The best free horror films and where to find them

BY JUSTIN SABATA

As a kid, the fact that your Halloween haul did not cost a dime only added to its sweetness (even the raisins). When you reach adulthood and realize you can just buy bags of the stuff at the store, and trick-or-treating becomes a pastime, the sweet feeling of freeness must be found elsewhere. 

Finding free movies may not totally replace the nostalgic feeling, but it is at least cavity-free. Coming across a free flick that is usually on paid apps gives me a feeling that I imagine extreme couponers get. So, I decided to make a list of top-shelf spook shows and where to find them. Since it is now okay to admit just how much horror you watch. 

Before we start, a majority of these apps have ad breaks. Like your candy back in the day, you have to earn your frights now. 

You can get a good fix from the Fort Hays State Movie Channel

While it doesn’t include a ton of older gems, it’s still got some new and notable goodies.

Doctor Sleep (2019):

I don’t know exactly when horror movie makers decided to only use CGI effects. But that was a sad day in hindsight. Doctor Sleep uses too much of it at times. Regardless, this film had a lot to live up to and it did a fine job of it. It is nowhere close to its predecessor The Shining but, then again, not much is. Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels) shows how big of a Hollywood heavyweight he can be, with Rebecca Ferguson (Hercules, The Greatest Showman) fitting well into the important hat of a Stephen King villain. The settings and King storytelling are well worth the 152-minute runtime. 

Get Out (2017):

There is not much that can be said about this groundbreaker that wouldn’t sound like an echo. I saw it three times in theaters and countless times elsewhere. It could also be considered as one of the greatest directorial debuts of all time (just think of where Jordan Peele has gone since then). Reflecting on a very specific aspect of society in a horror film is as difficult as it was to write this sentence. Looking back, it isn’t even that scary of a movie. Extremely suspenseful and disturbing, but not scary. It taps into a different element of insecurity that no other film has since.

Tubi TV has the macabre motherload

The selection of horror on Tubi TV ranges from indie ghouls to groundbreaking goblins.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974):

There has always been a grotesque mystique around this movie through my eyes. It could be that I was appropriately kept away from it as a youngster. Or that it was almost impossible to find at every Hasting’s I went to. But since Marilyn Burns’ almost-too-real screams finally hit my TV screen, this movie has been a pillar in my horror hierarchy. The grit and gore captured on a meager budget has never been replicated. And since I know American audiences, mentioning that it is still banned in numerous countries hopefully entices you to go for the ride. 

Clown (2014):

The two It films have taken a scary clown to frightening (and sometimes fatiguing) levels. But another circus friend freaked me out even before Bill Skarsgard was pegged as Pennywise. A delayed release in the United States could be the cause of Clown being under the radar. Still, the creative plot and practical effects are why I am still writing about it in 2021. Not to mention the boundary-pushing kills that are from the Stephen King playbook. Performances from Andy Powers and the underrated Peter Stormare (Armageddon, The Big Lebowski) also add an emotional element that is often lost in indie bloodbaths.

Candyman (1992):

I am not going to say whether or not the remake is as good as the original. Mostly because I haven’t seen the remake yet. Anyway, the early version was a vision and it was executed well. Some forget how beautiful and brutal this film can be, especially in its sound design. The hook-handed sociopath has become Tony Todd’s defining role. Whose unrelenting revenge tour is frightening because of its racist origins. I would also consider this a go-to for Halloween horror, with one of the most effective endings out there. 

House on Haunted Hill (1959):

It would not be a true horror movie list without Vincent Price. If blood and guts aren’t your route this Halloween, look no further than this creepy classic. Some major modern horror films can’t even create this much atmosphere. The previously mentioned Price is obviously the main attraction, but the other performers commit to the job as well. Even if it hasn’t necessarily aged well in some parts. The constant, table-turning plot makes up for the lack of setting or huge scares. Though there is one jumpscare that will sneak up on you. 

Other Tubi treasures:

Hellraiser (1987): If you want gore, Pinhead has got it.

Terrifier (2016): More clowns. But the design of this slasher is one of a kind. And it has the same gritty flavor as 70’s splatterfests.

Pluto TV has more than plenty

I mostly use this app to watch Tosh.0, but their horror list still has a fair share of scares.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005):

Expect a good amount of disturbing imagery. Just not to the same sacrilegious levels as The Exorcist. This possession story relies more on character development and a slow burn strategy. The court case aspect of this film is what sets it apart from other modern exorcism tales. Bringing in a legislative view to something like demonic possession makes it more realistic in modern society. If similar circumstances were to happen today, the news vans would be in front of the courthouse in a flash. 

It is worth mentioning that this film is based on the true story of Anneliese Michel, who died after a supposed possession in 1976. Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter) as Emily Rose is able to garner the same tragic sympathy from the audience through every popping body contortion. 

ABCs of Death 2 (2014):

The first version of this twisted alphabet has its own charm. But the sequel packs more of a punch and is what the producers had in mind the first time. The movie is composed of 26 different short films from 26 different directors. Other than two important rules, the directors had complete artistic freedom; the short film must include death and must start with whatever letter they are assigned. My favorite example is Z is for Zygote, which still leaves me in a state of shock as the credits continue to roll. 

Goodnight Mommy (2014):

2014 was a solid year for horror movies. Especially in the psychological subgenre. Alongside The Babadook and It Follows lurks this mid-2010’s cerebral film. It is from Austria and, thus, a foreign language film. Which I hope won’t be an issue for potential viewers. This flick does not rely strongly on dialogue anyway, and is able to get under my skin in a way only Hereditary has. It is cringe-inducing but not gory. Wickedly scary but not overly grotesque. And, honestly, a good way to scare someone out of having “sweet and innocent” children. 

The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)

So, you’ve watched all of the films on this list and now want to step up to the big leagues. Well, this fake documentary/found footage snuff film will make you dread the last 86 minutes you spent watching it. Which means it did exactly what it set out to do. It is able to smash any delusional fantasies a viewer has about serial killers with dreadful realism. Seriously, it almost feels illegal to watch some of the worst parts. At the same time, the “documentary” format is able to keep the film above water without drowning in this dread. It will probably be one of the most disturbing things you will ever see. But it won’t completely destroy you. 

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