The best horror movies on Amazon Prime

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·9 min read
The best horror movies on Amazon Prime
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Despite its grisly reputation, the horror genre is every bit as malleable as comedy or drama. What tickles the funny bone or bruises the heart is subjective; so, too, is what chills the spine. Our list of the best horror movies on Amazon Prime has something for everybody, from gory classics to found footage indies to slow-burning arthouse horror. Read on for our list of the must-watch horror movies currently available on the streaming service.

<i>Carnival of Souls</i> (1962)

One of the most influential horror movies ever produced was made by a small team of industrial filmmakers in Kansas and Salt Lake City for just $33,000 in 1962. Director Herk Harvey has said he wanted to make a drive-in movie as it might have been made by Ingmar Bergman, and Carnival of Souls is exactly that — it's obsessed with the looming specter of death and the way it ripples through every aspect of life, from our artistic passions to our relationships.

It begins when a carful of friends drives off a bridge and into a river. Mary (Candace Hilligoss) survives the crash, but can't remember how. She moves to Salt Lake City to be an organist at a church, but she's terrified by the music she produces, which is deemed sacrilegious by the pastor. She can't form new relationships, and finds herself haunted by visions of a strange man. EW's Owen Gleiberman said it "may be the ultimate horror film to watch late at night," adding that it's "more than just scary, it's arrestingly odd, with a bats-in-the-belfry 3 a.m. loneliness that you plug into like a private dream."

CARNIVAL OF SOULS, Candace Hilligoss
CARNIVAL OF SOULS, Candace Hilligoss

<i>Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum</i> (2018)

Critics love to decry found footage as a stagnant genre, but Jung Bum-shik's 2018 nerve-shredder proves that the format — less a trope than a style of presentation — is as relevant as ever in the streaming era. Wi Ha-Joon stars as a fame-hungry YouTuber who hopes to send his horror channel to the stratosphere by live-streaming his journey into Gonjiam, an abandoned and allegedly haunted psychiatric hospital. Anything to go viral, right?

The setup is redolent of other found-footage hits — Grave Encounters, for example — but Gonjiam transcends its contemporaries through a combination of strong characters, precise camera work, and scares that speak to the glitch-ridden unreality of living online. Footage is culled from drones, stationary cameras, handheld ones, and other devices, providing variety and the best kind of disorientation.

GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM
GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM

<i>Gretel & Hansel</i> (2020)

Oz Perkins, son of Anthony, knows dread. Just watch The Blackcoat's Daughter or I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, languid films that ooze an inky fog that, if you give yourself over to it, is all-consuming. The same goes for Gretel & Hansel, an ominous reimagining of the classic fairy tale that stars It's Sophia Lillis as the titular Gretel. She's wonderful, as is Alice Krige, the story's cannibalistic witch.

Perkins' spin on the story is untraditional, but it's his stark, immersive eye that make this such a powerful film. Nearly every shot could be framed and hung on your wall. Its themes, too, elaborate upon the Grimm brothers' favorite. "I wanted Gretel to be somewhat older than Hansel, so it didn't feel like two 12-year-olds — rather a 16-year-old and an 8-year-old," Perkins told EW. "There was more of a feeling like Gretel having to take Hansel around everywhere she goes, and how that can impede one's own evolution, how our attachments and the things that we love can sometimes get in the way of our growth."

Gretel and Hansel
Gretel and Hansel

<i>Hell House LLC</i> (2015)

Its subpar sequels have somewhat sullied the reputation of Stephen Cognetti's Hell House LLC, a low-budget mockumentary about a haunted house attraction where tragedy strikes. That's too bad. Hell House LLC is supremely creepy, centering on a group of friends who scoop up an old, abandoned hotel in the hopes of remaking it as a haunted house attraction only to find out that something evil lurks in its basement.

It's indie horror at its best, eliding fireworks and burdensome lore in favor of subtle, peripheral scares that encourage rewatches (or, at the very least, lots of rewinding). Even customary scares, like a mannequin's head that turns when the camera's not looking, are rendered fresh in a setting that's clearly as creepy in real life as it is on film.

Hell House LLC
Hell House LLC

<i>Hellraiser</i> (1987)

Pinhead, one of horror's most memorable — and memeable — icons, will soon return in a new project helmed by The Night House director David Bruckner. Before diving into that, though, you'd be wise to revisit the franchise's first film, which introduces the Cenobites, a cadre of inhuman, sadomasochistic weirdos who find pleasure in pain (thus the pins).

Written and directed by horror author Clive Barker and based on his own novella The Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser gives us a lore that, by drawing upon the taboo iconography of kink and BDSM, emerges as both singular and compelling. There's also the gore, which evokes Italian genre masters like Lucio Fulci in its meaty, unblinking exploitativeness.

HELLRAISER
HELLRAISER

<i>The Invisible Man</i> (2020)

If you're going to remake one of the most iconic, foundational horror movies (and novels) of all time, this is how to do it. Director Leigh Whannell, who's come a long way from co-creating the Saw franchise that made him a name, modernizes the premise to empathetically explore an abusive relationship and the ways in which the specter of a violent partner can resurface even after a split. Elisabeth Moss is fantastic as the ex of a monstrous tech mogul who can't find rest until she knows he's out of her life for good.

"A lot of the story's grip-hold is owed to Moss' performance: raw, jittery, almost unbearably tensed," EW's Leah Greenblatt wrote in her review. "She's a woman whose own body is a prison, as long as her ex walks around without one."

Speaking to EW, Whannell also addressed the film's most shocking scene, which unfolds where you'd least expect it. "I wanted something that felt very safe to the audience, so that when [it] happened, the audience would be knocked on their arse."

The Invisible Man
The Invisible Man

<i>Maniac</i> (1980)

William Lustig's notorious 1980 slasher is as much a portrait of a pre-gentrified Times Square as it is a horror movie. Lustig's New York City is grimy, dark, and lonely, a fascinating and terrifying wonderland where danger lurks around every corner.

In many ways, Frank, a monstrous and self-hating serial killer played by Joe Spinell, is that danger, the boogeyman you fear is trailing you through so many abandoned alleys and subway tunnels. But Frank is also complex; he's not faceless like Michael Myers, nor is he gleeful like Freddy Krueger. It wasn't the devil who made him this way, but the world he was born into. That, of course, just makes Maniac that much scarier, especially when paired with visual effects legend Tom Savini's signature splatter. (Keep an eye out for Savini's cameo; he saves one of the film's nastiest kills for himself.)

Magnum Motion Picture/Kobal/Shutterstock
Magnum Motion Picture/Kobal/Shutterstock

<i>Messiah of Evil</i> (1973)

Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz co-wrote American Graffiti, a foundational coming-of-age movie that propelled director George Lucas to stardom and would produce a panoply of pop culture ripples that would fundamentally change the shape of contemporary pop culture. That same year, 1973, Huyck and Katz would also release Messiah of Evil, a horror movie that they wrote and directed. Eerie and atmospheric, it was something else entirely, the kind of movie that doesn't yank your collar so much as tug on the hem of your shirt.

Marianna Hill stars as a young woman who travels to a remote "artist's colony" in search of her missing artist father. What she finds is a coastal town that, while not abandoned, certainly feels that way. A masterpiece of slow-burning, atmospheric horror, Messiah of Evil is about an evil that consumes with patience, in places that would otherwise be considered safe. Just see the movie theater scene, one of horror's most undersung set pieces.

MESSIAH OF EVIL, (aka REVENGE OF THE SCREAMING DEAD; THE SECOND COMING; DEAD PEOPLE
MESSIAH OF EVIL, (aka REVENGE OF THE SCREAMING DEAD; THE SECOND COMING; DEAD PEOPLE

<i>Night of the Living Dead</i> (1968)

George Romero thought Night of the Living Dead would be a "one-off," but his seminal zombie flick has persevered to fundamentally shape the modern horror landscape. The Dead franchise spawned numerous entries and imitators, most notably Dawn of the Dead and its well-regarded remake, and one of the most successful TV series of this century arguably wouldn't exist without his low-budget lark.

Named one of EW's scariest movies of all time, Romero's slow-burn, documentary-like approach to the apocalypse is as mundane as it is violent; the end comes not with an explosion, but the slow encroachment of our dead loved ones. Notable, too, is Duane Jones, a Black actor, as the film's protagonist, not to mention the film's final moments, which resonated deeper than Romero would ever have imagined. As he told EW upon hearing how much his film had impacted Frank Darabont, co-creator of The Walking Dead, "It's still hard for me to realize how influential that film was."

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, 1968.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, 1968.

<i>Saint Maud</i> (2019)

Religious conversion often comes following a religious experience. A moment of ecstasy and understanding gives way to commitment, which gives way to... what? The stark divide between before Christ and after is a source of terror for many a saint and writer-director Rose Glass' debut feature is one of the most effective genre pieces about the complexities of conversion. Morfydd Clark stars as the titular Maud, a shy nurse with a murky past who can't help but worm her newfound faith into her work with hospice patients.

EW lauded Saint Maud as a "remarkable feature debut for Glass, who conjures an intimate mood of psychological horror before veering assuredly into a more extreme freakout."

Glass also spoke to EW about the film's most striking element, which is Maud's, shall we say, strange relationship to what she perceives to be God. "I didn't want it to be this cerebral faith that we just have to go with," Glass said. "There needed to be something tangible about it... I wanted their relationship to have this physical nature to it."

Saint Maud
Saint Maud

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