What makes a cult horror movie? That sleeper hit that bombs at the box office but finds its audience through word of mouth; the whispered-about gems that never show up on the big screen at all, only finding their way to viewers through video stores or—as is more likely these days—streaming services.
These are the movies from out at the edges. The kinds of stuff that you used to have to stay up late to watch and then, the next morning, wouldn’t be sure that you hadn’t fallen asleep and dreamed the whole thing. The kind of movies about which your friends ask in hushed tones, “have you seen this?”
Horror has always had more than its fair share of cult titles, with films that were banned in other countries or were simply too strange, too unusual, too transgressive, or too offbeat to find their audience right away. They’ve been with us since the beginning, going as far back as flicks like Tod Browning’s Freaks through films like The Evil Dead, Deranged, and more.
If you’re looking for an under-the-radar flick that will blow you away, here are 13 terrifying cult horror movies that you can stream right now on Amazon.
The very definition of a cult film, everyone who hasn’t seen Triangle misunderstands or underestimates it, while nobody who has seen it can ever forget it. Living up to much more than its stalk-and-slash premise, Triangle is a mind-bending ride that must be seen to be believed. And it’s best experienced when you go into it with as little information as possible, so we’ll leave you with that for now…
Pascal Laugier’s almost-unbearable flick—part of the New French Extremity movement that also gave us cult films such as High Tension and Frontier(s)—starts where another movie might have its climax. Two girls, held prisoner in terrible conditions, finally escape. But the horror and twists of Martyrs are only getting started, and what began as another entry in the vein of exploitation films ends up someplace much more existential—if no less visceral.
Sometimes known as Kairo to distinguish it from the 2006 English-language remake starring Kristen Bell and Lost’s Ian Somerhalder, this Japanese film remains criminally underseen. Fair warning, though: this haunting, apocalyptic ghost story from director Kiyoshi Kurosawa may be as close as you’ll ever come to seeing deep, clinical depression accurately depicted on film. Go in when your spirits are high, lest the spirits on screen drag you down to join them in the depths of despair…
Frankenstein’s Army (2013)
Far from the meditative ghosts of Pulse, Frankenstein’s Army is filled with special effects and elaborate costumes. Directed by Richard Raaphorst, this found footage film features so many drill-faced, propeller-headed, and otherwise “insane” (the director’s own word) monsters that you’ll feel dizzy when it’s over.
Dark Waters (1993)
If H. P. Lovecraft had lived long enough to write an Italian nunsploitation movie, he might’ve created something like Mariano Baino’s extremely weird Dark Waters. A young woman travels to an island convent in search of answers after her father’s death, only to find that the nuns are up to some pretty sinister (and fishy—hint, hint) business.
Noroi: The Curse (2005)
It isn’t strictly streaming on Prime right now—you’ll have to watch with a Shudder subscription, which you can do by signing up for a free week-long trial—but Noroi demands inclusion on any list of recent cult films. This found footage flick from Japanese director Kōji Shiraishi (Sadako vs. Kayako) is an absolute legend among those who have seen it, combining cosmic, folk, and good old-fashioned ghostly horror tropes into one unforgettable package.
Related: 18 Best Blumhouse Horror Movies
Black Mountain Side (2014)
Speaking of cosmic horror, it doesn’t come much better than this 2014 take on John Carpenter’s classic The Thing (itself a cult film in its day), in which a bunch of researchers at an archaeological site in Canada begin to psychologically unravel after discovering what might be an ancient structure beneath the frozen ground. I saw it at the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, where it was an audience favorite.
Lake Mungo (2008)
This Australian mockumentary film has the distinction of being one of celebrated horror novelist Paul Tremblay’s favorite scary movies, so fans of his work can guess that they’re in for something haunting, eerie, ethereal, and emotionally devastating – all of which perfectly describe this tale of a disappearance, a haunting, and a lot of layered secrets.
Related: Paul Tremblay: Where to Begin with the Stoker Award-Winning Horror Author of A Head Full of Ghosts
Session 9 (2001)
Speaking of emotionally devastating, director Brad Anderson made his name with this sleeper hit about an asbestos abatement team cleaning out an abandoned mental hospital (filmed on location at the Danvers State Mental Hospital, which was rumored to really be haunted). When they descend into the labyrinthine structure, the team finds the recorded sessions of a former patient. Their own pasts come back to haunt them as one among their number reveals he may not be who he says he is…
Final Prayer (2013)
Sometimes known as The Borderlands, this flick sounds like it could be another in a long line of cheap possession pictures, with its premise of Vatican investigators exploring strange happenings in a remote church. What we get instead is something vastly more folkloric and Lovecraftian, as the secrets of the secluded church are gradually revealed to be older—and more horrifying—than even the most credulous among the investigators could imagine.
The Stuff (1985)
Larry Cohen’s cult classic is the best, and perhaps only, movie about killer ice cream you will ever see. More than just an example of how far a filmmaker can take an absurd premise, The Stuff is a perfect petri dish of Cohen’s social satire, anchored by a dynamite performance from longtime collaborator Michael Moriarty. It’s prime midnight movie material as only the 80s could provide.
As Above, So Below (2014)
A group of urban explorers delve into the catacombs beneath Paris in As Above, So Below, which is one of the only films shot on location in the miles of crypts beneath the City of Lights. Taking cues from ancient alchemical texts, this cult horror movie provides the usual found footage jump scares that you might expect, but also some mind-bending visuals that may take you by surprise…
The Void (2017)
Premiering in 2017 to limited release, this Canadian supernatural horror combines everything from infernal cults and tentacled cosmic creatures to Clive Barker-inspired hell-fantasies. Shot on a limited budget and eschewing CGI in favor of gory in-camera effects, The Void follows a crew of people trapped inside a rural hospital. Mysterious cultists gather outside, while grotesque creatures lurk within. Gleefully tapping into 1980s horror nostalgia, The Void has since found an enthusiastic audience on streaming platforms and VOD. It offers a wild plunge into the abyss that's perfect for hardcore horror fans.
Billed “the deadliest film ever made,” Antrum starts off as an apparent documentary about the eponymous film, which is said to have killed those who watched it. Then it unspools into the movie itself, a throwback masquerading as a 70s flick about two kids who go into the woods to bury their beloved dog and dig a pit to Hell itself. It's weird and wobbly in ways that only a cult film can be, but it’s hard to deny that it succeeds in cultivating terror and uncertainty.
Related: The 'Deadliest Film Ever Made' Is Streaming on Amazon. Are You Brave Enough to Watch It?
Featured still from "The Void" via 120dB Films