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10 Cult Horror Movies You Can Watch Right Now on Amazon Prime

Hello, Tarman, my old friend: The Return of the Living Dead
Hello, Tarman, my old friend: The Return of the Living Dead
Image: Orion Pictures

There are few things more comforting than watching (or re-watching!) a movie so weird, funny, and/or gross that it makes you forget about the outside world. With that in mind, here are 10 of our favorite horror cult classics streaming on Amazon Prime. Share your own recommendations in the comments!

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1) Terror Train

In 1980, the horror genre was just starting to be consumed by slasher films. Terror Train—about a bunch of booze-soaked college kids stalked by a killer during a New Year’s Eve costume party being held aboard, you guessed it, a moving steam train—has the added bonus of starring Halloween’s Jamie Lee Curtis, as well as Oscar-winning Western legend Ben Johnson as the train’s RV-obsessed conductor.

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The debut film of Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies), Terror Train is incredibly formulaic; there’s never any question who the revenge-motivated killer, who hides behind a series of masks, really is. But beyond its inventively claustrophobic setting and O.G. Final Girl Curtis, Terror Train also has some fun cameos: David Copperfield pops up as a disco-tastic magician, and Prince protégé Vanity (billed as “D.D. Winters”) appears as one of Curtis’ sorority sisters.

2) Sleepaway Camp

The uninitiated may see the title of 1983's Sleepaway Camp and write it off as a mere Friday the 13th rip-off. WRONG. While the DNA of Jason Voorhees is definitely present in this summer-camp bloodbath, Sleepaway Camp also owes a debt to raunchy teen comedies like Meatballs, and that includes its revolving door of hilarious fashion faux pas. The movie’s parade of hairy men in short-shorts, lecherous and/or just plain crazy authority figures, and brutal teenage mean girls add up to a movie that, presumably unintentionally, also embraces the other meaning of “camp,” which is to say, the John Waters variety. That would be enough to cement Sleepaway Camp in the cult-movie pantheon, but it also boasts one of the most shocking last-act twists ever.

3) Graduation Day

This 1981 cult chiller is set in the high-stakes world of high-school sports, though most of the “high school” actors look to be way past college age. A few months after her younger sister’s sudden death during a track meet, Anne (Patch Mackenzie) returns home to participate in a graduation-day tribute...only to discover she’s arrived at the height of killin’ season!

Like Terror Train and Sleepaway Camp, Graduation Day will very easily fill up your slasher Bingo card, with elements like a tragic incident in the past that spawns vengeance in the present, a random cameo by a pre-famous person (here, it’s future Wheel of Fortune letter-turner Vanna White!), several gruesome yet admirably creative murder scenes, a bona fide scream queen (Linnea Quigley!), a here-for-the-paycheck veteran actor (Christopher George, who plays the grouchy coach), a title stubbornly tethered to a red-letter day, a groovy soundtrack, and so much more.

4) The Return of the Living Dead

Speaking of Linnea Quigley, one of her most iconic roles came a few years post-Graduation Day in this 1985 horror-comedy. She plays “Trash,” an exuberant exhibitionist who gets the movie’s most gruesome death scene. The legendary Dan O’Bannon (Alien) wrote and directed this zombie classic, set in a world where the outbreak chronicled in Night of the Living Dead was a factual event. The cycle starts anew when some goofballs working at a medical warehouse accidentally crack open a barrel containing one of the preserved undead—and the ensuing chaos ropes in the eccentric local mortician, a gang of punk rockers, several unfortunate paramedics, and ultimately the U.S. military. It’s a gory delight from start to finish, with talking ghouls to boot.

5) City of the Living Dead

Another Graduation Day alumni (this time, Christopher George) in another zombie movie. But 1980's City of the Living Dead, directed by Italian horror master Lucio Fulci, is completely different in tone from The Return of the Living Dead—more of a grim mystery with serious doomsday vibes. A journalist (George) accompanies a psychic (Fulci favorite Catriona MacColl) to the cursed town of Dunwich, guided by her vision of an evil priest whose suicide has opened up the gates of hell. In the grand tradition of Italian horror, the plot doesn’t always make sense, but the gore (including several repulsive corpses, a literal rainstorm of maggots, and the best “oh-no-I’m-vomiting-up-my-own-intestines!” sequence in movie history) is consistently majestic.

6) The Slumber Party Massacre

With Amy Holden Jones directing from a script by Rita Mae Brown, this 1982 slasher, which was originally intended as a parody but wasn’t ultimately executed that way, has a more feminist bent than most of its contemporaries—though it still supplies the titillation (exhibit A: the gratuitous nudity begins within the first three minutes) that a title like The Slumber Party Massacre suggests. As you might suspect, the movie is about a group of high school girls who plan a sleepover that unfortunately coincides with an escaped lunatic’s return to their Southern California neighborhood. Since the dude’s weapon of choice is a power drill (subtle!), things get sticky pretty fast, though he eventually, gruesomely regrets his decision to crash this particular party.

7) Chopping Mall

Another tale of an ill-timed teen party—this one a violent delight involving killer robots! Jim Wynorski’s 1986 splatter classic has great fun turning an otherwise unremarkable shopping center into the hunting grounds of a trio of rogue security robots. Their prey: a group of young mall employees who’ve picked that very night for some after-hours carousing in the furniture store. Some funny in-jokes (the mall’s sporting-goods store, where the kids stock up on anti-robot combat gear, is called “Peckinpah’s”), offbeat cameos (Mary Woronov, Dick Miller), and some nifty special effects (including a very notable exploding head) elevate what’s more or less one big chase scene into a slab of nostalgia that’s worth watching over and over.

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8) The Descent

After making his debut with Dog Soldiers (which is also available on Prime if you fancy some werewolves), writer-director Neil Marshall made his big breakthrough with this genuinely terrifying tale of an adventure trip gone very, very awry. A group of female friends, certain among whom are dealing with some major levels of trauma and trust issues, put their differences aside for a caving excursion that takes them deep into the bowels of the earth, where physical and psychological horrors await. Sometimes wilderness movies like this exist to remind you that humans are the worst monsters around, but The Descent helpfully includes some real monsters too, just to maximize your nightmares.

9) House II: The Second Story

Monster Squad’s Fred Dekker has a story credit on this outstandingly bizarre 1987 horror-comedy, which has nothing to do with the first House film other than the fact that it also takes place in a sprawling abode that’s crawling with supernatural activity. Otherwise, it’s a patchwork quilt of enthusiastically weird ideas, structured around a young man’s determined quest to solve a family mystery that eventually envelops a crystal skull, a Wild West zombie called “Gramps,” dimensional doorways, baby dinosaurs, a caveman, Cliff from Cheers, Bill Maher, and so much more—all delivered to you in just under 90 minutes.

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10) The Stuff

It’s kind of like ice cream, or Cool Whip, or marshmallow fluff—except instead of merely supplying empty calories, The Stuff’s titular white goo turns those who consume it into addicts. Then they become rage-filled zombies. Then things get even worse and way messier. Larry Cohen’s satire of food-industry greed and American consumerism might be the only movies about malevolent dessert in existence, but why would we need another one? The Stuff—starring a fully committed cast that includes Michael Moriarty, Paul Sorvino, Danny Aiello, and Garrett Morris—is a cult masterpiece.

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DISCUSSION

I really can’t recommend most of these enough but especially Return of the Living Dead. It is probably the best representation of the mood that permeated most of the 80's for a lot of people, especially the youth. It’s just so sleazy and rebellious and utterly nihilistic. “The world is going to end because of disease, or war, or nukes so let’s get drunk and fuck you.”

Also, yeah, that Quigley scene.

If anyone is interested, comic book writer/artist Freddie Williams III did a nice re:View of it a little ways back.

Damn. I’m gonna watch it again.