One of the quickest ways to get into the Halloween spirit and stay there is to put yourself on a steady diet of really scary movies. The good news is that lots of horror movies are available for your streaming pleasure. The bad news is that most scary movies are just scary dumb.
That’s why we’ve cut through the stupid to find the gold. Here we present the best scary movies available for streaming this Halloween! They’ll help your brain stay in Halloween mode until Thanksgiving season finally rolls around and spoils all the fun!
[REC] (Spanish, subtitled)
This 2007 Spanish horror film cobbles together “found footage” from a news crew profiling the overnight shift at a local firehouse (thus the title [REC], as in record). During the night, the firemen are called to investigate a report of an elderly woman trapped in her apartment. Once on the scene, the firemen find the woman stark raving mad and hungry for human flesh! Soon after the encounter, the military mysteriously swoops in to enforce a building-wide quarantine and refuses to allow anyone to leave despite the growing dangers lurking inside. The rest of the evening goes downhill from there.
The film consists of a handful of long unbroken shots that culminate in the scariest 10 minutes I’ve ever experienced in a movie. Seriously, it took me a year before I could convince myself I wasn’t seeing the bad guy from the film’s insane finale slowly lumbering through the dark to get me. If you’re not into subtitles and you don’t speak Spanish, you can see a 2008 remake of the film for English-speaking audiences, with the title Quarantine, starring Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter. But see the original.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
An independently financed black-and-white horror film from the late 1960s shouldn’t be able to terrify adult viewers in 2013, but Night of the Living Dead still delivers! The film’s horrifyingly original premise—the recently deceased reanimate to feed on the living—is rendered all the more terrifying by its low-key production. There isn’t a whole lot of zombie face time in the film—most of the horror is left to the audience’s imagination.
Available on: iTunes
Not to be confused with Rob Zombie’s wretched 2007 reimagining, John Carpenter’s original 1978 film is still the standard-bearer for slasher flicks. Asylum escapee Michael Myers returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, to stalk and dispatch the lascivious teenagers there—which he does with meticulous panache. You wouldn’t think a shot of a stranger in a mask staring at a house across the street could be so brutally frightening. But avoid the many sequels that appeared during the 1980s and ’90s because they’re really dumb.
The Devil’s Backbone (‘El Espinazo del Diablo,’ subtitled)
This 2001 breakout film for director Guillermo del Toro takes place during the waning days of the Spanish Civil War in a small orphanage where a large undetonated bomb lies in the courtyard. The story centers on a ten-year-old orphan named Carlos who encounters the mysterious apparition of a dead child who wanders the grounds at night, and who the other children refer to as “the one who sighs.” It’s less about pop-out-of-the-dark frights than a mounting atmosphere of terror.
The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project wasn’t the first found-footage horror movie, but this 1999 movie was the smash hit that launched the past 15 years’ worth of handy-cam horror movies. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you surely know the basics: “In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary. A year later, their footage was found.” Years later, it’s a good movie to watch again, and you’ll find the shaky-cam style isn’t nearly so motion-sickness-inducing on the small screen as it was on the large one.
James Cameron’s visually arresting 1986 sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien is more science fiction than straight horror, but however you classify it, the end result is the same: It’s friggin’ scary! At its core, the movie is about a space army platoon battling some very large space bugs. But the real star is the film’s exquisitely slow pacing. The trudging dread is amplified by the space soldiers’ handheld motion detectors, which emit a rhythmic heart-like “beat” that accelerates as the killer bugs get closer and closer. The audience’s first encounter with a full-grown space bug doesn’t happen until midway through the movie. And then they see a lot of them.
Attack the Block
This 2011 British monster movie centers on the residents of a South London council estate who spend a night battling an infestation of alien gorilla monsters with glowing teeth. But Attack the Block isn’t about fighting space gorillas, it’s about the relationships between the desperate human characters forced to join together to fight the space gorillas. The film’s tension mounts as the residents realize that 999 is a joke—and the authorities aren’t coming to help them.
The titular “Mama” from this 2013 Guillermo de Toro–produced film is a jittery, asthmatic, quadruple-jointed spirit with an attitude. In the opening act, Mama rescues two very young girls from their murderous father and raises them as her own in a remote forest cabin. Five years later, the two feral girls are discovered and are sent to live with their uncle. But Mama decides to come along for the ride.
As in any good horror movie, the characters in Mama occasionally do really dumb things: Why wouldn’t you go to investigate the scary haunted house in the woods all by yourself in the middle of the night? But we don’t watch horror movies to be inspired by characters’ smart choices under pressure; we go to see what happens when people make the dumb decision to go down that dark pathway all by themselves.
The Cabin in the Woods
The Cabin in the Woods is a brilliant, meta-horror movie that takes all the creep-out clichés we love and turns them on their disembodied heads. Cowritten by Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly creator Joss Whedon, Cabin begins as a slightly askew ode to Evil Dead 2 and then goes completely bonkers in the second half. Released in 2012, the film finds a novel way to weave elements of just about every horror movie ever made into its narrative. It’s smart and funny, and yet it still manages to deliver the scary.
If you haven’t seen The Shining itself, you’ve surely seen parodies of it on The Simpsons or elsewhere—it has become part of the American cultural ether. The story is pretty basic ghost-story stuff: A family goes to oversee a remote mountain hotel during the long desolate winter; but the house is haunted, and the father goes insane and tries to kill everyone. It’s cold, plodding, and exceedingly eerie.
Since its release back in 1980, The Shining has attracted a number of very serious devotees. Those fans are profiled in the 2012 documentary Room 237 (Netflix, Google Play, Amazon, iTunes), which features them attempting to decipher—in occasionally bizarre ways—what director Stanley Kubrick was really trying to say in the film.
I Am Legend
I Am Legend is a silly, big-budget Will Smith film from 2007, with a ridiculous ending that insults the intelligence of all of humanity. But the film is also surprisingly adept at building an atmosphere of terror. Most of the film occurs in desolate, post-apocalyptic Manhattan, where Will Smith battles vampire zombie creatures that (as we learn when they blow up) appear to be filled with jelly. The first half is really good! And scary! The second half, less so. It’s still worth a run through, though.
Shaun of the Dead
An oh-so-British take on the zombie comedy genre, 2004’s Shaun of the Dead follows the fortunes of stoner slackers Shaun and Ed, who are slow to realize that the zombie apocalypse has collapsed civilization around them. Somehow the pair manage to bumble their way to survival, while Shaun spends his time and energy attempting to rescue his moribund relationship with his girlfriend. Despite its rom-com leanings, Shaun of the Dead manages to treat audiences to some terrifying moments alongside some delightfully gruesome cannibalistic gore.
Bonus: ‘All Nightmare Long’
Available on: YouTube
The 8-minute, hook-free song may be forgettable, but the video for Metallica’s “All Nightmare Long” is a frightening multimedia art film. The video portrays an alternative history in which spores extracted from a meteor strike (the strike, minus the spores, was a real event that occurred in 1908 and is known as the Tunguska event) and are used by the Soviets to conquer the world by manufacturing a zombie apocalypse. It’s a mix of supposed stock footage and futurist animation. Stay with it to the tail end—it’s truly the stuff of nightmares.
So there you go. Happy binging and Happy Halloween, y’all!