It’s the week of Halloween and everyone is asking me for scary movie recommendations. Something about me just screams “this guy knows where to find things that will make me sick and afraid” (maybe it’s the vomit chunks on my unholstered gun). So I thought I’d make a list. Here are 10 actually scary horror movies you may have never seen that you can stream tonight.
The picks below aren’t for chicken-shit pants-shitting shit-birds. I will lay this out so you can gauge what my fear threshold is: Alien is not a horror movie; Get Out was a fine film but not scary whatsoever; and The Babadook sucks. If you want to watch a mother barely hold back from bashing her kid’s head in while some creepy prick with poor fashion sense looks on with glee, take me to Great Wolf Lodge. The films included here made me want to lock my doors, check under my bed and load the shotgun I keep under my machete rack.
Although they are marvellous and effective fright films, you won’t find titles like The Conjuring or Hereditary on this list. These are slightly deeper cuts, and they cut hard. In fact, they cut like a gun that shoots knives (which I also own – it’s called a “gknife”).
Last thing before I list these flicks: if you love horror, do yourself a solid and sign up for Shudder. It’s 60 bucks for the year and they keep pumping out more content than you could shake a monkey’s paw at. Also when the pandemic ends, come see my live horror/comedy show at Comedy Bar in Toronto called Guts For Laughs. Follow us on Twitter and IG at @GutsForLaughs. Do it, or else. Keep in mind I own firearms and this website tracks your home address. Here we go:
The Witch In The Window (Shudder)
Tiny cast. Hack first few minutes. A screw-up dad is trying to regain the love of his family by fixing up a haunted-ish house you know there’s gonna be a witch of sorts inside of. But it takes a mind-bending turn, packs some wicked jumps and pulls the rug out from under you with several switcheroos before it’s all over. Plus, If you’re Shudder and chilling, this movie is 70 minutes in & out, so you can swiftly get to the part where you say, “Hey, did you know there’s also a witch in the window of my zipper? Check it out…” and get to gettin’ fresh. That line works for everyone regardless of your sexual orientation.
Special distinction: only movie I’ve ever seen that has an honest to cripes Magic Eye painting scare.
Not to be confused with Netflix’s shameless gore-porn horror “Terrifier” starring a clown with teeth like the inside of a Crunchie bar. This Argentinian offering presents three subsequent stories that tie together. Three neighbours are experiencing some paranormal bull-shit: I can’t write about the first guy without spoiling it, but it’s one of the most memorable horror scenes I’ve ever watched because it goes on for so long and you are forced to sit in the horror of it and watch powerless as evil runs amok. Like the presidency. Second one is about a guy who sets up a camera after his furniture keeps moving around in the night and the last one is about a dead kid. And yeah: they show you the dead kid. And it ain’t just some child actor with corn syrup on his forehead. This is South America. They might have used a real dead kid. But it’s important to note this isn’t a true anthology like Creepshow. The driving throughline about investigators trying figure out what in the horny Christ is happening in this ‘hood flows smoothly in and around the intertwined tales.
Special distinction: the way director Demian Rugna frames his scares often mimics the viewpoint of a natural human eyeline, producing a stripped-down air of realism that leaves you feeling like this is what it would actually look like if your life got absolutely FARKED by malevolent forces.
Don’t get turned off by the poster! Although it depicts a creepy baby carriage, this isn’t one of those movies that shovels out the ol’ convention where a woman is pregnant with a baby but the baby is also pregnant with a demon or some shit. It’s actually an ambitious, $3.6M Mexican production that in its essence is a possession whodunnit, where a skeptical cop is trying to track down the demon who killed his child. It alternates between Spanish and English and boasts a tasteful CGI evil Jesus scene. The film kicks off with a scene so despicable, it feels like a joke a racist cabbie told you at an off-track betting bar in Cincinnati. This isn’t much of a jumpy one, but it is profoundly disturbing. Think Sinister on crank and tequila.
Special distinction: Probably the highest and most unforgiving infanticide rate of any movie I’ve seen.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (Shudder)
This film is contained to a small rural coroner’s office but it tells such a huge story. A father and son coroner duo cut into this lady and hoo-boy! Her insides are more fucked-up than the shelves at K-Mart on Boxing Day! The journey through the autopsy generates so many questions about how this woman died and even though she’s dead, you start getting the impression she doesn’t want to get autopsied ‘cause some next shit starts going down with the other corpses in this spooky-ass old coroner building. Quality jumps throughout this one too.
Special distinction: expertly frightening despite having a main antagonist who is completely inanimate.
Dead Birds (Prime, Shudder)
Another poster that makes the movie look like it cost 38 bucks and whole lotta favors to make. I swear, there’s a scene at the beginning where a guy sees a dead bird and goes, “Huh, there’s a dead bird,” and then they don’t mention birds, dead or otherwise, for the rest of the movie. Dead bird content dearth aside, this is an unconventional film that places a group of Civil War era bank robbers on a farm overnight while on their way to Mexico with a big sack of stolen gold. But this farm makes Robert Pickton’s look like Baskin-Robbins! There’s gross critters and other evils abound that start picking these stinky cowpokes off one-by-one. And what a cast of stinky cowpokes they are! Every minute a different big name pops up, including Michael Shannon, the fat beardy guy from 30 Days of Night, Elliott from E.T. and Isaiah Washington. This is probably the least scary movie on the list, but there’s so much originality and genre-bending to this creature feature paranormal haunted house western, that I thought it belonged.
Special distinction: a young Michael Shannon throwing around racial slurs. Yup – that one. Washington was able to keep the slurs to himself this time, however.
Spanish director Paco Plaza, who also made the REC series, peddled this out in 2017. It’s rife with heavy-handed allegory about the coming of age of womyn (the fyuture is fymale), but in the horror world, I’m like, what isn’t, dude? Technically Godzilla is a girl’s coming of age tale when you consider that Godzilla’s mouth-lasers are a metaphor for menstruation. Zappy, blasty menstruation. In this film, a teenager in a working class neighborhood has to take care of her younger siblings, but this foolish, stupid, naive, female, lady girl puts her dumb double-X chromosome’d hands on a Ouija board DURING an eclipse! You put your whole family in danger by opening a demonic eclipse portal, you idiotic womb-haver! But el patriarcado aside, this movie is loaded with jumps and taut tension and even though it’s about a teen, it doesn’t strictly cater to a younger audience the way Slender Man or Ma did. There’s a nun with milky eyes, shadowperson apparitions galore, and it features the “creepy naked man scare” a full year before Hereditary did it, and a full two years before my dad did it at a local figure skating meet and we never saw him again.
Special distinction: based on a true story where a Spanish girl mysteriously died in the 90s after using a Ouija board. Second leading cause of death in Spain after pronouncing your Zs like a t-h to death.
Channel Zero (Shudder)
This is a TV show where each season of six episodes is based on a different creepypasta. Episodes are 45 minutes long, which is so little to commit to. But the reason I recommend this show is that it’s light enough that you can watch it during the day and the stories are so loose and ethereal that you can have it on in the background while you I dunno – make soup or harass former lovers over the phone. The seasons are hit and miss (season one revolves around a little boy made of human teeth who eats teeth and there we go, I got fed up just typing that), but the fourth and latest season is about a woman (Miss Denmark 2008 Maria Sten) who descends into madness after rediscovering her homicidal imaginary friend, the latter of which is portrayed by a stupendously talented contortionist. There are loads of practical gore effects that’ll make you turn away and at one point they barely explicably shimmy in an army of little people dressed as crayons.
Special distinction: It’s all shot in Canada and it looks like it isn’t.
The Possession of Hannah Grace (Crave)
I was super skeptical of a “The Possession Of” movie and maybe my low expectations are what led me to enjoy this so much. In this story about a disgraced police officer (ACAB) who becomes a security guard (ASGAB) at a morgue, a stiff is dropped off that somehow, instead of just sitting there, appears to get healthier. You can imagine where this leads (they fuck – JK), but the lighting and the sound design seamlessly team up to drive a multi-sensory screwdriver into your nervous system. The creeps take their sweet-ass time and this polished production is all-in-all jumpier than bullfrogs on a griddle.
Special distinction: maybe the only film whose title starts with “The Possession/Haunting of” that is legitimately frightening.
POD (Prime, Shudder)
The key to this 2015 gem is that instead of having the terror stem from a guy in a monster suit, it comes from the unravelling mind of a schizophrenic man trying to convince his brother that he has a captured alien in his basement. The performance of this mentally unstable dude is so convincing, you can picture him asking a cashier at Taco Bell for the nuke codes. The film does an admirable job of keeping you guessing whether there’s a basement alien or not. Pod is a testament to how solid a film you can make with a wee budget, as long as you have a sturdy premise and some decent actors. Plus it’s only 76 minutes! So if you’re Shudder and chilling, it won’t be long before you can be like, “Hey did you know I also have a ‘pod’ behind this zipper?”
Special distinction: It’s got to be challenging to pull off an alien horror movie that’s actually scary, because aliens are inherently jovial visitors who just want to meet your leader and give you a hearty bumming.
Garden State (in the garbage somewhere hopefully)
It is absolutely beyond horrifying that someone gave money to Zach Braff for a script that’s just a bunch of people going “aren’t I weird?” for an hour and a half.
Special distinction: none. This movie is is pure bowel cancer for your heart, mind and eyes.