HomeOur ObsessionsThe ultimate guide on what to watch on Netflix: Horror edition

The ultimate guide on what to watch on Netflix: Horror edition

If the 'Annabelle' trilogy has so far bored you to tears, we’ve compiled a ranking of some much creepier examples to get your scary doll fix.

The ultimate guide on what to watch on Netflix: Horror edition

In the search for the scariest, goriest, and creepiest movies and TV shows on Netflix, it’s easy to get a little swamped by all the choice. The SVOD service has a lot of terrific Netflix Originals horror productions that flex the full capacity of the genre, with films and series that dip into comedy, fantasy, mystery, crime, sci-fi, and slashers.

Netflix offers anything between ghoulish good times, a blood-spattered riot, or a thoughtful, mind-melding narrative that burrows under your skin and makes you (lawd forbid) think about this scurrilous journey called life. Here’s our ultimate guide to what Netflix Originals of the horror genre you should definitely watch or avoid.

TV Shows

The 10 best Netflix Originals to beat the January blues: from ‘Santa Clarita Diet’, starring Drew Barrymore as a flesh-eating housewife who brings suburbia down a notch, to ‘The Good Place’, a show which will make you supremely appreciative of life.

Santa Clarita Diet

This fiendishly funny sitcom is one of the best currently streaming and follows an ordinary husband and wife (played by an outrageously good Timothy Olyphant and Drew Barrymore) whose lives are thrown into chaos thanks to some very unconventional food poisoning. If you’ve never experienced zombification thanks to a bad batch of clams, you should be able to stomach Santa Clarita Diet, which is an absolute hoot from start to finish.

The show offers a dark, irreverent twist on suburban sitcoms with ghoulish consequences becoming progressively (and hilariously) worse with every episode. Particularly as wifey is stuck trying to figure out how to be chill with her new appetite for human flesh as her hubby neurotically freaks out in his bid to lovingly support her on this path of death and destruction.

Black Mirror

Charlie Brooker’s sci-fi anthology series features such a cataclysm of technology-based horrors, one single bingewatch is enough to make you wanna go off grid and live in a cave. The dystopian show offers a sharp, bleak satire that both spotlights current societal and technological trends while projecting our current fears into a harrowing vision of the future.

It’s the only show currently streaming that features such transgressive narratives as the British prime minister being forced to fuck a pig on live TV (“The National Anthem”),  a dead man brought back to life via the data of his social media accounts (“Be Right Back”), and a woman whose survival is disturbingly reliant on her social rating (“Nosedive”). The show is incredibly well written, features guest stars including Bryce Dallas Howard and Jesse Plemons, and is so terrifyingly plausible, the stories will continue to haunt you long after you’ve watched them.

Stranger Things

The MVP of Netflix’s genre offerings, Stranger Things is a show that requires no introduction but is continually worthy of our adoration and plaudits even if we’re a little burned out on all the hype. The 80s throwback drama seemed to hit the zeitgeist on our collective longing for the era when it premiered in 2016, and could be considered responsible for the current resurgence of 80s nostalgia as seen in recent projects like Andrés Muschietti’s It and Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One.

Packed full of geeky references and 80s stars like Winona Ryder, Sean Astin, and Paul Reiser, the show is a non-stop thrill ride of lovingly executed throwbacks. But it’s more than just hollow nostalgia – following a small town up against some terrifying supernatural forces, a corrupt government agency, and a dark parallel universe known as The Upside Down, the show is full of tension and intrigue. It’s also full of charming heroes (and anti-heroes) you can’t help but be completely invested in.

'Dark'

Dark

It’s easy to compare Dark to Stranger Things and Twin Peaks thanks to the locale and odd cadences of the plot line. However, the brooding German drama is far different in how it explores an endless labyrinth of shocking secrets that are eating away at a small town like an infected wound.

Offering a puzzle-strewn investigation into the missing children of a small German town, Dark isn’t just a mystery show with harrowing twists and oddball characters at the root – it’s a twisted fairytale with stunning cinematography and a gripping excess of narrative that doesn’t always offer a neat resolve for audiences. In fact, that may be what Dark has the most in common with a show like Twin Peaks – there aren’t always simple explanations or resolutions to some of the story’s most tantalizing mysteries.

Hotel Beau Séjour

A must-see show for anyone who adores mournful ghost stories alongside crime thrillers with a splash of paranormal intrigue, this Belgian drama balances between being a truly disturbing mystery and a devastating exploration of the abstruseness of death.

Centered around a teenage girl who investigates her own strange murder while trapped in an afterlife limbo, the series features compelling pacing and is ostensibly a trashy soap mystery masquerading as prestige TV. Trust us when we say that’s a good thing if you like outrageous twists and telenovela style grand reveals, because this show does it all and it’s absolutely sublime for it. Just don’t expect some existential masterpiece – this is not that show.

Black

This South Korean fantasy thriller is one of the most underrated shows on the streaming service. The basic synopsis that the show follows involving a woman who can foresee death and a detective possessed by the Grim Reaper barely touches the surface of this complex and compelling narrative.

The show is equal parts police procedural, supernatural thriller, murder mystery, dark romance, and devastating drama, delving into ideas of life and mortality with an entertaining thirst for answers of all kinds. Black bristles with an acerbic sense of humor and, despite its otherworldly themes, touches upon plotlines and issues that can be bracingly relatable and that echo modern concerns. It’s a wild bingewatch of a show that shouldn’t be underestimated.  

La Mante

The French serial killer thriller is so good, it even compelled Stephen King to share his love for it on Twitter earlier this year with him celebrating the show for “surveying previously unexplored realms of gruesomeness.” The horror titan knows his shit and he’s definitely not wrong. La Mante is most certainly not one for the faint-hearted or the squeamish, as it pushes boundaries with its ghoulish depiction of violence and murder.

The six-episode show is hopelessly captivating and full of dark twists and turns that will keep you guessing throughout. The Red Dragon-style narrative follows a serial killer who is enlisted to help the police solve a spate of copycat killings resembling her former crimes. Fair warning: You won’t be able to stop watching it once you start, so be sure to leave yourself an entire day to enjoy it in one fiendish sitting.

Re: Mind

If you like to revel in shows being as WTF-worthy as possible, this Japanese psychological thriller should be at the forefront of your watchlist. Following eleven high school female classmates who wake up in a spooky, old mansion shackled to a large dining room table, the show is stacked full of mysteries as to why they’re there, who’s behind it all, and how they can escape.

Re: Mind charges merrily forward with a delirious dark humor and plenty of insane plot twists that will make you want to desperately watch just one more episode. Those familiar with classic horror tropes will find plenty to love in the show which leans heavily on the chilling mysteries of American and Japanese horror movies from past & present.

The OA

This strange transcendent drama stars Brit Marling as a young blind woman who returns to her hometown after being missing for seven years with the miraculous ability to now see. The show straddles a plethora of genres during the slow unfurling of its odd puzzle, with the story bounding between drama, sci-fi, horror, and mystery. This lends The OA a sense of unpredictable thrill – at some points it seems the story can go in just about any direction.

Sadly, it also sets the show up for a disappointing climax where all your own wildest ideas concerning the plot are far better than those that wrap it up. You’ll either think it’s pure genius or pure garbage, and we can’t call it either way.

The Rain

A fine Danish remix of young-adult, post-apocalyptic drama that provides a deliciously dark and fast-paced sci-fi horror drama. Set six years after a brutal virus wipes out most of Scandinavia, The Rain follows a band of young survivors who set out on a quest for life across a vanquished and abandoned land.

While not terribly original, the show does well in how it delves into a coming-of-age story against the backdrop of a harrowing dystopia, with the young-adult thematics giving everyday teenage dilemmas like romance and insecurity a fatal twist. Though some of the characters lack enough depth and complexity for you to give a shit whether they live or die, the show remains tense and gripping enough to pull you into its narrative regardless.

Devilman Crybaby

The Japanese anime series based on Go Nagai’s manga Devilman is staggeringly underrated. As you might anticipate, the plot is suitably bananas and follows a sensitive demon boy who becomes embroiled in a brutal war against evil in which humans are in turmoil and demons are reawakened and hellbent on violence.

From that synopsis alone you might not expect for the show to be anything more than your typical anime, but Devilman Crybaby is full of surprises. The show unexpectedly subverts toxic masculinity, openly embraces queer narratives, and is as dark and violent as it is searingly emotional.

Castlevania

Based on the classic Konami video game of the same name, this adult animated show follows a vampire hunter fighting to save a city under siege by otherworldly beasts controlled by Dracula himself. The Japanese show is stupendously beautiful and full of a rich, dirty darkness where blood and gore are deliriously splashed about with all the bravado of confetti at a citywide parade. It’s one of the better video game adaptations of recent years and features seriously likable (if often absurd) characters, making the whole thing an absolutely fiendish hoot.

Neo Yokio

An American-Japanese animated TV show created by Ezra Koenig of the band Vampire Weekend and featuring the voice talents of Jaden Smith – if every main beat of that sentence made you grimace uncomfortably, you’re in good company. Despite boasting a strangely eclectic cast of high-profile stars like Jude Law and Tavi Gevinson, the show is anything but prestigious and is nothing short of a train wreck.

Neo Yokio is set in a futuristic world where a lovesick aristocratic demon slayer decides fighting isn’t for him and he’d much rather party and go shopping – or something? It’s repetitively a dumb story masquerading as being some smart takedown of American capitalist culture and is worth watching only to cringe in horror at.

Slasher

The Canadian horror anthology series from Aaron Martin currently features two seasons’ worth of the stupendously gory TV twist on the slasher genre. Titled “The Executioner”, S1 follows a young woman who heads back to the hometown where her parents were brutally murdered decades earlier, only to discover a series of copycat killings are now sweeping through the town.

For S2, the show took a new turn in following a group of former camp counselors who are targeted by a brutal killer when they return to the resort they used to work at – and the place where they’ve buried a dark secret. For a TV show, it gets away with vast volumes of preposterous, playful violence, all of which it executes (pun intended) with its tongue firmly in cheek. It also packs in an exhilarating (if extremely schlocky) sense of mystery with each story.

Slasher doesn’t reinvent the horror genre but does utilize existing tropes tremendously well, resulting in a show that’s fun, morbidly humorous, and even downright chilling when it wants to be.

Hemlock Grove

Bill Skarsgård and Famke Janssen deserve far better than this slow, schlocky, hollow husk of a horror show that serves up yawns instead of screams. Despite being executive produced by controversial shock-horror filmmaker Eli Roth, the show is disappointingly humdrum, drawing upon overused tropes but doing the absolute least with them.

Hemlock Grove is set in a dilapidated former steel town (cliché check one), full of dark sinister secrets (cliché check two), inhabited by peculiar people, killer creatures, and peculiar people who turn into killer creatures (cliché check three). It wants to be high camp but it’s really just low-rent and lackluster.

A Korean Odyssey (Hwayugi)

The South Korean drama has picked up a respectable cult following among fans who love the show’s strange blend of paranormal storytelling, romantic comedy, and dark drama. Written by the Hong Sisters and pitched as being a modern spinoff of the Chinese classic novel Journey to the West, the strange story follows a young woman with the ability to see demons and ghosts whose precious blood both overwhelms and attracts the beasts.

With the help of a talisman, she faces her demons and encounters a series of significant characters who help her to find light in a world full of evil. The show is seriously addictive for anyone who loves their K-drama and horror, but is a little too left field for anyone else.

Despite being renewed for a second season almost immediately after its premiere, the Netflix Originals series 'Mindhunter' is giving fans a long wait for S2, set to drop in early 2019. In the meantime, let’s reflect and anticipate.

Mindhunter

Based on the true crime book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by Joe Penhall, David Fincher’s crime drama delves into the early days of criminal psychology and the profiling of a new breed of criminal – the serial killer. The show is brimming with Fincher’s obsessive attention to detail and anchored by captivating performances from Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany as two special agents tasked with interviewing some of the most unhinged, diabolical, and intelligent serial killers in the country.

As well as being sharp, smart, and insightful regarding psychology of all kinds (not just criminals), Mindhunter also thrums with an uneasy tension throughout, pivoting on the chilling curiosities that lie in the heart of humanity.

Requiem

One of the most delightful and suspenseful horror mysteries on Netflix, this six-part British show follows a young woman whose life is viciously upended when her mom commits suicide, drawing her into an investigation of a 20-year-old mystery discovered in her late mother’s possessions.

Requiem offers a phenomenally stylish homage to horror and, as well as being a terrific mystery, can also be incredibly scary and unsettling. The show is more of a horror-adjacent mystery than a straight up scary story, but it’s still a hell of a bingewatch if you love a good chiller. Particularly as the resulting enigmatic and strange finale offers a wild payoff worth sticking around for.

Tabula Rasa

Another psychological offering from Belgium, Tabula Rasa is a satisfyingly campy mystery filled with tantalizing terrors and shocking twists that will have you both gasping in surprise and laughing at the audacious incredulity of the plot.

Centered around an amnesiac who must try and reconstruct her lost memories when a detective reveals she’s the prime suspect and potentially the only witness of a missing man, Tabula Rasa features the sort of ludicrous revelations that will have you screaming at your screen – both with frustration and awe that they totally went there with the most bonkers twists possible.

The Chalet

Offering a classy French twist on the classic American horror trope of the cabin in the woods, The Chalet sees a reunion of childhood friends go horribly wrong when they’re caught in a deadly trap at a remote chalet in the French Alps.

There’s nothing exceptionally original about this pulpy horror drama, which could be described as hackneyed by people who don’t appreciate such things – but fans of slasher-style plotting will get an undoubted buzz from what The Chalet has to offer. It even boasts a chilling theme tune sung by a creepy-ass French kid, the sorts of ill-thought-out sexual encounters you’ll absolutely cringe over, and gleefully predictable dialogue. It’s a fantastic way to kill a whole day.

The Frozen Dead

With a name that makes it sound like some sort of zombie-themed ice cream truck at Comic Con, The Frozen Dead is almost as hokey as it sounds. The French crime thriller leans on a slew of tired clichés in its story of a fragile detective haunted by the serial killer he caught and a young psychiatrist who interviews a cultivated madman in his hospital cell – it’s Thomas Harris 101, folks!

Where it does succeed is in its solid world-building and complex storytelling that dips into a set of interesting characters and a town full of (you guessed it!) dark and violent secrets. Just don’t expect for The Frozen Dead to deliver anything new or fresh to the genre and it’s an entertaining enough bingewatch.

FILMS

1922

Based on Stephen King’s story of an unreliable narrator and his shocking confession regarding his wife’s murder, Zak Hilditch’s adaptation is a suspenseful, slow-burning drama that shouldn’t be mistaken for being a straight up horror. The pulpy period film is tense and tragic, but it isn’t exactly going to give its viewers nightmares. Regardless, Thomas Jane’s depiction of a man consumed by a sluggish rot of guilt is fascinating and even haunting at times, making it a movie well worth watching if you enjoy pensive, patient pieces.

The Ritual

David Bruckner and Joe Barton’s adaptation of Adam Nevill’s novel of the same name is a devastatingly eerie interrogation of grief, guilt, and male friendship. Spurred on by witnessing the barbaric murder of one of their group, The Ritual follows four friends as they hike through the Scandinavian wilderness to make sense of their loss, only to find themselves lost to the forests of Norse legend and an obscure evil entity that appears to reside there.

The British horror is saturated with a biting wit that helps to cut through some of the impossible bleakness and tension of the tale. It nevertheless grinds away to a shocking finale, featuring one of the most memorable and terrifying horror creations of recent years.

The Open House

Starring Dylan Minnette as a dude besieged by threatening otherworldly forces in a new home, this now notoriously bad horror from Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote has been rightfully denigrated by critics and audiences alike for being an absolute snooze. It lacks pacing, scares, interesting characters, and originality, and is so insufferably banal, you’ll likely check out before the astonishingly bad grand finale has a chance to make you want to write a strongly worded letter to Netflix about its movie acquisitions. It’s an unimaginative slop and you’ll be doing yourself a great favor by avoiding it at all costs.

The Babysitter

As a general rule, one should always be weary of anything featuring the phrase “directed by McG” and this teen horror comedy is a sad, painful truth of that rule. Centered around a young boy who discovers his babysitter is part of a satanic cult up to good in his own home, the members of which proceed to hunt him down to keep their secret safe, The Babysitter is a great concept with a poor delivery.

It fails at just about everything it sets out to do, missing the mark on comedy, scares, and gore and leaving the film as little more than a maladjusted pre-teen boy fantasy with a big budget. It has about three successful laughs in the whole thing, so if you’re desperate, by all means stream it for those – just don’t expect anything better.

Ravenous (Les affamés)

Robin Aubert’s Canadian survival zombie flick is set in a tiny village in upstate Quebec where a flesh-eating plague is devouring through residents and turning people against their loved ones. Meanwhile, a band of survivors smartly (or not so smartly as the case may be) flee for the woods.

The film is a minimalist wonder with a subtle approach to storytelling, including a series of scenes that are completely absent of sound. Naturally, this sets the scene for a number of jump scares that can feel a little cheap but are effective if you still love a good jolting scare from your horror films. Ravenous leans into grindhouse style excess at times which, teamed with Aubert’s delicate direction, makes this essential viewing for fans of the survival genre.

Little Evil

Written and directed by Eli Craig and featuring a great cast including Adam Scott, Evangeline Lilly, Tyler Labine, and Donald Faison, Little Evil has a lot of talent behind it, but misses the mark in being anywhere near as great as its premise. Following the simple setup of a newly married man who believes his five-year-old stepson is a literal spawn of Satan, Little Evil offers a humorous riff on The Omen.

Because of this, Little Evil’s jokes come off as a little dated as well as rehashed and unoriginal. That’s not to say Little Evil isn’t worth a watch – it definitely has its worthwhile moments, but it’s little more than a good TV movie when it had the potential for so much more.

I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House

Osgood Perkins’s follow up to his unnervingly sharp, atmospheric horror The Blackcoat’s Daughter isn’t anywhere near as gripping or chilling as that satanic slice of crazy, but it’s nowhere near as bad as some critics suggest. Starring Ruth Wilson as a live-in nurse who believes the home she’s staying in is haunted, I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House plods along at the slowest pace imaginable and slowly churns a sense of dread with patient pacing and artfully crafted visuals that some horror fans will find oppressive.

However, for anyone who relishes a slow-burning ghost story, beautifully crafted sound design, and skin-burrowing chills, I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House comes more than recommended and is genuinely scary in the most subtle manner possible.

Gerald’s Game

Mike Flanagan’s harrowing adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name sees an asshole of a husband (Bruce Greenwood) drop dead in the middle of a kinky sex game with his wife (Carla Gugino), leaving her chained to an insanely robust bed. Plus she’s in a vacation home with the front door wide open so she’s vulnerable to all sorts of horrors.

The film is a breathtaking feat of horror that delves into the psychological breakdown of a mind in isolation while also exploring the insidiously literal and metaphorical shackles of a rotten and potentially damaging relationship. The plot takes a number of strange detours that masterfully make the viewer question the sanity of the lead protagonist before dropping the mic with a brutal finale that you won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

Death Note

Directed by Adam Wingard and starring such great talents as Lakeith Stanfield and Willem Dafoe, Death Note could have been terrific. However, fans of the classic Manga story were probably right to be concerned that the film couldn’t hit the same heights as the original story because it barely even comes close.

Following a high school student (Nat Wolff) who discovers a supernatural notebook that brings death to anyone whose name is inscribed within it, Death Note is occasionally entertaining but mostly forgettable despite Wingard infusing the movie with a distinctive look and mood. The American remake was always a bit of a bad idea and it shows in the final film which is caught between remaining faithful to the source material and carving out its own sense of identity. In many ways, it achieves neither.

Clinical

Another slow-burning horror with a slightly ridiculous ending, Alistair Legrand’s psychiatry horror offers some great performances from Vinessa Shaw and Kevin Rahm who showcase sharp chemistry in their psychological back-and-forth. The plot revolves around a psychiatrist (Shaw) who decides to help a new patient with a terrifying history after one of her former patients violently attacks her.

There’s some significant intrigue involved in the foreboding flashbacks and psychological breakthroughs that are unearthed throughout their sessions. The film slips from one genre to another between the first and third act, which lends the film a tonal dissonance that can be jarring. But overall, the visceral thriller is still worth a watch.

Cargo

The heavily hyped survival horror is mostly just a low-key drama about human nature in the face of a colossal disaster. Martin Freeman plays an infected father desperately looking for a new home for his infant child in the bleak aftermath of a violent pandemic. Cargo dips into a slew of well-tread horror tropes only to impede them, giving the film a fresh vibe within a tired genre. But as the dark narrative strives for profound meaning, it also loses grip on pace, plot, and characterization, making Yolanda Ramke’s father-daughter bonding film a little sluggish overall.

Before I Wake

It’s a paint by numbers horror that stays between the lines of the genre and it’s not terrible, but it isn’t much better than mediocre. Starring Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane as a couple who welcome a troubled foster child into their home (Jacob Tremblay), Before I Wake focuses on a kid with the strange supernatural ability to make his dreams a reality.

There’s a lot of forced emotional heft awkwardly pushed into the fabric of the film and some basic Boogeyman scares (the horror equivalent of being a basic bitch) – but Before I Wake is also a darkly entertaining and weird film, even if it misses a few marks.

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Amy Roberts is a freelance writer who occasionally moonlights as a hapless punk musician. She’s written about pop culture for websites like Bustle, i-D, and The Mary Sue, and is the co-creator of Clarissa Explains F*ck All. She likes watching horror movies with her cat and eating too much sugar.

amy@filmdaily.co