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12 Terrifying Horror Movies That Gave These Directors Their Start

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October 10, 2018

Every year, I boldly take it upon myself to watch as many of the unknown horror films that Netflix offers in hopes of finding diamonds in the rough. I put myself through hours and hours of pain just so you, a true horror fan, can have a distilled, true understanding of what lies for you at the bottom of that red, streaming sea.

 

And I’m not going to lie: 2018 (being 2018) was the toughest year I’ve had yet trying to pan the Netflix river for its horror gold. Usually by mid-September, I’ve found a decent crop of weird, unheard-of horror films that I’m anxious to share with the October crowd. But I watched a lot more schlock than usual this year before finding enough entries that I felt comfortable recommending.

 

Every year I compile a list of new movies. So before you shout at me about Oculus and A Dark Song (both amazing and watch them now), here are my lists for 2016 and 2017. Many of those gems are sadly not on Netflix anymore, but that’s no reason not to seek them out.

 

Away we go, and I hope you’re left completely terrified until next year.

Murder Party

Not only is Murder Party the first movie from excellent writer/director Jeremy Saulnier, who went on to make the nerve-squeezers Blue Ruin (2013) and Green Room (2015), it’s also tied for my favorite new horror discovery this year.

 

The plot of Murder Party is simple. A quiet, lonely man literally stumbles upon a mysterious invitation to a party on Halloween. Intrigued and with nothing better to do, he bakes some banana bread, constructs a knight costume out of cardboard and heads to the party—only to find out that it’s not the sort of party he expected at all.

 

What follows is a gruesome, gory and actually fun romp through the situation Saulnier sets up. It definitely has its amateur flaws and you can see the cracks through the acting and production value. But behind it all, there is genuine passion and joy in making a practical effects–filled nightmare of a party. Trust me on this one. It’s great.

Enemy

Next is a movie that has a really special place in my heart, an early one from Denis Villeneuve, the director behind Arrival (2016) and, most recently, Blade Runner 2046 (2017). It’s now streaming on Netflix. Now, it may not exactly fit the usual definition of a horror movie, but Enemy will still weird you the hell out and make you unsettled about what exactly it was that you just watched.


Enemy stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a bored, lost history professor. One day, this sad man sits sadly in his sad house watching a movie all alone and he catches sight of an extra in the background who looks exactly like him. What follows is a twisted story that wraps around its subjects in an increasingly claustrophobic way as borders are crossed, identities are questioned, kinks are explored and questions remain. The last shot is so bewildering and, in its own way, horrifying, that I have thought about it for years after watching it.

 

This is one of those movies that might leave many cold and annoyed that they waded into Enemy on my recommendation. Good for you for trying something new.

Creep 2

You can’t talk about modern entrepreneurial filmmakers without talking about Mark Duplass. Fortunately for all of us, he’s a big fan of horror films. He wet his whistle by co-writing 2008’s Baghead (not great), followed it up with 2012’s Black Rock (much better) and hit his stride in the genre with the 2014 film Creep (very, very good).

 

Though I trust Duplass more than I should, I still hit play on Creep 2 with just the slightest bit of trepidation. After all, the first Creep was such a complete and self-encapsulated movie, trying to milk more out of it seemed like a fool’s errand.


Well, please watch Creep 2 (preferably after you’ve watched the first one, also streaming on Netflix). It isn’t so much a continuation of the first movie as it is a very different type of movie with the same character and tone. It is a tense, taut, gaslighting movie that plays with expectations and form. Great acting from Duplass and a continually intriguing plot will leave you glued to the screen.

The Ritual

The Ritual is the other movie tied for my favorite, surprising discovery of this year. When four British friends head out for a backpacking trip in the deep forests of Scandinavia to commemorate their recently killed friend (The Descent, anyone?), you know things are going to get weird. And they do!


When they stumble into an old shed that appears to house an idol to worship an old, wild god, things take a decidedly pagan turn. And just when you think you’ve seen this type of movie before, it goes places deeper than you’ve probably ever seen. And if you have seen this, tell me where because I am a sucker for old gods and ancient religions.

The Boy

The Boy is another movie that subverts expectations in the best way possible. It begins as the already creepy story of a woman taking a nannying job only to discover that her charge is a porcelain doll of a boy meant to replace an older couple’s long-lost son. And it ends somewhere different.


While I hesitate to say this is a great movie, I am glad I watched it. I found it surprising and well done for what it was. Don’t think you have this movie all figured out when you press play, you may be wrong...

The Babysitter

The Babysitter is a bit of a quandary. It’s not a "good" movie, per se, but I still don’t hesitate in putting it on this list. It’s the story of a pubescent hetero boy getting the babysitter of his dreams, except for the whole demonic cult thing.


The Babysitter is heavily steeped in, and exaggerates, the tropes and exploitative impulses of so many horror movies that came before it. It’s very heavy on the gore, the sexuality, the violence… It’s aggressively a horror/comedy. A hormedy? And for that much, I’ll say it works as a fun celebration of horror past. This is certainly not a movie that will scare you, but it’s pretty enjoyable to watch.

As Above So Below

What if The Da Vinci Code were a horror movie? And, ya know, like, good? Then you’d have As Above So Below. It’s a shaky cam horror movie that explores the actual depths of the catacombs beneath Paris and doesn’t find anything good. I’ve long been an apologist for shaky cam movies and it’s films like this that prove me right.

 

I was alarmed when I researched it and saw that it only has 25 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It’d been a while since I watched it, so I checked it out again and can clearly say that those fools don’t know what they’re talking about. This is a solid movie.

Terrifier

So, um, my notes for Terrifier only read “Jesus Christ.” This film is not for the faint of heart. A very low-budget film about a murderous person dressed in a particularly disturbing clown outfit, Terrifier continually feels like it dares itself to be more graphic, more horrifying, more intense. And to that end, it is a big success.


Terrifier doesn’t earn any real points for plot, story or subtlety. Instead, it doubles down on how horrific it can make its death scenes. It wonders aloud, “What are the limits of practical effects???” And it answers that question very well. So, um, just know what you’re getting into.

Emilie

Emelie is a tricky one, and the weakest movie on this list. It starts off with a bang as a babysitter (side note: What is with babysitters and horror?) on her way to a job is suddenly replaced by a stranger. The first half of the movie unfolds in a truly fascinating spectacle. I loved the boundaries that it sought to push and was actually startled by some of the directions it took.

 

Unfortunately, the last third of the movie flaps limply into being as the reveal and resolution seem replicated from any number of previous horror films. All that said, I’m glad I watched it because the first half was so rich and upsetting.

Patchwork

Patchwork is another horror/comedy that surprised me. It’s an indie movie in which a woman goes out to celebrate her birthday and wakes up Frankensteined into a body with two other women. Together they unite (as much as they can) to unleash their fury on all the men that led them to their current position. It seems to have a lot of contemporary resonance until you see that the writers were both men. OK.


But while there are many flaws in Patchwork’s fabric, there's so much joy in this movie reveling in what it is. And for that, I recommend it.

Malevolent

Malevolent is yet another movie that surprises you with its treatment. Once again, you think you know where a movie about scamming ghost catchers taking on a big haunted house is going to end up. And much to its credit, Malevolent goes somewhere else.

 

While not the most original of movies, it handles its well-worn plot with extreme deftness. Where lesser horror movies would ramp up the score with the slightest hint of violence, Malevolent stays quiet and lets the images speak for themselves. It’s a weaker one on this list, but well worth watching.

Évolution

Oh ho, dear reader, I (and Netflix, I suppose) have one weird-ass gift left to give you. Évolution is the story of a boy living with this mother on a remote island. They are surrounded by other boys and their mothers as they live a primitive life in apparent seclusion. Things take a turn when the boy, while swimming in the sea, finds the body of a dead child. As he tries to explain what he saw, he mother grows defensive and he grows suspicious.


Évolution is a slow, atmospheric movie that gradually unleashes its nasty, dark secrets upon the watcher. It does this quietly and with deliberate unease. You will probably never truly know the answers to the questions that Évolution leaves you with, but you will most likely remain shook.