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A funny thing I’ve realized in the past few years is that horror movies can be weirdly therapeutic. When the anxiety or depression hits, a good horror movie can make me forget whatever I’m stressed about for two hours by scaring me with something worse. When the credits roll, I can think to myself, “well, at least I’m not getting haunted by a literal demon from Hell.”

These are scary times, so it helps to find unique ways to cope. The following horror movies were scary enough to make my own anxieties seem alright for 90 minutes or so. Maybe they’ll help you too.

Some disclaimers: horror is subjective. What scares me might not scare you, and vice versa. Also, I limited my search to the three major streaming platforms: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu. Aside from a few decades worth of “Treehouse of Horror” episodes of The SimpsonsDisney+ doesn’t seem to have anything resembling horror movies on its (mostly) family-friendly platform, and if you’re a savvy enough horror fan to have a Shudder subscription, you probably don’t need much help from me anyway.

Finally, there’s a lot of great horror movies that aren’t necessarily scary, so those didn’t make the list. I’m trying to give you ways to scare yourself more than you already are from gestures wildly at everything going on in the real world.

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Hereditary (2018, dir. Ari Aster)

Streaming on: Prime Video

Hands down, the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. Maybe skip this one if you’re not in the right headspace for legitimate emotional distress, especially if you have kids. But it was one of my picks for The Beat’s Greatest Films of the 2010s for a reason. Starring Toni Collette in one of the most bravura performances ever committed to the genre, Ari Aster’s debut feature is a thoughtful yet unrelenting meditation on grief, family, and sacrifice.

 

Midsommar (2019, dir. Ari Aster)

Streaming on: Prime Video

While it doesn’t clear the impossible bar Aster set for himself with Hereditary, Midsommar is an unforgettable, inventive film in its own right, with stunning imagery to boot. And unlike Hereditary, it has a dry (albeit twisted) sense of humor. But don’t let that, or the fact that it’s one of the rare horror moves set almost entirely in daylight, fool you. This deadly break-up story starring a mesmerizing Florence Pugh is not for the faint of heart.

 

The Ritual (2017, dir. David Bruckner)

Streaming on: Netflix

Based on the British novel of the same name by Adam Nevill, this is another folk horror film set in the Swedish wilderness. It sort of does for friendship what Midsommar does for romantic relationships. It’s more effective than your average “lost in the woods” spook-fest and features some clever, creepy surprises I don’t want to give away here.

 

Jaws (1975, dir. Steven Spielberg)

Streaming on: Hulu

Even after 45 years of seemingly endless homages and parodies, Jaws remains a masterclass in building tension and drama from a simple (if not scientifically accurate) premise. Plus, it’ll make you feel better about canceling those beach trips!

 

Get Out (2017, dir. Jordan Peele)

Streaming on: Hulu

Just three years later, it’s easy to forget how absurd it once seemed that Jordan Peele, known almost exclusively as a comedian before Get Out, was writing and directing a horror movie. But that’s how great–and scary–Peele’s directorial debut is. This tale of a black man (Daniel Kaluuya, scoring an Oscar nomination for his role) who discovers a violent, racist conspiracy within his white girlfriend’s family immediately struck a chord. The box office smash earned Peele a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, as well as nominations for Best Picture and Best Director, and will surely remain just as relevant and terrifying for generations, inspiring plenty of horror movies itself.

 

Green Room (2015, dir. Jeremy Saulnier)

Streaming on: Netflix

Another thriller about fighting bigots, but more realistically and less subtly. There’s nothing supernatural about this story of an underground punk band escaping a remote venue overrun by neo-Nazis (led by Patrick Stewart, playing brilliantly against type). It’s structured like a haunted house movie, but the house is haunted by Nazis. Despite the gore and merciless terror, its portrayal of a life-and-death struggle against fascists can be strangely empowering, especially if you’re into punk rock. Nazi punks, fuck off!

 

Rosemary’s Baby (1968, dir. Roman Polanski)

Streaming on: Netflix

I won’t blame you if the criminal charges against Roman Polanski deter you from this one, but taken on its own merits, there’s little denying the effectiveness of this classic slow-burner. What’s scarier right now than the idea of losing your trust in everyone you know? Killer performances all around, too, especially Mia Farrow.

 

Us (2019, dir. Jordan Peele)

Streaming on: Hulu

Though it didn’t match the groundbreaking cultural impact of Get Out, Peele’s second feature is just as thoughtfully crafted, and arguably scarier. Intense and deliberately ambiguous, Us makes the idea of meeting your doppelganger more frightening than you’d ever imagine. Like Get Out, it’s loaded with social commentary, and the dark humor does nothing to alleviate the horror. Plus, Lupita Nyong’o‘s award-winning performance is not to be missed!

 

Psycho (1960, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Streaming on: Hulu

Yeah yeah, we all know the shower scene and that creepy music through cultural osmosis, but have you actually sat down and WATCHED Psycho lately–or ever? Alfred Hitchcock’s proto-slasher can still get under your skin, even if you think you know every beat by heart.

 

The Babadook (2014, dir. Jennifer Kent)

Streaming on: Netflix

Somehow, the Babadook himself became such a meme that more people know him that way than as the elusive antagonist of an excellent and legitimately frightening horror movie. That’s a shame.

 

Candyman (1992, dir. Bernard Rose)

Streaming on: Netflix

Horror movies

You may have heard about the upcoming sequel directed by Nia DaCosta, and G-d willing, life will be back to somewhat-normal in time for us to see it on June 12th. In the meantime, Bernard Rose’s original, based on a short story by Clive Barker, is as haunting and relevant as ever. [Sammy Davis Jr. voice] “The Candyman can because he has a hook in hand and is filled with bees.”

 

The Witch (2015, dir. Robert Eggers)

Streaming on: Netflix

Another one of my picks for The Beat’s Greatest Films of the 2010s, Robert Eggers’ feature debut feels like it came straight out of a nightmare dimension where even cute little bunnies can be agents of the Devil himself. Watch it again if you already saw it, as the “New England folktale” rewards repeat viewings–or punishes them, depending on your perspective.

 

Black Swan (2010, dir. Darren Aronofsky)

Streaming on: Hulu

There’s some dispute over whether this Natalie Portman-starring (and Oscar-winning) movie qualifies as horror, but it scared the hell outta me, so it makes the list.

 

The Invitation (2015, dir. Karyn Kusama)

Streaming on: Netflix

Similarly, there’s an argument to be made that The Invitation is more of a thriller than a horror film, but who cares? It’s terrifying. Heck, with a premise revolving around a man attending a dinner party thrown by his ex-wife and her husband, it’s nerve-wracking long before more sinister elements creep in. You may also know director Karyn Kusama from Jennifer’s Body and Destroyer. I can’t wait for her to take on Dracula.

 

Nosferatu (1922, dir. F.W. Murnau)

Streaming on: Prime Video

Horror movies

Probably not scary in the way 21st century audiences are used to, but nearly 100 years later, there’s still something otherworldly about this silent classic. It won’t make you scream, but it will make you uneasy. Also worth watching is the 1979 remake Nosferatu: The Vampyre, which gets an extra dose of gloom courtesy of director Werner Herzog.

 

Apostle (2018, dir. Gareth Evans)

Streaming on: Netflix

Watched this on a whim during a bout with anxiety because cults always freak me out. Apparently, so does blood sacrifice, torture, an ancient forest goddess, and, uh, Michael Sheen?

 

Hush (2016, dir. Mike Flanagan)

Streaming on: Netflix

A Quiet Place is spooky fun (and currently streaming on Prime Video and Hulu if you’re so inclined), but for my money, if you’re looking for an eerily muted horror with minimal dialogue, this slasher is a better bet. Starring Kate Siegal (who wrote the film with husband and director/editor Mike Flanagan) as a deaf writer whose rural home gets invaded, this tightly choreographed thriller is deceptively simple.

 

Killer Sofa (2019, dir. Bernie Rao).

Streaming on: Prime Video

This is a bad movie. Don’t watch it. The only reason I’m including it here is because I saw it last week after some colleagues at The Beat egged me on, and now I don’t know what to do with this knowledge. It’s not “so bad it’s good” because it’s intentionally a horror-comedy, but it seems as if filmmaker Bernie Rao was so confident in the humor of its absurd title and premise that he didn’t bother writing any actual jokes. I don’t know any other horror movies from New Zealand that pit a rabbi against a dybbuk, so that’s something I guess. But if you crave Jewish folk horror like I do, you’re better off with The Golem, currently streaming on Netflix.

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