As so much of the world quakes in the shadows of The Haunting of Hill House, Netflix’s masterful horror series, viewers are turning to the streaming service for scares more than ever. It helps that this month’s crop of Netflix original movies have turned notably gloomier and creepier with the changing season, most notably in new works like Jeremy Saulnier’s Hold the Dark and Gareth Evans’s Apostle. The platform has amassed a pretty impressive collection of horror films and can just about serve as your one-stop shop for a Halloween horror marathon, depending on how much you like Mike Flanagan.
We watched as many of the horror offerings under the Netflix Original banner as possible and ranked the best ones. Two notes on qualifications. First, it has to have the already-iconic Netflix boom-boom title card, so stuff that they picked up but don’t consider a “Netflix property” for whatever reason (like the great Under the Shadow) doesn’t qualify. Second, it has to be a horror movie. There are some thrillers (like Hold the Dark and Rebirth) and sci-fi action movies (like Spectral) that aren’t quite technically horror. With that said, Netflix’s best ten horror flicks are …
10. Before I Wake (2016)
Before long, Netflix is going to have its very own Mike Flanagan Channel. The auteur behind The Haunting of Hill House has three movies on this list, and while this one is the most mediocre, it contains just enough moments that work to make the cut. While it didn’t premiere on Netflix until early this year, Before I Wake is actually Flanagan’s third film (after 2011’s Absentia and 2013’s Oculus), produced in 2014 and then delayed multiple times. Room star Jacob Tremblay appears as a kid whose dreams manifest into reality, allowing Flanagan a few hair-raising sequences and a memorable monster known as “the Canker Man.” Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane co-star. It’s definitely the product of a filmmaker finding his feet, but the film is even more interesting now considering how easy it is to see the themes Flanagan would hone in his later works.
9. Malevolent (2018)
Still in the “yeah, it’s okay” section of the top ten is one of Netflix’s most recent offerings, a ghost story that takes a hard turn into something closer to torture porn in the final act. There’s some really effective filmmaking before then, largely due to the grounded, in-the-moment performance from Florence Pugh, an about-to-breakout star who went on to feature in films by David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), and Ari Aster (Hereditary). Here, she plays a faux ghostbuster, conning people out of their money with her brother, who finds out that some ghosts are real. The end of this movie is a mess, but Pugh does enough good work in the first hour to justify a look.
8. 1922 (2017)
It wouldn’t be a list of horror movies without a Stephen King adaptation or two, and this Zak Hilditch period piece is based on one of the master’s novellas from the 2010 anthology Full Dark, No Stars. Thomas Jane is excellent as Wilfred James, a Nebraska farmer with a very unhappy wife, played by Molly Parker. When it become clear that Wilf’s wife is insistent on moving back to the city, the farmer decides she has to go, even convincing his son to help him. It’s essentially one of King’s riffs on murderous guilt à la The Tell-Tale Heart, with a seemingly good man going from one awful deed to flat-out insanity. It can’t quite hold for its running time (as often happens with short stories turned into long films), but there’s some unforgettable imagery here.
7. Calibre (2018)
This is the only film on this list that one could argue isn’t really a horror film, but the final act gets so Wicker Man weird that we’ve decided it qualifies. It starts as a pretty terrifying thriller, the inciting incident being a hunting accident in which one of the protagonists accidentally shoots a child. It gets worse from there. When they decide to try to hide their crimes, things go downhill fast. Here’s the moral message: When one of your mates says “no harm done” after the murders of two people, you know you’re in trouble.
6. Cargo (2018)
Isn’t it amazing that there are any new stories to tell in the zombie subgenre? Just when you think they’ve run out of ideas, along comes an effectively human story such as this piece, starring the always excellent Martin Freeman of Sherlock and The Hobbit fame. He stars as Andy, a man deep in the Australian outback, where things go very undead. The clever twist here is that the bitten don’t turn instantly — they have 48 hours to come to terms with their impending appetite for brains. It makes for a melancholy take on the genre we haven’t really seen before, other than in the other Netflix zombie flick with a twist …
5. Ravenous (2017)
Just as Cargo has a somber tone, this French-Canadian zombie flick captures the depressive state that would fall over the world if most of its residents became hungry for flesh. What works so well about director Robin Aubert’s Ravenous is the world creation he offers us via the brief glimpses of a few surviving characters. The film jumps around a rural landscape, finding a few random survivors just waiting for their next horrifying encounter. Fans of a certain AMC series, take note: Ravenous has echoes of The Walking Dead in the way it captures how the survivors may actually be worse off than those who died.
4. I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016)
Probably the most divisive film on this list is writer-director Osgood Perkins’s (son of Psycho star Anthony) moody ghost story, a film way more interested in getting under your skin than making you jump. The Affair star Ruth Wilson stars as a live-in nurse at what could be a haunted house. With long takes and creepy sound design, Perkins’s film is a challenging one, but it’s a movie that does that one important thing that all the best ghost stories do: coming back to you in the middle of the night like a cinematic haunting.
3. Hush (2016)
Arguably more of a thriller than a horror film, Mike Flanagan’s second film on this list qualifies in the same way that The Strangers or even Scream qualifies — it’s one of the few “slasher pics” from the last few years that actually works. The reason it does is because it’s one of the few to have an original idea. (Well, at least as original as 1967’s Wait Until Dark, which probably inspired it.) If you’ve been watching Hill House and wondering where you recognized Kate Siegel’s Theo from, it’s from here: She co-wrote and starred as Maddie, a deaf writer terrorized in the middle of the night. It’s effective, hair-raising filmmaking, with a great turn from Siegel.
2. Apostle (2018)
Every horror section needs a batshit-crazy entry, the kind of gorefest you put on in the middle-of-the-night portion of your movie marathon just to keep everyone awake. The first hour of this slow burn from The Raid director Gareth Evans may be a tough haul if you start this at 3 a.m., but the second hour will wake everyone up. What first appears to be a gritty riff on The Wicker Man becomes an insane, gory riff on, well, The Wicker Man. Starring Dan Stevens (with a key supporting performance Michael Sheen), The Apostle follows a man invading a cult to find his kidnapped sister, and the closing scenes are as loony as anything you could watch on Netflix — or anywhere else really. Some love it, some hate it, but no one will forget it.
1. Gerald’s Game (2017)
Is it possible for a later work to make a previous one better? When we see a filmmaker exploring similar themes in a recent work, it often highlights how he did so in earlier films. Such is the case with Mike Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game, which was a good movie last year but feels even better in light of Hill House, and not only because both feature great performances by Carla Gugino and Henry Thomas. Flanagan expertly pulls out the human themes of Stephen King’s story of a woman trapped in a waking nightmare and how the trauma of her past influences her survival chances, and Gugino gives the best performance on this list — fearless and unforgettable.