Halloween is coming! And there’s no better way to prepare than by streaming as much horror as your peepers can withstand. All of the services are ramping up their scary programming—so we picked through the trick-or-treat pile and selected the most nightmarish titles of them all.
Side note: Don’t worry, if you’re not the horror type, you can check out the October edition of the Nerd’s Watch for more general sci-fi and fantasy streaming recommendations!
The Amityville Horror Yes, we know the “true story” of a family tormented by demons, as detailed in Jay Anson’s best-seller, was a hoax, and the 1979 movie wasn’t even filmed in the actual “haunted house.” But there’s still something sinister about the very first big-screen take on what’s become a long-running series of not-so-great Amityville Horror movies. It doesn’t require a ton of special effects or jump scares (though it has a few of those...two words: “GET OUT!”); instead, it relies more on strong performances (especially from James Brolin and Margot Kidder) and building a mood of dread to tell its story of a newly blended family who think they’ve lucked out with a real estate windfall—only to see their dreams spiral into a freaky nightmare. (Also on Amazon Prime.)
The Exorcist We were huge fans of the genuinely scary Fox TV show inspired by the classic horror movie, but unfortunately, it was canceled earlier this year. However, just because the show is over doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fire it up on Hulu; both season one (set in Chicago and starring Geena Davis as a woman whose current demonic troubles are tied to her mysterious past) and season two (with John Cho as a widower overseeing a group home of foster kids on a very eerie Pacific Northwest island) are available for white-knuckle binging.
Hellraiser Horror legend Clive Barker directed and wrote the screenplay (based on his own novella The Hellbound Heart) for this stylish, gruesome 1987 exploration of inter-dimensionality and sadomasochism. Hellraiser is an exceptionally compelling entry in the subgenre we’ll call “cursed antique object unleashes horrors galore,” as a teenage girl accidentally stumbles across some very kinky stuff going on between her new stepmother and her uncle, who’s recently been brought back to life (sorta) with the help of a peculiar race of leather-clad monsters. Hellraiser is most often remembered for spawning the formidable, needle-bedecked Pinhead—one of horror’s most distinctive villains, with very good reason. (Also on Netflix.)
Into the Dark: The Body Hulu and Blumhouse debut their monthly, holiday-themed horror anthology series this month—Oct. 5 to be exact—with an episode that focuses on (what else?) Halloween. Based on its first trailer, The Body looks like it leans pretty heavily into dark comedy; it’s about a hitman who’s tasked with fumbling a corpse around as part of his latest gig, with a Halloween costume party providing the perfect cover. Tom Bateman (Murder on the Orient Express) plays the suave assassin, but splatter fiends will most appreciate the presence of Ray Santiago, who played Pablo on the late, great Ash vs. Evil Dead. And knowing Blumhouse’s track record with horror (Get Out, Insidious, Sinister, Paranormal Activity), just because The Body aims for the funny bone doesn’t exclude the possibility that it will also scare the bejesus out of you.
Pumpkinhead Special effects legend Stan Winston made his directorial debut with this monstrous revenge tale, about an unassuming country storekeeper (Lance Henriksen) who calls upon an ancient evil when his son is killed by a reckless teenager on a dirt bike. As you might expect from the guy who racked up four career Oscars for working on movies like Aliens, Terminator 2, and Jurassic Park, the titular creature is Pumpkinhead’s crown jewel, but Henriksen’s turn as a grieving father brings an emotional heft to the movie, especially when his character starts to realize—too late—that there’s no turning back once you’ve started down the path of demonic vengeance. (Also on Amazon Prime.)
Netflix (and Kill)
The Conjuring Before Annabelle broke free and the Nun was just a sharp-toothed gleam in director James Wan’s eye, The Conjuring crept into theaters and demonstrated that sheer terror could be wrung out of something as simple as a version of hide and seek played with hand claps. It also has committed performances by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as real-life demonologists Lorraine and Ed Warren, as well as Lily Taylor as a harried mother trying to keep her five kids safe from the undead witch that’s lurking in their home. The “Conjuring cinematic universe” that cropped up in the wake of the movie’s success is still paying dividends, but the series’ O.G. entry is still the most likely to make you want to sleep with the lights on.
It Follows Boasting one of the most original “monster” concepts to come along in some time, It Follows is also so beautifully made it could almost pass for an art-house film. The set-up is simple: a casual fling has dire consequences for Jay (Maika Monroe) when she realizes she’s being pursued by a presence that can look like anybody and will stop at nothing until it reaches her. What will happen if it gets her? We don’t know, other than nothing good—and that actually makes it even scarier. Early in the film, an elderly woman (who in any other context would seem totally harmless) appears in the distance and slowly begins making a beeline toward Jay. The tension is agonizing, in the best and most terrifying way—a mood that carries throughout the film as Jay tries to figure out WTF she can do about her baffling and dreadful predicament.
The Shining Not just one of the scariest movies on streaming right now—Stanley Kubrick’s Stephen King adaptation (made decades before Stephen King adaptations started taking over all of pop culture) is one of the scariest movies ever, full stop. You know the drill: troubled family, haunted hotel, cabin fever, bloody elevator, a typewriter, a maze, at least one creepy bear suit, and “Come and play with us, Danny”—forever and ever, The Shining never gets old, or stops being utterly bone-chilling.
Train to Busan The American remake, due to be produced by Team Conjuring, is one of Hollywood’s hottest properties right now, but there’s still plenty of time to get onboard the original Train to Busan, uh, train. Though its premise is basically every zombie movie ever made, with a train added into the mix, the South Korean mega-hit invigorated the genre by introducing a wide range of characters—including some true assholes who are basically worse than the zombies—and making the stakes feel both massive and intimate, as a workaholic father realizes a zombie apocalypse is a better-late-than-never time to try and repair his relationship with his young daughter. Excellent zombie action, too.
Nightmare City Umberto Lenzi doesn’t get the same love as Dario Argento—it’s pretty much guaranteed there’ll be no upscale remake of Cannibal Ferox earning raves at film festivals anytime soon. Though his movies may be more grisly than gorgeous, one of Italy’s other towering horror/giallo talents (spoiler alert: a third one is at the end of this list) made plenty of titles that will crawl under your skin just the same. For instance, Nightmare City, which stars Mexican B-movie legend Hugo Stiglitz as a TV reporter who stumbles upon the scoop of a lifetime—a pack of rage-filled zombies, created by a nuclear power plant accident. Of course, he has to very quickly abandon the story to attend to the more pressing business of zombie survival. Nightmare City is grim and gory in all the ways you want an early 1980s Italian horror movie to be, and it also contains plenty of the requisite outlandish set pieces—including, but not limited to, a chase scene on a roller coaster.
Night of the Living Dead George A. Romero’s 1968 standard-bearer is always playing actual theaters this time of year, but if you can’t make it out to celebrate its 50th birthday on the big screen, home viewing is an acceptable second choice. The film is full of so many iconic moments that are still as potently eerie as ever; “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!” is a classic line for a reason, but I’m also partial to the long takes of zombies just lurking around, munching on brains, waiting for humans trapped in a farmhouse to make their inevitable break for freedom. It’s black-and-white, but Night of the Living Dead—which also, famously, contains some cutting social commentary that’s still just as relevant today—will still turn your stomach in more ways than one.
The Return of the Living Dead Friends, I screamed when I saw that The Return of the Living Dead had finally made its way to a streaming service. This movie isn’t really scary, but it’s absolutely the greatest cult zombie horror comedy with punk rockers and military conspiracies ever made, and it holds up after dozens of viewings. (Trust me.) Imagine if Night of the Living Dead was a true story, at the end of which the U.S. Army packed up a few reanimated corpses and accidentally shipped them to a medical supply warehouse in Kentucky...where they remained undetected until a pair of goofball employees unleashed the apocalypse once again. It’s written and directed by Dan O’Bannon (who also wrote the screenplay for Alien) and is one of few zombie movies that actually lets its creatures articulate what gets their undead juices going: “Braaaaiiiins!”
Zombie Lucio Fulci’s “sequel” to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (you’ll also see it titled Zombi 2 for that reason) has become legendary for its spectacularly gross, gasp-inducing, and otherwise cannot-be-unseen showcase moments, like a zombie fighting a shark underwater, or a human eyeball being pierced by a very long splinter in an uncomfortably tight close-up, or a whole graveyard of Spanish conquistadors deciding all at once that it’s time to pop up and say hi. It begins in New York City and then heads to a tropical island where, obviously, the dead just can’t stay dead. Mia Farrow’s sister Tisa is the leading lady among this sweaty, maggoty majesty, but the real stars are the pulse-pounding score by genre great Fabio Frizzi, and of course the ghouls themselves—especially the fellow who glares out from the classic Zombie poster, threatening to follow through on the movie’s unbeatable tag line: “We are going to eat you!”