads together and come up with the below list. Enjoy.
47 Meters Down
Amidst the many modern shark movies, 47 Meters Down happens to be one of the best. This is partly because the premise is extremely simple and extremely effective. Two sisters (Claire Holt and Mandy Moore) are stuck in a shark cage at the bottom of the ocean. They have less than an hour of oxygen. There are a bunch of sharks. For the most part, it’s just that – the two trying to underwater problem-solve their way out of getting eaten, getting the bends, or drowning. It’s as claustrophobic as it is dizzying, and Moore, Holt, and the sharks are all good. It’s also refreshing that these are not malevolent mega sharks bent on revenge, they are just… some sharks. There’s perhaps one ending too many here, but for the most part this is a fun sharky romp.
An all star cast, including Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tessa Thompson, plus the quality direction of Alex Garland wasn’t enough to secure this horror sci-fi based on Jeff Vandermeer’s novel a theatrical release in the UK—or box office success in the U.S. Never mind that though. This is a spectacular film. Portman joins a crew of women exploring the mysterious Area X where her husband ventured some time before and came back changed. It’s a weird, unfamiliar landscape of beautiful flora and terrifying fauna defying explanation until the strange, indelible finale (not sure what it means? Have a read of this explainer). And you can check out our review, too if you like.
U.S. and UK
Apostle comes from acclaimed The Raid director Gareth Evans and is his take on the horror genre. Spoiler alert: it’s a good one. Dan Stevens stars as Thomas Richardson, a British man in the early 1900s who must rescue his sister, Jennifer, from the clutches of a murderous cult. Thomas successfully infiltrates the cult led by the charismatic Malcom Howe (Michael Sheen) and begins to ingratiate himself with the strange folks obsessed with bloodletting. Thomas soon comes to find that the object of the cult’s religious fervor may be more real than he’d prefer.
U.S. and UK
Martin Freeman stars in this Netflix original developed from a short directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke. Set in the Australian outback, Freeman is a father trying to find someone to protect his child in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. More wistful and emotional than that sounds on paper, there’s a fascinating subplot about an Aboriginal girl mourning her father and the final set piece is unforgettable. Check out our review.
U.S. and UK
No, not the one set on the tube, this “mumblegore” horror is far weirder than that. Director Patrice Brice plays Aaron, a videographer hired by Mark Duplass’ Josef to make a video for his kid to watch after he’s died of a terminal illness. Or did he? Playing on the power of politeness and the awkwardness of male relationships, this is a highly original, itchily uncomfortable watch. Creep 2 is also on Netflix, and also good!
Despite being a splashy studio release and enjoying a sizable budget, Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak feels strangely underrated. A throwback to classic Gothic horror—which could range from the literature of the Brontë sisters to Francis Ford Coppola’s hyper-’90s version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula—del Toro crafts a decadent and sumptuous ghost story that’s really about the generational traumas we inflict on ourselves… as well as others.
This is demonstrated by the dynamic between the Siblings Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain) and the new company in their crumbling family estate: poor young thing Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska). It is here that Thomas Sharpe makes Edith his wife, and Lucille Sharpe makes her a seemingly mortal enemy. This one is all about atmosphere, aesthetics, and a mood of hopeless gloom—plus a movie-devouring turn by Chastain.
U.S. and UK
For horror fans who like a bit of real history with their vampires, here’s this satirical treat from Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín. El Conde follows the death and undeath of real-life brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet, who not only sparked a violent coup that cost the lives of thousands of Chileans in 1973 but was also responsible for many more thousands of disappearances and executions during his rule. He died in 2006 under house arrest as one of the most hated men in Chile, but El Conde (“The Count” in Spanish) imagines what it would be like if its subject, now a defeated old vampire (played by South American legend Jaime Vadell) who longs for the grave, were forced to live on in that solitude forever.
For while he’s surrounded by family in his decrepit ranch house prison in the country, all his wife and kids want is the fortune he stole from the Chilean people. While he finds love anew in the arms of a young nun named Carmen (a wonderful Paula Luchsinger), she’s secretly an exorcist who’s hellbent on vanquishing the bloodsucker, even if it means sacrificing her own humanity to do it. Larraín lets the old bastard wallow in self-pity, unloved and undead, while some truly gory sequences involving blenders and guillotines unfold in the background.
Fear Street Trilogy
U.S. and UK
These movies, set in three different time periods and invoking three different horror styles were released weekly almost as an extended boxset. It was a smart move and the release felt like an event as viewers waited to see how the stories would interlink and loop back to the 1994 setting of number one. Leigh Janiak directs the series which owes a debt to Stranger Things as well as, of course, its horror predecessors including Scream, Friday the 13th and even The Witch. The movies are based on the Fear Street books by R.L Stine and so have a YA vibe as well as a bit of social commentary as the youths of Shadyside seem to be cursed as opposed to their privileged neighbors in Sunnyvale.
U.S. and UK
We are living in a renaissance for Stephen King adaptations. But while there have been many killer clowns and hat-wearing fiends getting major attention at the multiplexes, the best King movie in perhaps decades is Mike Flanagan’s underrated Gerald’s Game. Cleverly adapted from what has been described as one of King’s worst stories, Gerald’s Game improves on its source material when it imagines a middle-aged woman (Carla Gugino) placed in a terrifying survival situation after her husband (Bruce Greenwood) dies of a heart attack during a sex game.
Handcuffed to a bed in their remote cabin in the woods, Gugino’s Jessie must face the fact no one is coming to save her in the next week… more than enough time to die of dehydration or to be eaten by the wolf prowling about. Thus the specter of death hovers over the whole movie, seemingly literally with a monstrous shade emerging from the shadows to bedevil Jessie each night. A trenchant character study that frees Gugino to show a wide range of terror, determination, and finally horrifying desperation, the movie delves into the shadows of a woman haunted by trauma and demons almost as scary as her current situation. Almost.
More than five years later, Jordan Peele’s Get Out is as evocative and impressive as ever. A satirical chiller where the metaphor is as glaringly obvious as American racism is pervasive, Get Out has all the subtlety of a hammer while making its point about the 2010s, post-Obama incarnation of bigotry and (not-so-)unconscious biases, even in elite progressive enclaves still dominated by smiling white faces. It’s there that Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) agrees to spend the weekend with the parents of his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). If only he knew the title of the movie he was in… although his slow dawning horror remains the stuff of nightmares and mirthless chuckles.
U.S. and UK
Remi Weekes’ debut feature is a surprise gem which won him a BAFTA for Outstanding British Debut. It stars Gangs of London’s Sope Dirisu and Loki’s Wunmi Mosaku as a refugee couple who’ve been housed in a large but dilapidated property in a city outside London. The two have brought demons with them that inhabit the house while the horrors of the situation that brought them here, and the one they now find themselves in, loom large. It’s an intelligent critique of how we treat refugees at the same time as being a genuinely scary ghost story.
Insidious is the start of a multi-film horror franchise and a pretty good one at that. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne star as a married couple who move into a new home with their three kids. Shortly after they move in, their son Dalton is drawn to a shadow in the attic and then falls into a mysterious coma from which they can’t wake him. It’s at this point that the Lamberts do what horror fans always yell at characters to do: they move out of the damn house! Little do they know, however, that some hauntings go beyond mere domiciles.
U.S. Only (Arrives Oct. 11)
While the whole “sex = death” trope might be less prevalent in horror movies than some assume, it does exist and is ripe for evaluation. Enter David Robert Mitchell, whose It Follows features a monster who hunts its victims by taking a form that will disturb the target and then slowly, but relentlessly, stalks them. The only way to avoid the monster? Have sex with someone else, thus passing on the curse.
Set in the ruins of post-Great Recession Detroit, It Follows stars an excellent Maika Monroe as Jay, a suburban teen who gets the curse after her first sexual experience. Jay and her friends try to find a way to stop the monster from finding her, making for a movie that’s as emotionally resonant as it is absolutely terrifying. Mitchell’s confident direction, combined with a dynamic electronic score by Disasterpiece, makes It Follows the best of the John Carpenter-influenced horror movies we got in the 2010s.
Ouija: Origin of Evil
Horror fans can be very forgiving, not only will we keep watching franchises as they shamble into fourth, fifth, and sixth entries, but we’ll even champion sequels long after the rest of the public has abandoned them. But even by that standard, Ouija: Origin of Evil, the prequel to a little-loved PG-13 movie from 2014, seems an unlikely choice to win fan support.
But Origin of Evil outdoes its predecessor in every way thanks to the involvement of director Mike Flanagan, who co-wrote the movie with Jeff Howard. Still early in his career, Flanagan brings everything you expect to Ouija: Origin of Evil, such as strong performances from his stock players (including Elizabeth Reaser and Henry Thomas), as well as long conversations and monologues about faith, despair, and the meaning of life.
U.S. and UK Only
This existential Spanish horror made a splash at the start of lockdown with it’s tale of prisoners trapped in an enormous vertical prison with a platform at it’s center, which delivers food to the inmates floor by floor starting at the top, so that each floor only gets what the floor above has left over. It’s political, allegorical, it’s clever, and it’s very violent.
The Pope’s Exorcist
“It’s, a-me, da’ Pope’s Exorcist!” This is not what Russell Crowe says when he plays Father Gabriele Amorth with a breathtakingly unconvincing Italian accent in The Pope’s Exorcist… but he might as well have since everything else about the performance is as campy as a 1990s Super Mario Bros. video game. And that’s not a bad thing! In fact, it proves outright delightful as you follow Crowe’s BDE pope riding around Rome on a vespa and confronting a demon who is claiming credit for the Spanish Inquisition with all the solemnity of going to a Sunday night football party. It’s the type of batshit movie that the term “guilty pleasure” was invented for.
One of the better Blumhouse chillers to come out of the 2010s, Sinister is the case of a brilliant elevator pitch meeting a superior pair of talents in director Scott Derrickson and star Ethan Hawke to bring it to life.
The setup of the movie is simple: There is a pagan demon god who will consume the soul of any nearby children whenever someone sees him. And not just him, but recreations of his image on walls. And wouldn’t you know it, true crime journalist Ellison (Hawke) just moved into a house with an attic full of home movies stuffed to the gills with Bughuul. And Ellison’s daughter is right downstairs. Uh oh.
Under the Shadow
U.S. and UK
This 2016 effort could not possibly be more timely as it sympathizes, and terrorizes, an Iranian single mother and child in 1980s Tehran. Like a draconian travel ban, Shideh (Narges Rashidi) and her son Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) are malevolently targeted by a force of supreme evil.
This occurs after Dorsa’s father, a doctor, is called away to serve the Iranian army in post-revolution and war-torn Iran. In his absence evil seeps in… as does a quality horror movie with heightened emotional weight.
U.S. Only (Leaves Oct. 16)
Horror as a genre, be it on page, screen, or a cave wall, has its origins in the spooky stories we used to tell one another around campfires. While the method of instilling fear has changed, the purpose has not. You want to make the other person shiver. In this way, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what 21st century updates of the concept will look like, but Unfriended proves to be an appropriately grim place to start.
Made six years before COVID, the film presciently reveals the subtle dread of chatting with your friends online via video conferencing—and being unable to really hold or connect with the person on the other end. That proves fatal, too, when the seeming ghost of a girl who killed herself from school begins to haunt a friend group gathered on Skype. They’re there to swap stories and gossip. Instead, they bear witness to one another’s supernatural reckoning.
Jordan Peele’s sophomore effort didn’t earn quite as many accolades as his directorial debut, but we think a case can be made for Us standing as his most ambitious, and certainly most visually dazzling, effort to date. A parable about class inequality given a pulpy Carpenter-esque twist, Us imagines a U.S. (get it?) where beneath our feet doppelgangers who are exactly like you live and toil in misery… and then wonders what would happen if those doubles got out?
With a collection of riveting performances, spearheaded by a titanic one from star Lupita Nyong’o as both a mother who will do anything to save her family and the counterpart she’s known since childhood would one day be coming to take it all away. The result is a hypnotic nightmare so entrancing (and occasionally funny), you can forgive it if the plot mechanics don’t make a whole lot of sense.
U.S. and UK
Loosely based on a true story, Veronica is set in Madrid in 1991 and follows a young woman who messes with a Ouija board and thinks she’s accidentally summoned an evil spirit. Directed by Paco Plaza, one of the two directors behind REC, the movie gained minor notoriety when it first landed on Netflix because of a few viewers finding it overly scary. It’s true that there are some seriously creepy bits (but you’ll be fine!).