With Halloween looming fast, our thoughts are turning to all things weird, wicked, spooky and scary – and that means horror movies.
There’s no better way to spend a dark, silent autumnal evening than to curl up on the sofa with a bucket of popcorn, a chilled drink and a film that absolutely scares your socks off. And Stuff, ever your friend in fright, is here to help make that happen for you. How? By recommending 11 supremely scary movies and telling you exactly where you can stream them.
Often called the greatest horror film of all time (and according to BBC critic Mark Kermode, the best film of all time full stop), The Exorcist‘s lurid depiction of a young girl’s demonic possession made it an instant cult classic upon its 1974 release. In fact, when it came to UK home video in the 1980s, the BBFC considered it too disturbing for even an 18 certificate. It’s a decision that might seem strange to modern audiences, because today its content – low on gore, high on make-up and pea-green fake vomit – comes across as tame compared even to 15-rated horror films.
That’s not to say The Exorcist isn’t scary – it’s a deliciously creepy movie with a fantastic cast, brilliantly directed by William Friedkin and absolutely drenched in occult atmosphere. If you’ve yet to experience the events surrounding Regan McNeil’s possession, we suggest you add this to your watchlist post-haste. And save it for a dark, quiet night, of course.
By some stretch the best horror film of 2018, Hereditary starts off more like a family drama with some supernatural seasoning and ends as… well, that’d be spoiling things and ruining a ride filled with more gut-wrenching twists and sickening loops than a rollercoaster.
When her secretive mother dies, it forces Annie (an absolutely phenomenal Toni Collette) to examine the ways in which her behaviour had affected and shaped her family – not just herself, but her teenaged son Peter and young daughter Charlie, both of whom seem troubled by unspoken issues. When these troubles come to the fore, they first result in tragedy and then descend into full-blown nightmare.
If you’re looking for an intelligent, thought-provoking film that retains the power to shock – a modern movie that’s very much in the same mould as the likes of The Shining, Rosemary‘s Baby or Don’t Look Now – look no further.
Rent Hereditary at:
Based on a real-life case investigated by famous ghost hunting couple Ed and Lorraine Warren, and directed by James Wan (best known for Saw, Insidious and Aquaman), The Conjuring tells the story of a New England family haunted by a malevolent spirit – and comes with all the standard jump scares, whispering voices, flying furniture and general screaming that you’d expect from a modern-day horror movie. It’s far from the smartest thing in this list, but for those times you just want a good yarn to wrap yourself up in, it’ll hit that spot.
Despite taking some liberties with the source material – the actual Ed and Lorraine weren’t quite as easy on the eye as stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, for one thing – it’s an entertaining, well-paced ride on the ghost train, and it proved such a box office success that there’s already been one sequel and three spin-offs, with more on the way.
The movie that kicked off the Japanese horror craze, Ringu is quiet and atmospheric, and a masterpiece when it comes to gradually ratcheting up tension, then releasing it to maximum effect.
The story? Well, there’s an urban myth about a weird videotape doing the rounds. Should you pop the tape in your VCR and watch, you’ll be dead within the week, your corpse horrifically contorted – as if you bore witness to something truly terrifying in your final moments. With a group of teenagers apparently falling victim to the curse, a curious journalist decides to investigate – and discovers that this myth is in fact very, very real. We won’t reveal anything further, because if you’ve never seen what transpires, you deserve to experience it with fresh eyes.
If you can’t bear subtitles, there’s a competent Hollywood remake called The Ring starring Naomi Watts, but trust us: the original works a lot better.
Watch Ringu at:
It might adhere to one of the main horror movie rules outlined in Scream – having sex more often than not ends in your grisly demise – but the stylishly shot alt-horror It Follows is anything but formulaic.
The movie’s killer curse stalks victims slowly but incessantly, disguised as a normal passerby, a family member or a friend (which is perhaps the creepiest part) and there’s apparently only one, horrible, way to lift it. That gives this indie chiller a sense of helpless, looming dread that doesn’t let up until the credits roll.
Rent It Follows at:
A Quiet Place
Arguably more of a thriller than a horror, A Quiet Place warrants inclusion here due to the nigh-unbearable levels of tension it cranks up through its strong, simple premise: there are monsters out there, and they’re blind – but they’ll find and kill you and your family if you so much as sneeze.
Real-life couple Emily Blunt and John Krasinski (who also co-writes and directs) are excellent as the parents doing everything to keep their children safe from the aforementioned sound-seeking creatures. Despite barely a word spoken being in the film – most of the dialogue is signed with subtitles – audio becomes a major part of cranking up the fear; a decent sound bar set of surround sound speakers goes a long way toward making the viewing experience a lot more harrowing, particularly when Blunt’s character goes into labour…
Rent A Quiet Place at:
Don’t Look Now
Nicolas Roeg’s 1970s horror – a cult classic for all the right reasons – tells the story of mourning parents Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, who take an extended stay in Venice in the hopes of coming to terms with their young daughter’s tragic death in a drowning accident. After meeting two sisters, one of whom claims to be a clairvoyant able to converse with the dead, their despair turns to to hope – but there is something worse than grief stalking them among the canals and alleyways of the lagoon city.
An exercise in atmosphere and tension, Don’t Look Now betrays Roeg’s art movie roots, and won’t suit everyone. But even looked at as a piece of intriguing filmmaking, its final reel packs one hell of a horrific punch.
This is the mould from which all other films with a silent, seemingly motiveless, seemingly unstoppable masked killer are cast. Surprisingly low on gore, its disarmingly “normal” suburban setting, chilling synth music (written and performed by director John Carpenter) and knife-edge tension make it a great watch almost 40 years after it was made.
Jamie Lee Curtis became a star off the back of her performance as babysitter-turned-serial-runner-away Laurie Strode, Donald Pleasance adds gravitas as driven, obsessive psychiatrist Sam Loomis – and hulking, elusive “shape” Michael Myers, clad in his expressionless latex mask and mechanic’s blue overalls, makes for a truly unforgettable villain.
A desolate forest; creepy twins; missing babies; failed crops; and an aggressive goat called Black Phillip. The Witch ticks off a gaggle of classic horror movie tropes as it tells the story of a farming family’s brush with the supernatural in 17th century colonial America.
Ye olde worlde dialogue might put some viewers off, but it also fuels the feeling of authenticity and adds to the unshakeable sense of otherworldliness. If you’re seeking cheap jump scares go elsewhere – this movie is more concerned with building tension that making you spill your beer in fright – but you’re unlikely to see a more atmospheric film this Halloween.
Rent The Witch at:
Inspired by the events described in a real-life police report, this early 1990s-set shocker sees a Madrid teenager and her younger siblings terrorised by a malevolent spirit in their apartment – and tosses blind chain-smoking nuns, gnarly Spanish alt-rock and coming-of-age tropes into the mix as well.
We’re talking ouija boards, disembodied whispers and half-glimpsed shadowy entities rather than gallons of gore, but once the final reel is over you’ll know you’ve watched not only one of the best foreign language horror films on Netflix, but one of the finest foreign language films full stop.
The Torrance family takes up residence in the isolated Overlook Hotel for the winter, primarily to cure father Jack of his writer’s block. But Jack’s young son is troubled by strange visions, and the hotel’s old ghosts worry away at the author’s fraying sanity. Director Stanley Kubrick trims back Stephen King’s haunted house story into a study in ambiguity: Jack Nicholson’s Torrance is a mean drunk with a temper, sure – but is the hotel exerting a dark influence over him, or is his potential for evil there from the outset?
Kubrick’s first and only foray into the horror genre seems safe and familiar at first, but its uniquely unsettling qualities quickly make themselves known. The Shining looks like no other horror film: Kubrick dwarfs its characters with his trademark wide, symmetrical shots of architecture, and tracks them through a maze of corridors with lingering Steadicam shots. The atmosphere is heightened by flashes of disturbing tableaux – a gore-drenched elevator, a beautiful woman transformed into a hag. The images linger long after the credits roll.