So I was a really morbid kid. From reading about serial killers to binge-watching midnight slasher movies, I’ve never shied away from the gruesome.
Lately, my bloodlust for all things gore has morphed into a respect for the understated. While I can appreciate a good splatter here and there, I am admittedly a bigger fan of quiet, unnerving psychological horror. I like the kind of scary movie that has a strong lead and lets you get to know the characters, making the terror feel all the more real. Or the kind that can give you goosebumps with music and pacing alone. These types of films often stay with me long after the credits have rolled and push the limits of what is considered horrific. It’s rare to find me fangirling over buckets of fake blood and pig guts.
Netflix can be a horror-lover’s playground. They’ve got it all, including a few classics (Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen) and cult favorites (The Blair Witch Project, The Human Centipede)—not to mention the entire Goosebumps series (the theme song sounds like my childhood). I’ve spent many bored nights making my way through their horror selection, and now I present, for your reading and viewing pleasure, my top ten list of independent horror on Netflix (USA).
10. Contracted (directed by Eric England, 2013)
Budding half-lesbian Samantha (who looks a bit like Talisa Stark, for all you Game of Thrones fans) is going through a break-up with her very first girlfriend and not handling it well at all. She leaves weepy messages on her ex-girlfriend’s answering machine and is generally sad-faced enough to let us know she is sad. The acting in this film ranges from believable to so-so.
Her best friend convinces her to leave those worries behind and get wasted with friends at a house party. After some intense bro-level pressure, Samantha ends up drunk and is weirdly and awkwardly lured into a shady one-night stand (or, in other words, sexual assault) with a mysterious stranger. After the party, she starts experiencing debilitating symptoms: audio hallucinations, rashes, the works.
What follows: sexually transmitted nastiness, mother-daughter catfights, trips to the friend zone, mild necrophilia, and bad-ass horticulture. Also, a really gross sex scene that may have you laughing and puking at the same time.
Gore fans will appreciate the sick make-up effects, and those with less hardcore predilections will appreciate watching Samantha’s emotional deterioration.
9. The Den (directed by Zachary Donohue, 2013)
Graduate student Elizabeth Benton spends all her time behind a laptop. She routinely cruises a video chat website and slums it with cyber-wierdos, you know, for science. At first it’s all shits and giggles and penis jokes, until Elizabeth views what looks like a live online murder of another young woman. The police think it’s a prank, but Elizabeth’s life slowly begins to unravel as she is stalked by an anonymous crazy.
Can’t say the premise is all that surprising (Has this girl never been to 4chan? The internet is scary), but the acting and plot twists are entertaining. The movie ran a tad too long, but the ending was well-executed.
To a generation that spends most of its time staring at computer and smartphone screens, this movie will hit home.
8. American Mary (directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska, 2013)
I’m sure Marilyn Manson loves this movie. Seriously—I couldn’t get him out of my head while watching.
This film centers around broke medical student Mary Mason. Mary is a ridiculously good-looking soft-goth with Bettie Page bangs and an ever-present corset. She has a weird Nana that speaks with a bad Hungarian accent. She likes to sew extra wings on dead chickens for funsies, but that doesn’t pay the bills, you know?
Somehow, an opportunity to perform underground surgeries for cash lands on Mary’s gartered lap. She takes it, of course, and the viewer is taken on a wild romp through the world of body modification.
Some shit you can’t unsee, and this film has plenty of that. The brainchild of creepily awesome twin sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska (who make a brief cameo), American Mary is campy, fun, and full of gore.
7. V/H/S (directed by various, 2012)
In this horror anthology film, misogynist thugs are hired to raid a rundown house and look for a rare VHS tape. While searching, they find a huge collection of videotapes (this is your cue to leave, found-footage-haters) that each show a different horror story with varying degrees of depravity.
The very first segment of the movie is my favorite. It feels classic, fantastical, and almost romantic (in a sick way, of course). I’ll refrain from giving away too many details—the element of surprise is key here. After the first vignette, things only get darker and weirder.
Warning: Gratuitous boobs are everywhere in this movie. In the beginning, a disturbingly excessive amount of time is spent focusing on the thugs perpetuating sleazy violence against women. I think this is done early on so the viewer will find the criminals repulsive, but it could be upsetting to some.
V/H/S can be inconsistent at times, but each short is only twenty minutes long, so feel free to skip around. Hardcore horror fans will be pleased.
6. Oculus (directed by Mike Flanagan, 2013)
This film is a great psychological horror, albeit dizzying at times. Told partially in flashbacks, Oculus follows Tim and Kaylie, a long-suffering brother and sister duo that have been more or less bullied by a big-ass hallucination-inducing mirror for most of their lives.
The antique mirror’s deadly bullying landed Tim in the madhouse for their parents’ mysterious murder and Kaylie with an obsession on destroying it for good. When Tim gets out of custody, he just wants to move on to live a normal life. Kaylie, on the other hand, has devised a plan of attack to get rid of the mirror forever, for the good of mankind or something.
The acting is excellent, and the pacing feels natural even when frenzied. Elegantly filmed with a deep uneasiness, Oculus will keep you hooked until the shocking end.
5. You’re Next (directed by Adam Wingard, 2011)
A refreshing take on home-invasion horror, You’re Next follows the Davison family as they are confronted with a pack of mask-wearing axe-wielding murderers. Familiar territory, but this movie takes us down a different path.
In the screen time leading up to the action, we are given glimpses of family dysfunction: a jumpy, anxious mother; bickering brothers; slightly bitchy wives; bitter sibling rivalry and competitiveness.
The music also helps sets the mood—the soundtrack leaps above the action during inappropriately creepy moments, and at other times snaps to a jarring halt in the middle of the action.
Also, kudos to this film for having a bad-ass female lead. That never gets old. I thoroughly enjoyed the bloodshed despite a few predictable thrills, and the black humor brought a welcome change of pace.
4. The House of the Devil (directed by Ti West, 2009)
This movie is pure 80s heaven, even though it was made in 2009. From the opening credits to the music to the dialogue, everything is an homage to the golden era of B-movie horror.
Samantha Hughes is our laid back and practical heroine, an ode to the level-headed, virginal scream queens of yesteryear. She’s a broke college student looking to make fast cash by babysitting for Mr. Ulman, a lanky older man with a soft voice and a gentle demeanor. When Samantha learns that she’ll be babysitting Mr. Ulman’s elderly mother-in-law, she’s weirded out, but takes the job anyway. Creepiness ensues.
House of the Devil builds tension exceedingly well, creating an atmosphere of dread. Bonus points for Samantha’s dance break, set to Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another.”
Side note: Is it weird that I had a girl-crush on her best friend, in all her stonewashed jeans, baseball tee, and feathered blonde hair glory? Hot.
3.We Are What We Are (directed by Jim Mickle, 2013)
The Parkers are cannibals.
Now that we’ve gotten that out the way, we can bask in what a compelling and atmospheric thriller this gothic horror tale is. As a torrential rainstorm moves in on their small rural town, Frank Parker lords over his family—a wife, two teenaged girls, and a young son—with religious fervor. It’s obviously taking a huge toll on Mrs. Parker, who looks like a walking zombie. The girls are a frantic mess. The son, a budding maniac, is hungry all the time. This family has issues.
As they struggle to keep their culinary tastes a secret, the police are starting to notice that a string of young girls are missing. The town coroner is starting to get suspicious as well, since his own daughter is one of the missing girls.
This film is quiet and unsettling, up until the final scene when shit just takes a hugely disturbing turn. This film relies heavily on characters and setting, with a hint of gore here and there.
2. Funny Games (directed by Michael Haneke, 2008)
This is another home-invasion horror that has stuck with me years after I first watched the film. Holy shit.
A psychological thriller focusing on a wealthy family’s torment, Funny Games almost made me lose my faith in humanity. Yes, it was that morbid. Low on gore, but high on tension, this violent film shows the scary side of hospitality.
With sadistic provocation, the film’s pacing leaves the viewer feeling helpless and isolated. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
1. Let the Right One In (directed by Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
The most romantic horror film of all time, this Swedish vampire flick isn’t for everyone. With slow-like-honey pacing, superb acting, and stunning visuals, Let the Right One In is a moody pre-adolescent descent into first love hell.
Bullied loner Oskar just wants to make friends, but that doesn’t happen easily for him. That is, until a new neighbor moves in—the mysterious girl Eli. Oskar soon realizes that Eli is responsible for a rash of murders happening around town, but he doesn’t care. He’s finally found a friend.
The sinister tone of the film never lets up, from start to finish. Incredibly moving, it will leave you feeling as if you know the characters, and you will root for them right up until the twisted and horrific ending.