Just like the horror genre itself, Shudder is packed with quality films that explore a variety of themes, time periods, and body counts. However, for every Suspiria, there’s a Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, in which the scariest part is that there was somebody out there who okayed that title. Wading through schlocky cinematic history can be a fun rollercoaster of gore, but if it’s higher quality content, with themes that resonate and cinematography to drool over, this list of the 10 best movies on Shudder will guide you through the best examples of the many horror sub-genres available on the streaming service.
A case in point of how horror is constantly adapting to the world around it. During the global pandemic in 2020, Rob Savage, Jed Shepherd, and Gemma Hurley got together and wrote the story of an unravelling séance held over the length of a 60-minute Zoom call between a group of friends living through lockdown. It’s a well-crafted, tightly edited slice of the paranormal that doesn’t take long for the action to kick off. There’s not a lot of time to get heavily invested in each character, but the cast manages to get enough personality across to make you care about what happens to them when the inevitable worst-case scenario amps up.
Yes, the found footage style of moviemaking churns out a new offering as often as slashers were produced in the 80s, but the short runtime and relatable setting elevate it from just another cheap gimmick flick to a unique tale of paranormal horror that is definitely one of the best movies on Shudder. If you want another reason to be scared of the internet, Host will haunt you as it does its characters.
9. In Search of Darkness
The 1980s saw an explosion of horror movies rushed to production due to studios realising how much money they could make off these cheaply funded, wildly popular titles. Household names were spawned in the murder-happy form of Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger. Creative original productions like Society, The Evil Dead, and Videodrome were also immortalised in cinema history.
In Search of Darkness is a love letter to these 80s frights and serves as the ultimate guide to the staggering amount of choice met when browsing the decade for a new title to try. It features a massive selection of interviews with horror legends such as John Carpenter, Joe Bob Briggs, Keith David, and Barbara Crampton. There are dozens of other contributors that provide historical and personal insight into the biggest releases of the decade, going through the years chronologically and cherry-picking the most influential, interesting, and highest quality creations.
The documentary also goes out of its way to call attention to the creative work of everyone involved in a horror production, including the special effects superstars who pioneered practical techniques, composers who created some of the most iconic themes in cinema history, and the stuntmen and women who helped make unique action sequences still talked about today. The doc also doesn’t shy away from exploring the lack of diversity in 1980s horror and showcases a range of opinions on the highs and lows of a genre that usually had women protagonists written and directed by men. These interesting segments help to break up the list-like format of the 4-hour long documentary.
So, whether you’re after a detailed retrospective or a recommendation from industry experts, In Search of Darkness has your back. There’s even a follow-up doc to watch if you can’t get enough of seeing blood-splattered perms and shoulder pads.
8. Scare Package
Horror-comedy can either be fantastic or a flop. Scare Package hedges its bets and throws an anthology on top of this difficult-to-master sub-genre to great success. Over the course of the seven stories, you’ll experience a wild, funny, meta ride.
All the tales are connected through the Aaron B. Koontz directed “Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium,” which follows a video store manager styling himself in the garb of horror icon Joe Bob Briggs (who guest stars in a later story), teaching a new employee the ropes while ominously warning him to never open the door in the back of the shop.
The tales are at their best when they lean into established horror tropes, like One Time In The Woods, a side-splittingly funny story on the familiar campfire tale of a killer loose in the woods. Fantastic comedic timing and gross-out practical effects make the short story joy to watch, and even if you only have a few horror films watched under your belt, you will be aware of the tropes the tale is riffing on to fantastic comedic success. Other stand-out stories show a stereotypical henchman who just wants a speaking role, has an accidental Michael Myers moment, and a slasher killer being offed in increasingly ridiculous ways.
Scare Package doesn’t add anything revolutionary to horror, but it is clearly crafted by fans of the genre, who know just what visual gags and one-liners to make that will have you chuckling along to its over-the-top gore.
Clive Barker’s directorial debut adapts his own novella, The Hellbound Heart, and is most known for spawning the iconic Pinhead. However, the real villain of the film is Julia (Clare Higgins) and her lust for brother-in-law Frank (Sean Chapman) and the ‘anything’ she will do for him, even if he is dead. Thirty-four years later, the effects used to show Frank in his various flayed forms is still a gory treat for any horror fan.
Although multiple scenes were reworked or completely cut due to their gore and sexual content, Hellraiser still manages to convey its BDSM-inspired atmosphere through the design of the extra-dimensional beings, the Cenobites, and Clare’s attraction to Frank. Although sequels have focused on the Cenobites, this first entry is a primarily human-focused story that uses a ‘pain is pleasure’ throughline to connect its design and themes.
It’s a surprisingly well-done take on the psychology of relationships, as well as a great supernatural visual spectacle whose cinematic style and editing make it a truly unique viewing experience that makes it one of the best movies on Shudder.
6. Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror
The documentary tells the untold history of Black Americans in horror cinema throughout the years, with interviews from icons like Keith David, Tony Todd, Jordan Peele, and Tina Mabry.
The blaxploitation craze in the 1970s that saw studios finally realise there was money to be made in casting black actors in roles was generally regarded as insulting and demeaning due to its use of racial stereotypes, but this documentary shows that these films shouldn’t be disregarded. Hearing William Crain talks about his experience directing Blacula is one of the highlights of the documentary and shows one way that black voices were fighting to be heard in creative spaces.
Covering many classics like Candyman and Night of the Living Dead, the doc goes into detail on the tropes and stereotypes associated with black characters, but also highlights underappreciated moments from cinema’s past, and charts the development of better roles in front of and behind the camera in today’s horror scene. If you’ve got even a slight interest in the history of horror cinema, you will not be disappointed with Horror Noire.
5. It Follows
You’ve likely been recommended this one before, but it’s so good it deserves to follow your movie list recommendations just as ‘it’ follows the characters in this 2015 smash hit. Being pursued by an unknown entity that can only be thwarted by having sex and passing its pursuit on to someone else could have been a clunky mess, but writer/director David Robert Mitchell makes it work.
His captivating blend of smart writing, beautiful cinematography, and a near flawless soundtrack elevate the film to its cult favourite status. There’s not a whole lot of character development, but the central concept of being constantly pursued and the puzzle of working out how to stop the entity carries the movie forward in a way that very few films have been able to successfully pull off.
The time period that the characters live in is unknown, and although the setting feels like the modern world, there’s a mix of vintage cars and TVs along with more recent models, as well as futuristic technology. It all adds up to an atmosphere that’s disorienting, unsettling, and realises Mitchell’s vision of a dream-like setting.
You’ll never be as afraid of a simple walk as you are watching It Follows.
Heathers was not a hit at the box office when it was first released in 1989, but (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) it later became a cult classic and has even inspired a TV show and a musical. It isn’t exactly your usual horror recommendation, but the three eponymous teenage Heathers are horrific enough. There’s also murder and a bomb plot thrown in for good measure.
Winona Ryder and Christian Slater give wonderfully bleak and funny performances as dejected popular girl Veronica Sawyer and moody newcomer J.D. It helped solidify both actors as Hollywood must-hires, and they are the driving force in allowing writer Daniel Waters’ material to resonate with audiences and connect with the story of how hellish high school can be. Shannen Doherty also stars as one of the mean-girl Heathers, making this cast a great microcosm of 80s talent.
Veronica and J.D.’s story takes many wild and dark turns throughout the movie, with a misguided plight against what the group of Heathers stands for. These themes, the great cast, and the in-your-face 80s aesthetic ensure Heathers‘ endless rewatchability, and it makes for a great dark twist on the traditional coming-of-age story.
This Australian production from first-time writer/director Jennifer Kent was a pivotal moment in modern horror history. It’s easy to forget, but there weren’t many socially introspective movies like Hereditary or Get Out being made back in 2014. The genre had slipped into the usual stale jump scare offerings, and sequels and unimaginative remakes ruled the genre.
Then along came The Babadook, and what makes it resonate so powerfully with critics and fans alike is its two-fold scares: the darkly twisted (and now iconic) monster, the Babadook, and the underlying commentary on the difficulties of being a single parent, particularly when raising a troubled child. When the director of The Exorcist is comparing it to Psycho and Alien, you know it’s going to be a good watch.
Psycho, Alien, Diabolique , and now THE BABADOOK.
— William Friedkin (@WilliamFriedkin) December 1, 2014
There’s not a jump scare to be seen in Kent’s production, and yet it’s one of the scariest films you’ll ever see because of the masterful way it presents itself. The colour palette is dark and moody, and the central performances from Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman as mother and son are tense to watch in the way they develop their relationship throughout the movie. This isn’t something to put on in the background. No shot is wasted, and it really deserves your full attention. You’ll be rewarded with a dark fairytale story that might have you checking under the bed for monsters the next time you go to sleep.
Along with It Follows, The Babadook ushered in a new age of quality and original ideas in the genre, and most importantly for a horror fan, it’s a damn scary watch.
2. Donnie Darko
Donnie Darko‘s sci-fi mystery manages to take a turn into horror through its eerie soundtrack, Halloween setting, and unnerving atmosphere. The story follows Donnie, a teenager who has sleepwalking episodes, and his new frenemy Frank, who wears the movie’s famous rabbit costume, and informs Donnie at the start of the film that the world will end in 28 days.
Written and directed by Richard Kelly and starring a young Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Drew Barrymore (whose production company is responsible for funding the movie), Donnie Darko is widely regarded as one of the best cult classics of all time, regardless of genre.
I was way too young when I first watched Donnie Darko, and just about every major plot point and theme went over my head, and yet I still stuck it on repeat and loved it every much as I do today. I was transfixed, because like a lot of effective horror films, the movie sucked me in with incredibly staged shots and tantalising weird imagery. The soundtrack elevates this mood even higher with hypnotic melancholy tones that feature Gary Jules and Echo & The Bunnymen. There’s an existential feel to the story that any filmmaker would be proud to achieve during their career, and Kelly managed it at just 26-years-old.
It’s a confusing plot to follow, but this actually helps anchor the audience in Donnie’s world because he’s every bit as confused as we are, and we feel the dream-like sleepwalking state that Donnie experiences through Kelly’s construction of atmosphere.
The rape-revenge storyline isn’t exactly a fun topic to explore, and it’s a personal dislike of mine due to the often poor execution of its heavy themes, and yet I loved Revenge because writer/director Coralie Fargeat managed to craft a visually vibrant and unique movie that doesn’t need much dialogue to tell its brutal, well-handled story. Matilda Lutz has great range as the wronged protagonist Jen, and it is her physical acting and the strangely alluring cinematography that makes this a must-watch.
Fargeat’s transformation of the audience’s ideas about who Jen is from beginning to end is masterfully crafted. There’s not a whole lot of backstory given, but it’s not needed. It’s self-contained and personal, and while it might seem strange to marvel at the film’s beauty when the subject matter is so traumatic, Fargeat has created so many brilliant shots that aren’t inserted in a pretentious way but carry the movie where other directors might have inserted unnecessary dialogue or messy exposition. This is where the physical acting and editing are strongest, and the leads manage to convey their characters’ thoughts and emotions incredibly effectively.
There are moments in the movie that remind me of Drive, the ultra-violent film starring Ryan Gosling, which also relies on its physical acting and visuals to tell its story. Think of Revenge as the warm-toned sibling to Drive‘s cool-blue colour palette. Both have bursts of violence with a mostly silent protagonist, and both have incredible talent in front of and behind the camera.
The horror of Revenge is gruesome in both the amount of blood spilled on screen (one scene involving smashed glass is guaranteed to have you wincing) and the disgust in how human beings can treat each other when they think they can get away with it.
Now that you’ve got a brief overview of the best movies on Shudder, it’s time to dive into one of these titles and start watching; your eyeballs aren’t going to scar themselves!
Any list is a subjective undertaking, and there are many more great offerings on the streaming service, so make sure to share your favourite Shudder movies in the comments below.