We've often thought Netflix looks a bit like the bottom shelf of an old video shop, all lurid cover art, slashers we’ve never heard of and Martin Lawrence films. So while not always the first place to get flicks, the film-streaming service should at least come into its own on Halloween, when the popcorn is in and there are low-rent scares to administer.
Yet the new ‘Halloween Favourites’ section dished up just for the occasion is a somewhat mixed and mainstream bag, with not enough horror classics for our liking (no Argento, no Carpenter) and far too many Eddie Murphy in The Haunted Mansion's (ie: one). And don't get us started on the dollops of dire sequels (“You can have every Saw and Paranormal Activity you like, Squire, as long as it’s 4 or above.”)
So rather than you having to wade through all 67 flavours of Netflix’s Devil’s Night film offerings and hold up your viewing, we’ve picked the best for you – with direct links to boot. (Not to mention the occasionally random image Netflix has chosen to illustrate each with when buffering up.)
Five classics that are always worth turning the lights down for, five more fringe efforts that we’re rather partial to, and five turkeys masquerading as superior material to avoid. Don’t believe their lies!
The Go-To Classics
An out-of-print HP Lovecraft story given a modern deadpan twist, Re-Animator's medical-strength blend of the icky and funny is pretty much a required dosage for any techy horror fan. To think, the guy who wrote and directed this went on to pen Honey I Shrunk The Kids.
The horror before which all others must bow. An American Werewolf in London is a perfect mix of scares and laughs in a beautifully British backdrop – from Yorkshire moors on location (it was actually shot in Wales) to Tottenham Court Road Station stalkings – with some excellent Brit actor cameos from Brian Glover and the late Rik Mayall. In fact, watch this every night, it’s always better than what’s on.
So good that when they remade it they were simply unable to make it totally rubbish. Carrie's coming-of-age tale of religion, ESP and pig's blood from a pomp Stephen King gets a visually powerful, heavily metaphoric treatment from would-be Hitchcock Brian de Palma. Don't forget to watch right till the end…
A hex on the goofy! Another that they couldn't quite ruin with the remake, even with Colin 'Total Recall' Farrell on board, Fright Night's fantastically shlock vampire yarn reeks of Eighties, from the outfits to the synth score. Maybe it's my age, but this used to terrify me as a kid. Now, it's all about Roddy McDowall's scene-stealing.
Now, I had to wrestle Gerald for this one, as he wanted Army of Darkness in here. While I love that film (look, I put a link there to it and everything), for me it's a straight-up comedy and, therefore, ineligible for Halloween (if Netflix wants to get the rights for the first two Evil Dead films, they'll both be in here). Instead, it has to be The Blair Witch Project, a short but powerful watch in the early hours of any night with an ending that gets even better with time. The Dissolve just did an interesting piece on it being the most widely despised great horror film of all time and I tend to agree.
The Worth-A-Go Wonders
If you're not averse to the "quiet… MASSIVE BANG!… oh it was nothing" school of scares, this effective horror is a landmark in that it's the last decent Paul WS Anderson film before he became a Resident Evil session director. Sam Neill hams it up for all his got among the pretty creepy transmissions, but the heavily derivative Shining-channelling-Hellraiser-in-Alien-shoes knock-off vibe hangs heavy.
The second Stephen King-written film in our list doesn't sound much on paper: load of misfit locals hang out in a supermarket while a storm clears. Standard. But most storms don't usually involve people being dragged out of doors by tentacles. An unashamed B-movie, but with acting standards (go Thomas "The Punisher" Jane) and directorial polish from Frank "Shawshank Redemption/Walking Dead" Darabont buffing it up into something better.
Yes, it's a pre-Office-fame Rainn Wilson there, one of the stereotypical naive saps hunted down in Rob Zombie's ludicrously druggy love-in for all things video nasty. Part Texas Chainsaw Massacre, part Natural Born Killers, House of 1,000 Corpses is an undeniable mess, but a striking one all the same, with Captain Spaulding a character to remember.
A slick remake of George Romero's super lo-fi "town's done gone been infected" Seventies original, The Crazies may not do anything particularly original with its people in peril but does manage to make you actually care about whether they survive or not.
The predictable "kid's got night terrors" script isn't a great place to start for Ethan Hawke with Sinister, but lucky for him he's got the demonic "Mr Boogie" in support, whose freaky visage pops up everywhere: in drawings, on photos, behind people's shoulders when they're not expecting it, that kind of thing. Scarier than it should be.
The 'Don't Believe Their Lies!' No-Gooders (No Links Required)
Start this up and you're likely to think you've had an eye transplant just like poor Jessica Alba, but instead of seeing ghosts it's making you see Hollywood trash where a Hong Kong classic should be. No ocular ghosts here, though, just a shoddy 2008 US remake of the Pang brothers' eerie 2002 original (which, sadly, is not on Netflix).
More ruining of Eastern horror, with Japan's Hideo "Ring" Nakata this time having to face the indignity of a US retread. To be honest, the original Dark Water (again 2002, again not on Netflix) is pretty ponderous at times – its plot being based, as it is, around a ceiling stain – but who thought whacking Jennifer Connelly in, setting it in New York and trying it all again three years later was going to sort that out?
When there are no more Eastern horror movies left in Hell… Hollywood will remake Western ones instead. There have now been seven films in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre "franchise" and the original remains the only one worth watching; safe to say, the last two are on Netflix (this is the most recent). So far removed from the genuinely brilliant first, Texas Chainsaw's cinematic title was Texas Chainsaw 3D, which should say it all really.
And if you REALLY want to amp up the scares on an iffy remake, get yourself some Ryan Reynolds beard and abs combo on your buffer screen! Poor Ryan. We like Ryan, we just don't like a lot of the films he agrees to be in. This 2005 remake of "true story" haunted house perennial The Amityville Horror is one of them, yet from all 12 instalments, Netflix put this on its roster. We assume because it has Ryan Reynolds' beard and abs in it.
And finally, we tire of iffy remakes and turn to a bonafide turkey. George Romero made Land of the Dead, too, which makes it even worse. I wanted this to be good so much. John Leguizamo wanted it to be good, too, just look at the guy: like in The Happening he's over-acting his heart out to compensate for the sheer lack of interest from everyone else all around him. Step away from the link and just watch the original Night of the Living Dead on YouTube instead.
Or you could always try and find something better on another country's Netflix, of course…