Straight-to-DVD distribution is usually a pretty good indication that a horror movie isn’t worth your time, but “The Taking of Deborah Logan” — produced by Bryan Singer and currently streaming on Netflix — is one of the finer exceptions.
The found-footage horror film that tracks the possession of the eponymous character, played by 67-year-old soap opera actress Jill Larson (“All My Children”) with demonic intensity, succeeds in delivering the thrills and chills the genre is supposed to offer after opening on a unique premise: A Ph.D. student is making a documentary to chronicle the mental disintegration of an Alzheimer’s patient.
Not only did co-writer and first-time director Adam Robitel’s creative spin on the ever-tiring use of “real footage” to tell horrific tales on a budget make me curious enough to click “play,” it allowed the film to easily explain what so many others shot in the same style fail to do. That is, of course, why the hell the characters are filming these terrifying events in the first place.
Also a bonus? Some characters behind the camera finally take the advice audiences have been shouting at the screen for years, and realize the footage isn’t worth their lives. Of course, others don’t. But hey, without at least one idiot running around, horror movies wouldn’t last very long.
While “The Taking” is no “Exorcist,” it certainly is one of the freshest entries in American possession horror after audiences have been bombarded with time-wasting duds like “The Possession,” “The Devil Inside,” “The Last Exorcism” and every “Paranormal Activity” movie after the first one. It builds a creepy atmosphere — thanks largely to Larson’s unsettling descent into dementia that would be just as scary without any evil inside of her — and an intriguing myth that the characters discover at the same time the audience does.
Best of all, it’s not necessarily the devil doing the damage to Ms. Logan, and her transformation ends up being anything but typical. The movie builds to a satisfying climax at a steady pace, while preferring to provide genuine suspense over cheap jump scares birthed by spiking the audio.
“The Taking of Deborah Logan” should satisfy anybody who helped the critically panned “Ouija” movie become a box office success, as well as those horror fans, like myself, who are genuinely terrified of wasting their time watching another D-grade entry into the genre.
Here are seven other horror gems currently streaming on Netflix that should satisfy any cravings for scary fun at home this weekend:
1. “Fright Night”
OK, so this ’80s vampire classic isn’t scary in the slightest, but it’s campy fun that should never be forgotten. If you’ve seen it and loved it, rejoice that it’s available to stream on Netflix. And if you haven’t seen it, what the hell have you been doing with your life? Turn off the lights, snuggle up next to your Teddy Ruxpin, crack open a can of Tab, and press play.
2. “Night of the Creeps”
Keep the party going with Fred Dekker’s “Night of the Creeps,” which combines aliens, zombies, serial killers, frat bros and lonely virgins to make a camp classic inspired by science fiction movies from the ’50s, which then went on to inspire James Gunn’s 2006 horror-comedy “Slither.”
This examination of a real-life boogeyman, who abducted and murdered Staten Island children in the ’70s, is one of the creepiest documentaries ever produced. Not only does it take viewers through a guided tour of a now-abandoned state institution that Geraldo Rivera famously exposed as a hell hole for forgotten children, but the filmmakers correspond with the incarcerated boogeyman, himself, as they investigate a mystery that still remains largely unsolved. Did the cops ever get the right guy, or let the public pick a scapegoat based on the once terrifying stigma of being mentally handicapped?
4. “The Cabin in the Woods”
If you missed the theatrical release of this terrific genre satire from co-writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, who directed, then you’ll want to grab a group of friends and watch it for free on Netflix. It’s a funny, scary and unpredictable spin on — you guessed it — cabin in the woods movies like “Evil Dead.” While actor Fran Kanz steals the show as an observant stoner, it’s great to see “Thor” himself, Chris Hemsworth, as a vulnerable victim and Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins betting with co-star Bradley Whitford on the pain of others.
5. “You’re Next”
Horror fans were raving about Adam Wingard’s slasher film when it hit the festival circuit in 2011, and critics loved it when Lionsgate finally released it in 2013. Unfortunately, it bombed at the box office, so there’s a good chance you never gave this fun home invasion a chance. Do yourself a favor, though, and don’t read the reviews or even the plot synopsis the studio offered up, because it spoils the surprise that made audiences fall in love with it, in the first place.
6. “Let the Right One In”
This 2008 Swedish vampire flick that doubles as a coming-of-age drama is commonly regarded as one of the best horror movies of the new millennium with a 98 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The American remake starring Chloe Grace Moretz as a young boy’s blood thirsty crush is also pretty solid, but that’s not streaming on Netflix, so you’re stuck with the foreign language version.
7. “The Frighteners”
Remember when “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson used to make silly horror films? This 1996 horror comedy, starring Michael J. Fox as a con man using his sixth sense to swindle people out of money, was the last one Jackson made before getting serious in Middle-earth, and it’s absolutely delightful. Veteran character actors John Astin (“The Addams Family”) and Chi McBride (“Boston Public”) play Fox’s comical dead sidekicks that help him pull off fake haunts he can easily solve, until an actual malevolent phantom begins wreaking havoc on the small town populated by spectacularly strange characters.