Netflix has done a fine job in recent years of stockpiling horror films — from established classics to newer pictures discovered at international film festivals. But which are the scariest? It’s a pleasure to watch a smart, artful and culturally relevant fright flick. But it’s even better when it spooks you into leaving the lights on after bedtime. Looking to be thoroughly terrorized this Halloween season? Here are 13 devilish films that will have even the most stoic souls jumping at shadows.
‘The Blackcoat’s Daughter’ (2017)
The writer-director Osgood Perkins sets his atmospheric feature filmmaking debut, “The Blackcoat’s Daughter,” at a mostly empty private Catholic girls’ academy, where a worldly senior played by Lucy Boynton reluctantly looks after a timid freshman played by Kiernan Shipka. While the two young ladies wait for their parents to pick them up, they investigate strange noises around the building. In a separate story line, a mysterious woman (Emma Roberts) races toward that same school. Perkins brings these pieces together for a gruesome final act, rooted in the idea that one bad choice in youth can haunt a person forever. (Read The New York Times review.)
Madeline Brewer gives an outstanding performance in the sexually explicit and disturbing “Cam” — a voyeuristic thriller for the internet age. Brewer plays Alice, an upbeat and unusually creative “cam girl,” who strips online for money, performing shows that appeal to her fans’ love of darkness and danger. When someone usurps Alice’s persona and starts sapping her income, she tries to figure out who’s been messing with her livelihood, and descends into paranoia as she realizes the people she’s been working for may actually own her identity. (Read The New York Times review.)
‘Creep 2’ (2017)
“Creep” — the first found-footage horror collaboration between the director Patrick Brice and his co-writer and star, Mark Duplass — is also available on Netflix, and is deeply unsettling. But it’s OK to jump straight to the superior “Creep 2,” in which Desiree Akhavan plays a YouTuber named Sara who agrees to spend a day shooting video of a man who claims to be a prolific serial killer. Duplass plays Sara’s subject, who may be lying for the sake of soaking up this young woman’s attention … or who may be luring her to her doom. (Read The New York Times review.)
‘The Evil Dead’ (1981)
Decades before Sam Raimi directed the first three “Spider-Man” movies, he became a hero to horror fans with his imaginative low-budget 1981 film “The Evil Dead.” What starts as a typical “college kids partying in the woods” picture takes a turn when the youngsters accidentally open a portal to another dimension. Raimi works in elements of slapstick comedy, expertly performed by his leading man, Bruce Campbell. Gags aside, the first “Evil Dead” remains the scariest of the franchise, with a dynamic visual style that lets the audience see the action from the perspective of the demons, as they swoop rapidly in on their prey. (Read The New York Times review.)
‘The Golem’ (2019)
The Israeli filmmakers Yoav and Doron Paz draw on the myths and traditions of Hebrew mysticism for “The Golem,” an unusual supernatural thriller that recalls both “The Witch” and “Frankenstein.” Hani Furstenberg plays Hanna, who tries to protect her 17th century Lithuanian Jewish village from the neighboring Russian Christians by conjuring a ferocious protector, which just happens to resemble her own deceased son. Inevitably, the plan goes horribly awry. Throughout, the Paz brothers impressively recreate old-world Eastern Europe, making Hanna’s world seem grim and alien, filled with uncontrollable threats.
‘House of 1000 Corpses’ (2003)
The shock-rocker Rob Zombie made his feature-directing debut with this grubby gore-fest, pitched as a knowing throwback to the sleazy drive-in fare of the 1970s. The premise is simple: A group of young friends get captured and tortured by a depraved family named Firefly and … well, that’s pretty much it. Zombie’s obvious enthusiasm for atmospheric grotesquerie and true-crime mythology — later spun into two much more ambitious sequels — gives this splatter flick real personality. “House of 1000 Corpses” is a movie made for horror connoisseurs, who don’t mind being brutalized and disgusted. (Read The New York Times review.)
‘The Invitation’ (2015)
Though it eventually builds to scenes of terrifying violence, for most of its running time “The Invitation” is just as much about the existential dread of awkward social interactions. Logan Marshall-Green plays Will, a grieving father who reluctantly agrees to attend a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard). As the night wears on, Will becomes increasingly convinced that his hosts are part of a death cult. His attempts to warn his friends come off more like the erratic behavior of the emotionally wounded, playing out in scenes as riveting and nerve-racking as any slasher film. (Read The New York Times review.)
The producer and co-writer Steven Spielberg often gets the bulk of the credit for the blockbuster hit “Poltergeist,” a chilling ghost story set in the kind of cozy suburbia Spielberg has often featured in his movies. But the film is also clearly the work of its more acerbic director, Tobe Hooper. Though less gruesome and assaultive than Hooper’s best-known film “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” this tale of restless spirits plaguing a pleasant middle-class family has a feeling of queasy anxiety, even before all hell breaks loose. The cast and crew make an ordinary American neighborhood feel like a village of the damned. (Read The New York Times review.)
‘Session 9’ (2001)
Shot on digital video at a time when cameras weren’t as high-tech as they are today, the supernatural thriller “Session 9” has a stark and hazy look, befitting its story of a down-on-their-luck asbestos-removal crew, who start disappearing under mysterious circumstances while working in an abandoned Massachusetts mental hospital. A terrific cast — led by Peter Mullan and David Caruso — captures the creeping anxiety that overwhelms these men as they work in the shadows, in a building that once housed some very troubled people. The director Brad Anderson and his team crank up the tension with a sound design that makes every creak and whisper sound ominous. (Read The New York Times review.)
Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley play a mad scientist couple who create life in a lab in “Splice,” a well-acted and energetic science-fiction film that goes to dark places. The writer-director Vincenzo Natali and his co-writers Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor spend a lot of time developing the relationship between the two prickly geniuses before introducing the horror they make together: a spry humanoid beast they name Dren, who has a stinging tail, a croaking voice and the torso of a teenage girl. Though Dren is deadly, the horror in “Splice” derives more from the discomfort these “parents” feel about what they’ve spawned. (Read The New York Times review.)
The writer-director J.D. Dillard and his co-writers Alex Hyner and Alex Theurer find a fresh angle on the giant monster movie in “Sweetheart,” an intense and intimate thriller about a castaway stuck on a remote island patrolled by a human-eating leviathan. Kiersey Clemons gives an excellent performance as the heroine, who has to think her way through the problems of how to keep herself fed — and how to avoid becoming dinner. The filmmakers throw some surprises into this short, tightly plotted picture but never stray too far from the core appeal: the scenes of a clever young woman fighting to keep control of her situation.
This innovative take on the found-footage horror subgenre has been designed to look like a laptop screen, filled with face-to-face calls and text messages, playing out in real time. The director Leo Gabriadze, the screenwriter Nelson Greaves and a talented young cast use this gimmick to tell a good story, about high school friends who appear to be haunted by the ghost of a bullied classmate. “Unfriended” has a deftly constructed plot that reveals, gradually and chillingly, how social media makes it easier for kids to be cruel to each other. (Read The New York Times review.)
‘Would You Rather’ (2013)
A sick spin on a popular party game, “Would You Rather” carries an idle thought experiment to its most wonderfully appalling extreme. When a group of cash-strapped folks accept a dinner invitation from an eccentric millionaire, they find themselves attempting gross, life-threatening dares. Will they slice open their own eyeballs? Hold firecrackers in their hands? Murder their fellow guests? In this provocative and wince-inducing shocker, the director David Guy Levy and the screenwriter Steffen Schlachtenhaufen expose the perversity of the American class system, which allows the decadent rich to buy the complicity of the needy. (Read The New York Times review.)