Every year around Halloween, The AV Club invites famous horror directors and aficionados to recommend their favorite movies for a theoretical all-day marathon, "24 Hours of Horror" (Hostel director Eli Roth and Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright have both participated).
But who has the time or motivation to seek out those rare, esoteric or obscure picks? As a product of Internet culture, if a movie's not readily available with a click of a button (or a nesting in the trusty Redbox a block away), chances are I'm not going to go looking for it.
In the spirit of the season, I've created my own 24-hour-marathon list with picks that—at the time of writing—are streaming on Netflix. I've waded through a bunch of sludge and viscera to find some lesser-known gems, and I've tried to stay away from the obvious choices. I've also categorized them into four blocks, each representing a different type of fear, as delineated by Lincoln Michel in his fantastic essay "The Vocabulary of Fear": horror, terror, uncanny and revulsion.
So let's get on with it, boils and ghouls! Run times are approximate—some movies could be longer or shorter than allotted time slots—but if you factor in meals, bathroom breaks and insanity-induced, ritualistic mutilation, this should take you a full day.
Block I: The Horror
Michel describes the difference between "horror" and "terror" this way: "Terror is the feeling of dread and apprehension at the possibility of something frightening, while horror is the shock and repulsion of seeing the frightening thing." I'm of the opinion that horror is the most fun type of fear; viewers can shut their eyes to avoid a shocking scene. The movies in this first block will cater to the casual horror fan.
The Frighteners (1996), 8 to 10 p.m.: If there ever was a crowd-pleaser with which to start a marathon, it's The Frighteners. Michael J. Fox plays a conman ghost-hunter who's actually friends with the ghosts he claims to bust. The humor that director Peter Jackson perfected in his splatterfest Dead Alive holds this movie together, especially with the neurotic, Satanist FBI agent played by Jeffrey Combs—a casting nod to horror fans; we'll get to Combs later. The ending gets surprisingly dark, partly due to Jake Busey's (son of world-class nutjob Gary Busey) bat-shit performance and terrifyingly big teeth.
You're Next (2011), 10 p.m. to midnight: There's a wonderful movement in horror that LA Weekly has deemed "mumblegore" (a riff on mumblecore, the film genre that prominently features white people talking). Mumblegore excels in strong characterization, subversive genre elements and smart dialogue—all of which have never been strong facets in horror.
Directed by mumblegore pioneer Adam Wingard, You're Next is a smart take on the home-invasion film with a twist in the middle that doesn't ruin things even if you already know it. If you time this right, you'll be mixing margaritas for your guests during the best scene involving a blender I've ever seen in a movie.
Day of the Dead (1985), midnight to 2 a.m.: This is the final installment of George Romero's original Dead trilogy and probably my favorite. Night of the Living Dead is classic, and Dawn of the Dead is epic, but it's Day that sticks with me. Romero—who's always shown more sympathy toward his zombies—portrays humans at their ugliest by pitting scientists against the military in an underground bunker. The tension between the two camps is as claustrophobic as the setting, and the gore is beyond impressive. In fact, my single-most traumatizing moment watching a horror movie comes from this film: a zombie pulls off a head, and you can hear the guy's vocal cords stretching as he screams. Shudder.
Block II: The Uncanny
Since this is about the time in the marathon that you're going to lose the interest of the casual horror fans, we're going to skip "terror" and go right into "the uncanny." The uncanny, a term popularized by Sigmund Freud, is the resulting unease that comes from something once familiar becoming strange. Movies in this block aren't necessarily horror, per se, but they contain horrific elements that disorient the viewer and impart an unnamable, unexpected sense of dread. Weirdoes only for this block.
Only God Forgives (2013), 2 to 4 a.m.: I'm certain that every Nicolas Winding Refn film is horror in disguise. Take his breakout Drive, for example: With all the head-crushing and masked-marauding, it's pretty much a slasher told from a serial-killing sociopath's point of view.
In Only God Forgives, Ryan Gosling's brother is killed after he rapes and murders an underage prostitute in Thailand, and their domineering, ambiguously incestuous mother sends the reluctant Gosling on a quest for revenge. Refn films the carnage in operatic yellows, reds and blues—hues reminiscent of Suspiria director Dario Argento, the only other director who can make such unpleasantness look pretty. Hey girl, let me stick my hands into your sliced-open abdomen.
Antichrist (2009), 4 to 6 a.m.: Remember how, last year, Ylvis' "The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)" went viral, and everyone was saying "wa-pow ahee" or some shit like that? Those who'd seen Lars Von Trier's hellish foray into grief and corrupted nature knew that the fox actually says "Chaos reigns!" They'd also know the lengths this movie goes to make viewers squirm, including a close-up of a clitoris mutilation and bloody orgasm. Wa-pow ahee!
Escape from Tomorrow (2013), 6 to 8 a.m.: I've only been to Disneyland once in my life—when I was 3—but I screamed through the entire Pirates of the Caribbean ride. After seeing Escape from Tomorrow, I know I wasn't the only one who saw through the shiny Disney veneer to something horrifying underneath.
Escape from Tomorrow was filmed guerilla-style in various Disney parks without any permission from the company. The plot concerns a father taking his family on a vacation at Walt Disney World even though he's just lost his job. But the familial and financial strains are no match for the nightmarish hallucinations he begins to experience. The story spirals out of control, but I doubt anyone will forget the scene where children from It's a Small World turn into black-eyed ghouls.
Block III: The Terror
Your friends are just waking up; you're the only one who's stayed awake through the night. Time to punish them for abandoning you. Time for terror.
Funny Games (1997), 8 to 10 a.m.: This is probably the most disturbing film on this list and an absolute joy to watch others squirm through for the first time. It's not that Austrian director Michael Haneke's movie about two kids terrorizing a family via increasingly extreme challenges, or "games," is particularly violent, but it's manipulative in a way that can only be described as cruel. I once watched this with a friend, and there's a scene with a remote control (if you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about) that made my friend scream, "Fuck you!" at the TV before leaving the room.
We Are What We Are (2013), 10 a.m. to noon: We Are What We Are is one of the most inventive horror movies I've seen in recent years. A remake of a 2010 Mexican film, the story follows a family whose matriarch dies, leaving two girls to care for their increasingly delusional, violent father. Oh and they're all cannibals. To make matters worse, a pummeling rainstorm floods the region, unearthing the bones of their victims and sending them down the river to arouse the suspicions of the townsfolk. It's a cinematic achievement that the external tension arising from the town's discovery of the family's secret matches the internal tension of a family falling apart. Now, who's making brunch?
The Sacrament (2013), noon to 2 p.m.: A Vice film crew travels to a remote region to save a crew member's sister from a religious cult.
Many people had problems with this film because of its thinly-veiled retelling of the Jonestown massacre, which, in fairness, was the "largest single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act until the events of September 11, 2001," according to Wikipedia. But if you're looking for terror, you can't do better than director Ti West, who's earned a reputation for delayed scares and suspense that would make even Hitchcock jelly. Plus, there's the dig at Vice's penchant for throwing inexperienced journalists into dangerous parts of the world; that the media company allowed West to use their brand seems subversive on the filmmaker's part.
Block IV: The Revulsion
By now, your viewers have been desensitized to fear, so you need to gross them out. It won't be your proudest moment, but if you're anything like me, you've probably got popcorn stuck in your beard and a couple Lit'l Smokies clinging to your yellowed shirt. 'Tis not a time to be proud.
Shivers (1975), 2 to 4 p.m.: It's widely understood that David Cronenberg is the godfather of the body-horror genre—movies where the source of fear comes from dismantling the body or turning it against the self—and this was the film that started it all.
Set in a state-of-the-art apartment complex (well, by mid-1970s standards), the residents succumb to an infestation of bloody slug parasites, which are the result of a scientist's notion to suppress the logical mind and make humans more uninhibited. Or, an aphrodisiac that infects like a venereal disease and turns the residents into sex-crazed zombies. But this is no romp: Rape, sexual assault and pedophilia make this a pretty grotesque film.
C.H.U.D. (1984), 4 to 6 p.m.: C.H.U.D. stands for "Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers," and I have nothing but respect for movies that will give you the entire synopsis in the title. You watch C.H.U.D. so you can make C.H.U.D. jokes later (bonus: an early John Goodman cameo), but considering that 50 percent of my jokes are C.H.U.D.-related, I can't recommend this enough. Oh, you should start drinking again during this movie.
Re-Animator (1985), 6 to 8 p.m.: You're almost there, so reward yourself with a strong finish. Re-Animator wrote the book on comedy-horror. An insane med student—played with hilarious intensity by Jeffry Combs (remember him from The Frighteners? Full circle!)—has developed a serum that brings the dead back to life. Gore ensues. Dead cats ensue. Cunnilingus from a John Kerry-looking severed head ensues.
Re-Animator is engrained in me. It's a movie that reminds you why you like horror, and one that my friends and I, sequestered in basements and hopped up on caffeine, watched many times during high school. Exploding eyeballs cast purple shadows on the wall. It didn't matter that we didn't have dates or weren't invited to parties: This is what we were going to be doing the next weekend.