Halloween is fast approaching, so I’ve picked out some streaming options that are a bit off the beaten path, though not completely obscure. Chances are you’ve seen (or at least been recommended) all the classics—your Psychos, your Texas Chain Saw Massacres, your Nightmare on Elm Streets. Most of these films skew more modern, with only two from the 20th century. Some are quite horrifying, whereas others are merely creepy—not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Funny Games (Dir. Michael Haneke, 1997)
Though not a horror film per se, and nowhere near as bloody as some of the films on this list, Michael Haneke’s Funny Games is nevertheless chilling and completely devoid of hope. An Austrian family returns for a visit to their lake house, but two young men invite themselves into the house unannounced. They commence by terrorizing and torturing the family. Haneke is also torturing the viewer, daring us to turn off the film. Anyone who’s seen the iconic scene with a remote knows it’s just not that simple.
Note: Haneke directed a shot-for-shot remake of the film ten years later using an English-speaking cast and an American crew. I prefer the original version, but both versions are effective treatises on violence and media. You can stream the original Funny Games only on FilmStruck at the moment, but the remake is easier to find. You can stream the 2007 version on Netflix, or rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and Google Play.
The Eyes of My Mother (Dir. Nicolas Pesce, 2016)
Black & white cinematography isn’t reserved for creaky old monster films. Director Nicolas Pesce uses gorgeous textures and lighting for his story of a young girl warped by family traumas. This gory yet beautiful film shows the extremes some people will go just to find a friend. Stream The Eyes of My Mother on Netflix, or rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and Google Play.
House (Dir. Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977)
This movie is batshit crazy—it’s hard to say much else about it. Technically it’s the story of a young Japanese girl and her schoolmates journeying to visit an ailing aunt, but that synopsis has little in common with the actual film. House is more interested in evil cats and pianos that eat people than linear storytelling. It’s insane cheesiness pretty much demands a group viewing—and plenty of weed. Stream House on FilmStruck, or rent on Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu. Criterion also has a nice Blu-ray/DVD edition, although the obscurity of the film means it’s not filled with special features like most of their releases.
The Strangers (Dir. Bryan Bertino, 2008)
This one won’t necessarily be obscure for horror connoisseurs, but it’s extreme nature has prevented it from gaining a foothold with more mainstream viewers. Director Bryan Bertino works with well-tread horror tropes—there’s a couple alone in a house in the woods, plus three masked strangers who begin to intrude. Bertino’s masterstroke is to take his time, allowing the horror to build slowly until it’s unbearable. Stream The Strangers on HBO, or rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and Google Play.
Berberian Sound Studio (Dir. Peter Strickland, 2012)
I toyed with including a giallo film, a genre of super-stylized Italian slasher film, but opted instead for Peter Strickland’s stylish and atmospheric Berberian Sound Studio. It’s an homage to giallo films, in which a British sound designer (Toby Jones) travels to Italy to work on a film. He thinks it’s going to be about horses, but it’s actually a horror film. The erratic post-production experiences wears him down until his reality and the film’s begin to merge. One of the great but underseen films about film. And if you’re looking for a spooky soundtrack for your Halloween party, but think The Shining‘s soundtrack might be a bit much, look up Broadcast’s excellent score. Rent Berberian Sound Studio on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play.