The Best Streaming Horror Films of 2017

Tuesday, January 2, 2018
Andrew Wyatt

Video-on-demand (VOD) is increasingly becoming a vital way for horror enthusiasts to access the genre's best contemporary features, particularly in secondary and tertiary markets such as St. Louis. In some ways, 2017 was a watershed year, in which the horror landscape shifted decisively towards a multi-platform paradigm. Same-day theatrical and VOD premieres were a common release strategy this year for smaller horror films, and a key means for such films to find an audience in Flyover Country. The library of new original content at streaming giants like Netflix exploded, burrowing down into increasingly specialized niches. The streaming horror platform Shudder finally seemed to find its footing, releasing a bounty of exclusive new features that had unjustly languished in post-festival limbo without distribution.

Streaming content is no longer a minor supplementary source of cinematic chills, but a crucial means by which devoted horror fans can explore the world of today's independent and international features, which are giving lazy American multiplex fare a run for its money. In that spirit, the list that follows presents the best feature-length horror films to be released via VOD this year. A film qualifies for this list if it premiered on a streaming platform between January 1 and December 31, 2017, whether 1) exclusively on that platform; 2) on the same day as a limited U.S. theatrical release; or 3) less than 30 days after a limited U.S. theatrical release.

10. A Dark Song

2016 / Ireland, UK / 100 min. / Directed by Liam Gavin / Opened in select U.S. cities and premiered online Apr. 28, 2017

Liam Gavin’s desolate and spine-tingling occult chamber piece is the definition of “slow burn”. A grieving mother and an abrasive demonologist-for-hire seal themselves in a remote Irish estate to conduct a grueling, months-long ritual to communicate with the woman’s deceased child. For a long, long time virtually nothing happens; and then all hell breaks loose. While A Dark Song’s climactic scares are standard stuff for 21st century horror, what’s deeply impressive about the film is the seriousness with which it approaches its occult trappings. It might be the most earnest and un-sensational film ever made about black magic. Yet Gavin hews to a commendably impressionistic approach, plying the viewer with mysterious, fascinating glimpses of maigc circles and ritual bloodletting rather than agonizing over the procedural minutiae. [Now available to stream via Netflix, and to rent via Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, and other platforms.]

9. Hounds of Love

2016 / Australia / 108 min. / Directed by Ben Young / Opened in select U.S. cities and premiered online May 12, 2017

It was something of a banner year for Australian abduction and survival horror pictures, and Ben Young’s Hounds of Love is one of the standouts in this mini-wave. At first glance, there’s nothing particularly inventive about this black tale of a Bonnie-and-Clyde serial killer couple preying on adolescents in the suburbs of Perth. There’s no grand guignol hook: Just a terrified girl chained to a bed, at the mercy of a pair of human fiends. However, Young’s film boasts stellar compositions, enthralling performances, and a dense, perversely sun-kissed atmosphere of evil. Moreover, Hounds of Love burrows deep into the twisted psychology of its monstrous power couple, closely observing how the film's teenage heroine schemes to pit her captors against each other — before they grow bored with her. [Now available to stream via Hulu, and to rent via Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, and other platforms.]

8. Super Dark Times

2017 / USA / 100 min. / Directed by Kevin Phillips / Opened in select cities on Sep. 29, 2017; premiered online on Oct. 3, 2017

Kevin Phillips’ forbidding tale of male adolescent implosion in 1990s suburbia borrows from influences as diverse as Gus Van Sant, Sam Raimi, and Stephen King, but Super Dark Times also contains echoes of film noir at its most nihilistic. In grey, wintery upstate New York, a freak accident obliges a group of teenaged boys to keep a terrible secret, but it also drives a wedge between two best friends, slowly putrefying every aspect of their lives. Phillips’ film summons an evocative, gloomy atmosphere, and he expertly pinpoints the faintly surreal, detached behavior of idle high school boys. Underneath the film’s potent, moody authenticity, however, pulses a timeless tragedy about the gangrene of guilt, as well as a timely indictment of masculine aggression and entitlement. [Now available to rent via Google Play, Vudu, and other platforms.]

7. Killing Ground

2016 / Australia / 88 min. / Directed by Damien Power / Opened in select U.S. cities and premiered online on Jul. 21, 2017

Damien Power’s punishing survival thriller is another high-water mark in this year’s Australian horror offerings. When a couple arrive at a remote camping spot in the forests of New South Wales, they discover disquieting signs of other visitors, who have seemingly abandoned their SUV, tent, and possessions. Killing Ground uses well-worn dual timeline trickery to play with viewers’ perceptions and squeeze agonizing tension from its slow-burn scenario. However, this sort of structural sleight-of-hand, while engaging, is less vital than the film’s utter cold-bloodedness. From a seemingly stock scenario about backwoods killers and suburbanites in peril, Powers crafts a shocking portrayal of indifferent cruelty, as well as a captivating late-game shift into a scathing critique of male cowardice. [Now available to stream via Netflix and to rent via Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, and other platforms.]

6. The Girl with All the Gifts

2016 / UK, USA / 111 min. / Directed by Colm McCarthy / Opened in select U.S. cities on Feb. 24, 2017; premiered online on Jan. 26, 2017

Every other year or so, the moldering zombocalypse subgenre is given a vitalizing shot in the arm. In 2017, that infusion of verve arrived in the form of Colm McCarthy’s bracingly bleak The Girl with All the Gifts. From familiar raw materials — a cannibalism-inducing virus, a besieged military installation, a ragged band of survivors—the film crafts a novel, compelling vision of the end times. McCarthy’s feature follows an unlikely young girl who has succumbed to the zombie plague but has retained her human mind, and it’s through her eyes that the viewer watches as civilization's vestiges crumble. At the center of the film’s astute world-building and unexpected poignancy is a pitch-black pessimism that is disturbing in large part because McCarthy makes annihilation seem so damn comforting. [Now available to stream via Amazon Prime and to rent via Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, and other platforms.]

5. Gerald’s Game

2017 / USA / 103 min. / Directed by Mike Flanagan / Premiered online on Sep. 29, 2017

With Gerald’s Game, Mike Flanagan exhibits his characteristic facility for uncovering the potential of an elevator-pitch premise and transmuting it into smart, vivid horror cinema. Adapting Stephen King’s decidedly un-cinematic novel about a coerced BDSM session gone horribly wrong, Flanagan opens up what is essentially a one-woman chamber piece with deft camera work, droll hallucinations, and hyper-real, nightmarish flashbacks. The result is a brutal, remorseless, and remarkably stirring tale of self-preservation and self-actualization. Although it retains King’s clunky twist ending, Gerald’s Game leaves a devastating impression thanks to superb performances from Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood — not to mention one of the most stomach-churning, jaw-dropping gore effects of the decade. [Now available to stream via Netflix.]

4. Most Beautiful Island

2017 / USA / 80 min. / Directed by Ana Asensio / Opened in select cities and premiered online on Nov. 3, 2017

Ana Asensio’s marvelously self-assured debut feature begins, oddly enough, as a realist portrait of single immigrant women in New York City. Asensio stars as a Spanish transplant struggling to pay her rent, when a questionable opportunity lands in her lap: a few thousand dollars to stand around at an underground party for the well-to-do. It’s at this soiree that Most Beautiful Island suddenly lurches into skin-crawling psychological horror. Both the shrewd thematic mutualism of the film’s halves and Asensio’s elegant handling of the tonal swerve are striking. Cynical, hardheaded, and yet subtly subversive, the film presents a ghastly depiction of the One Percent at their most decadent and depraved, but never indicts the rabble for making Devil’s deals in order to survive. [Now available to rent via Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and other platforms.]

3. 1922

2017 / USA / 102 min. / Directed by Zak Hilditch / Premiered online on Oct. 13, 2017

It’s been a (mostly) exceptional year for Stephen King adaptations, but Zak Hilditch’s unforgiving, dread-choked cornhusker noir just might be the best of the bunch. Based on one of King’s lesser-known novellas, 1922 depicts one calamitous year in the life of a prideful Nebraska farmer, whose liberated and wasp-tongued wife is about to divorce him, liquidate their land, and decamp to Omaha with their son. The husband devises a murderous solution to this dilemma — ruthlessly manipulating his son to assist with the bloody deed — but this horrific crime sends ripples of chaos through their lives that can never be undone. Hilditch’s enthralling direction and Thomas Jane’s revelatory performance give this sordid, Poe-indebted tale of male resentment and remorse an distinct Old Testament heft. [Now available to stream via Netflix.]

2. Prevenge

2016 / UK / 88 min. / Directed by Alice Lowe / Opened in select U.S. cities and premiered online on Mar. 24, 2017

Pregnancy is an evergreen subject in the body horror subgenre, but Alice Lowe — who writes, directs, and stars in this marvelous, blackly comical slasher — is arguably the first filmmaker to discern the perverse potential of pregnancy’s uncanny psychological symptoms. Lowe’s glum Welsh widow has a decidedly bloodthirsty bun in the oven: Her squeaky-voiced fetus telepathically bullies and cajoles her to cut a bloody swath through a list of (allegedly) deserving victims. Besides being absurdly funny, utterly vicious, and unexpectedly sorrowful, Prevenge is sharply attuned to the surreal emotional tribulations of expectant mothers. Lowe cannily depicts all the unwelcome mental poking and prodding that a pregnant woman endures from doctors, politicians, strangers, and the alien parasite growing inside her. [Reviewed at Gateway Cinephile. Now available to stream via Shudder and to rent via iTunes.]

1. The Blackcoat’s Daughter

2015 / Canada, USA / 93 min. / Directed by Oz Perkins / Opened in select U.S. cities on Mar. 31, 2017; premiered online on Feb. 16, 2017

Oz Perkins’ magnificent, disturbing, and erotically prickly sophomore film is a twisted tale in both the moral and structural sense. The Blackcoat’s Daughter weaves together two parallel stories. One is centered on a pair of adolescent girls, stranded over February break at an austere Catholic boarding school in upstate New York. The other concerns a fraught young woman who has recently fled a psychiatric hospital and is slowly making her way towards that same school. These storylines eventually converge, of course, but what’s truly memorable about Perkins’ film isn’t its structural hocus pocus but its unhurried minimalism, its mesmerizing visuals and soundscape, and its severe, menacing atmosphere, which is so thick it’s practically suffocating. For a story about bloody murder and Devil worship, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is an almost audaciously deliberate film, where forward momentum is gladly sacrificed to the desolation of Hudson Valley cabin fever and peculiar, portentous occurrences. However, this chilly restraint amplifies the gouts of demonic madness when they do occur, permitting Perkins’ film to deliver not only some of the year’s most searing horror images, but also a quietly devastating conclusion. [Now available to stream via Amazon Prime and to rent via Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, and other platforms.]