Any horror buff — and I use that term loosely — knows that if there's one thing film critics hate, it's Netflix-approved modern horror movies. So if you pride yourself on only watching quality entertainment as dictated by the highest of opinions (pretentious attitude definitely intentional), you're going to run out of things to watch pretty quickly if you're not careful.
Here's the thing: There are a lot of good modern horror movies out there, and a lot that have gotten really good reviews. For example, my beloved Roger Ebert gave spelunking-monster flick "The Descent" four out of four stars. But do those movies get put on Netflix? Yes, actually — but usually for very short periods of time. (If the 2013 cult-favorite "Antichrist" wasn't so avant-garde, it would definitely be off the rotation by now.)
It's a danger and a hassle to try and PutLocker every film you can't find on Netflix, and renting from Amazon or Google Play can get expensive. Plus, I always kind of feel like I'm cheating on Netflix when I watch movies anywhere else.
There's a new movie streaming site called Shudder that caters specifically to horror fans, but I ran through my one-week trial a while ago. Until I decide I want to watch "Antiviral" in HD whenever I want and cough up an extra $10 a month, I've been scouring the bowels of Netflix searching for intelligent, "more-than-just-jump-scares" horror movies.
I've rejected some flicks based only on their titles (come on, guys — "Truth or Die," really?) and some because they fall under B-horror, which is basically a separate genre. It's taken a lot of trial and error — and suffering through a lot of jump scares — but so far, I've found the eight titles listed below to be tolerable horror flicks from the past couple years available (for the time being, at least) on Netflix. Do yourself a favor and watch them while you still can.
8. "Horns" (2013)
Okay, so maybe this one isn't technically a horror movie. Above anything, it's probably more of an R-rated Syfy-channel-meets-Hallmark flick, in which Ig Perrish is framed for the murder of his girlfriend and decides to take revenge. Either way, it's got some dangerous undertones that keep you on the edge of your seat and enough creepy scenes to satisfy your desire for the strange. But the best part about this movie (all bias aside, of course) is Daniel Radcliffe's confident grasp of his character. His Ig is not just a troubled guy, not just a dark and broody individual — he is first a toy soldier, then a force of nature. And Dan, the focal point of the film, pulls off that transition flawlessly.
7. "The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death" (2014)
Okay, here's the thing: I know I said I was looking for something more than Hollywood jump scares. I meant it. But let me warn you that although present on this list, this movie is filled with jump scares. Maybe director Tom Harper thought that because the scorned, revenge-seeking female ghost's story had already been told in the first "Woman in Black" movie, more was necessary to scare viewers. Who knows. But either way, this movie, set during WWII, more than makes up for its lack of horror plot with its drama plot. As the main characters' backstories unfold, they draw out viewers' empathy, not just curiosity. As many cheap shots as this movie contains, do not make the mistake of assuming that is its entirety.
6. "Contracted" (2013)
This movie is basically the lovechild of "It Follows" and "28 Days Later." A sexually transmitted zombie disease? No thank you. But it makes for a pretty entertaining story. "Contracted" has been on Netflix for a while now, probably because (like many of these movies) it didn't do so well with the critics. But nevertheless, what it lacks in originality and justified body horror (see: seriously almost none; this movie is not for those with weak stomachs), it makes up for in character development and effort. I dare you to try to watch the whole thing without covering your eyes.
5. "Oculus" (2013)
I can't say that I remember anything else that made me honestly afraid of mirrors. Maybe that one time I stayed in bed for three days and didn't brush my hair. But that was a different kind of fear than what comes from watching "Oculus" — a troubling, deeply unsettling look at the fragility of the human mind. When Kaylie Russell tries to prove to her sympathetic brother that supernatural forces directed their childhoods, a double descent into madness doesn't seem to be what she was expecting. Not only will this movie make you question what the characters themselves are really seeing, but what you are seeing as well. I would take a rat's nest of hair over a mouth full of glass shards any day. Hopefully, watching this movie is the closest I will ever get to experiencing a true psychotic break. Hopefully it will be for you, too. (Pro tip: Check out this movie on DoestheDogDie.com if you've got a soft spot for furry friends!)
4. "Honeymoon" (2014)
Don't let the cheesy poster form a preconceived notion in your mind about this movie. It's painful. It's smart. It's scary. It's everything a horror movie should be. Probably the best thing about this movie is how understated everything is: A newlywed couple decides to honeymoon in an old family cabin. You go into the movie thinking you know what's going to happen already, because come on, every horror movie takes place in a secluded cabin. While most viewers might see the final twist coming, the road leading up to it is so winding, you're basically blind for the whole trip.
3. "The Taking of Deborah Logan" (2014)
Okay listen: Whatever you do, don't search for "The Taking of Deborah Logan mouth" on Google Images. Or I don't know, if you're thinking about watching this movie, maybe you should, to make sure you know what you're getting yourself into. This fauxumentary about a woman's descent into supposed Alzheimer's is not only genuinely frightening (although riddled with hated jump scares), but impossibly sad, as her daughter bears witness to everything unraveling. Watch this one with the light on.
2. "We Are What We Are" (2013)
Despite what Netflix, IMDb, Wikipedia, and director Jim Mickle think, this is not a horror movie. At its core, maybe, but this move is so much more than cheap thrills or psychobabble. It's frightening in its humanity. When the Parker matriarch dies right before a religious family ritual she must perform, her two teenage daughters are forced by their father to take up the slack. Nothing about this movie feels forced or phony, despite it being a remake of a 2010 Mexican flick. If the title itself didn't already clue you in, this movie is smarter than your average cannibal drama, and the payoff is totally worth all the squirming it takes to get through.
1. "The Babadook" (2014)
Honestly, I have no idea what this movie is even doing on Netflix. Not only did it have a pretty large theater release (unlike most of the indie films on this list), but it was received with staggering compliment and praise from critics everywhere. When Netflix put "The Babadook," an under-the-bed monster movie about a strange little boy afraid of a strange little book, on rotation, its critic consensus on Rotten Tomatoes was 98%. This movie will celebrate its one-year anniversary with Netflix this coming April, so something tells me you should probably watch this one first, lest you miss your chance.
I have loved horror movies basically all my life. Looking back at my early Netflix years, I can remember losing sleep over "The Glass House" or "Megan Is Missing," two sub-par thrillers that just so happened to be the first movies I ever streamed on my account.
Now, I've moved onto bigger and scarier things. And that doesn't always mean horror movies — some of the most disturbing movies I have watched, the ones I actually deserve to lose sleep over (and do), aren't horror movies at all. At least, they're not in the tradition of how people usually think about horror movies. "We Are What We Are" is one such flick, more drama-with-horror than horror-with-drama, as is my ever-talked-about "Snowtown."
Netflix's hazy genre dividers and straddler movies make it easy to find thrillers that are better suited for horror fans, and vice versa. This is something Shudder also does well. Because the entire site functions entirely under the umbrella genre of horror, it breaks films up into sub-group genres like "gross anatomy," "flesh eating frenzy," "human monsters & serial killers," and my personal favorite, "weird science." (Fun fact: "The Human Centipede" falls under all four of these categories.)
Until I tie the knot with Shudder, I'm just going to keep my fingers crossed for more horror movies to pop up on Netflix with better titles than the heavy-handed "Let Us Prey." I'm also going to keep a couple spare bucks in my PayPal account and a bookmark on my browser for Google Play — you know, just in case.
A previous version of this article was published on Odyssey Online.