30 Years of Chills and Thrills: Your Sundance Midnight Horror Watch List

Kiersey Clemons stars in J.D. Dillard’s 2019 Midnight selection ‘Sweetheart.’

By Virginia Yapp

The Sundance Film Festival has the horror genre built into its DNA. From the very beginning—in fact, looking all the way back to the modern-day Festival’s late-’70s origins as the Utah/U.S. Film Festival—projects like George A. Romero’s 1978 psychological horror outing Martin, Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, John Carpenter’s 1979 classic Halloween, and Anna Thomas’s 1981 Victorian ghost story The Haunting of M have made appearances in the Festival lineup.

In a way, the creation of the Park City at Midnight section in 1991 only solidified the Festival’s preoccupation with the genre. Conceived as a “special showcase of the most challenging but rewarding experiences from around the world, brought to you at the most arduous hour,” the decade’s Midnight lineups included gems like Peter Jackson’s (sadly not currently streaming!) 1992 horror comedy Dead/Alive as well as Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s game-changing 1999 “found footage” film The Blair Witch Project.

In the ensuing years, the Festival has played host to the premieres of modern classics like Neil Marshall’s The Descent, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, Ari Aster’s Hereditary, and Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy—and that’s without counting projects like Mary Harron’s American Psycho, Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Robert Eggers’s The Witch, Julia Ducournau’s Raw, or Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor, which screened in non-Midnight Festival sections.

Today, as we look forward to Halloween and the 2021 Festival—aka the 30th anniversary of Midnight—we’ve rounded up 30 of the scariest horror films to ever grace Park City. The titles you’ll find below are all currently streaming on various platforms, should you decide it’s time to program a horror movie marathon of your own this weekend.

1. KILLERS (1997)

Dave Larson and David Gunn play the James brothers in Mike Mendez’s directorial debut.

Mike Mendez’s film is a completely delirious excursion into the genre that chronicles the exploits of killers,” wrote Geoff Gilmore. “With the fascination for showcase trials and murderers as its backdrop, this truly inspired lunacy will have the audience alternately laughing and jumping out of their seats.” After years of being out of print (and available on VHS only), Mendez’s debut feature finally got a 4K scan and restoration just last year, making it a prime viewing choice this Halloween. [WATCH NOW]

2. CUBE (1998)

After screening at the Festival, ‘Cube’ went on to break box office records for Canadian films.

What happens when you plunge six unwilling strangers into a horrifying maze where they’re forced to frantically search for the path that’ll lead them to safety? Find out by watching the debut feature of Canadian filmmaker Vincenzo Natali, who later returned to the Festival with the equally disturbing Splice. “Inspired art direction and cinematography masterfully shape this macabre world and provide an environment for succinct performances,” wrote Trevor Groth. [WATCH NOW]


Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez shot ‘The Blair Witch Project’ on 16mm film in real time.

“Deftly building suspense through sound, visuals, and performances of unparalleled realism, The Blair Witch Project’s violence is psychological, not physical; nary a drop of blood is spackled on screen,” wrote Rebecca Yeldham of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s inventive found footage–style thriller. “But the result is nonetheless frightening, as the cameras bite into the heart of darkness, documenting the emergence of evil and the mounting hysteria of its unwitting victims.” [WATCH NOW]


Lauren Ambrose stars as Florence “Chicklet” Forrest in ‘Psycho Beach Party.’

“Shaking bikinis, muscled surfers, a wannabe surf babe with a split personality, a mom with an agenda, and a few severed body parts are just some of the problems facing Captain Monica Sharp when she is called to investigate a recent rash of gory Malibu murders,” wrote John Cooper of Robert Lee King’s Psycho Beach Party. King and screenwriter Charles Busch cleverly blend genres—namely, ’50s beach movies and Hitchcockian thrillers—with their campy script. [WATCH NOW]

5. MAY (2002)

Angela Bettis stars as May in Lucky McKee’s debut feature.

Lucky McKee’s modern-day retelling of Frankenstein follows a young woman’s failed attempts to find a true friend and the horrific steps she takes to make one. Starring Angela Bettis in the titular role, May represented McKee’s directorial feature debut, but he’s since returned to the Festival with two other films: 2008’s Red (which premiered in the Spectrum section) and 2011’s The Woman (another Midnight selection). [WATCH NOW]


Cécile de France in her breakthrough role in ‘Haute Tension.’

If French slashers are more your speed, look no further than Haute Tension. “Alexandre Aja has crafted a masterful suspense story that elevates the liturgy of French horror … to a whole new titillating level,” wrote Larin Sullivan. “At the center of this chiaroscuro roadside nightmare stand commanding and nuanced performances by Maiwenn le Besco and Cécile de France. Philippe Nahon as the blood-lusting creep, borrowed from the films of Gaspar Noé, seals the deal.” [WATCH NOW]

7. SAW (2004)

James Wan and Leigh Whannell wrote the script for 2004’s ‘Saw.”

When James Wan’s modern serial-killer classic Saw had its world premiere at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, no one knew the $1.2 million project would eventually go on to gross more than $100 million worldwide and spawn eight sequels. “Terrifying in tone and effect, Saw is a who-done-it-thriller with twists and turns that continuously outpace expectations. Prepare yourself; you won’t sleep easily tonight,” Shari Frilot warned audiences in that year’s Festival catalog. [WATCH NOW]


Fruit Chan’s ‘Dumplings chapter of ‘Three… Extremes.’

In Three… Extremes, a talented trio of directors—Fruit Chan, Park Chan-wook, and Takashi Miike—combine forces, each contributing their own brand of creepy, disquieting magic to this terrifying horror anthology. “Three…Extremes exhumes the inherent evil lurking beneath the surface of civilization, the twisted human psyche, and the lengths we will tread to cling to our impossible hope of immortality,” wrote David Courier. [WATCH NOW]

9. THE DESCENT (2006)

Neil Marshall’s ‘The Descent.’

What happens when a group of friends decide to descend into an unmarked cave during their girls’ weekend in the Appalachian Mountains? Absolute mayhem. “With an exquisite eye for detail, Neil Marshall has created a rare achievement—a visually splendid horror thriller that delivers a roller-coaster ride of tension and fear,” wrote Shari Frilot. [WATCH NOW]

10. FIDO (2007)

K’Sun Ray plays Timmy in Andrew Currie’s zombie comedy ‘Fido.’

Fido whisks us away to a beautifully Technicolor alternate reality where zombies roam the earth,” wrote Adam Montgomery of Andrew Currie’s horror comedy. In the film’s world, in the wake of the so-called Zombie Wars, radiation-created zombies have been rendered harmless thanks to a patented collar manufactured by a megacorporation called ZomCon, and are used by their living, breathing counterparts to perform menial tasks for the families they serve. One family’s household is changed forever when they bring a zombie named Fido home. [WATCH NOW]

11. DIARY OF THE DEAD (2008)

George A. Romero’s found-footage zombie film ‘Diary of the Dead.’

In George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead, fiction turns into reality for a group of film students who set out to shoot a low-budget horror flick in the woods of Pennsylvania. “Widely regarded as the master of all things zombie, [Romero] reinvents his legendary contribution to the horror film zeitgeist with this entirely new take on undead culture,” wrote Adam Montgomery. “Romero’s fifth zombie film never violates the rules of the undead that he created nearly four decades ago with his landmark film Night of the Living Dead.” [WATCH NOW]

12. BURIED (2010)

Ryan Reynolds is the sole on-screen actor in 2010’s ‘Buried.’

In Rodrigo Cortés’s 2010 Festival selection Buried, Ryan Reynolds is the sole on-screen actor. Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, a U.S. citizen working as a contract driver in Iraq who wakes up after an attack on his convoy to find that he’s been buried alive. “If the sheer logistics of this premise are enough to make your head hurt, rest assured that [Cortés] tackles these issues with relative ease,” wrote Adam Montgomery. “The result is a gripping and suspenseful thriller that will leave you gasping for air until the very end.” [WATCH NOW]

13. FROZEN (2010)

Emma Bell, Kevin Zegers, and Shawn Ashmore in ‘Frozen.’

Another 2010 Midnight selection with a blood-chilling one-word premise? Adam Green’s Frozen. “[Green] skillfully guides this real-world thriller, pushing three college students to confront their natural fears of the dark, cold, heights, and beyond, to see how far a human is willing to go to survive,” wrote Charlie Reff. “With bone-chilling performances by Kevin Zegers, Shawn Ashmore, and Emma Bell, Frozen continues horror’s time-honored tradition of scaring audiences away from their favorite recreational activities.” [WATCH NOW]

14. TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL (2010)

Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine star in ‘Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.’

A camping trip in rural West Virginia goes terribly, terribly wrong for a group of young people—and the two titular hillbilly types they mistake for the serial killer stalking the local woods. “A comically macabre battle between Izods and overalls, Eli Craig’s ingenious send-up of the horror genre recounts a simple misunderstanding gone grotesquely wrong,” wrote John Nein. “Our hillbilly psycho killers are actually sweet as pie; it’s the judgmental college kids who have ‘issues.’” [WATCH NOW]

15. BLACK ROCK (2012)

Lake Bell, Kate Bosworth, and Katie Aselton in ‘Black Rock.’

The set-up for a truly memorable girls’ trip? It goes a little something like this… “Sarah invites her old friends, Abby and Lou, on a reunion trip to a remote island in Maine,” wrote Jon Korn of the Katie Aselton–helmed, Mark Duplass–penned horror thriller. “There will be laughter, tears, and a boozy catharsis. It’s the sort of weekend that can transform the three into fully realized, grown-ass women. You already know this movie, right? Wrong.” [WATCH NOW]

16. THE BABADOOK (2014)

Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman in ‘The Babadook.’

“We’re all, as women, educated and conditioned to think that motherhood is an easy thing that just happens, but it’s not always the case,” said Jennifer Kent while promoting her debut feature, The Babadook, which centers on a difficult relationship between an Australian widow and her young son. “The Babadook builds up tension and dread in this damaged family’s home before deftly introducing the terrifying possibility that something even more ominous may be stalking the dysfunctional pair,” explained Heidi Zwicker. [WATCH NOW]


Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, and Jonathan Brugh star as vampire roommates.

“In What We Do in the Shadows, frequent collaborators Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement share writing, directing, and acting duties—all with precise comedic timing,” wrote Owl Johnson and Adam Montgomery of this duo’s 2014 horror comedy, which has since been adapted into a FX television series of the same. “The end result is a hysterical mockumentary that unearths a secret, supernatural society where friendship and camaraderie are just as important as feasting upon the flesh of mortals.” [WATCH NOW]

18. IT FOLLOWS (2015)

Maika Monroe plays Jay in David Robert Mitchell’s ‘it Follows.’

Forget the photographs they tried to scare you with in sex-ed back in high school—David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows shows the dangers of STDs in a whole new light. Shot in the filmmaker’s home state of Michigan, the stylish low-budget genre outing stars Maika Monroe as a 19-year-old college student whose encounter with a new boyfriend leaves her feeling truly haunted. The end result? “An unrelentingly creepy experience that pairs edge-of-your-seat suspense with a beautifully poetic exploration of teenage sexual anxiety, yearning, and jealousy,” wrote John Nein. [WATCH NOW]

19. KNOCK KNOCK (2015)

Keanu Reeves stars in Eli Roth’s ‘Knock Knock.’

In Eli Roth’s remake of the 1973 horror-thriller Death Game, happily married family man Evan Webber (Keanu Reeves) answers a knock at his door and finds two beautiful women (Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas) who claim to be looking for the address to a party. Home alone, he allows them inside so they can use his computer. “Given [Roth]’s well-deserved reputation for creating cinematic discomfort, it should come as no surprise what happens next: Things get weird, and then dark, and then much, much, much darker,” wrote Jon Korn. [WATCH NOW]


Michael St. Michaels in “The Greasy Strangler.’

“Flush your expectations down the toilet, because you have never seen a slasher film or a father-son comedy like this before,” wrote Charlie Reff. “Sundance Film Festival short film alumni Jim Hosking (Renegades, 2010) makes an outrageously off-kilter feature film debut that is equal parts disgusting, offensive, and manically entertaining.” Featuring fearless performances by Michael St. Michaels, Sky Elobar, and Elizabeth De Razzo—not to mention buckets and buckets of grease, slime, grime, and other mystery fluids—there’s no denying that this one is memorable. [WATCH NOW]


Narges Rashidi as Shideh in ‘Under the Shadow.’

Babak Anvari’s ambitious feature debut blends period detail and social critique with a good old-fashioned horror story, crafting a film that is as smart as it is scary,” wrote Heidi Zwicker of this psychological thriller set in ’80s Tehran. “Anchored by Narges Rashidi’s stellar performance, Under the Shadow presents Shideh’s experience as a strong, defiant woman … as she single-handedly battles a multitude of dangers from both the physical and supernatural worlds in order to save herself and her child.” [WATCH NOW]

22. XX (2017)

Festival regular Melanie Lynskey in the horror anthology “XX.’

“Gather round if you dare for four murderous tales of supernatural frights, predatory thrills, profound anxiety, and Gothic decay in the first all-female-driven horror anthology film,” wrote Landon Zakheim of this 2017 Midnight selection directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, and Karyn Kusama. “Audacious new works from some of the genre’s most promising voices … bring forth a study in the proper unspooling of dread for your viewing pleasure.” [WATCH NOW]

23. HEREDITARY (2018)

Toni Collette in Ari Aster’s ‘Hereditary.’

Ari Aster’s debut feature amassed glowing reviews thanks to a best-in-class performance by Toni Collette as well as the filmmaker’s nimble blending of genres. “[Hereditary] captivates the audience with a delicate and deliberate take on domestic turmoil, and it’s filled with haunting manifestations,” wrote Charlie Sextro. “Aster’s script ratchets up a feeling of delirious dread as the family members isolate themselves, only furthering their descent into madness.” [WATCH NOW]

24. MANDY (2018)

Nicolas Cage in Panos Cosmatos’s ‘Mandy.’

“In his delicious follow-up to cult hit Beyond the Black Rainbow, [Panos] Cosmatos gleefully demonstrates an audacious command of tone and atmosphere, conjuring an ethereal treat for the senses that begs to be seen on a big screen,” wrote Landon Zakheim. “Awash in a salacious sea of gloriously unhinged performances, carnage, colors, and sounds, Cosmatos grinds up beloved genre tropes into a fine pulp and sculpts them into something altogether otherworldly.” [WATCH NOW]


‘Little Monsters’ actress Lupita Nyong’o.

Who said the zombie comedy was dead? “Doused with a generous helping of absurdity, and pitch-perfect in its timing, this genre comedy forges a path all its own, blending gore and wit like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” wrote Ana Souza. “Writer-director Abe Forsythe has crafted a wild, frenetic ride with Little Monsters, bolstered by a knowing self-awareness and an uproarious cast.” Here, Lupita Nyong’o stars as a kindergarten teacher whose class field trip is derailed by a zombie outbreak. [WATCH NOW]

26. THE LODGE (2019)

Riley Keough in ‘The Lodge.’

After terrifying audiences with their feature debut, 2014’s Goodnight Mommy, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala returned to the parent-child-relationship well in 2019 with The Lodge. Here, Riley Keough stars as Grace, the sole survivor of a religious cult who is trying to adjust to her new life with her husband and two stepchildren. “An unblinking study of human frailty, The Lodge offers a haunting exploration of the traumatic aftershocks of religious devotion while positing that some evils just don’t die,” wrote Heidi Zwicker. [WATCH NOW]

27. SWEETHEART (2019)

Kiersey Clemons stars in J.D. Dillard’s ‘Sweetheart.’

Set entirely on the remote island where its lead character finds herself shipwrecked, J.D. Dillard’s micro-budget Midnight selection is carried by a stellar performance from its lead actor. “Kiersey Clemons owns every frame of the story, shining each step of the way as she’s forced to outrun, outwit, and outfight an otherworldly thing that hunts her each night,” wrote Landon Zakheim. “Methodically stripping this Blumhouse Productions chiller down to the raw essentials, Dillard shrewdly keeps the tension on a calculated simmer until the moment it boils.” [WATCH NOW]

28. BAD HAIR (2020)

Elle Lorraine (center) stars in Justin Simien’s ‘Bad Hair.’

Four years after bringing his award-winning debut feature, Dear White People, to Park City, Justin Simien returned to the Festival this past January with Bad Hair. “Simien plaits his incisive wit with startling moments of horror in this deliciously nostalgia-drenched creation,” wrote our programmers of this ’80s-set satire about an aspiring VJ with a killer weave. “Flexing a hilarious ensemble cast led by [Elle] Lorraine’s breakout performance, Bad Hair is cult-classic material.” [WATCH NOW]

29. HIS HOUSE (2020)

A still from Remi Weekes’s ‘His House.’

“Many refugee stories end in the same place: a safe (if slightly bewildering) new home,” wrote Jon Korn of Remi Weekes’s debut feature, which begins streaming on Netflix today. “And that’s where His House begins, with a Sudanese couple arriving in a quiet English town for their ‘happily ever after.’ But as their acclimation process falters, we realize that there’s more to blame than cross-cultural misunderstanding. Things begin to go disastrously wrong. ‘Screaming nightmares’ wrong. ‘Blood magic’ wrong. And then, it gets much, much worse.” [WATCH NOW]

30. RELIC (2020)

Emily Mortimer in Natalie Erika James’s ‘Relic.’

Actresses Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, and Bella Heathcote play three generations of women in an Australian family in Natalie Erika James’s eerie, increasingly abstract domestic drama. “James crafts an unforgettable haunted-house movie highlighted by unsettling sonic and visual design (and complete with literal bumps in the night), while gracefully incorporating the all-too-real terror of facing a deteriorating loved one,” wrote Heidi Zwicker of the project, which had its premiere at this year’s Festival. [WATCH NOW]


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