While most streaming services have a rotating array of at least some decent horror movies, true enthusiasts likely find these to be slim pickings compared to Shudder's expertly crafted library of the greatest chills and thrills of the last hundred years. We're talking plenty of b-movies, foundational films, and curated collections by subgenre, movements, and masters of the craft. Yep, Shudder is a streaming safe haven for genre enthusiasts craving more than the tip of the iceberg, complete with a user ranking system (one to five skulls). But what are the best horror movies Shudder has to offer?
As we crafted this list, we knew that many casual horror fans are already well-acquainted with many of the streamer's greatest assets, ubiquitous films like Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Night of the Living Dead, to name a few. That's why we're including these titles along with some recommendations that dive a bit deeper into their subgenres or overarching themes. Horror aficionados may have already seen many of these films multiple times over, but that's just because they truly are the best that Shudder has to offer. Here are the must-watch horror movies on Shudder, classics and caveats, ready to stream right now (if you dare).
If you liked <i>Carrie</i> (1976), you might also enjoy: <i>Ginger Snaps</i> (2000)
Brian De Palma's highly stylized foray into teenaged terror remains one of the better Stephen King adaptations to date, what with Piper Laurie's religious mania and Sissy Spacek's poster-perfect hollowed gaze doused in color and contempt (and pig's blood). And though both the film and its source material are brilliant cornerstones of the horror genre, there's an inherent disconnect in men attempting to translate the tribulations of teen girls.
Enter Ginger Snaps, a thoughtful and woefully underrated meditation on girlhood, which begins when two death-obsessed sisters survive a werewolf attack that leaves the eldest (Katharine Isabelle) bitten. Her inevitable transformation into an abrasive, hypersexual, rebellious loner (with fur and fangs) is of course a metaphor for the horrors of adolescence. That may seem like a tired trope, but Karen Walton and John Fawcett's careful writing elevates a story that could easily inspire eye-rolls into something that ties the nuances of sex, sisterhood, and self-assurance into a feminist narrative not-so-common for the genre.
Honorable mention: Misery (1990)
If you liked <i>Night of the Living Dead</i> (1968), you might also enjoy: <i>Return of the Living Dead</i> (1985)
Night of the Living Dead likely needs no introduction as George Romero's game-changing first installment that soon spawned a rich lineage of zombie films, including Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and so on. Here, our slow-moving, ever-groaning blueprint for walking corpses was born in 1968 by Romero and co-writer John Russo. But when the two split onto separate creative paths, Romero retained the rights to "of the Dead" titles while Russo was free to use "Living Dead" as he pleased. His subsequent novel Return of the Living Dead served as the source material for this 1985 horror-comedy of the same name, and dare we say it gives the original a run for its money.
A cheekily metatextual genre-flick with references to the 1968 film that started it all, Return of the Living Dead is like the nuclear family's angsty teen letting its hair down, turning up the punk rock, and letting slapstick chaos reign. Marking the directorial debut of Alien screenwriter Dan O'Bannon, the film's tagline says it all: "They're back from the grave & ready to party." Yep, these zombies are hungry for your brains (a trope this movie also popularized) and they aren't afraid to sprint and talk back, either.
Honorable mention: The Beyond (1981)
If you liked <i>Society</i> (1989), you might also enjoy: <i>The Amusement Park</i> (2019)
Horror movies have often existed as much for thrills as to critique the times. 1989's Society is a prime example, being a sexualized satire of Reagen-era hedonism conveyed through a Beverly Hills orgy cult for the higher class. The crux of Re-Animator producer Brian Yuzna's body horror comes at the climax (pun intended) as the socialites merge into a unified, naked monstrosity. It's disorienting and disturbing with a clear social message, much like George Romero's previously lost film The Amusement Park.
Both are symbolic, stylized windows into the worst sectors of American culture, Romero's being a commentary on elder abuse that was oddly commissioned by the Lutheran Service Society. It never saw the light of day after its initial premiere in 1975, but Shudder holds the exclusive streaming rights to the 4K restored version released in 2019. There, we see an elderly, bewildered man struggle to navigate a carnival setting where others his age are ignored, reprimanded, and left for dead in the swirling, twirling, indifferent chaos. Like many of David Lynch's best sequences, The Amusement Park's symbolism thrives on its own accord, narrative anchors be damned.
Honorable mention: Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
If you liked <i>Hellraiser</i> (1987), you might also enjoy: <i>Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker</i> (1982)
While you won't find any antagonist resembling "Pinhead" (who, may we remind you, is only in th original Hellraiser for about 10 minutes), Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is a worthy companion to Clive Barker's sadomasochistic franchise for lassoing familial (and sexual) tensions as a mode of horror. The story follows teen boy Billy, whose doting aunt (a Susan Tyrrell not unlike Hellraiser's Clare Higgins) harbors affections that border on sexual obsession, all the while an out-of-line detective believes a local murder stems from a homosexual love triangle between Billy, his basketball coach, and a closeted dead man.
Needless to say, things get a little messy in this family drama that would have Oedipus gouging his eyes out all over again. And while it certainly isn't everyone's cup of tea, fans of modern familial horror king Ari Aster will appreciate this '80s cult gem's deft tension and sly innuendos (the director is rumored to love the film himself).
Honorable mention: Nightbreed, The Director's Cut (1990)
If you liked <i>Mandy</i> (2018), you might also enjoy: <i>Color Out of Space</i> (2019)
Nicolas Cage is the first to admit he's been in more than a few low-brow films (we don't even like to think about that Wicker Man remake). But Mandy and Color Out of Space make those flops seem like far-off memories thanks to their satisfyingly surreal auras and dreamlike natures. And where horror die-hards' beloved Mandy sees a never-more-badass Cage on a technicolor revenge quest, COOS replicates all the visual flair to compliment its Lovecraftian roots.
Based on the short story of the same name, Richard Stanley's 2019 adaptation begins with a meteor crash and lightning strike, producing a "Color" that first contaminates the land and water before consuming Cage's small town and beyond. It's cosmic horror at its best, thanks in large part to Steve Annis' stunning cinematography and a top-notch performance from Cage, who Stanley told EW was "exactly the right person" for the role.
Honorable mention: Bliss (2019)
If you liked <i>Halloween</i> (1978), you might also enjoy: <i>Black Christmas</i> (1974)
While some point to John Carpenter's iconic Halloween as the first major slasher flick, others argue that Black Christmas scooped up that superlative four years prior. Both parties are technically wrong (if you consider proto-slashers like Psycho) but nevertheless, Black Christmas did much of the heavy lifting in establishing the slasher genre's tropes that would soon evolve into occasionally charmed clichés.
Bob Clark's 1974 Canadian slashic may seem conventional on its surface, with its focus on unassuming sorority girls receiving increasingly vile phone calls from "The Moaner," who, (in another pioneering trope) may just be calling from inside the house — and picking them off one by one. But in the greater context of the horror canon, Black Christmas is a trailblazer with an expert grasp on suspense, and even influenced the conception of one Michael Myers, regardless if it was wrongly perceived as little more than an exploitive romp upon its release.
Honorable mention: The Burning (1981)
If you liked <i>Train to Busan</i> (2016) you might also enjoy: <i>One Cut of the Dead</i> (2017)
After an embarrassingly barren end to the millenia, the 2000s saw a renaissance of quality zombie content produced across the globe, with the advent of inventive contenders like Shaun of the Dead, Rec, and television sensation The Walking Dead. But the following decade brought this fortunate era's peak, the best of the bunch being South Korea's heart-palpitating Train to Busan, in which a high-speed train is chased by sprinting undead agitators, and Japan's genre-bending One Cut of the Dead.
It's difficult to describe the latter without giving away its incredibly original, metatextual premise, but trust us when we say you've never seen a zombie film quite like this one. Director Shin'ichirō Ueda plays with our expectations from the onset and never lets up, as visual and narrative rugs are pulled out from under the feet of the viewers, the characters, the actors, and the actors playing those actors. Not sure what we mean? Guess you'll just have to see it for yourself…
Honorable mention: Zombie for Sale (2019)
If you liked <i>Ringu</i> (1998), you might also enjoy <i>Noroi: The Curse</i> (2005)
Few movies have trespassed into real life lore in the way Japan's Ringu and America's remake The Ring did as bookends to the turn of the century. Like the urban legends derived from Candyman, Ringu's premise of a videotape that ensures your untimely, painful death after viewing had many youngsters (and, let's face it, some timid adults) weary of what watching a film about this cursed tape could mean for their individual fates. And though it didn't infect the public consciousness so widely, 2005's Noroi: The Curse tears a page out of Ringu's playbook and turns up the terror.
An amazingly convincing mockumentary with found footage flair, we're presented with "The Curse," the unfinished passion project of documentarian Masafumi Kobayashi, who disappeared while investigating supernatural occurrences in Japan. We watch as horrors unfold through his active eyes, unveiling a paranormal conspiracy you feel you could reach out and touch, much like Sadako Yamamura (aka Samara Morgan)'s transgressive grasp through the screen within our screens.
Honorable mention: The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
If you liked <i>The Texas Chainsaw Massacre</i> (1974), you might also enjoy: <i>The Hills Have Eyes</i> (1977)
Though Shudder is of course rich with game-changing horror cornerstones, few changed the genre's temperature so starkly and suddenly as Tobe Hooper's sweat-drenched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (seriously, they never washed Leatherface's suit even while shooting seven days a week in upwards of 100-degree heat). But that raw, tired energy translated into a film that was as widely banned upon its release as it is celebrated decades later. Many imitators have since followed the not-so-slashic's lead, and if you're looking to scratch that same folksy, sweltering itch, Wes Craven may be your man (that is until Ti West's X hits the streamer).
Craven almost didn't become the genre giant many worship today, with such franchises as Scream and A Nightmare on Elm Street under his heavyweight belt. The culprit? His early view of horror as too constrictive of a medium. That sentiment is ironic, though, given his unabashed brutality in his directorial debut The Last House on the Left and subsequent project The Hills Have Eyes. Shot in the unforgiving Mojave Desert, and featuring an equally unrelenting ensemble of incestuous cannibals in a fight to the bitter end with an all-American family, this one is hard to stomach, but much like Hooper's hickploitation classic, Hills is as much an attack on the senses as it is an allegory for the culture wars sweeping the '70s.
Honorable mention: Children of the Corn (1984)
If you liked <i>The Endless</i> (2017), you might also enjoy: <i>The Invitation</i> (2015)
If you want proof that others can never be fully trusted, look no further than these two stellar examples of group-think gone awry. Where The Endless goes the distance as two brothers' (directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead) homecoming to their childhood UFO death cult of course turns cosmic, The Invitation keeps its feet on the ground with just as much suspense, instead exploring the terrors of family trauma and its fallout.
Following the commercial failure (but, may we add, spiritual success) of Jennifer's Body, director Karyn Kusama earned her seat at the table with this thriller about a divorcee (Logan Marshall-Green) who against his better judgment, attends a dinner party at his ex-wife (Tammy Blanchard)'s house two years after the death of their son. And though she's found a way to move on, his reluctance to drink the Kool-Aid fosters a palpable, mounting tension exacerbated by an excellent script from Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi like a fine glass of wine smashed against the wall.
Honorable mention: The Void (2016)
If you liked <i>The Babadook</i> (2014), you might also enjoy: <i>The Wolf House</i> (2018)
When Jennifer Kent released The Babadook in 2014, it immediately became one of the better creature features in recent memory, with its smog-smudged atmosphere and practical effects to make a pop-up book bogeyman a true, tangible nightmare. The film's twisted fairytale elements let the Babadook, top hat and all, feed into our inner childs' worst fears, just as lesser known Chilean film The Wolf House deploys surreal stop-motion to make a childish dreamscape devolve into one of the darkest animated films ever conceived.
Inspired by the true terrors of Colonia Dignidad, the story follows Maria, a young woman who upon escaping an extremist German cult, finds refuge in a house that's as sentient and sinister as the evil she supposedly left behind. We lay witness as her world within those walls shifts with every increasingly grotesque frame, where paper bodies decompose, scribbles become suffocating, and propaganda wheels seep back into our psyche. It's as stunning as it is startling, and absolutely worth a watch.
Honorable mention: Tigers Are Not Afraid (2019)
If you liked <i>Re-Animator</i> (1985) you might also enjoy: <i>Phantasm</i> (1979)
Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator is straightforward enough: A med student (Jeffrey Combs) with Dr. Frankenstein's ego and ability learns how to reanimate the dead, but must backtrack when his mobilized corpses have a violent pension of their own. It's an undeniable Lovecraftian classic, based on the short story "Herbert West–Reanimator" and complete with otherworldly green goo. And though 1979's Phantasm has a similar concept with an iconic "Tall Man" mortician (the late Angus Scrimm) raising the dead in his own right, this fantastical horror film is anything but standard.
What sets Phantasm apart from other run-of-the-mill not-so-zombie flicks is writer/director/cinematographer Don Coscarelli's bizarre and futuristic style, exhibit A being our labyrinth of a mausoleum that looks more like Pinhead's angular hellscape than a final resting place. Here, the Tall Man transforms the dead into an army of dwarfs ready to defend his home planet, but not if some meddling kids have anything to say about it. Distinctly atmospheric and delightfully implausible, Phantasm deserves every ounce of cult fanfare its franchise has garnered over the years. It's no wonder EW's critic labeled both sci-fi camp classics as "Low budget, influential, and unforgettable," crowning each with an A rating.
Honorable mention: Basket Case (1982)
If you liked <i>Deep Red</i> (1975), you might also enjoy <i>Phenomena</i> (1985)
Few directors have forged a divide between horror fans as harshly as Italian giallo master Dario Argento. Some laud his auteurist command of color and dizzying camera work, while others dismiss his repertoire as being little more than style over substance, prioritizing a singular aesthetic above a story you can actually follow. Love him or hate him, most can still agree that 1975's Deep Red is up there with Suspiria as Argento's crowning achievements, being a blood-soaked whodunit as a jazz pianist follows the trail of red left by a meat cleaver-wielding, black-gloved killer, topped off with psychic premonitions and the first of many stellar prog-rock soundtracks from Goblin.
Those who appreciate Deep Red's murder mystery will likely enjoy Argento's supernatural classic Phenomena, given that it's one of his tighter narratives while retaining every ounce of style that keeps even the confused coming back for more. Jennifer Connelly stars as a teen whose telepathic connection to insects may be her boarding school's best hope for catching yet another gloved killer (once again Argento's own hands). It's reliably ridiculous without going off the rails, and it's one of Argento's best.
Honorable mention: A Bay of Blood (1971)
If you liked <i>Nosferatu</i> (1922), you might also enjoy <i>The Cabinet of Dr. Calagari</i> (1920)
Despite being over 100 years old, Nosferatu remains a mainstay in pop culture with no end in sight. That this silent film has stood the test of time can largely be attributed to Max Schreck's infinitely eerie performance as the titular vampire, being an unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. But another German expressionist film made two years prior is just as affecting all these years later, and it's about time it received the same unwavering awe from mass audiences.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is the stuff of Tim Burton's wildest dreams (or rather nightmares), with angularly obtuse and claustrophobic sets being a deranged hypnotist's playground. We watch, helpless, as he awakens an unfortunate sleepwalker to carry out violent acts on his behalf in a frame narrative for the ages. The sequence in which this somnambulist opens his eyes for the first time is genuinely bone-chilling even today, no doubt a testament to the "less is more" mantra of the silent film era.
Honorable mention: White Zombie (1932)
If you liked <i>The Changeling</i> (1980), you might also enjoy: <i>Carnival of Souls</i> (1962)
Atmosphere is everything when it comes to a good haunting. Though The Changeling commands a tight supernatural mystery, in which a grief-stricken composer uncovers the truth about the little boy who drowned in the bathtub decades ago, we remember this film for its foreboding most of all: the lone ball trickling down the stairs, the elusive piano, and the Brontë-esque burning. The same is true of cult-favorite Carnival of the Souls, with its detached church organist who, after driving into a river and subsequently struggling to connect with the world around her, finds herself drawn to an abandoned carnival like a moth to an incendiary flame, all the while ghoulish figures close in as if to claim her as their own.
Both are elite ghost stories in their own right, and both massively influential in cinema spaces. Guillermo del Toro praised The Changeling's Peter Medak as his directorial mentor, while Martin Scorsese declared it one of his scariest movies of all time. Meanwhile, the works of Lynch and Romero are repeatedly connected to Carnival's surreal sadness, seeing a lost soul in search of solace not available to her in this world, even if she doesn't know it yet.
Honorable mention: City of the Dead (1962)
If you liked <i>The Wailing</i> (2016), you should watch it again… seriously
We knew this list would be incomplete without Na Hong-jin's 2016 folk horror feat, but the problem is, there's nothing quite like it on Shudder (or elsewhere, for that matter). At a whopping 156 minutes, The Wailing is a horror film of epic proportions that still manages to never overstay its welcome, instead enticing us with a mysterious disease that causes residents of a small South Korean village to slaughter those they love most. As infections spread, violence — and paranoia — grows more rampant, but a policeman's (Do Won Kwak) investigation soon becomes personal when his only daughter (Kim Hwan-hee) begins to harbor symptoms.
Unfolding with expert precision unlike any other opus in recent memory, The Wailing is a seismic balancing act of Eastern folklore, occult imagery, and unwavering dread wrapped into a single, somehow swallowable story, as "Na slathers his tale with generous supplies of atmosphere and awfulness," according to EW's critic. If you've seen it, you're aware of how singular of a viewing experience it is for Western audiences so used to well-worn narrative structures, whereas The Wailing winds up in a manner completely its own. And if you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and stream it on Shudder right now.