Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute
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Every streaming service has a glut of options for your viewing needs, and Vulture is doing its part to help you find the signals among the noise. Just as we try to keep abreast of the top horror-movie options on Netflix, so too do we want to curate a best-of-the-best list for other platforms. In this case: Hulu. Here are the 40 best titles available to you right now for your art-house-horror and simple-jump-scare needs.
Anna and the Apocalypse not only has zombies, it has musical numbers and friendship and coming-of-age drama that follows the titular Anna (Dickinson star Ella Hunt) and a handful of her high-school classmates as they try to survive an onslaught of the undead. See also: large lawn candy canes used as bludgeoning instruments.
Justin Simien surprised fans by following up his social satire Dear White People with a very different kind of film in this ‘80s-set movie about a killer hair weave. (Yes, you read that right.) Newcomer Elle Lorraine plays a young woman who works at a MTV-esque music channel and rises the ladder of fame after her amazing new weave helps eliminate her enemies. It’s a unique, vibrant piece of filmmaking.
This Joss Whedon–penned meta-horror-comedy was one of those olive-branch extending scary movies that made wider audiences realize how smart and varied the genre could be. A group of friends take a vacation to a secluded cabin, and everything that can go wrong — and has gone wrong in slasher movies for decades — does go wrong for our attractive, overwhelmed 20-somethings. Huge bonus points for the pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth.
This creepy-kid classic follows a 20-something couple on a cross-country move who get hung up in a tiny midwestern town that is suspiciously devoid of adults. John Franklin gives an all-time horror performance as the child preacher and cult leader Isaac Chroner, whipping his young peers into a murderous frenzy in the name of He Who Walks Behind the Rows. If you’re feeling something aggressively ’80s, join Linda Hamilton for this road trip gone wrong.
Alexandre Aja directed this razor-sharp 2019 film about a father and daughter trapped in a basement as flood waters rise during a hurricane. Oh, and they just happen to be being hunted by alligators. A combination of disaster flick and monster flick tropes, Aja’s film is a delight from start to finish. There’s not an ounce of fat on this one.
This entry in Hulu’s Into the Dark anthology series is one of its strongest chapters to date. Up-and-coming feature director Gigi Saul Guerrero helmed this story about a pregnant woman who gets swept up by a nefarious U.S. government operation while trying to cross the border from Mexico to the United States. Horror legend Barbara Crampton co-stars as an evil emissary of the American Dream in this immigration nightmare.
David Cronenberg and Stephen King joined forces on the 1983 classic, one of the best adaptations of the master of literary horror. Christopher Walken stars as a normal guy who discovers he has psychic powers, which lead him to a senator who could destroy the world. It’s a smart, tight piece of genre filmmaking by one of the best horror directors of all time.
This possession-horror film is set at a Catholic asylum for women in Northern Ireland and follows a pair of priests dispatched by the Vatican to investigate reports of a Virgin Mary statue that weeps blood. It turns out, though, that the crying plaster isn’t nearly as scary as the brutal nuns in residence or what they have chained up in the basement.
Larry Fassenden is a prolific creator of genre content, having written, directed, produced, and performed in films for decades. One of his strongest recent efforts is last year’s Depraved, a modern retelling of Frankenstein that he wrote and directed. A maniac scientist funded by a shady backer is picking up men off the street and harvesting them for parts; he finds his biggest success making aggregate humans in the one he names Adam. But what happens when the “monster” develops a mind of its own?
Sean Byrne wrote and directed this excellent 2015 slow burn about two men who hear voices. One, played by Pruitt Taylor Vince, commits horrible murders after doing so. Another, played by Ethan Embry, seems to be overtaken by a spirit as he paints his art in the same house. The two paths intersect after the killer tries to find his way home. It’s a great genre movie that came out just before the recent horror renaissance. It would be huge in 2020.
The Hughes Brothers directed this adaptation of the masterful graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. It stars Johnny Depp as the troubled Frederick Abberline, the lead investigator in the case of Jack the Ripper, the most notorious serial killer of all time. It also stars Heather Graham, Ian Holm, and Robbie Coltrane, but it’s most notable for its atmosphere of impending dread and lavish period design.
No, not the one with the talking snowman. This is a very different film, a 2010 survival thriller directed by Adam Green. Emma Bell, Shawn Ashmore, and Kevin Zegers star as three college students who go on a ski trip and get stuck on a chair lift that’s shut down while they’re still on the mountain. Can they get down before they freeze to death? And what about the wolves?
This movie is what its title advertises: a set of three spooky tales connected by a man who’s investigating the paranormal merits of each one. And it’s really scary! There’s a night watchman encountering a ghost on the job, a disturbed young man traumatized by an accident in the woods near his house, and a wealthy man terrorized by the spirit of his unborn child. A classic collection of scares based on the play of the same name.
Clive Barker’s original Hellraiser is outstanding, but the Tony Randel–directed sequel, which takes us into the depths of the underworld and has even meatier parts for heroine Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) and evil incarnate Julia (Clare Higgins), may be even better. Reopen the Lament Configuration and follow the cenobites into their palace of pleasure and pain.
One of the best things about Bong Joon-ho winning multiple Oscar for his brilliant Parasite (also on Hulu) is the exposure likely led more people to his other works, including this wonderful film, one of the best monster movies ever made. In fact, this story of a creature in the Han River also stars the leading man from Parasite, the wonderful Song Kang-ho. It’s a gorgeous piece of work that really put Bong on the map worldwide.
In this South Korean erotic thriller, a poor young woman is hired as a nanny and live-in housekeeper for a wealthy family. But when the family’s scoundrel of a patriarch sets his sights on her, the fringe benefits of staying in a lavish home and eating fancy leftovers lose their luster.
If you love the idea of extreme haunts but can’t bring yourself to participate in one, just check into The Houses October Built. A group of friends set out to find the most terrifying underground haunted houses around, but along the way they pick up a doll-faced stalker who portends certain peril. No need to search anymore. The haunt has found them.
This taut thriller centers on a seemingly disturbed man whose estranged brother shows up at his house hoping they can reconnect. But the man is a little bit busy at the moment, seeing as how he is certain he has Satan himself trapped in his basement. What starts as an apparent delusion becomes a frighteningly real possibility as the imprisoned basement dweller beckons to be set free. Would you really open that door if you were even a little worried that the devil was waiting on the other side?
Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish vampire movie is one of the best horror flicks of the new millennium, a film that feels like it’s really influenced the current wave of personal, “elevated” horror films that are currently so popular. A 12-year-old boy becomes friends with a young girl in a Stockholm suburb in the ‘80s and finds out she may not be exactly what she seems. Haunting and unforgettable.
Teresa Palmer stars in this 2016 film based on the short of the same name that became a stunning box office hit, making over $140 million on a budget under $5 million. Audiences were drawn to the story of Rebecca Wells, who gets drawn into the story of a sinister force that seems to be killing people when the lights go out. An allegory for depression and mental illness, the film doesn’t handle that serious subject matter with the most grace but it has some undeniably powerful set pieces.
Little Monsters writer and director Abe Forsythe threw up a Hail Mary when he attempted to cast Lupita Nyong’o for this zombie comedy set at a children’s theme park — and it paid off. Nyong’o stars as a kindergarten teacher saddled with both the ne’er-do-well uncle of one of her students and a sociopathic kids’-show star played by Josh Gad. They’re all trying to get out of Playland alive while protecting the kids from the gory truth of what’s happening around them.
Riley Keough stars in this terrifying Sundance hit that made a quick jump from theaters in early 2020 to Hulu. Keough plays the fiancé of a man with two kids who aren’t exactly looking for a stepmother. At a frozen lodge retreat, new mom’s past experience with a death cult comes to the fore and things get really creepy. Don’t miss this one.
Half of the directing duo that brought you the movie Crank made this bloody black comedy about a global contagion that infects only parents and drives them to kill their kids. Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair star as two of the infanticidal maniacs trying to wipe out their own children, and it is an insane good time.
Beloved actor Anton Yelchin stars in this adaptation of the Dean Koontz novel of the same name, playing a fry cook with the unique ability to see the dead. When a stranger arrives in his small town and brings a mess of evil spirits with him, it’s up to Odd, his girlfriend, and the town sheriff to stop certain destruction. Always a good choice when you’re missing the dearly departed Yelchin.
The wave of films about children with evil intent reached one of its peaks in this 1976 horror flick that recast the beloved Gregory Peck in a role in which most audiences weren’t accustomed to seeing him. He’s the father of Damien Thorn, a child who may actually be the spawn of the devil. Directed by Richard Donner, this is a taut, smartly made supernatural thriller.
There’s a nightmarish quality to The Other Lamb, a 2019 festival hit from IFC Midnight. It may tell a relatively familiar story of cult life, but it does so with the visual language of a dream, anchored by great performances from Raffey Cassidy and Michiel Huisman, who plays the abusive leader of a cult from which the film’s protagonist ultimately rebels. Taut and surreal, it’s another great example of Hulu picking up smaller, relatively unseen recent releases and giving them a second life.
J.J. Abrams produced this alt-programming war movie about a group of American soldiers who infiltrate a Nazi base and find the Reich has been working on a freaky-ass research program to create medically enhanced super-soldiers who are basically ultra-aggressive Nazi zombies. Pilou Asbæk goes full raging scumbag as the evil Captain Wafner.
It’s crazy that a little indie ghost story released in 2007 would go on to produce five sequels and still show signs of life today. Near the peak of the fame of this franchise, Jason Blum and company released the most critically acclaimed sequel in the series — which is actually a prequel to the activity of the first film. It follows all of the same structure, telling its story through cameras, but it has some of the most effective jump scares in the series.
When a group of nerds get invited to pledge an exclusive campus club, they don’t expect the days-long hazing rituals to turn so bloody, or maybe even fatal. This one’s for fans who have been missing that touch of torture in their horror.
The twisted apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree for Brandon Cronenberg, who picks up the mantle of body horror from his father David with this, his best work to date. It stars Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Sean Bean, and Jennifer Jason Leigh in a vision of a world in which people can literally possess other bodies, leading them to do things they will never remember. This is not for the faint of heart, and the version on Hulu is the notoriously “Uncut” one.
One of the indie-horror gems of 2018, Pyewacket tells the story of a teen girl grieving her father who makes a very bad choice to summon a demon in the woods while doing some classic angry teen dabbling in the occult. Young Leah is pissed at her mom, so she decides to curse her with a blood ritual but quickly realizes the consequences will be dire.
One of the great holiday horror movies of all time, Rare Exports is a Finnish film about a mountain-dwelling family that lives perilously close to a shocking new discovery: the tomb of Santa Claus. But in this case, we mean a dark fairy-tale Santa who sends hordes of his evil minions, in the form of naked old men, to wreak havoc on the landscape. Reindeer are being slaughtered. Children are going missing. And little Pietari has to figure out why before Santa is free to fully raise hell.
Neasa Hardiman wrote and directed this 2019 waterbound thriller about … something found under the surface by a fishing trawler. With echoes of The Thing, the claustrophobia and paranoia become just as dangerous as whatever this crew has discovered. It stars Hermione Corfield, Dougray Scott, and Connie Nielsen, and is the kind of indie horror project almost guaranteed to develop a following via word of mouth. Get on the bandwagon now.
Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson don’t make traditional horror films. The directors of The Endless and Synchronic wrote and directed this masterful romantic drama, which (bear with us here) kind of plays out like Before Sunrise reimagined by H.P. Lovecraft.
Owen Campbell and Charlie Tahan star in this little-seen 2017 thriller about a horrible accident and what it does to two of the kids involved. Four teen boys are just being dumb teen boys when they find a katana in the belongings of one of the kids’ brother. They do what dumb kids do, taking it to the park and slicing up milk cartons, but things turn tragic when a fight erupts. A hidden body and intense guilt turn what starts as a coming-of-age piece into something much darker. This is smart, engaging storytelling.
When a small town is shocked into a state of terror by a killer on the loose, a pair of bored high-school best friends decide to capitalize on the tragedies and parlay their close encounter into social-media stardom. But when the murderer goes AWOL, the girls are left with no choice but to keep the bodies hitting the floor to keep themselves close to the headlines. Sandbox love, as we know, is a most powerful force.
Hulu is one of the best streaming services when it comes to recent indie films that may have slipped under your radar. Take this independent horror film that barely made any waves in its 2020 VOD release; it feels destined for cult status. The premise is too good: a group of friends wakes up with suicide vests on their chests with timers. The only way to get more time? Kill each other.
Bill Skarsgard and Maika Monroe star in this SXSW hit as a young couple who break into the home of a seemingly average American family only to discover there’s nothing normal at all about these people. Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgwick are excellent as a vision of Norman Rockwell by way of David Lynch. This is the kind of film that people will discover over the next few years. Get on the bandwagon early.
This Spanish film features a family dealing with the sudden death of the father, which, in addition to being sad, leaves them without someone to fill his patriarchal duty of procuring people for them to eat. (He is also the primary source of income as a watch repairman, but it’s the human hunting that’s harder to replace.) The eldest son seems poised to succeed his father, but will the family starve, be ripped apart, or be found out before they can find a new equilibrium?
The impressive trio of Armie Hammer, Zazie Beetz, and Dakota Johnson lead this head-tripping body horror from director Babak Anvari. Hammer’s character is a bartender existing in a state of arrested development at his New Orleans watering hole, where he flirts with one of his best friends (Beetz) and kind of phones it in with his live-in girlfriend (Johnson). But his coasting existence is destroyed when someone drops a cell phone in his bar and he finds a twisted video on it that ruins his life.
Quickly turned around from theaters to Hulu as a part of the streamer’s deal with IFC, this flick is basically Fright Night but with witches. The Pierce Brothers wrote and directed this story of a teenager who becomes convinced that the strange happenings next door are due to witchcraft. Funny trivia: Because nothing else was out when the film was released in theaters during Covid-19, The Wretched was technically No. 1 at the box office for six weeks, the first movie to do that since Avatar.
Horror has long been accused of being a boy’s club, which made this 2017 anthology film all the more refreshing in that it features four short films and a framing device, all directed by women. Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent), Roxanne Benjamin, and Karyn Kusama collaborated on the Sundance hit. Like all anthology films, it’s hit and miss, but more often the former.
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