Best horror movies (and where to watch them)
Horror movie fans in Australia have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Shudder for a couple years now. At long last, the streaming service has launched, albeit with a slimmer library than its US counterpart. Nevertheless, there’s plenty for horror fans to sink their teeth into.
But what about the other streaming services? Sure, it’s easy to find high profile, trendy chillers like It Follows, Get Out and Hereditary on various streaming services. But is there anything for the deep cut horror fan? Well, you’re in luck. We’ve scoured Australia’s streaming services to find the best in overlooked horror films. These are the movies that may have missed out on the buzz and mainstream accolades, but they’re absolute musts for the serious horror aficionado.
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Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have made a name for themselves with mind-bending indie flicks that straddle the line between horror and sci-fi. 2017’s The Endless manages to be both one of their most approachable and most complex films.
The film follows brothers Justin and Aaron (played by Benson and Moorhead) who left a UFO doomsday cult as children. Aaron, who was younger when the two made their escape, idealises their time with the cult and wants to make a return visit. Justin begrudgingly agrees, and the two find that some of the cult’s beliefs may not have been so farfetched.
The Endless forms a perfect companion piece to Resolution (also on our list), with overlapping characters and plot points. And in the midst of the heady mix of time travel and aliens, there’s a poignant commentary on how our past can paralyze us.
This pick might be pushing the envelope of our selection criteria, as it generated a fair amount of buzz when it was released in 2017, but we’re betting most casual horror fans still haven’t stumbled across this gem of a Netflix original.
Led by the always-excellent Rafe Spall, The Ritual follows a group of guys memorializing their fallen friend with a hike through a remote region in Sweden. Spall’s Luke, who was indirectly responsible for the death of their friend, is the odd man out of the group. But as a mysterious monster begins picking them off one by one, he has to confront his own figurative demons in order to survive the very literal one stalking him through the forest.
The Ritual is a must-see not only for the great performances and ratcheting tension, but because it features perhaps the best creature design since Ridley Scott’s Alien. While showing the mysterious monster proves an anticlimax in most films, The Ritual’s beast, when it finally appears, manages to be more unsettling than you imagined.
Relic deserves a spot on the list of the best, most innovative horror films of the last decade. This understated Australian indie is scary, moving and aptly executed. In it, Emily Mortimer’s Kay searches for her missing mother, Edna, with the help of her 20-something daughter. When her mother returns, refusing to talk about where she’s been, it becomes clear that an unseen force is intent on tearing their family apart.
Relic is not only an effective horror film, but it’s also a beautiful exploration of dementia. As Kay’s mother loses her mooring in the present, the house physically responds, becoming more chaotic and alien. Both Kay and her daughter are forced to confront Edna’s deteriorating mental state in a very literal sense.
Writer, director and actor Jeremy Gardner’s 2019 film explores love, loss, isolation and small-town inertia, and still manages to work in an effective creature story. In After Midnight, Gardner plays a small-town bar owner whose girlfriend leaves him for parts unknown. As he deals with the pain and confusion, his rural house is stalked by an unseen creature.
This is more character study than creature feature, and it does a great job of digging into Gardner’s spiralling mental state, which has more to do with the end of a relationship than it does the very real threat of nightly monster visits. The film is funny, poignant and genuinely unsettling at times. Plus, it features a supporting turn from Last Podcast on the Left co-host Henry Zebrowski, who’s perfect as Gardner’s high-strung best friend.
Binge offers pretty slim pickings when it comes to horror, and most of them can be found elsewhere. But one new addition merits a mention. 2019’s The Lighthouse came and went quickly in Australia, getting a cursory run at some arthouse cinemas just before Covid shut everything down. But this dreamy melodrama is one of the most gripping horror films of the last five years.
The Witch director Robert Eggers continues his run as a highbrow horror master to watch with this entry, which pairs Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as lighthouse keepers on an isolated rock, trying to hold onto their sanity as they drift from enemies to confidants and back again. Dafoe gives one of the best performances of his already storied career, while Pattinson continues to prove he’s got incredible depths as an actor as the two verbally and physically spar as isolation begins to break them. This is the sort of film that will stay with you long after the credits roll, and will have you questioning just what was real, what was imagined and who — if anyone — the real villain was.
Writer/director Ti West doesn’t make conventional horror, as exemplified by 2011’s The Innkeepers. West gained a reputation for stylish, slow-burn retro horror with 2009’s House of the Devil, and The Innkeepers is even stingier with its payoffs.
Set on the last day of operations for a historic inn, the film centres on two hipster desk clerks counting down the hours until the end of their employment. The inn has a storied reputation for the supernatural, and the titular innkeepers are determined to see it for themselves while they have a chance. West makes you wait a long time to find out how bad an idea that is, but the film’s sharp, witty dialogue makes it an easy wait.
Midsommar and Hereditary were a tremendous shot in the arm for the “terrifying hippie death cult” horror sub-genre almost killed by the abominable 2006 remake of The Wicker Man. And thank goodness it was given new life, because there’s something viscerally terrifying about well-meaning but bloodthirsty zealots.
Apostle deserves to be mentioned as one of the bright spots in this sub-genre. The film finds a down-on-his-luck drifter recruited to rescue his sister from a mysterious cult on an island off the coast of England. The cult leader, played to terrifying perfection by Michael Sheen, quickly goes from beatific to berserk when it becomes clear there’s an interloper in their midst. And, like the best creepy cult movies, those crazy religious beliefs Sheen is spouting might just be rooted in truth.
Kill List can be a bit of a divisive indie horror. Director Ben Wheatley, maker of the brilliant psychedelic horror A Field in England, here follows a disgraced contract killer trying to redeem himself with a new job. But things take a turn for the weird as he and his partner find their targets only too willing to be offed. Things get even weirder when the two hitmen seem to uncover a wide-ranging conspiracy tied to powerful cultists.
If you’ve seen Wheatley’s films before, you’ll know not to expect easy answers from Kill List. It’s a film where loose ends don’t wrap up neatly, characters’ motivations often seem muddy and resolution feels elusive. But Wheatley does here what he does best in his films by creating an atmosphere of encroaching dread, even if what we’re dreading doesn’t always feel clear.
Our parents used to tell us heavy metal music was a gateway to demon possession, and The Devil’s Candy makes a pretty good case that they might have been onto something. In it, Ethan Embry plays metal-obsessed painter Jesse, who moves into a rural Texas home with his wife and teenage daughter. Unfortunately, the home used to belong to a couple who were brutally murdered by their son. When the son tries to come home to roost, Jesse increasingly loses his grip on reality as his paintings become darker and more disturbing. Are both he and the killer channelling something otherworldly?
The Devil’s Candy’s strength is that it focuses on Jesse’s inner struggle rather than gore or violence. He’s tortured in his attempts to protect his family, while simultaneously being pulled towards something darker but strangely creatively fulfilling. Plus, it features a chilling performance from perennial creepy guy Pruitt Taylor Vince as Ray, the house’s erstwhile resident and troubled killer.
This under-the-radar Netflix original features Armie Hammer as a New Orleans bartender whose life begins to spiral out of control after he picks up a phone lost at his bar in the aftermath of a fight. He starts receiving increasingly disturbing messages from the phone’s owner, as both his mental state and his body begin to deteriorate.
Wounds has a visceral, David Cronenberg feel to it, and it does a great job of taking the audience on the journey of Hammer’s growing revulsion and fear. It never quite connects the dots in its compelling story, but the ride is fun enough to forgive some of its shortcomings.
Eraserhead often gets touted as auteur director David Lynch’s most exemplary horror film, but, for our money, Lost Highway is even closer to the mark. It might not be as daring or abstract as Lynch’s landmark debut, but it’s still damn scary.
We’d give you a plot synopsis, but trying to explain a David Lynch film is like trying to lasso the wind. Basically, some weird things happen, then some more weird things happen, then even weirder things happen and then there’s a bit at the end where words on the screen tell you the names of the people who made the movie. Oh, and Bill Pullman turns into Balthazar Getty and then back for no goddamn reason.
The weirdness notwithstanding, this is a genuinely scary film. There’s murder, supernatural strangeness and two larger-than-life baddies in Robert Loggia and Robert Blake. Oh, and this was the last film Blake appeared in, because after production he went on trial FOR MURDER.
Arthouse director Jim Jarmusch threw his hat in the horror ring to critical acclaim with 2013’s emo vampire romance, Only Lovers Left Alive. Expectations were high for his follow-up, the zombie comedy The Dead Don’t Die. Unfortunately, audiences and critics failed to connect with this bizarre and meta ensemble romp.
We’re honestly shocked at the middling reviews and tepid reception for The Dead Don’t Die. Yes, it’s slow. Yes, it’s meandering. But it’s also laugh-out-loud funny in just about every scene. Anchored by an impeccable cast that includes Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton and loveable weirdo Tom Waits, this is Fargo meets Night of the Living Dead, and it’s perfect.
If you think Donnie Darko is for people who lack the intellect to understand Primer, Timecrimes is right up your alley. Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, better known for 2016’s brilliant Colossal, Timecrimes ties your brain in knots as it relentlessly loops back on itself and peels away layers of earlier “blink and you’ll miss it” foreshadowing.
The film focuses on hapless Hector, an ordinary man attacked in the woods by a bizarre assailant. When Hector stumbles upon a time machine that sends him back in time one hour, he sets off a chain of events that dig him deeper and deeper in trouble. No wonder Doc Brown wanted to smash that Delorean.
Wedded bliss doesn’t last long for a young couple on a getaway to a country lake house in this 2014 horror sci-fi. Game of Thrones’ Rose Leslie plays Bea, newly married to Harry Treadway’s Paul. The couple is enjoying their titular honeymoon when Bea disappears, only to show up wandering the woods, nude and disoriented. As Bea’s behaviour becomes stranger and stranger, Paul begins to wonder if his wife actually did come home.
Honeymoon is unsettling because it’s so effective at exploring its themes of shattered intimacy. While danger at the hands of a stranger is scary, danger at the hands of someone you love is far more terrifying.
We’ve already mentioned Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead once on our list, with The Endless. Resolution, however, is the film that first got the pair noticed. In it, a man travels to his best friend’s remote house with a singular mission: help his friend kick his drug habit once and for all. As the two fight with each other, it becomes clear there’s much more at stake than their friendship. Mysterious tapes begin to appear, and an odd cast of characters insert themselves into the pair’s lives. Most alarmingly, some sort of creature appears to be closing in on the two, and they begin to get the feeling it isn’t the first time they’ve been through all this.
Resolution, like The Endless, manages to have a very centred and human relationship at its core, while still introducing some mind rattling elements that will leave you dissecting the film long after you finish. In fact, the two are best viewed as companion pieces, with each one providing a slightly different perspective of the same picture.
At this juncture in human history, a large movement of very dumb people is convinced that Hollywood is underpinned by shadowy Satanic sex cults. Starry Eyes gives us a glimpse of what it would look like if they were right.
The 2014 film follows young actress Sarah, who’s desperate to make it big. When she’s finally offered her shot, it costs more than she bargained for. Sarah learns she’ll have to grotesquely shed her old body and violently shed old attachments if she wants to achieve her dream.
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This British sci-fi horror is as under-the-radar as it gets, rarely even showing up in Netflix’s genre searches. But it’s worth digging for.
The film follows a dysfunctional family trying to grit their teeth through a Christmas get together, as disapproving father and demure mother attempt to put on a nice face for their estranged son and his fiancee. With the shallow, sycophantic sister, her meathead husband and a vitriolic, racist grandpa thrown in the mix, the tiny house is already a tinder box of barely contained loathing. But when the family awakes one morning to find a mysterious black substance blocking every exit and the television flashing bizarre instructions, old grudges spill out and power struggles ensue.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a landmark of horror moviemaking. It’s one of the most shocking, inventive and perfectly executed films in the genre. But, apparently, director Tobe Hooper was privately disappointed that audiences and critics didn’t pick up on the film’s subtext of dark humour. Well, count us among those who didn’t get the joke.
With Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Hooper decided to abandon subtlety and just go for balls-to-the-wall wackiness, and every bit of it works. From the opening scene of Leatherface triumphantly car surfing, to Bill Moseley’s psychotic Chop Top ruminating on pop music to Dennis Hopper’s unhinged performance as a vengeful Texas Ranger, everything about Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is bigger, gorier and sillier than the original. The actors chew scenery with the same alacrity the characters chew human bodies. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a rare horror sequel that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the original, though its tone feels like a marked departure.
Admittedly, family-friendly Disney Plus isn’t going to be the destination of choice for horror fans. Of course, there are nostalgic offerings like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Frankenweenie, but not many genuine scares to be had. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the utterly bonkers 1986 TV movie, Mr. Boogedy. If you’re a young Gen X’er, this was one of your first introductions to the genre. Eighties television mainstay Richard Masur plays a novelty salesman who moves his family into a house haunted by the vengeful and hideous Mr. Boogedy, whose antics seem wacky now but were enough to scare the ever-living piss out of a nation of six-year-olds at the time.
If you remember cowering under a blanket when this originally aired, a repeat viewing will defang this cheesy bit of pop culture obscurity. If you missed Mr. Boogedy the first time, buckle up for one of the stranger viewing experiences Disney Plus has to offer.