Horror movies are almost as old as movies themselves. I’d wager that a lot of their staying power comes from the fact that it’s often impossible to distinguish between a good horror movie and a bad one. Sure there are some exemplars of greatness (The Exorcist, The Thing, Psycho, The Babadook) and some nadirs (anything tungsten-tinted from the mid-2000s). But more often than not we’re left somewhere in the middle, trying to parse that fine line between trash and treasure. And especially around Halloween the line is pushed back to let in some of the rabble. Here are five movies on Netflix that can be scoffed at for 11 months, but might just be acceptable in October.
Holidays (Dir. Various, 2016)
I’m a sucker for anthology films, I’m a sucker for themes, and I’m a sucker for calendars so this one really jumped out to me. Holidays shows eight unique stories from different directors, each set on a different holiday. Somehow they left out Thanksgiving, which is probably the most disturbing part of the entire movie. How are you going to include Father’s Day, but leave out Thanksgiving? Is it that hard to think of a giant turkey that EATS PEOPLE?
The EpicMealTime guy plays an evil pornographer. Some straight up incredible cinematography in the Valentine’s Day segment, lots of pregnancy & the creepiest/best rendition of the Easter Bunny ever put to film. Slimy.
The vignettes in this movie range from creepy (“Easter”), nonsensical (“Mothers Day”), poignant, (“Father’s Day”), to downright shitty (“Halloween,” the best holiday, ruined courtesy of Kevin Smith). Given the nature of a project like this, the quality of each story varies significantly. But overall, I like this movie because you can watch one vignette and then stop watching to walk to a convenience store when you realize you’ve run out of chips.
Deathgasm (Dir. Jason Lei Howden, 2015)
This probably would have been my favorite movie a few years ago. Having somehow misspelled its own title, Deathgasm is about a New Zealand teenage metal band called “Dethgasm.” Turns out the teens can summon demons by playing the world’s most generic doom metal riff. If that were possible, the Earth would have been overrun by demons a long time ago–probably when Candlemass formed. Thankfully, the demons can be banished by playing the same riff backwards, a technique which also yields a very generic doom metal riff.
The first half of this movie plays out like a typical teen comedy. It’s actually pretty funny. As in the music that inspired it, there’s a lot of casual misogyny here. The demons are kind of boring looking.
Deathgasm belongs to a cult of movies that sacrifice what could be called “quality” for such things as: awesomeness, one-liners, high-fiving, dick jokes, and gore, gore, gore. All told this movie is about as well made as it could be and achieves its ambitions (hitting demons with dildos and rocking out). Expect a lot of laughs and a few groans, and most likely some eye rolls.
We Are Still Here (Dir. Ted Geoghegan, 2015)
It’s a setup we’ve seen before: a couple moves into a house and finds out things are Not What They Seem. That’s pretty much it for this one in terms of plot and scares. What’s really notable about this movie is the setting. It takes place in rural New England, but IMDb says it’s filmed in Shortsville, NY, which might be the bleakest town ever. Snow covers everything, barren trees loom, grain silos rise out of the white. I get a feeling, and I’m guessing, that this was filmed during the tumultuous winter of 2014-15. The movie out-Fargoes Fargo, with long shots of desolate white-stained rural roads that lend real sense of small-town isolation to the opening minutes. At this point you’d be forgiven for expecting a good movie.
Great sense of late 70s period accuracy. Blurry camera, horrible interior décor. Usually terrible acting sometimes delves into perfect hamming. Every character reminds me of a character in a much better horror movie.
Then our characters begin to speak and everything turns awful. As if the filmmakers are deliberately going through a checklist of clichés, an old townsman arrives at the residence and starts blabbing exposition about how the house has “a history, and all.”
Everything that happens afterwards, over the mercifully short runtime, happens exactly as you’d expect it. The ghosts claim both a black man and two young people trying to have sex as their victims. Come to think of it, this has to be intentional—there’s no way anyone could overlook these played out tropes. Maybe there’s love for the genre here. That’s no excuse for lazy filmmaking though. Maybe just watch this movie without the sound on and try to think of your own plot. It’s arguably worth seeing just to look at the setting.
Wolfcop (Dir. Lowell Dean, 2014)
Wolfcop is a movie that’s hard to talk about without giving too much away. I mean that in the way that you can’t say the title without knowing exactly what the movie is about and exactly what happens. Only if the movie was called Werewolf Police Office with a Hard Edge and/or Drinking Habit Who Lives in a Small Depressed Town and Has Awkward Growing Pains from His Newfound Wolf Form could it be more obvious. And that’s part of its charm.
I guess there’s like a crime syndicate/cult thing in this movie? I really don’t care and neither should you.
I love the setting again. More snow, more small towns. It seems like the kind of place where becoming a werewolf is the best thing that could happen to someone. They have a place called Liquor Donuts and an annual tradition “The Drink and Shoot.” Color me impressed. There’s lot of great cheesy camera work such as a quick zoom to a poster reading “No Food or Drink” during an obligatory “learning stuff about the occult in the public library” montage. It’s followed by a hearty, “Hey! You got any books on devil worship?”
What makes this movie tick is less it’s plot than its simultaneous over- and under-acting, comedic timing, and great practical effects. A werewolf movie is only as good as its transformation scene and this one has a particularly painful looking one (thanks to, shall we say, the presence of a urinal) complete with an adequate amount of slime. The more I think about it, the more slime levels seem like a good measure of horror movie practical effects. More slime = more scared. Wolfcop doesn’t have quite enough slime to be truly scary, but instead it offers pretty outrageous comedy with an endearing self-awareness.
Baby Blues (Dir. Po-Chih Leong, 2013)
For the last film on this list, I’ve got a treat for you. Desperate for something truly awful I scrolled all the way down to the bottom of the Netflix horror movie category, to the lowest rated movie I could find. The innocuous-sounding Baby Blues, hidden right past Killer Mermaid and Cam2Cam, both of which feature nearly identical photos of a woman in a white bikini. I approached the movie with the same feelings I imagine one feels when stumbling upon an underground ferret-legging ring: excitement, tinged with terror. Baby Blues offers neither.
Head-on shots of people riding bikes/motorcycles over terrible green screens. Cool as fuck.
Instead we’re treated to a weird little Chinese film that seems to be a hodgepodge of everything the screenwriter has ever thought about. This is a movie about an evil song (again), a haunted house (again), a killer doll (with a very limited range of motion), pop music, blogging, buying a house, work/life balance, infidelity, motherhood, and postpartum depression (very insensitively). There’s something infectious about its jarring tonal shifts, liberal use of slow motion, and tendency to cut to EXTREME CLOSE-UPS of the doll’s poorly rendered CGI eyes.
This movie has the worst CGI I’ve ever seen, especially with smoke/fire. Those are both things that exist in nature. How hard can it be? I get the feeling this was meant to be shown in 3D. Lots of stuff pops out of the screen, including a totally sweet slow motion jump-kick. A pretty trippy dream sequence where a baby ages rapidly is by far the best effect in the movie.
It’s a pastel-colored horror dream that’s too weird to be anything but funny. I will say it’s almost certainly not the actual worst horror movie on Netflix. Instead it’s probably something that, given the right audience, could and should become a-so-bad-it’s good classic.
Oof, now that that’s over, I’m finally free to watch some movies from George Luke’s list of actual good horror movies before Halloween is over…forever?