One of the downsides of browsing Netflix for horror movies is skimming past all of the cheap, direct-to-video garbage that's ended up on there. However, nestled amongst all of the random junk that you've never heard of are a few unknown gems.
'The Signal' is one of them. A three-part anthology made by a handful of different directors, the film follows the aftermath of a devastating event where a strange, unknown signal transformed countless people into murderous lunatics. Although the three stories center around the same ideas and characters, each has a distinctive tone and style, making 'The Signal' the rare horror anthology to tell a complete feature-length story.
'The Serpent and the Rainbow'
After he made 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' but before he bounced back into the mainstream with 'Scream,' director Wes Craven made this nasty little movie that challenges everything you think you know about zombie cinema. 'The Serpent and the Rainbow' follows the always-great Bill Pullman as he ventures to Haiti for noble reasons and discovers himself in the center of a voodoo plot. Black magic, mystical zombies and genital torture ensues. This is a dirty and crazy movie, one of the best things Craven directed, but it tends to only be talked about by serious horror buffs. Let yourself in on the conversation.
Before he made 'The Machinist' and 'The Call,' director Brad Anderon made 'Session 9,' an atmospheric horror flick that values chills over spills and tone over plot. This isn't going to a movie for everyone: it's a little slow and intentionally withholds the answers to many of the central mysteries. But it does take place in one of the creepiest locations ever put on film (a real life abandoned mental hospital) and the lengthy scenes where characters explore its dilapidated corridors will stay with you for a long time.
Before he signed on to join the Marvel universe with 'Guardians of the Galaxy,' director James Gunn made this gory, hilarious and politically incorrect horror comedy. The halfway point between sci-fi B-movies and a Troma production, 'Slither' deals with one of the grossest alien invasions ever put on film. Some of your favorite geek-friendly actors (Nathan Fillion! Elizabeth Banks! Michael Rooker!) play the humans, and disgusting/amazing latex creations play the rest. The result is movie that'll have you laughing to keep down the vomit rising in your throat.
Hardcore fans of H.P. Lovecraft may not appreciate the tone of Stuart Gordon's film version of 'Re-Animator,' but fans of insane gore gags and pitch black comedy will love it. If the story of Frankenstein got re-imagined through the 'Evil Dead' lens, it would probably look something like this. The incredible Jeffrey Combs kills as Dr. Herbert West, a genius mad scientist whose formula for reviving the dead has unexpected consequences. And by "unexpected consequences," we of course mean corpses that have obscene violent and sexual appetites. It's schlock, but it's probably some of the best schlock ever made.
We know what you're thinking: found footage is dead. Well, it may seem that way until you've seen 'Trollhunter,' one of the cleverest and most thrilling movies of its kind. Produced and set in Norway, this faux documentary follows a group of film students who meet up with a government "trollhunter," a man tasked with keeping the nation's troll population under control. Their following adventure is rarely scary, but it's thrilling and often tense as hell, occasionally breaking out a disarming and dry sense of humor when you least expect it. Also, see it before the proposed American remake comes to fruition. This way you can be properly disappointed in what the remake gets wrong.
Even if you're an amateur horror buff, you've probably seen Sam Raimi's 'Evil Dead 2.' However, the film's ready availability on Netflix means that it's time for a revisit! The classic story of Bruce Campbell's slapstick battle with the forces of Hell remains as sick and funny as ever, taking a Three Stooges approach to horror violence that's downright disarming (pun intended, horror fans). Although the original film is also available on Netflix, we'll always be partial to the sequel, which takes the unintended campiness of the original and dials it up into sincere, goofy comedy.
Forget about the lousy, overcooked 1999 remake -- the original 1959 'House on Haunted Hill' is all you need. Made by legendary madman William Castle at the height of his power, the great Vincent Price stars as a millionaire who offers a group of strangers $10,000 each if they can survive a night in a spooky haunted house. This is not a scary movie (it probably wasn't even scary in the '50s), but a funhouse experience, a crazy descent into hilariously nonsensical plot twists and ghoulish imagery that will leave you smiling and laughing. At the center of it all is Price, who has never been better as the emcee of this madness. This is required Halloween viewing. Bring the kids.
Don't confuse with the embarrassing Stephanie Meyer movie. 'The Host' is Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho's ode to classic monster movies, but with a stunning modern twist. The set-up is familiar enough, with a giant mutant creature rising from the river and ravaging the city of Seoul, but the execution is beautiful, sweet and funny. Outside of the gnarly monster action is an angry political statement, wonderful performances and one of the greatest screen families of all time. Seriously, if you don't fall in love with the Park family as they fight save their youngest member from the clutches of the monster, you're dead inside.
There aren't too many horror movies from the age of the silent film on Netflix, but at least they have the best. F.W. Murnau's 'Nosferatu' is technically an adaptation of 'Dracula' (the name was changed when they couldn't secure the rights to the book) and it's still one of the absolute best takes on the material. Max Schreck's performance will haunt your dreams and the film's hazy, surreal style gives it a menacing, almost fairy tale-esque quality that feels completely timeless. They literally don't make movies like this anymore, making 'Nosferatu' one of a kind.
Just when you think the vampire movie has been done to death, you discover something like 'Let the Right One In' and the genre suddenly feels reenergized and full of possibilities. Superior to the (not bad and very similar) American remake, Thomas Alfredson's chilling coming-of-age story follows a troubled young boy named Oskar, who befriends and falls for a young vampire named Eli. Well, at least she's "young" in appearance. What follows is an oddly touching romance and visceral revenge story, a combination that results in one of the most beautiful and disturbing horror movies of the past decade. You really should see this movie.
Look, there's only one real way to describe Kim Jee-woon's 'I Saw the Devil' and that's "crazy-pants." This movie is crazy-pants. South Korea is a nation known for producing terrific revenge movies, but this is a the revengiest revenge movie ever made, two and a half hours of non-stop cat-and-mouse comeuppance and grisly, unbearable torture and violence. And, somehow, it's trashy without being trash. In fact, it's gorgeously shot and wonderfully acted by some of Korea's best actors. Imagine if 'Saw' on the scale of 'Lawrence of Arabia' or '2001: A Space Odyssey.' Imagine 'Oldboy' remade by Satan. If you have a strong stomach, 'I Saw the Devil' may be your new favorite movie.
Considering the absence of 'Halloween,' 'Friday the 13th' and 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' on Netflix, it's nice to see at least one iconic '80s horror franchise represented. Don't let the many increasingly dire sequels fool you -- Clive Barker's original 'Hellraiser' is a terrific film and one of the most disturbing horror movies ever made. It may also surprise viewers who think they know the film from its poster and sequels. The iconic "Pinhead" is only a supporting character in the film, with the bulk of the film belonging to the incredible Andrew Robinson, playing a man who has escaped from Hell and has demonic forces in pursuit. There is no formula here and no traditional hack 'n slash villain. This is moody, gothic and violent horror fantasy of the highest order. The first sequel, also on Netflix, isn't half bad and ties up some of the first film's loose ends. Stay away from the rest.
'The Cabin in the Woods' is one of the best horror movies of all time and easily the best horror movie about horror movies ever made (Sorry, 'Scream'). If you've already seen it, you've probably seen it half a dozen times, trying to catch as many little details and references as possible. If you haven't seen it, just fire up your Netflix account and just hit play. Going into this twisted little horror mystery with as blank a slate as possible will offer untold rewards and riches for genre buffs. But we're just kidding ourselves here. Of course you've already seen 'The Cabin in the Woods.' This is just your chance to watch it again.
It's hard to imagine a horror movie more perfect than Ti West's 'The Innkeepers.' A deliberately old fashioned ghost story, the film takes its time between scares, letting us get to know the two clerks manning the counter at a haunted hotel before letting them descend into mayhem. Sara Paxton and Pat Healy are both delightful as the two leads, their rapport making the film just as much of a comedy as it is a horror movie. The biggest compliment you can pay 'The Innkeepers' is that you'd watch a non-genre film following these two as they go about their day-to-day business. But that doesn't diminish the scares -- it just makes them all the more intense when they arrive. When 'The Innkeepers' starts to get scary in the homestretch, it gets really scary. Like "jump out of your chair and yell the screen" scary. Few horror films so effortlessly blend chills with character this well. Watch 'The Innkeepers,' guys.
Are there any Netflix Instant horror movies we missed? Let us know in the comments!