October is here, and aside from the annual return of pumpkin spice lattes, it's also the ideal time to watch horror movies ahead of Halloween. For many us, that means throwing on Netflix or Hulu and parsing through their vast libraries of content — some of which are less "Oscar contender" and more, well, Sharknado 2: The Second One.
But for eager binge-watchers seeking more than just a cheap scare or buckets of gore, Mic has parsed through the myriad horror films on Netflix and Hulu, ranging from the psychologically disturbing to the downright terrifying. Here are 15 of the best.
The Silence of the Lambs (Hulu)
Still the only horror movie to win an Oscar for best picture, The Silence of the Lambs has rightfully earned this distinction, thanks in large part to the terrifying, Oscar-winning performance of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. Hopkins achieves this with less than 20 minutes of screen time in the film, which is an impressive feat in and of itself.
But Lecter isn't the movie's only psychopath: Buffalo Bill is the target and primary antagonist for FBI agent Clarice Sterling. The third act, in which Sterling is pursued in the dark by the serial killer, will keep you on the edge of your seat; it's one of the many reasons that, 25 years later, The Silence of the Lambs is still considered one of the best the horror genre has to offer.
The Others (Hulu)
Those who've yet to see The Others may have already heard about the revelatory plot twist in the film's third act. However, knowing that it's coming doesn't take away from the premise, which will still provide viewers with ample unease: A mother (Nicole Kidman) and her two children believe their house is inhabited by spirits.
For repeat viewers of The Others can take in the subtle ways the film telegraphs its huge twist, which is fun in its own right (if not quite as scary).
American Psycho (Hulu)
More of a black comedy than a horror, American Psycho is still a must-watch film as a precursor to some memorable serial killers of TV and film — especially for fans of Dexter Morgan, of Showtime's Dexter. Christian Bale's portrayal of the titular psychopath, Patrick Bateman, comes packaged with several moments geared more toward eliciting disturbed chuckles — like when he's nervously looking at his peers' business cards — but his prevailing torture and murder is still inherently unsettling to watch.
The Blair Witch Project (Hulu)
The Blair Witch Project had historically impressive financial success for its meager budget, and its "found footage" style produced a plethora of copycats in the horror genre (some good, some bad and some unfortunate Blair Witch sequels).
However, the original Blair Witch still stands out of the pack for its slow-building terror — and its controversial ending, which most found either terrifying or underwhelming.
The Babadook (Netflix)
Some of the best horror films have an underlying theme amid the on-screen terror — The Babadook's is particularly prescient: It's about the grief of losing a loved one. The film centers on a mother and son's changes in behavior and demeanor following the tragic, untimely death of their husband/father.
Their grief is manifested in the form of a monster from a children's book: the Babadook, which slowly possesses the mother. Although, in hindsight, perhaps they shouldn't have picked up the creepy-looking book with the foreboding refrain: "If it's in a word, or it's in a look, you can't get rid of the Babadook."
The Gift (Hulu)
The Gift messes with viewers' heads, and it does so gleefully. A married couple moves back to the husband's home town, where an old friend from his childhood is eager to catch up on lost time. Though it's mostly a psychological thriller, a shower scene in the film's early suspenseful build is a surefire jump-scare (thanks, director and star Joel Edgerton).
The rest of The Gift, meanwhile, leads up to the titular gift delivered to the couple, and its concept will be hard to erase from viewers' mind after the credits roll.
One of the few good "found footage" horror films to come after The Blair Witch Project, those who can withstand its potentially nauseating shaky-cam style will leave satisfied with Cloverfield. Audiences see a monstrous attack on New York City through the perspective of a handful of friends in the city, especially one kid (T.J. Miller, of all people) who's insistent on filming the chaos throughout.
Moreover, anyone who's terrified of bugs (and in this case, the alien-like variety) will get more frights than the average viewer.
This little-known thriller from little-known director Steven Spielberg is available on Netflix — as are its three less-than-impressive follow-ups. The concept is simple: A great white shark is terrorizing a coastal tourist town, prompting a manhunt that goes about as well as you might expect.
Plus, a booming score from John Williams is always cause for celebration. Rewatch Jaws for the nostalgia — and if you've never seen it, what are you waiting for? Just don't expect to go for a swim soon after.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Netflix)
In the not-so-crowded subgenre of "Iranian Vampire Romance-Thriller," A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is gorgeously captured in black and white, with splashes of red mostly for — you guessed it — blood. The visuals are captivating in other ways, too: The vampire's garb envelops her legs, so when she stalks her prey it looks like she's floating in the air.
It's not conventional horror, but it's a must-watch indie flick.
The home invasion horror trope gets a layer of intrigue in Hush, because the solitary victim living in the middle of the woods is deaf and nonverbal, making her predicament all the more horrifying when a killer appears at her door in a white mask.
Suggestion: Watch it in a group.
The Invitation (Netflix)
An awkward dinner party pales in comparison to the seemingly mortal danger of The Invitation, which centers on an old group of friends gathered together for dinner. At the center of the dinner is a divorced couple, each of whom has different methods for coping with the tragic loss of their son.
The wife joined a cult called "The Invitation" to work through her grief and, well, it may not be the best practice — as evidenced by the pulsating final act.
The Descent (Hulu)
What's just as refreshing as the unique premise of spelunking gone wrong in The Descent is its all-female cast of protagonists. The chemistry between the friends — who find themselves trapped in an underground cave system — adds an emotional layer to the slow-building reveal of what's hunting them in the caverns.
Ryan Reynolds being trapped in a coffin for 90-plus minutes is a lot better than you'd expect.
The Awakening (Netflix)
Hey, Game of Thrones fans: You can check out a young Isaac Hempstead-Wright, aka Bran Stark, as one of the boys at a boarding school that's haunted.
Without giving away too much, The Awakening subtly telegraphs an important twist in how the haunting centers around its ghost-hunting protagonist — who has a deeper history with the school and its inhabitants than initially expected.
The right balance in horror-comedies is hard to achieve, and the New Zealand film Housebound is a rare case that works. A disgruntled young woman is assigned a court order to spend her probation at her mother's house. Not only do they not get along at all, but the mother casually intones that the house has become haunted.
Obviously, the daughter is skeptical, but it's not long before she's convinced and decides she must do something to stop it. After all, she's legally unable to leave the place.