Not everyone enjoys the thrill of horror movies and that’s entirely understandable. That said, psychologists suggest that genre films not only allow viewers to get up close and personal with fear, they also allow us to enjoy a feeling of control over the uncomfortable sensations all those fears bring with them. Some psychologists even concur that films and their characters can serve as escape valves to help ease the anxieties and tensions of daily life. So why not do yourself a favour and tuck into our top picks of the best horror films currently available on Netflix right now.
What’s it about? A larcenous real estate clerk goes on the run with a wad of cash with hopes of starting a new life. Unluckily for her, she stops off at the Bates Motel and meets Norman Bates, a man with more than the odd secret.
Who’s in it? Hitchcock forged career-best performances out of Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh.
Why it’s worth a watch: It wouldn’t be cricket to spoil the killer twist but suffice it to say that Hitch provides a great explanation for the psychotic tendencies portrayed on screen. Doing so compels us to identify with Perkins’ character before leaving us downright duped and perturbed – but probably not in need of a cold shower – by the revelatory final act.
For fans of: The Shining, Secret Window, Pet
The Thing (1982)
What’s it about? John Carpenter’s first entry in the “Apocalypse Trilogy” (followed by Prince of Darkness in 1987 and In the Mouth of Madness in 1994) shadows a group of cabin-feverish scientists in the Antarctic who find themselves up against a parasitic shape-shifting alien that assimilates and imitates its victims. Naturally, paranoia and mistrust set in long before frostbite even gets a chance to.
Who’s in it? Kurt Russell heads up the team of American researchers in the lead role of MacReady which had previously been turned down by Nick Nolte and Jeff Bridges. The script had also originally been written with both Harrison Ford and Clint Eastwood in mind.
Why it’s worth a watch: Whether it scares you with its paranoia, claustrophobic setting, Ennio Morricone’s brooding score or Rob Bottin’s (and an uncredited Stan Winston’s) bar-raising practical creature effects, The Thing‘s sole purpose is to get under your skin in as many perturbing ways as (in)humanly possible. Unsurprisingly, of all his films, this is Carpenter’s personal favourite.
For fans of: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, They Live, The Faculty
What’s it about? “The terror has just begun!” Based on the novel “The Space Vampires” by Colin Wilson, American and British astronauts working on a joint mission to investigate Halley’s Comet come across a 150-mile-long alien vessel populated by several seemingly human bodies. These humanoids turn out to be energy vampires who suck the life out of their victims in ways that What We Do in the Shadows’ Colin Robinson couldn’t even begin to comprehend.
Who’s in it? Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay and Mathilda May as Space Girl. But the icing on this cake is Sir Patrick Stewart who shares his very first on-screen kiss with Steve Railsback.
Why it’s worth a watch: This hugely underrated classic is undeniably best taken with a huge dose of salt on your popcorn but it works brilliantly as an impressively-staged dose of cheesy sci-fi fun. And for this writer it’s arguably one of Tobe Hooper’s best titles.
For fans of:The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers
From Beyond (1986)
What’s it about? A group of scientists have developed a “Resonator” that allows humans to tap into another dimension inhabited by Lovecraftian creatures. Of course, the experiment goes awry leaving only one scientist alive – and borderline insane. Cue a psychiatrist and police detective to figure out what happened when the scientists dipped into said alternate universe of the goopy kind.
Who’s in it? Stuart Gordon reunites with Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton.
Why it’s worth a watch: From Beyond comes from the collective that brought you Re-Animator, and whilst it never quite manages to reach the same heights, it’s still a worthy successor and definitely worth your time, especially if you love your horror with an extra helping of ectoplasm.
For fans of: Re-Animator, Society, Videodrome
What’s it about? A blizzard sends a romantic fiction writer’s car off the road. Fortunately for him, a nurse – who just happens to be his number one fan – manages to pull him from the wreckage. But, not so fortunately, she also happens to be unhinged, and will stop at nothing to cure his bad case of writer’s block.
Who’s in it? Stellar performances from James Caan and Kathy Bates – the latter took home an Oscar.
Why it’s worth a watch: Stephen King himself has often cited it as one of the best movie adaptations of his books. Casting Kathy Bates as Annie was certainly a culminating factor in the film’s success but kudos must also go to William Goldman for coming up with a screenplay that just never lets up despite much of the film playing out in the confines of Annie’s guest bedroom.
For fans of: Funny Games, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, Hard Candy
What’s it about? Seven strangers wake up to find themselves forced to undertake a myriad of perverse challenges in disturbingly clinical confines, entirely devoid of a stress-relieving sense of place. With their surroundings provoking such a sense of urgency for escape, they must use their intellect and powers of deductive reasoning if they want to make it out alive.
Who’s in it? Nicole de Boer, Nicky Guadagni, David Hewlett, Andrew Miller, Julian Richings, Wayne Robson and Maurice Dean Wint play the seven guinea pigs.
Why it’s worth a watch: Vicenzo Natali’s provocatively claustrophobic film really kick-started the gaming horror renaissance. Having gained a huge fan base for its surreal atmosphere and Kafkaesque setting, this articulate and visionary film begs the question: “What would happen if we were to wake up inside a huge trap-ridden Rubik’s cube?”
For fans of: Saw, Cabin In The Woods, Circle
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
What’s it about? Just your average weekend! Armed with cricket bats, shovels and an album collection, underachiever Shaun and his best mate Ed attempt to get Shaun’s girlfriend Liz and his Mum to the safety of their local drinkery when the dead rise from their slumber in North London.
Who’s in it? Simon Pegg and Nick Frost head up a killer ensemble cast
Why it’s worth a watch: It’s no easy task combining comedy and horror into a neat little package but Edgar Wright provides a taut homage and self-aware parody without ever falling into spoof territory. It’s a master class in horror comedy homage that zombie king George A. Romero was so impressed with that he asked Pegg and Wright to cameo as zombies in his very own Land of the Dead.
For fans of: Any zombie movie you can think of and Tucker and Dale vs Evil
Wolf Creek (2005)
What’s it about? Loosely inspired by the real-life murders committed by Australian serial killer Ivan Milat in the ’90s, Greg McLean introduced us to the churlish, wise-cracking, murderous psychopath Mick Taylor, who wreaks havoc on “woeful bloody tourists” in the Outback.
Who’s in it? John Jarratt, a mercurial horror icon.
Why it’s worth a watch: Since the release of this first film, Mick Taylor has become something of a horror totem. In part one he scared us shitless and then in both Wolf Creek 2 and the subsequent first two seasons of the hit spin-off series he proved to audiences that he had zero intentions of following in Chucky and Freddy’s footsteps. Instead, Mick’s remained just as disturbing and threatening throughout but with an increasingly sicker sense of humour and a wit sharper than his machete.
For fans of: Wrong Turn, Killing Ground, Hounds of Love
What’s it about? After the still birth of their third child, Kate and John decide to adopt Russian orphan Esther in an attempt to get their lives back on track. Unluckily for them, Esther conceals a dark and manipulative personality that adds sacks of salt to the family’s deep wounds until Kate unearths the secret the new member of the family is hiding.
Who’s in it? The Conjuring’s Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard and Isabelle Fuhrnman who puts in a delightfully mordant performance as Esther
Why it’s worth a watch: Jaume Collet-Serra’s at the top of his game here, employing goofproof horror techniques to ratchet up the tension. Collet-Serra’s solid direction, Fuhrman’s delightfully mordant turn and a staggering final reel curveball make this the most unconventional “killer kid” film of recent years.
For fans of: The Omen, Joshua, The Good Son
What’s it about? Shot POV style, the film puts us well and truly in the shoes of the owner of a Los Angeles mannequin renovation shop who develops a lust for blood when he becomes obsessed with a young artist who turns to him for help with her latest exhibit.
Who’s in it? Elijah Wood as you’ve never seen him before – “the last true romantic” – even though we only see him in mirror reflections.
Why it’s worth a watch: With its unique style, a career-redefining turn from Elijah Wood and insane levels of violence, this is not only one of the better remakes of recent years, but also one of the best horror films of the decade.
For fans of: Tony, The Last Horror Movie, American Psycho
The Similars (2015)
What’s it about? It’s a hair-raising tale of a small band of characters (male and female) trapped inside a bus station who begin to bear an uncanny resemblance to the hipster-bearded member of the group, and it’s not long before we have a Chuck Norris convention situation on our hands.
Who’s in it? Luis Alberti, Carmen Beato, Fernando Becerril.
Why it’s worth a watch: Isaac Ezban’s psychotropic sci-fi film’s more bizarre plot devices poke all kinds of proverbial fun at the golden era greats the film is unabashedly aping, but the film’s real draw is the characters’ predicament which serves as a powerful allegory of society’s loss of identity and the important role appearance plays in shaping our singularities.
For fans of: Pretty much any episode of The Twilight Zone.
The Invitation (2015)
What’s it about? Will and his girlfriend have been invited to a dinner by Will’s ex-wife Eden who he hasn’t seen in over two years. Despite initial reservations he attends but, after sharing a few drinks and jokes, he soon realises Eden invited them with a sinister ulterior motive in mind.
Who’s in it? Logan Marshall-Green (Upgrade) plays the tormented Will.
Why it’s worth a watch: Karyn Kusama’s paranoid thriller is guaranteed to keep you guessing right to the very end. It’s atmospheric slow burn build-up focuses on the interactions between the characters so as to draw you in making it equally difficult for the audience and Marshall-Green’s character to decide who can really be trusted when things go south.
For fans of: Faults, Coherence, Honeymoon
He Never Died (2015)
What’s it about? Jack is a recluse who just wants to be left alone so he can stay in bed and watch TV. The reason being is that his gift of eternal life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and he’s far more interested in devouring humans than bonding with them. To make matters worse, his daughter comes banging on his door out of the blue making the struggle to keep his cannibalistic cravings at bay even harder than ever.
Who’s in it? Henry Rollins chomps – quite literally – on the scenery with gusto as the cantankerous and austere misanthrope, Jack.
Why it’s worth a watch: As much as I love What We Do in the Shadows, He Never Died raised the kitchen-sink horror comedy bar even further, successfully blending peek-through-your-fingers savagery with superlatively inane comedy. It’s an inspired, gruesome, violently funny and, at times, truly touching take on the subgenre.
For fans of: Ravenous (1999), What We Do in the Shadow, They Call Me Jeeg Robot
The Wailing (2016)
What’s it about? When a mysterious sickness causes a repulsive skin rash and all manner of psychotic behaviour in a remote Korean village, a policeman resorts to the help of a powerful shaman to help solve the case when his own daughter becomes infected.
Who’s in it? The film stars Do Won Kwak as Sargeant Jong-Goo who’s faultless descent into darkness deserved an Oscar in my eyes.
Why it’s worth a watch: Combining most of the elements of his fantastic previous outing, The Chaser with a dark and visceral Friedkin-esque narative, Na Hong-jin creates the ultimate supernatural whodunnit, chucking everything except the kitchen sink at us to throw us off the scent of the whoever, or whatever is to blame.
For fans of: The Serpent and the Rainbow, I Saw the Devil, Here Comes the Devil
What’s it about? Based on actual police reports from a case in Madrid in 1992, a young girl called Veronica attempts to make contact with her late father using a Ouija board. Things don’t go to plan as Veronica and two school friends forget to follow the rules. And we all know you must ALWAYS end your Ouija sessions by saying goodbye.
Who’s in it? Sandra Escacena in a breakthrough role as the titular Veronica.
Why it’s worth a watch: This is another case of true story horror films really doing their job. Paco Plaza already proved himself as a horror force to be reckoned with the [REC] saga he created with Jaume Balaguero but he really outdoes himself with Veronica, outshining even the best of James Wan’s supernatural shockers. Unsurprisingly, the film earned Plaza a Goya nomination for best director.
For fans of: The Conjuring 2, Terrified, The Exorcist
Ravenous (Les affamés) (2017)
What’s it about? In a village, things have changed. Some of the people – aptly called “The Ravenous” – are not who they were anymore, now attacking anything that moves. Amid the mayhem, a group of survivors head off into the forest to search for others who haven’t yet “turned”.
Who’s in it? Marc-André Grondin, Monia Chokri and Charlotte St-Martin.
Why it’s worth a watch: Writer-director Robin Aubert cleverly mixes things up by skipping the usual zombie infection build-up and dropping us right into the thick of the apocalypse with a unique twist: “The Ravenous” seem to be more sentient than they’ll have us believe, up to no good working on a bizarre, complicated collective project out in an open field in the thick of the woods.
For fans of: The next film on this list…
The Cured (2017)
What’s it about? In a world ravaged by a zombie virus, a cure is finally found and the wrenching process of reintegrating the “formerly afflicted” back into society begins.
Who’s in it? Ellen Page, Sam Keeley and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor
Why it’s worth a watch: Whilst there have been a few more rumours flying around of late about a possible third entry in the 28 Days/Weeks Later saga, first-time filmmaker, David Freyne’s The Cured plays out almost as if it were that third part that everyone’s so eager to see. It breathes fresh life into the decaying, cliché-crowded zombie genre with its eye-opening realism whilst using the “cured” zombies as a metaphor to explore themes of guilt and forgiveness.
For fans of: 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later and the aforementioned Ravenous
What’s it about? Two lifelong friends head off to an isolated village in the Scottish Highlands for a hunting trip only to find their morals ruthlessly tested when an accident, after a night of debauchery, leads them down a rabbit hole of lies, paranoia and revenge.
Who’s in it? Jack Lowden and Martin McCann with a menacingly intimidating turn from Tony Curran.
Why it’s worth a watch: The premise of Matt Palmer’s feature debut might be nothing new but it navigates its well-trodden territory amazingly well by deep diving into the relationships between old friends and new acquaintances in the quaint-yet-oppressive village setting. And despite some horrifically graphic moments, where the film most excels is in its moments of tense verbal sparring matches between the “heroes” and villains of the film which inject a serious dose of anxiety-inducing unpredictability that’s hard to find in many a horror film nowadays. Unsurprisingly, the film took home the Michael Powell Award for best British Feature at the Edinburgh film festival.
For fans of: Shallow Grave, The Hunt, The Backwoods
The Ritual (2018)
What’s it about? After losing their best friend as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, four thirty-somethings head off on a hiking holiday in the Scandinavian wilderness to clear their heads … and consciences. Once deep in the black, Nordic woodland they come face to face with a malevolent deity which forces them all to face the demons each of them are harbouring.
Who’s in it? Jacob James Beswick, Robert James-Collier, Arsher Ali, Sam Troughton and Rafe Spall
Why it’s worth a watch: Giving the tried and tested Blair Witch formula a Hangover face lift – sans the comedy – The Ritual is a highly effective shocker, exploiting the group of middle-agers’ cowardice and bad decisions and the Scandinavian setting to create a sense of inescapable dread. Director David Bruckner uses a less-is-more approach once the creature is brought into the frame but the effects that we do get a glimpse of are unlike anything you’ve seen before.
For fans of: IT, Midsommar, The Hallow, Black Mountain Side
The Perfection (2019)
What’s it about? Charlotte, a former musical prodigy who gave everything up to take care of her sick mother seeks out her mentor in the hopes of picking up where she left off. She crosses paths with another talented student with whom she forges a strong bond that leads her down a dark, spiteful spiral into madness and chaos.
Who’s in it? Alison Williams and Logan Browning, who both put in powerhouse performances.
Why it’s worth a watch: This film really couldn’t be any more poignant and relevant if it tried, focusing on our obsession with being perfect and giving in to internal and external pressures. Helmer Richard Shepard goes all out with endless twists and turns that keep you guessing to the very end and not once do they feel like red herrings snuck in just for the sake of it.
For fans of: Carrie, Suspiria, Revenge