People love to slag on Netflix for “not having anything to watch,” but there is a reason why they’re the 500 pound gorilla in the room of streaming services. Despite their lackluster reputation as a content provider, they really do have a massive library of movies and tv series to get through. And as long as you don’t mind it’s focus on recent offerings, it’s really hard to think of another streaming service that does what they’re doing better: providing a massive swath of original and third-party content spanning different genres, styles and, more recently, continents.
Poltergeist (1982) – The problem with horror as a genre is that, by design, it is meant to scare us. It violates and transgresses our impression of a safe and orderly world and even many hardened adults are reduced to quivering heaps when squaring down with a truly terrifying flick. This has, of course, always made it a hard sell to children, despite the fact that many wee-ones are positively obsessed with monsters, rubber masks and the dark fantasies that are the genre’s bread and butter. I know that I was a positive wreck after a daylight viewing of Night of the Living Dead (1968) when in my single-digits, and most of my friends seem to have similar stories to tell about their first “adult” horror movie. That’s what’s so great about something like Poltergeist, which comes to us direct from Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) director Tobe Hooper himself. With Hooper’s deft work behind the camera, and Spielberg’s gentle touch as a producer, the film, while indeed scary, is never quite too scary to show to even younger children. It’s wonderful gateway horror movie that nevertheless works its dark magic on the entire family regardless of age. So if you’re looking to get a youngling on board for horror movies this Halloween season, not only Poltergeist, but Hocus Pocus (1993), Goosebumps (2015), Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019) or even any of the Universal or RKO horror classics are perfect for that exact job.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) – For decades, there has been this weird debate surrounding whether or not The Silence of the Lambs – or any true crime movie, really – is actually a horror movie. Generally falling along generational lines (with older moviegoers arguing in favor of its horror bona fides and with younger moviegoers arguing the opposite), I could never understand the logic behind its exclusion from the horror canon. The events depicted in the film are indeed horrifying and are both shot and coded the same as other “obvious” horror movies like Psycho (1960) or Halloween (1978). More than anything, the arguments against it seem designed to strip the horror genre of many of its greatest and most celebrated classics (seemingly for the crime of being “too good” to be considered horror). But like the similarly de-genre-fied Black Swan (2010), any honest reading of the film can only conclude that it is a horror film at it’s core: one filled with cannibals and leatherfaces and serial murderers of all stripes.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) – In my 31 Nights of Halloween article series, I’ve been absolutely gushing about my favorite recent (and largely unsung) horror movies, but the self-imposed limitation of only covering the absolute best movie from each year naturally meant that a lot of great movies got overlooked in the process. And when 2016 also featured an unimpeachable classic like The Witch (2016), there sadly just wasn’t any room to discuss The Autopsy of Jane Doe, a film that I dearly love and which, like The Witch (2016) and Antichrist (2009), featured as the focus of my recently-completed masters thesis. While not as widely seen or appreciated as those aforementioned two witch films – and with even positive reviews serving as back-handed compliments about it only being “good enough” – André Øvredal’s second-feature actually serves as a tightly-scripted story of a father/son mortician duo investigating the cause of death on a mysterious, unidentified corpse, only to find as they dig further and further under her skin that the woman is far more than what she appears to be on the surface.
Vampires vs El Bronx (2020) – Spanning the back half of September and the front half of October is Hispanic Heritage Month: a period of celebration and reflection that seem especially necessary in a day and age when anybody who fails to meet the bleached-out standards of right-wing pigmentation is invariable at risk of violent reprisal. Freshly added this month, however, is a perfect new Netflix Original that works as both a fun family Halloween movie and a too-rare film from a team of Hispanic filmmakers. Playing out like a uniquely American take on the British borne Attack the Block (2011), this afro-latino horror film follows a group of New York teens who seek to protect their neighborhood from an invading horde of undead ghouls. Clearly with a lot to say on race, ethnicity and the ongoing gentrification of American cities, Vampires vs El Bronx taps into a unique subset of the American experience that is far too often ignored in favor of the same old whitewashed series of events.
Hubie Halloween (2020) – Normally, I try to limit these lists to including only one movie for each featured decade. The idea is to show off the wider-than-you’d-think array of movies to watch on these streaming services that are (mostly unfairly) criticized for being only full of very recent movies. The thing is, though, that there’s a shocking amount of brand new programming for October, and I wanted to cover more than just one thing from there. The compromise here, then, is to include two 2020 movies: one for the back-end of Hispanic Heritage Month and one much more specific to Halloween. A return to form for 90’s comic legend Adam Sandler, Hubie Halloween is a familiar, somewhat scattershot but all-around very funny (and pleasantly family-friendly) light horror movie that’s the perfect entry point to get younger Millennials and Zoomers into the comic that absolutely dominated my (and many a Netflix subscribers’) childhood. Far better than the other Netflix Sandler offerings and willing to go surprisingly dark in its climax, Hubie Halloween is a fun throwback to movies like Billy Madison (1995), Happy Gilmore (1996) and The Waterboy (1998) (and for you old-school fans, Sander’s “Canteen Boy” character from his days on Saturday Night Live).