Browsing Netflix Instant can be overwhelming. There are so many titles available and to be frank the vast majority of them are rubbish. This holds especially true for the horror genre. There are a multitude of films in this category but very few of them provide the chills and thrills any self-respecting horror junkie craves. However, there are a few diamonds in the rough. Here are my picks for the most terrifying movies currently streaming on Netflix Instant, from least scary to most scary.
1. V/H/S 2
This is the sequel to the 2012 collection of short horror films. Though that movie was by no means bad, the shorts it contained were wildly uneven. I have heard similar opinions levied against this sequel, and I would be tempted to agree for the most part. However, there is one segment in particular that I have not heard a single negative word about and for very good reason. This one, called Safe Haven, is about a cult in Indonesia. Like the rest of the short films it is of the found footage subgenre. A news crew decides to enter the compound of the cult and interview their enigmatic leader. I will refrain from saying much more since I don’t want to spoil the fun, but it is a veritable roller coaster ride of true horror filled with numerous scares and a deeply unsettling ending. This short alone is easily worth the price of admission.
2. Beyond the Black Rainbow
I would definitely categorize this one under a “nontraditional” pick. The second I saw this film, I was entranced. I immediately thought it was destined for midnight movie infamy, but I guess its ship may have already sailed since I don’t hear much about it anymore. It is very difficult to give this movie a plot summary as the story is very nebulous and to be honest inconsequential, but I will attempt to give a really brief synopsis.
A girl is locked away in a facility where they are trying to harness her telekinetic powers (maybe?) and she attempts to escape.
Again, I’m not even really sure that is what is happening. It doesn’t really matter. What unfolds on the screen is a veritable fever dream of hallucinogenic imagery and surrealism. There are a few traditional scares contained within, but what I find so terrifying about the movie is its nightmarish nature. It reminds the viewer of a dream you would wake up halfway through with sweat on your brow thankful to God that you are back in the waking world. The surreality of this film and its plotless nature will turn a lot of people off, but if you are willing to meet it halfway, you will find a very unique “horror” experience that will definitely get under your skin.
It blows my mind that this movie was released in 1987. The content is just so raw, visceral, and ahead of its time. It was written and directed by the incomparable Clive Barker. To sum it up, a scumbag discovers this puzzle box in Morocco and solves it. This condemns him to an eternity of torture at the hands of demons called the Cenobites. This man, Frank, escapes hell and bereft of his skin, holes up in the attic of his childhood home where his younger more likeable brother, Larry, has recently moved in. It becomes apparent to Frank that human flesh will revive him to his former state. So, he enlists the help of his mistress, Larry’s wife, to seduce men at bars, bring them home, and murder them to bring him back to his former glory. Eventually, the Cenobites come looking for what is rightfully theirs, Frank’s soul. Needless to say, there is a lot going on in this movie’s relatively tight 93 minute running time.
The reason this movie makes this list is that the Cenobites are truly terrifying. They became caricatures in later outings of this series, but in the first movie they are fucking horrifying. Also, the notion of S&M taken to its ultimate end and shown in such graphic fashion make this a welcome member of this list. Even for modern audiences, this one is not for the faint of heart.
This movie makes a lot of lists like this, and I was reluctant for years to watch it since it is a silent film, but there is a reason it is still so lauded. It is scary as shit! It is mind boggling that such an effectively terrifying movie was released in 1922.
Nosferatu is a thinly veiled adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Count Orlok serving as the antagonist as opposed to the more familiar Dracula (there were issues at the time with obtaining the rights to the book). A lot of the individual pieces of the story we are all familiar with remain the same. What makes this movie so scary is the make up effects and Max Schreck’s performance as Count Orlok. Looking at some of the still images from this film is enough to give you nightmares, but there is nothing quite like sitting down and experiencing this “Symphony of Horror” from beginning to terrifying end.
5. House of the Devil
This is a fairly divisive pick, but I stand firmly behind it. This movie is definitely steeped in the slow burn philosophy of horror. The plot is simple. A babysitter reluctantly accepts a gig the night of a lunar eclipse. As she sits alone in the cavernous house, things go bump in the night.
At first it is not even clear if anything is truly awry. But halfway through In one of the most “holy shit” moments I have ever experienced from a movie, the answer to the true nature of the proceedings becomes abundantly clear. With the audience now having this knowledge, we get to sit on pins and needles as the protagonist explores the house. The horror builds to a crescendo as the movie finally reveals its endgame. The director, Ti West, is quickly establishing himself as a master of the genre.
6. Rosemary’s Baby
I think I grouped this so close to House of the Devil because it is crystal clear where that movie received its inspiration. Both films take their time in ratcheting up tension, leading to finales that would not have earned their horrific resonance otherwise.
Rosemary and her husband move into a swanky apartment building on Manhattan’s upper west side. Things just seem… off in this building. Especially the tenants within. After a night, that she struggles to recollect, Rosemary becomes pregnant.
This movie doesn’t really have any jump scares to speak of (something the horror genre has become far too reliant on) its horror is earned through the journey that we take with Rosemary as she slowly but surely uncovers the truth. Culminating in one of the scariest/ most satisfying climaxes to any film I have ever seen.
7. The Act of Killing
Having a documentary as my number one pick may surprise and bewilder some of you reading this, but allow me to justify this choice.
This is a documentary that was widely released this past year. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature (which I believe it should have easily won). Joshua Oppenheimer tracked down some of the perpetrators of the 1965-1966 anti-communist purge of Indonesia (read: genocide). He implores them to discuss the murders at length and also reenact them for the camera. Their descriptions of the killings are so despicable (including gleeful descriptions of child rape).
Honestly what they say is so fucking deplorable that I felt physically sick while watching this movie . Who needs ghouls and demons like in my previous entries to this list when monsters like the interviewees in this documentary are all too real and were never punished for their crimes?
That is part and parcel of why The Act of Killing is so effective, but further examination is where the true horror comes in and why it is number one on this list. What this documentary slowly reveals and what we as the audience are simultaneously reluctant and horrified to discover is that the perpetrators of these heinous acts are… human. Though they committed unspeakable acts of violence there is a humanity to them that we all share.
It wasn’t the Devil or a monster that killed all of those people but another human being.
The depths of darkness that the human condition can lead some people is such a terrifying notion to me that this documentary sits comfortably at the top of this list.