I love October, the one month of the year you're allowed to subject yourself to a traumatizing amount of scary movies without being branded a total weirdo.
While the selections at theaters this year leave much to be desired (a commercial for Hellfest proclaimed it to be, no joke, "The Breakfast Club of horror movies,") there is a cornucopia of creepy flicks available for free on various streaming services.
This is by no means a complete list, but I've carefully chosen 30 titles across three different categories: The Classics, The New Class, and Experimental Horror, that will fuel any horror binge. Here, 30 great scary movies to stream before Halloween:
1. The Shining (1980, Netflix)
Do we really need to tell you why you should check out The Shining, Stanley Kubrick's masterclass on cinematic terror based on the novel by Stephen King? King never misses a chance to crap on it, but honestly, check out the movie on Netflix; if you want to watch the watered down made-for-TV version starring Wings' Steven Weber...may we suggest you go find another list?
2. Hellraiser (1987, Netflix, Shudder)
I don't know why this was the one Clive Barker story that became an iconic horror franchise. For my money, Barker has Stephen King beat on a couple scores, not the least of which is gross-out body horror. (Check out his Books of Blood if you don't believe me.) No one can claim Hellraiser–an idea conceived from Barker's trips to S&M clubs in New York and the Netherlands–is a coherent horror plot, but as they say: come for Pinhead, stay for the sadomasochistic/addiction metaphor!
3. Night of the Living Dead (1968, Amazon Prime)
Suffering from zombie fatigue? Join the club (...of former Walking Dead fans). Breathe some life into your love of the undead with George Romero's cult film, which is heavy on the dread and doesn't overdo it with the gore. Plus, that ending is perfection, without being too heavy-handed with the zombie-as-other allegories...a trap no other director has managed to navigate quite so effortlessly.
4. The Omen (1976, HBO Now/ HBO Go)
"It's all for you, Damien!" I tend to think of The Omen as the less acclaimed counterpart to Rosemary's Baby: told from the perspective of father's anxiety about his new "son" (which he fails to mention isn't his at all) being more than just a little devil. As for most of these classic films, skip the sequels, prequels and the remakes: the original is terrifying enough.
5. The Thing (1982, Hulu)
Along with Alien and Predator, John Carpenter's The Thing is a two-for-the-price-of-one horror movie that doubles as a totally badass action film. Body horror that will give you nightmares? Check. Total isolation leading to paranoia and distrust amongst the American crew of a research station in Antarctica? Check! KURT RUSSELL BLASTING A SHAPE-SHIFTING CREATURE WITH A FLAMETHROWER? Check and mate.
6. Silence of the Lambs (1991, Hulu)
Here's a fun party question with no right or wrong answer: Is Jonathan Demme's adaptation of Thomas Harris' novel Silence of the Lambs a horror movie, a psychological thriller, or both? Having had this argument many times, I think it boils down to your definition of "horror": if you think the genre must contain supernatural elements, then it's just a damn scary thriller. But cannibalism, Hannibal Lecter, and Buffalo Bill aren't enough to give you nightmares, you should probably double-check to make sure you aren't already listening to "Wild Horses" and naming your pooch "Precious."
7. Psycho (1960, Shudder)
You could play the same game with Hitchcock's Psycho as we did with Silence of the Lambs, as it doesn't actually involve any ghosts or ghouls. I think most people would agree Psycho is the granddaddy (or grand…"mother") of slasher films, albeit one based on the real-life serial killer Ed Gein. Psycho also has the distinction of being #14 on the American Film Institute's Top 100 Movies of all time (as well as the highest-rated horror film on the list...their genre pick, not mine!), so feel free to bask in that highbrow cinema cred as you're busy cowering under a blanket.
8. Suspiria (1977, TubiTV)
We're not too far out from the much-hyped remake of Dario Argento's terror in technicolor, Suspiria…which actually (fingers crossed!) looks pretty good! Still, nothing can beat the original, starring Jessica Harper as the young ingenue attending Germany's scariest ballet academy...and considering what I know about both Germans and ballet schools...that's saying something.
9. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, Amazon)
It took me years to get through Tobe Hooper's introduction to Leatherface, but not because I couldn't handle the gore. It came down to a personal picadillo of mine: I just can't stand movies with grainy audio. It's just so distracting! I must have watched the opening 30 minutes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre at least 20 times before I finally gave up trying to understand what anyone was saying and let the movie wash over me in its full bloody splendor. And boy, am I glad I did...especially since–joke's on me– a few weeks after I finally finished it, The Blair Witch Project came out, ushering in the "found footage" era of scary filmmaking and making crappy Dolby screams a thing of the past.
10. The Fly (1986, Hulu)
David Cronenberg is the master of biological horror and Jeff Goldblum is the master of watching you poop, so The Fly is a can't-miss classic that should be required viewing for millennial hipsters who think Goldblum's legacy is regulated to the Jurassic Park franchise, Wes Anderson movies and being ironically self-aware in ad campaigns for ApartmentRentals.com.
The New Class:
11. The Blair Witch Project (1999, Hulu)
Here's the thing: yes, The Blair Witch Project is hard to watch on so many levels. When I saw it in theaters, I actually had to leave and throw up...not because it was scary, but because I didn't know Dramamine would be required before watching 95 minutes of shaky, hand-held camera work.
Still, for all its faults, it holds up, proving it was the first, best use of this faux-documentary approach. The most impressive legacy of The Blair Witch Project, one that few other horror films have managed to capture to such great effect, is keeping most of its scares off-screen, leaving audiences to fill in the blanks about what could be lurking out there in the woods.
12. Paranormal Activity (2007, Hulu)
Considering the tremendous, genre-disrupting success of The Blair Witch Project, it's surprising that it took a whole eight years to take the found footage formula and add its own highly-effective spin. But that's exactly what producer/director/writer/editor Oren Peli did with the first installment of Paranormal Activity. The film centers around a young suburban couple, who, following a series of increasingly upsetting, inexplicable events, set up security cameras throughout their house in the hopes of capturing the entity haunting their nights.
Paranormal Activity deserves a place on this list (not to mention a rewatch) because of the film's clever subversions of classic horror tropes. Instead of a spooky mansion, these unlucky newlyweds find themselves haunted in a prefab cookie cutter McMansion. It's also our introduction into a now-classic misdirect: (slight spoiler warning ahead!) it's not the house that's haunted, but one of the residents.
13. It Follows (2014, Netflix)
The last four years have been a boon for arthouse horror films, and none more so than David Robert Mitchell's beautifully haunting treatise on the dangers of sexually transmitted demons, It Follows. Visually stunning, the horror of this movie's monster is the mere fact of its inevitability: no matter how far you run, no matter how many others you pass the curse onto to (via, well, copulation), you cannot escape it. It Follows may be gorgeous to look at, but it will leave you haunted long after you leave the theater...and unable stop looking over your shoulder, just in case.
14. Gerald's Game (2018, Netflix)
Gerald's Game is not exactly a ghost story; it's more of an adult thriller, an example of how wrong a 50 Shades scenario can go. That doesn't make it less terrifying though, especially since it was written by horror potentate Stephen King and directed by Mike Flanagan, a prolific master of horror himself, whose next project is adapting King's Dr. Sleep for Netflix.
15. Raw (2016, Netflix)
This French-Belgian horror flick is not going to be to everyone's, well, let's just say taste. It's like Carrie for Cannibals. Raw centers around Justine (Garance Marillier), a new student at a veterinary school. Justine is a lifelong Double V (virgin and vegetarian), making her the perfect target for a hazing ritual in which she is peer-pressured by her older sister Alexia and her friends to eat a raw rabbit's kidney. After developing some nasty hives, Justine's symptoms become more of the craving variety...and not just for boeuf bourguignon or coq au vin. Raw is as much an allegory–heavy on the gory– of repressed libido hitting a boiling point as it is a horror flick, but it's definitely not for the squeamish or those who grow faint at the sight of blood.
16. The Witch (2015, Netflix)
The story of The Witch is as classic as a Grimm's fairy tale at first glance: a devout family is beset by witchcraft and devilry of the worst sort as they begin to ponder the unspeakable in their attempts to rid the evil from their mist. Their crops won't grow, the milk is sour, a baby is snatched in broad daylight, and to top it all off? Their goat, Black Phillip, may be possessed by the devil himself.
The Witch should have felt like a musty gothic throwback, and in another director's hands, it might have been slightly interesting in a "wow, history was weird!" sort of way. But under Eggers' deft direction, The Witch elevates its source material to something both awe-inspiring and nightmarish : a slow-build of a horror film that's as much about religious hysteria and familial torment as it is about witches and talking goats. Mark Korven's score –made with an instrument the composer dubbed "The Apprehension Machine"– alone is enough to send you running for the hills...or the forest.
17. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016, Hulu)
10 Cloverfield Lane works as a perfect "locked box" horror flick: it takes place primarily in one location, the underground bunker of Doomsday prepper Howard Stambler (John Goodman), who graciously offers to share his abode with an unwitting guest (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and a hapless survivor of the original Cloverfield attacks, a man named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). Unfortunately, this is one of those movies where the danger doesn't come directly from the monsters, but humanity pushed beyond its limits. The tiny microcosm of society represented by this threesome breaks down faster than you can say "Get your GoBag!", proving that yeah, sometimes people are the biggest monsters after all. Except, no...there are definitely bigger monsters outside the compound. This is a Cloverfield movie, after all.
18. Ouija 2: Origin of Evil (2016, Netflix)
Mike Flanagan, previously mentioned for Gerald's Game, managed to do the impossible by taking the terrible source material of the first movie and the Hasbro Game this whole franchise is based on, and turning it into an under-the-radar success. It's a nostalgic horror movie, in the vein of The Conjuring, a throwback to the days when jump-scares took backseat to good old-fashioned creepy storytelling and stellar performances by Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, Lulu Wilson and Henry Thomas. (Yes, that would be Elliot from E.T...he's a Flanagan staple at this point.)
Oh, and it's also terrifying, guaranteed to give you nightmares for weeks. Just for comparison's sake: the first Ouija movie has a 6% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while Ouija 2: Origin of Evil is at 82%.
19. Under the Shadow (2016, Netflix)
Bet you haven't heard this horror premise before: "After Shideh's building is hit by a missile during the Iran-Iraq War, a superstitious neighbor suggests that the missile was cursed and might be carrying malevolent Middle-Eastern spirits." Shideh is convinced the supernatural entity in the building is trying to possess her daughter Dorsa...possibly through a haunted doll. Yeah...Annabelle, this is not. Much like 2014's critically-acclaimed Iranian vampire saga, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Under the Shadow is a vibrant horror movie that is also a singular product of its equally terrifying backdrop. (Not to mention both movies feature solitary women as their protagonists.) But never fear: neither film is interested in preaching or scolding, but rather focuses on playing with a new kind of nightmare not often seen by American audiences.
20. Oculus (2013, Netflix)
Yes, yes, another Mike Flanagan film. What can I say? The man is a genius. Oculus deserves a place on this list: it's a great concept (evil mirror that can distort reality) with A+ storytelling and with tremendous performances (particularly by Karen Gillan as the older sister). It's also a complete mind-f*ck. And what's so amazing about Oculus is that it has no right to be as good as it is. It was released as a mainstream horror movie with an incredibly low budget back in April 2014, with very little done in the way of marketing and promotion. Yet Oculus was both a box office and critical success, because it was such a solid, scary movie that just happened to be totally unexpected.
21. Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010, Shudder)
This Canadian science fiction horror film, written and directed by Panos Cosmatos, definitely takes the cake for the most visually stunning, WTF-movie in recent memory. Seriously, if you can make heads or tails of the plot beyond "a remote research facility claims to be working on a new technique of combining science with spirituality to unlock a new age of human happiness but is actually just a front for a sadistic scientist to torture his subject/victim, a young woman with psychic abilities," then you've got me beat.
Beyond the Black Rainbow also involves, let's see...vats of black goo that turn you insane, prisms of psychic energy fields, scientists on psychedelic drugs, and a visual aesthetic that can best be described as "2001 on acid. "It's not your traditional horror film, but it's definitely uncomfortably weird and scary. I
22. V/H/S (2012, Hulu)
V/H/S is an anthology film, composed of several shorts by different indie horror directors, all revolving around the same premise: the use of analog VHS cassettes, found in the derelict basement of an abandoned house by a group of young vandals. Each tape consists of a new short, with entries by Adam Wingard (You're Next, The Guest, Blair Witch), David Bruckner (The Signal), Ti West (House of the Devil, The Innkeepers,) Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead), Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs, Silver Bullets) and Simon Berrett (You're Next, A Terrible Way to Die), and Radio Silence Productions (Devil's Due, Southbound).
It's uneven in its execution, but the great thing about V/H/S is that if you don't like the movie you're watching...just wait 15 minutes, and you'll be onto something new.
23. [REC] (2007, Shudder)
This found footage Spanish horror film is much better than its imitators (and yes, I'm including the American remake of the film in this class) simply because of how real it feels: it starts off with a reporter and her cameraman covering a group of firefighters trying to locate and evacuate residents of a crowded apartment complex in Barcelona–no "let's go ghost hunting in this old abandoned building!" in [REC]. Unfortunately, the building's residents start to exhibit some weird behavior, and before anyone can say "Back to you, Chris!", the situation turns from tenement annoyance to full on terror. The exits are barred, the authorities aren't letting anyone leave for fear of "contagion," and the locals are getting very, very restless. Not to mention hungry.
If you don't mind the shaky cam, or the use of a lot of night vision shots, [REC] is a superior example of a foreign found-footage horror movie that isn't afraid to play with the genre's tropes and conventions.
24. Pontypool (2008, Shudder)
Pontypool is a Canadian horror film, directed by by Bruce McDonald and written by Tony Burgess is actually based on Burgess' novel, Pontypool Changes Everything. The plot revolves around Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie)—a blowhard shockjock DJ forced into radio exile to some podunk Ontario town—over the course of one strange day in the studio. And yes, it's a movie that, for the most part, takes place in not only one building, but just one room.
But what's truly ingenious about Pontypool is how it's more interested in how the epidemic is transferred from person to person than what the disease is turning them into. Anyone still bored of those zombie flicks will find Pontypool a breath of fresh air.
25. Cube (1997, Netflix)
One of my favorite movies–not just in the horror/science fiction genre, but of all time– Vincenzo Natali's Cube is so singularly brilliant, I wrote not one but two college papers on the it, and spent my senior year constantly editing the film's Wiki page. (Please, hold your applause...I'm no hero. I'm just a person who really loves Cube.)
Here's the basic premise: seven people wake up trapped in a giant structure composed of a seemingly endless amount of identical rooms above, below, and on all four sides of the cube they happen to be currently occupying. No one knows how they got there, there's no food or water, and unless they find a way out, they're doomed to die like rats in a cage. Oh, did I mention that some rooms contain lethal booby traps? Or that each character in the movie is named after a prison that corresponds to their key trait that will either help or hinder the group's progress?
I love Cube. I love that it's a totally novel concept for a sci-fi horror movie. I love that it's so claustrophobic but implies a horrible, vast machine with no exit. I love that, at its heart, like most great horror films, it's really a lesson about the dangers of people, who are inevitably much scarier monsters than any boogeyman we could dream up.
Watch. Cube. Now.
26. The Nightmare (2015, Netflix)
Director Rodney Ascher first received acclaim with his documentary Room 217, which focused on several specific fan theories about the movie The Shining. It was a great meditation on art, fandom and obsession...and how often those three subjects go together (especially when talking about a Kubrick movie). The Nightmare was Ascher's follow-up doc about the condition of sleep paralysis, a terrifying condition in which sufferers find themselves unable to move or speak while falling asleep, often accompanied by vividly terrifying hallucinations or bodily experiences.
What makes this documentary so singular is that it's shot from the perspective of a sleep paralysis victim: while eight people suffering from the condition describe their experiences, the visuals of the film contort, warp and sometimes full-on break with reality to give viewers the closest thing to a full-on sensory experience akin to what these individuals go through during an episode.
27. Escape from Tomorrow (2013, Shudder)
The sheer audacity of writer/director Randy Moore in creating Escape from Tomorrow alone qualifies it for a slot on the top experimental horror movie list: shot, guerilla-style, in both Disneyland and Disney World without the consent of the mighty mouse corporation, it's amazing this movie ever saw the light of day. (Ultimately, Disney realized pursuing legal action against the film would just serve as more free promotion for the feature and dropped any potential lawsuits.)
So here's a movie, shot entirely in black and white with two Canon cameras and various iPhones, about a man having the world's worst scariest nervous breakdown at the happiest place on Earth. It's heavier on atmosphere and relies on subversively twisting iconic visuals more than a coherent plot, so it's definitely the kind of film you want to strap yourself in for, letting the ride take you to the dark center of the Mickey Mouse Universe.
28. Eraserhead (1977, Filmstruck)
David Lynch's debut feature which launched a million grad school film theory theses. So what's Eraserhead about? Let's not even go there: suffice to say, it's a meditation on the horrors of fatherhood, set in a post-apocalyptic industrial nightmare, and featuring a deformed baby, bleeding chickens, and a lady in the radiator who has some kind of allergic reaction to being in this horror show. "In heaven, everything is fine…" she sings, as disembodied fetal spinal cords fall from the rafters. After watching Eraserhead, you'll probably feel like nothing will be okay ever again.
29. Unsane (2018, Amazon)
Steven Soderbergh shot this film entirely on an iPhone, and somehow...it works. Starring The Queen's Claire Foy, Unsane is a psychological horror movie about a woman who believes she is being stalked...and after a misunderstanding with her psychiatrist, she is sentenced to the labyrinthian hell of a privatized mental facility, where that stalker may or may not happen to work.
What could have been a scary deep dive into these institutions and how they operate is undercut somewhat by the driving force of the stalker plot, leading to a somewhat unsatisfying third act. Still, between the novel cinematography and the rarely explored subject matter, Unsane is worth a good late-night binge. Just make sure to keep your anti-anxiety meds handy.
30. Under the Skin (2013, Netflix)
Scarlett Johansson is a hot alien that trolls around rural Scotland in a van, picking up hitchhikers and seducing them back into her black void (interpret that as you will). Under the Skin isn't "jump-scare" scary, but heavy on moody atmospherics with an intensely ambient score and some really haunting and disturbing images.
Director Jonathan Glazer famously had Johansson actually drive around and attempt to pick up random citizens who didn't recognize her; several of these chance encounters made it into the final cut of the film, adding to the creepy factor. Just goes to show: never trust a stranger in a van, even if she does look a lot like one of the Avengers.