Spooky Scary Cinema: A Guide to Horror Films on Netflix
Jimmy Kemper | Wednesday, October 14, 2015
A genre notorious for cheap thrills and endless sequels, horror rarely gets due credit from audiences looking for fun and from the film critic community. Which is a shame, because a number of films have been made that are both enjoyable to watch and push film forward, whether it be in terms of character development, world building or cinematographic style.
Fortunately, Netflix exists and is a great place to get introduced to the world of horror and the mechanics of one of the most under appreciated genres of film. Unfortunately, Netflix has removed a number of greats just in time for Halloween, including “The Exorcist,” one of the most important films of the genre, but there’s still a number of spooky films to watch to get you all caught up with the things that go bump in the night:
The directorial debut of Australian Jennifer Kent, “The Babadook” is one of the more innovative and thoughtful horror films of the past decade. “The Babadook” follows the experience of widowed mother Amelia (Essie Davis) and her uncontrollable son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) after a sinister storybook called “The Babadook” mysteriously appears at their house. Samuel, plagued by nightmares of the monster, is convinced that the Babadook is real and is coming to kill him and his mother. Amelia struggles with her son’s incessant worrying and maddening behavior, so the film’s terror not only comes from the horrifying monster but also the tumultuous and awful relationship between the undisciplined son and the grieving mother. An excellent exploration into mental illness and human psyche, “The Babadook” has quickly become a quintessential part of the horror canon.
“The Silence of the Lambs”
“The Silence of the Lambs” is not necessarily a horror film in the traditional sense, but it is still by far one of the scariest movies on Netflix. “Silence of the Lambs” follows Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), a student at the FBI training academy who interviews Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), the brilliant psychiatrist and bloody psychopath, as she tries to solve the crimes of another serial killer known as Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). This suspense thriller is sharp and restrained, lacking the blood and gore of other horror films simply because it does not have to. The chilling connection and interactions between Clarice and Dr. Lecter more than make up for any missing cheap thrills.
What would a horror film guide be without a “Hellraiser” film? Director and British writer Clive Barker’s first film, based upon his own novella “The Hellbound Heart,” introduces us to the menacing Pinhead and the realm of the otherworldly “Cenobites,” explorers of ultimate pain and pleasure. “Hellraiser” does a brilliant job creating an intense atmosphere of dread and fear. It stands in stark contrast to other films released around the same time period, such as the “Friday the Thirteenth” and “Evil Dead” series, which had somewhat lighthearted and campy tones. With “Hellraiser,” we get this terrible monster Pinhead who is a serious character exploring dark, uncomfortable philosophies that leave audiences with unanswerable questions by the time the credits roll.
“V/H/S” is an interesting take on the now-classic found-footage formula first introduced by “The Blair Witch Project” back in 1999. Instead of just showcasing one set of found footage, “V/H/S” is an anthology of short horror films, each woven into the greater narrative frame of a criminal gang who breaks into an abandoned house to steal a rare VHS videotape. As expected, things go very wrong for these criminals. As the story of this gang progresses, the audience watches the VHS tapes that they play in the abandoned house and experience different horror segments from different directors. Because these segments could literally be about anything, “V/H/S” has a wonderful capacity to surprise and thrill that competitors do not have. And like “Hellraiser,” “V/H/S” is a masterful film in the art of the build-up, creating unbearable amounts of tension as we wait for the end of each segment.
This is one of the best slasher films from the original master of horror himself. After five sequels, none of which he directed, Wes Craven took the helm for the seventh film in the classic “Nightmare on Elm Street” series. “New Nightmare” breathed new life into the franchise by adding a new twist to the classic formula: dream killer Freddy Krueger escapes into the real world, where Craven and original “Nightmare on Elm Street” star Heather Langenkamp have to deal with the consequences. This film’s commentary on the nature of horror films is a nice break from the mindless bloodbaths that make up the worst offenders of the genre and set the stage for Craven to again explore those themes and tropes in his also excellent “Scream” series.