Scraping the Barrel: 10 modern horror films on Netflix Instant worth watching

best of netflix horror 2015
Standard

If you’re wondering why I’m making a “worth-watching” list and not a “best of” one, the reasons are thus: This is not a clickbait site, and more importantly, horror is a genre whichlet’s be honestshits the bed more often than it has us fearfully checking underneath it.

Another main reason is that anyone who reads this site has probably made it through all of the well-regarded horror flicks on Netflix Instant, and it’s my job to point you in the direction of lesser-known treasures. Before we continue, here’s a list of modern movies on Netflix I’m assuming you’ve seen if you’re a horror fanall of which you should watch if you haven’t (links back to our original reviews):

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
—House of the Devil
I Saw the Devil
Let the Right One In
—Sacrament
Stake Land
The Babadook
—The Guest
—The Host
The Taking of Deborah Logan
—Troll Hunter

—Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
V/H/S/2
You’re Next

As for the list below, it’s for those nights when you’re endlessly browsing through Netflix’s horror section, wondering which loud-title parked between Sharknado and Leprechaun in the Hood is actually going to be a film that some motherfucker put a modicum of original thought into. Because it’s horrora genre in which roughly 98 percent of films suck, while the other 2 percent are what us junkies live for. So here ya go…

American Mary
Katharine Isabelle in American Mary

If there’s one thing that grinds my fucking gears, it’s movie titles that begin with the prefix “American.” With American Psycho, it made sense. But over the past few decades, it’s simply become a marketing scheme. Want to make an Oscar-bait movie? American Sniper, American Beauty, American Hustle, American Gangster, etc. Want to make a horror movie/show that will ride the coattails of American Psycho? Enter American Horror Story, An American Haunting, An American Ghost Story, etc. Point being that the word “American” is about as indicative of what a film is about as the word “the”. It’s the Hollywood version of clickbait, and it needs to be locked in a dark cabin and split open with various medical instruments in some remote swamp area near Carcosa.

It all makes me want to write a script titled American America that stars Bradley Cooper as a down-and-out boxer who returns home to Southie Boston from Vietnam in the ’70s and has to overcome the odds while steering clear of a bellbottom-clad coke dealer (Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg, Jeremy Renner, etc.) and winning back his smaht-talking sweethaht (Jennifer Lawrence or Amy Adams). … You’re welcome, Shawn, Marlon and Keenon Ivory.

Horror-wise, I’d just do this:

american go fuck yourself movie poster

Coming this fall from visionary blogger Sam Adams…

So anyways, it was a long time before I gave American Mary the time of day. And yeah, the title does kind of make sense, what with it being an arguably feminist revision of American Psycho. The premise: Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle from Ginger Snaps) is a brilliant med student trying to make ends meet so that she can pay her way through school. When things go south during a desperate audition at a strip club, her surgical skills come in handy and prove to be exceedingly lucrative on the blackmarket. As she works her way into the upper crust of surgical culture, she gets invited to a doctor’s party. Bad things ensue, and all of a sudden Marythe undercover body modification surgeonstarts moonlighting as a scalpel-armed revenge assassin.

In the vein of both Tusk and the great wave of South Korean revenge thrillers, American Mary is a surprisingly entertaining look into the twisted underworld of body modification and mutilation. It’s also hard to take your eyes off Isabelle, who offers up one of the hottest PG-13 strip dances this side of Salma Hayek in Dusk Till Dawn or Jessica Alba in Sin City. Needless to say, Isabelle is right up there in the fanboy ranks of campy-modern-horror goddesses like Eliza Dushku and Elisha Cuthbert.

Katherine Isabelle striptease American Mary

American Striptease…

In less talented hands, her role of the smokin’ hot med school nerd turned mutilator would come off as wholly unbelievable. Fortunately, Isabelle is a seasoned horror vet who knows exactly what she’s doing here. All said, American Mary is a fun and gory revenge horror flick with quite a bit of style and sass.

GRADE: B / B+
IMDb: 6.3

The Den
melanie papalia in the den bloody

I know “found footage” is a pretty damn taboo subject among some horror fans, but between V/H/S/2, Afflicted, The Taking of Deborah Logan and a few others, I’ve been warming up to it over the past few years. The Den’s spin on the subgenre comes in the form of webcam chatting. Hottie and PhD student Elizabeth Benton (Melanie Papalia) is a webcam junkie who’s just received a university grant to do a study on a Facebook-meets-Skype web-chatting site called The Den (sorry, I’m too much of a luddite for a more specific comparison).

Her interactions with random strangers start innocently enough. Sure, there’s some pervs swinging their dicks around on the live site, but she also has some “meaningful interactions.” As she builds her data pool, an anonymous user starts sharing snuff films with her and hacking into her account. From here, her virtual reality and personal life merge as a living hell. There’s some corny acting and the typical horror cliche of inept authorities, but overall The Den brings a refreshing twist to the found-footage wave. And unlike many films in the subgenre and their supernaturally enigmatic endings, here we get some brutally chilling resolution.

GRADE: B
IMDb: 6.1

Devil’s Pass
Devil's Pass movie best horror 2013

Somewhere between The Descent and an even more far-fetched science fiction tale rests Devil’s Pass, a quasi-found-footage horror flick about a documentary crew trying to solve the mystery of a Russian expedition that went missing in the Ural mountains in 1959. The Descent is, of course, a thematic comparison only. Devil’s Pass in no way lives up to that standard. Still, it holds a current of strongly captivating suspense throughout its brief runtime, and offers at least a semi-innovative concept into the realm of sci-fi horror. This movie also gets major points for finding a reason to film a found-footage-style flick in HD. Hopefully this and Afflicted will be the final deathblows to those nausea-inducing, shaky handcam flicks of yore.

GRADE: B
IMDb: 5.7

The Horde
Yves Pignot in the horde (la horde) bloody

There is both nothing new and nothing boring about the 2009 French zombie flick La Horde (The Horde). The film opens with a cop family grieving the loss of one of their own and vowing to take vengeance on the gangsters who put him down. Shortly after, said coppers are running a special-ops-style mission in a rundown tower apartment where their foes reside. As a bloodbath ensues, so too does the zombie apocalypse. Naturally, blood rivals must team up in order to make it out of the building alive.

Horde’s undead are of the 28 Days Later, fast-running rabid variety. And the CGI / makeup here brings them to life just as well as any zombie flick in recent memory. As for narrative, it doesn’t go much farther than a bunch of gun-toting frogs trying to shoot their way out of a zombie-infested building. The Horde is basically the perfect film for Walking Dead fans who enjoy that show for the zombie-body-count factor. In fact, there are probably more zombies killed in Horde’s 90 minutes than in any single season of Walking Dead.

And while the film is pretty dry story-wise, it’s high on loud and bloody styleand fortunately not in the Tarantino-jocking, groan-inducingly campy form of, say, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead. So is The Horde a great or original zombie movie? Nope. But an incredibly entertaining one for fans of the walker subgenre? Without a doubt.

GRADE: B
IMDb: 5.9

Housebound
housebound movie bloody face Morgana O'Reilly

While it’s not my favorite film on this list, Kiwi director Gerard Johnstone’s Housebound is arguably the best. It’s also one of the strongest horror comedies since Cabin in the Woods. Needless to say, I’m not a huge fan of self-effacing, tongue-in-cheek horror films, which is probably why I’m one of the few people on Earth who was severely underwhelmed by… Cabin in the Woods.

Housebound introduces Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly), a brooding amateur criminal and druggie who’s put on house arrest after a botched ATM-heist. This means that she has to spend eight months with her demented chatty-Cathy, hoarder of a mother (played by Rima Te Wiata, who showcases some masterful facial expressiveness here).

Soon, things start going bump in the night, and Housebound turns into an atypical haunting movie that shares several thematic similarities with both The Babadook and Wes Craven’s classic People Under the Stairs. Speaking of which:
everett mcgill people under the stairs burn in hellSo why am I not raving about this movie and writing a novel on it? Basically because it’s the kind of horror movie for folks who love that tongue-in-cheek horror nerdism branded by Sam Raimi and more recently incarnated in films like Shaun of the Dead and that cabin movie everybody loved. (Personally, I tend to like my horror much more sinister and depraved.)

Still, Housebound is a flawlessly executed horror-comedy that does provide its fair share of “jump scares.” It’s also highlighted by a superbly colorful cast of characters and a fun curveball of an ending. If you’re not a cinematic sadist like me, or are simply looking for a horror movie to watch with your 12-year-old niece/nephew, you really couldn’t ask for much more.

GRADE: B+
IMDb: 6.8

Late Phases
nick damici late phases

Like We Are What We Are, director Adrián García Bogliano’s Late Phases operates on the premise of a tried-and-true but also tired concept (werewolves) in what amounts to a very standard, predictable horror film. But wait! … It also stars Nick Damici, one of the most badass horror actors of the past decade (recognizable from every project the extremely talented Jim Mickle has ever directed).

Damici carries this film as a grizzled Vietnam vet who, despite being blind, is still handy with his heavy arsenal of firearms. Imagine Clint Eastwood’s character from Gran Torino being sightless and having to defend a gated elderly community from a horde of werewolves, and you’ve got the premise of Late Phases.
Clint Eastwood Gran Torino get off my lawn werewolf

There are also some interesting side roles here. Tom Noonan from Manhunter and House of the Devil (and also one of the creepiest fucking actors alive) plays the part of a chainsmoking priest who looks to shepherd Damici’s ornery, widowed character back toward the light. And Ethan Embry (what the fuck happened to him?) does a fine job as Damici’s jaded and somewhat-estranged son.

The creature makeup here is a little corny, but the action shots and fight scenes involving the moon-howlers don’t disappoint. Some of the sequences reminded me of Descent-director Neil Marshall’s fantastic debut feature Dog Soldiers. And while Late Phases isn’t anything groundbreaking, it arguably amounts to the best werewolf flick since Marshall’s 2002 cult classic.

GRADE: B / B+
IMDb: 5.9

Starry Eyes
Alex Essoe Starry Eyes bloody sexy

The premise of Starry Eyes is familiar enough: Sarah (Alex Essoe) is a struggling young actress looking for her big break in Hollywood. By night, she and her group of hipster, industry friends get drunk and have resume-based dick-measuring contests about their trajectories toward stardom. By day, they wallow in the reality of being deadbeat, burger-slinging wannabes. But Sarah knows she’s different. And when the role of a lifetime comes her way, she’s determined to do absolutely anything required to land it. Anything, of course, turns into a lot more than she could have imagined in her wildest nightmares…

alex essoe starry eyes eat the cake anna mae

“Eat the hipster, Anna Mae!”

The filma veritable hybrid between A Serbian Film, Kill List and House of the Devilis certainly one of the goriest and most stomach-churning on this list. Despite the generic set up, its first half carries a highly engrossing air of mystery. Unfortunately, the second half just kind of devolves into a heavily prolonged clusterfuck of degradation, wrapped up with a mind-numbingly contrived conclusion that’s already been done in at least two classic horror movies (which I’ll avoid mentioning so as not to play spoiler). To the film’s credit, Essoe’s dramatic range and overall performance rank up there alongside the best the genre has seen in the last few years. Starry Eyes could have been really, really goodbut do we need yet another metaphor for the depraved vanity that defines Hollywood’s slimy underbelly? You be the judge. Either way, it’s loads better than the similarly themed Contracted.

GRADE: B / B-
IMDb: 6.0

13 Sins
13 sins mark webber bloody

An amalgam of every Saw movie and that Michael Douglas flick The Game, German director Daniel Stamm’s 13 Sins is essentially the torture porn version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Mark Webber plays Elliot Brindle, a New Orleans man in desperate financial straits. After being fired from his job, Brindle receives a phone call from an anonymous man who invites him to play a cash game that involves 13 feats. The first one is innocentswat a fly for $1,000. As each task gets more and more insane, so does Brindle’s greed and bloodlust. A remake of the 2006 Thai flick 13 Beloved13 Sins is a fast-paced and exhilaratingif slightly lowbrowgore-horror thriller. If the Saw and Hostel franchises are your brand of mindless guilty pleasure, you’ll definitely be at home here.

GRADE: B-
IMDb: 6.3

We Are What We Are
Ambyr Childers bloody face we are what we are

Director Jim Mickle has made two of the best atmospheric dark films of the past half-decade: Stake Land (2010), a vampire road movie, and Cold in July (2014), a Western-noir thriller featuring one of Don Johnson’s best-ever roles.

Why he sandwiched this canned story about a cannibal family living in the Catskill Mountains between the two is beyond me. I guess my main issue with this movie is that everything about it (including the title) just loudly screams “uninventive direct-to-DVD cannibal movie.” Which is weird, because the script comes from the talented trio of Mickle, cult-horror hero Nick Damici (Stake Land, Late Phases), and author Joe R. Lansdale (who penned both this and Cold in July as original novels).

Michale Parks in Kevin Smith's Tusk

Michael Parks in Tusk: “I Think the real savage animals are the humans.”

So what are the saving graces of this film that make it worth a look? The most pronounced would be Mickle’s deft hand with atmospheric cinematographya quality that oozed from his two much-better recent films. His vision of the Catskills in a perpetual downpour here feels more like the setting for Winter’s Bone than it does some B-horror movie. The film also has strong acting, including a role from the great character actor Michael Parks (Tusk, Red State, From Dusk Till Dawn) and a cameo from Damici.

All said, I wouldn’t highly recommend We Are What We Are, but I’d say it’s worth a gander for fans of dark cinema simply because Jim Mickle is one of the most exciting, up-and-coming directors of thrillers/horror in the game.

GRADE: B- / C+
IMDb: 5.8

Wolf Creek 2
wolf creek 2 mick taylor bloody

Rarely does a horror sequel live up to its predecessor. Recent cases-in-point would be The Descent 2, Insidious 2, Jeepers Creepers 2 and The Hills Have Eyes 2. But when the original was just an above-average, gore-horror thriller with a memorable antagonist that didn’t ask too much of its audience, the recipe shouldn’t be that hard to duplicate. Directed by Greg Mclean (who also directed Wolf Creek and the killer-crocodile Ozploitation flick Rogue), Wolf Creek 2 gets points for knowing exactly what it is, and exactly what its fans want from it.

Mick Taylor (John Jarrat) returns as everyone’s favorite xenophobic, catchphrase-spewing, Outback serial killer. His prey in this installment are a pair of German outbackers and a British bloke who all happen to find themselves near the barren, titular area where Taylor prowls at night in his highbeam-adorned pickup. While the film relies on the same lowbrow, torture-porn fear factor of the first, Mclean does a nice job of showcasing the qualities that made the original such a hit: the Outback setting, and more importantly, the unforgettable Mick Taylor and his maniacally hilarious dialogue.
Wolf Creek 2 Mick Taylor

I fully understand that everything about this movie is about as accurate a representation of Aussie culture as a Foster’s add. Still, “the kangaroo scene” is arguably one of the funniest sequences a horror movie has delivered in years (and is certainly the most memorable use of kangaroos in film this side of Wake in Fright). If you didn’t like Wolf Creek, there is absolutely no reason to watch its sequel. If you don’t like frivolous gore (albeit with a sense of humor), you also shouldn’t watch this. But if you liked the original, I’d venture to say that Wolf Creek 2 is at the very least as good, if not a slight improvement both in terms of its comedic dialogue and Outback cinematography.

GRADE: B
IMDb: 6.1

-SAM ADAMS

Reanimating Kevin Smith: Tusk furthers a new wave of bizarre, innovative horror

tusk movie
Standard

I am not a Kevin Smith fan. Around the age of 11, I thought Clerks, Mallrats and Chasing Amy were among the funniest films in the world. Shortly after, my testicles dropped. Along with them, the geeky, pothead sex humor that was Smith’s schtick also dropped from my perception of what constituted a watchable movie.

kevin smith mallrats jay and silent bob

This was hilarious… back when the word “poop” made me giggle

To this day I cannot watch those movies without grimacing, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Dogma only made a tired, pre-pubescent joke worse. Like many folks, I then completely gave up on Smith. That is, until Red State—his self-distirbuted horror / shoot ’em up tale inspired by the evils of the Westboro Baptist Churchcame along.

Red state John Goodman

John Goodman has some great lines in Red State.

It’s hard to write anything about Smith without bringing up the idea of maturity (or lack thereof). I mention this because while Smith hasn’t exactly reinvented himself through Red State (2011) and Tusk (2014)—his signature campy, dick-joke humor runs rampant throughout both—he has brought some fresh ideas to the horror genre at a time when every other movie is either an Exorcist rehashing or a remake.

Is this innovation a sign of maturity? Maybe, maybe not. But both films are undeniable measures of progress for a director whose dog and pony show had all but bit the dust.

Kevin Smith dick

Kevin Smith reveals how he got famous…

It’s also worth mentioning that these movies come at a time when Smith is making a major career turn in the direction of horror (Tusk is the first in his slated Great White North trilogy; I can’t wait for 2016’s Moose Jaws). So here’s my two cents on Tusk, which I recommend to anyone who has ever been a fan of the director, or simply to fans of campy horror who may have been just as turned off by him in the past as I was.

Tusk (on DVD)
Tusk movie

Tusk is a very odd movie, so I’ll give it an odd comparison: It’s essentially one part Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and two parts The Human Centipede. Unfortunately, I can’t get too far into the particulars of this description. Even though the underlying premise is hinted at largely both in the title and in the film’s trailer, its climax relies on an underlying conceit that makes it of the “just go in blind and watch it” variety.

Here’s what I can tell you in order to see if this is your cup of tea:

Tusk introduces us to podcaster Wallace Bryton (Justin Long, in his most memorable performance since Drag Me to Hell). Wallace runs a show called “The Not-See Party” along with his bud Teddy (Haley-Joel Osment, 15 years removed from The Sixth Sense and looking like a plump, diminutive Hobbit extra).

Tusk Haley Joel Osment

Insert “I see dead people” pun here…

Wallace and Ted capitalize on the shame and misfortune of others. They’re exactly the kind of opportunistic media savages whom Joel Murray’s character Frank would have mowed down with an assault rifle in the brilliant black comedy God Bless America.

When the duo see a viral video of a dullard who mistakenly chopped off his leg with a samurai sword, Wallace travels to Canada, looking for a great freakshow interview. But things don’t quite pan out.

Stranded in Winnipeg, he’s about to call it quits and come home empty handed when he sees an ad in a bar bathroom that reads like a dinner invitation from The Most Interesting Man in the World.

He drives into the icy depths of Manitoba and eventually arrives at the house of the mysterious Howard Howe (Michael Parks, easily recognizable from a slew of Tarantino flicks). Shortly after, things go completely apeshit.

most interestin man, michael parks tusk

“I don’t usually star in Kevin Smith movies, but when I do, they’re surprisingly good.”

I know that I deviate from popular critical sentiment when I say that I thoroughly enjoyed the shit out of Tusk. And to Smith’s credit, I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it for all the same reasons that he had a blast making it, and for all the same reasons he knew a small niche of viewers would love it. As Smith said in an interview, “I just wanted to showcase Michael Parks in a fucked up story, where he could recite some Lewis Carroll and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to some poor motherfucker.”

That synopsis underlines the central gem in an imperfect film that is comprised of several great pieces, as well as a few scenes and ideas that would have been much better off left on the cutting-room floor. (Or simply written and directed by someone less self-indulgent than Smith.)

Michael Parks is phenomenal as Howe, the psychopathic wheelchair philosopher. A long scene in which Howe regales Wallace with stories of drinking with Hemingway in Normandy is easily the best sequence of dialogue Smith has ever written. Wallace’s every word is that of a noble, worldly seaman—if only that seaman were the lovechild of Hannibal Lecter and Dr. Moreau.

brando island of dr. moreau

The 1996 remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau, which posed the weighty, primordial question, “What the fuck was Marlon Brando thinking?”

Furthermore, Kevin Smith writes a character in Howard Howe that is completely fleshed out. Even the greatest horror films too often leave us with questions as to who the villain really was, and from whence his darkest motives were borne. (In the case of Texas Chainsaw and Halloween, perhaps this was so we could get hit over the head with a never-ending shower of sequels). But in Tusk, everything is laid on the tableand the story of our villain is brilliantly constructed with thoughtfully researched and historically creative flair.

Michale Parks in Kevin Smith's Tusk

“I Think the real savage animals are the humans.”

Other strong points in Tusk include special effects makeup that is both hilarious and also some of the most wonderfully gruesome creature-feature imagery since Slither. And Justin Long’s performance proves that after Drag Me to Hell and Jeepers Creepers, this guy was put on Earth to do one thing: play a hyperbolically snide, scared-shitless version of himself in horror movies.

Justin Long Jeepers Creepers Darry

Dear Justin Long: You will always be Darry from Jeepers Creepers.

As for drawbacks from this otherwise refreshingly innovative horror-comedy, Kevin Smith just kind of overdid it with his Kevin Smith-ness. There’s a 13-minute-long scene in which an A-lister makes a cameo as a stereotypically Canadian murder detective that adds absolutely nothing to the film other than the information that Kevin Smith is still able to hook an A-lister.

Not only is this character unnecessary, but his caricature-esque persona brings a level of over-the-top absurdity to the film that is too goofy even for Smith’s batshit premise. Another drawback would be that there’s a bunch of dick jokes and geeky humor that will most likely appeal to no one but diehard Kevin Smith fans.

All said, however, when you weigh the bilge versus the really great bits (the acting, Parks’ brilliant dialogue, a fresh horror story and great special effects), Tusk emerges as one of 2014’s best horror flicks.

Oh, and the usage of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” in a climactic scene? Brilliant.

GRADE: B+
IMDb: 5.6

-Sam Adams