With Halloween coming on fast and furious this October, it’s always a good idea to think about what you want to watch, otherwise you might run out of time! Sure, there’s great new Blu-ray offerings like Scream Factory’s “The Thing” and Lionsgate’s “Chopping Mall” and “Blood Diner,” but if you’re looking to steam something on Netflix or Amazon Prime, we’ve got just the list for you.
We know there are plenty of amazing newer horror films on both streaming services — and maybe we’ll get to those if you like this list — but this time around, we’re focusing on classic films from the last century that every horror fan should see and see again!
15. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920, Netflix)
People have been trying to scare audiences with horror films as long as the medium has existed and the Germans might have been the best at it in the early part of the 20th century. Just look at Robert Wiene’s 1920 Expressionist masterpiece “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” for example. The title character, played by Werner Krauss, claims to have a kind of sideshow attraction: Cesare the sleepwalker. Though attendees get a thrill out of seeing the young man — played by Conrad Veidt — perform his feats, the real thrills come when Cesare prowls the town committing murders.
More than just a simple murder mystery, “Caligari” also swerves into the worlds of psychology while always playing with the viewer’s perception of reality thanks in part to the wildly angular sets that don’t seem like they could possibly exist in the real world. Though nearly a century old, this film still has the ability to unsettle and disturb; no small feat even for a showman of Caligari’s stature!
14. Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990, Amazon Prime)
Considered by many to be “Creepshow 3,” “Tales From The Darkside: The Movie” features the work of icons Stephen King, George A. Romero and even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. If that’s not appealing enough, this anthology stars the likes of Debbie Harry, Julianne Moore, Christian Slater, Steve Buscemi, David Johansen, William Hickey, James Remar and more.
The framing sequence revolves around a kid trying to distract the witch who wants to cook him for dinner. To slow her down, he recounts three different stories. The first features Buscemi as a struggling student who purchases a mummy with no respect for human life, while the second pits the guy who used to be Buster Poindexter against a cat in a life or death struggle! Thanks to the ending, that one’s actually a lot creepier than it sounds. Finally, there’s the sad story of a man who just can’t keep his mouth shut when it comes to that time he ran into a demon. With a mix of killer practical effects from “The Walking Dead” visionary Greg Nicotero, and well-told tales, this film stands as one of the better anthology films around and a high point of ’90s horror.
13. Legend of Hell House (1973, Netflix)
You can’t have a slate of horror films without a good old fashioned haunted house adventure, and that’s exactly what you get with “The Legend of Hell House,” a screenplay written by Richard Matheson based on his own novel. A group of investigators head to Belasco House at the behest of the Church to figure out if life truly goes on after death. Led by a doctor who believes more in foul energy than human spirits, the group also consists of the doctor’s wife, Roddy McDowell as the sole survivor of a previous visit, and a young female medium who quickly makes contact with the entity (or entities) that inhabit the house.
A kind of spiritual successor to the 1963 classic “The Haunting” and a reference point of some kind for “Poltergeist” in the next decade, this film mixes classic ideas like huge, ornately decorated houses with dark, dark pasts, coupled with full-on ghost scenes and even technology that attempts to make sense of the mysteries of life. In the end, these paranormal detectives gain more than knowledge as they learn why these haunted house stories can’t be taken too lightly.
12. A Bucket of Blood (1959, Amazon Prime)
Before Roger Corman became the king of producing quickie B-movies, he directed his fair share of fright flicks. “A Bucket of Blood” might be one of his best. Made in 1959 and entrenched firmly in the cafe-and-coffee-shop culture of the beatniks, this movie examines what it means to be a true artist.
Starring perennial “that guy” actor Dick Miller, “Bucket of Blood” witnesses simple Yellow Door bus boy Walter Paisley falling down a dark hole of relative fame after covering a dead cat in plaster and calling it a statue. With people finally taking notice of him and praising his non-existent creativity, Paisley continues to push the envelope, resorting to far darker and more dangerous crimes than feline assault.
The film lampoons the beatnik culture of coffee shop philosophers and beret-wearing artistes, but tit also showcases the depths that some people will go to just to seem relevant. For another dose of Corman from this era, Amazon Prime also has the original “Little Shop Of Horrors,” which is another must-see.
11. Nosferatu (1922, Amazon Prime)
Back in the ’20s, F.W. Murnau read “Dracula,” liked it and decided to make his own version, but he didn’t want to shell out any cash for licensing. Thus, “Nosferatu” was born! The director hired Max Schreck to play Count Orlok, Dracula’s stand-in, and went on to tell a story that helped define the blood-sucking undead to this day.
The story itself will sound familiar, of course, as a young man named Hutter travels to a spooky castle in a scared town to visit his new client, Orlock. In the kind of move that might sound more appropriate in a sitcom, Orlock bought the house across from him and traveled there to personally admire his wife’s neck, but only after drinking from Hutter himself. Though the plot will most likely sound familiar — and possibly overdone, depending on how many vampire stories you’ve ingested over the years — do yourself a favor and watch “Nosferatu.” It’s packed with the kind of atmosphere and angst that will stick with you.
10. Zombie (1979, Amazon Prime)
There’s a whole wild world of Italian horror films out there to dive into. The most well known masters include Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci, but of course, many others got in on the incredibly bloody, often confusing action in the 1970s. Mileage may vary, but give “Zombie” a watch. Yes, the film can be slow at times, but Fulci’s gore expertise makes it worth at least one watch.
In fact, two scenes from this movie have become not just iconic, but must-see amongst horror fans. First off, you’ve the famous eye gouge scene. Poor Paolo wanted to leave the zombie-infested locale much sooner, but her husband intended to study this new phenomenon. She paid the price, however, when a member of the undead broke through a door and used one of the splinters to… blind her, let’s say. Later, another woman named Susan Barrett dives into the ocean, where she witnesses two of the most terrifying things you can imagine: a shark AND a zombie! Watch the footage and try to figure out how the zombie actor didn’t die in the process of fighting a shark, we dare you!
9. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, Amazon Prime)
One of the great assumptions we make revolves around the confidence that we can trust the people we interact with on a daily basis. What happens when that flawed assumption falls apart and our acquaintances and loved ones start acting completely out of character? We start looking for reasons like Kevin McCarthy’s Dr. Miles Bennell does in the original film version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”
As one of the first people to understand what’s really going on, Hill attempts to bring other people to his side, but soon realizes that the forces working against him have amassed too much power. One of the most powerful scenes of the movie is pictured above as he and his lady run from what looks like a whole town’s worth of pod people, all looking to stop him and replace him with an almost perfect duplicate. Packed with themes that can be examined for subtext, at it’s heart “Invasion” plays on the fears of community that can never truly be put to rest.
8. Misery (1990, Amazon Prime)
Stephen King. William Goldman.
Rob Reiner. Kathy Bates. James Caan. The first wrote the original novel, “Misery.” The second adapted it for the third to direct. The last two — both Academy Award nominees, with Bates winning Best Actress for this film — carry the whole film, as they are essentially the only characters.
In “Misery,” Caan plays a famous writer named Paul Sheldon, whose latest series has come to an end. He just finished a first draft of a new novel in Colorado and wants to return to New York, but a blizzard and subsequent car accident curtail those efforts. He’s seemingly saved by Bates’ Annie Wilkes, a nurse and huge fan of his books, who brings him back to health in her out-of-the-way home. Sheldon thinks he’s in pretty good hands for a while until she reads not only the manuscript, but also his latest book, and does not like how he ended the series. The resulting journey into madness on both their parts is perfectly acted and equally tense as Paul continues to look for ways to get away from a woman willing to break bones just to keep him around.
7. House On Haunted Hill (1959, Amazon Prime)
Two masters of horror came together to make “House on Haunted Hill.” Director William Castle would go on to become the gimmick king of horror with films like the original “13 Ghosts” and “The Tingler,” while Vincent Price continues to be revered as one of the best actors in the genre.
When they joined forces for the classic “House on Haunted Hill,” the stars aligned, resulting in one of the best potentially haunted house stories around. Price plays Frederick Loren, an eccentric millionaire who invites a handful of people to spend the night in the domicile. If they last the full time, they walk away with $10,000. If not, well, they might not walk away at all. That seems like more and more of a possibility as the night grows longer and the victims… er guests… find their numbers seemingly dwindling. “House” plays on every fear of the unknown we have, but also has fun with the proceedings thanks to Price’s signature performance.
6. Re-Animator (1985, Netflix)
Stuart Gordon looked no further than literary horror icon H.P. Lovecraft for inspiration to create his 1985 classic, “Re-Animator.” Jeffrey Combs stars as the title character, Herbert West, an obsessed scientist trying to peel back the veils surrounding death. Driven by equal parts curiosity and ego, he crosses the line repeatedly, resulting in a menagerie of reanimated corpses both animal and human. None of this sits well with his new roommate Dan (Bruce Abbott), or his fiancee Megan (Barbara Crampton), especially when loved ones start disappearing.
Fueled by a mix of well-balanced over-the-topness from Combs, a solid cast of characters pulled into his orbit, and brilliant practical effects, the film explores how some people lose their humanity in the quest for scientific exploration and discovery. With “Re-Animator,” Gordon and Combs created one of the most memorable death-obsessed on-screen mad scientists since Doctor Frankenstein, and a property that continues to haunt the memories of anyone who has watched it.
5. Jaws (1975, Netflix)
Opinions might vary as to whether Steven Spielberg’s major film debut counts as a horror flick or not, but let’s take a few things into consideration. First, nature run amok is a tried and true subgenre. Second, that whole “don’t show the monster until the last part of the movie” thing has been co-opted by the genre about a million times by now. And third, it’s about a summer-ruining murderer. Just because ol’ Bruce swims in the ocean instead of stalking Crystal Lake shouldn’t disqualify the finned fiend.
When the citizens of Amity Island find themselves threatened by a killer Great White, it’s up to police chief Brody, visiting marine biologist Matt Hooper and local shark hunter Quint to head out in his boat the “Orca,” which definitely needs to be bigger, to bring the murderer in so that the mayor can get back to his beloved Fourth of July festivities. Netflix actually has all four films in the franchise streaming right now, but the phrase “diminishing returns” certainly comes to mind when thinking about the series, even with Michael Caine in “Jaws: The Revenge.”
4. Hellraiser (1987, Netflix)
Clive Barker stands alone when it comes to crafting horrors that reveal the darkest recesses of humanity. That comes to the surface in “Hellraiser,” an adaptation of his own novella, “The Hellbound Heart.” The film marks Barker’s first of four forays into directing and expertly translated the feel of the story to the big screen.
Known mainly for introducing the world to Doug Bradley’s Pinhead and the Cenobites, “Hellraiser” embraces the shadows and explores what the constant pursuit of pleasure and pain can do to an individual. The story follows Larry, his new wife Julia and his daughter Kristy as they all move into Larry’s dead brother Frank’s house. It seems like a normal place until blood dropped on the floor brings Frank back to the land of the semi-living. Julia rekindles her affair with Frank, going so far as to bring him people to kill and absorb in his attempt to regain his full physical form. Once Kristy starts noticing Julia’s habit of bringing strange men home, well, things go downhill from there for everyone.
If you’re looking to stream even more Barker scares, also look for “Hellbound: Hellraiser II” and “Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut,” which are also on Netflix.
3. Rosemary’s Baby (1968, Amazon Prime)
To say that pregnancy brings with it a few challenges is like saying that Rosemary Woodhouse might want to rethink her living arrangements. The young wife and soon-to-be mother — played by Mia Farrow in the Roman Polanski film — finds herself dealing with some of the most stressful parts of life all at the same time: buying a house, dealing with her husband Guy’s career and getting pregnant.
But that’s all child’s play compared to the fear growing in the young woman that her husband — played by John Cassavetes — might be working against her with their new neighbors, Minnie and Roman. They seem normal at first, but Rosemary begins to suspect that everyone’s working against her for reasons she doesn’t quite understand, until the very end of the film, when she finds herself faced with a simple but important question: what’s more important, keeping your baby safe or protecting humanity from potential evil?
2. An American Werewolf in London (1981, Amazon Prime)
Horror and comedy are very closely related. Many people have pointed out that they’re the only genres that almost instantly illicit physical and audible reactions from audiences, whether they be laughs or screams. Bringing those two styles together can be more than difficult, so it takes a master like John Landis to do exactly that in “An American Wereworlf in London.”
Before the title monster even attacks, you’re already enjoying the rapport between Jack (Griffin Dunn) and David (David Naughton) as the college students backpack across rural England. As the title beast attacks, you’re sad to see Jack go and want David to heal up quickly. His time at a London hospital comes filled with speedy recuperation, graphic dreams and a budding relationship with Nurse Alex Price. While things seem to be going well for David, he can’t escape the truth: he’s turning into a werewolf and killing people. Even worse? No on believes him and he becomes acutely aware that he can’t go on living this way. Funny, tragic and scary thanks to Rick Baker’s next-level effects, “London” shows how great a horror film can be when diverse elements are perfectly balanced by a true master.
1. Carrie (1976, Amazon Prime)
It only took two years for Stephen King’s debut novel to make its way to the big screen. Director Brian De Palma shepherded the tale of teen alienation along, but Sissy Spacek’s portrayal of the lead character, who finds herself attacked on all fronts, truly brought the story to life.
Channeling the master Alfred Hitchcock as he usually did, De Palma brought an air of sophistication to what’s essentially a parable about young people dealing with their entrance into the world of adulthood. In this case, picked-on Carrie White has to deal with her own changing body, a religious zealot of a mother, some of the meanest high school students you’ll ever see and the realization that she can control things with her mind.
We can all relate to parental problems and bullying at school — though hopefully not to the same extent as Carrie — so part of us cheers when she finally uses her newfound telekinetic abilities to exact revenge. And isn’t that what’s really scary? Discovering just how far down the dark path we might go if pushed to the point of breaking?
Speaking of breaking points, what are the horror flicks that make you hide under the sheets? Let us know in the comments!
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