Photo: Amazon Studios
Amazon Prime is one of the better streaming services for horror fans (and that’s even before you add on the essential Shudder service for a little extra blood and guts). Someone over at Amazon HQ is clearly a fan of the genre, because there are an unusually abundant number of quality films on the service that will make you double check that the doors are locked at night when you’re done watching. Here are the 40 best of them. Sleep tight.
The Australian thriller premiered at Fantastic Fest in 2016 and earned instant buzz, and not just for its clever title. It’s Christmas and Ashley is babysitting for a kid named Luke when it appears there may be a home invasion being planned. What first seems like it may just be a harmless variation on Adventures in Babysitting gets darker — way darker.
Remember how messed up Mandy was? Well, this is from the same director, and arguably even more insane. Panos Cosmatos’s feature debut takes place at a remote institute where people are trying to rip apart the very fabric of time and space. A crazy doctor has kidnapped a telepathic girl and … you know, there’s no point in describing this movie. You just need to experience it.
Three Israeli adults have abducted a teacher whom they believe has committed a horrible rape and murder of a young girl in the woods. This black comedy/thriller earned raves on the fest circuit after its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2013. It’s a smart and twisting in its clever narrative, enough so that Quentin Tarantino actually named it the best film of 2013.
S. Craig Zahler has become one of the most divisive filmmakers working today after three vicious, brutal movies — Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99, and Dragged Across Concrete. The first two are both on Amazon. This one is slightly better, a slow-burn Western that stars Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, and Richard Jenkins as a posse of men who hunt a group of indigenous savages. The final act is terrifying and intense. (If you like it, check out Brawl too.)
Drew Goddard’s dissection of the entire horror genre is so great because it’s also a wonderful scary movie on its own terms. With a great cast that includes a pre-huge Chris Hemsworth, Richard Jenkins, and Bradley Whitford, The Cabin in the Woods is endlessly rewatchable thanks in large part to a razor-sharp script from Goddard and Joss Whedon, bringing some of the wit that we saw in their collaborations together on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel to the big screen.
Yes, silent films can still be creepy. Don’t believe us? Check out this Robert Wiene classic, which turned 100 years old earlier this year. A German production – most of the creepy early silent were German – it’s the story of a hypnotist who uses his powers to make someone commit murder. The visuals in this are so powerful that they’re still influencing filmmakers a century later.
No one makes movies like Gaspar Noé. The director of Enter the Void and Irreversible delivered one of his most unforgettable experiences in this mindf**k that starts out like a joyous dance party and becomes a waking nightmare. Largely improvised and containing visual flourishes like a single 42-minute take, this is the kind of movie you can’t really explain. You just need to experience it.
James Ward Byrkit wrote and directed this 2013 gem that has developed quite a cult following over the years since its Fantastic Fest premiere. The idea is one that Rod Serling would have loved. A group of people get together for a dinner party when the whole neighborhood goes into a blackout except for the house at the other end of the street, in which the same dinner party appears to be taking place. Strap in.
Sometimes you’re looking horror a bit off the beaten path. Take the trip to this Ant Timpson film that premiered at Tribeca in April of 2019. Elijah Wood stars as a young man who seeks out his estranged father (the great Stephen McHattie), and the two attempt to bond, but, well, something isn’t quite right with daddy. With some clever twists and turns, this could become a cult hit on services like Amazon Prime.
Alexandre Aja directed this razor-sharp 2019 film about a father and daughter trapped in a basement as flood waters rise during a hurricane. Oh, and they just happen to be being hunted by alligators. A combination of disaster flick and monster flick tropes, Aja’s film is a delight from start to finish. There’s not an ounce of fat on this one.
Horror remakes are almost always awful, but this 2010 remake of the masterful George A. Romero original is an exception. It’s deadly simple — a virus turns people in a small Iowa town into violent maniacs. Given the state of the world in 2020, this might be the kind of cautionary horror tale that’s even better now than when it came out a decade ago.
There’s an apocryphal story that goes that Alfred Hitchcock made Psycho because he wanted to make a movie as scary as Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique. You’ve probably seen the story of Norman Bates. Shouldn’t you see the brilliant French thriller that inspired it into existence?
Remember the wave of horror comedies than came in the wake of Shaun of the Dead in the ‘00s? This is one of the better ones, a spoof of ‘50s nuclear panic about living with zombies, including a pet one named Fido. Carrie-Anne Moss, Billy Connolly, and Dylan Baker star in a film that’s equally goofy and gory.
Tom Holland’s 1985 classic is one of the best horror movies of its era, a movie that plays with vampire tropes but also updates them in a fresh way. It’s basically Dracula meets Rear Window in the story of a boy who discovers that he lives next door to a creature of the night. Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowall are fantastic in a movie that is still influencing horror flicks 35 years later.
Yes, this is more thriller than horror, but you get a pretty dark, vicious, horrific view of the world — especially if you watch the entire Millennium trilogy (The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest are on Prime too). This film was famously remade by David Fincher, but this is the powerful, foreign original, the film that made Noomi Rapace a star.
Make sure you’re in the right mental place before watching Ari Aster’s 2018 debut film, a movie that will rattle you to your core. Toni Collette gives one of the best performances of 2018 as a mother who faces tragic loss before she faces something much scarier. It’s unforgettable.
Claire Denis’ 2018 sci-fi/horror film is one of the most WTF movies you could watch on any streaming service and contains just enough terrifying sequences to qualify it for a list like this one. Robert Pattinson stars as a passenger aboard what is essentially a prison ship to the edge of the universe. Juliette Binoche, Mia Goth, and Andre Benjamin join him on this unforgettable journey.
Rob Zombie’s directorial debut rocked the horror world when it dropped in 2003. Clearly inspired by gore masters like Lewis and Argento, but with his own hillbilly horror style, Zombie was a filmmaker who felt like he had a loyal following from his very first shoot. It’s fun to watch this one almost two decades later and see how it’s influenced the genre already.
Ti West makes the kind of the slow-burn horror movies that simmer their way to explosive final acts. His best to date remains this 2009 genre flick starring Jocelin Donahue as a college student hired to babysit by a creepy couple. Clearly, there’s something wrong, but West delays the payoff until the very end, allowing tension to build with each passing scene. Greta Gerwig appears in a small role, if that helps.
There’s a reason that this story of pod people has been remade pretty much for every generation. It taps into something timeless about the fear of distrusting our fellow man (and seems pretty ready for a 2020 update). The ‘70s version by Philip Kaufman is arguably the best, anchored by one of Donald Sutherland’s best performances and that creepy sense that the sense of community fostered by the late ‘60s was being dismantled from within.
It’s hard to overstate what a juggernaut the Ju-On franchise has become over the last two decades. There are over a dozen films in this franchise and three American versions, including one earlier this year. There’s also a Netflix prequel series (which is actually pretty good). But this is still the tentpole of them all, the 2002 flick that really defined the style of these vicious ghost movies. It still works as well today as when it came out.
The odd pair of Eli Roth and Keanu Reeves became a reality in this horror/thriller film about a married man, played by Reeves, who is startled by the arrival of two beautiful women (Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas) on his doorstep one rainy night. What starts as a dream come true becomes a nightmare when he wakes up and they refuse to leave.
Clive Barker’s Books of Blood is being adapted for Hulu in October, but one of the best stories from that anthology was already made into an underrated film back in 2008. Before he was an Oscar darling, Bradley Cooper starred in Ryuhei Kitamura’s vicious story of a photographer who tries to find a serial named the Subway Butcher. He finds way more than he ever could have imagined in his wildest nightmares.
Amazon’s horror selection is even better if you have the Shudder add-on, but they do have exclusive streaming rights to Ari Aster and A24’s excellent Midsommar, the story of a vacation gone horribly awry. Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor play a couple who go to Sweden for a festival. A comedy of cultures gives way to something much darker when the true purpose of the festival is revealed in a series of final scenes that you’ll never forget.
Remember when major stars appeared in weird-ass horror movies that played all over the country? That happened in 2002 with this truly strange telling of the urban legend of the mothman, starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney. Gere plays a reporter who begins investigating the stories of a creature known as the Mothman in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and gets sucked into the supernatural truth of the story. It’s effective, weird stuff.
We’re digging deep for this film, which originally premiered as a part of a DTV series from After Dark Films called 8 Films to Die For. This was the best of the eight, helmed by a young Jim Mickle, who would go on to direct We Are What We Are and Stake Land. It’s the story of an outbreak of a deadly infection in downtown Manhattan but it works more with mood and tension than action. An indie gem.
No one makes movies quite like Nicolas Winding Refn. The director of Drive delivered one of his most unforgettable flicks in this horror film about the fashion industry, featuring a fearless performance by Elle Fanning. And Keanu Reeves is in it too!
When a young man named George A. Romero got some buddies together to make a movie in Pittsburgh that had almost no budget, they couldn’t have possibly known that they were about to change movie history. Watching this classic a half-century after its release, one is struck by how well it holds up today, tackling issues and reshaping horror-movie language in a way that will never grow old.
Where would horror be without F.W. Murnau? We’ll never know because the German director changed the entire genre with this masterpiece, a 1922 silent film version of the classic story of Dracula featuring an iconic performance from Max Schreck. Bram Stoker reportedly hated the film, even getting a court to order most prints destroyed, but you can’t kill a movie this good.
J.J. Abrams produced this 2018 hit that blends the war movie genre with something much more sinister. A platoon of soldiers are dropped behind enemy lines in World War II who stumble upon a series of very wrong Nazi experiments that have unleashed something that’s not quite human. Great action and unexpected gore.
The movies in this franchise seem to bounce around the streaming services like the murderous silver ball within them but the Don Coscarelli original (and still best) is on Amazon Prime now. The 1979 horror classic that introduced the world to the Tall Man was reportedly made for around $300k and spawned a multi-million dollar franchise that’s still going.
Who could have possibly guessed that Jim from The Office would be behind one of the most successful horror films of the 2010s? Or that it would be on streaming services only a year after its release? You’ve probably already seen this story of a world in which silence is the only way to survive, but it’s worth another look to marvel at its taut filmmaking and a stellar performance from Emily Blunt. This one is going to age well.
This is an admittedly short hill to climb, but Christophe Gans’ adaptation of the hit franchise is arguably the best film based on a video game to date. It really captures the hallucinatory surrealism of the video games with its striking visuals and incredible sound design. Radha Mitchell stars as a woman who goes to the town of Silent Hill to find her daughter and, well, things get weird.
No one could have ever guessed that this 1995 big-budget B-movie would have spawned three sequels, but that’s what happened when Roger Donaldson’s sci-fi action flick hit theaters. Natasha Henstridge plays an alien in the form of a femme fatale who stalks and kills men, supported by a great ensemble that includes Ben Kingsley, Forest Whitaker, and Alfred Molina.
Luca Guadagnino directed this 2018 remake of the Dario Argento classic, one of the best horror movies ever made. This one may not hold up to the original, but it has an intense, gory power of its own thanks to Guadagnino’s visual gifts and fearless performances from Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, and more.
It’s an overused phrase in guides like this, but you really haven’t seen a movie like this one before. Premiering at Sundance in 2007, Teeth is the story of a young woman who discovers she has actual teeth in her, well … a place where there shouldn’t be teeth. Based on the actual myth of vagina dentata, this is a weird, unforgettable tale with a great performance from Jess Weixler.
A legitimate phenomenon that has grossed almost $100 million worldwide, this 2016 South Korean movie is one of the best zombie flicks of its era. It’s simple — zombies on a train — but that’s one of the reasons it works so well. It has a propulsive, nonstop energy, and it feels like its legacy is just getting started. There’s a reason that James Wan is working on a remake and director Yeon Sang-ho is prepping a sequel to his own hit.
Claire Foy is phenomenal in this 2018 psychological thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh. She plays a woman who is convinced that she’s being stalked but the rest of the world seems to be gaslighting her into thinking she’s crazy. Shot entirely on an iPhone 7, it has some questionable visual choices but Foy holds it all together in a riveting way.
The twist at the end of this 2004 thriller dominated the conversation around it, but don’t lose sight of how effective and well-made it is before M. Night Shyamalan upends it in the final act. It’s a gorgeous film about a village of people who believe there are creatures in the woods around them. Fear of others and the lies we tell our children thematically dominate a film that’s still resonant today.
Na Hong-jin’s 2016 film is not one you should pick to watch on a casual date night. It takes a commitment of over 150 minutes, but it’s worth every one of them. There’s a cumulative power to this story of a policeman who investigates a strange series of events in a small town and basically discovers ancient evil. The Wailing is epic, and it rewards your commitment to it with a final act that’s devastating and unforgettable.
The 40 Best Horror Movies on Amazon Prime