Can you sing Freddy’s Lullaby by heart? Could you open Pinhead’s Lament Configuration blindfolded? Do you go into each new building appraising it for strengths and weakness for when the dead begin to walk the earth and feast on the living? Then this is the article for you.
We horror fans love our classics, but finding new ones can be maddening. There is an ocean of cinematic blood and guts out there, and most of it is garbage. So, we at WGN decided to take one for the team. We picked a handful of lesser known horror movies streaming on Amazon and watched them to tell you whats worth your time and what isn’t. (you can read our article for Netflix movies here)
Amazon has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to horror. There is so much, it’s hard to even know where to start. Seriously, Amazon has the single best horror selection streaming at this moment. Or, at least the largest.
We admit, a lot of it isn’t good. Though, you can extend and improve the selection with a subscription to Shudder for just a few bucks more (you can read our thoughts on that service here.) While Amazon is lacking in some of the bigger name titles that Netflix or Hulu has, it does have some old classics, and a fair amount of good indies and mid range horror films hiding in its ranks.
If you need to brush up on your classics, we have a list at the bottom of the big name horror movies streaming on Amazon right now.
As a rule of thumb using mental illness as a plot device in a horror movie isn’t just lazy, it’s kind of a dick move. Occasionally though, it’s pulled off well enough to work. The Canal plays with the well worn trope of ‘Is it mental illness or is it really monsters’ and pulls it off by the skin of its teeth. While not a great movie, it has some extremely clever and effective scenes.
Rupert Evans (Hellboy, The Man in the High Castle) plays David, a film archivist whose domestic life is starting to fall apart. And after learning about a series of grisly murders that have taken place in his home, his sanity begins to crumble as well. David’s life soon spirals out of control as he is convinced that a demonic force is hunting him and his family.
The film constantly volleys back and forth between the cause of David’s woes being mental demons and literal one. Every time David, and consequently the audience, is convinced it’s one writer and director Ivan Kavanagh gives us a reason to consider the other. The mood is somber, the events depressing, and the creatures that haunt David and his family are both wonderfully imagined and unnervingly grotesque. The Canal is by no means thrilling and offers up few scares. Its horror is derived from a bleak, unrelenting, sense of torture and madness that is captured on film beautify. While, by no means a classic, The Canal is a worthy effort in the genre and surly not for the faint of heart.
We are Still Here
This throw back to 1970’s ghost stories was a surprising treat. Staring soap and scream queen Barbara Crampton, We Are Still Here is an effective homage that retains plenty of surprises.
After the death of their son Anne (Crampton) and Paul (Andrew Sensenig) move to a secluded home in wintry New England. Anne begins to think the spirit of their son has followed them to the home. She invites her friend -Mary(horror alum Lisa Marie) a spiritualist and her husband Jacob (writer. Director, actor, and all around horror aficionado Larry Fessenden) to do a seance. The by play between the couples is excellent. The dialogue here captures some great character moments. The juxtaposition between conservative Paul/Anne and flaky liberal Mary/Jacob is well done.
The look, feel, and score are classic 70’s horror. Writer and director Ted Geoghegan absolutely nails these components. He is also wise enough to be beholden to them. Early on the movie threatens to devolve into a cliched last man standing killing spree more typical of 80’s teen slashers. But, that quickly changes as writer and director Ted Geoghegan throws in some creative developments. What could have easily been a run of the mill ghost story is kept alive by some fresh ideas and modern takes on horror.
Special effects are surprisingly good and the editing and cinematography are solid. The only issue was the oddly cheap end credits. Filled with bits of exposition and fun details in the form of old newspapers, the credits have an old timey film scratch effect that looks like a cheap preset and a free video editing software. I’m clearly nit picking but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it bugged the hell out of me.
Not destined to be a classic but a great selection. This is an easy recommendation to any horror fan.
Watch if you like: The Changeling, The Amythiville Horror, Poltergeist, The Woman in Black
A group of documentary film makers receive a postcard from an old friend who has joined a cult. All he is asking if for the filmmakers to come to the cult’s home in the desert to film them. As soon as the filmmakers get to the desert things the learn there is more to the story than they first suspected.
The Triangle has some absolutely fantastic cinematography. It is well beyond what the genre normally gets. The score too is extremely well done and very fitting. The film looks and feels like a modern documentary. The actors really throw themselves into their roles and it is easy to forget you are watching a mockumentary. Partly because nothing really scary happens.
Found footage can be a great genre but it always loses some suspension of disbelief when the horror starts. Who would release that footage!? The Triangle never crosses that line and is poorer for it. The movie breaks one of the most important rules of storytelling “Show, don’t tell” The characters constantly tell us their is some animosity from the cult/commune towards the documentary makers but we rarely see it. There is a big secret that some of the higher ups in the cult are keeping secret, but there’s little intrigue there. The movie squanders any opportunity for tension and suspense. And when we do get around to the big secret it’s kind of interesting but largely just a big let down.
Beautifully shot, well scored, wonderfully acted, and surprisingly dull. I want to recommend this because it has so many good qualities, but ultimately the film goes nowhere interesting. Even once the mystery has been revealed its a bit rough around the edges. A bit of polish to the concept and some intrigue and drama put into the movie would have elevated this considerably.
Watch if you like: Modern documentaries, The Endless, sci-fi horror, watching paint dry (Sorry I’m a bit bitter. This film had so much going for it)
Let Us Prey
Liam Cunningham is always great even when the work he’s in isn’t. While, Let us Prey isn’t a classic, it is elevated greatly by the Game of Thrones star. Cunningham plays Six, a mysterious drifter who is detained by police in a small town. Once inside the station it becomes clear Six is the one running the show. As he starts spouting scripture and
The set ups for each twist can be seen a mile away. They payoffs, while fun, offer absolutely no surprises. As we said before Cunningham is great, the rest of the cast is good at best and serviceable at worst. The “mystery” surrounding Six is such a common horror trope you have to question why writers Fiona Watson, David Cairns decided to frame it as a mystery. Coming at it straightforward would have given them the opportunity to take an old idea and make it fresh and exciting. Instead, the movie is enjoyable but in no way ground breaking.
The movie is predictable , probably forgettable, but fun. If you’re wanting a rock solid classic that will haunt your dreams for nights to come, keep looking. But if you just want to kill some time with some horror fun, Let Us Prey is a solid choice.
Late Phases is very self-contained intimate character piece. The movie gets high marks for taking a premise that should be utterly, ridiculously, stupid and yet churns out a great take on the werewolf mythology.
Nick Demici (here channeling classic tough guys like Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood with surprising deft) plays the gruff Ambrose McKinley; a blind war veteran who does not suffer fools lightly. After a life of strained familial relationships Ambrose’s son (played by the often welcome Ethan Embry) somewhat unceremoniously places his father in a retirement community. On his first night there Ambrose’s neighbor is ripped apart by a werewolf. Instead of idly waiting around for the creature to make a meal of him during the next full moon, Ambrose spends the next month preparing. What follows is equal part character study of a man coming to terms with the choices he’s made and a solid werewolf mystery.
It would be silly to expect that a movie about a blind man fighting werewolves to not stretch our suspension of disbelief to the breaking point, but Late Phases isn’t egregious about it. This is largely due to the superb performance by Demici and great supporting characters who never outstay their welcome, and always add to the overall story. There are no real surprise in the movie beyond the quality of the film itself. The revelation of the werewolf and the culminating events are pretty predictable. And with a concept that is laughably bad, the movie should not have worked at all. But it does, exceedingly so, and it is well worth your time.
Watch if you like: The Howling, Silver Bullet, Dog Soldiers, Stake Land
Hell House LLC
Found Footage can be a bit devices among horror fans. Some (like myself) find the “in the moment” perspective to be visceral and engaging. Others (i.e people who are wrong) think the shaky camera is annoying, and the minimalist approach boring and uninspired. But let’s not focus on those misguided souls and their clearly wrong opinion. When done right found footage can be amazing (it is, however, difficult to do well, and most of it is derivative rubbish ) Hell House gets a lot more right than it gets wrong.
Hell House LLC is a mockumentary about a disaster at a Halloween haunted house that results in the death of 15 tour goers and the staff. Shortly after, law enforcement agencies crack down with silence and gag orders. Conspiracy theories run amok about what really went on that night. A documentary film crew attempts to unravel the mystery of Hell House.
The first half of the movie is a convincing mock up of a documentary; interviews journalists, experts, and examines YouTube footage from opening night. The films takes a dramatic turn when the investigative team catches a massive break. One survivor, believed dead, shows up with footage from the nights leading up to and through the event.
The mockumentary style allows for exposition and foreshadowing to occur without being too clunky and hokey. At the same time the nature of the story becomes too horrific to believe the style would be used. A bit more ambiguity (especially in the last 10 minutes or so) would have greatly improved this film. That said, is effective at eliciting both laughs and scares. The characters, while not always likable, are well developed. This makes the movie enjoyable to sit though even if you don’t find it creepy. Simply put, this movie manages to do a lot with a clearly limited budget. This is easily one of the better found footage films and is highly recommended to anyone enough good taste to enjoy this sub-genre.
Watch if you like: Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity, Baskin
The inhabitants of a small fishing community of the coast of Maine become stranded on the island when the ferry suddenly stops coming. With no boats coming in and no boats successfully getting out, people begin to suspect that something dangerous is lurking beyond the foggy shore.
The movie wisely spends most of its time developing characters and non supernatural drama. It’s hard not to make a comparison to Stephen King’s work given the setting and the character centered approach. And it’s not surprising really as the script was written by another successful novelist Tess Gerritsen(and mother to the director Josh Gerritsen). Tess Gerritsen is responsible for the Rizzoli & Isles series of books.
Island Zero is a master class at low budget film-making and getting the most bang for your buck. Shot on location with relatively unknown but competent actors in the lead, Island Zero fills the rest of its roles with local Maine actors. According to IMDb many of these actors had never been in a movie before. Surprisingly, it doesn’t show. The character actors do a solid job and nail the accents and mannerism. This adds a feeling of realism to the movie (even if some actors weren’t always up to snuff to the bigger emotional scenes)
The score is simple but effective. The special effects are almost non existent in order to save money. It seems that much of the budget went towards cinematography and basic filming equipment. Which is brilliant. The film looks and feels more professional and competent that most indie horror.
I was surprised at its low rating on IMDb, until I got to the third act. The movie takes on a surprising sci-fi flavor in the end. Sadly, neither the writer nor the actors seem to know how to handle the change. It’s not bad per se, just not as good as the rest of the movie. One can’t help but wonder if a few more revisions could have turned this movie into an out right gem. Still, if you like monster movies and don’t mind a low budget production Island Zero is nice little film.
Watch if you enjoy: Storm of the Century, Jaws, The Abyss, The Thing.
Rising development star Claire (Katherine Taylor) is charged with scouting property on the island of Saipan. After her team (Justin Gordon and Matthew Edward Hegstrom), along with an unscrupulous salesman Alan (Simon Philips) and his employee Pepe (Shawn Sprawling) discover an old bunker dating back to ww2. The bunker is home to an dark and sinister mystery.
The movie starts off brilliantly. There is a sacrificial ritual performed by natives resulting in the removal of a mans face and him being buried alive. No gore porn here, just a disturbing concepts done with moderate taste. And then things quickly go to pot. We get a “wonderful” cameo from Lance Henrickson who almost literally phones the performance in (no hate on our part, I hope he got payed well. The man deserves more paychecks than he’s gotten, I’m sure.) After which, we are introduced to our protagonists. The acting is – functional – for the most part. The script, however, is not. Character development is delivered in clunky, cringe inducing lines. The comic relief coming from the subservience and “ignorance” of the only person of color in the group feels a bit icky with hints of tone deaf racism.
The plot is for the most part, intriguing. It’s a shame that writer, director, and special effects artist Hiroshi Katagiri didn’t spend more time developing it. The twist and nature of the story becomes evident almost immediately. What could have been a gripping and brutally tense horror movie is just tedious. The lighting and directing is lack luster. For being a haunted bunker, it is incredibly well lit. Some more creative lighting and post production color grading could have added some much needed atmosphere to this movie. The special effects are pretty great at times. Doug Jones makes an almost blink and you’ll miss it cameo in some wonderful make up.
I didn’t actively despise Gehenna, but I would be hesitant to recommend it to anyone. It’s a low budget horror movie that wasn’t ready to go into production. The listing of Henriskson and Jones is the kind of promotional stunts that I hate. Being tricked into a movie is insulting to say the least.
Watch if you enjoy: I honestly can’t give this any recommendations.
The Green Room
Not technically horror but Amazon put it there. I for one am glad they did. While much more of a thriller fans of the genre are going to dig this. The Green Room is simple, tense and flat out terrific. After a gig goes bust punk band The Ain’t Rights take a gig playing in rural Oregon. The crowed is a mix of neo-nazi’s and hillbilly punks. Soon the four punks, played by Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) Joe Cole (Peaky Blinders) Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) and Callum Turner, find themselves on the wrong side of a local dispute. The are forced to fight for their survival as the ruthless bar owner, played by Patrick Stewart (seriously if I have to tell you what he’s been in your probably on the wrong site), seeks to destroy them.
This movie is great from start to finish. The writing, the directing, the cinematography, the score, the soundtrack, the acting, all of it is just top notch. The depiction of the punk scene is kept pretty grounded. The gore is pretty stark and brutal, but not gratuitous. The self contained story keeps the pacing and the intensity going at a blistering pace. This movie is yet another reminder of how tragic the loss of Anton Yelchin really was.
Patrick Stewart is fantastic as the villain. The sense of fatherly leadership he provides in Star Trek and the X-Men franchises is present. It makes his roll as a leader of a Neo-Nazi movement believable. You can see bits of Picard here and there but, there is a sense of seething anger always under the surface that sets it apart. Its a great performance, even if hearing Professor X say the n-word made me a little uncomfortable.
Do not skip this movie. Even though it is not totally horror, you are going to want to see this movie.
Watch if you like: Halloween, The Decent, The Strangers, tense thrillers.
We Are What We Are.
If you don’t know the names Nick Damici and Jim Mickle by know, its time to get some edju-ma-cation. These to ware powerhouse of indie film making. Be it horror or pulp noir, these two make some fantastic work. We Are What We Are is no exception.
While not scary, it is a wonderfully crafted tale of family, young love, and cannibalism. A remake of the 2010 Mexican movie of the same name, Mickle’s version is a mature and eerie drama.
The Parker’s seem to be a kind christian family who keep to themselves. But in the privacy of their home Frank Parker rules his home with an iron fist. Desperate to keep to his families traditions he raises his daughters to carry on the dark secrets of their ancestors. When torrential down pours begin to unearth their secrets the family scrambles to keep everything together.
This movie is filled with some wonderful performances. Well crafted scenes and beautiful cinematography create a nice juxtaposition to the horror and tension that randomly ensues. Slower and more thoughtful than the two collaborators other works, this is not a bad introduction into Mickle and Damici’s work.
Watch if you like: Steakland, Cold in July, The Hannibal Lectre Movies, The Green Butchers, Let The Right One In.
Anthology horror can be a tricky thing. Different styles, different moods, different qualities finding a good one can be hard. And even when the artists do find the right balance, sometimes you want a more cohesive story. After all you wanted episodes you’d have put in reruns of Tales From the Crypt. Southbound manages to rather ingeniously solve all these issues at once.
What Southbound lacks in budget it more than makes up for in creativity. Each little vignette takes themes, eras, genres, and tropes from all ends of the horror spectrum and plays with them just enough to keep you guessing. Everything seems comfortably familiar while enticingly fresh and new.
The stories themselves are wonderfully connected. The end of one flows seamlessly in the beginning of the next. The result is Lynchian dreamlike quality that hangs over the entire film. It also creates a sense of a larger mythology that is just out of your grasp. Southbound is a wonderful trip of weird, macabre tales spun in malaise of mind fuckery. I absolutely loved this movie. Hardcore horror fans will get a kick out of the call backs, allusions, homages and and general love of horror that oozes from this movie.
Watch if you enjoy: David Lynch, Tales From the Crypt….you know what. Screw it. Just go watch this one. Its short, sweet, and just all around awesome. If you like horror, you are likely going to enjoy this.
Must See classics on Amazon: Pumpkin Head, Henry: Portrait of a serial killer, Return of the living dead, Stir of Echoes, The Relic, Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project, The Crazies, Frailty, A Company of Wolves
Writer and editor KJ Mcdougall claims to have his own found footage of actual supernatural events. However, after repeatedly exposing the office to things like goat.se and two girls one cup, no one is willing to watch it. Fool us once, shame on you McDougall. Fools us twice……