Amazon Prime is one of the better streaming services for horror fans (and that’s even before you add on the essential Shudder service for a little extra blood and guts). Someone over at Amazon HQ is clearly a fan of the genre, because there are an unusually abundant number of quality films on the service that will make you double check that the doors are locked at night when you’re done watching. Here are the 40 best of them. Sleep tight.
Paramount notoriously had no idea what to do with Alex Garland’s film and barely promoted it in American theaters, dropping it on Netflix in the rest of the world. In this country, it’s on Amazon. And it’s amazing. One of the best films of 2018 stars Natalie Portman as a woman who enters an alien occurrence to find out what happened to her husband there — although that barely scratches the surface of this complex, already beloved film.
Takashi Miike may have made over 100 movies, but this one’s the best of them all. His 1999 thriller-horror adaptation of Ryu Murakami’s book is not only terrifying, but it proved that the Miike known more for unbridled insanity could also work in a more psychological, terrifying register. It’s the story of a widower who finds himself dating the wrong person, and it’s a masterful slow burn as the film builds to one of the most unsettling climaxes of all time.
S. Craig Zahler has become one of the most divisive filmmakers working today after three vicious, brutal movies — Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99, and Dragged Across Concrete. The first two are both on Amazon. This one is slightly better, a slow-burn Western that stars Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, and Richard Jenkins as a posse of men who hunt a group of indigenous savages. The final act is terrifying and intense. (If you like it, check out Brawl too.)
The Cabin in the Woods
Drew Goddard’s dissection of the entire horror genre is so great because it’s also a wonderful scary movie on its own terms. With a great cast that includes a pre-huge Chris Hemsworth, Richard Jenkins, and Bradley Whitford, The Cabin in the Woods is endlessly rewatchable thanks in large part to a razor-sharp script from Goddard and Joss Whedon, bringing some of the wit that we saw in their collaborations together on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel to the big screen.
Stephen King has arguably never been bigger than he was in 2019, with the release of films like Pet Sematary and It: Chapter Two, as well as a new book coming in May 2020. Use this Brian De Palma masterpiece to flash back to a time when King wasn’t yet a household name. Sissy Spacek gives one of her best performances as the title character, a bullied girl who discovers that she’s not your ordinary teenager. This is still one of the best King adaptations of all time.
Peter Medak’s 1980 ghost story was promoted largely for its scares, but it’s a bit tame now in that department; now it’s more valuable as an example of how great George C. Scott was every single time he got in front of a camera. Scott plays a man grieving the loss of his wife and daughter who moves to Seattle and discovers his new house is haunted. It’s interesting to watch this movie now and consider how much it visually influenced the world of films like The Conjuring and Annabelle. It’s a clear inspiration.
Who doesn’t love Chucky? The homicidal doll burst his way back into pop culture with a reboot last year, but the original franchise is still going strong too, believe it or not. Go back to where it all began with this classic horror-comedy, a movie that scared a generation into throwing away their toys.
James Ward Byrkit wrote and directed this 2013 gem that has developed quite a cult following over the years since its Fantastic Fest premiere. The idea is one that Rod Serling would have loved. A group of people get together for a dinner party when the whole neighborhood goes into a blackout except for the house at the other end of the street, in which the same dinner party appears to be taking place. Strap in.
We don’t deserve David Cronenberg. One of the best living filmmakers delivered one of his best films in 1988 in this twisted thriller starring Jeremy Irons as twin gynecologists who share flings with their clients without them knowing. Well, they do until one of them develops an attachment to the latest patient. Creepy and masterful, this contains arguably Irons’s best performance.
Neil Marshall’s best work remains this 2005 thriller that works as both a study in claustrophobia and a truly terrifying monster movie. Six women make the dumb decision to leave their houses and go into a cave system, where they first face the incredibly tight and terrifying physical situation … and then the things that live in the dark. Bracing and brilliant, this is one of the best modern horror films on any platform.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Sometimes when you see a new film, you know you are in the hands of a daring debut director. Such was the case when this black-and-white vampire Western — yes, another one of those — premiered at Sundance. Ana Lily Amirpour has a style that is distinctly her own, blending her background and interests into something daring and new.
Maybe you’ve heard of it? It seems unlikely that anyone subscribing hasn’t seen John Carpenter’s game-changing masterpiece by 2020, but maybe it’s been a few years for you and you’re considering a revisit. You really should go back to Haddonfield and see where the saga of Michael Myers began. It’s the rare horror movie that can send chills up your spine every time you see it.
Clive Barker’s debut directorial effort, working from his own screenplay, may be the best cinematic example of a writer translating his vision from the page to the screen. Shakespearean in its examination of family betrayals and unchecked evil, this is a movie that works just as well today as it did 30 years ago. Lock the doors first.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
John McNaughton’s document of the life of a serial killer and his new also-homicidal friend is one of the best independent films of its generation. Not only does it use a dark, rarely seen side of Chicago brilliantly, but its balance of horror and even humor remains powerful three decades later.
Make sure you’re in the right mental place before watching Ari Aster’s 2018 debut film, a movie that will rattle you to your core. Toni Collette gives one of the best performances of 2018 as a mother who faces tragic loss before she faces something much scarier. It’s unforgettable.
The House of the Devil
Ti West makes the kind of the slow-burn horror movies that simmer their way to explosive final acts. His best to date remains this 2009 genre flick starring Jocelin Donahue as a college student hired to babysit by a creepy couple. Clearly, there’s something wrong, but West delays the payoff until the very end, allowing tension to build with each passing scene. Greta Gerwig appears in a small role, if that helps.
In the Mouth of Madness
One of the master John Carpenter’s last great films is this 1994 horror movie that’s unofficially part of a trilogy with The Thing and Prince of Darkness. Heavily influenced by the work of H.P. Lovecraft (and with a title that references the author’s At the Mountains of Madness), this film stars Sam Neill as an insurance investigator who looks into the disappearance of a famous horror author and finds, well, horror.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
There’s a reason we keep coming back to the concept of everyday people being taken over by an alien force. What’s scarier than no longer being able to trust your neighbor, co-worker, or even your significant other? While there are positive qualities to all the iterations of this classic Jack Finney story, the best film version is the 1978 one starring Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, and Leonard Nimoy.
Adrian Lyne’s best film is this 1990 thriller starring Tim Robbins as a Vietnam vet who is living an increasingly terrifying waking nightmare. Haunted by demons and chased by visions, Robbins’s postman becomes convinced that something happened to him in the war that he can’t remember. An unforgettable commentary on PTSD and how we treat our vets, it’s also just straight-up terrifying.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Yorgos Lanthimos reached a new tier with the massive success of the award-winning The Favourite, but the film he made just prior to that one is a marvel, too, in the story of a man who likes to play God meeting a boy who likes to play Devil. The less you know about this Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman mindfuck the better, but it owes a great deal to horror of the ’70s, particularly that of Roman Polanski. It’s a terrifying, surreal nightmare.
Panos Cosmatos gave Nicolas Cage one of the best roles of his career in this 2018 film that already feels like a cult classic. For about an hour, Mandy is a slow burn about a man who goes through a living hell when a cult kidnaps and murders his wife (Andrea Riseborough). And then for the second hour, it’s a crazy movie that’s awash in blood and features a chainsaw fight. You can’t adequately describe it in words, so you just need to see it.
Amazon’s horror selection is even better if you have the Shudder add-on, but they do have exclusive streaming rights to Ari Aster and A24’s excellent Midsommar, the story of a vacation gone horribly awry. Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor play a couple who go to Sweden for a festival. A comedy of cultures gives way to something much darker when the true purpose of the festival is revealed in a series of final scenes that you’ll never forget.
The Neon Demon
No one makes movies quite like Nicolas Winding Refn. The director of Drive delivered one of his most unforgettable flicks in this horror film about the fashion industry, featuring a fearless performance by Elle Fanning. And Keanu Reeves is in it too!
Night of the Living Dead
When a young man named George A. Romero got some buddies together to make a movie in Pittsburgh that had almost no budget, they couldn’t have possibly known that they were about to change movie history. Watching this classic a half-century after its release, one is struck by how well it holds up today, tackling issues and reshaping horror-movie language in a way that will never grow old.
Clive Barker wrote and directed this adaptation of his Cabal and released it to a much more muted response than greeted his hit Hellraiser. Over the years, Nightbreed has developed a loyal following, in part due to the various versions of it now available. The one on Amazon is the theatrical release, in which Craig Sheffer plays a man who becomes convinced his therapist is a serial killer, and his own investigation leads him to a tribe of monsters. Good times.
One Cut of the Dead
This Japanese indie is a great example of a true word-of-mouth phenomenon, a movie made for almost nothing (reportedly as little as $25,000) that has made over $30 million worldwide, largely through recommendations. The less you know the better, so try and avoid spoilers. All we’ll say is that what you think this movie is for the first half hour is not exactly right, and it takes a turn that results in one of the smartest, most heartfelt zombie flicks in years.
Another low-budget flick that produced an empire, Don Coscarelli’s totally bonkers 1979 film is unlike anything before or since. Who can forget the first time they saw Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man, one of the best horror characters of his era? The crazy plot here is secondary to the unforgettable imagery and style. There’s a reason it spawned four sequels and has a very loyal cult following 40 years later.
A Quiet Place
Who could have possibly guessed that Jim from The Office would be behind one of the most successful horror films of the 2010s? Or that it would be on streaming services only a year after its release? You’ve probably already seen this story of a world in which silence is the only way to survive, but it’s worth another look to marvel at its taut filmmaking and a stellar performance from Emily Blunt. This one is going to age well.
A lot of filmmakers have tried to incorporate H.P. Lovecraft into their work, either as an influence or direct adaptation, but Stuart Gordon’s 1985 cult hit arguably remains the best. Adapting Lovecraft’s Herbert West–Reanimator into a feature film, Gordon is fearless, making a movie that contains some of the most memorably twisted images and ideas of its era. Originally X-rated for its overall insanity, this is a riff on the classic tale of medical science gone malevolent as a doctor starts reanimating dead bodies. Never a good idea.
Horror has too long been a man’s game, so we should celebrate when a great film by a female director comes out of the genre. Neon, the studio behind the movie, has even been using a blood-soaked image of Revenge’s star, Matilda Lutz, in a lot of its own marketing material. Lutz plays a woman who is raped and nearly murdered by a trio of monsters. You will cheer her bloody, vicious vengeance.
In the wake of the coronavirus, expect more horror about how we can’t trust the person right next to us on the couch. Many of them will reference Roman Polanski’s masterpiece, the story of a woman who discovers she’s been used as a tool for a Satanist cult to make a demon baby. And you thought the virus was bad?
Is this the last great Tim Burton movie? This 1999 Johnny Depp flick was the perfect distillation of both Burton and his favorite star’s interests, allowing both to display their love for the dark side in a big-budget adaptation of Washington Irving’s classic short story. Depp plays Ichabod Crane, who investigates a series of murders allegedly committed by a headless horseman. Stylish and creepy, it’s a film of its era that’s held up remarkably well.
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are carving a unique niche in which they make genre films that are borne out of a very human dynamic. Last year’s The Endless and the upcoming Synchronic are about people more than the bizarre circumstances in which they find themselves. Same goes for this phenomenal 2015 film about a young man who travels to Europe after the death of his mother. There, he meets a beautiful young woman, who … well, she has a secret. Imagine Before Sunrise written by H.P. Lovecraft and you’ll have some idea where this is going.
Loosely based on a true story, this is one of the best home-invasion flicks of the modern era. It’s the terrifyingly relatable story of a couple, played by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman, who are attacked in their vacation home in the middle of the night. Made for almost nothing, The Strangers was a huge smash, tapping into something we all fear could happen when we hear a strange sound outside in the middle of the night.
A Tale of Two Sisters
The wave of Asian horror in the late ’90s and early aughts produced a few instant classics of the genre, but this may be the best of the bunch. Kim Jee-woon’s 2003 South Korean flick is the story of a young woman who returns home after a trip to a mental hospital and faces off with a new stepmother and something possibly supernatural. It’s a modern classic.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Few films made the same cultural impact as Tobe Hooper’s 1974 splatter classic, a movie he shot with his friends and unknown actors in central Texas for almost no money and that would change film history forever. A lot of horror movies, even great ones, come and go, but people are constantly returning to the world of Leatherface and his cannibal family. It’s one of the few horror films of its era that feels nearly as terrifying today as it did the day it came out.
Tigers Are Not Afraid
There aren’t enough international films on any streaming service, so this Mexican offering from Issa Lopez is an exception, and it’s a good one — a tender, empathetic tale of the orphans of the Mexican Drug War with stylistic echoes of one of its biggest fans, Guillermo del Toro.
Train to Busan
A legitimate phenomenon that has grossed almost $100 million worldwide, this 2016 South Korean movie is one of the best zombie flicks of its era. It’s simple — zombies on a train — but that’s one of the reasons it works so well. It has a propulsive, nonstop energy, and it feels like its legacy is just getting started. There’s a reason that James Wan is working on a remake and director Yeon Sang-ho is prepping a sequel to his own hit.
Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie’s 2016 Canadian film may be the least known on this list, but just trust us: You’re going to dig it. So low budget that a lot of its effects were crowdfunded on Indiegogo, The Void is the story of a small group of people at a hospital where portal to the other side just happens to open. It has echoes of Lovecraft with a style that’s reminiscent of John Carpenter’s wonderful single-setting work. And the creature effects are just aces.
Na Hong-jin’s 2016 film is not one you should pick to watch on a casual date night. It takes a commitment of over 150 minutes, but it’s worth every one of them. There’s a cumulative power to this story of a policeman who investigates a strange series of events in a small town and basically discovers ancient evil. The Wailing is epic, and it rewards your commitment to it with a final act that’s devastating and unforgettable.