The greatest horror movies of all time get under your skin with original conceits. They sharpen your paranoia to burrow down into your brain. They grab hold of your heart with iconic imagery -- you'll never forget Freddy's claws, no matter how hard you try.
Most of the major streaming services take spooky, scary dramas quite seriously, including Netflix. So switch off the lights, grab a blanket, and hold your nearest loved one -- these stream-ready horror movies are here to fill your head with nightmares. Have fun!
These Tacos Are Made for Dunking
With all the recent adaptations of Stephen King's celebrated novels, it's easy to forget that the wildly prolific horror writer also has a stockpile of untapped short stories for IP-hungry producers to choose from. 1922, a folksy riff on Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" starring Thomas Jane as a farmer who kills his wife, draws its plot from a novella in the 2010 collection Full Dark, No Stars, but it's just as rich and complex as the more famous films based on longer King tales. Plus, there are so many rats in this movie. Seriously, watch out, Willard.
American Psycho (2000)
Bret Easton Ellis's frenzied finance bro Patrick Bateman became all-too-real in the hands of Christian Bale and director Mary Harron, who pushed the surreal nightmare of American Psycho to its highest highs. From pop-infused acts of murder to hyper-designed business cards that send chills down the spine, this is a horror movie that reminds us to fear the 1%.
For his follow-up to his two action epics, The Raid and The Raid 2, director Gareth Evans dials back the hand-to-hand combat but still keeps a few buckets of blood handy in this grisly supernatural horror tale. Dan Stevens stars as Thomas Richardson, an early 20th century opium addict traveling to a cloudy island controlled by a secretive cult that's fallen on hard times. The zealous religious group is led by a bearded scold named Father Malcolm (Michael Sheen) who may or may not be leading his people astray. Beyond a few bursts of kinetic violence and some crank-filled torture sequences, Evans plays this story relatively down-the-middle, allowing the performances, the lofty themes, and the windswept vistas to do the talking. It's a cult movie that earns your devotion slowly, then all at once.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch play father and son coroners who -- with required suspense -- come to realize that the unidentified corpse on their table has a long and freaky backstory. To say much more would spoil the flick's numerous twists and turns, but this is a very crafty, brisk, and efficient horror movie from Trollhunter director André Øvredal.
The Babysitter (2017)
One preteen boy's (Judah Lewis) fantasy about his babysitter (Samara Weaving) turns into a nightmare when it's revealed she and her hot friends dabble in human sacrifices. Director McG's self-aware spin on the babysitter slasher is more comedy than horror, delivering a bloody fun time in a stylish manner. Archetypes get turned on their heads, laugh lines punctuate almost every scene, and reality mostly ceases to exist while our hero tries to learn some sort of lesson. It's goofy mayhem in all the right ways. If you hit play, please don't ruin a good thing by taking it too seriously.
Before I Wake (2016)
Though debated by genre purists, this one most definitely qualifies as a horror flick; it just happens to be a "soft" horror film with an actual heart that parents could probably watch with their kids. It's about a couple, played by Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane, who adopts a kid (Jacob Tremblay) whose dreams become physically real while he sleeps. If you're looking for shocks and kills, you may want to skip this one for now, but Before I Wake is an impressive piece of work from the very consistent horror filmmaker Mike Flanagan (Gerald's Game).
The Blackcoat's Daughter (2017)
Two young women are left behind at school during break... and all sorts of hell breaks loose. This cool, stylish thriller goes off in some strange directions (and even offers a seemingly unrelated subplot about a mysterious hitchhiker) but it all pays off in the end, thanks in large part to the three leads -- Emma Roberts, Lucy Boynton, and Kiernan Shipka -- and director Oz Perkins' artful approach to what could have been just another occult-based gore-fest.
Blue Ruin (2013)
Before he went punk with 2016's siege thriller Green Room, director Jeremy Saulnier delivered this low-budget, darkly comic hillbilly noir. When Dwight Evans (Macon Blair) discovers that the man who killed his parents is being released from prison, he returns home to Virginia to claim his revenge. Things quickly spin out of control. Like the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple, this wise-ass morality tale will make you squirm.
Bullet Head (2017)
Remember the badass 1992 action flick Trespass? Ice Cube, Ice-T, Bill Paxton, and Bill Sadler. It's about a bunch of crooks hiding out in a warehouse while their recent heist falls apart. How about the 1993 sci-fi/horror movie Man's Best Friend, in which a killer dog makes trouble for Ally Sheedy and Lance Henriksen? Bullet Head is virtually the offspring of those two movies. A bunch of crooks (John Malkovich, Adrian Brody, Rory Culkin) find themselves trapped in a warehouse with a killer pitbull. It's that simple. While much of the film is darkly entertaining, it does (fair warning) contain some simulated dog violence that may upset some viewers, so beware.
The Conjuring (2013)
James Wan scared the shit out of moviegoers and restored faith in horror films when he dramatized Ed and Lorraine Warren's haunted farmhouse visit for the big screen. As the two paranormal investigators (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) go head-to-head with a wicked presence, you'll find yourself audibly yelping and wanting nothing to do with the dark. The impeccably choreographed jump scares are damn good, but the Warrens' nail-biting heroics and the family's intoxicating paranoia woven throughout are even better -- proof that big-budget horror flicks don't have to suck.
Patrick Brice's found-footage movie is a no-budget answer to a certain brand of horror, but saying more would give away its sinister turns. Just know that the man behind the camera answered a Craigslist ad to create a "day in the life" video diary for Josef (Mark Duplass), who really loves life. Creep proves that found footage, the indie world's no-budget genre solution, still has life, as long as you have a performer like Duplass willing to go all the way.
Creep 2 (2017)
The first Creep proved to be a quietly compelling and calmly creepy story about a man who unwittingly befriends a real... well, creep played by Mark Duplass. Unfortunately, for online documentary filmmaker Sarah (Desiree Akhavan), the creep is back, as she'll soon find out, in various odd and unsettling ways. But what happens when the creep's potential victim refuses to be, well, creeped out? Akhavan seems to be a perfect foil for Duplass' quietly unhinged lunatic, and together they cook up an oddly satisfying sequel to a satisfyingly odd predecessor.
The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
This stark, unpredictable black-and-white horror film was fairly divisive when it made the rounds of the festival circuit, but it's hard not to be grabbed by the compelling turns. First-time filmmaker Nicolas Pesce tells the story of a disturbed young girl who grows into a harrowingly twisted woman thanks to a shocking childhood trauma. There's nothing conventional about the bleak, beautiful images and ideas the film has to offer.
Gerald's Game (2017)
Like his previous low-budget Netflix-released horror release, Hush -- a captivity thriller about a deaf woman fighting off a masked intruder -- Mike Flanagan's Stephen King adaptation of Gerald's Game wrings big scares from a small location. Sticking close to the grisly plot details of King's seemingly "unfilmable" novel, the movie chronicles the painstaking struggles of Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino) after she finds herself handcuffed to a bed in an isolated vacation home when her husband, the titular Gerald, dies from a heart attack while enacting his kinky sexual fantasies. She's trapped -- and that's it. The premise is clearly challenging to sustain for a whole movie, but Flanagan and Gugino turn the potentially one-note set-up into a forceful, thoughtful meditation on trauma, memory, and resilience in the face of near-certain doom.
Green Room (2015)
Green Room is a throaty, thrashing, spit-slinging punk tune belted through an invasion-movie microphone at max volume. It's nasty -- and near-perfect. As a band of 20-something rockstars recklessly defend against a neo-Nazi battalion equipped with machetes, shotguns, and snarling guard dogs, the movie blossoms into a savage coming-of-age tale, an Almost Famous for John Carpenter nuts.
While films like the classic Wait Until Dark and the recent Don't Breathe have wrung scares from blind heroes and villains, deaf characters haven't been placed at the center of many mainstream horror movies. Enter (very quietly) Hush, a low-budget home-invasion thriller about a deaf and mute woman (Kate Siegel) being terrorized by a masked home invader (The Newsroom's John Gallagher Jr.). This is the type of movie that can exhaust its premise in 20 minutes if the script doesn't deliver -- how long can two characters face off in a swanky cabin for, really? -- but luckily director Mike Flanagan and Siegel, who co-wrote the film together, have some well-timed twists (and many, many cross-bow arrows) up their sleeves.
I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016)
A meditative horror flick that's more unsettling than outright frightening, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House follows the demise of Lily, a live-in nurse (Ruth Wilson) who's caring for an ailing horror author. As Lily discovers the truth about the writer's fiction and home, the lines between the physical realm and the afterlife blur. The movie's slow pacing and muted escalation might frustrate viewers craving showy jump-scares, but writer-director Oz Perkins is worth keeping tabs on. He brings a beautiful eeriness to every scene, and his story will captivate patient streamers. Fans should be sure to check out his directorial debut, The Blackcoat's Daughter.
Haunted house tales are nothing new in horror movies. Same goes for creepy kids. But when horror director extraordinaire James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring) and Blumhouse got their hands on these classic motifs, they reinvented them and launched an entirely new spooky franchise that stretches across four films and has earned more than half a billion dollars at the box office. The original installment follows a couple (Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne) whose son falls into a coma after a strange encounter in their new home, and then, as you might expect, strange things start happening.
The Invitation (2015)
This slow-burn horror-thriller preys on your social anxiety. The film's first half-hour, which finds Quarry's Logan Marshall-Green arriving at his ex-wife's house to meet her new husband, plays like a Sundance dramedy about 30-something yuppies and their relationship woes. As the minutes go by, director Karyn Kusama (Jennifer's Body) burrows deeper into the awkward dinner party, finding tension in unwelcome glances, miscommunication, and the possibility that Marshall-Green's character might be misreading a bizarre situation as a dangerous one. We won't spoil what happens, but let's just say this is a party you'll be telling your friends about.
It Comes at Night (2017)
In this post-apocalyptic nightmare-and-a-half, the horrors of humanity, the strain of chaotic emotions pent up in the name of survival, bleed out through wary eyes and weathered hands. The setup is blockbuster-sized -- it reverts mankind to the days of the American frontier, every sole survivor fighting to protect their families and themselves -- but the drama is mano-a-mano. Barricaded in a haunted-house-worthy cabin in the woods, Paul (Joel Edgerton) takes in Will (Christopher Abbott) and his family, knowing full well they could threaten his family's existence. All the while, Paul's son, Trevor, battles bloody visions of (or induced by?) the contagion. Trey Edward Shults directs the hell out of every slow-push frame of this psychological thriller, and the less we know, the more confusion feels like a noose around our necks, the scarier his observations become.
Life After Beth (2014)
Aubrey Plaza is at her best when she's peak Aubrey Plaza-ing, as in being excessively weird. Playing a zombified girlfriend back from the dead in Jeff Baena's directorial debut, Life After Beth, the Parks and Rec comedian definitely gets to run wild with that. It takes cues from zombie comedies like Shaun of the Dead rather than being a brutally terrifying creature feature as a young man named Zach (Dane DeHaan) learns his suddenly deceased girlfriend was resurrected by her parents (John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon). As suspected, she's not who she used to be. Both funny and grotesque, Life After Beth will make you thankful your relationships ended when they did, before you turned into two walking corpses.
The Perfection (2019)
The Perfection, Netflix's self-consciously sleazy genre provocation starring Allison Williams as a former child cello prodigy out for revenge, is like a cinematic endurance test. Grossed out by the creepy bug effects and horrifying depictions of self-mutilation? Keep streaming. For some viewers, the act of surviving each grisly twist and body horror scare in this thriller from Richard Shepard will be its own reward, because as shocking as this derailed story of vengeance from one deranged classic musician onto another is, that’s all part of its sick fun.
The Ritual (2018)
Four old friends travel into a foreboding forest and... yeah, yeah, yeah. You've heard this one before. So has everyone. Only this time, it's interesting. Suffice to say that these guys stumble across a freaky shack, unwisely opt to sleep in said shack, and then find themselves hopelessly lost. Also there may or may not be a mythologically inspired monster from Norse lore on their trail. The Ritual doesn't try and reinvent any wheels, plot-wise, but it's a very well-shot, -acted, and -conceived piece of horror filmmaking from David Bruckner (V/H/S).
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Roman Polanski's psychological horror film stars stars Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes as a young couple who land a steal of a New York City apartment only to find themselves the target of their neighbors' Satanic activity. Without gore or literal ghoulish activity, Polanski strikes up a sense of anxiety that crescendos until the movie's final minutes. Everyday household activities -- cleaning, cooking, a routine phone call -- become Biblical trials. Farrow, with wide-eyed resilience, makes for one hell of an anti-Hitchcock heroine. This one will get in your head and haunt you.
Horror master Wes Craven subverts and parodies his own slasher filmography in this meta-whodunnit from The Vampire Diaries creator Kevin Williamson. While the opening scene -- Ghostface dialing up Drew Barrymore to ask, "Do you like scary movies?" -- became instantly iconic, the rest of the thriller, led by Neve Campbell and a who's who of mid-'90s stars, is a spine-tingling murderfest punctuated by jokes at the genre's expense.
Scream 2 (1997)
Horror movies have arguably been ruined by the redundant, unsatisfying slew of sequels they tend spawn. The follow-up to horror master Wes Craven's subversive slasher film is unlike the average second time around, though. In fact, it goes out of its way to prove it can stand on its own as a great scary movie. It, of course, is led by the scream queen of the first film, Neve Campbell's Sidney Prescott, who is still traumatized by her past and revisited by Ghostface on her college campus. With Craven and Kevin Williamson back in their respective director's and writer's chairs, the new set of killings are just as smart and suspenseful, so "if you like scary movies," you should definitely follow Scream with a viewing of Scream 2.
Train to Busan (2016)
There are so many zombie movies and TV shows, it's hard to know what's actually good and what's garbage. But the South Korean import Train to Busan is one of the most novel, clever, and refreshingly entertaining zombie massacres to hit the screen in quite some time. It's about nothing more than a father and his young daughter who board a train from Seoul to Busan just as a very expeditious zombie virus has hit the area. Onboard the train, you'll find a colorful collection of amusing disaster movie archetypes, from a gruff bully and his pregnant wife to a teenage girl with a crush on a hunky baseball player, and Yeon Sang-Ho, in his debut, does a very nice job of ramping up the zombie insanity at frequent and regular intervals. (Watch Psychokinesis, Yeon's 2018 action movie with a heart, next.)
Gotta love a horror film that'll do everything it can to remind you of why playing around with an Ouija board is probably not the best idea. The latest movie from Paco Plaza, director of the equally terrifying REC, sees a young girl named Veronica (Sandra Escacena) who conducts a seance with her friends in the middle of a solar eclipse. Her goal is to contact her dead father, but as it normally goes in films of the paranormal variety, that doesn't happen. Veronica instead ends up waking up some truly sinister forces and, well, you probably already know how this will end. Or not. And if that's the case, then you're in the same boat as all the other Netflix users who couldn't finish the movie because it's that scary.
Under the Shadow (2016)
Set during the conflict between Iran and Iraq, a desperate mother and her horrified little girl find themselves haunted by the ghosts of wartime past. Tapping into history and the terror of true life bombardment, Under the Shadow is one of the smartest, saddest, and most eerily effective horror films of 2016. Writer-director Babak Anvari uses war as a metaphor as astutely as legends like Guillermo del Toro, and the setting is refreshingly novel for this type of supernatural story. The two leads (Narges Rashidi and Avin Mashadi) are nothing short of fantastic.
The Witch (2016)
This recent indie hit delivers everything we rarely see in horror today. The backdrop, a farm in 17th-century New England, facilitates a misty, macabre mood. The circumstance, a Puritanical family making it on the fringes of society because they're too religious, bubbles with terror. And the question, whether devil-worshipping is hocus pocus or real black magic, keeps each character on their toes and begging God for answers. The Witch tests its audience with its (nearly impenetrable) old English dialogue and the anxiety-inducing trials of early American life, but the payoff will keep your mind racing, and your face hiding under the covers, for days.