Having a tough week? Why not cheer yourself up by watching some bone-chilling terror? Critic Travis Johnson has combed through the Netflix archive to pick the 25 best horror movies.
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* Best 25 horror movies on Prime Video
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Australian director Zak Hilditch adapts Stephen King’s dour novella about a farmer (Thomas Jane) whose decision to murder his wife (Molly Parker) causes him to lose his son, his farm, his sanity and his life. A sustained exercise in tone, this is a relentlessly downbeat period chiller.
The tween daughter of famed demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (McKenna Grace) must battle not only the titular cursed doll but a whole menagerie of spirits unleashed from their collection of occult artifacts in this fun and family friendly PG-level horror romp. Between this, The Haunting of Hill House, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and the upcoming Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Grace has pretty much cemented her place as the tween scream queen du jour.
A group of women led by Natalie Portman’s steely scientist undertake a mission into a mysterious wilderness zone where the usual laws of nature no longer apply, only to confront both unspeakable physical horrors and the complete dissolution of the self. Loosely adapted by director Alex Garland from the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, the result is a smart, visceral updating of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker more than anything else.
Action specialist Gareth Evans (The Raid) turns his hand to horror in this Wicker Man-inspired chiller. At the dawn of the 20th century a man (Dan Stevens) infiltrates a strange religious cult on a remote Welsh island in order to liberate his sister, only to uncover far stranger doings than the usual fire and brimstone. Michael Sheen turns up as a charismatic preacher, and Evans proves that his gory tastes in action aesthetics translate quite well to the horror genre.
Twelve-year-old Cole (Judah Lewis) discovers his smokin’ hot babysitter Bee (Samara Weaving) is the head of a high school Satanic cult and plans to sacrifice him in an occult ritual. Gifted journeyman director McG delivers a brisk and brutal horror comedy, wherein our plucky hero has to dodge Bee’s brat pack devil worshippers (Bella Thorne, Hana Mae Lee and Robbie Amell). Plenty of bloody kills are balanced by a witty script that never takes itself too seriously—a near perfect beer ‘n’ pizza Friday night flick.
Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon give us perhaps the most post-modern horror movie ever made, as a group of five friends on a weekend retreat to the titular shack to find themselves caught up in basically every horror movie ever made. From a secret control centre, a team of scientists and technicians are observing. What’s their story? That would be telling. A great cast, including Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, some bold plot swerves, and truly impressive effects make this one essential.
In the midst of a zombie apocalypse a man (Martin Freeman) desperately searches for a safe harbour for his infant daughter before his infected bite turns him undead. Australian filmmakers Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke smartly expand their award-winning short and find fresh soil in the well-turned fields of zombiedom.
The third adaptation of Stephen King’s debut novel can’t compete with Brian De Palma’s 1976 version, but certainly laps the little seen 2002 TV movie. This time out a committed Chloë Grace Moretz is the titular teenage outcast, horribly tortured by both school bullies and her religious nut mother (Julianne Moore) until her budding telekinetic powers are unleashed after one humiliation too many at the Prom. Director Kimberley Peirce brings a rare degree of empathy to the subject matter but can’t beat De Palma for sheer technical brio. Still, gory revenge against cruel cliques is always worth a spin.
Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski sends ambitious corporate functionary Dane DeHaan to retrieve his boss from a mysterious health spa in the Swiss Alps, and that’s probably the last we’ll see of him. Maybe half an hour too long, this is nonetheless a fun, exquisitely mounted remix of the first act of Dracula and any given David Cronenberg body horror, with added eels.
Years after the horrifying events at the Overlook Hotel, psychic Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor), now a recovering alcoholic, battles a coven of rapacious immortals led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) for the soul of psychically gifted child (Kyliegh Curran). Rising horror star Mike Flanagan manages the unenviable task of constructing both an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel and a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s superb 1980 film of The Shining with aplomb. Although he can’t dodge every pitfall, the result is worth your time.
A trio of wasted youth, including Jane Levy, set out to burgle the home of a blind man (Stephen Lang), only to find that the old guy is way more dangerous than they could ever anticipate. Director Fede Alavarez (the Evil Dead remake) milks the lurid home invasion premise for maximum tension, delivering a brisk, bloody and occasionally disturbing urban thriller.
A young immunocompromised boy (Charlie Shotwell) begins experiencing supernatural phenomena at the remote medical facility where he’s being treated by a secretive doctor (Lili Taylor). But what starts out as a typical “bad place” haunted house flick takes some unexpected twists and turns on its way to a surprising climax. The less you know going in, the more fun you’ll have.
Lawyer Laura Linney defends priest Tom Wilkinson when the latter is tried for homicide after the eponymous Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) dies during an attempted exorcism. Loosely based on a true story, this is part courtroom drama, part meditation on faith, part straight-up creepy. It stands as one of the best exorcism-themed movies since…you know, that one.
This 2008 remake takes elements from the first three Friday the 13th movies and combines them into a fresh take on old Jason Voorhees and his penchant for butchering camp counsellors and assorted babes. Director Marcus Nispel may have a black mark against his name due to the largely unnecessary 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but he delivers brisk, brutal horror action here, and Derek Mears is a Jason for the ages.
David Gordon Green jettisons years of convoluted continuity to craft a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 slasher, once again pitting Jamie Lee Curtis’s shell-shocked survivor against unstoppable mass murderer Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney and Nick Kastle), with a full freight of endangered family members and hapless victims in the knifing line. This is the third film to sport the Halloween title, but, much more than Rob Zombie’s ill-conceived remake of a few years back, it comes close to capturing the sheer terrifying power of the original.
A nurse (Ruth Wilson) caring for a senile writer (Paula Prentiss) begins to suspect that the writer’s house is haunted and uncovers a murder that took place in the early 19th century. Director Oz ‘son of Anthony’ Perkins has quickly proved himself a master of the modern gothic tale, and this stands alongside his other films such as The Blackcoat’s Daughter and Gretel & Hansel as a sterling example of the subgenre.
Will (Logan Marshall-Green) attends a dinner party at a remote cabin owned by his ex (Tammy Blanchard) and her new partner (Michiel Huisman). Under the austere direction of Karyn Kusama, what begins as social awkwardness descends into paranoia and ultimately violent terror as it becomes apparent that some of the guests are members of an apocalyptic cult. Deeply unsettling, The Invitation taps into primal anxieties about grief, loss and the need to belong to construct a singular experience in social terror.
Decades after they first defeated child-eating supernatural clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), the now-adult Losers Club (Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone and Andy Bean) return to the town of Derry, Maine, for a final confrontation with the creature. For the follow-up to the smash hit 2017 Stephen King adaptation, filmmaker Andy Muschietti jettisons nuance for a balls-out horror rollercoaster that delivers an almost punishing cavalcade of shocks, sights and frights.
After the world is invaded by monsters who hunt by sound, a married couple (director John Krasinksi and his real life partner Emily Blunt) struggle to keep their two children alive, and dread the imminent birth of their third. One of the big horror hits of recent years, this transcends its gimmicky premise to deliver something genuinely powerful.
The American remake of the cult J-horror classic puts investigative journalist Naomi Watts on the trail of a cursed video cassette that kills anyone who views it. Before he went on to make pirates (briefly) cool again, Gore Verbinski managed the impressive feat of a remake that can stand proudly beside its source material. It even includes a few extra shocks for good measure, such as the infamous ‘horse on a boat’ scene.
Following the death of their friend, four men take a hiking trip in the forests of northern Sweden to reforge their bonds, only to fall afoul of a hidden pagan cult and the…thing…they worship. This atmospheric chiller draws its influences from a wide variety of sources but gets extra points by not skimping on the final creature reveal, giving us one of the most unique horror critters in recent memory.
Frustrated writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) takes a winter job as caretaker of the mothballed Overlook Hotel, only for the restless spirits there to batten on his psychic son Danny (Danny Lloyd). C’mon, you know this one—Stephen King doesn’t much like Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his breakthrough novel, but the rest of us know it’s one of the finest horror movies ever made. Make it a double feature with Doctor Sleep.
Horror gets a new icon in the form of Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton), who rampages through this lean, brutal slasher with evident glee. The plot is thin as gossamer—sinister clown stalks and kills women on Halloween—but the film is nonetheless genuinely confronting and transgressive in its sheer bloody depravity. This one will make you flinch.
New Orleans bartender Will (Armie Hammer) starts getting sent disturbing images on a mobile phone left in the dive he pours booze in, and things just get worse from there. It’s not so much the plot of Iranian director Babak Anvari’s English language debut that disturbs, but the tone. Wounds is an exercise in decay, with every set, shot, gore gag and even character redolent of physical and moral rot. Wounds is film that gets right under your skin and festers.
When he’s not making confronting actioners like Headshot and The Night Comes For Us, Indonesian auteur Timo Tjahjanto is doling out effectively OTT horror projects like this one, which sees a young woman Ray Sahetapy) battling demonic forces after learning her estranged father sold her soul to the devil. If you can imagine Evil Dead 2 but Indo, you’re on the right track.