No production outfit has defined modern horror quite the same way Blumhouse has.
The unit, led by producer Jason Blum, has been responsible for franchises like “Insidious,” “Sinister” and “Paranormal Activity,” while resurrecting moribund series like “Halloween” and “The Craft” and cementing found footage movies as one of the most versatile and popular formats for contemporary horror movies. (There was a Halloween Horror Nights house at Universal Studios just based on the company’s scary logo for crying out loud.)
Blumhouse is unique, too, in the sense that there’s also no horror outfit who produces as many horror movies as Blumhouse. Through their output deal with various streamers and studios, it feels like there’s always a new Blumhouse horror movie opening. That’s certainly the case this weekend, when “Firestarter” makes its way to theaters while also streaming on Peacock. A remake of the 1984 film (itself based on the Stephen King novel of the same), the new film stars Zac Efron and Ryan Kiera Armstrong, as a dad and his daughter (who has pyrokinetic powers).
It got us thinking about the very best Blumhouse horror movies, the one we’d reach for again and again at the video store if video stores still existed and physical media was still as big a part of our lives. These are the cream of the blood-splattered crop. And we love them dearly.
15. “Ouija: Origin of Evil” (2016)
Mike Flanagan is the current auteur of modern American horror (see also: “Doctor Sleep” and “Midnight Mass”) but he got his start cutting his teeth on Blumhouse features, like this nifty sequel to the mostly forgettable “Ouija.” (Yes, they are both based on the spooky board game.) Instead of following in the original’s footsteps, it took things back, this time to the 1960s, as a single mother (Elizabeth Reaser) works as a phony medium, aided by her children. When a Ouija board is introduced into the mix, all hell (literally) breaks loose. Handsomely photographed and with an outstanding title card (courtesy of Filmograph), it’s easy to dismiss “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” but only if you’ve never seen it. The spirits say this movie is great.
“Ouija: Origin of Evil” is streaming on Netflix.
14. “The Hunt” (2020)
One of the more controversial movies of the last few years, the theatrical release of “The Hunt” was pulled last minute because of the threat of potential violence and later quietly released during the pandemic on home video. No violence would have actually broken out had this thing come out, but it makes for a very irresistible marketing ploy. Instead, “The Hunt,” written by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse and directed by Craig Zobel, is a rip-roaring, blood-splattered adventure that sees a bunch of red state rubes hunted by coastal elites. It’s like “Battle Royale” meets “Primary Colors.” And while the message gets somewhat muddled, especially towards the end, it’s still a ton of fun, anchored by an unforgettable, Ripley-ish performance by Betty Gilpin. This should have been the next big Blumhouse franchise.
“The Hunt” is streaming on Freevee.
13. “The Visit” (2015)
When M. Night Shyamalan needed redemption, he turned to Jason Blum. After a series of costly flops, Shyamalan made this self-financed found-footage movie about a couple of kids who notice their parents acting strange while visiting them for the weekend. The resulting film wound up being one of Shyamalan’s funniest and scariest movies since his Disney-funded heyday. (Shyamalan made a couple more movies for Blumhouse before being invited to Universal proper.) If you discounted Shyamalan after that string of duds, do yourself a favor and watch “The Visit” – he’s still got it, in a big way.
12. “Cam” (2018)
A number of great Blumhouse horror movies in recent years have debuted on Netflix, including 2019’s “Mercy Black” and “Thriller” (both narrowly missed this list), but “Cam” is one of the best. Directed by first-time filmmaker Daniel Goldhaber and written by Isa Mazzei, who based the script on her experience as a cam girl, it stars a very game Madeline Brewer as a popular cam-girl who starts to get usurped by a different girl who looks exactly like her. From the usual doppelganger narrative, Goldhaber and Mazzei introduce complex themes about what it means to make your living based on your image, the marginalization of sex workers in contemporary culture and the double-edged sword of technology. But, you know, in a super fun movie.
“Cam” is streaming on Netflix.
11. “Upgrade” (2018)
Leigh Whannell is another longtime Blumhouse regular, having co-created and largely overseen the hugely popular “Insidious” franchise. But “Upgrade” was wholly different and such a breath of fresh air. Logan Marshall-Green is a man whose wife is killed and he is severely injured in an attack. He’s given a second chance via unproven technology that returns his mobility … and makes him into something of a killing machine. Whannell’s script is equal parts Verhoeven-style techno satire and Tarantino-esque revenge fantasy, with a number of highly inventive action set pieces and some stunning gore. The movie’s anemic budget occasionally gets the better of it (why is Marshall-Green the only semi-“name” actor?) but it’s a total blast from start to finish and would establish Whannell as one of the most exciting names in genre filmmaking (again).
10. “Happy Death Day 2U” (2019)
How could the sequel to one of the most wild and irreverent Blumhouse movies somehow up the wild irreverence? By introducing parallel universes, of course. And by making the story even more emotional and identifiable. Jessica Rothe returns as Tree, who learns more about the time loop she suffered in the first movie (more on that below). But instead of somehow demystifying the first movie, it enriches and complicates matters. She brings more of her friends into the mystery this time and travels to a universe where her beloved mom is still alive, causing an additional wrinkle: what if your main character doesn’t want to return to her timeline? “Happy Death Day 2U” is less of a straightforward horror movie than the first film and it’s all the better for it.
9. “Sweetheart” (2019)
If you’ve never heard of “Sweetheart,” that’s okay. Blumhouse and Universal quietly released it on digital without much fanfare. But it should have been accompanied by fanfare. All of the fanfare. Because “Sweetheart,” written and directed by J.D. Dillard, is great. It stars Kiersey Clemons as a young woman who wakes up on a deserted island. She’s got to put together what happened to her (boat crash?) and also deal with something else: an aquatic monster that roams the shoreline. Featuring one of the greatest man-in-suit creature designs in recent memory (from the poet laureate of monster makers Neville Page), the movie is a tense, terrifying 80-or-so minutes. As the title suggests Clemons has to fight another monster: the patriarchy. Of course she does!
“Sweetheart” is streaming on Netflix.
8. “Hush” (2016)
Mike Flanagan doesn’t shy away from a challenge – for instance make a sequel to “The Shining” that honors the diametrically opposed source material and the Stanley Kubrick film or adapt the unadaptable Stephen King novel “Gerald’s Game” – and “Hush” is no different. The story focuses on a deaf-mute woman (played by Flanagan’s creative and life partner, wife Kate Siegel, who also co-wrote the script) dealing with a home intruder. Ruthlessly efficient (it clocks in at a svelte 81 minutes), this is sustained terror at its most unflinching. (The fact that Flanagan cast John Gallagher, Jr., right after his nice guy peak in “Short Term 12,” as the deranged killer, adds to the slick perversity.) If for some reason you haven’t seen this gem, you can watch it on Netflix now.
“Hush” is streaming on Netflix.
7. “Freaky” (2020)
“Happy Death Day” mastermind Christopher Landon strikes again. In his latest genre mash-up, originally titled “Freaky Friday the 13th,” a serial killer (Vince Vaughn) and a teenage girl (Kathryn Newton) switch bodies and much havoc ensues. Liberated from the PG-13 trappings of the “Happy Death Day” movies, Landon lets loose with the inventive killings (Alan Ruck as an abusive shop teacher’s vivisection is a highlight) and it cannot be overstated how wonderful both Vaughn and Newton are. True to his other films, there’s also something oddly sympathetic about the characters that makes the situation emotionally real. (There’s a great sequence where Vaughn talks to his inner-character’s mom that is so relatable and sad.) Released during the pandemic, “Freaky” never got the kind of attention it deserved. Time to amend that. It’s a bloody, body-swapping blast. And a cult classic in the making.
“Freaky” is streaming on HBO Max.
6. “Creep” (2015)
Perhaps the artiest found footage film in the Blumhouse stable, director Patrick Brice (who also co-stars in the film) turned the camera on indie kingpin Mark Duplass, who may or may not be a serial killer. An exercise in an escalating sense of dread, punctuated by awkward moments of pure comedy, it was unlike anything Blumhouse had done before. And it rightly found its audience, eventually spawning an even-more-provocative sequel (also highly recommended). “Creep” showed what was possible with a little bit of money and a whole lot of creativity. And it remains one of the more unforgettable Blumhouse joints.
“Creep” is streaming on Netflix.
5. “Halloween” (2018)
The “IP era” of Blumhouse has been hit or miss. For every “The Craft: Legacy” (underrated!) there is a “Black Christmas” or “Fantasy Island” (boo!) The entire IP experiment probably wouldn’t have happened had “Halloween” not been a huge success. And rightfully so, this legacy sequel that imagines Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), 40 years later, living a survivalist lifestyle as she waits for the inevitable day Michael Myers (Tommy Lee Wallace) escapes, is terrific. As much about intergenerational trauma as it is about a masked madman stalking teenagers, director David Gordon Green and his collaborators (including co-writer and “Halloween” superfan Danny McBride) make the carnage matter. Also, getting John Carpenter to return to score the film (with his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies) was a major coup. Not only does this “Halloween” feel like the original, it also sounds like it too.
4. “Happy Death Day” (2017)
The original “Happy Death Day” still feels like a total breath of fresh air. There have been enough time loop movies made in the years since that have made it a legitimate sub-genre. At the time it was still something of a novelty and the idea to mix a slasher movie with a time travel movie that causes the victim to solve her own murder was beyond ingenious (the concept originated as a screenplay called “Half to Death,” written by defamed comic book writer Scott Lobdell). And all the little flourishes are so great – the baby mascot at the college, the off kilter performances by Rothe and everybody else, the way that her death resets the day – it’s all delicious. Landon has said that there are preliminary plans to do a third film. We need it desperately.
3. “Paranormal Activity” (2009)
The one that started it all. Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity” became, for a long time, the template for Blumhouse films as a whole: cheaply produced (“Paranormal Activity” initially cost $15,000 before a new ending was shot for $200,000), found footage features that would scare the pants off of teenagers on Friday night and spawn several low-cost sequels. (They’re still coming, a “Paranormal Activity” sequel debuted on Paramount+ last Halloween!) And it’s easy to write off “Paranormal Activity,” but it really was effective and truly terrifying, a movie that looked like a nanny cam or doggie cam that suddenly turned sinister. It’s overwhelming averageness was part of its success; you could imagine this happening to you or watching this footage on some backwater YouTube channel. And since the original, the mythology of the series has become more ornate and detailed while never losing sight of one thing: grainy footage of a door closing on its own is still enough to keep you from sleeping that night.
“Paranormal Activity” is streaming on Prime Video and Paramount+.
2. “The Invisible Man” (2020)
Whannell returns! Perhaps the apex of Blumhouse’s “IP era” was when, after a failed cinematic universe made up of big budget adventures, Universal handed over the reigns to one of their most beloved Universal Monster characters – “The Invisible Man.” (In the big budget version, there was a film planned with Javier Bardem as the character.) Whannell used the formula that worked so well in “Upgrade,” chiefly the hubris associated with some technological breakthrough and the evil that usually follows it, but made the contours more nuanced. Instead of focusing on the titular man, he focused on the man’s partner, a woman who escapes an abusive boyfriend only to be terrorized by him even after his apparent death. Elisabeth Moss, as the survivor, gives a tour-de-force performance and somehow Whannell finds new ways to play with the classic Invisible Man tropes, including a sequence in a brightly lit restaurant that ranks among the most shocking in recent memory. “The Invisible Man” is a new favorite and one that suggests that maybe all of Universal’s Monsters should be filtered through the Blumhouse office.
“The Invisible Man” is streaming on Freevee.
1. “Get Out” (2017)
What else could be #1? Writer-director Jordan Peele’s debut feature became a cultural flashpoint, capturing the Zeitgeist in a way that few films nowadays (with our fractured landscape) ever do. “Get Out” was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for Daniel Kaluuya’s miraculous performance) and won Best Original Screenplay for Peele’s peerless script that was recently named the greatest script of the century by the Writer’s Guild of America. And all of this for a movie that is essentially about white supremacists who transfer their brains into young Black people. Not the typical Oscar fare. But Peele’s film is so thematically rich, so visually inventive and so ceaselessly entertaining, that it all makes sense.
He takes his love of hooky “Twilight Zone”-y set-ups and brings in contemporary elements that really bring it to life for modern audiences. (Sadly, the topics that are explored here of exploitation and race relations have maybe become even more relevant in the years since its release.) Inspired by his favorite genre movies of the past, Peele made a movie that nobody else had seen before, a true masterpiece that will be puzzled over and studied for as long as there is cinema. Not bad for your first go-around.