If you love the fall and Halloween season, as we do, you may want to check out our recommendations for fun (and exciting) movies and shows to watch. David Antrobus lists his favorite films. I, Kyrian Lyndon, share my picks for shows streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Mine may be a bit on the lighter side, but all trailers come with a trigger warning.
Thinking of all the ways I could write about horror movies, all the angles and expressions of this often derided genre, I first considered the classic movies we’re all familiar with, the so-called canon. Your Exorcists, your Shinings, your Psychos. I love the classics, of course, but here I wanted to slow down and tread water in that dark and suddenly silent lake, reach a little deeper into the clutching weeds, and explore less celebrated horror, or at least those films not necessarily or always classified that way. Movies that are great in their own right, regardless of genre, yet embrace at the very least a strand of horror DNA. This isn’t to betray the genre; if anything, it’s the opposite. Here I want to celebrate art in the service of horror or horror in the service of art, whichever way that plays out. So here I go, with five examples of distressing beauty, of exquisite cruelty, all completely artful yet awful. I couldn’t care less about the order, and at any given time I could offer five more examples, and in any sequence. [Spoiler warnings throughout.]
1. Martyrs (2008, France)
At least we know this is unequivocally horror. That said, it refuses to conform to familiar horror tropes and expectations. The dark jewel of the New French Extremity, this uncompromising body horror film is not for everyone. Compared by some to the torture porn of the Saw and Hostel franchises, the distinction here is that Martyrs and its ilk investigate pain not torture, the very nature of human suffering. And like most of the movies in my list, Martyrs is largely female-focused.
2. Irréversible (2002, France)
A recurring aspect of horror is the way men treat women, and also the way toxic masculinity destroys men who refuse to buy in. If that doesn’t immediately scream horror, how about the brutal, unflinching ten-minute rape scene in a desolate tunnel under a busy Parisian street that makes you question your humanity? The two worst things we inflict on each other are murder and rape, and this film depicts both without embellishment, without excuses. Both are sickening and cannot be undone, which is the raw and dismal point—that the artful conceits of storytellers like Gaspar Noé aside, the appalling ramifications of violence are literally irreversible.
3. Antichrist (2009, Denmark)
Since Danish director Lars von Trier has been accused of misogyny more than once, naturally the noted provocateur decided to helm a meta cabin-in-the-woods horror film whose central premise was misogyny. Either his critics had misread him, or he was trolling us. Essentially he was asking whether depicting misogyny makes one a misogynist. It’s also the first movie in von Trier’s Depression trilogy. And yet, all that baggage aside, Antichrist is a stunningly beautiful film for something so dismal. The unnamed couple (Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe) who disintegrate in the wake of their child’s death illustrate the tendency of women to internalize pain and men to externalize it. How reductive that sounds will determine your enjoyment of this film, but gender politics aside, it’s as dark a horror as any: as surreally funny as it might sound in another context, the scene featuring a partially disemboweled fox eating itself and intoning “Chaos reigns” stayed in my nightmares for months. Actually, it’s still there.
4. Mulholland Drive (2001, United States)
David Lynch’s masterpiece, in my opinion. Purists will balk at my calling this horror, but if some of the unsettling scenes in the first two-thirds don’t convince you (the espresso scene, the Cowboy, the man in the alleyway behind the Winkie’s diner, the latter a masterclass in building tension and pure terror), the sheer desolate nightmare of the final third might well. At once a tribute to anti-Hollywood films like Sunset Boulevard and something far squirmier about the casual cruelties we inflict on each other (and especially on women) in the name of vanity or power or ego, this film is a puzzle box and a Nancy Drew type mystery and a neo-noir and a gut-churning howl from the void. Silencio, indeed.
5. Kill List (2011, United Kingdom)
The only UK film on my list, it’s fitting that this whip-smart Ben Wheatley offering bears some resemblance to that great British horror classic The Wicker Man. Yet in so many ways it’s unique, a visceral genre mashup showcasing domestic alienation, uber-violent hit men, and bizarre cultism against a bleak social backdrop. It’s as dirty and disturbing as its nonchalant, almost generic title suggests. One subterranean level lower and it’s almost in A Serbian Film territory. Be warned.
My only regret with this list is the absence of Korean gems such as Oldboy and I Saw the Devil. On another day, I might have switched those two and countless others (1988’s Dutch film The Vanishing is a bleak, merciless standout) from many countries around the globe with the ones I chose on this particular day. One other encouraging thing about this list is that every entry was released in this twenty-first century, suggesting that art horror continues to thrive… and not always at the margins, given the critical acclaim these films and directors have garnered.
Watching, on average, one show a night I’m not the best binge watcher. No doubt I miss a lot of fun stuff, but I do know what’s good! Anyway, I’m going to go backwards with my favorites, saving the best for last.
5. The Boys – Amazon Prime (Season 1)
I’m not usually into comics and superhero stuff, but I like this a lot. The reason I’m ‘hooked’ is, it has me burning to see justice served, no matter the cost. That’s another surprise for me since I’m not big on revenge movies and can’t enjoy anyone’s suffering. Give it a try!
4. Stranger Things – Netflix (Seasons 1-3)
Okay, I read a comment or two that this series should have ended a season or two ago, that they are merely recycling, and it’s the same old, same old. I respectfully disagree. Every season has been entertaining with new elements and twists. There’s goofy stuff, especially in the later seasons, but it’s still quite good.
3. True Blood – Amazon Prime (Seasons 1-6 free, Season 7 available for $3.99)
It’s been around a while, but I’d read all the books in the series. It took me a while to watch it. The first episode put me off a little, but I watched it again and continued to watch, and I loved it. It’s crazy fun.
2. The 100 – Netflix (Seasons 1-6)
I get more and more into this series as I go on. I’m in about Season 4 now (near the end of it, I think), and it’s thrillingly suspenseful. It’s not “Halloween-y” horror; it’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi, but it’s so good.
1. Dark – Netflix (Seasons 1 and 2)
I can’t tell you how much I love this series. It’s brilliant – the writing, directing, acting, cinematography, the music. Exquisite. My suggestion is to watch it in German with subtitles. Opt for that on Netflix. You won’t regret it. And pay close attention. It can be confusing, but it’s so worth it. I’ve backed up many times to see things again. I can’t recommend it more highly, and I’m psyched for Season 3, which I believe will be the finale. I’ve read it’s a trilogy.
I would put Lucifer on the list. It’s one of my absolute favorite shows on Netflix, and, while it can be shocking, it’s more of a comedy. A great show and so f’ng funny.
Other mentions: I’m planning to catch up with American Horror Story (Netflix). Also at the top of my list are Black Mirror (Netflix) and Orphan Black (Amazon Prime).
Tell us your favorites/recommendations in the comments!
Enjoy the season!
David Antrobus is a freelance writer and editor whose origins lie in northern England and who currently lives in the Vancouver area. As if in tribute to the abused and neglected children he spent two decades working with, his writing in all its forms bristles with outrage, sorrow, dark humour, and resilience. As an editor, he created Be Write There in 2009, a one-stop service that provides proofreading, copyediting, substantive editing, developmental editing, and manuscript evaluation. He has published two books, both nonfiction, and has written numerous dark yet lyrical tales scattered among various anthologies and websites.
Kyrian Lyndon is the author of Shattering Truths, the first book in her Deadly Veils series. She has published two poetry collections, A Dark Rose Blooms, and Remnants of Severed Chains, as well as several articles for Rebelle Society and The Voice of Literature e-zines.
She is the founder and publisher of Moonlit Dawn Publications and Brave Wings magazine and also the editor-in-chief of Brave Wings.