There are four kinds of adults on Halloween night: the ones who take their kids trick-or-treating; the ones who stay home to give those kids candy; the ones who go out to parties dressed as sexy Ebola nurses or whatever; and the ones who shut off their lights, pretend they’re not home, and binge on horror movies. If you’re in the latter category, this post is for you. Earlier this month, our fringe horror expert Alison Nastasi offered up a few off-the-beaten path Netflix picks. If you’re still looking (or have worked your way through those), here are a few more conventional picks, along with a couple of recent faves and some choices from other streaming services as well. Just click the title link to watch them right now.
Stephen King’s first hit novel was the story of a high school outcast with a Bible-thumping mother and a heretofore unknown gift of telekinesis, which ends up being pretty bad news for the bullies and bitches who turn her prom night into a nightmare. King was not yet a brand name when Brian De Palma made this peerless adaptation in 1976, effortlessly fusing the novelist’s sensibility with his own baroque high style and cooking up one of the best horror films of the 1970s — no mean feat, that. Its hyper-kinetic energy, dreamlike vibe, and inventive split-screens were endlessly imitated (not the least by its own three sequels and remakes), but it remains one of De Palma (and King’s) finest films. (via Netflix)
Roman Polanski’s 1968 classic is a rather miraculous highwire act of diversion and misinformation; if you go into it cold (which, I know, is impossible these days), you’ll be surprised by the way the screenwriter/director keeps its bombshell from the audience until the last possible moment. He spends his first two hours building up an atmosphere of unexplained haziness, fear and dread, leaving us uncertain of what, exactly, is wrong with Rosemary’s firstborn — until we find out. Oh boy, do we find out. (via Netflix)
Sam Raimi’s return to the haunted-cabin-in-the-woods story is less a sequel than a remake — albeit one with a more assured sense of cinema and a more absurd sense of humor. Like Carrie and Rosemary’s Baby, we’ve seen imitations out the wazoo (some of them from Raimi himself), but few have ever captured ED2’s peculiar and effective mix of supernatural thrills and full-on slapstick. (via Netflix)
In this 1979 scarefest, director David Cronenberg presents a pack of horrifying dwarf children spawned by psychoplasmic therapy sessions (what can I tell you, it’s Cronenberg). They’re not just vindictive little monsters — though they’re certainly that. In true Cronenberg fashion, they’re also grotesque nightmare fuel, and this early but unforgettable effort showcases a filmmaker who’s singularly gifted at getting under your skin. (via Hulu Plus/The Criterion Collection)
The phrase “German Expressionism” gets thrown around so much, it’s very easy to just nod and agree without actually knowing what the hell the user is talking about. As a form, it’s easier to show than explain, and that’s where a viewing of Robert Wiene’s 1920 silent classic comes in handy; with its stylized sets, lighting, and technique, the creepy and thoroughly disturbing Caligari set an aesthetic that influenced everyone from Hitchcock to Welles to Tim Burton. (And M. Night Shyamalan; it features one of cinema’s first “twist endings.”) (via Amazon Prime)
The lo-fi V/H/S was a genuinely scary bit of business somewhat hampered by a couple of less-than-stellar segments. This follow-up is tighter, shorter (only four segments, plus wraparounds), and more effective — there’s not a bad bit in the lot, all of them creepy and unnerving, incorporating moments of intentional (and gleeful) silliness while cleverly toying with our expectations of how much visual information can be revealed and withheld. It’s graphic, grim, and bloody, but boy does it get the job done — and the third segment, Safe Haven (from Timo Tjahjanto and Raid director Gareth Evans) is that rarest of beasts, a short film that could have easily been its own feature. (via Netflix)
This Irish import is part drama, part thriller, part horror, and all claustrophobia. Director Ciaran Foy places the viewer squarely into the shoes of its agoraphobic newly single father protagonist, and lets the full weight of the picture’s gray skies and dark corners bear down forcefully. It’s a grim and difficult movie, but one with a powerfully cathartic conclusion, and several unexpected, discombobulating, and ultimately forceful turns along the way. (via Netflix)
The world is a lonely place for those of us who actually liked this 1994 adaptation of the venerable horror classic, positioned at the time as something of a pseudo-sequel to the 1991 hit Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Kenneth Branagh directs and stars as Victor Frankenstein opposite Robert De Niro’s Creature, and if his Bronx-accented turn is a wee bit of a miscalculation, it’s a blast to watch Branagh finally given license to let his Gothic freak flag fly. Bonus: a rare (and solid) semi-serious John Cleese supporting role. (via Amazon Prime)
A classy, scary treat from director Ti West (The House of the Devil), modern master of the cinematic slow boil — he’s utterly uninterested in delivering a shock or a kill every seven minutes, but instead follows the lead of Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining (to which this film bears a more-than-passing resemblance), giving us a tense build with occasional jolts that culminates in a climax of intense terror. Once he gets there, the austerity of his style goes out the window in a flurry of Dutch angles, scare zooms, and Kubrickian tracking shots. But he never loses control — this is a disciplined and skillful filmmaker, and a real standout in today’s ADD-laden horror landscape. (via Netflix)
West again, here merging the of-the-moment “found footage” style with his own throwback interests, and using the pseudo-documentary construct to tell the story of an offshore religious community that bears a more-than-passing similarity to Jonestown. What makes West such a special filmmaker is that, for him, horror movies aren’t just about kills and jolts — they can be about mood, character, and payoff. The Sacrament has all three in spades, with a jangly uncertainty permeating even the innocuous scenes, and terrific performances at its center. But West knows we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, because of both the genre and the Peoples Temple parallels (some of them direct quotations — check out the ace documentary Jonestown to see what I mean), so when “Father” starts serving “the potion” to his followers, West doesn’t pull the punch. The horror is, in many ways, real and true, and thus all the more disturbing. (via Netflix)
OK, maybe this one is a stretch, but it just hit Netflix today, and we’re excited about it. And maybe Bong Joon Ho‘s summer sleeper hit more obviously falls into other categories — dystopian sci-fi, gritty action, social commentary — but that last Chris Evans monologue is horror movie through and through. (via Netflix)
An obvious choice, sure, but one of those horror movies you just have to revisit every now and again. Director George A. Romero was a successful industrial and commercial filmmaker from Pittsburgh who convinced his colleagues and pals to help him make a no-frills horror movie for fun; the stark, black-and-white film captured the dread wafting through the air circa 1968 (when it was first released), its implicit commentary on Vietnam and race relations combining with the flat, documentary-style photography to create a film more uncomfortably close to reality than the average creature feature. (via Netflix)
October Halloween horror marathons are rooted, for the most part, in a fairly simple idea: it’s fun to be scared, and horror movies give us a few thrills and a few scares but, ultimately, a good time. Chicago director John McNaughton was originally hired to churn out such a horror movie — a few kills, a few laughs, designed to make a few bucks. But McNaughton employed a bleak, unforgiving style, as well as a cast of honest-to-God actors (including the great Michael Rooker in the title role), and landed about as far as possible from the cartoon villains typical of ‘80s horror. This is brutal, grim, unnerving stuff, made all the more frightening by McNaughton’s slice-of-life approach. It’s a real horror movie; put it on at the end of the night, if you think your dreams can take it.