Halloween is right around the corner, which means that for the past three weeks or so, every website and mom-and-pop blog out there has been spouting off their two cents about which horror movies you must see to ring in the occasion. They’ve likely used a common viewing platform like Netflix to reel you in, then promptly insulted your intelligence by offering a bunch of suggestions that even the most neophytic horror fan could tell you was a staple of the genre. With all due respect to the men and women behind classics like Halloween, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Exorcist, I’ve grown pretty gosh darn tired (pardon my French) of seeing their names pop up on every one of these lists for better than 30 years now, because:
- That’s why they’re called “classics,” and
- That’s what AMC Fearfest is for.
Lucky for you, I’ve assembled a crack team of experts to help ensure that you spend this Halloween broadening your horizons with some truly new and diverse horror fare that can be found right on everybody’s favorite streaming service, Netflix. So without further ado, I give you the One, True List of Overlooked Horror Films to Watch on Netflix This Halloween.
Of all the movies I will put on this list, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that Jug Face will be the most divisive, which is why I’ve placed it first. It’s a slow-burner of a film with a particularly grizzly ending which opts for atmosphere over gore to both maintain its ambiguity and suit the needs of its clearly undersized budget.
The debut film from writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle can be best described as the bastard offspring of The Wicker Man and Deliverance. Set in a backwoods corner of Tennessee wherein the members of an isolated community regularly sacrifice their own to an all-knowing “pit,” Jug Head is a grimy, cerebral, contained-bordering-on-claustrophobic horror film that is equal parts character study and meditation on cult ritualism.
When young Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) is knocked up by her brother (gross) on the eve of her wedding, she is chosen by the pit to be sacrificed next – or more specifically, by a town member who serves as the pit’s vessel, channeling its desires into clay molds that make up the titular jug faces. Fearing for both her own life and that of her unborn baby’s, Ada attempts to escape from the community as the pit begins to sacrifice the members of community in her place.
But what Jug Face manages to do best, in my opinion, is depict a tribe of monster-worshipping yokels without turning them into one-note caricatures. The members of this deep South commune derive no pleasure from the reprehensible actions they commit, and in fact, are only driven to do so by the fear of what will happen if they don’t (and to a certain degree, destiny). That notion of consequence, of a complete lack of control, is what elevates Jug Face above most entries in the “backwoods horror” canon.
Speaking of “cult” films, Ti West’s The Sacrament is about as straight-forward a foray into the cult subgenre of horror as it gets (almost to a fault in terms of how its story resolves, unfortunately). Based heavily on the events of the Jonestown massacre, The Sacrament centers around a mysterious religious commune run by a charismatic, incredibly Southern (aren’t they always) leader known simply as “Father,” who wouldn’t you know, isn’t exactly what he seems.
I won’t say much as to how The Sacrament unfolds, but I will say that West displays much of the same knack for subtle, suspense-building that he displayed in House of the Devil – a fact made all the more incredible by the fact that The Sacrament is shot in the much maligned “found footage” style that has been a go-to for hacky, low budget thrillers ever since The Blair Witch Project.
A loose adaptation of Tony Burgess’ 1998 novel Pontypool Changes Everything, Pontypool tells the story of Grant Mazzy, a former shock jock turned morning radio show host, who becomes trapped in his studio during a mass hysteria event. While that may sound like every “single setting” zombie movie ever made, Pontypool is anything but. For starters, the “zombies” in question are not the dead risen or really dead at all, but rather people who have fallen victim to a strange disease that spreads through infected words, slowly consuming their minds and driving them insane.
But beyond that, Pontypool is unique in use of restraint over excess to instill fear, an increasingly foreign concept in an era of horror filmmaking that has practically become defined by the jump scare. The entirety of Pontypool takes places from inside Mazzy’s studio, shielding the protagonist — and by extension, the viewer — from the carnage outside, which both heightens the violence that does occur and allows the film to build as one massive crescendo until its destructive and revelatory final moments.
Capturing much of the vibe that made Burgess’ novel such a unique read (perhaps because the screenplay was written by Burgess himself), Pontypool is an at times silly, at times terrifying, and always disorienting film that redefines the possibilities of the zombie genre beyond, say, adding boy scouts into the mix.
Norwegian conspiracies. Goat sacrifices. Giant trolls. Need I say more?
Editor’s Note: No, you don’t. This is one even for those nerds who dislike Horror films.
If you’re a horror fan that’s worth his/her salt, chances are that you’ve at least heard grumblings of the breakout directorial debut of Jennifer Kent, which along with It Follows (which is sadly not yet available on Netflix), has been heralded as one of the best horror films of the year, and rightfully so.
Juggling such issues as postpartum depression, isolation, and childhood notions of “The Boogeyman,” The Babadook is a fairy tale-like horror story about a grieving widow and mother who receives a mysterious pop-up book that unleashes the spirit of a vengeful, supernatural being hell-bent on claiming her problematic (and if I can be so candid, annoying) son.
Perhaps the most noteworthy element of The Babadook — aside from its terrifyingly rendered titular creature – is the film’s beautiful yet monotonic set design that calls back to classic Italian horror films like Suspiria and The Beyond. The whole thing feels like a surreal fever dream that slowly starts to constrict itself around you as it becomes a nightmare.
Now here’s a little haunted house story out of New Zealand that really managed to surprise some people last year. The setup is a rather familiar one – woman stuck in house begins to hear things going bump in the night – but the way that Housebound manages to both use genre conventions to get its wheels turning, then immediately defy them is something to behold. Most importantly, this movie is fun-ny, while still managing to pack in a handful of legitimate scares and a third act twist that somehow manages to be completely out of left field without being offensively dumb.
Easily one of the greatest creature features ever created, The Host is a South Korean epic from director Joon-ho Bong that focuses on a lovable doofus who must protect his family from an amphibious creature that emerges from emerges from Seoul’s Han River and begins to feast on the local townspeople. Upon its release in 2006, The Host shattered all previous South Korean box office records, selling some 10 million tickets in the span of three weeks.
There is so much to love about this movie – from the dark humor that pervades throughout (a staple of many Korean films) to its fully realized protagonists to the brilliantly shot sequence in which the monster is revealed, The Host is just a top-notch monster movie from top to bottom. It’s well acted, gorgeously filmed, and entertaining from start to finish. What else could you want in a movie?
Honorable mentions (that you’ve probably already seen): Let the Right One In, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Dead Snow 1 &2, Stake Land
So there you have it: a comprehensive list of the best horror movies on Netflix that you might’ve missed. This is the part where you sing my praises in the comments section, or more likely, tell me what a dummy I am for failing to mention films X, Y, and Z. Happy Halloween, y’all!