I've basically seen every horror movie on Netflix, so you are in very good hands this Friday the 13th. I'm like the most specific film scholar.
Now, to be honest, I'm not exactly sure what it is about horror movies that captures my attention (and yes, it does make me feel a little peculiar that I'm all about movies where people get brutally murdered by, for example, zombie beavers) -- but if I had to guess, I'd say the really interesting thing about horror movies is how they operate within a certain set of rules/guidelines.
In a way, horror movies are kind of like pop songs. Pop songs can differ in a lot of ways, but they're all sort of variations around the same basic parameters. Horror movies have a really straightforward and measurable goal: to be scary. Just like a pop song needs to be catchy. This means that you have to be clever as sh*t to make something original within those constraints (*plays "Call Me Maybe"*).
For me, a great horror movie really only needs one amazing or novel idea to put it ahead of the crowd. The horror genre is generally so defined and well-trodden that a movie that can actually surprise you with a new take is sort of automatically worthwhile. I chose 13 horror movies that nail this quality, and they're all on Netflix.
Disclaimer: The plot summaries for a bunch of these (and, honestly, for horror movies in general) can sound pretty goofy.
But let me remind you "The Ring" has a plot that sounds, at face value, about as scary as "10 Things I Hate About You" -- and yet, I'd be less freaked out by literally being stabbed to death than by watching that movie again. This is all to say that, if I have a daughter, I'm putting her up for adoption.
So just have faith, no matter how silly the plots of these things sound, that they're all scary -- unless they are actively trying not to be. We've got some of those too.
Let's get spooked.
1. "The Babadook"
Written by: Jennifer Kent Directed by: Jennifer Kent
IMDB synopsis: "A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son's fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her."
Out of all the movies here, this is the one that actually gave me nightmares. I did a whole lot of terrified peeing in the middle of the night the week after watching this Australian mindf*ck.
I'd say the most impressive thing about "The Babadook" is how perfectly it blends the real-life storyline and the supernatural storyline. In this movie, "motherhood" itself is as threatening a presence as the spectral creature brutally haunting the characters. The two things inform each other and each makes the other more frightening and charged. Also, I think there is a bit of a "Home Alone" homage going on here -- which just makes everything creepier.
2. "The Pact"
Written by: Nicholas McCarthy Directed by: Nicholas McCarthy
OK, not only does this movie have the main guy from "Starship Troopers" in it (which, honestly, is reason enough to watch it), but it's got one of the greatest and creepiest twists ever near the end -- one which completely subverts your standard haunted house horror genre expectations. I don't want to give it away, but let's just say it will make you press your ears against the walls of your house and hope you don't hear anything.
3. "In Fear"
Written by: Jeremy Lovering Directed by: Jeremy Lovering
IMDB synopsis: "Driving to a music festival in Ireland, a new couple becomes lost and are then set upon by a tormentor with an unknown motive."
OK, another example of a plot that seems super unoriginal while simultaneously boring: They just drive around lost the whole movie? Yes! And it's amazing. Literally 90 percent of the movie takes place in a car, and somehow it's completely riveting. I hated watching this movie, in a way, because I had no idea what was going to happen. It's torture -- meaning incredible.
Oh, last thing: as a rule I kind of despise horror movies about couples who are immediately ready to sacrifice themselves for each other. If you know that's how they'll behave when sh*t goes down, it sucks the power out of the sacrifice when it happens.
The smartest thing this movie does is make the couple just two weeks into dating. They are in the flushed throes of first falling in love, but haven't had the time it takes to bind them to each other or prepare them for the kind of psychological assault this movie puts them (and the audience) through. This little tweak somehow raises the stakes of the movie tremendously. As the movie ramps up the pressure, the budding relationship begins to collapse.
Written by: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass Directed by: Patrick Brice
IMDB synopsis: "When a videographer answers a Craigslist ad for a one-day job in a remote mountain town, he finds his client is not at all what he initially seems."
Mark Duplass is usually known for being the guy in a movie whom your girlfriend has a crush on and wishes you were more like. He's lovable, funny and good looking in a weird way I don't really understand -- and this movie takes advantage of that entire skill set. Both the audience and the protagonist find it hard to feel threatened by him. Which means he can us to kind of do and believe whatever he wants, as long as he is nice about it.
This movie keys into the the peculiar way in which people are weirdly more willing to risk dying than they are to risk being rude. And Duplass is absolutely perfect for this.
Also, for the first time in a long time, the movie uses found footage in a way that isn't totally idiotic.
Written by: A bunch of people Directed by: A bunch of people
IMDB synopsis: "When a group of misfits is hired by an unknown third party to burglarize a desolate house and acquire a rare VHS tape, they discover more found footage than they bargained for."
"V/H/S" is different from the rest of the movies on this list, and horror movies in general, because it's really just a series of short horror films all stacked together -- with each short is written and directed by a different filmmaker. Sure, it has a general plot that stitches the movies together, but it's a pretty forced device. Still, as you watch, you totally don't care.
Because each little video is directed by a different person, the quality of them varies pretty substantially. There are a couple that are straight garbage -- but the great thing is: it doesn't matter. They're so short that don't strain your attention span, or tire you out if you're not into one. Each one is at least entertaining, and a few are really incredible. Sometimes a novel horror concept isn't meant to take place over an hour and a half -- with the director coyly withholding information to sustain tension.
This movie proves short horror films are totally underrated.
Written by: Mike Flanagan, Kate Siegel Directed by: Mike Flanagan
IMDB synopsis: "A deaf writer who retreated into the woods to live a solitary life must fight for her life in silence when a masked killer appears at her window."
I don't really know how it took so long for me to see a horror movie that stars a deaf person, but holy crap is it scary. You kind of forget horror movies are so much about sound and listening. So when your main character can't hear the person standing right behind her, it opens up a whole new arena of psychological torment.
This movie fits pretty squarely into the well-trodden, home-invading, sadistic killer with no discernible motive trope -- but with the addition of the main character's inability to hear and how well the movie is executed, the whole thing suddenly becomes super fresh.
Written by: Gerard Johnstone Directed by: Gerard Johnstone
IMDB synopsis: Kylie Bucknell is forced to return to the house she grew up in when the court places her on home detention. However, when she too becomes privy to unsettling whispers & strange bumps in the night.
This New Zealand horror comedy is THE SH*T. Watch it. It toes the line between a horror movie and a comedy even better than "Cabin in the Woods." Just watch it.It's at once so funny and scary. I have nothing more to say. New Zealand and Australia and Ireland know how to make things scary.
8. "Bad Milo!"
Written by: Benjamin Hayes, Jacob Vaughan Directed by: Jacob Vaughan
IMDB synopsis: "A horror comedy centered on a guy who learns that his unusual stomach problems are being caused by a demon living in his intestines."
This movie is pretty much just a comedy. Basically, it's about a guy who has IBS and his diarrhea manifests itself as a murderous goblin who kills people he doesn't like. Yeah. It's bonkers. But if you have or have ever had stomach problems in any way, watch this movie. It'll make you feel better. Also, the cast is incredible. Comedic powerhouses Ken Marino and Gillian Jaqobs give this story about a sh*t demon everything they've got.
9. "The Hallow"
Written by: Corin Hardy, Felipe Marino Directed by: Corin Hardy
IMDB synopsis: "A family who moved into a remote mill house in Ireland finds themselves in a fight for survival with demonic creatures living in the woods."
Damn, Ireland, back at it again throwing heat! At this point, we've seen popular fairy tales in America made scary every which way -- but this movie brings Irish fairy tales into the mix, which, believe me, are so f*cking weird. And this movie isn't afraid to show you the things that are attacking the main characters relatively early on. Plus, there is some very scary baby stuff and a lot of black goop. Watch it if you like seeing fairies look like zombie trees, as I do.
10. "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil"
Written by: Eli Craig Directed by: Eli Craig
IMDB synopsis: "Tucker and Dale are on vacation at their dilapidated mountain cabin when they are attacked by a group of preppy college kids."
This movie tells the standard horror movie trope of "hillbillies attack hot coeds in the woods" from the point of view of the hillbillies, who, as it turns out, are actually really nice guys. Basically, it's like a horror farce. Everything keeps happening to make these two guys seem like they are the villains, and all the kids keep dying because they assume they are being attacked. Suddenly, the good guys become the villains and the villains become the good guys. It's hilarious and turns a classic horror plot structure on its head.
Written by: Al Kaplan, Jordan Rubin, Jon Kaplan Directed by: Jordan Rubin
IMDB synopsis: "A fun weekend turns into madness and horror for a bunch of groupies looking for fun in a beaver infested swamp."
Alright, I included this movie, which is, yes, about zombie beavers trying to bite naked college students to death because it's just so dumb and great. If you want a light, goofy horror movie, this is the one for you. It knows exactly how silly it is, and it delivers everything you want from a standard over-the-top monster movie.
What I just love is I'm positive this movie was written because someone thought up the pun "Zombeavers" and just decided to spend millions of dollars making that pun a reality. What a wonderful world I live in.
12. "The Host"
Written by: Bong Joon-ho, Won-jun Ha, Chul-hyun Baek Directed by: Bong Joon-ho
IMDB synopsis: "A monster emerges from Seoul's Han River and focuses its attention on attacking people. One victim's loving family does what it can to rescue her from its clutches."
If you don't f*ck with Korean horror movies or Korean cinema, you're slippin' big time. This monster movie is a classic everyone needs to see right away. The most impressive thing about this movie is how unshy it is. It shows you the creature instantly. It's just like: "Here it is, guys, we are not hiding anything." Usually, horror movies hide the "scary thing" forever because they can't effectively sustain tension after it's revealed. But this isn't most horror movies. This movie is spitting hot fire all day. Watch it. It's scary and funny and scary and beautiful.
Written by: Tony Burgess Directed by: Bruce McDonald
IMDB synopsis: "A psychological thriller in which a deadly virus infects a small Ontario town through sound."
This is one of the weirdest horror movie plots I've ever encountered. Basically, it takes place in a radio studio where a radio DJ and his producer are trying to report on what we eventually learn is a zombie epidemic.
Disclaimer: I just love all zombie movies (I pretty much don't think you can make a bad one because even the bad ones are always good). But this movie blows so many of the others of the water. Its one amazing idea is that it makes the zombie virus spread through language. The first signs of infection involve people just repeating words oddly, their sentences fracturing as their minds hook onto some sinister, weird vocal mechanism. Essentially (and incredibly) it makes language itself dangerous.
God, it's so f*cking weird and hard to explain. It unfolds like a play in a single location, with very little action. And yet, somehow, it's totally riveting and so peculiar. Check it out if you want to see the zombie genre in top form.