12 of the Scariest Horror Movies to Stream Now
We recommend a dozen horror films to eff you up for life.
What scares you in horror movies? Cruelty? Disease? Evil spirits? Mind control? Vampires? Werewolves? Zombies? Slashers? Everyone has their freakout button—a specific fear—but it’s all scary when done well. In this article, we recommend a dreadful dozen of the scariest movies ever and note which streaming services have them available to stream, rent, or buy. And, as always, we list scores more of the scariest movies because, for some of us, a dozen ain’t enough.
Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) in the throes of demonic possession in 1973’s The Exorcist. (Video screenshot from Max)
1. The Exorcist (1973)
Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), controlled by the demon Pazuzu, casually observes efforts to revive Father Lankester Merrin in 1973’s The Exorcist. (Video screenshot from Max)
William Friedkin’s 1973 film, based on William Peter Blatty’s novel The Exorcist, follows a 12-year-old girl whose body had a squatter: The ancient demon Pazuzu. The film is a slow burn— almost frustratingly so at times—but this contributes to its legendary scariness. The opening scenes in Iraq show us milky-eyed old women, rabid wild dogs, and an old priest on a hill facing off against a smiling statue with a threateningly large, serpentine southern appendage.
We then warp to Georgetown, meeting Chris MacNeil and her sweet daughter Regan. The spooky stuff drips (weird noises, bumpy beds), then trickles (you know what scene I’m talkin’ ‘bout), then escalates to utter insanity (spider-walk, crucifix, pea soup, swivel head, exorcism). As such, The Exorcist is truly exhausting—and it sticks in your mind for decades, even if you’ve lost your faith.
2. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) swings his chainsaw in 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. (Video screenshot from Tubi)
The title of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 film starts with a harrowing true story (told in voiceover by Night Court’s John Larroqeutte) illustrated by flickering images and, finally, the full, gruesome picture. Now sufficiently primed, we watch five ostensibly doomed people stumble upon the cannibalistic Sawyer clan’s home-based butcher shop, where they fall victim to the events foreshadowed by the introduction and expository dialogue. From the film’s title, you may expect buckets of blood and flying limbs—nope. Hooper mines story, performances, set pieces, and props to craft a viscerally terrifying experience. And once the screaming starts, it doesn’t stop until Leatherface and his titular saw sway in the sunset.
3. The Shining (1980)
Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) demonstrates the Kubrick Stare in 1980’s The Shining (Video screenshot from YouTube)
Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel begins with gorgeous aerial views of lush green Colorado canyon roads, underscored by a dark, droning soundtrack. It’s like an airborne something is tracking the Torrance family’s car as it ascends to the Overlook Hotel, where they plan to work through the winter as caretakers. The haunting presence persists, dovetailing with a palpable sense of isolation as the hotel’s ghosts slowly drive Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) out of his mind—and he turns on his family.
But what makes The Shining genuinely frightening is that it’s not just a ghost story; it’s a metaphor for domestic violence. The blood waves, creepy twins, and catfishing hag are scary. But set those aside and imagine what it’s like to be a mother or child trapped in a house with a madman—with no help for miles.
4. Halloween (1978)
Young Michael Myers (Will Sandin) after killing his sister in John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher, Halloween. (Video screenshot from YouTube)
Even after 45 years, John Carpenter’s 1978 iconic slasher film remains supremely freaky. Halloween combines an urban legend (the Boogeyman) with Haddonfield, a neighborhood like any other as it celebrates an innocent candy-collecting holiday. But the town has a dark, 15-year-old secret: Michael Myers, who stabbed his sister at the ripe old age of 6. And this particular Halloween is, as the film’s tagline goes, “The night he came home.”
The chilling setup leads to action as Michael busts out of Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, masks up, and heads to Haddonfield, pursued by his high-strung doctor. The kills are relatively tame, but Halloween doesn’t need gore when it has a solid story, a born scream queen (Jamie Lee Curtis), an unstoppable mute masked killer who isn’t afraid to work the day shift, and the now-iconic, Carpenter-composed piano theme.
5. The Evil Dead (1981)
Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), now possessed, tries to break out of the cellar in 1981’s The Evil Dead. (Video screenshot from YouTube)
Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead is singularly scary, a significant accomplishment with only a $375,000 budget. In a cabin cellar, five friends discover an archaeologist’s research materials—a book bound in human flesh and inked in blood, plus tapes of dictated notes. Playing the recordings triggers a swarm of invisible demons that zoom around (often in clever handheld, POV camera work), assaulting and possessing the campers. Friends must kill friends—messily, and sometimes more than once—as the long, exceptionally gory night escalates into insanity and a sucker-punch resolution. The Evil Dead will leave you drained and panting. Watch it alone at night. In the woods.
6. The Thing (1982)
Palmer (David Clennon) transforms in 1982’s The Thing. (Video screenshot from YouTube)
It’s creepy enough to be snowed in for an extended period while miles from civilization (see The Shining). What if something goes wrong? In this John Carpenter adaptation of John W. Campbell’s 1938 story, that complication is uncovering a long-frozen ancient shape-shifting alien that can assume anyone’s identity—but only after some seriously revolting trial and error. That, plus the claustrophobia, isolation, paranoia, and terror really gets under your skin. But as the ensemble cast led by Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, and Keith David watch their biggest weapons fail to destroy the Thing, the most terrifying realization emerges: What happens to the world if the Thing wins? It was a terrifying thought in 1982—and it’s even more so in 2023 when the polar ice caps are melting away to reveal who knows what.
7. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) torments Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss, not shown) in 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. (Video screenshot from Max)
Friday the 13th and Jason Voorhees made summer camp scary. Halloween and Michael Myers did the same for idyllic neighborhoods and a kid-friendly holiday. Then, Freddy Krueger came for our dreams in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street.
The ghost of a child murderer burned alive by vigilante parents, Freddy eschews a mask, preferring to show his charred cheese pizza of a face—often from behind his DIY weapon of choice: A bladed glove.
Oh, but there’s more. With access to our subconsciouses, Freddy the dream-bender torments us with imagery based on our trauma, pouring salt on our wounds with his wicked one-liners. And then the film implants an insidious earworm that played in our heads as we drifted off to sleep: “1, 2, Freddy’s comin’ for you . . . ”
8. Candyman (1992)
Candyman (Tony Todd) visits Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) in the hospital in 1992’s Candyman. (Video screenshot from Max)
The “say [insert entity’s name] five times into a mirror” method of summoning evil is a trope, but Candyman isn’t Bloody Mary. He’s the vengeful spirit of Daniel Robitaille, a black man lynched for loving a white woman too soon after the Civil War. And, unlike his folklore friend, Candyman always killed when called—even if he loves you, as Candyman’s protagonist Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) will attest. You can support that, right? No need to be afraid. Let’s put it this way: Candyman is a supernatural slasher who says seriously creepy stuff (“I’ll split you from your groin to your gullet”) in a booming telepathic voice, teleports, and flies backward out of windows. He has countless bees in his gory bosom, a dirty meat hook for a hand, and a righteous vendetta—but he’s not picky about his victims. Also, he has a crush on you. If that’s not terrifying, what is?
9. Martyrs (2008)
A young Lucie Jurin (Jessie Pham) runs from her captors in 2008’s Martyrs. (Video screenshot from Tubi).
Pascal Laugier’s 2008 exercise in New French Extremity horror starts with a bloody, barefoot, wild-eyed girl running from … something. We only begin to learn what Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) escaped 15 years later, when she and her best friend Anna (Morjana Alaoui) go after Lucie’s wealthy captors. Here, the film becomes a dizzying vortex of revelations and shocking events that have you asking repeatedly, “How much worse can it get?” You won’t like the answers. By the time the film ends, you’re spent, scarred, and scared to death—because the most frightening thing about Martyrs is that, in a world with 3,000+ bored billionaires, this shit could really happen.
10. Get Out (2017)
Georgina (Betty Gabriel) smiles at Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya, not shown) in 2017’s Get Out. (Video screenshot from Max)
What was I just saying about billionaires?
Anyway, Jordan Peele’s debut film is about a young black man meeting his white, affluent future in-laws for the first time. You can see where this is going: It’s not too far-fetched to consider that the moneyed elites of the world might enslave minorities in a secretive, sinister form—like zombification via honeypotting and hypnosis.
I know it sounds crazy. But does it? Really? Watch Get Out, then the news, and see if you don’t think the film is one sidestep away from reality.
11. It (2017)
Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård) invites Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott) to float with him in 2017’s It. (Video screenshot from Max)
Do you fear clowns? Do you also have childhood trauma? Boy, do I have a scary movie for you!
The second screen adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel about an evil entity in clownface tormenting a group of children—and returning for them 28 years later—is the best one. Nothing against It (1990); Tim Curry crushed it as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. It’s just that the story lost some teeth in its translation from an R-rated novel to PG prime-time TV.
Instead of following the novel’s era-jumping structure again, Andy Muschetti’s adaptation separates the flashback into this film and the present-day story into It: Chapter Two. Consequently, It is a lean, mean, 135-minute, R-rated movie that restores some scenes that didn’t make the miniseries and focuses on the kids, their trauma, and their battle with Pennywise. Speakin’ of the clown: Bill Skarsgård (Barbarian) is effin’ terrifying in the role (even with those rabbit teeth).
12. Hereditary (2018)
Peter Graham (Alex Wolff) unwillingly raises his hand in 2018’s Hereditary. (Video screenshot from YouTube)
Here’s another film that explores childhood trauma, loss, and grief—but through an occult horror lens.
Annie Graham (Toni Collette) grew up oblivious to her mother’s secret, yet bore its burden deep into adulthood. All this time, Annie chalked her mom’s odd behavior up to bad parenting and mental illness. But when Mom dies, and Annie moves her family into her house, it’s merely the beginning of Mom’s demonic endgame. Of course, it’s a total nightmare. No spoilers, though, ’cause Hereditary is probably the scariest movie since The Exorcist, and you deserve to experience its full impact. Just know that you’ve never seen a horror movie like Hereditary, and you’ll carry its horrors around long after the credits roll.
- 28 Days Later (2002)
- Alien (1979)
- Audition (1999)
- Barbarian (2022)
- Carrie (1976)
- The Changeling (1980)
- The Conjuring (2013)
- Dawn of the Dead (1978)
- Hellraiser (1987)
- In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
- Inside (2007)
- It Follows (2014)
- The Mist (2007)
- Night of the Living Dead (1968)
- Possession (1981)
- Psycho (1960)
- The Ring (2002)
- Ringu (1998)
- Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
- Sinister (2012)
- The Strangers (2008)
- The Vanishing (1988)
- The Wailing (2016)
- The Witch (2015)