Each month, we’re recommending five recent horror movies available to stream. Find more genre suggestions and other ways to navigate the streaming services at What to Watch.
Stream it on Shudder.
“Son” starts with a doozy of a scene: Laura (Andi Matichak), a single mom, goes to check on her sleeping 8-year-old son David (Luke David Blumm). What she finds is a room full of strangers surrounding David in his bed. The door slams shut, and Laura goes for help. She returns, and the strangers are gone. David is alive but limp, and bloodthirsty. (Kudos to Blumm for a dynamo performance as a cuddly kid and a corpse muncher.)
Laura later reveals to Paul (Emile Hirsch), the investigator assigned to figure out what happened, that the bizarre satanic sex cult she escaped from was behind the home invasion. He believes her. But should we? As questions pile up, so do doubts. Is Laura a victim or a threat?
All horror movies are about trauma, but I don’t think I’ve seen a horror movie that navigates trauma and its consequences — mental, sexual, spiritual — as shrewdly and sensitively as the writer and director Ivan Kavanagh does in his film. The twists are knockouts. But be warned (or encouraged): This one’s not for the squeamish.
Rent it on virtual cinemas.
Abdelhamid Bouchnak’s debut narrative feature is a rarity: a horror film from the Arab world, in this case Tunisia. For horror fans, that’s reason enough to stream it. What’s more: It’s also creepy as all get out.
The film begins as journalism students Yassmine (Yassmine Dimassi), Walid (Aziz Jebali) and Bilel (Bilel Slatnia), as part of a class assignment, interview Mongia (Hela Ayed), a woman who’s been institutionalized after being found near death in the wild over 20 years ago. The students leave after Mongia tries to attack them, singling out Yassmine.
Intrigued by Mongia’s story, they travel to the remote village where she was found. There they meet Saber (Hedi Mejri), a man with a too-big smile who invites them to stay the night with the goats, silent women and strange child he lives with. What happens next won’t surprise horror fans. (It turns out young people don’t get phone signals in the woods of Tunisia either.)
But “Dachra” is nonetheless a fascinating international horror story, thanks to its particular location, its languages (Arabic and French) and a title card that says in North Africa, “hundreds of children are victims of acts of witchcraft.” There are also touches of comedy that turn out to have deadly serious consequences in the end.
‘A Classic Horror Story’
Stream it on Netflix.
I knew nothing about this film by Roberto De Feo and Paolo Strippoli before I watching it, so I was disappointed that it starts with a been-there, done-that yawn. A group of people travel in an R.V. to Calabria in southern Italy. Their vehicle crashes, and they’re stranded. There’s only a strange star-shaped house nearby, and a sense that something is watching them.
From there the film samples horror genres the way I sampled free kielbasa at the Pick-n-Pay as a kid. From my notes: “torture porn, human sacrifice, found footage, giallo, ‘Texas Chainsaw,’ demonic summoning, cabin in the woods, survival, ‘Midsommar’ cult rituals, mafia???” One character knew it, too. “There are severed heads and pictures of crazy farmers,” he says. “We’re isolated. Our cellphones don’t work.”
But then comes a major twist that borrows from another horror genre, the revenge film, and that’s when I realized there’s a point to the pastiche and the stomach-churning violence. I don’t want to say more, other than this meta movie is far smarter, and scarier, than its first hour suggests. Stick with it.
Stream it on Shudder.
I don’t think I’ve ever laughed out loud at a horror comedy. But I did — at one point gagging on a Dorito — as I watched Cody Calahan’s scrappy Canadian slasher about a smarty pants horror movie critic who unwittingly gets sucked into the drama at a self-help group for serial killers. Among the attendees is Bob (Ari Millen), a Patrick Bateman type, and Carrie (Amber Goldfarb), a slick murderess whose secret fuels the film’s blood-drenched action.
Most of the credit for almost choking me goes to Evan Marsh, the goofball actor who plays Joel, the writer for a Fangoria-like horror magazine. Marsh oozes Jonathan Groff-style, aw-shucks charm, and he’s a natural with cornball physical gags and goofball delivery. It’s a winsome combination that brought to mind what a fellow Canadian funnyman, John Candy, might have done when faced with an evil clown clutching a syringe.
That’s good, because Marsh’s turn counteracts the otherwise cartoony performances that stand in the way of fleshing out this indie movie’s nifty, ’80s-inspired premise.
‘The Empty Man’
Stream it on HBO Max.
According to legend, here’s how to summon the Empty Man: Go to a bridge after dark, and if you find a bottle, blow into it and think about him. He’ll eventually find you, and get you.
After a group of high schoolers do just that, they unleash a force that terrorizes a former cop (James Badge Dale) and his neighbor (Marin Ireland), whose daughter goes missing after, you guessed it, summoning the Empty Man. A bizarre cult of Empty Man disciples is giddy about what they hope will be chaos to come.
Made in 2017, David Prior’s “Empty Man” opened to empty theaters in October.
When it became available on demand in January, the big-budget film found fawning fans — “The Great Cult Movie of 2020” screamed one headline — but also bored skeptics.
Now that it’s streaming, the film, loosely based on the graphic novel of the same name, is worth a watch even though it clocks in at a too-long 137 minutes. It will be a treat for fans who want to spend a night with a tub of popcorn watching an atmospheric horror movie that burns as slowly as a candle the size of a tub of popcorn. The terrifying back story in the first 30 minutes is its own extra-creepy short film.
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