Netflix offers thousands of movies to choose from, and while it’s good to have options, sometimes sifting through all of the titles for some spooky thrills can be rather laborious. Fortunately, we’ve done the digital grunt work on your behalf and combed the service for the best offerings currently available in the world of screams. From gruesome throwbacks to new cult favorites, here are our picks for the best horror movies on Netflix.
Like the best horror stories, Jennifer Kent’s scare-fest The Babadook works on two levels. On the one hand, it is a creepy story about a woman facing a supernatural threat; on another, it’s a frightening examination of grief and the stress of raising a child. After the death of her husband, Amelia Vanek (Essie Davis) raises their young son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), by herself. Samuel is a difficult child, however, constantly acting out, and only gets worse after reading a creepy pop-up book about a ghoulish figure called Mister Babadook. As Samuel’s behavior gets worse, and Amelia starts seeing a shadowy figure in their house, her sanity begins to fray. With tight direction that emphasizes the claustrophobic nature of suburban life, The Babadook is an instant classic.
They say you never forget your first time, but Jay (Maika Monroe) might be happy just to survive it. After she loses her virginity to her oddly preoccupied new boyfriend, Hugh (Jake Weary), he ties her up and takes her to an abandoned building to show her something truly terrifying. Hugh carried a curse, one that can only be passed on through sex, and now Jay must flee from a nameless creature that will always be after her. It can take on any form, and if it catches her, she’ll die instantly. Director David Robert Mitchell builds this era-agnostic horror flick around the unique premise of its creature, constantly framing scenes and moving the camera in such a way as to leave the audience guessing along with the characters whether each person walking in the background could be the entity.
The Korean horror film The Wailing draws on folklore for a lengthy tale of terror, but one needn’t be an expert on Korean mythology to appreciate the film’s effective scares. In a remote village in South Korea, an enigmatic Japanese man moves into a house by himself, and a strange plague spreads through the town, turning the villagers into crazed killers. A cop named Jong-goo (Do-won Kwak) investigates the case, which takes an eerie turn as he encounters a strange woman and has ominous dreams. The Wailing is a surreal horror movie that wisely builds an emotional investment in Jong-goo before leading him into the darkness.
James Wan built a reputation as a talented horror director with film franchises like Saw and Insidious, but 2013’s The Conjuring is where he truly established himself as a modern master of horror. Set in 1971, the film follows Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga), a married pair of paranormal investigators. After a tense prologue in which they investigate a cursed doll, they get a visit from a woman named Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor). Carolyn and her family recently moved into an old farmhouse, and they’ve been experiencing signs of a haunting. The Warrens come out to investigate, walking into what might be their most disturbing case. The Conjuring is a masterful film, with unsettling atmosphere and great direction that builds up to every scare.
Paco Plaza made a name for himself with REC, a Spanish found-footage movie that showed the start of a zombie outbreak through the lens of a news cameraman. His film Veronica is a more traditional horror movie, but its strong execution makes up for the lack of new tricks. The film follows a teenager named Veronica (Sandra Escacena) whose father recently died. While her school assembles to watch a solar eclipse, Veronica and her friends play with a ouija board. As expected in a horror movie, they make contact with something from beyond. Veronica isn’t a radical departure from the usual ghost stories, but Plaza’s taut direction and taste for creepy imagery make it an effective horror movie.
Years after the deaths of his parents, Tim (Brenton Thwaites) completes his stay at a mental hospital, ready to move on with his life. His sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) isn’t so eager to put the past behind her, however. She believes that their parents’ deaths were caused by an artifact their father brought home, an antique mirror whose owners have a habit of going insane and dying in horrific fashion. Kaylie has a plan to prove her theory: She’s going to spend the night with the mirror in their childhood home, and she wants Tim to join her. Oculus isn’t without its flaws, but it does show Flanagan’s talent for building atmosphere, without relying too much on jump scares.