Featured image from City of the Dead.
It is upon us. I’ve tried to include something for everyone: deep cuts for horror fans and entry-level selections for people who aren’t as keen on the genre. The gruel is getting thinner every year on the generalist services, so I highly recommend getting Shudder at least for the month. Their selection far outpaces all of the other pay services combined. The other option is Tubi, which is free and stacked with options, but plays movies with commercial breaks. I love Tubi but do not normally include it for this reason, and because half the fun of Tubi is browsing through their vast library and trying out stuff you’ve never heard of. This time I did pick out a couple Tubi selections. Criterion Channel also has a terrific horror feature, but there’s no reason to make recommendations, since it’s all worth watching and the curators have already supplied context to help you decide what you’re interested in.
The Whip and the Body
There’s a trove of Mario Bava on Shudder and all of it is eminently worthwhile, but if I had to pick one title, it would be this. Gothic kink, with Christopher Lee, trap doors, secret passages, perverse secrets.
Eyes of Fire
A singular film that belongs in the highest pantheon of American horror. It was finally restored and released on blu-ray last year, which was its first home video release since a 1987 VHS. It’s set in 1750 and tells the story of an adulterous preacher and a small group of followers who are banished from their settlement and try to found a new one in Shawnee territory, where they encounter ancient magic. Strange and oneiric, it’s stylistically unique and full of images that have haunted that back of my mind since I first saw it last year.
City of the Dead
Also known as Hotel Horror, starring Christopher Lee, this is one of the finest horror films of the 60’s and absolutely essential viewing. A college student visits a New England town to research its history of witchcraft. It does not go well.
Another excellent example of folk horror, this has a fairly typical narrative about an unsuspecting young girl and a secret occult group who have devious plans for her birthday, but it is elevated above the pack by its briskly inexorable pacing, unnerving imagination, and unusual Australian setting.
One of a kind bonkers Wisconsin regional horror from French director Fabrice A. Zaphiratos, centered around a family gathering and a set of haunted samurai armor. When you put this on you may feel like, “what the hell am I watching right now? why the hell would he recommend this?” but stick with it and you’ll see.
What Have You Done to Solange?
Not for everyone! This is an exceptionally sleazy giallo! All content warnings apply! Fabio Testi plays a teacher who is sleeping with one of his students and becomes a suspect in a series of campus murders. If you have an appetite for ’70s Italian sleaze, this is a delicacy.
Unique and mesmerizing art horror from New Dehli, directed by Sidharth Srinivasan. It’s dense and disorienting, borrowing tropes from the possession horror subgenre to examine a collision between modernity and tradition.
Supermarket slasher, it just plain rules.
Exceptional Vermont regional horror, a prime example of slow burn autumnal dread.
Often taken under the “so bad it’s good” heading, do with it what you will. It’s a wild ride, full of satanic panic .
This is a hoot and I highly recommend it to anyone with a taste for regional horror. Set in Texas, it’s about an old snake-loving coot named Snakey Bender who likes to come into town on Wednesdays and carry out his routine… until a group of uptight conservatives conspire against him.
Arguably the peak of the “evil computer” cycle, it’s basically a male Carrie with an evil computer.
Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood
Another great example of regional horror (Pennsylvania), it’s about a family searching for a son who’s gone missing at an amusement park and uncovering more than they bargained for. It’s only 75 minutes long but dense with memorable images. There’s really nothing else like this, and genre fans shouldn’t miss it.
The Corruption of Chris Miller
Sleazy Spanish giallo with Jean Seberg, it’s a great place to take your genre exploration once you’ve made your way through its more famous Italian counterparts.
I am genuinely amazed by how many divergent 80’s tropes come together in this movie. The practical effects are great.
Beyond the Darkness
One of the wildest and most enjoyable films from world-historic sicko Joe D’Amato. It is one crazy psychosexual stew, and I’m only recommending it to people who set no limit on depravity. (Edit: I think this is also on shudder)
I’ve explored the women in prison exploitation subgenre pretty thoroughly, and at a certain point they all start blending together. This one, however, stands out. It’s really one of the only under the radar examples of the category that I’d go out of my way to recommend, and probably the one that does the best job integrating horror elements. It’s certainly not for everyone, though. It is, after all, a women in prison movie called “Hellhole.”
Grave of the Vampire
John Hayes is the king of the “bad dad” low budget horror movie. It’s an atmospheric slow burn, nasty and depressing, and a far, far bleaker and more affecting take on family than any of the trendy recent examples with a more discursive approach.
This preceded Texas Chainsaw as an Ed Gein movie. I’m not a fan of the true crime framing, but this is a must-see for Roberts Blossom’s extraordinary performance.
Evil Dead Trap
Kitchen sink 80’s Japanese slasher mayhem from Ikeda.
The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism
A 1967 German Christopher Lee vehicle, the sets alone make it worth seeing for anyone with a taste for this sort of Hammer-esque production.
Hubie Halloween-The Munsters
Netflix may not have much in the way of horror, but they DO have the best feel-good Halloween double feature in the business. I love both of these movies with my whole heart. Hubie is one of Sandler’s very best, full of the warmth and sense of fun that make his movies such enduring comfort classics. The Munsters is the rarest of all contemporary movie sightings: a studio IP picture with personality and a unique stylistic sensibility. It’s Rob Zombie’s own love story with Sheri Moon, very thinly veiled, and it’s silly and hilarious and overflowing with affection. It’s only for people who like fun, though!
Aja’s remake of Joe Dante’s classic is a trashy good time.
By far John Carpenter’s meanest, nastiest movie, it’s not for everyone, but amidst the marshmallow Netflix slate it certainly stands out.
Urban Legend trilogy
Jamie Blanks’ original is great, and I enjoy the whole trilogy (although many people view the third one a lot less favorably than I do). Outside of Scream, Urban Legend is arguably the highlight of the slasher revival. I watched these last year and I’m already feeling like I might dive back in.
Unusual amidst the contemporary horror landscape, this 2020 film is 138 minutes long and uses its duration to develop an overwhelming sense of dread. It’s a deliberately paced procedural that effectively coaxes us to imagine what’s out of sight.
The Fly II
This is a lot of fun and has surprising pathos given how much slime is involved.
Amityville 2: The Possession
The first one is not my favorite, so I never actually watched this until recently, but it’s far, far better (it’s directed by an Italian, which of course helps). The first hour is fun and depraved family horror. It then loses steam and becomes an Exorcist knock off, but it’s still worth seeing overall.
Exorcist II: The Heretic
Speaking of The Exorcist, Boorman’s sequel has a terrible reputation and frequently makes “worst of all time” lists, but that’s to be expected for something this defiant of the banalities of convention. It’s actually closer to Friedkin’s Sorcerer than The Exorcist in many ways, and doesn’t do anything like what fans of the original wanted it to do, much to its credit. If you’ve avoided it on account of its reputation but can manage an open mind, I’d suggest giving it a try.