Morbidly Beautiful

Your Home for Horror

Bloody Blog

Netflix has made great horror more accessible to the masses, but the platform’s best original content deserves physical releases.

The Morbidly Beautiful writing team celebrates 18 must-see Netflix original films and series that are more than worthy of the Blu-ray treatment. 

Physical media is important to many because it is a way to preserve and connect with a creative piece on a deeper level. In addition to personal accessibility, physical media can include commentaries from the film’s creatives and other bonus features that demystify the process of filmmaking. It provides cultural and historic context that a streaming release does not allow for. Bonus materials are a huge reason that a lot of people collect physical media.

But one of the biggest streaming services in the world, Netflix, refuses physical releases.

Some of their films and shows are released on DVD and Blu-ray because they are in affiliation with another studio. For example, The Haunting series was made via a partnership with Paramount and thus was able to be released on disc thanks to Paramount. (Truly, thanks, Paramount!) However, Mike Flanagan’s other Netflix release Midnight Mass was made exclusively with Netflix, and as of now, Netflix will not release the series to home media.

Mike Flanagan himself has pleaded with the company to release not only Midnight Mass but also his other films either made with or acquired by Netflix.

Spurred by Flanagan’s enthusiasm to see his work in physical form, which every creative deserves, we are here today to look at some Netflix releases that haven’t gotten the physical release treatment. All of these films and shows are brilliant and should absolutely be given the nice Blu-ray treatment with features and commentaries. (- Jamie Alvey)

1. Midnight Mass

(Recommended by Frankie Lyle)

I was beyond thrilled when I heard about Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass premiering on Netflix. After watching (and crying over) his other shows and movies, I was curious to see how he would portray Christianity in this mini-series. It ended up being one of the most authentic representations I’ve seen in a long time.

It’s a phenomenal story with stellar performances from the entire cast that hooked me onto the show and is one that I’ll continue to recommend to anyone looking for something new to binge. The intricate and strange mysteries left enough clues for the audience to piece together but still managed to surprise in a way that was authentic to the plot.

Something odd is happening to the residents of Crockett Island, a small village where the once-booming fishing industry was smothered in the wake of an oil spill. The arrival of a new priest marks the beginning of strange miracles that amaze and terrify.

Most horror plots that feature theology tend to fall under unintentional Christian propaganda.

I struggle to think of any mainstream supernatural horror film where the solution isn’t a Catholic exorcism. It’s one of the first chances to see both the Church and its community as the ones at fault.

However critical these points may be of Christianity; Flanagan’s point wasn’t to disparage it. Instead, it offers a refreshing view of the Church for what it is: human and not without flaws.

The series beautifully taps into the existentialism of the Church within the lens of addiction, community, the things that we’ve done, and the things that have happened to us.

It highlights doctrine to get the views to think critically about it.

Is everything truly an act of God? Including all the bad things we’ve done or have happened to us?

I was raised in a Catholic community, and we all knew a Bev Keane: a devout member of the congregation who uses service and volunteering to curry the favor of the Clergy and God. Despite a biblical monster running around the island, she was the story’s true villain. There are few words to describe her other than cold, fanatical, and delusional. Her interactions with the community, especially with Sherriff Hassan and his son, Crockett’s only Muslim residents.

She finally shows her true colors by trying to manipulate his son into converting to Christianity and refusing to drink the Sherriff’s “dirty blood” after a night of insatiable bloodlust. It was a chilling moment that showed how deeply rooted her hatred was. With how she was crafted, it came as no surprise that Flanagan grew up in a Catholic community based on how much he got right.

By the fourth episode, most viewers had a solid idea of what sort of creature was lurking around the island under the guise of an angel, but that doesn’t detract from the story. Even with this knowledge, it was difficult to predict where the story was going. The Easter Vigil scene was one of the most shocking that I’ve seen in a long time, and truly paid off after five episodes of build-up.

If you’re looking for something with a happy ending, I suggest you search elsewhere.

Instead of a great flood, the fire and brimstone brought upon the small island on Easter is devastating with a gut-punch final line that brings relief and despair. Some may survive, but nobody truly wins. This doubles back to the existential questioning of God’s will. Can something so bleak truly be God’s purpose? And, if so, what possible justification could there be for that level of destruction?

In my opinion, it’s a Netflix must-see and one of Flanagan’s best works.

TRAILER

2. Brand New Cherry Flavor

(Recommended by Christi Bandy)

Firstly, the fact that Catherine Keener is in this series is a big bonus – she’s amazing. The epic casting combined with an out-there, totally weird plot plus creative special effects and a fast-paced story make Brand New Cherry Flavor a series you’ll definitely want to taste!

When I found out that the creators of this show also worked on Channel Zero, it all made sense. The underlying, unsettling feeling of that series definitely works here as well and complements the well-written dialogue and fast-moving plot.

Rosa Salazar plays Lisa Nova, an aspiring filmmaker motivated to make her feature film. With her dreams in mind, she heads to Los Angeles. However, she instead unwittingly becomes the subject of a witch’s curse, which she has limited time to undo.

A witch’s curse? What the hell is happening here?

Yes, the show quickly turns fantastical and horrifying with graphic and sometimes hilarious body horror, freaky hallucination sequences, and an almost Grimm’s fairytale vibe that is simultaneously hard to watch and unbearable to turn away from.

In short, it’s perfect for horror fans! It’s also a fairly easy metaphor for any artist trying to make it in LA, which makes it even more potent.

From the beginning, you are thinking the show is about one thing when it quickly shifts to something different altogether.

If you’re along for the trip, it’s a wonderful journey!

There are kittens, zombies, killer plants, unsavory potions, sex scenes that will brand your brain, and murder, all set in the ‘90s against a Hollywood backdrop. As Lisa discovers the lengths she’ll have to go to in order to save herself from the curse and still make her dreams come true, her desperation leads to insane situations and crazy consequences, but she’s an easy character to root for.

Even the villains are likable in this series, and the characters are worth getting to know and care about, which isn’t always the case. At the heart of the story lies a tale of revenge and how far one will go to attain it. As it turns out, pretty damn far.

It’s best to go into this series with limited knowledge, but it’s also difficult to describe this show without sounding completely cuckoo. It feels like a dreamy, colorful acid trip, noir mystery, action movie, and body horror film all at the same time.

Brand New Cherry Flavor has been called ‘batshit,’ ‘crazy’ and ‘original,’ and it’s all those and more.

Twists and turns keep you engaged and interested, and Keener (playing Boro) and Salazar shine in stellar performances layered with dimension and texture. Keener transcends even her best turns as the fascinating witch Lisa goes up against.

There’s no end to what people will do to make their dreams come true. What would you do? Watch Brand New Cherry Flavor and find out what Lisa does to preserve her passion and save her life in this wacky, hallucinogenic, completely original eight-episode series.

No word on whether we’ll get a season two, but I’d love to see what further adventures await our heroine. Note to casting directors everywhere: please put Catherine Keener in, well, everything.

If you have a strong stomach, love being taken on a weird journey with many plot twists you won’t see coming and are a fan of Lynchian-style thrills, give this show a chance. 

TRAILER

3. I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives in the House

(Recommended by Jason McFiggins)

“The staying place of a rotted ghost,” is narrated in the opening moments of I am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House.

Part of a longer narration, this observation could function as an alternate title to the film, a story that focuses on the haunting of a house. But more than that, of ghosts, stuck in both place and time, forever trapped in the unreachable memory of their own death.

With an overwhelming emphasis on what is felt when you think you’re alone, the film chooses to focus on what is not there.

The camera picks up angles from hallways behind characters, from chairs around kitchen tables, and at the bottom of darkened stairways, all of which capture the feeling of not being alone, of being watched. Of being surrounded.

Very little is seen during these quiet, unsettling moments, but this ghostly solitude unravels an eerie mystery and is where writer-director Oz Perkins excels.

I am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is infested with creepiness.

Your heart will race with the simple following of camera movement, or the slow fade-in of a spectral image from the darkness of an adjoining room.

Lily, as the hospice nurse staying in the house to care for the elderly, ailing Ms. Blum, the keeper of the house’s secret, lives in her own solitude, not unlike that of a ghost. Staying with the patients she cares for, Lily is presumably often, as is her situation with Ms. Blum, alone in the company of impending death.

Lily’s lonely living situation has made her a nervous, jumpy, and worrisome person. She’s also very kind and trusting, with a childlike, innocent nature. “Oh you silly Billy,” she says to herself as she attempts to read one of Ms. Blum’s scary novels.

From the moment she steps into the house for her first appearance in the film, all of these qualities are portrayed to great effect by a strong performance from Ruth Wilson.

The opening narration tells us that “a house with a death in it can never again be bought or sold by the living. It can only be borrowed from its ghosts.” But, as I am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House shows us, this borrowed time comes at a cost. A stuck ghost, a ghost both haunting a house and haunting itself, will not go unseen. Whether you see it or not, it sees you. That feeling of being looked at is like you looking at a ghost.

I am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, or, “the staying place of a rotted ghost,” will keep you up at night. And that’s when they look.

TRAILER

4. His House

I’m thankful every day that the Faculty of Horror podcast did a Patreon episode on His House. Up to that point I hadn’t even heard of the movie, and honestly, I hadn’t been captivated by the poster when I went searching for it on Netflix. But I’d stopped the episode before I got too big of spoilers on it, convinced that if the hosts had liked it, it was definitely worth an attempt at least.

Remi Weekes’s His House absolutely blew me away immediately.

The film follows a couple, Rial and Bol, from South Sudan who moves to England as refugees. On top of the obvious cultural shift, the couple must endure in the midst of a horrific upheaval in their lives, they also must deal with the racism ingrained in the refugee relief program within England. Forced to live in a rundown home, in a neighborhood fraught with racism, with little to no money for food and an inability to improve their surroundings.

In order to flee from their war-torn country, the couple had to board a small boat. As cruel fate would have it, the winds tossed the ship into the midst of a storm. The two lost their daughter to the dark waters.

As if that isn’t enough to deal with, the couple is soon visited by an apeth, or “night witch”, who shifts in and out of the hole-laced walls.

The apeth is associated with guilt, and at the beginning of the film, we become deeply acquainted with theirs.

Rial spends the movie trying to honor the memory of the lost child and the life they had to leave behind.

Bol finds that the racism around them is mildly alleviated when he changes the customs he has known and followed for his entire life and bows to what the English deem “normal”.

He tries his hardest to assimilate and not draw attention to the fact that he isn’t from the town. Meanwhile, Rial refuses to lose who she is and her culture to a country that doesn’t care enough about them to even treat them with basic decency. She continues to wear her colorful clothing and eat on the floor.

Bol pleads with Rial not to bring up the apeth, but she doesn’t relent, telling him that the night witch has come to collect a debt and they both need to repay it. Bol tears the home apart looking for the witch, leading to their possible deportation back to a world of violence. The apeth eventually tries to cut a deal with Bol – his life for the child they lost.

His House stuck with me because it focused so much on real-world horror from a different perspective.

Lately, horror has been inundated with current event topics, but they all tend to come from the same group of people. Certainly, the horrors of war are well-trodden themes in cinema, but seeing it from a refugee’s point of view was such a different and much-needed perspective, especially as much of the world goes through upheaval and displacement. Besides the film having a gut-wrenching twist that gives a very real glimpse into the desperation people have to escape horrific situations, it also pulls back the curtain on how refugees are treated after they’ve seemingly escaped the worst of it.

Perhaps His House’s biggest achievement is its ability to open the eyes of people, and countries, that want to pat themselves on the back for doing the bare minimum of decency.

TRAILER

(Recommended by Kourtnea Hogan)

5. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)

(Recommended by Jamie Marino)

Yes, this is a polarizing pick, but hear me out. I have come to the conclusion that one of the overwhelming mistakes made by the audience (yes, nowadays they ruin it more than the filmmakers) was surrendering to politics and unrealistic expectations. I don’t want to get on a soapbox and start hating on the Internet, but the freedom it gives people has paved the way for a crooked, fractured, and schizophrenic definition of what a good movie is.

Is it “good” good, “fun” good, great but “sad”, great but “too long”, “The Greatest Thing Ever”, or a “dumpster fire” (trolling mofos love that one)?

Reviewing has been reduced to reaction videos and YouTube jargon. YouTube reviewers dissect the hell out of movies, every frame, then laugh at their own jokes and scream at, uh . . . us, I guess. Everybody has loud, likable, sharable opinions now. And it’s like the sound of thousands of rabbits being slaughtered under an aluminum dome.

Controversial opinion: It’s ok for a horror film to just be entertaining — nothing more, nothing less.

For all its faults, Texas Chainsaw is entertaining.

I’m a gorehound, so to me, I’ll forgive a lot just to enjoy some sweet death. The decapitation scene was really fun. There were no cutaways (pun) and the saw went through her neck like butter. The bus massacre was a neon blue cluster of wet, bloody kills.

Maybe it would have been received better if it was watched as a modern 2022 movie and not one from the 70s. Comparing it to the iconic original is inevitable, I suppose. But there’s no comparison…and there doesn’t need to be.

So, is it “good” good or just “fun” good? Does it really matter?

In the grand scheme of things, it’s exactly what you want a slasher film to be — bloody, relentless, and packed full of great kills. In my humble opinion, there’s plenty here for horror fans to enjoy. So, maybe ignore the critics on this one and enjoy it in the spirit it was intended.

It’s not a game-changer. It doesn’t reinvent the franchise. It doesn’t need to.

Leatherface is a Horror icon, now and forever.

TRAILER

6. Fear Street (Trilogy)

(Recommended by Peter Hayward-Bailey)

The Fear Street trilogy from Netflix is a series of films based loosely on the R L Stine book series of the same name. But don’t worry, you don’t need prior knowledge of the books to fully appreciate the series of films as they are completely self-contained stories.

The story itself takes place over three different time periods, with each of the films being set in a different time, in an over-arching narrative tying them all seamlessly together.

Netflix turned the release of Fear Street into an event, with each installment being released a week apart. This created anticipation in the audience as you were pulled into the story and had to know what happened next, much like the days of cliffhanger TV before streaming, but with extremely fun horror features.

The cast of the films is absolutely stellar with some brilliant range shown onscreen as the actors play different characters in each of the timelines. The kills are enough to satisfy any veteran of the slasher genre with no shying away from bloodshed.

Another thing that I really enjoyed about Fear Street is the LGBTQ+ representation on screen — and from the main characters no less. A lot of films suffer from only having diversity within the supporting cast, or from characters that can be picked off early on.

This film has a lesbian relationship at the core of its story, and it is so expertly written that the characters are well-rounded and developed, so it doesn’t feel like it’s “pandering to a demographic” or only being included for tokenization.

When we say that representation matters, this is the kind of thing that I think we should be seeing more of.

The first film is set in 1994 and pays homage to the 90s slasher revival style. The second is 1978 and takes us back to films from the earlier days of the slasher like Friday the 13th and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Finally, the third installment is set in 1666 and treats the audience to Salem witch trial vibes. Because the films are each so different in style, it’s entirely engrossing to watch the threads of the story connect throughout the trilogy.

Directed by Leigh Janiak and written by Janiak and others, the trilogy has a solid cohesion that showcases Janiak’s talent and vision, and it will be interesting to see her future in the genre.

It has been said that after the success of FEAR STREET with its range of killers, Janiak has said she would like to create an MCU style universe with slashers. That would be something something behold on a platform like Netflix.

(Note: if you’re into the world of low/microbudget cinema, you may be aware that Mycho Entertainment has been creating exactly that on a shoestring budget for almost 20 years! So if you enjoyed the Fear Street trilogy and like the idea of an MCU-style setup for deranged killers, maybe look up Mycho.)

As for me, I’ll most certainly be revisiting Fear Street as, with all slashers, they have great re-watchability!

TRAILER

7. Squid Game

(Recommended by Stephanie Malone)

Squid Game is a Netflix series made in Korea by Hwang Dong-hyuk. Quietly released in September 2021, it quickly became the platform’s highest-ranking show in 90 countries. This marked the first time a Korean drama has ever been at the top of the US charts, and a whopping 95% of the viewers were outside Korea.

Over the course of its nine, one-hour episodes, Squid Game left viewers shocked and horrified, while keeping them emotionally invested through razor-sharp writing and compelling performances.

Evocative of ‘fight to the death’ films like Battle Royale and Hunger Games, Squid Game flips the script by making its players complicit in their own exploitation while offering biting commentary on the nature of capitalism and economic inequalities.

Desperate players, selected from the fringe of society, are given a choice to compete in a series of children’s games for the chance to win a life-changing sum of money (roughly $39 million in U.S. dollars). Initially, this choice is made without knowing the high stakes of losing. However, the true horror of the show takes hold when players are given another choice, this time fully understanding the danger and depravity of the game.

Still, in the face of a world just as quick to chew them up and spit them out as the cruel, faceless hosts of the game, Squid Game asks us to contemplate a gut-wrenching question: was there ever any choice at all?

Are we really free to choose in the face of extreme exploitation? Do we really have autonomy in a world ruled by the almighty dollar or are we all just pawns in a corrupt and brutal game of chess.

The series begins in a slow and unassuming way before revealing its hand in the explosive, and shockingly violent final 15 minutes of episode one.

By then, you’ll be hooked. And if you’re not fully invested, you surely will be after episode two.

The visceral horror of watching people get slaughtered in droves while playing ‘innocent’ children’s games on a brightly colored playground is what made Squid Game such a buzzworthy show. But what made it such a remarkable show is the depth of the human drama — fully fleshed out characters you can’t help but care for and impossible choices that are as heartbreaking as they are harrowing.

Every episode is more nerve-wracking than the last, and there are moments of unbearable tension when the shattering fear and desperation of the players are transferred to the viewer.

With a compelling mystery, ample twists and turns, well-paced action, and thrilling sequences, Squid Game is wildly addictive and utterly binge-worthy.

The technical aspects are all pitch-perfect as well, from the jaw-dropping set design to the stunning cinematography and the subtly eerie and immersive background music. There’s a damn good reason Squid Game broke new ground on Netflix and captured the hearts and minds of millions. And for those who have yet to experience it, yes, it is worth the hype.

Just be sure to watch it in its native Korean if at all possible, because the dubbed version is distracting and fails to let the exceptional talent of the actors shine through.

By exploring the desperation of the downtrodden with unflinching violence, Squid Game is meant to make you uncomfortable; it’s a deeply affecting reminder that we are all complicit in the perpetuation of social and economic inequality.

TRAILER

8. A Classic Horror Story

(Recommended by Jamie Marino)

Robert De Feo and Paolo Strippoli directed this 2021 horror-folky, torture-porny, twisty-turny Italian gorefest.

The title can be interpreted in more than one way, and after watching it for the first time, should you choose to watch it a second time, you’ll completely understand. In fact, upon a second watch, you will likely find dozens of clues pre-explaining the ‘who’ and ‘why’ related to the Big Bad.

Found within the film are pebbles of Evil Dead (pick one), Midsommar, Frontier(s), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (mostly the original and Leatherface: Part 3), Tobe Hooper’s Crocodile, Donkey Punch, The Village, Husk, Dark Ride, Penny Dreadful (After Dark Films), Kill List, Wrong Turn 2, and The Hills Run Red. There may be several more I didn’t catch, references to films I haven’t yet seen.

That’s not a criticism. The Mummy 2 stole from 26 different movies, and that was one of the funniest visits I ever made to the movies.

But A CLASSIC HORROR STORY isn’t funny. It’s chillingly serious, regardless of how many “tributes” are thrown in.

It is nearly impossible to explain the story without giving away spoilers, but I’ll give you the most stripped-down of beats. 

A Classic Horror Story stars Italian model Matilda Lutz, from Revenge. Yes, her. In the movie, she is facing an unwanted pregnancy and an unsympathetic mother. She’s on a road trip in a Winnebago with four other people, all of whom are strangers. They are traveling through a remote, thickly-forested area of Southern Italy.

We are introduced to our murder meat: the blondie, her smartass boyfriend, the irredeemably miserable middle-aged doctor, and the chubby, well-meaning horror geek. They crash into a tree, and there is no cell phone signal. At one point, the horror geek even laughs and says it’s like the setup for a horror movie.

While wandering in the woods looking for help, they encounter an elaborate sacrificial altar that includes five skulls, three monstrous effigies of demons, pig heads, and various small, handmade stick structures. We learn of a Southern Italian folk legend that indicates the Mafia has roots in pagan sacrifice and the hive-mind ways of thinking.

The rest you have to see for yourself.

If you enjoy it, I highly recommend a second viewing to spot all the hints that breezed past you the first time.

TRAILER

9. Before I Wake

(Recommended by Maggie Stankiewicz)

Before I Wake is a powerhouse of a film in every sense of the word.

It transcended the depths of distribution hell after very narrowly missing being locked in a vault for all eternity and landed in the Netflix library, destined to gut-punch unsuspecting viewers. This film was quietly released before Mike Flanagan became one of horror’s premier creators. Viewership has suffered from being buried in stacks of other successful properties, but it remains a diamond among…other diamonds.

In many ways, it feels like the character of Cody in Before I Wake walked so little Nellie Crain could run.

Portrayed by a young and immensely talented Jacob Tremblay, Cody finds himself under the care of bereaved couple Jessie (Kate Bosworth) and Mark Hobson (Thomas Jane). Cody, having just lost his mother, and the Hobsons, having lost their son, is a match made in grief.

The result of their worlds colliding is a darkly whimsical exploration of loss, life, and the many horrors of the human condition.

There are no ghosts, homicidal mirrors, or haunted houses in Before I Wake.

There is only heartache, parental missteps, and The Canker Man.

Cody has the power to bring his dreams to life and not just for him, but for those around him. When his dreams are full of comfort, he can conjure the brightest butterflies. But when sadness or fear creeps into his subconscious, other horrors are brought to light.

Cody’s illusory powers illuminate the dark side of being able to bring your dreams into the real world, as a manifestation of both the light and the dark that lives in us all. Cody and the Hobsons struggle to reconcile with their own unacknowledged darkness until it becomes a tulpa, emboldened by their resistance to deal with their trauma.

Before I Wake interrogates the notion that unresolved trauma can manifest in ways that don’t just harm us, but harm those around us. If left to its own devices, does trauma create monsters or turn us into them?

Full of darkness and light, despair and hope, luck and consequence, Before I Wake is worthy of reverence.

It’s as bitter as it is sweet, it’s painful as it is healing, and it deserves a second life in physical media.

TRAILER

10. Vampires vs The Bronx

(Recommended by Berlyn Nikolunauer)

The horror genre easily lends itself to making social commentary, and the vampire category almost always goes there. Vampires vs The Bronx from director Oz Rodriguez is no exception to this, taking on a modern perspective that’s appropriate for the 2020s.

Existing in a self-realized horror world, Miguel and his friends are able to research the best ways to identify and battle vampires invading their neighborhood by watching well-known classics. They are shown Blade where they learn most of the common vampire customs, and how to kill them.

This step allows for all of our favorite and familiar vampire references that hilariously blend with the horror and action of the film.

Led by an exciting cast, Miguel played by Jaden Michael, Gerald Jones III as Bobby, and Gregory Diaz IV, play the main group and they are all incredibly talented individuals.Bringing together a solid mix of personalities, the boys are unique as their own characters but still believable as a group of friends.

Viewers can’t help but root for them as you get to know their home lives and how they intersect with each other while trying to navigate adolescence.

Vampires vs the Bronx isn’t just a cheesy, fun vampire movie; it’s a film that fleshes out each storyline and provides a fresh point of view.

It also draws viewers into the characters’ lives effortlessly.

Making space for more stories from Black creators and People of Color in horror allows for more representation that is long overdue.

Of course, the representation isn’t unheard of, but these stories deserve better treatment, and to be seen by all horror fans. Giving Vampires vs The Bronx a physical release would allow for everyone to add it to their shelves and share it with others, just like Miguel and his friends are shown Blade within the film.

In a sea of hundreds of vampire films, the majority of them being mediocre at best, Vampires vs The Bronx stands out as a solid addition to the genre.

TRAILER

11. Archive 81

(Recommended by Christi Bandy)

When it comes to original content, Netflix has stepped up its suspense game with recent entries like Archive 81, an eight-part streaming series based on a 2016 podcast. With a blend of horror, sci-fi, thriller, and fantasy, Archive 81 pulls you directly into the vortex of an eerie mystery involving some weird videotape footage.

You’re introduced to Dan Turner (Mamoudou Athie) a soft-spoken, mild-mannered archivist and movie buff who’s an expert at restoring damaged media, and his best friend, Mark Higgins (Matt McGorry) a lively podcast host who wears interesting sweaters. The pair are swiftly entrenched in an odd situation when Dan’s boss, millionaire Virgil Davenport (Martin Donavan) hires him for a personal project – to restore some old videotapes.

It’s obvious from the get-go that these are no ordinary videotapes. What’s on the tapes could be evidence of a fire that occurred years ago at an apartment building called the Visser, and the story of one woman, in particular, Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi), who seems to know more about what really happened there.

How’s everything connected, and why did Virgil choose Dan to go down this rabbit hole? What happened in ’94 that has any bearing on today? The videotapes hold the answers, and Dan is determined to get to the bottom of the riddle.

From the first episode, I was enthralled. Tight pacing, fast flashbacks, and the unraveling of Melody’s story happen in tandem with Dan’s history, and you begin to understand how everything fits into place.

Creepy, surprising, a little noir, and extremely engaging, Archive 81 is easy to binge.

The seamless combination of cultish horror and dramatic mystery makes the story such a treat, and the images will stay with you long after the credits roll.

As Dan falls further into the events of the past and the truth begins to dawn on you, it’s both horrifying and satisfying to see Dan make sacrifices to save innocent lives and reveal the true villains. The slow-burn buildup to the climax is well worth the wait. The truth of what Dan finds is absolutely horror-driven and involves witchcraft, cults, seances, and ultimately, murder.

I have seen Archive 81 referred to as ‘found footage,’ which I imagine is true in context, but it’s so much more than that. Highlighted by fleshed out, well-written, realistic characters, top-notch acting, and perfect pacing, I think it’s one of the best offerings by the streaming giant in recent years.

Clear your week if you decide to watch, cause once you’re in, you’re in for the long haul. Once you get to the conclusion, while it does tie up the story, it’s left open-ended. This left fans hoping for a season two, but Netflix made the disappointing decision to cancel the show.

Packed with disturbing images, Archive 81 creates a looming sense of dread that I found ultimately addicting.

TRAILER

12. Gerald’s Game

(Recommended by Robert Rosado)

From his feature debut in 2011, Absentia, to the acclaimed Midnight Mass limited series on Netflix, Mike Flanagan has demonstrated that he is easily one of the finest filmmakers in contemporary horror. Unafraid to take risks or dive into uncomfortable territory, he is also an expert craftsman who is capable of indelible imagery and excruciating suspense.

For these reasons and others, he was a natural choice to adapt Stephen King’s 1992 novel, Gerald’s Game.

In an effort to inject some zest into their stagnant marriage, Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) arrange a weekend getaway to a lakehouse in the woods of Alabama. Not long after settling in, sex games and roleplaying ensue, which sees both of Jessie’s hands cuffed to the bed.

Initially playful, Gerald’s lecherous manner triggers a visceral response from his wife, and she demands to be uncuffed. Before Gerald can do so, however, he suffers a massive heart attack and dies, rendering Jessie trapped and helpless.

With extremely restricted options, Jessie must decide if she is resigned to her fate, or if she will attempt to escape somehow. To make matters worse, the front door of the house was never closed, giving any number of unspeakable threats the chance to walk right in.

This was a novel that had been previously deemed “unfilmable”, not only for its taboo premise but also for its cerebral narrative, with much of the story taking place inside the thought process of the imperiled Jessie.

By distilling King’s novel to its essential themes, events, and dialogues, Flanagan can dexterously helm this gripping account of a woman at war with time, the elements, herself, and something even more dreadful that begins appearing to her at night.

Carla Gugino gives a tour-de-force performance as Jessie, utterly convincing in every stage of the character’s harrowing journey.

It’s not merely the situation at hand which is occupying her increasingly fractured mind, but decades of trauma, abuse, misogyny, and lost opportunities for Jessie to rebuke the past and reclaim the power in her life.

One criticism I have heard about this film is that the final ten minutes or so should have been deleted, ending on a cliffhanger note. For me, doing so would miss the entire point.

King’s novel and Flanagan’s film is more than just white-knuckle thriller, although it does contain among the scariest and most gut-wrenching sequences in recent memory, not to mention one unforgettable moment of body horror.

Above all else, Gerald’s Game is a story of personal triumph, of staring down your darkest demons and leaving them in your wake as you begin the hard-won trek back into the light.

TRAILER

13. The Dirt

(Recommended by Laura A. Sloan)

From their life on the Sunset Strip to sold-out arenas worldwide, Director Jeff Tremaine (Jackass Series) shares a vulnerable film about the lives of the notorious Mötley Crüe, in Netflix’s 2019 release, The Dirt.

Within the first 30 seconds, The Dirt has me at the historic Whisky A Go-Go nightclub, locked in for this fast and outrageous ride, Nikki Sixx (Douglas Booth) swiftly narrates what the early 1980s were like.

Sixx shares the beginnings of a hardened life as a young boy to what makes him the leader, then we meet the naïve and happy-go-lucky, Tommy Lee (Machine Gun Kelly.) Lee joins his mentor Nikki, with the addition of Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon), the oldest member of the band yearning for his youth despite his health issues.

Finally, with the arrival of promiscuous lead singer, Vince Neil (Daniel Webber), whose vocals give the band the unique blues and soul infusion into metal, Mötley Crüe is born.

Between performing “Live Wire” to the conception of their band name, Tremaine brilliantly foreshadows their connection as a band.

Like Goodfellas, this type of narrative film flows effortlessly as each character breaks down the fourth wall at pivotal points with their own recollection of life on the road.

Even their manager, Doc McGhee (David Costabile) who babysat them through all the chaos, and Tom Zutaut (Pete Davidson) who signed the LA Glam band onto their first album, humorously add to the story.

Cinematographer, Toby Oliver, visually brings the magic with the talents of Editor, Melissa Kent in Tommy’s “bender” sequence, basically guiding the audience into what losing all your senses leads up to night after night. The film continues to show the path of rocky relationships, sex, drugs, tragedies, and all the luxuries for the taking, while equally paying the personal price for those losses.

Screenwriters Rich Wilkes and Amanda Adelson did a remarkable job in translating the band’s 2001 autobiography with Neil Strauss to the screen. Despite the online controversy of fact vs fiction, the writers successfully condensed down Mötley Crüe’s vast history to execute The Dirt.

Though The Dirt is not a horror film, this rock triumph biopic is brought to life with great love by longtime horror producer, Erik Olsen (Orphan, The Hills Run Red).

Financially, Netflix has everything to gain from releasing The Dirt on physical media with extras as even Mötley Crüe released the soundtrack, including four new tracks. As the older series and films available only on streaming platforms get fewer views, a release in physical format can keep the past catalogs of work relevant. The Dirt is the type of film that physical media releases are made of.

Mötley Crüe shares with us that the journey was wild and that some choices are irreversible, but as a band and tribe, you can find “Home Sweet Home” on the journey together.

TRAILER

14. Hush

(Recommended by Jamie Alvey)

I have dreamed of seeing Hush on my shelf next to my other Mike Flanagan-created titles. I’ve wanted this since I first saw the film, but after six years, we have yet to receive a proper Blu-ray or DVD release of Hush.

It seems almost like a robbery of sorts, considering how near and dear the film is to me and has influenced my own creative process. I’d like to be able to delve more into how the film was made and watch bonus features and listen to a commentary as well. It’s maddening that these resources are not just lost to me but to others.

The creative process of this small, wonderful film deserves to be known and preserved. Plus, I just want a damn commentary track between Mike Flanagan, Kate Siegel, and John Gallagher, Jr. Is that too much to ask for?

Hush follows Maddie Young (Kate Siegel), a deaf-mute writer, who must fight for her life against a sadistic man (John Gallagher, Jr.) who kills for sport. Maddie’s deafness is portrayed respectfully despite the fact that Siegel isn’t deaf or hard of hearing herself.

It’s an inventive take on the home invasion horror subgenre that subverts the idea that a final girl has to be an able-bodied person. The film is a step in the right direction of normalizing narratives of disabled characters and people within the genre at large.

In the end, it prioritizes and encourages the inclusion of horror films that feature characters with disabilities who aren’t simply used as melodramatic fodder for killers.

It’s a small film — claustrophobic if I’m being honest.

There’s a real exercise in tension and atmosphere within the movie. It goes to show that you can be artful within amazingly tiny constraints and still create art that is not only masterful but is reflective and has something to say about the genre.

I love being able to look at my shelves and see all my Flanagan-created media in their neat little row, all in place, but I often feel a pang of sadness at the gaps that exist there. Those gaps shouldn’t exist. While I’m not begging for some grand Criterion release of the film here (though I would not oppose one), it would be nice to have that physical copy, that bit of Hush that would always be at my fingertips because Netflix might not be forever.

It’s a shame that these filmmakers, Mike Flanagan included, can’t look at their own collections with pride and see the tangible fruits of their labors.

The release of films like Hush would mean a great deal to us all, but especially the creatives.

TRAILER

15. Hellbound

(Recommended by Stephanie Malone)

Squid Game introduced American audiences to the beauty and brutality of South Korean dramas, reeling in millions of viewers. And Hellbound kept them on the hook, proving the surprise success of a foreign import was no fluke. In fact, within 24 hours of premiering, Hellbound topped ratings in 80 different countries and overtook Squid Game as the platform’s most-watched show.

The ambitious series from Train to Busan director Yeon Sang-ho — based on his own webtoon (“The Hell”) — explores the dangers of weaponizing belief.

The first few minutes will shake you to your core, boasting one of the most explosive, “holy shit” openings ever that sets the stage for the show’s brilliant premise.

In a not-so-distant future, humans begin receiving otherworldly decrees, ostensibly from God. A floating face in the sky tells them the exact date and time of their death and condemns them to Hell. When that time comes, they are savagely murdered in an exceedingly brutal fashion by three hulking CGI demons.

As absolutely bone-chilling as this supernatural slaughter is, the real horror of the show comes from the very human reaction — a painfully inevitable one in which religious groups jockey for power by leveraging fear and using panic for political gain.

The six-episode series weaves a compelling mystery around exactly what is happening and why, while thoughtfully exploring ideas about faith, helplessness in the face of the inevitable, and the fragility of the human experience.

Hellbound maintains a vice grip on viewers with relentless tension, unflinching violence, stellar performances, and brutal nihilism that skewers mass hysteria and religious propaganda.

In between bursts of grisly horror, the show explores the threat of misinformation, the ease with which scared people are manipulated, our desperate need to rationalize the unthinkable, and the terrifying way we jump to judgment and readily consume the suffering of others.

Though the premise is fantastical, the way this powerful drama reveals the ugly core of human nature feels unsettlingly real.

The opening title card of Hellbound explains, “The day was just an ordinary day.”

And that’s the brilliance of the show encapsulated, because, at the end of the day, the greatest horrors we face are also the most ordinary.

TRAILER

16. Apostle

(Recommended by Kelly Mintzer)

Dan Stevens has had a fascinating career, informed by genuinely unexpected roles. I personally became aware of him through The Guest, but I cannot imagine how someone who fell for Downton Abbey Dan would feel seeing Apostle.

I found Apostle while I was writing a bi-weekly column. I would watch the trailer for a movie I knew nothing about and guess the contents of the movie. Then I would watch the movie and compare the reality to my prognostication.

And boy, did I get Apostle wrong, in all of the best possible ways.

A truly vicious piece of folk horror, it has everything you could possibly want from the genre; fear of the outsider, a town with a secret, some very cult-y goings-on, and blood sacrifices.

I am hesitant to reveal too much about Apostle.

This 2018 period horror film was written, directed and edited by Gareth Evans (The Raid) and stars Dan Stevens, Lucy Boynton, Mark Lewis Jones, Bill Milner, Kristine Froseth, Paul Higgins and Michael Sheen. The story follows a British man as he attempts to rescue his sister from a cult on a remote island.

It’s a movie that reveals itself in bloody, violent bursts and blooms. It steadily builds oppressive dread over 2 hours and 10 minutes.

While it honors the legacy of classic Folk Horror-there are certainly hints of The Wicker Man and The Witchfinder General, Apostle never sinks to simple homage.

Netflix has never produced a finer or more brutal film.

TRAILER

17. Cam

(Recommended by Guest Author, Emily Fabrizio)

Being part of the first generation practically raised by Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, I have soft spot for honest and empathetic portrayals of sex work. Law & Order: SVU was my first interaction with media portraying sex work that is — if you don’t count Rocko’s Modern Life of course.

In college, I wrote a paper on prostitution for a social issues class. It was a simple paper discussing policies and ethics in various countries around the world. The following semester, I wrote a piece of flash fiction about an exotic dancer killing someone in self-defense, which was later published in my school’s literary journal. Suffice to say, my lifelong respect and empathy for sex workers meant Cam (2018) was an absolute must-see and went on my watchlist almost immediately.

Written by Isa Mazzei, a former cam girl herself, Cam delves into the life of Alice (Madeline Brewer) as her online persona Lola becomes more and more popular.

While Alice is not ashamed of what she does, she does not disclose that information to just anyone. Only her brother, Jordan (Devin Druid), knows the true nature of her line of work at the beginning of the movie even though she also has a close familial bond with her mother (Melora Walters). She simply wanted that information to be known on her own terms, which is perfectly understandable because of the stigma tied to sex work.

This is a more positive and nuanced take on sex work than we typically see. Alice has chosen this career path, and she is happy and thriving; a refreshing change given how often such work is portrayed as something dangerous, shameful, or desperate.

Diving into the more cerebral main plot would do a disservice to this gem of a movie, but it is certainly worth one’s time to sit down and watch.

While the movie centers around cam girls and the internet — making a streaming service an ideal platform — Cam should be made available to wider audiences. The world is becoming more progressive, understanding, and accepting of so many different walks of life. This one should be included.

I would love nothing more than to experience any behind-the-scenes extras there may be — from the effects behind Lola’s macabre (and admittedly distasteful) stunts for gaining followers to commentary from the cast and crew — so that I can know more about this world that has been created.

Cam is loaded with chilling performances from the cast and a stunning mix of sci-fi and existential horror with a splash of realism.

This film left me on the edge of my seat and thinking about the movie for days afterward.

TRAILER

18. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

(Recommended by Alli Hartley)

I’m Thinking of Ending Things would best be viewed in a lonely art house cinema on a rainy Tuesday. It’s everything that makes cinema intimate, cerebral, and heartbreaking.

Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons play a new couple, only three weeks into their romance, on their way to visit his parents. Even that sentence carries with it a sort of vicarious dread, but Charlie Kaufman, the master of liminal head-games, has something more surreal in store.

What starts off as a mundane event is intercut with fragments of someone else’s memories, old cartoons, moments unstuck in time, and a dog that shakes a little too much.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is one of those films, like Repulsion or The Shining, that breathes unease. The horror is not in knowing what there is to be afraid of, but in knowing whatever it is, it is inescapable and all-consuming.

Toni Collette plays Jake’s mother and once again gives a perfect performance, balanced precisely on the wrong side of madness, her wild-eyed need barely restrained behind a patina of overeager pleasantries. Jesse Plemons proves himself as one of the most interesting actors in years as his menacing instability flickers just underneath his exterior. As the unnamed woman, Jessie Buckley moves through these exchanges with a character that begins as our anchor until she too, begins to fragment.

Like the play that is performed so often in Jake’s high school, the façade is only believable at a distance. Only believable when you are alone.

Charlie Kaufman, the master of the impossible adaptation, once again tops himself.

This is a movie that’s liminality is the point.

Essays, classes, can (and should) be written about the way the dialogue crosses and crisscrosses in different styles and allusions, all blending, different voices tinged with the same thoughts and at different points in time, creating a desolate kind of dread until its fantastical conclusion.

Not since Mulholland Drive has a stage performance raised so many questions of identity, sanity, and free will. Fans of the film Adaptation may also find themselves chuckling as the final twist is revealed.

Known for playing with surreality and subjective experience, Kaufman’s films have always benefited from a DVD release. I’m Thinking of Ending Things in particular would serve from a commentary by Kaufman, as well as novelist Ian Reid. The editing and sound design, as well, have deliberate choices that enhance the fractures in the narrative.

This film wouldn’t feel the same without the howling wind that cuts through even at the dinner table, or the subtle prolapse of dialogue just before a shift in perspective. There are so many, many ways that concepts like this have gone wrong, and it is to the credit of all these thoughtful details that the film does not.

TRAILER

It’s impossible to consider how many films have been lost to the ages.

If nothing else, sleeper hits prove that studio heads are not always the best predictors of which films will be successful.

In recent years, Netflix has successfully bid for its projects to be considered for judgment amidst others in rankings of artistry and excellence, such as the Oscars, Emmys, etc. I’m Thinking of Ending Things certainly deserved to be among their number.

But in order to be considered for any judgment of artistry, it is imperative that a studio contributes to the creation of physical media. We can not allow, knowing how fleeting technology is in an ever-changing world, to prohibit access to stories to only the digital medium. To do so reduces the accessibility of that media and risks it being lost forever in the coming years.

One would hope, after watching a film like this, that Netflix finds that sort of relentless erosion, this erasure of our cultural identity, as terrifying as Kaufman and I do.

More Great Content

While these compelling Netflix originals missed making our list, they are all well worth your time — and worth a physical release from Netflix.

  • The Babysitter
  • Cargo
  • Malevolent
  • The Perfection
  • In the Tall Grass
  • Eli
  • Things Heard and Seen
  • Army of the Dead
  • No One Gets Out Alive
  • The Ritual
  • The Ravenous
  • All of Us Are Dead

Leave a Reply

Allowed tags:  you may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="">, <strong>, <em>, <h1>, <h2>, <h3>
Please note:  all comments go through moderation.
Overall Rating

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.