The 50 Best Horror Movies on Netflix Right Now

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The 50 Best Horror Movies on Netflix Right Now

As we horror geeks enter 2020 and assess the quality of the offerings available from Netflix, it quickly becomes clear that their horror library is a real mixed bag. As competing services, and especially genre-specific ones such as Shudder, continue to expand their horror movie collections, it’s harder and harder for Netflix to project any sense of comprehensiveness, and its library becomes more static and reliant upon Netflix Originals. At various points last year, for instance, Netflix could boast The Shining, An American Werewolf in London, Jaws or Young Frankenstein, along with recent indie greats like Starry Eyes, The Descent or The Babadook. All of those films are now gone—typically replaced by low-budget, direct-to-VOD films with suspiciously similar one-word titles, like Demonic, Desolation and Satanic.

Still, there are quality films to be found here, typically of the modern variety, from classics like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to more obscure (and disturbing) titles such as The Endless or The Invitation. Don’t expect to find many franchise staples in the mold of Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street, but don’t sleep on The Haunting of Hill House, either. It’s not technically a movie, but it’s impossible to leave off this list.

We invite you to use this list as a guide. The lowest-ranked films are of the “fun-bad” variety—flawed, but easily enjoyable for one reason or another. The highest-ranked films are obviously essentials.

You may also want to check out the following horror-centric lists:

The 100 best horror films of all time.
The 100 best vampire movies of all time.
The 50 best zombie movies of all time.
The 40 best horror movies on Hulu
The 80 best horror movies on Amazon Prime
The 50 best horror movies streaming on Shudder
The 50 best movies about serial killers
The 50 best slasher movies of all time
The 50 best ghost movies of all time


head-count-movie-poster.jpg 50. Head Count
Year: 2019
Director: Elle Callahan
Imagine the hopeless paranoia of John Carpenter’s The Thing mashed together with the languid atmosphere of David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, in which isolated youth are hunted down by a relentless force capable of hiding in plain sight by mimicking their appearances. That’s Elle Callahan’s Head Count, a film with a dreamlike tone slowly overridden by an inexplicable nightmare. When a gaggle of 20-somethings get together at Joshua Tree for a mini vacation, they do what characters so frequently do in horror movies: Read a spooky story that accidentally summons a monster. In this case the monster is the Hisji, a shape-shifting entity that breaks prey psychologically before the killing begins. Accordingly, Callahan relishes the mental component of Head Count’s basic conceit, allowing the cast to slowly give in to suspicion and distrust while capitalizing on their collective uncertainty. At every turn, Callahan creates opportunities to scare the crap out of her audience, often in broad daylight or a well-illuminated room, where the viewer leasts expect to be terrified. The film violates safety and sanctuary on the strength of Callahan’s shrewd filmmaking. There’s room for improvement—the monster ultimately has too much origin for its own good—but Head Count is self-assured in its craftsmanship and announces Callahan as a director with promise and perspective. —Andy Crump


murder-party-poster.jpg 49. Murder Party
Year: 2007
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Streaming services are the obvious home for extremely low-budget, indie horror farces like Murder Party, which would likely never see the light of day otherwise—even as the feature film debut of Jeremy Saulnier, who went on to direct Blue Ruin and Green Room. This is a breezy, amiable horror comedy that feels like a guy and his friends getting together to scrape together a credit on their collective resumes, but with results that transcend the nonexistent budget. Our protagonist is Chris, a rather pathetic and lonely man who has nothing to do for Halloween, until he finds a mysterious flyer for a “murder party” happening in his city. Little does he know, the name is no exaggeration—the event is being hosted by a group of outsider artists who intend to murder anyone who shows up. This story could theoretically be played straight, but the tone is instead very much in the camp of something like Eli Craig’s Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, despite the fact that Murder Party predates that film. As the artists bicker and argue about how to kill Chris, the captive breaks free, beginning a series of zany, gory mishaps that decimate his captors. Featuring surprisingly effective and gross blood effects—it seems like the entire budget was spent here, and you can hardly say their priorities were in the wrong place—Murder Party is a lightweight 80 minutes you’re unlikely to regret if you enjoy horror comedy. —Jim Vorel


terrifier-poster.jpg 48. Terrifier
Year: 2016
Director: Damien Leone
It’s really no easy feat to put together a modern slasher movie with retro inspiration, walking the delicate line between genre parody and loving homage. Too many have tried exactly this and ended up with a result that spends all its time winking at genre tropes, rather than simply delivering the goods. Terrifier is one of the few that at least partially works in the spirit in which it was intended, thanks to its depraved attitude, stylish bloodletting and key central performance. This movie hinges entirely around the quality of David Howard Thornton’s performance as “Art the Clown,” elevating it from what could be perceived as simply a riff on Stephen King’s It to a genuine genre effort of merit. Much of that just boils down to Thornton’s terrific facial expressions as Art, and his stellar costuming and design—he is tailor made to be a recurring slasher film character, and had this series first cropped up in 1982, we probably would have seen half a dozen Art the Clown sequels. The rest of the production is on the cheap side—it often feels like they’re going for the degraded film stock look of Tarantino’s Death Proof, but can’t quite pull it off—but there’s enough gore to satisfy any horror fan’s hunger. If killer clowns are your thing, it’s essential. —Jim Vorel


the perfection poster (Custom).jpg 47. The Perfection
Year: 2019
Director: Richard Shepard
What should horror movies be judged by? Airtight narrative logic, or imaginatively deranged imagery? Scores matter, scripts matter, but by the end of the movie what tends to matter most are the visuals, and Richard Shepard’s new movie, The Perfection, sears its visuals into the viewer’s mind like branding on livestock, right up to its final shot, one of the genre’s most indelible since horror became the taste of the day in the mid 2010s. It’s a twisted kind of miracle that anyone who watches The Perfection will never be the same, and a testament to horror’s power to bend minds and spur nightmares with a single picture. But the movie also reminds us that as much as pictures often come first, plotting usually should come a very close second. The film begins promisingly enough: After abandoning her career to care for her dying mother, cello prodigy Charlotte (Allison Williams) returns to the music world to reclaim her standing as the Bachoff Academy of Music’s star pupil, which means sabotaging the current title holder, Lizzie (Logan Browning). Charlotte reaches out to her old teachers, Anton (Steven Weber) and Paloma (Alaina Huffman), travels to Shanghai as Bachoff selects its latest student, and cozies up to Lizzie. They flatter each other. They flirt. They drink, go partying, then make passionate love in a hotel, filmed with cinematographer Vanja Cernul’s lurid gaze. Maybe Charlotte bears Lizzie no grudge. Maybe they really do admire each other to romantic heights. And then they travel to rural China, where Lizzie grows increasingly sick, starts puking up bugs, discovers yet more bugs dithering about under the skin on her arm, and, when offered a butcher’s cleaver by Charlotte, chops off her hand. This is the climax to The Perfection’s first half hour, ruined by a single viewing of the trailer. It’s also where Shepard springs the first of several fakeouts, stealing a page from Michael Haneke’s playbook. At its best, The Perfection is an homage to 1970s horror movies and 1980s thrillers, a glorious, multi-hewed mind screw. When Shepard sticks to this aesthetic, the movie soars on grotesque wings. When he commits the cardinal sin of demystifying the mysterious, it’s a major drag. A little ambiguity goes a long, long way in horror. —Andy Crump


scream 3 poster (Custom).jpg 46. Scream 3
Year: 2000
Director: Wes Craven
Scream 3 is the redheaded stepchild of Wes Craven’s iconic meta-slasher series, a film that clearly can’t stand up to the originality of either Scream or Scream 2, but is generally regarded to still contain some small spark of the divine. It at least aims to close the series (until it was reanimated in 2011’s Scream 4) with a deeper bit of context into what kicked off the events of the first film, but it does so in a way that lacks the subtlety of either previous installment—seemingly every reviewer felt it necessary to point out that “Scream has become the thing it was originally parodying.” Neve Campbell is resourceful as ever as ultimate final girl Sidney Prescott, but it’s the supporting cast that has now worn thin—even with a visit (via video) from dead horror geek Randy Meeks, who informs the cast of the tenants surrounding a horror trilogy. Still, for the horror completionist, its ending provides a worthwhile sense of closure for Sidney. The fourth film, unsurprisingly, remains unnecessary as a result. -Jim Vorel


tremors-movie-poster.jpg 45. Tremors
Year: 1990
Director: Ron Underwood
Thirty years after the original hit theaters, the Tremors series refuses to go to its grave, as a sixth installment, Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell, arrived in 2018. Faded from the public consciousness at this point is the Kevin Bacon- and Fred Ward-starring first Tremors, an odd little fusion of monster movie and action comedy that first introduced us to Michael Gross’s “Burt Gummer,” who went on to become the de facto hero of the franchise in subsequent installments, minus one Reba McEntire. Tremors is likely a bit more visceral a film than one may remember, a fairly gory, silly yarn about the giant worms known as Graboids that infest the deserts of Nevada and threaten Ward’s ability to score a date with attractive young seismologists. It effectively transplants the psychology of a Jaws-like creature feature to dry land, wondering what exists just outside of our sight. This is most memorably demonstrated in the sequences wherein our cast is trapped on a series of boulders, the Graboids patrolling the edges: As in films like Night of the Living Dead or Cujo, the film creates claustrophobia by confining its characters to a small island of safety that is rapidly becoming untenable. —Jim Vorel


all the boys love mandy lane poster (Custom).jpg 44. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
Year: 2006
Director: Jonathan Levine
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a pseudo-slasher that falls somewhere in the middle ground between Scream, Carrie and Friday the 13th, incorporating a certain ’70s grindhouse sensibility along the way that might occasionally remind one of The Hills Have Eyes or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It was an early starring vehicle for Amber Heard, who is appealing as the “sweet young thing” considerably more twisted than meets the eye. The film veers away from classical slasher in the sense that the kills are more on the realistic side than the cartoonish, although the latter might actually have made it more memorable. As is, there’s nothing particularly wrong here—a certain lack of unique ideas, certainly, but a competently executed high school horror story that will feel comfortably familiar, right down to its third act twist. You’ve been here before, but you probably won’t regret stopping by again. —Jim Vorel


blackcoats daughter movie poster (Custom).jpg 43. The Blackcoat’s Daughter
Year: 2016
Director: Osgood Perkins
Looking at his first two horror features, it becomes clear that director Osgood Perkins seems to have a distinct distaste for both plot and film convention. His films defy easy description, as anyone who watched I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House on Netflix could attest. The Blackcoat’s Daughter, meanwhile, was completed and exhibited as early as 2015 under the title February, but has been floating around in limbo ever since until A24 decided to finally give it a limited release this spring. Compared with Pretty Thing, Blackcoat’s Daughter is at least easier to grasp and marginally brisker, which makes it more effective overall. Perkins’ style is languid, atmospheric and deliberate, favoring repetition and a slowly multiplying sense of unease and impending doom. The story follows two high school-aged students who are both left relatively alone at their uptight Catholic boarding school over break when their parents fail to pick them up. As one descends into what is implied to be either madness or demonic possession, the events are interwoven with another story about a young woman journeying on the road in the direction of the boarding school. The two stories inevitably intertwine. The film’s pace sometimes leaves something to be desired, but patience is largely repaid by its final third, which contains several moments genuinely disturbing in their violence and transgressive imagery. In the end, The Blackcoat’s Daughter comes together significantly more neatly and logically than one might consider while watching its first hour, rewarding careful attention to detail throughout. —Jim Vorel


would you rather poster (Custom).jpg 42. Would You Rather
Year: 2012
Director: David Guy Levy
Would You Rather is the kind of reductive horror film that follows in the wake of the Saw and Hostel generation of the 2000s, where characterization is just an excuse to reduce each character to one driving motivation. Here’s our protagonist—oh, she needs money to pay for the treatment of her sick brother, but what will she do to get it? Films like this are careful to not present any of the other characters as equally or more sincere in their desire than that protagonist, because that would introduce real moral ambiguity rather than the illusive choices here. Regardless, you’re not watching for the story—you’re watching to see what a bunch of strangers will be forced to do to each other in order to win a demented millionaire’s payday. ’80s horror icon Jeffrey Combs plays that villain, and although he’s clearly having a good time, there’s some spark of vitality to his performances in Re-Animator or From Beyond that has long since been reduced to paycheck-minded professionalism or self-parody. If this movie had been made in 1985, perhaps it would have been a minor classic. —Jim Vorel


as above so below poster (Custom).jpg 41. As Above, So Below
Year: 2014
Director: John Erick Dowdle
In the wake of Paranormal Activity, “found footage” as a horror sub-genre had a pretty tough time getting a fair shake from critics, and often from audiences as well. It’s not as if it wasn’t often warranted—anyone who remembers the likes of Apollo 18 can attest to that. Unfortunately, though, it often meant that even found footage movies with more ambition or verve than typical, such as Grave Encounters or As Above, So Below, went overlooked. This one gets by on high concept more than anything else: A camera crew descends into the legendary catacombs beneath Paris, but finds much more there than bargained for. One might expect such a story to involve mutants, or marauders, but As Above, So Below is considerably more cerebral—instead, the story unfolds as a metaphysical descent into hell with numerous parallels to Dante’s Inferno, the crew confronting various sins and failings. Even the jump scares are solid; in an era when shoddy found footage movies were being churned out en masse, As Above, So Below hardly deserves to be lumped in among its more forgettable peers. —Jim Vorel


little evil poster (Custom).jpg 40. Little Evil
Year: 2017
Director: Eli Craig
Seven years after he gave us Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, one of the best horror comedies in recent memory, director Eli Craig has finally returned with an exclusive for Netflix, Little Evil. An obvious parody of The Omen and other “evil kid” movies, Little Evil wears its influences and references on its sleeve in ways that, while not particularly clever, are at least loving. Adam Scott is the sad-sack father who somehow became swept up in a whirlwind romance and marriage, all while being unfazed by the fact that his new step-son is the kind of kid who dresses like a pint-sized Angus Young and trails catastrophes behind him wherever he goes. Evangeline Lilly is the boy’s foxy mother, whose motivations are suspect throughout. Does she know that her child is the spawn of Satan, or as his mother is she just willfully blind to the obvious evil growing under her nose? The film can boast a pretty impressive supporting cast, from Donald Faison and Chris D’elia as fellow step-dads, to Clancy Brown as a fire-and-brimstone preacher, but never does it fully commit toward either its jokes or attempts to frighten. The final 30 minutes are the most interesting, leading the plot in an unexpected direction that redefines the audience’s perception of the demon child, but it still makes for a somewhat uneven execution. Tucker & Dale this is not, but it’s still a serviceable return for Craig. —Jim Vorel


cult of chucky poster (Custom).jpg 39. Cult of Chucky
Year: 2017
Director: Don Mancini
The Child’s Play series has managed the supremely rare accomplishment of actually improving itself in its direct-to-video era, clawing its way up from the abyss that was the Seed of Chucky days with its last two installments, Curse and Cult of Chucky. This latest, the seventh in the series, is possibly the best since Child’s Play 2, weaving together a complex web of characters from the history of the series. The voodoo mumbo-jumbo at the heart of the plot has gotten more fiendishly complicated than ever, resulting in not one but a small army of Chucky dolls, each containing the soul of Brad Dourif’s iconic serial killer, Charles Lee Ray. Stark and futuristic-feeling, the film is set in a brilliantly white-toned mental health institution, where recovering hero Nica (Dourif’s daughter, Fiona Dourif) must grapple with the legacy of Chucky, while also bringing original hero Andy Barclay back into the fold. This Chucky is certainly a return to the original film in many respects, especially in its depraved attitude and copious amounts of gore. And unlike Curse of Chucky, most of the FX are rendered practically, to boot. Ultimately, Cult is a far better entry than you could ever hope for in the seventh film of a horror franchise, and it should be commended for that. Don Mancini never says “die” with this series, it would seem. —Jim Vorel


1922.jpg 38. 1922
Year: 2017
Director: Zak Hilditch
A chameleonic performance from Thomas Jane anchors this understated, gothic story set in Depression-era Middle America, told in the style of a confession by the husband (who we can tell right from the get-go is haunted by some horrible crime). When his wife (Molly Parker) insists on selling the land she’s inherited rather than work it, Jane’s unsophisticated field hand harangues their son (Dylan Schmid) into becoming an accomplice in her grisly murder. As with every Grand Guignol tale, though, we already know that the worst part isn’t the act of killing, but the endless paranoia of living with it. In the case of the movie’s guilty narrator, that means a vengeful and inevitable haunting filled with all the foreboding and creepy imagery you came to see. Stephen King adaptations have their hits and their misses, but this is a straightforward story that gets by on the power of a dread-steeped plot and some compelling performances by good character actors you’ll most likely always be happy to see get screen time. —Kenneth Lowe


childs play poster (Custom).jpg 37. Child’s Play
Year: 1988
Director: Tom Holland
Child’s Play is one of those late ’80s gimmick slashers where it’s all too easy to feel as if you’ve already seen the film, without actually having sat down to watch it. Killer doll, very cheesy, plenty of one-liners, right? Well yes, and no. The original (and pretty obviously best) entry in the Child’s Play series is the most serious-minded (at least slightly) and grounded of the movies, and it goes out of its way to humanize its iconic killer Chucky—or the spirit within him, that of serial killer Charles Lee Ray—more than one might expect. If you’ve never seen a film in the series, ask yourself this: Did you know that the plot of Child’s Play is technically all about voodoo? Because it is. In the end, though, its greatness and inherent watchability boils down to the charms of the wonderful Brad Dourif, who found in Chucky the vessel he needed to become a genre legend forevermore. Like Robert Englund did with Freddy Krueger, Chucky becomes the most beloved aspect of the series because Dourif’s voiceover just oozes charisma and character—he’s more alive than any of the flesh-and-blood characters in this series could ever be. It’s just one of those sublime moments of perfect casting—it’s easy to imagine that no one would remember the Child’s Play series today if that one aspect had been different. —Jim Vorel


veronica horror poster (Custom).jpg 36. Verónica
Year: 2017
Director: Paco Plaza
Paco Plaza, the Spanish director of landmark 2007 found footage horror film R.E.C., has largely delivered diminishing returns via R.E.C. sequels. Verónica, therefore, has been received as a welcome venture into a new concept for the director, even if the results are decidedly on the derivative side. A spirit/demonic possession movie in the vein of Witchboard, the film follows a 15-year-old Spanish student (Sandra Escacena) who unwittingly invites evil into her home while conducting a ouija seance with her school chums. Where the movie shines best is largely on the presentation side: It looks great whenever its images aren’t too dark, capturing an interesting moment in history by setting the film in 1991 Spain. Charismatic performances from multiple child actors serve to bolster a story that unfortunately feels frustratingly familiar, recycling elements of Ouija, The Last Exorcism and practically every possession film ever written. This is very well-trodden ground, but Verónica is at the very least more than competent, even if it’s not the revelation for which we were hoping from the director. —Jim Vorel


xx.jpg 35. XX
Year: 2017
Directors: Roxanne Benjamin, Annie Clark, Karyn Kusama, Jovanka Vuckovic, Sofia Carrillo
It’s important that the scariest segment in XX, Magnet Releasing’s women-helmed horror anthology film, is also its most elementary: Young people trek out into the wilderness for fun and recreation, young people incur the wrath of hostile forces, young people get dead, easy as you please. You’ve seen this movie before, whether in the form of a slasher, a creature feature, or an animal attack flick. You’re seeing it again in XX in part because the formula works, and in part because the segment in question, titled “Don’t Fall,” must be elementary to facilitate its sibling chapters, which tend to be anything but. XX stands apart from other horror films because it invites its audience to feel a range of emotions aside from just fright. You might, for example, feel heartache during Jovanka Vuckovic’s “The Box,” or the uncertainty of dread in Karyn Kusama’s “Her Only Living Son,” or nauseous puzzlement with Sofia Carrillo’s macabre, stop-motion wraparound piece, meant to function as a palate cleanser between courses (an effectively unnerving work, thanks to its impressive technical achievements). Most of all, you might have to bite your tongue to keep from laughing uncontrollably during the film’s best short, “The Birthday Party,” written and directed by Annie Clark, better known by some as St. Vincent, in her filmmaking debut. XX is a horror movie spoken with the voices of women, a necessary notice that women are revolutionizing the genre as much as men. —Andy Crump


the babysitter poster (Custom).jpg 34. The Babysitter
Year: 2017
Director: McG
The Babysitter is a little guileless in its overt desire to be lovingly described as an ’80s slasher homage, but simultaneously effective enough to earn a good measure of that approval it craves. With twists care of Fright Night and Night of the Demons, it’s at its best not when trying to slavishly recreate a past decade, but when letting its hyper-charismatic teenage characters run wild. Stylish, gory and profane to a fault, The Babysitter features a handful of bang-up performances, like Judah Lewis as a late-blooming 12-year-old, Robbie Amell as a nigh-invincible football jock and Samara Weaving as the title character, the girl of Lewis’s dreams—right up until she tries to sacrifice him to the devil. Fast-moving (only 85 minutes!) and frequently hilarious, it’s probably the best unit of popcorn horror entertainment that Netflix has managed to put out so far. —Jim Vorel


the craft poster (Custom).jpg 33. The Craft
Year: 1996
Director: Andrew Fleming
The Craft is one of those touchstones of ‘90s, teen-friendly horror (see: I Know What You Did Last Summer) that has blossomed into the ranks of “cult films” in recent years, whether or not it really deserves the nostalgia. You can at least admire its deft evolution of John Hughes-era high school movie tropes, presenting an almost Mean Girls clique of girls with the added fun of witchcraft, although the inspiration might be more accurately attributed to the likes of Heathers. This film came along during that brief, odd period of the ‘90s when “starring Fairuza Balk” was not an altogether weird thing to see on a movie poster, and it’s a better, quirkier film for it. We all know where the story is going, once these gals start dabbling in witchcraft for the causes of popularity and petty revenge—nobody gets away with being this bitchy in fiction. It’s hammy, and melodramatic, and protagonist Robin Tunney is easily the least interesting of her own clique, and yet The Craft is still oddly watchable today. It’s a well-preserved time capsule of a very specific moment in the twilight of the MTV Generation. —Jim Vorel


insidious-poster-inset.jpg 32. Insidious
Year: 2010
Director: James Wan
A couple years before he essentially perfected the modern, big-budget haunted house movie via The Conjuring, Insidious was the film where James Wan proved once and for all that his genre success in the original Saw was no fluke. It’s a film that benefits from an audience’s low expectations for its complexity—the viewer goes in assuming that they’re seeing the same basic haunting/possession/poltergeist-type story they’ve seen before, and Wan then dazzles them with a mythos that is considerably more detailed (and batshit) than what they expected to receive. So too does the film benefit from a few key performances, whether that’s Patrick Wilson as the anxious father (and secret font of psychic energy) searching for his son, or the utterly essential Lin Shaye as the knowledgeable demonologist who is the family’s only hope. The near-starring role of Shaye really is something worth acknowledging, as the presence of older women as stars/protagonists in the horror genre is close to nonexistent—the Insidious series managed the odd task of taking a character who was in the supporting role of Zelda Rubinstein in Poltergeist and somehow turning her into the legitimate hero of the franchise. Today, the film still holds up well enough, undone a bit by its sequels’ insistence on constant canonical retconning, but featuring jump scares (especially that red-faced demon) that are as effective as anything in their era. —Jim Vorel


ravenous 2017 poster (Custom).jpg 31. Ravenous
Year: 2017
Director: Robin Aubert
Genre geeks didn’t seem to take a lot of notice of Ravenous, beyond its Best Canadian Film award at the Toronto International Film Festival—perhaps the result of an “indie zombie drama” subgenre that seems to have run its course through films such as The Battery, and perhaps because it’s performed in French rather than English. Regardless, this is a competently crafted little drama thriller for the zombie completist, full of excellent performances from no-name actors and an intriguing take on the results of zombification. The infected here at times seem like your standard Romero ghouls, but they’re also a bit more: lost souls who have hung onto some kind of strange, rudimentary culture all their own. These aspects of the zombie plague are always hinted at, never extrapolated, but it enhances the profound feelings of loss and sadness present in Ravenous. —Jim Vorel


hulu zombieland.jpg 30. Zombieland
Year: 2009
Director: Ruben Fleischer
It seems like there’s a certain amount of blowback against Zombieland these days. Not among the general audience, where the film is still fairly well-liked, but among the horror and zombie geeks and “purists,” who don’t seem to consider it legitimate enough as a zombie film. I’m not sure why that is, in a genre where Shaun of the Dead is rightly hailed as the cream of the zombie comedy crop. Zombieland was certainly inspired on some level by the former, as it moved the action to the USA and brought together survivors who were anonymous to each other rather than a circle of friends, as in the tradition of Night of the Living Dead. Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus is the type of character we hadn’t seen in a zombie film before, even in the comedies—somewhat neurotic, not particularly well-equipped to fight, but brainy and resourceful enough to get by on his own, he presents an entirely different mold of survivor. Of course it’s Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee who really steals the show, as a short-fused drifter on a seemingly pointless quest to find the world’s last box of Twinkies. Featuring zombies that are legitimately threatening, it tows a near-perfect line between comedic (but gory) violence and character-driven humor. —Jim Vorel


paranormal activity poster (Custom).jpg 29. Paranormal Activity
Year: 2007
Director: Oren Peli
Here’s a statement: Paranormal Activity is the most wrongly derided horror film of the last decade, especially by horror buffs. That’s what happens in the wake of massive overnight success, and immediately derivative, inferior sequels: The original gets dragged down by its progeny. The original Paranormal Activity is a masterful piece of budget filmmaking. For $15,000, Oren Peli made what is probably the most effective “for the price” horror movie ever released, surpassing The Blair Witch in terms of both tension and narrative while pulling off incredibly unnerving minimalist effects. Yes, there are some stupid, “I’m in a horror movie” choices by the characters, and yes, Micah Sloat’s “get out here so I can punch you, demon!” attitude is irritating, but it’s calculated to be that way. Sloat is a reflection of the toxic “man of the house” attitude, a guy who would rather be terrorized than accept outside help. Meanwhile, Katie Featherston’s realistic performance as a young woman slowly unraveling is a thing of beauty. But beyond performances, or effects, Paranormal Activity is a brilliant case study in slowly building tension, and in raising an audience’s blood pressure. I know: I saw this film in theaters when it was still in limited release, and I can honestly say I’ve never been in a movie theater audience that was more terrified. How could I tell? Because they were so loud in the moments of calm before each scare (the most dead giveaway of all: when a young man turns to his friends to assure them how not-nervous he is). This was just such an event—there were actually ushers standing at the entrance ramps throughout the entire film, just watching the audience watch the movie. I’ve yet to ever see that happen again. Deride all you want, but the arrival of Paranormal Activity scared the hell out of us. —Jim Vorel


the ritual poster (Custom).jpg 28. The Ritual
Year: 2017
Director: David Bruckner
A prime example of what might be termed the “bro horror” subgenre, The Ritual’s characters are a band of lifelong mates united in mourning a friend who has recently been killed in a brutal liquor store robbery. Luke (Rafe Spall) is the member of the group who shoulders the greatest burden of guilt, being the only one who was in the store at the time, paralyzed with indecision and cowardice while he watched his friend die. The other members clearly blame Luke for this to varying degrees, and one senses that their decision to journey to Sweden for a hiking trip deep into the wilderness is less to honor their dead friend’s memory, and more to determine if their bond can ever be repaired, or whether the recrimination stemming from the death is insurmountable. Where The Ritual excels is technically, in both its imagery and sound design. Cinematographer Andrew Shulkind’s crisp images and deep focus are a welcome respite from the overly dark, muddy look of so many modern horror films with similar settings (such as Bryan Bertino’s The Monster), and the forested location shots, regardless of where they may have been filmed, are uniformly stunning. Numerous shots of tree clusters evoke Celtic knot-like imagery, these dense puzzles of foliage clearly hiding dire secrets, and we are shown just enough through the film’s first two thirds to keep the mystery palpable and engaging. Director David Bruckner, who is best known for directing well-regarded segments of horror anthologies such as V/H/S, The Signal and Southbound, demonstrates a talent here for suggestion and subtlety, aided by some excellent sound design that emphasizes every rustling leaf and creaking tree branch. Unfortunately, the characters are a bit thin for what is meant to be a character-driven film, and the big payoff can’t quite maintain the atmosphere of the film’s first two acts. Still, The Ritual is a great-looking film, and one that features one of the more memorably “WTF!” monster designs in recent memory. It’s worth a look for that alone. —Jim Vorel


cam-movie-poster.jpg 27. Cam
Director: Daniel Goldhaber
As so many films in 2018 have shown us, the identities we create online—that we digitally design, foster and mature, often to the detriment of whatever we have going on IRL—will inevitably surpass us. The horror of Daniel Goldhaber’s Cam, based on the Isa Mazzei’s script (in turn, based on her real experiences as a sex worker), is in this loss: that no one is ever truly in control of these fabricated identities; that the more real they become, the less they belong to the person most affected. Welcome Alice (Madeline Brewer), an ambitious camgirl who compensates for the exhausting rigor of online popularity (and, therefore, economic viability) with gruesome stunts and a rigorous set of principles dictating what she will, and won’t, do in her capacity as female fantasy. She’s successful, tossing funds to her mom (Melora Walters) and brother (Devin Druid) without being totally honest about her job, but she could be more successful, trying whatever she can (within reason) to scale the ranking system enforced by the site she uses to broadcast her shows. With dexterous ease, Mazzei’s script both introduces the exigencies of camgirl life while never stooping to judge Alice’s choice of employment, contextualizing an inevitable revelation to her family not as one of embarrassment, but as an impenetrable morass of shame through which every sex worker must struggle to be taken seriously. So much so that when someone who looks exactly like Alice—who operates under her screen name but is willing to do the things Alice once refused—gains leaps and bounds in the camgirl charts, Goldhaber and Mazzei derive less tension from the explanation and discovery of what’s really going on rather than the harsh truth of just how vulnerable Alice is—and we all are—to the cold, brutal, indifferent violence of this online world we’ve built for ourselves. —Dom Sinacola


american psycho movie poster (Custom).jpg 26. American Psycho
Year: 2000
Director: Mary Harron
There’s something wrong with Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale)—really wrong. Although he writhes within a Christopher Nolan-esque what-is-a-dream conundrum, Bateman is all-around evil, blatantly expressing just how evil he is, unfortunately to uncaring or uncomprehending ears, because the world he lives in is as wrong, if not moreso. Plus the drug-addled banker has a tendency to get creative with his kill weapons. (Nail gun, anyone?) Like anybody needed another reason to hate rich, white-collar Manhattanites: Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel is a scintillating portrait of corporate soullessness and disdainful affluence. —Darren Orf

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