In the mood for a good ol’ fashioned scare? There’s a treasure trove of excellent horror movies to stream on Prime Video. Critic Travis Johnson has found the best of the best.
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Last updated: April 19, 2021
Katharine Isabelle’s broke medical student finds herself performing backyard surgery for the extreme body modification subculture in this boundary-pushing feminist flick, from Jen and Sylvia Soska. American Mary flips the body horror formula on its head, giving us a tale in which the weirdos are sympathetic and its privileged straight men who are the real villains.
The uncanny arrival of the titular picture book cranks the tension between a harried single mother (Essie Davis) and her troubled son (Noah Wiseman), but who’s really the danger here? In her debut film, Jennifer Kent tips the ‘creepy kid’ genre on its head, using the form to examine a regrettably common dysfunctional family dynamic. A modern Australian genre classic.
During the medieval plague, a knight (Sean Bean) and a novice monk (Eddie Redmayne) lead a group of soldiers to a remote village to uncover why it has not been afflicted. As is the way of such things, they find a pagan cult, much backwoods horror, and a test of faith that not all of them will pass. If you can imagine a Middle Ages Wicker Man, you’re on the right track.
Champion swimmer Kaya Scodelario goes to make sure her Florida Man dad Barry Pepper is taking shelter from a gnarly hurricane, only to be confronted with a house full of hungry alligators. French director Alexandre Aja (High Tension, Piranha 3D) delivers the goods in this toothy crowd-pleaser.
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.
Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon (RIP) adapts HP Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmout, sending a yachtful of doomed protagonists to a remote Spanish seaside village, whose inhabitants are a little too fond of fresh fish. Obviously shot on a low budget, this nonetheless captures much of the tone of Lovecraft’s best works, giving us cosmic horror on a quotidian scale.
Suffering delusions and growing more and more adrift from reality, a disturbed high school student with surgical aspirations decides the best way to earn her parents’ affections is by curing her little sister’s cystic fibrosis with an at-home double lung transplant. This lurid tale of suburban horror is criminally underappreciated, but its commitment to the point of view of its unhinged central character is admirable.
A London cop feigns mental illness in order to investigate a psychologist he suspects of murder…or does he? Or is he the victim of an occult conspiracy? This ultra-low budget 2016 effort offers no easy answers, but it does present a remarkably sustained tone of subtle unreality that steadily grows to subsume both the protagonist and the viewer in horrifying insanity.
Seeking vengeance for his murdered daughter, a Dark Ages warrior (Christopher Rygh) works as a monster hunter, slaying the various creatures that plague the kingdom in the hopes of one day encountering the beast that killed his child. Think The Witcher on a microbudget and you’re on the right track. Utilising a small cast and extremely limited locations, but wonderful production design, director Jordan Downey implies a whole world beyond the confines of the frame, while keeping us focused on the action within it.
Cult horror author Clive Barker made a big, bloody splash with his feature directing debut. Adapting his own story, The Hellbound Heart, Barker weaves an unsettling tale of what are essentially supernatural BDSM aficionados, summoned by a magic device—Lemarchand’s Box or The Lament Configuration depending on who’s talking—to subject humans to pain beyond pleasure and pleasure beyond pain. Groundbreaking for the time and still impressive now, it spawned a surprisingly long-running franchise, of which maybe three sequels are worth your attention.
Kicking off immediately after the events of the first film, the best of the Hellraiser sequels sees the Cenobite Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and his fellow BDSM demons invade the psychiatric hospital where poor Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) has been sequestered after the recent horrors. Smartly expanding the first film’s mythology, this is a worthy follow up to writer turned director Clive Barker’s landmark debut film. Shame about what came after, though.
Matt Dillon is a serial killer who recounts a litany of horrifying crimes committed over the course of his life in this typically provocative piece from Danish troublemaker Lars Von Trier. The stepping off point may be John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but von Trier’s unflinching brutality will make even the staunchest horror fan squirm in places, while the gradually growing metaphysical subtext raises philosophical questions that remain unanswered by the time the credits roll.
Leigh Whannell’s update of the old H.G. Welles/Universal horror standard sees Elisabeth Moss on the run from her abusive former partner—who is, of course, capable of becoming invisible. Smart, deft and harrowing, this Blumhouse effort conflates the source material’s inherent paranoia with the often invisible spectre of domestic abuse to excellent, if often uncomfortable, effect.
The best of the various adaptations of Richard Matheson’s incredible novel I Am Legend, this black and white Italian film from 1964 sees horror icon Vincent Price as the eponymous lonely survivor struggling to make it through the night in a world where everyone else is a vampire. Gets closer to the bleak, shocking final reveal of the novel than any other version since.
Essentially, Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are lighthouse keepers driven to madness by their enforced isolation. Well, maybe: David Eggers’ second film is even more opaque than his first offering, The Witch. Shot in grainy black and white in a claustrophobic square frame, The Lighthouse delights in the symbolic and surreal, leaving us all at sea when it comes to parsing what is actually happening and what is an allegory for the characters’ disintegrating mental state.
Bickering couple John Hargreaves and Briony Behets take off for a weekend camping trip, only to find nature itself seemingly turning against them in an escalating series of ‘accidents’. Allegorical ecological horror is the name of the game here, with director Colin Eggleston never quite letting the audience know exactly what’s going on.
A lone woman comes under supernatural attack while vacationing in an isolated cabin in this unsettling piece of Australian Gothic. Director Donna McRae does a lot with a little, turning invisible assaults into a potent metaphor for domestic violence.
Grieving after the death of her family, Florence Pugh follows her boyfriend and his mates on a getaway to idyllic rural Sweden, where she and they find themselves at the mercy of a pagan cult. The thing is, submitting to the cult’s strange ways may be a better option than the emotional trauma of life in the modern world. A kind of daylight take on The Wicker Man, the second film by Ari Aster sees him flexing the already impressive chops displayed in Hereditary, giving us a visually striking, queasily disturbing and shockingly violent slice of folk horror.
A gaggle of middle school monster fans find themselves responsible for saving the world when Dracula and the rest of the Universal Monsters gang (Wolfman, The Mummy, Gillman and Frankenstein’s monster) try to bring about The End of All Things. Director Fred Dekker and writer Shane Black deliver a loving tribute to classic horror movies.
The dead rise from the grave to consume the living, and a mixed group of survivors hole up in an abandoned farmhouse to try and live through the night. George A. Romero’s black and white original 1968 low budget masterpiece spawned an entire subgenre—you owe it to yourself to find out why. Also available in colour, for no justifiable reason.
Russel Mulcahy brings music video verve to this tale of a man-eating pig terrorising the outback, and what could have been a rote schlocker becomes artier, weirder, and often downright mesmerising. The plot is pretty much Jaws on trotters, but this Ozploitation gem punches well above its weight in terms of sheer filmmaking nous and visual style.
Troubled rich teen Billy Warlock discovers his alienation from his high society family and friends is not rooted in class consciousness, but in the fact that they are inhuman monsters that literally eat the lower classes. You have to wade through a lot of soap opera-level nonsense in this satire by Brian Yuzna to get to the grand slam climactic scene but, holy hell, is it worth it.
Arthouse darling Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) tackles Dario Argento’s giallo classic and, miraculously, manages to pull it off. Dakota Johnson is the ingenue who arrives at a German dance academy run by Tilda Swinton, who finds herself caught up in a power struggle among a coven of witches. But is she their victim or their messiah? This is a remake done right, using the bones of the original to do something new and transgressive.
Tobe Hooper’s absolutely seminal survival horror pits a Combi-load of happy young people up against the cannibalistic Sawyer family when they take the wrong back road in contemporary Texas and find themselves at the business end of the hulking Leatherface’s chainsaw. Not as gory as its reputation suggests, but Hooper manifests a grimy, sticky-hot, oppressive atmosphere that’s more unsettling than a hundred gore gags. Yet another film sequelised and remade to generally lesser effect, although Part 2 is a gonzo gem.
An abusive family patriarch (Sean Bridgers) captures a feral woman and tries to ‘civilise’ her, not knowing she is the last survivor of a backwoods cannibal clan. Lucky McKee adapts Jack Ketchum’s pitiless novel with an adroit eye for both gore and gender politics, with McIntosh giving a performance that is ferocious in every sense.
On 15 April 2021, eight titles were added and removed from his page to reflect changes to the Netflix catalogue. Reviews no longer available on this page (for Cube, From Dusk Till Dawn, Häxan, Overlord, Pet Sematary, Q the Winged Serpent, Scream, Spider Baby and Stir of Echoes) can be found here.