Fans of ghost stories and traditional horror fare actually have a great deal to choose from on Netflix. Stand-out entertainment with a supernatural theme run the gamut from kid-friendly animated shows to respected television series to the start of horror franchises. A list of the most notable follow, presented in alphabetical order.
American Horror Story: Murder House
Every season of American Horror Story is different, if equally off the wall. However, not all of them involve classic hauntings. But the inaugural season -- with the revised title of Murder House -- is as pure as it gets. It gives the genre a post-millennial update, complete with a spectral figure in a vinyl bondage suit and a marriage laden with secrets of a 21st century design. Besides its artful wit and reasonably grisly violence, it carries a sense of ongoing doom in a house that’s never too full for a few more unhappy spirits.
The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2
With The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It currently streaming on HBO Max, now makes an excellent time for fans of the series to reacquaint themselves with the first two entries in the Conjuring universe. The original Conjuring entails a haunted farmhouse that draws the attention of the franchise’s leads, Ed and Lorraine Warren. The Conjuring 2 involves a supposed poltergeist in an English home. Both are based on real cases, though the filmmakers take huge licenses with the facts in the name of bigger scares.
Guillermo del Toro wanted to pay homage to the great Gothic haunted house stories of the 19th century with Crimson Peak, complete with family secrets, phantom visions and a house that is both vibrant and rotting. The production design overwhelms the story at times, and the reveal doesn’t quite hold the power that it should. However, the house itself is a work of art, and the three leads -- Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston -- do strong work. Star Trek fans should watch for a pre-Discovery Emily Coutts in a supporting role and Doug Jones as a pair of the film’s ghosts.
The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor
Between The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor and his feature adaptation of Doctor Sleep, Mike Flanagan delivers the Holy Trinity of American haunted house stories to audiences. Based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, respectively, Netflix's pair takes a great deal of creative license with the source material, partly to better fill out a limited series run. However, they make up for it in the disquieting way the supernatural plays out in the two haunted houses. As such, neither the audience nor the protagonists can quite put their finger on what is so terribly wrong.
This 2010 supernatural thriller can sometimes be mistaken for a Conjuring film, thanks to a similar theme and the presence of star Patrick Wilson. Director James Wan purportedly made it as a way of stepping back from the ultra-gory Saw franchise and toward a more atmospheric style of horror. Indeed, Insidious' atmosphere is a big part of the appeal, overcoming a familiar story about a family arriving in a new home, only to experience an increasingly terrifying series of supernatural occurrences. Insidious spawned a franchise of its own, with three sequels to date.
Laika’s animated cult classic is only about two shades scarier than the likes of Scooby-Doo. ParaNorman's stop-motion animation is akin to The Nightmare Before Christmas. Yet, despite a similar tone and outlook, it’s something entirely different. Its titular hero is an 11-year-old boy who speaks with the dead. He is forced to team up with his vapid sister and a host of other local oddballs to prevent an undead curse from overrunning their town. Though heavy on the humor, it has a soulful heart, and the cause of the town’s disturbance carries surprisingly real scares with it.
Unfriended is, frankly, a gimmick: turning a Zoom-style social chatroom into a de facto haunted house. But the way it deploys its scares is unique to the social media age, as a circle of high schoolers shames a classmate into suicide with a viral video. It expertly plays on the physical distance of the victims -- who can see and hear each other but are absolutely helpless to act in anyone else's defense -- in imaginative and brutal ways. With the post-pandemic Zoom meeting becoming the new normal, Unfriended is worth a visit and may have more staying power than it initially appeared.
What’s New Scooby-Doo? and Scooby-Doo! Mystery, Incorporated
For ghosts of a less overtly horrific nature, these two post-millennial reboots of the durable Great Dane and his friends in Mystery, Inc. fit the bill perfectly. Of the two, only the second contains actual ghosts. What’s New reverts to the “classic” formula of criminals impersonating ghosts. Either way, the sharp writing and great vocal cast provide enough in-joke sophistication for old-school fans without upsetting the good-hearted nature of Scooby and the gang. What’s New Scooby-Do? is also notable for being Casey Kasem’s last series outing for voicing Shaggy and Frank Welker’s first for voicing Scooby-Doo.