Before we get started, I need to air a grievance: Netflix really dropped the ball on modern horror this year. While Amazon Prime was adding instant classics like The Witch and Bone Tomahawk (and other really good stuff like Afflicted, Spring and Open Grave), Netflix basically added a few old classics, dropped half of the best horror in its catalogue, and then called it a day. Sure, there have been a couple bright spots in between (see: The Hallow, Hush, The Invitation), but it’s been a pretty disappointing year in blood spatter for the world’s most accessible and oft-used streaming service.
If you need further proof (as well as more recs beyond the 10 or so on this list) check out last year’s Scream n’ Stream post: 12 of those 22 flicks are gone. The good news is that Amazon Prime has been picking up a lot of the great stuff that Netflix dumped. If you are fortunate enough to have access to the Big 4 streaming services (including HBOGo and Hulu), check out this fantastic Halloween streaming calendar a blogger on Reddit put together.
All said, the pickins were slim this year when it came to Netflix. Especially as I didn’t want to include fare that everyone has already seen (see: The Babadook, Jaws, Children of the Corn, Hellraiser—which are all on there). Don’t worry though, I scowered the bowels and came up with a handful of thematically connected back-to-back features that should easily cover you this Halloween weekend.
So without further adieu, here’s this year’s witches brew…
For fans of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set is a stellar addition to the Netflix canon. It has all the wry, fatalistic wit and undertones of the hit series, but caters more directly to a horror audience. It’s also a great chance to see Brooker’s hellbent mind working in its primal infancy, shortly before Black Mirror made him a Lovecraft-level household name. I think the closest comparison here would be Zack Snyder’s fantastic Dawn of the Dead remake, as Dead Set revels in both the bloodlust of vicious, capable zombies while at the same time staying fiendishly tongue-in-cheek. It’s also a fun look at the early careers of future crime-series faces like Riz Ahmed (The Night Of), Warren Brown (Luther) and Andy Nyman (Peaky Blinders). Beyond that it’s just two and a half hours of viscerally engaging zombie goodness.
While I can’t say Playtest is my favorite episode from Black Mirror Season 3, it’s definitely not the worst. And in my humble opinion, an average episode of BM is better than a great episode of just about anything else on TV. Add the fact that it’s one of the few episodes in which BM ventures into the terrain of horror (the show is often horrific and bleak, but soul-crushing depression does not exactly a horror show make), and I’m even more hooked. This one features an American bro backpacking through Europe, only to meet a hot gamer chick on one of his last days in the UK. Strapped for cash, she directs him to a temp job that offers big cash to test a new VR videogame. A drive to an eerie mansion in the woods takes our man to a gaming experience borne straight out of hell. I will say that the lead is extremely fucking annoying, but some superb CGI and one mind-bending skullfuck of a narrative make this some damn good Halloween viewing. Playtest is also probably the greatest cinematic reminder ever of why sometimes you should just pick up the phone and call mom.
Presence in the Precinct House
Channeling the cult-classic Session 9, Last Shift brings us into the world of Jessica (Juliana Harkavy), a cop working her first shift. Of course she just happens to look like the half-sister of Jessica Alba and Hope Solo. Of course the shift is run alone. At night. In a precinct house that’s haunted by the spirit of a mass murder clan! Last Shift is one of those low-budget, sleeper Netflix horror titles that more than does the trick in terms of delivering continuous suspense and some good visual and psychological thrills. In fact, I’d go so far as to place it in the top ten horror movies of 2015. As a horror buff who is typically bored by paranormal films, this one easily kept my attention throughout. An impressive flick from up-and-coming horror director Anthony DiBlasi.
I’ll be frank: Baskin—which pits a group of Turkish cops against a netherworld of nightmarish evil in an abandoned precinct house—has very little in the way of a linear narrative or plot resolution. Trying to make sense of this movie is an exercise in futility, because the movie itself seems to have no interest in logic. All that said, the nightmarish visuals, incredible makeup and creative mindfuckery put this one in an otherworldly dream realm from hell—kind of like Hellraiser. This is the kind of horror flick I’d recommend if you either, a.) smoke the ganj, or b.) are stuck indoors this Halloween with a delirious headcold and are ingesting large amounts of cough syrup. It’s just a very strange movie with very strange visuals, and if you attempt to experience it more as a ride than as a plot-driven piece, there’s a lot of fun to be had here.
GRADE: B / B+
Damsels in Digital Distress
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 a webcam junkie (Melanie Papalia) 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.
Am I reaching to include Hush in a cyber-horror theme? Maybe. But a lot of this movie—based on a deaf woman dealing with a home invasion out in the woods—deals with our heroine doing everything she can to save herself via the powers of the iPhone. It’s also one of the best new horror movies Netflix added this year. It’s also a solid slasher flick in a genre that has seen a steep fall-off in production, what with every horror movie these days about a talking doll or haunted house. Netflix horror regulars will likely have seen this. The rest of the world probably hasn’t—a good enough reason for me to queue it up when folks are over this All Hallow’s Eve.
Sidenote: If you’re digging this cyber vibe, check out Black Mirror’s Shut Up and Dance—not horror, but arguably the best episode of Season 3.
GRADE: B / B+
GRADE: B / B+
50 Shades of Gangrene (Irish horror)
When I put together a list of some of best lesser-known modern horror flicks on Netflix, The Canal was my glaring omission. Perhaps I held off on watching it due to the corny cover art on Netflix that makes it look like a generic, direct-to-DVD snoozefest. In fact, this film is so good that I’m doubling back on my claim that The Babadook was the best horror film of 2014 (granted, it was a pretty shitty year for horror).
So what’s the deal with The Canal? Premise: An Irish film archivist moves his wife and son into a creepy old house located on a… canal, of all things. With a heavy tip o’ the cap to The Shining, our man starts losing his mind a wee bit, especially when he finds some films at work that reveal his house to be the scene of a century-old murder wherein a man killed his wife and kids.
This familiar narrative just described is pretty much where The Canal stops adhering to any genre conventions. I’ve stated on this blog that haunting movies generally don’t do the trick for me (just leave the fucking house, already!). But this one is more refreshing and palpable, if only because the majority of the film doesn’t take place in the house, and we don’t have to wade through an hour of creaking doors and power outages to get to the real meat. Moreover, The Canal operates on a heady, multilayered plain of psychological dementia that enters into a possessed mind in one of the most convincing—and therefore terrifying—ways I’ve encountered. Trippy, manic and skillfully crafted, the lack of recognition for director Ivan Kavanagh’s indie masterpiece is criminal. Queue it up without further delay.
As for The Hallow, it embraces traditional Irish folklore of banshees, faeries and evil bog creatures in what amounts to another surprisingly good slept-on, b-horror effort out of the Emerald Isle. Premise: An environmental conservationist moves his wife and newborn into a dusty, old brick mansion in the middle of the woods. Locals eye the newcomer with suspicion, warning him of ominous forces about the titular “hallow,” which he of course pays no heed to. One of the film’s strongest assets is how its cinematography plays off of the haunting Irish countryside, creating for an atmosphere of eerie, mystical gloom. There’s also some very strong acting, and not just via protagonist Joseph Mawle (whose lupine eyebrows alone may have you wetting your knickers). With a cast including Michael McElhatton (AKA Roose Bolton from Game of Thrones) and Michael Smiley (Kill List, Black Mirror, A Field in England) such catchphrases as, “This isn’t London—things here go bump in the night,” take on an air of menace that are as chilling as a midnight wade through a murky bog.
GRADE: B+ / A-
OK, OK. Let me tell you why you should watch The Sacrament, a very thinly veiled “found-footage” recount of that time the homicidal megalomaniac zealot and pederast Jim Jones ritualistically killed off 900-plus people in a South American jungle. For starters, it’s directed by another cultish icon, the hallowed hipster-horror hero Ti West (The House of the Devil, V/H/S). Whether writing, directing or acting, Ti West has been involved in some of the past decade’s better horror showings (see also You’re Next) along with his plaid-clad homies Joe Swanberg, Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard. The Sacrament pits Swanberg as a Vice-esque journalist flying into an unknown jungle to research an ominous folk hero called Father (played by the great Gene Jones—no relation). From there, ominous undertones lead to all hell breaking loose in a suspense-packed 99 minutes of thrilling, if inherently predictable, damn-good horror.
I don’t really like to give away the genre of The Invitation, but seeing as this is a horror post I should let you know what this film is more “slow-burn suspense with deadly consequences” than it is all-out horror. However one would classify it, this take on the oft-visited “dinner party from hell” horror trope excels due to an expertly calculated level of psychological tension that courses through the entire otherwise-slow first hour of the film. I’m not going to outline the premise because, frankly, it would just take away from your viewing experience. Just know that it pairs well with The Sacrament.
GRADE: B+ / B