Got a hankering for dark, disturbing, flat-out terrifying films? Critic Travis Johnson has combed through Stan‘s archive and picked the 25 best horror movies.
* Best 25 horror movies on Netflix Australia
* Best 25 horror movies on Prime Video
* All new streaming movies & series
When the sun sets on the tiny Alaskan hamlet for the last time in 30 days, the population find themselves on the menu for a plague ship full of vampires. The local sheriff (Josh Hartnett) and his estranged wife (Melissa George) must fight to save who they can, but at what cost? A brilliant elevator pitch powers this gory siege movie, adapted by director David Slade from the comic by Steve Nile and Ben Templesmith.
The most famous haunted house in America (true)! Based on a true story (not really)! Set the mould for haunted house flicks going forward (undoubtedly)! James Brolin and Margot Kidder play suburbanites who discover their dream home is a) notorious for being the site of a brutal mass murder, and b) haunted AF. The Amityville franchise dropped in quality like an anvil in an elevator shaft (although the 2005 remake is not terrible) but the original is a classic for good reason.
Hapless hero Ash (Bruce Campbell) is flung back in time to the Middle Ages, where he must take on a horde of the undead with naught but his boomstick, chainsaw, and questionable intelligence. Army of Darkness fully embraces a comedic adventure tone rather than straight horror, but there are zombies, demons, and dismemberments, so it gets a pass.
Wolf Creek’s Greg McLean directs a script from Guardians of the Galaxy’s James Gunn, wherein a mixed bag of American expats working in Colombia are forced to murder each other after they’re locked inside their office building. A game cast of character actors, including John Gallagher, Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Sean Gunn and Michael Rooker, engage with gusto, and the gore gags come as thick and as fast as the corporate satire.
Brian de Palma adapts Stephen King’s first novel, a tale of high school horror that sees the titular nascent telekinetic (Sissy Spacek) wreak terrible vengeance on the society that spurned her. Everyone remembers the Grand Guignol climax, but its every little scar and wound that Carrie endures before then that lets it land with such force.
A tow-headed tyke wants nothing more than a Cabbage Patch Kid-like Good Guy Doll, but unfortunately the one he gets is possessed by the malevolent spirit of a voodoo-practicing serial killer (Brad Dourif). Carnage ensues. Child’s Play launched a surprisingly robust franchise that is somehow still going strong, and that’s not even counting the recent remake. Hugely controversial upon release, it’s actually a really fun slasher romp built around a truly subversive gimmick.
A group of adventurous women delve into an unexplored cave system. Something is down there waiting for them. And then it’s on like Donkey Kong. Director Neil Marshall’s follow up to his debut, Dog Soldiers, is a brisk and claustrophobic powerhouse of a film. Put it this way: it’s scary enough before the monsters show up; afterwards, it’s simply relentless.
The bleakest of Britain’s “hoodie horror” sub-genre, this sees a young couple (Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender) pay a high price for ticking off a gang of delinquent yoofs led by a ferocious Jack O’Connell. A genuinely tough watch.
Bank-robbing brothers George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino and their hostages, including Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis, find themselves trapped in a Mexican bar full of vampires and have to survive *points to title*. A love letter to B-grade monster movies, this combo of writer QT’s dapper tough guy dialogue, director Robert Rodriguez’s visual flair, and the KNB Effects Group’s audacious artistry never fails to please. Also ground zero for the onscreen representation of Tarantino’s foot fetish—you’ll know it when you see it.
Two hitmen (Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley) work their way up the eponymous laundry list of victims, only for things to get more and more surreal as the bodies pile up and it becomes apparent they’re being manipulated by a sinister cult. This downbeat, deliberately obtuse offering from British director Ben Wheatley (High Rise, A Field in England) puts two stock crime caper characters through the psychological ringer—and us along with them.
Mystery Road star Aaron Pederson has never been scarier than in this Australian survival horror, in which he plays one of two killers (the other is Aaron Glenane) who terrorise a young couple (Harriet Dyer and Ian Meadows) on a camping trip. Bleak and brutal, this is a particularly grim example of home grown horror from debut director Damien Power.
A lonely young Swedish boy makes friends with the new girl in his apartment complex. Thing is, she’s a vampire, and looking for a new assistant now her previous henchman has aged out of the role. Is it love or something more predatory? That’s only one of the provocative questions raised in this chilly, oblique tale of blood and snow. The American remake, Let Me In, is also worth a look, but pales next to the original.
Jazz musician Bill Pullman murders his wife and somehow transforms into young mechanic Balthazar Getty for…reasons. This being a David Lynch film, those reasons are never explicated, but Lost Highway is a triumph of tone over logic, as the notoriously opaque director deploys a series of striking tableaux designed to just straight-up make your skin crawl. Worth it for Robert Blake’s Mystery Man alone, and a soundtrack curated by shock rocker Marilyn Manson.
Scientist Mira Sorvino discovers her miracle solution to a plague striking down New York City’s children has inadvertently given rise to an army of giant mutant man-eating cockroaches in the sewers, which ain’t great. A plucky band of B-listers, including Josh Brolin, Jeremy Northam and Charles S. Dutton take on the bugs in this flawed but enjoyable offering from future Oscar darling Guillermo del Toro. It was marred by studio interference, but any film with the stones to feed a couple of cute kids to a ravenous insect is doing something right.
Hack author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) wakes up after a car crash to find himself the unwilling beneficiary of his self-proclaimed Number One Fan, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). Awkward enough, but when she learns that he’s killed off her favourite character in his latest novel, things take a turn for the nasty. Stand by Me director Rob Reiner returns to Stephen King territory with this taut psychological thriller, featuring the most painful-looking broken legs in film history.
Aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning) decamps to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams, only to descend down a lurid rabbit hole of jealousy, depravity, occult conspiracy and murder. Provocateur Nicolas Winding Refn often gives the impression that he doesn’t really care if anyone likes his films, and The Neon Demon is no exception. It is an oblique, beautiful, icy and transgressive bit of body horror among the Beautiful People.
A genuinely disturbing found footage film purportedly cobbled together from the snuff films made by (fictional) serial killer Edward Carver, The Poughkeepsie Tapes really plumbs the depths. More than any other film currently streaming, this one pushes the envelope in terms of gore and depravity, to the point where it’s genuinely mystifying that the Classification Board gave it a pass. Only the brave should give it a spin, and probably take a shower afterwards.
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 remount that can stand proudly beside its source material, and even includes a few extra shocks for good measure, such as the infamous “horse on a boat” scene.
A Nightmare on Elm Street director Wes Craven revitalised the slasher subgenre with this smart entry, which sees a mixed bag of photogenic teens (Neve Campbell, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Lillard, Drew Barrymore, et al) stalked by a masked killer. The fresh wrinkle is that they’ve all seen Halloween and everything after, and so know how this whole thing is supposed to play out. Tongue in cheek but still effective, it changed the genre forever. The sequels? Not so much.
FBI trainee Calirce Starling (Jodie Foster) is tasked with milking imprisoned cannibal Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins) for info about serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), but who is manipulating who? C’mon, you know this one. It was adapted from Thomas Harris’ superb novel, swept the top five Oscar categories, changed cinema forever, and remains the gold standard of serial killer movies.
The titular low level criminal (Joshua Brennan) stumbles across a seemingly immortal woman (Charlotte Best) while being forced to dig his own grave. Her unkillable nature makes her a hot prize for the various ne’er-do-wells and no-goods who inhabit the film’s crooked demimonde. The two team up to take on all comers, with bloody results. Low on budget but high on style and wit, this Australian genre effort is a cut above.
Eschewing such things as “oversight” and “ethics”, rock star geneticists Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody create a human/animal hybrid lifeform (French model Delphine Chanéac), only for things to go awry when the creature hits puberty. Director Vincenzo Natali gives us a surprisingly wry take on body horror, resulting in a sci-fi/horror that amuses and repels in equal measure.
Dennis Hopper’s vengeance-crazed Texas Ranger tracks down the cannibalistic Sawyer family and their main murderer, the hulking Leatherface (Bill Johnson), in this deranged follow up to the iconic classic. Dropping the original’s almost documentary grittiness for grindhouse gore and laughs instead, director Tobe Hooper gives us an OTT carnival of guts and grue that is simply unmissable.
The key Australian horror film of the 21st century sees three outback tourists (Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath and Kestie Morassi) run afoul of iconic serial killer Mick Taylor (John Jarratt, a long way from Better Homes and Gardens), with stomach-churning results. It launched a multimedia franchise, completely revitalised Jarratt’s career, launched director Greg McLean’s, and made a new generation nervy about ocker blokes in utes.
A bickering family find themselves under siege in their holiday home as masked killers pick them off one by one. Luckily, the Australian girlfriend of on of their sons (Sharni Vinson) grew up in survivalist compound and when she turns the tables, the gore quotient goes through the roof. Adam Wingard (The Guest, Blair Witch) delivers a surprisingly fun take on the home invasion sub-genre.