We all know the scenario. It’s time for a Netflix session with friends, and someone suggests a horror movie, to which the group unanimously declares that the best horror movies worth watching aren’t on streaming service. It’s not like you want to waste your precious movie time watching “Curse of Chucky” or “Human Centipede 3,” and most of you have already seen “The Exorcist” and “From Dusk Til Dawn” (and if you haven’t yet, stop reading and get on those now!). These are the movies, whether you have Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu, that you most likely skipped over while browsing, but didn’t realize you passed on a hidden gem. Mind you, these are not the top 5 greatest horror movies of all time, just the ones that are flying under the radar, and on a major streaming service. That being said, lets start the list.
5. Event Horizon (1997) – Netflix
Sci-fi often does a great job putting human beings out of their element, which is one of the most terrifying situations to be in, or even just to watch. Although taking place in a sci-fi setting, “Event Horizon” is a straight up horror flick, utilizing various genre techniques such as built-up jump scares, and the use of dark corridors inside a long-lost spaceship, just as one would see in a haunted house. The movie takes place in a future where space exploration is being established by the human race, as the “Event Horizon,” a ship that disappeared on its maiden voyage after using an experimental drive that allows it to travel through artificial black holes, has reappeared in our solar system. The crew of the “Lewis and Clark” go to investigate, and discover the truth behind where the ship has been…and what it has brought back. The idea of crossing genres with the story of a haunted spaceship is appealing enough to give this movie a shot, and the reveal of the ship’s previous destination is highly intriguing for fans of both horror and sci-fi, although the execution in the third act doesn’t quite live up to that build-up. Even so, an interesting, original premise and a plethora of good scares makes this a good choice for the first-time viewer.
4. Creep (2014) – Netflix
Mark Duplass is better known to audiences for his comedic characters, such as Pete in FX’s comedy series, “The League,” and Kenneth in Colin Trevorrow’s “Safety Not Guaranteed,” but after watching his portrayal of unnerving Craigslist solicitor, Josef, in “Creep,” it’s safe to say he can frighten audiences just as much as making them laugh. This found-footage film starts by introducing us to the man behind the camera, Aaron, who has been hired by the terminally ill Josef, to document the last days of his life for his unborn son. As Aaron films Josef’s day-to-day routines, things go from amusingly odd to flat out disturbing, as Josef starts to take more of an interest in Aaron than in the video project. The fun and games are effectively over when Josef introduces Aaron (and all of us) to Peachfuzz- Josef’s terrifying alter-ego, who emerges when Josef puts on a Halloween store werewolf mask. Duplass takes a quirky type of character you see in every slapstick comedy ever made, but gives us a look at the darker side of that quirkiness, as it would look after being taken way, way too far. These two characters are the only ones we meet in the entire movie, even as the setting changes, creating the feeling of isolation that Aaron experiences throughout the film. The uneasiness that “Creep” delivers lasts long after you are finished watching.
3. Grave Encounters (2011) – Amazon Prime
Over the last decade, ghost-hunting reality shows have become one of the more popular, albeit least credible shows on television. Shows ranging from “Ghost Hunters,” to “Paranormal State” have captured the imaginations of audiences, while at the same time, never truly earning the respect of the scientific community, as each show deploys various techniques aimed at entertaining, rather than informing, the masses. “Grave Encounters” tells the story of one such show that, in it’s mission to entertain, has inadvertently stumbled across a real haunting. I know what you’re thinking- there are hundreds of terribly-made found footage films of the exact same premise, which has made you lose all faith in the genre. However, where “Grave Encounters” succeeds is the gradual build of the plot; it is well-paced, built through better-than-average acting and situational terror, as opposed to over-used CGI and cheap scares. What it also does well is make fun of the whole reality haunting TV genre, showing us how sleazy the host and producers are behind the scenes, in trying to manufacture the desired results. It becomes apparent that the haunted Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital is the real thing when the caretaker has not shown up in the morning to let them out, even though their watches show that it should be daylight outside, and it is still pitch dark. The crew breaks down the main exit, but find it has now mysteriously looped back around to the inside. Feeling physically and psychologically trapped, panic sets in, and the scares grow more intense and violent as various members of the crew get separated from the rest, one-by-one, and meet their demise by the ghostly inhabitants of Collingwood. In a sea of similar plots and subject matter, “Grave Encounters” is a definitely a sleeper, and could very well be the best of its respective sub-genre.
2. Hard Candy (2005) – Amazon Prime, Hulu
Everyone loves when the villain of the story gets his comeuppance. But what if the comeuppance is so psychologically brutal, the audience has no idea who they are rooting for in the end? David Slade’s “Hard Candy” takes a dual acting performance and story progression so intense, it’s harder to watch than any Eli Roth gorefest. Patrick Wilson plays Jeff, a 30-something year old photographer who has been flirtatiously chatting online with 14-year old Hayley, played by then-newcomer Ellen Page, which culminates in a physical meeting, reminiscent of every episode of “To Catch a Predator” you have ever seen. As the meeting moves to Jeff’s home, and we are all now hoping Hayley quickly wises up and gets the hell out of there, the tables suddenly turn, and Jeff winds up being drugged and held hostage by the not-so-innocent Hayley, who is looking for some payback for a friend, one of Jeff’s supposed former victims. At first, we’re all jumping on the Hayley bandwagon, because, let’s be real, active pedophiles deserve every form of bad juju that’s coming to them. But once the merciless psychological and physical torture begins, along with claims of innocence from Jeff so adamant that we can’t help but hesitate, it’s hard not to be genuinely frightened of Hayley, red hoodie and all. The progressive intensity of this film will leave your palms and underarms sweaty by the time the credits roll.
1. Southbound (2015) – Amazon Prime
Horror anthology movies came into prominence in the 70’s and 80’s, with classics such as “Trilogy of Terror,” “Creepshow,” and “Tales from the Darkside.” But after 1995’s “Tales from the Hood,” the genre fell out of favor with audiences. But with the releases of FX’s immensely popular anthology series “American Horror Story,” and 2012’s sleeper hit “V/H/S,” anthologys seem to be making a small comeback. 2015 indie film “Southbound” looks to be the modern horror anthology movie to beat, immersing audiences in 5 different sub-genres of horror, ranging from supernatural, to home invasion, all while sharing the same plot theme. The story starts with two men, on the run from an unknown entity in the desert, stopping at a diner. When it becomes clear after they leave that no matter how long and far they drive, they keep looping back to the same diner, the encounter with the entity is inevitable. This sets off the next series of stories, which are all connected to that first tale and in turn, bleed into each other. The strength of the plot lies not only in the shared setting- a lonely desert highway, and the small establishments and homes on the roadside, which anyone who has taken a road trip knows how uneasy the unfamiliarity of being the middle of nowhere can be, but also in that each story leaves you wanting to know more about what happens to each character, almost like you are looking for a tidy, clean follow-up you never get, which can be very unsettling. These stories are just a taste of the bigger picture, which the movie never flat out says what it actually is, but allows you to think and work it out, which at the end, becomes a cleverly obvious payoff. Armed with a killer score and superb performances from its little-known actors, “Southbound” gives you scares through clever storytelling and acting, with very little CG, making it by far, the best streaming horror movie flying under the radar.