Happy October, everyone! I’m still in the process of dealing with all that Major Life Stuff, so I may have to take off for a few weeks again in November — but it’s Halloween season, so obviously I can’t let that go unremarked. As such, I’ll be back to rolling out content throughout the month, some of which will step away a little bit from the formats TGIMM typically employs.
To start, let’s take a look at some of the best horror movies currently available to stream on Netflix Watch Instantly, because there is no better way to spend a gloomy day in October than by queuing up a marathon of weirdness. This list is by no means exhaustive; it also focuses less on the classics (which I assume you’ve already seen — and if you haven’t, hey, Hellraiser, Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, and more are currently available, so get on that, stat) or big budget films (most of which just don’t really do it for me) in favor of smaller budget, foreign, and/or indie films. Generally I find the lack of a huge budget forces artists to be a heck of a lot creative, and as a result, I think these sorts of horror films are much more interesting than ones with a whole bunch of money behind them. I also realize that “best” is kind of a relative term — I may love these films; you may hate them — but, well… just roll with it. We’ll go through a few different categories as we work our way down: Things I’ve seen, things I haven’t seen but hear great things about, and a couple of bonuses.
Got something in mind I haven’t listed here that we should all give a shot? Leave it in the comments.
Now! Let’s get this (dead man’s) party started, shall we?
Things I’ve Actually Seen:
I’ve watched all of the films in this category, and although they’re certainly not perfect, they all struck me for one reason or another. Whether or not they’re actually “scary” is probably a personal matter (if you’ve seen as many horror flicks as I have, you’re likely hard to frighten), but what they do all do is use the horror genre — and various subgenres within it — in unique ways that comment on something larger than themselves.
Based off of the novel Pontypool Changes Everything (which, alas, I have not yet been able to get my hands on), Pontypool is kind of like what would happen if Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio and a George A. Romero film had a lovechild. As aging shock jock Grant Mazzy runs his radio show on Valentine’s Day, he and his station manager, Sydney Briar, find themselves in the midst of something resembling a zombie outbreak — except that instead of being spread by something physical (a bite, an exchange of bodily fluids, etc.), it’s spread by the one thing that Mazzy can’t live without: Language.
Never let it be said that words don’t have power.
As a side note, I also think this one would make a dynamite stage play. If anyone ever gets the rights to turn it into one, call me. I’d love to direct it.
The House at the End of Time is a horror movie in the same way that The Orphanage is, or in the same way that Pan’s Labyrinth is a fantasy film — that is, it uses the genre as a starting point, and then becomes something far more. The storytelling is non-linear, as the title might suggest, taking place both in 1981 and 2011. In 1981, Dulce is charged and convicted with murdering her husband and her son; then, when she’s released from prison in 2011, she returns to the same house in which the tragedy took place to confront the ghosts of her past — and of her present, and her future.
I don’t know if I should really tell you more than that; you might see some of the twists coming, like I did, but there are a few that might still surprise you. It’ll also probably hit you right in the feels, so be prepared to get a little emotional.
3. The Canal
As is the case with The House at the End of Time, anyone who’s well-versed in horror movies or psychological thrillers will probably see the twist coming in The Canal. But knowing how a story will end isn’t the same thing as knowing how it’s going to get there, and that’s where The Canal’s strength lies.
Film archivist David is (understandably) somewhat shocked to find that his latest project, some crime footage from the turn of the century, features his own house: It turns out a brutal murder took place there in 1902. Add to that the fact that he suspects his wife, Alice, has been having an affair, and, well… he’s not exactly having a great time of it. When Alice goes missing, he’s at the top of the suspect list, even though he swears he had nothing to do with it.
Meanwhile, the ancient crime footage gets more disturbing each time David watches it…
I generally like found footage as a genre, but even I’ll admit that, as it’s become more and more common, it’s gotten a little… well, boring. We know the gimmick, so it’s lost its punch; furthermore, a lot of the time, stories told in the found footage style could have been served just as well by a different form.
I would argue, though, that The Taking of Deborah Logan could only have been told as a found footage film. It begins as a behind-the-scenes look at a team of filmmakers shooting a documentary about the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, both for those suffering from it and for those caring for and about the sufferers. As they document more and more strange occurrences, though, it becomes clear that whatever is plaguing Deborah Logan is… something else.
The best horror movies set out to do more than just scare you. They act as a lens through which to examine some very real issues — and that’s what The Taking of Deborah Logan does so well. What do you do when someone you care about begins behaving so erratically that it seems like they’re possessed?
5. The Babadook
Like The Taking of Deborah Logan, the titular monster in The Babdook is a metaphor for something else — grief, in this case, and how it can transform those attempting to cope with it. I’m not sure I agree with the assessment commonly made about The Babdook — that it’s the scariest movie ever in the history of scary movies ZOMG you guys SO SCARY — but it is certainly effective and thought-provoking, with a wonderful performance from Essie Davis to boot.
Unlike a lot of movies that question whether or not the “monster” is real, The Babdook doesn’t leave it open-ended; it actually answers it in solid, concrete way. Part of me wishes the film hadn’t done this — but there’s a definite statement made by the way it does answer it, so I can see why it took the angle that it did. I won’t tell you what it is, though; that would spoil the ending.
For the curious, the short film writer and director Jennifer Kent made in 2005 that later grew into The Babadook is available to watch for free online. Check it out below.
6. The Den
In some ways, I find The Den kind of similar to movies like The Strangers. I realize this sounds like a weird comparison, but here’s how I see it: The Strangers is about a home invasion; The Den is about a full life invasion. Told entirely through chat windows, emails, and — predominantly — the use of a Chatroulette-like social network called the Den, it lets us in from a voyeuristic perspective on what happens when a young woman conducting some sociological research ends up connecting with the wrong people.
Classic urban legends like “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs” and “The Hook” are morality plays in disguise — they caution young people against certain behaviors (don’t neglect your responsibilities or an innocent bystander will die! Stay away from casual sex or terrible things will happen!). The Den updates this format for the digital age, and although I don’t think it’s telling us to stay away from the Internet altogether, it does caution us about getting too cavalier with it. Just remember: That person you’re talking to might seem perfectly nice… but you never know who might actually be on the other end.
Or what they might be capable of doing.
Babysitting jobs for new clients at houses out in the middle of woods typically set off alarm bells for just about anyone, but college student Samantha, who’s in dire financial straits, also can’t afford to pass up the absurdly good pay rate offered by the Ulmans. Too bad the job ends up asking more of her than she could possibly give, right?
I’ll admit that I was somewhat surprised by how much I enjoyed The House of the Devil, mostly because “Satanic panic”-type movies aren’t usually my proverbial cup of tea. I was even more surprised by the fact that I liked The House of the Devil substantially more than writer/director Ti West’s follow-up, The Innkeepers — which, as a haunted house flick, would usually be right up my alley. This isn’t to say that The Innkeepers is “bad”… but The House of the Devil is just so well done, with so many terrific nods to the era during which religious horror movies were de rigueur, that it just hits all the right buttons.
I’ll be honest: Housebound isn’t actually a great movie. It is, however, ridiculous, and its healthy sense of its own ridiculousness is what makes it so much fun to watch.
Kylie has been put on house arrest for attempting to steal an ATM. To make matters worse, her sentence is to be carried out at her childhood home under the watchful eye of her mother and stepfather. Kylie is far from thrilled about any of this — but when she begins to suspect that the house might be haunted? Hoo boy. Way to make an already unfortunate situation worse. The plot thickens, then thickens again, then thickens even more, making the whole thing a veritable stew of weirdness by the end — but it’s also laugh-out-loud funny, just as any respectable horror-comedy should be.
Speaking of horror-comedies…
I went into Tucker and Dale vs. Evil pretty much only knowing that I like horror movies and I like Alan Tudyk, and that both were relevant in this case.
I had no idea what I was in store for, and it was absolutely magnificent.
Tucker and Dale is often mentioned in the same breath as The Cabin in the Woods, largely, I think, because of the way they both subvert classic slasher flick tropes. That said, though, they both stand on their own, Tucker and Dale because of the “Oh god this is so funny but I am a TERRIBLE PERSON for laughing at it” quality it embraces like a warm albeit slightly disgusting blanket.
You know how, at the beginning of every “teens go off for a wild weekend romp and end up mostly dead” movie, said teens always encounter someone creepy at a gas station on their way to their chosen site of debauchery? Tucker and Dale are those guys — except that they’re really not actually creepy. They’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they keep ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time. But you know what? They’re actually really good guys. And it turns out that the debauched teens are actually creepier than Tucker and Dale could ever be.
Things That Are On My “To Watch” List:
The films in this category? I haven’t actually seen them yet, so I can’t comment on them from a completely knowledgable perspective. I do, however, hear excellent things about them, so they’re all on my “To Watch” list — and they should probably be on yours, too.
Cannibal movies aren’t usually my thing, but the Parker family and their secrets might make this one another The House of the Devil for me. An American remake of a Mexican film, the original unfortunately isn’t available on Netflix; however, the English remake has — somewhat unusually — received quite positive reviews.
The girl walking home alone at night in this one? She’s not the helpless victim most horror movies usually make girls walking home alone at night to be.
She’s a vampire.
3. The Harvest
I hesitate to read too much about The Harvest; like many horror flicks, it’s a film about secrets, and I’m afraid that reading too much about it in advance will spoil it. What I do know is the description — “Forbidden to visit the chronically ill boy next door, spirited Maryann befriends him anyway — and discovers a dangerous family secret” — and Patrick Cooper of Bloody Disgusting’s take on it: “It’s a unique story that would’ve come across as ridiculous if made by a lesser filmmaker, but in the hands of McNaughton, The Harvest stays grounded throughout as it plays out its devastating drama exploring the darkest sides of humanity.”
Consider me intrigued.
A Couple of Documentaries, Just For Good Measure:
The documentaries listed here are specifically horror-related. There are plenty of docs on Netflix that are creepy enough on their own. (Talhotblond, The Woman Who Wasn’t There, The Imposter, and Tabloid all come to mind) — but for those of you who want something seasonally appropriate, these picks might fit the bill.
Is there any truth to the legend of Cropsey, a bogeyman-type figure native to Staten Island, New York? That’s what filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio set out to explore — but what they end up uncovering about Andre Rand, the Willowbrook State School, and more of Staten Island’s darker history ends up being much more complex than they could have anticipated.
After Cropsey, Joshua Zeman widened his net out to explore whether there’s any truth to four classic urban legends: “The Halloween Sadist,” “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs,” “The Hook,” and the “killer clown” trope. While none of it is as simple as, “Hey, this news story must have given rise to this particular urban legend!”, it is interesting to see how news stories that reflect certain themes seen in urban legends serve to perpetuate the belief in the tales — but only because we allow them to do so.
I don’t have cable anymore, but when I did, one of my favorite things to do throughout the month of October was the keep the television tuned to the Travel Channel pretty much 24/7. Why? Because of all the (admittedly sometimes hilariously cheesy) shows about haunted houses, both “real” and fictional, that air during the Halloween season. America’s Scariest Haunted Attractions was one of my favorites, because even if I couldn’t physically make it to, say, Eastern State Penitentiary’s Terror Behind the Walls, I could still get a peek at it on TV.
But high octane attractions aren’t the only haunts out there. There’s a whole world of people making spooky haunts at home, just like my friends and I used to do in the basement of our houses every year when we were kids. The American Scream follows three home haunters in Fairhaven, MA — my home state — as their put their haunts together during one Halloween season. It kind of gave me the warm-fuzzies, which I know sounds odd for a Halloween documentary — but if you get nostalgic about the season, that’s likely the effect it will have on you, too. There’s just something about watching people do something that they love so much that makes you feel terrific — even when it’s about monsters and skeletons and stuff.
Want an overview of the complete history of horror on film? Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue is exactly what you’re looking for. It’s a few years out of date now — it was originally released in 2009 — but it features filmmakers, producers, and historians talking about what they know best, tracing the genre from the First World War all the up through the early 2000s. You know you want to see greats like John Carpenter talk about what scared them when they were kids.
And One That’s Not on Netflix, But…
…is still definitely worth your time.
In a world where all the villains from slasher flicks are real, Leslie Vernon is preparing to make his debut on the scene. Journalist Taylor Gentry and her camera team plan to document the whole thing — and that’s all I’m going to tell you about it, because really, you just need to watch it. It’s available to rent from Amazon for $2.99, and I highly suggest you do so. Also check out “The Unsung Brilliance of Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon” at The Mary Sue, although only after you’ve actually watched the movie.
Happy viewing, everyone!
[Photo via DigiTaL~NomAd/Flickr]