Netflix’s early pivot to streaming narrative media made them the king of film streaming services. Instant access to a catalog of hundreds of movies and TV shows opened the door for the discovery of independently-funded media. For more than a decade, Netflix’s streaming service has been a harbor for the dissemination of horror movies. It’s been host to indie darlings and silver screen legends alike among a sea of films of varied caliber. They’ve acted as a distributor for many prominent genre film directors, provided an audience to international filmmakers, and they’ve built a catalog of truly terrifying original titles.
Horror fans yet to subscribe to specialist services like Shudder can still find a plethora of rotating movies in Netflix’s selection. Of course, the increasing fragmentation of the streaming market continues to erode the once astounding horror library, but among a still large quantity of titles to choose from, here’s a few that are currently scarier than the rest.
Editor’s note: This article was updated January 2023 to include Malevolent.
Run Time: 1 hr 27 min | Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher Jr., Michael Trucco
A writer takes residence in a house in the middle of the woods. While there, she is stalked by a masked killer. Sounds like a tale that has been told by a dozen movies. Well, in this one, the writer is a deaf-mute, which adds an extra layer of tension to the film. Also, Hush is co-written and directed by horror auteur Mike Flanagan, so you know it’s going to be scary. The cat-and-mouse chase adds tension, and seeing Maddie getting sneaked up on because of her deafness is enough to make your skin crawl. The cheers come when Maddie uses some unexpected tools that a hearing person would be unfamiliar with to surprise her attacker. – Alyse Wax
Run Time: 1 hr 29 min | Director: Olaf de Fleur Johannesson
Cast: Florence Pugh, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Scott Chambers, Georgina Bevan
Florence Pugh (Puss in Boots: The Last Wish) and Ben Lloyd-Hughes (Me Before You) star in Malevolent as a sibling team of ghost-busting scam artists. Directed by Olaf de Fleur Johannesson, Malevolent was written by Ben Ketai and Eva Konstantopoulos, who also wrote the novel on which the film was based. Unsurprisingly, Pugh’s outstanding performance as one of the fake mediums in her paranormal investigator scam is flawless and a highlight of the terrifyingly eerie movie. The ideal film for haunted house fans, Malevolent is a delightfully scary, psychologically rousing horror flick. – Yael Tygiel
Run Time: 1 hr 31 min | Director: Bartosz M. Kowalski
Cast: Piotr Zurawski, Wojciech Niemczyk, Olaf Lubaszenko, Sebastian Stankiewicz
Directed by Bartosz M. Kowalski, who co-wrote the script with Mirella Zaradkiewicz, Hellhole is a terrifying movie about uncovering the hauntingly dark happenings in a Polish monastery during the late 1980s. Hellhole, which stars Wojciech Niemczyk, Piotr Zurawski, and Olaf Lubaszenko, follows an investigation surrounding unexplained disappearances of residents, leading a young man to infiltrate the remote religious community, intending to explain the strange circumstances. As Hellhole’s plot unfolds, the inquirer must dive deeper into the tormented residents seeking treatment from the clergy housed within, cut off from society and the outside world. – Yael Tygiel
Death Note (2017)
Run Time: 1 hr 41 min | Director: Adam Wingard
Cast: Nat Wolff, LaKeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Willem Dafoe
Death Note, the live-action film loosely adapted from the popular Manga, follows Light Turner (Nat Wolff), a high school boy who discovers a leather-bound notebook called a “Death Note,” which allows him to kill people by inscribing their names and manner of death. Accompanying the notebook is the death god Ryuk, voiced by wonderfully creepy Willem Dafoe, who encourages Light to use the notebook as he pleases. Ultimately, Death Note blends murder mystery with fantastical elements to create a thrilling horror film. While distinctly different from the Manga that inspired it, Death Note is an enjoyable movie with an interesting question about humanity and whether the ends justify the means. – Yael Tygiel
Run Time: 1 hr 51 min | Director: Kevin Ko
Cast: Tsai Hsuan-yen, Huang Sin-ting, Kao Ying-hsuan Sean Lin, RQ
Found footage is a genre staple, and Incantation capitalizes on the format. The highest-grossing horror movie in Taiwan, Incantation is actually based on a case of mass hysteria in the country where a family claimed they were possessed by various Chinese folk religion deities, resulting in the death of the eldest daughter. The fictionalized version follows Li Ronan (Tsai Hsuan-yen) who, after breaking a religious taboo, must save her young daughter from a deadly, ancient curse she accidentally unleashed. Creative and well-acted, Incantation offers up chilling supernatural scares. – Taylor Gates
The Platform (2019)
Run Time: 1 hr 34 min | Director: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
Cast: Iván Massagué, Antonia San Juan, Zorion Eguileor, Emilio Buale, Alexandra Masangkay
The Platform is one of the most inventive – not to mention disturbing – dystopian thrillers to come out in recent years. The film centers on a group of people living in a concrete tower – some as volunteers, others as punishment for a crime. Here, the people are fed via a platform that starts at the top of the building, with those living closest to the top getting as much food as they want and those at the bottom getting little to no food. The inhabitants are randomly switched every month. The story is tense and often gruesome, with its creative story and excellent performances making it a difficult yet extremely compelling watch. The message and discussions it raises are more relevant than ever. – Taylor Gates
Run Time: 1 hr 30 min | Director: Richard Shepard
Cast: Allison Williams, Steven Weber, Alaina Huffman
The Perfection is a twist-heavy film, but it involves classical musicians struggling to perfect their craft and be the best. Charlotte is a cellist who has returned to a prestigious music conservatory after leaving to care for her dying mother. While there, she befriends a new ingenue, but does so in order to drug her and trick her into cutting her hand off. The twists only get twistier from there, but it is worth the 90-minute journey. –Alyse Wax
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Run Time: 2 hr 10 min | Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Dan Stevenson, Michael Sheen, Mark Lewis Jones, Paul Higgins, Lucy Boynton
Apostle is a Wicker Man-style slow burn with an explosive final act. Set in an isolated island community, the 2018 folk horror film follows Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevenson) as he infiltrates the town seeking his kidnapped sister. He postures as one of the community, observing their peculiar traditions, rituals, and hardships, all while attempting to learn anything about his missing sibling. When chaos finally erupts in the island commune, director Gareth Edwards’ (The Raid, The Raid 2) eye for action creates some well-choreographed struggles rife with the tension of lethal consequence. The movie is mysterious and fantastical in its narrative, and critical of man’s inkling to control nature in its messaging. It feels long, but the island setting and production design are so striking, it’s still captivating. It’s a rich, colorful, creative movie that would pair well with a Crimson Peak double feature.
Run Time: 1 hr 35 min | Director: Daniel Goldhaber
Cast: Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh, Melora Walters, Devin Druid, Imani Hakim
For doppelganger and digital age horror, Cam is an exemplary production. The story of a webcam girl whose account, and likeness, have been stolen, is unsettling enough, but the movie succeeds at making her day-to-day terrifying. Stigma, stalkers, and risk of exposure create vulnerability and tension throughout the movie.
Madeline Brewer plays Alice, aka Lola, who races up the leaderboards on her camming website with such sincerity and passion that she entices the viewer to root for her on her quest. It’s after she garners enough attention that her account is hijacked and the appearance of her face, body, home, and accessories are mysteriously replicated. Despite interesting framing around sex work and the online erotic webcam community, Cam‘s primary commentary concerns identity and digital presence. It’s a sort of monkey’s paw wish wrapped in a doppelganger narrative, set in a contemporary forum. It’s scary, it’s provocative, and for the best viewing experience, it probably shouldn’t be watched with family present.
The Conjuring 2 (2015)
Run Time: 2 hr 14 min | Director: James Wan
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Madison Wolfe, Frances O’Connor, Lauren Esposito
Fans familiar with James Wan’s work on Insidious will find The Conjuring 2 visually and tonally similar to the PG-13 horror franchise. The washed-out colors of The Conjuring are painted over with blue hues that blanket the screen. Ed and Lorraine Warren return as the endearing investigators attempting to aid a family in England. The possession of Madison Wolfe is frightening thanks to blasphemous and terrifying imagery, as well as an incredible performance by a talented child actress. Based on a true story from the real like Ed and Lorraine’s investigations, the sequel delivers plenty of new terrifying apparitions – including The Nun – while playing with the idea that the couple might be investigating a fake haunting while. It’s an interesting plot device caked in dramatic irony as the viewer watches the torments unfold behind the backs of the skeptic investigators. It’s a little over the top, but its ambition outweighs its shortcomings as it sets the stage for more film under The Conjuring umbrella.
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Run Time: 1 hr 17 min | Director: Patrick Brice
Cast: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass
Creep is a quaint, close-quarters mockumentary picture about a videographer hired to film a dying man’s message to his unborn son. Aaron, the videographer played by writer/director Patrick Brice, begins to suspect Josef (Mark Duplass) isn’t terminally ill, but possibly dangerously demented. Duplass plays quite the predator with his eerie and disturbing performance. It’s a two-man show with the writers starring as the only characters in this uncomfortable, unnerving picture. The film’s tendency toward intimate terror over large set pieces is what helps make it so distinct, much like fellow docu-style horror film The Blair Witch Project. Since it’s a mockumentary, it is found footage, but it’s so authentic that it just feels like watching someone slowly realize they’re in danger, and they’re too deep to get out of it.
Crimson Peak (2015)
Run Time: 1 hr 58 min | Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver
Guillermo del Toro returned to the director’s chair for a scary and colorful ode to gothic romance stories with Crimson Peak. A-List celebrities, decadent production design, and Guillermo’s gothic interpretation create a vivid, scary fever dream of a film. It takes its time fleshing out the lush Victorian setting and era, but the beautiful costumes, dramatic lighting, and hammy performances create an atmosphere unique to the movie that carries the viewer through the opening act.
It’s a film where the audience is scared for the protagonist because they possess the knowledge of her peril. Crimson Peak doesn’t try to trick the audience with the Sharp family’s duplicity. Tom Hiddleston (Loki) and Jessica Chastain (Interstellar) make a villainous pair as they plot to steal from and kill Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland). The mystery surrounds the main setting, Crimson Peak itself, and whether Edith (Mia Wasikowska) will survive. The only knocks against the film are that as an homage to gothic horror, the film is meant to walk the same beaten path as many stories before it, but also that GDT spoiled the film during his appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in 2015.
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Don’t Listen (2020)
Run Time: 1 hr 38 min | Director: Angel Gomez Hernandez
Cast: Rodolfo Sancho, Ana Fernandez, Ramon Barea, Belen Fabra, Lucas Bias, Nerea Barros
This spooky Spanish haunted house movie starts where most films with a similar premise start getting good. It starts with a boy confessing to a social worker that he’s hearing disembodied voices in his new home—no move-in sequence, no first night in the house heebie-jeebies. The nightly whispers through his walkie-talkie compel and confuse him until his family can no longer ignore that something is wrong. Investigations into the property reveal a grim history that hints at what torments all those who dwell there.
Despite its smart subversion of the typical haunted house opening, the movie plods along with the same beats audiences familiar with the haunted house genre would expect from set-up to the conclusion. It’s the execution that elevates it into a higher status when held up against similar films; its consistent color application, symmetry in the opening and closing shots, and a boldness in character expenditure.
Watch on Netflix
Run Time: 1 hr 38 min | Director: Ciaran Foy
Cast: Charlie Shotwell, Kelly Reilly, Max Martini, Lili Taylor, Sadie Sink, Deneen Tyler
Eli is an excellent haunted house movie that tries hard to subvert the formula in the third act. Charlie Shotwell is Eli, the titular young boy who is allergic to just about everything. His family takes him to a sterile in-patient treatment center where they hope to cure his allergies. Eli suspects the treatments to be anything but aiding him when his condition progressively worsens over his time in the facility. Ghostly encounters complicate his treatment and isolate him from his family, as he attempts to understand what’s happening to him. The ghosts are necrotic and menacing, and the way Ciaran Foy (Sinister 2) keeps the viewer in Eli’s shoes for each scare is part of what makes this movie so chilling. A twisty final act is sure to turn off dismissive audiences, but the special effects, imagery, and central familial love story coalesce into a climactic ending with an intriguing setup for a possible sequel.
Gerald’s Game (2017)
Run Time: 1 hr 43 min | Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Chiara Aurelia, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel
Mike Flanagan’s first Stephen King adaptation is the captive thriller, Gerald’s Game. Carla Gugino (The Haunting of Hill House) finds herself handcuffed to a bed after her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) suffers a heart attack during some unexpectedly kinky sex games she never planned for or really wanted. It’s a sad start to a stressful series of events for Jessie (Carla Gugino) as she struggles to survive and signal for help while handcuffed to an immovable wooden bed frame. Tormented by imaginary confrontations and repressed memories as her time isolated ticks on, she realizes that she is the only person who can save her.
Gerald’s Game is one of the most well-rounded films on this list with poignant performances, contrasting colors, and genuinely horrific hallucinations and special effects. The pain of the martial strain between Jessie and Gerald, the shame of Jessie’s father, these feelings are hard to digest in the anxiety of watching a helpless woman squirm for her life. It’s uncomfortable, it’s subversive, it’s smart, and it’s no wonder Flanagan and Stephen King quickly paired for more adaptations of King’s works.
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His House (2020)
Run Time: 1 hr 33 min | Director: Remi Weeks
Cast: Sope Dirisu, Wunmi Mosaku, Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba, Matt Smith, Javier Botet
His House will always be one of the scariest movies on Netflix. The depiction of a married couple seeking asylum in England, after fleeing Sudan, plagued by the curses of a “night witch,” as they attempt to assimilate into the country is as terrifying as it is moving. It’s a bleak story that depicts the struggle to conform, relate, and grow in the wake of trauma. Wunmi Mosaku (Lovecraft Country) and Sope Dirisu (Gangs of London) play the couple with haunting actualization. The torments they experience when night falls and the lights go out are chilling, and visually unique thanks in part to a creative color, lighting, and apparition aesthetic. The experiences they suffer at the hands of British bureaucracy and nationalism compound the helpless, hostile tone of the new world they fled to in escape of the hell they left behind. Slick editing and special effects create jaw-dropping, eye-popping, emotionally devastating moments that punctuate the themes and plot of the picture. Remi Weeks cobbled these components together in his feature debut to create a truly unique and terrifying movie unlike any other.
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May The Devil Take You (2018)
Run Time: 1 hr 50 min | Director: Timo TjahJanto
Cast: Chelsea Islan, Pevita Pearce, Ray Sahetapy, Karina Suwandhi, Samo Rafael
May The Devil Take You might have gotten lost during the crowded horror release schedule of 2018, with Hereditary, A Quiet Place, The House That Jack Built, Climax, Halloween, Suspiria, and more rocking the silver screen, but for the uninitiated, it’s time to become acquainted with the Indonesian horror film. Timo TjahJanto (The Night Comes for Us), along with frequent working partner Kimo Stamboel (The Queen of Black Magic, 2020) has been leading the charge in big-budget Indonesian horror and action movies for the better part of the last decade. May The Devil Take You is his first solo written and directed fright-fest in a few years.
The film follows a splintered family forced to reconnect in the final days of the death of their estranged, seemingly insane father. As they arrive to ransack his home, they encounter an evil that’s like a cross between Evil Dead and The Queen of Black Magic. It’s a tad over the top at points, but its marriage of perfect to the point of putrid practical effects and CGI create palms-squeezing-the-sides-of-your-head intense moments well worth the run time.
Run Time: 1 hr 36 min | Director: Robin Aubert
Cast: Marc-Andre Grondin, Monia Chokri, Charlotte St-Martin, Michelin Lanctot, Brigitte Poupart
A French-Canadian zombie flick with its own vision for what a zombie is, Ravenous (2017), not to be confused with Ravenous (1999), is a fresh but familiar survival tale with scares, humor, and scenery in spades. The zombies stand menacingly and shriek like the aliens from Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) when stalking their prey. They gather their possessions to assemble them into monuments—this behavior is possibly an homage to the mindless consumerist critique the zombie was popularized as under George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead) in the 1960s. The film follows three groups of varied sizes as they flee the cities in northern Quebec. It’s a relief to enjoy an intense zombie picture not about the evil of man, but hope and will in the face of extreme crisis. It’s tender and graphic, punctuated with random humor and heart thanks to Marc–Andre Grondin, Charlotte St–Martin, and especially Martin Heroux. Even non-zombie film fans might find Ravenous palatable.
The Ritual (2017)
Run Time: 1 hr 34 min | Director: David Bruckner
Cast: Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton, Paul Reid
If there’s anything The Ritual hammers home, it’s that helplessness can be as horrifying as isolation. Netflix’s 2017 mind-bending horror movie opens with Luke (Rafe Spall) helpless to save his friend Robert (Paul Reid) during a lethal assault at a liquor store. When the film catches up to the present, he’s just as helpless to control his friends’ views on how he could have intervened to save Robert, and, when the four of them go on a hiking trip in his name, they become helpless in navigating the woods. It establishes the threat of something in the woods early, but respects that the unknown is more horrifying than the observable. Odd iconography and runic inscriptions terrify the group as their supplies and strength dwindle down with each passing day. Director David Bruckner’s (V/H/S, Southbound) creative presentation of Luke reliving his trauma, especially in the finale of the film, act as high points in this pseudo-creature feature.
Run Time: 1 hr 45 min | Director: Paco Plaza
Cast: Sandra Escancena, Bruna Gonzalez, Claudia Placer, Ivan Chavero, Ana Torrent
It’s a horror reunion between the director, Paco Plaza, and director of photography, Pablo Rosso, who worked on the hit Spanish franchise, REC together. Set in Spain in the early 1990s, Veronica is set following the events of an Ouija session during an eclipse. Veronica (Sandra Escancena) reached out to the other side in the hopes of contacting her father only to find herself the target of a demonic entity’s unwanted attention. Terrifying escalating nightly confrontations targeting her and her siblings force Veronica to seek help. With the counsel of Sister Death (Consuelo Trujillo), Veronica attempts to confront the entity torturing her family. Slick editing, smooth camera work, and a dedication to on-screen light sources create a visually distinct experience vastly different from that of the popular Spanish found-footage zombie film series, REC. Fans of Haunted house-style horror movies will feel right at home in this possession spectacle.