Here in autumn, the season of decay and death, we often watch movies about decay and death in order to distract ourselves from the harsh reality that we’re all destined to decay and die. IT’S FUN, we all insist while embracing the darkest parts of our collective psyche, not wanting to admit that a fundamental irony of the human condition is how we actively avoid terrifying real-life situations, while also desiring reasonably realistic facsimiles of them, perhaps in a quest to further appreciate our all-too-brief lives.
More to the point: every streaming service wants to capitalize on this, so they load up on the scary stuff, prompting us to queue up to the Halloween horror buffet for an October feast laced with the dread of inevitability. But you only have so much time to subconsciously be reminded of your mortality, which is why some studied curation comes in handy.
This time, we dip into what Hulu has to offer. The streamer boasts a few originals, including Lupita Nyong’o-fights-zombies comedy Little Monsters and the Blumhouse-produced Into the Dark anthology series (I like Pure and Culture Shock among those that I’ve seen). Also on hand are some older titles that, I’d contend, are more enjoyable — which is where I cull this list of the best Hulu has on hand to summon the spirit of the season. Enjoy the scares, and the pondering of your own inexorable destruction!
DESCRIPTION: Looking back on this gorefest a decade-plus later, it was destined for cult status: It’s based on a Clive Barker short story. It’s by far the nuttiest thing on Bradley Cooper’s resume. It features Brooke Shields in a supporting role at a time when seeing Brooke Shields do anything was a novelty. It features a weird combination of skillful technical filmmaking and sequences of glistening depravity. And good lord, that double-entendre title is GRUESOME. The plot: The Coop plays a photographer stalking a serial killer (Vinnie Jones) as he slaughters folks on L.A. commuter trains. Brace yourself for occasionally artful direction and more-than-occasional depictions of viscera.
CAST: Bradley Cooper, Vinnie Jones
DESCRIPTION: With nothing but a dozen nickels and gumption up the wazoo, Sam Raimi made an all-time classic, the ultimate cabin-in-the-woods movie, a go-to must-watch gut-churner meeting all your spooky-season needs. It’s scary as hell and almost as funny, seeded with all the idiosyncratic Raimi-isms that tickled our rimples for decades to come, from here to Spider-Man to another classic, Drag Me to Hell. Let’s see, you’ve got the first kernel of Bruce Campbell’s lunatic career, the insane Deadite-in-the-cellar scene, the even more insane sexually-violated-by-vines scene… yep, The Evil Dead is easily the greatest cheap thing ever made.
CAST: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss
DESCRIPTION: If the original Evil Dead was the most loveable Z-grade horror film in cinema history, Raimi upgraded to glorious, full-fledged B-status with the sequel, which is so cartoony, it makes Looney Tunes look like Holocaust documentaries. Evil Dead II is the perfect marriage of bloody ridiculousness and bloody bloodiness, and Raimi finds his true eye as a filmmaker with this gory gambol through many of the same maneuvers as the first, just better, funnier and more exhilarating in its visual dynamic. As reluctant hero-goof Ash, Bruce Campbell becomes the slapstick wiseass we love so unconditionally now — and you’ll be hard-pressed to determine whether he or Raimi’s supercharged camera is the true star here.
CAST: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry
DESCRIPTION: Ain’t no party like a pod people party! The second of four big-screen iterations on Jack Finney’s classic The Body Snatchers novel — about alien spores floating down from space and creating zombiesque human doppelgangers bent on world domination — is possibly the best of the batch. It’s certainly the ickiest, rendering the story a crypto-sci-fi shocker/paranoid thriller boasting as its centerpiece a horrifying spore-clone birth sequence rich with grotesque effects and psychological squidginess. Fun: That grody scene is a fine example of how liberal the PG rating was in 1978. More fun: Leonard Nimoy is so much more than just Spock! Even more fun: Early Jeff Goldblum!
CAST: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams
DESCRIPTION: “Get. Out.” Pause. “GET. OUT.” The original Amityville — based on a true story, uh huh — is dumb and ridiculous and full of all the usual stuff, from disembodied voices to doors closing on their own to excessive conglomerations of insects to flashbacks of disturbing murders. And yet, it’s more than a little creepy, standing up as an entertaining haunted-house movie with its share of iconic moments and shots. James Brolin and Margot Kidder and her trendy pigtails work hard to sell this amusing hokum, which is boosted significantly by that eerie kid’s-choir score. I’m sure this is scary if you’re 12 — or if it reminds you of what it’s like to be 12 and freaked out by creaks and groans in the dead of night.
CAST: James Brolin, Margot Kidder
DESCRIPTION: Guillermo del Toro gave his producer’s stamp of approval to this film, possibly because it’s very much like his own spectral tale, The Devil’s Backbone. A pre-stardom J.A. Bayona (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) helms this story about a woman who was an orphanage adoptee, and now intends to convert the institution into a children’s hospital. But old ghosts linger, possibly manifesting as her son’s imaginary friend — which makes this one of the better Creepy Kid movies out there. The Orphanage is legitimately spooky, very much about what you don’t see, and what you wonder might be dwelling in the shadows — of the orphanage, or of the mind.
CAST: Belen Rueda, Fernando Cayo
DESCRIPTION: You’ll side with the grubby hayseeds instead of the young punks in this sub-cult creature feature with some totally tubular 1980s guy-in-a-costume/animatronic special effects. The plot: A drunk cretin cityboy on a dirt bike accidentally runs over a kid and kills him. Insane with grief, the boy’s dad, played by the great B-movie mercenary Lance Henriksen, consults the witch down yonder to summon Pumpkinhead, a spindly demon of local-yokel folklore, to render the shithead motocrosser and his pals asunder from their lives — one by one, and in increasingly grisly fashion, of course. The monster looks like the Alien xenomorph crossed with something from the dumpster outside the John Carpenter prop museum — and much to the chagrin of the arrogant dickheads, it also knows basic motorcycle mechanics! Moral of the story: Excavating a blank-eyed, no-nosed, tall-and-sinewy fanged drooler from the hoary deeps will never bring your dead kid back.
CAST: Lance Henriksen
DESCRIPTION: Horror fans who tout the excesses of Carpenter and slashers and Rob Zombies and regular zombies might argue against calling Darren Aronofsky’s mother!true “horror,” but few films shove you through the psychological meat grinder like this one. Sure, undead werewolf mothman Frankensteins and crap are scary, but what about the terrifyingly real fears of giving birth, impending parenthood, agoraphobia and other surrealistic subconscious ephemera ripped right from the nightmares lingering in our wet, throbbing brain wrinkles? Jennifer Lawrence plays an unnamed pregnant almost-mom whose house is overrun with people until the scene spirals wildly into madness, and we experience it all from her exasperated perspective. Aronovsky packs mother! with metaphor and allegory and all that, but it’s ultimately all about control: We have none! I’d rather fight 20 Pumpkinheads than think about that.
CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem
DESCRIPTION: First off, it’s a universal truth that you’re either into torture porn or you’re not a maniac. Just making that clear before any naifs out there blindly fire up this ugly, humorless, sickening thing and expect to be entertained. But this and Hostel are the benchmarks of a subgenre that ate up the grosses and grossed out the eaters for many years, therefore obligating me to include it in this list as something of minor pop-cultural import, I think? Anyway, Saw is the first of a franchise consisting of eight movies that seem like 80 if you had to sit through them, in which a serial killer known as Jigsaw traps his victims in diabolical impossible-choice scenarios that inevitably leave them horribly maimed dead meat glistening in the harsh fluorescent illumination and/or piss-yellow lighting of sadistic set pieces. Advice: “enjoy” Saw on an empty stomach, or it may render your stomach emptied.
CAST: Cary Elwes, Danny Glover
DESCRIPTION: So Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Frankenstein’s monster walk into 1987 suburban America: What’s the punchline? Will they kill someone and ruin the beige-on-beige Montgomery Ward interior decor with arterial spray? This youth-oriented post-Goonies dweeb-comedy — about a group of young foulmouthed misfits trying to stave off an invasion of classic Universal monsters — is so aesthetically dated, it’s supercool now, because without it, Stranger Things wouldn’t have a Spielberg ripoff to rip off. The Monster Squad is your one-stop shop for TRUE feathered hair, generic synth-driven pop music, cynical smoking cops and comically inattentive parents, and don’t you forget it.
CAST: Andre Gower, Robby Kiger
DESCRIPTION: Cleanse your palate of all the guts and dread with the antics of a loveable li’l monkey who stalks and slays his innocent prey with exquisitely honed cuteness. This sweet, hourlong special — spun off the Curious George PBS TV series — puts us right inside the jack o’lantern as George crouches, cursing the light, waiting for the perfect moment to spring upon his unsuspecting victims and send them spiraling, down, down into the inky blackness, which turns deep crimson before everything goes blank. Fun for the whole family!
CAST: Frank Welker, Jeff Bennett
RATED: Not rated