Horror films get a bad rap for being scary, casting a shadow over the whole genre and turning it into a niche appeal. But like the holiday of Halloween, horror can take many different tones, stories, and approaches. It’s not all ghosts, gore, and terror.
So with Friday the 13th fast-approaching, I set out to find 13 horror movies that run the entire gamut. The only other qualifier? They had to be on Netflix. There are definitely some very scary movies in here, but you don’t have to spend your Friday the 13th hiding under the covers! You’ll find also find comedy, action, adventure, documentary, and more.
Hell, one of these movies is even a coming of age story. Another is a film about class, family, and the meaning of sacrifice. Horror isn’t a theme, but rather a platform that can communicate various concepts in suspenseful or theatrical ways, which can often (but not always) be scary.
With that in mind, fire up your Netflix queue and let’s get started.
13. The Lost Boys
The Lost Boys is an unapologetic celebration of the 80s and an elaborate excuse to throw the two Coreys and Kiefer Sutherland into a movie together.
The story follows two brothers who move to a California beach town with their grandfather only to find that it’s home to a group of super hawt punk rock vampire boyz. Like I said, extremely 80s. Luckily, the bros encounter a pair of vampire slayers (also brothers) who give them some comic books that turn out to be primers on how to kill bloodsuckers.
It’s a cool film from the director who would eventually go on to add nipples to the Batsuit.
12. Train to Busan
Train to Busan was quite possibly the most Korean movie of 2016. It’s a zombie movie that has three things Koreans love: Trains, Gong Yoo, and heart-wrenching drama. We Koreans are a sentimental people, and this is a thriller that will break you down into a full-on ugly cry.
Director Yeon Sang-ho and writer Park Joo-suk skillfully crafted a story that is a father’s love for his daughter and a sharp commentary on corporate greed. Edgar Wright, the director Shaun of the Dead and Baby Driver, praised it as the “best zombie movie I’ve seen in forever.”
Bringing tissues and someone to hug is highly recommended.
11. Interview with the Vampire
Interview with the Vampire is notable for popularizing the trope of the sexy highbrow vampire, but unlike some of the later films it inspired, it also emphasized how all that bougie undead glamor is ultimately worthless. At the end of the day, vampires are still abomination who despise what they have become.
Basically, it’s a giant metaphor for clinical depression and possibly a horror trailblazer as well. Rice confirmed that Lestat was bisexual, though she was coy on whether or not Louis and Lestat were lovers.
Watch it if you’re into ethereally beautiful vampires who are forever cursed with crippling anxiety and loneliness.
Spectral is what Ghostbusters would have been if it was written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie.
DARPA scientist Mark Clyne gets sent out with an escort of Delta Force operators to investigate the ghostly creatures that have been slaughtering American soldiers in Moldova. Clyne and the spec ops team learn the hard way that conventional weapons are useless against these “spectrals,” at which point the movie becomes Call of Duty with railguns.
A solid military thriller with slick choreography and special effects.
Los Angeles is under attack from tornadoes made of sharks, and it’s a concept that Syfy and The Asylum have managed to stretch into six films. Sharknado is the first, of course, with sequels that have subtitles such as The Second One, Oh Hell No!, and Global Swarming.
It’s a very stupid movie for people who enjoy stupid movies (e.g. me, and hopefully you).
8. The Nightmare
Who says documentaries can’t be creepy?
The Nightmare is an investigation into sleep paralysis, a condition where someone either waking up or dozing off will be fully conscious but unable to move or speak. Some patients report hearing voices or struggling against shadowy figures during episodes. No doctors can agree on precisely why this happens which just makes the whole thing even scarier.
As for the documentary, it’s unsettling if you’ve never experienced sleep paralysis before and possibly terrifying if you have.
7. The Sixth Sense
Ah yes, the movie that turned I See Dead People into a meme before we had the vocabulary to label it as such.
The Sixth Sense comes alive with masterful performances from a young Haley Joel Osmont and Bruce Willis. Even if you think the twist is lame, at the very least, you’ll have watched a film that helped fertilize the internet’s primordial shitposting culture.
I also met Haley at a bar in Chelsea once and he was very nice, probably because I refrained from becoming the eight billionth person to whisper “I see dead people” to him.
6. Red Dragon
Did you know Anthony Hopkins only appeared for about 16 minutes in The Silence of the Lambs? If you think it felt longer than that, then the Academy Awards agreed with you, because it landed Sir Anthony the Oscar for Best Actor in 1992. Not bad for less than 20 minutes of screen time.
Red Dragon is the prequel to The Silence of the Lambs. It’s been criticized for being a rehash of the first film because they’re both about FBI agents who reluctantly work with Hannibal Lecter to hunt down a serial killer, but I actually feel that retread made Red Dragon better.
As a serial killer himself, Lecter enjoyed routines and familiarity, and Red Dragon subtly explains why he gravitated so much towards Agent Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs. She reminded him of Will.
Worth watching just to see Sir Anthony, Ed Norton, and Ralph Fiennes shining off each other like diamonds.
5. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
You’ve heard this story before: A group of college kids take a camping trip into the woods and get killed off one by one while trying to save one of their own from a pair of deranged hillbillies.
Except in this hilarious subversion of slasher flicks, the two hillbillies (Tucker and Dale) are actually Good Samaritans who rescued a girl from drowning. The college kids (Evil) attack the duo due to stereotypes and misunderstandings, leading to some hilarious and gruesome deaths.
Enjoyable for everyone, but fans of slasher flicks will get a real kick out of this one.
4. The Descent
This is the horror fan’s movie. The Descent won glowing praise from seasoned horror critics, including Bloody Disgusting which hailed it as the third best film of the decade (2000 to 2010).
The movie follows a group of outdoorsy friends who go spelunking in the Appalachian Mountains where they encounter freakish, humanoid creatures that start hunting them as food. It’s a simple story but told with horrifying visuals and great pacing.
Director John Marshall hired women for all the main roles after his business partner pointed out that horror movies rarely have all female casts. That’s a great decision on its own, but it also led to better character development because women actually talk to each other about how they feel.
Watch it if you don’t plan on entering a cave in your life. Ever.
This is probably the weirdest film on the list, and I do mean weird.
Cube (not to be confused with The Cube) is about a bunch of people stuck inside an enormous Rubix Cube split up into smaller rooms. They have to navigate these sometimes trap-laden rooms while trying to figure out how the hell they got there in the first place. It’s a bizarre premise mixed into a surreal setting, which is the perfect formula for a cult movie, and Cube does indeed enjoy a cult following.
If you’re confused, don’t worry, because the characters don’t know what’s going on either. The movie is one big exercise in WTF and that’s the appeal.
Watch it if you like stuff that’s outlandish and a little campy.
2. Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant
Who says being one of the damned has to be so depressing?
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant is about Darren Shan, a 16 year old kid who gets turned into a dhampir and becomes, you guessed it, a vampire’s assistant. It’s also a bildungsroman that delves into teenage ennui and growing up. Darren’s vampire boss is also part of a fantastical carnival, so expect musical cues and robust humor.
A lighthearted choice for anyone sick of mopey grimdark vampires, but you would know that just by looking at the cast. I don’t think any movie starring John C. Reilly as a vampire is capable of being dark.
1. Scream 4
C’mon, you saw this coming. I had to end this list with a classic slasher. Yeah, you heard me, a classic. I grew up in the 90s so every other kid in grade school came dressed as Ghostface for Halloween.
Scream 4 didn’t bring anything new to the table but it deploys all the old tropes — the scares, the laughs, the final girl, the twist reveal — very well. The winking meta jokes to series fans also shows that the film is self-aware and not afraid to make fun of itself.
As for the fear factor, your mileage may vary, but this movie is designed for excitement, not nightmares. It aims to be clever rather than scary.
Definitely watch this one with friends. If you’ve never seen it, part of the fun is trying to figure out who the killer is.
Horror Is Bigger Than Terror
Hopefully, this list gave you something fun to watch on Friday the 13th and beyond. It may even have broadened your own definition of horror. Perhaps you were a horror fan all this time without realizing it.
The spirit of horror is going against what is traditionally seen as comfortable. It’s exploring the unknown, which usually elicits surprise or fear, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You can end up in some pretty interesting places.
So in that vein: Happy Friday the 13th. Who says it has to be so gloomy and unlucky?