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The best horror movies on Netflix

Creepy kiddies in Sinister.
Creepy kiddies in Sinister. (Image credit: Lionsgate)

We should all be watching more horror movies, and there's scientific data to back up that claim.

Did you know that watching a horror movie brings with it actual health benefits? It’s proven that viewing films featuring spooks and scares burns calories. You can thank a combination of the stress felt during suspenseful scenarios and increased heart rates (your body works harder). You could go for a thirty-minute walk, or you could watch The Shining. Both burn roughly 184 calories according to studies conducted by the University of Westminster (opens in new tab).

Did you also know that watching horror movies helps cope with anxiety and fear? We all need a release, some relaxation, and it turns out those audible screams when Jason Voorhees busts through another wooden door are beneficial to our mental well-being. Not to mention, there are also physical benefits like an “immunity boost” that are all explained in this informative article on Medicareful Living (opens in new tab).

We should all be watching more horror movies these days, and you know the best part? Streaming platforms like Netflix now have a host of options. Consider me your doctor and this article your prescription. Here are the best horror films you can find streaming on Netflix right now!

The Wicker Man (1973)

There’s a common misconception that horror only works at night. You can’t be terrified in the daylight, only when darkness falls. Do you know what filmmaker Robin Hardy says to that? Phooey.

His folksy cult film about Celtic paganism is a masterclass in generating horror under the sun’s brightest beams. An isolated commune plays dumb with a police sergeant until it’s time for their effigial sacrifice. Christopher Lee is the master of ceremonies, Lord Summerisle, in one of his most accomplished genre performances. We suspect so little, but that’s the film’s greatest trick. Throw some floral crowns on prancers around a maypole, and we immediately assume no wrong.

If anything, see the film that inspired the (vastly ineffective) Nicolas Cage-starring sequel. At least his reading of “NOT THE BEES” gave us something to laugh at in this otherwise disgrace to Hardy’s classic.

Poltergeist (1982)

Vampires vs. The Bronx

Osmany Rodriguez proves there's nothing The Bronx can't handle. Even bloodsucking real estate companies (Murnau Properties, lol), spreading their gentrification like a plague through an otherwise richly cultured New York City community.

In terms of socially conscious horror, Vampires vs. The Bronx is all about brotherhood, street dangers, and protecting bodegas. As an introductory genre title, it's both frightening enough for seasoned fans but tempered in a way that treats the material with introductory intrigue. Blade would be proud of his teenage proteges, as Rodriguez pits his lead bicycle gang against whitewashing and the undead.

The Bronx is represented hard, through cameos and immersion. Vampires hold their ground as classic horror villains. Don't let this one fall into Netflix catalog obscurity. Make it a priority.

Should Tobe Hooper or Steven Spielberg get directorial credit (there’s a history of debate) for Poltergeist? Whatever’s accurate, the final product is still a quintessential paranormal watch for horror fans.

A home, built upon a burial ground, becomes infected by an evil spirit. A family fears for their children and undergoes increasingly aggressive supernatural attacks. It’s built around common genre tropes, but what drives this classic are multiple visuals that still rank on present-day Halloween countdowns. The evil clown doll, the interdimensional “Beast,” Carol Anne’s and the television.

While it’s on the spookier side, I’d say this is a reliable candidate for any family horror night.

Child’s Play (1988)

How scary can you make a killer doll? Ask creator Don Mancini, director Tom Holland, and voice actor Brad Dourif. Chucky may be small, but he’s no dummy.

Mancini’s franchise has undergone a few tonal shifts as sequels tried to balance horror and comedy, but it starts with straightforward screams in Child’s Play. All Andy Barclay wants is a Good Guys doll. Unfortunately, Andy’s plaything has been possessed by serial killer Charles Lee Ray thanks to a voodoo curse. You know, typical horror movie narrative stuff.

Puppets are creepy, especially when they’re char-burned, melty, and still trying to stab you with a kitchen knife—the beginning of my favorite slasher franchise out of all the icons.

Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

Can you hear the intro riff from The Dickies’ original theme song (opens in new tab)? Smell the bazooka popcorn? Killer Klowns From Outer Space is the epitome of midnight horror. Space aliens taking over a town by disintegrating bodies in cotton candy cocoons. Genius.

This pick is for the horror fans who love ongoing chuckle fits. Performances aren’t spectacular, but the entire production’s commitment to circus-horror silliness hits an often fumbled B-Movie sweet spot. Right down to the rubber costumes and incorporated big-top gags. Definitely for the “beer and pizza” crowds.

Who knew Coulrophobia could lead to something this colorfully demented?

The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)

Maybe cheesy horror gimmicks aren’t your taste. Perhaps you’d prefer something more refined. Like a nice Chianti?

There’s a style of horror film for everyone and The Silence Of The Lambs hits that starkly more criminal tone. Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins give the kind of performances that demand awards attention and make words like “fava beans” sound menacing.

Not to mention the dynamic between an incarcerated killer cannibal and an FBI agent in need of help is played oh so right. You can feel the tension and sense the alarm, as one relishes their relationship more than the other.

Oh yeah and there’s another serial killer on the loose if that’s not enough.

Candyman (1992)

In Bernard Rose’s 90s original movie, it was a statement to cast Tony Todd as a horror villain. The genre was mainly whitewashed, with screenplays always opting for the same reuse of familiar representations. Candyman exploits Chicago slums and tells a story that humanizes Todd’s role as more than a mindless slasher ghoul and takes a stand (for the period).

Atop all that, it’s just a vicious horror flick. Say “Candyman” five times, and your ignorance deserves punishment. You don’t dare glimpse his hook up-close unless you’re watching Candyman from the safety of your couch. Which, I highly suggest.

Under The Shadow (2016)

It's important to stamp your horror passport. International genre narratives are often a glimpse into another world. Take Babak Anvari's Under The Shadow.

It’s a history lesson about 1980s Tehran disguised as a horror film (or vice versa). A frightening tale of missiles exploding outside and Djinns threatening a family inside their own apartment complex. The horrors of war, inescapable bouts of PTSD, spliced with devastating Iranian folklore that doubles down on terror.

It’s as confident as it is impassioned, telling of regional suffering through horror’s universal lens. There’s such a monstrous, terrifying world out there to be discovered. I know that sounds odd but open yourself to new experiences when possible and you’ll be surprised how much you might learn to appreciate.

Insidious (2010)

Yeah, it’s been a decade since Insidious came out. Wrap your heads around that one (writes someone who watched it as a teen).

James Wan has since made a titanic name for himself as Warner Brothers’ go-to horror maestro, but Insidious is still one of his best. It’s haunted house horror that’s firing on all cylinders. The Further draws you in, Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne are phenomenal, and those scares will getcha.

I still can’t listen to “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” without checking my closets.

Wan’s usage of shadows is out of bounds, plus the introduction of Lin Shaye as a paranormal investigator (alongside Leigh Whannell’s “Specs” and Angus Sampson’s “Tucker”) is the perfect touch.

Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil (2010)

Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil is one of those films I bet other filmmakers are so mad isn’t theirs. The concept inverts familiarity, and the execution is lightyears into “brilliant” territory.

What if stereotyped backwoods killers were just some nice guys trying to fix up their cabin? What if kids were accidentally offing themselves through an increasingly suspect string of accidents tied to Mr. Tucker and Mr. Dale? It’s hilarious, it’s gory, and packs that kind of game-changing punch that only comes around maybe once a year if we’re lucky.

Shout out to Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine who play the titular yokel duo. The utter disbelief on their faces as horrific deaths occur around their property is performative gold: woodchippers, sharpened tree branches, the works. Everything gets splattered blood-red.

Sinister (2012)

Chances are, the mention of Sinister brings up specific imagery: those Super 8 clips.

It’s valid. The lawnmower, the hangings, all while Bughuul captures the brutality on film reels to be played over and over. It’s easily some of the most recognizable visual horror imagery of the 2010s. Oh, and there’s still more movie around it all.

Scott Derrickson is a man who knows horror, and Sinister is his crowning achievement (to date). Children are creepy enough as-is, but Derrickson cranks levels of fear by bastardizing their innocence. Oh, and also by unleashing his very ‘effing terrifying demon. Watch this one with the lights out, but with snuggle buddies.

Train To Busan (2016)

All aboard one of the most absurdly intense zombie flicks in the last, I’ll give it a decade? At least?

This South Korean apocalypse speeds into action with G-force effect. No “walkers” here, only “sprinters.” Even worse (for characters, better for viewers) The claustrophobia of compact train cars makes for a uniquely terrifying location.

It’s hard to watch Train To Busan without a grin plastered from ear to ear. Another one of those “once in a lifetime” flicks that reinvents everything you know about a genre.

Green Room (2015)

“Nazi punks, fuck off!” A rallying cry that defines our current lives just as much as the advancing narrative in Green Room.

How else can you describe a Jeremy Saulnier title than pure savagery? Rabblerouser band members are locked inside a music venue by white supremacists led by Patrick Stewart. It’s violent, bleak, and the most real kind of horror imaginable: human indecency. A stranglehold of survivalist tension and death in its least compassionate form.

Rest in peace, Anton Yelchin. You’re missed every day.

Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.