Top 10 of ’21

@craiggors @MelMoy

It’s been a fascinating year for the horror genre. In many ways, it felt like a continuation of 2020, not least of which in how many great offerings there were on streaming services and through VOD. The year also saw a return to traditional theater screenings, with many of last year’s major studio films like A Quiet Place Part II and The Forever Purge finally getting a release. By and large, horror held firm in the mainstream spotlight. There was a healthy mix of indie efforts and big-budget fare, crowd pleasers and niche oddities. As such, there was a lot to choose from when looking at our top films of the year. As Miss Mel notes, this is probably one of the more diverse lists, especially since there are a few films here that some will bemoan as being “not horror.” The genre is blurring and stretching and redefining itself before our eyes, with lots of experimentation and work being done outside the bounds of “traditional” horror.

Before we get into our respective Top 10 lists, a few honorable mentions for films that nearly made the cut. First, The Green Knight, a dark fantasy that was visually amazing, creepy, and tense throughout. The same can be said of The Empty Man, with its broody update on urban legend chills, and of Come True, a rich, dread-filled spectacle that delves into the world of nightmares. Some good laughs were also had with The Beta Test, a black comedy with some gnarly kills and great American Psycho callbacks, and Vicious Fun, a witty, retro subversion of the slasher genre. Finally, suspense thriller Katla had a number of freaky moments throughout, while The Advent Calendar took a kitschy premise and mined it for some genuine creeps.

Additionally, we wanted to note that there were a few films neither of us got to see before the year expired so folks aren’t scratching their heads by their absence here, either on the list or mentioned in passing. We both haven’t gotten around to Titane or Last Night in Soho, and Miss Mel has yet to see the film Mr. Craiggors ranked No. 1. Meanwhile, Mr. Craiggors is convinced that if he had seen The Night House before today, it would have a place somewhere on his own list. C’est la vie. There is always time next year! As for now, let’s dive into the Top 10 of 2021:

Boys From County Hell

10. Candyman (Mel) / Boys From County Hell (Craig)

MEL: This was a great follow-up to the original but lacked a lot of the textures in the screenplay in its predecessor. After the initial setup, the plot moves whip quick which serves to really drain the tension that could have been there and loses the thread of racial identity and the context of Cabrini-Greene that was so potent in the first film and that could have made it so powerful here. Still, it has some brutal kills, excellent direction and use of light, and great acting. 

CRAIG: This vampire horror comedy certainly has its flaws, but it was so charming and entertaining that it slid into my favorite films of the year regardless. It’s silly, bloody, and surprisingly heartfelt thanks to some likable characters and solid performances. Plus the effects are great, and the tweak on vampire mythology adds a fun wrinkle to the toothy sub-genre.

Candyman

9. The Humans (Mel) / Candyman (Craig)

MEL: While not a traditional horror film (and many people probably wouldn’t consider this horror, especially with the prestige label of this one so you might call it a psychological drama) it’s a very Shirley Jackson-esque piece filmed with tension from both space and atmosphere and what the characters aren’t saying to each other. The final sequence is what really cements this as a horror film for me and one down incredibly well and in an engaging way. It’s low on my list simply because I felt there was more “true” and traditional horror on the list. 

CRAIG: From a production standpoint, this film is a standout. Stunning visuals, bold colors, trick shots and deep framing with lots of mirrors and reflective surfaces that unnerve and mystify the viewer. It’s a very artful, thoughtful film, but like Miss Mel said it lacks a little in its narrative structure and rushed plotting. Still a treat for the eyes and a respectable addition to the canon of a horror legend.

Superhost

8. Superhost (Mel) / There’s Someone Inside Your House (Craig)

MEL: I definitely liked the first half of this film better than the second half. I felt it was trying to pull too many twists off of a tense first act. But Gracie Gillam as the titular superhost carries this film, if nothing else, with her unnerving presence and ease with which she slips between her different personas and phases of her character. I’m also pretty turned off on things that try to tack on umbrella criticisms of social media, which felt unnecessary in this one. But a very creepy scenario that pays off pretty well. 

CRAIG: A lean 90-minute slasher that evokes all the best of the post-Scream boom, this is simplicity at its best. This film reminded me that it’s not always about shocking and wowing the audience with the latest and wildest narrative devices. Sometimes it’s just about telling a good story, having some sick kills, and bare bones yet high quality production. As the slasher continues its renaissance, future efforts should look here for how to do the stalk-and-slash right.

The Power

7. V/H/S/94 (Mel) / The Power (Craig)

MEL: I loved the concept and execution of the first V/H/S and the franchise’s schtick feels a little tired at this point, especially with the weak frame story on this one. But it’s always fun to see some directors get a chance to showcase some creepy stories and my favorite from this bunch was “The Wake.”

CRAIG: What starts as a somewhat familiar period ghost story quickly evolves into a psychological horrorfest all about claustrophobia, dread, and darkness. Rose Williams’s astonishing performance as the vulnerable, earnest young nurse in 1973 London brings an emotional weight to the story that left me feeling gutted after the credits rolled.

Censor

6. Censor (Mel & Craig)

MEL: This was a very interesting concept set in a fun world for horror buffs, the age of the “video nasty,” where it takes an ironic look at the long-held moral panic over the effect of horror films on crime rates. It’s a little hard to follow at times and the pace can really slow but it has some effective scares and a good overall message for those who blame horror films for crime.

CRAIG: I quite enjoyed this nightmarish plunge into the realm of censorship and moral scrutiny during the 1980’s Video Nasty era in the U.K. It was very atmospheric, lots of neon color clashing with the drab, muted palette of reality as Enid (Niamh Algar) loses her sanity. It was an excellent performance in a gorgeous film that was both love letter to the genre and a warning to those who attempt to edit their pasts to better suit their presents.

The Djinn

5. The Djinn (Mel) / Caveat (Craig)

MEL: This is a good old-fashioned survive the night style haunted house story. It takes some cues from films like Insidious and It Follows, all to great effect, as it paints a sinister sort of Home Alone situation. Ezra Dewey is engaging which is the bare minimum to carry us through such a contained film. But, sometimes not even his charisma can work through the slower bits that were bound to come from a suspense horror film in such a closed space and timeline.

CRAIG: Nothing is what it seems in this atmospheric haunted house movie with vibes for days. One of the eerie and unique films I’ve seen in recent years, I did not know what to expect and was thoroughly surprised. The film is a masterclass is slow burn dread, and I had chills running down my spine from the opening scene on. Very ominous, very dark, and one of the few films to actually make me yelp out loud during one particular scene.

Werewolevs Within

4. In the Earth (Mel) / Werewolves Within (Craig)

MEL: Not what I expected when I went in (I went in expecting supernatural woodsy horror). This is a nice bit of isolationist horror meets a dash of splatter porn meets folk horror. It had a pretty interesting concept once the story opened up a bit and had some fun use of light and sound (important to the mythology of the story) that felt inspired by Annihilation. While the story was a clear metaphor for pandemic paranoia and that was effective, I could have done without the half-assed pandemic reference in the early parts of the film but it wasn’t enough to detract from the story.

CRAIG: A wacky, charming whodunnit with equal parts laughs and scares, this slight horror comedy has all the camp, gore, and suspense I wanted going into director Josh Ruben’s follow-up to last year’s Scare Me. It’s always entertaining and never takes itself too seriously while still managing to surprise and draw you in further. The ensemble cast is committed and excellent, hilarious over the top bunch that really sells the story in the third act. It’s Clue meets Fargo meets Knives Out with werewolves…how could I not love it?

The Boy Behind the Door

3. Seance (Mel) / The Boy Behind the Door (Craig)

MEL: This was an interesting one in that it mixes Mean Girls with a slasher with a ghost story which, for the most part, comes across as fun and effective, though it probably could have just picked one and ran with it. It also has a couple of late twists that come a little too late to really matter, but this was a fun ride.

CRAIG: A dark, unrelentingly exercise in suspense that flips the home invasion film on its head and left me clenching my bun-buns for the entirety of film’s runtime. Sound and scene work flawlessly together to create white knuckle tension that keeps the viewer glued to the screen despite a nagging desire to hide behind a pillow. Young lead Lonnie Chavis is marvelous, particularly given the bleak subject matter–the heart and the hope that shines through the darkness.

Halloween Kills

2. Halloween Kills (Mel) / The Vigil (Craig)

MEL: I think the Twitter user who said this film was a lower tier on the better sequels hit the nail on the head with this one. The direction, production design, and music were all incredible but the screenplay was a bit of a mess–strung together sequences and kills without a through-line. What it sets up for will be exciting though. 

CRAIG: A familiar tale of demonic possession that is brought fresh perspective by writer/director Keith Thomas. The atmosphere is ominous and seeps through the screen in this one, and there’s some truly chilling moments throughout. The film uses religion and folklore to explore concepts of grief, guilt, and generational trauma. I was equal parts mesmerized and frightened.

Malignant

1. Fear Street Part Two: 1978 (Mel) / Malignant (Craig)

MEL: I broke the Fear Street trilogy up because the only one I truly enjoyed on its own was 1978. I think it functions pretty well as a stand-alone film and is one of the few middle films in a trilogy that acts as the important cornerstone it needs to be. It’s slasher summer camp horror on steroids with fun characters, gruesome kills, and a fun mythology. The Fear Street trilogy as a whole is fine, good horror fun but this was the strong one for me and something I see myself returning to often as a summer horror staple. 

CRAIG: This polarizing effort from James Wan was bonkers in the best sense of the word. From that mad opening sequence through the wild ride that follows, I was captivated if confused at times. Relentless and outlandish, I found myself thinking about this film the most out of everything I watched in 2021, and that alone said something to me. The 90’s Dark House and giallo references alone made me giddy, but I think it’s the fact that this film did something I had never seen before that led to me giving it my number 1 spot. We’re gonna be talking about this one for a long time to come.

Well, that’s a wrap on 2021, Chatterers–and good riddance, we say! Drop your favorite genre offerings from this year in the comments below, or let us know what you’re looking forward to next year. Here’s to keeping up the creep in 2022!

Top 20 of ’20 – Miss Mel

@melmoy

Read on for Miss Mel’s favorite 20 films of 2020, and here to take a look at Mr. Craiggors’.

Don’t forget to share your top films of the year with us in the comments, or on Twitter! Lots of overlap? Things we missed? Let’s chat!

20. Underwater

A group of researchers in the Mariana Trench are hunted by an unknown creature. I love me some alien creature feature even if this was an average entry into the canon.

19. The Rental

A pair of couples rent a home for a few days and feel something is watching them. This was a pretty confused tone and genre and ultimately fell a little flat but was interesting along the way.

18. Amulet

A homeless veteran is welcomed into a decrepit mansion by a woman and her aging mother. This one gets wild and a little weird but was fun with a fair bit of lingering dread.

17. The Lodge

A woman becomes snowbound in a mountain lodge with her husband’s children. This is some good atmospheric horror with some great actors and I love some isolation horror.

16. Blood Quantum

A group of First Nations people are immune to a zombie apocalypse. I enjoyed the concept but ultimately I don’t think zombie films, even socially conscious zombie films, are really my thing.

15. The Babysitter: Killer Queen

Two years after the first movie, Cole goes on a weekend vacation where the bloodbath starts again. This was fan service and much less charming and surprising than the original but it was fun to be back.

14. The Dark and the Wicked

A pair of siblings visit their childhood home to visit their ailing father. This feels like a couple other films I’ve seen before but it was a genuinely creepy ride through domestic hauntings.

13. Black Box

A single dad undergoes an experimental cognitive treatment for memory loss and finds himself questioning his identity and reality. Flatliners meets Jacob’s Ladder meets Get Out that’s a bit overstuffed and emotionally confusing at times but its characters really bring home the humanity of a fantastical story.

12. Relic

A woman suffering from dementia is taken care of by her daughter and granddaughter. This functioned both as a spooky psych thriller and creepy house story as well as a tale of the existential dread we have of losing our parents and our own eventual deaths.

11. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

A woman on the brink of breaking up with her boyfriend goes on a road trip to meet his parents. This is trippy and confusing as shit but is engaging and entertaining and makes me wish I had read the book first to experience it fully.

10. Vampires vs. the Bronx

A group of teenagers must protect their Bronx neighborhood from a gang of vampires. I love teen stories and I love vampires. This was a fun comedy horror film with a bit of commentary on gentrification.

9. The Invisible Man

A woman believes she is being stalked by her abusive ex-boyfriend who faked his suicide. An uncomfortable ride through the horrors of an abusive and toxic relationship that does a great job updating its premise.

8. Impetigore

A pair of woman travel to a rural village where one of them may have a dark past. International films have been killing it this year. This is creepy, shocking and unique and who doesn’t love skin puppets?

7. His House

Sudanese refugees believe something may be lurking in their new home. I was excited for this since I first saw trailers for it. This was a great combination of haunted house horror and real life tragedy.

6. Color Out of Space

An asteroid disturbs an otherwise peaceful New England farm and brings with it an alien terror. This is a wild ride of a classic Lovecraft that manages to hit on all cylinders when it comes to psychological horror, body horror, and Annihilation levels of alien-based science fiction.

5. The Platform

 A man wakes up in a social experiment known as “the hole,” where food distribution is heavily stratified. This dystopian, social horror film feels like something out of a Saramago novel and is at times hard to watch for its gore and brutality but it makes interesting political statements–if confusing ones–and manages an incredibly depressing tone.

4. Possessor

A corporate assassin infiltrates bodies to carry out hits and finds herself in a combative host. This concept might have made for a C grade thriller film in other hands, but Cronenberg delivers a psychedelic trip through the psychology of the body, identity, and how they interact to rival the works of his father.

3. Sputnik

A cosmonaut, who returned from a mission with a alien parasite, is held prisoner by the Soviet military. This film doesn’t do anything new in the genre or make any larger social or historical statements about its Cold War setting, but it’s an incredibly entertaining sci-fi horror film with charismatic humans at its core.

2. La Llorona

A genocidal former dictator is haunted by the ghosts of the Ixil people he murdered while confined to his house. Foreign language films are the future of horror. While domestic art house horror tells gripping social stories, this film–reminiscent of Beloved in the best ways–uses the tension of human tragedy to propel its horror forward.

  1. Host

A group of friends host a seance over Zoom during the pandemic and things take a turn. This was a delightful little project that utilized its context without relying or milking it. It’s not unique in either plot or medium conceit, but it was incredibly fresh and effectively entertaining.

Top 20 of ’20 – Mr. Craiggors

@craiggors

No question that 2020 will be remembered as being absolutely horrifying. It deserves nothing less than an excruciating, fiery death while the rest of us dance on its corpse in post-traumatic delirium/glee/drunken abandon. But the year will also, hopefully, be remembered as being horror-ful.

Sure, the COVID-19 pandemic derailed a number of major studio sequels like Candyman, Halloween Kills, and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, as well as bumping back a number of highly anticipated original fare such as Saint Maud, Antlers, Last Night in Soho, and Malignant; but horror as a genre was far from deterred. Debut directors dropped movies that blew our minds and broke our hearts, streaming services filled the theatrical release gap in spades, and film festivals opened their doors to at-home audiences in hitherto unknown fashion. The result was that, against all odds, 2020 was one of the strongest years for horror in recent memory.

As such, narrowing this year’s offerings down to a best-of list proved extra difficult for both myself and Miss Mel. As such, we’ve forgone the traditional top 10 in favor of a Top 20…each! I suppose we could have been more savage and cut the lower ten, but come on, hasn’t this year been brutal enough?

Read on for my Top 20 Horror Films of 2020, and find Miss Mel’s list here.

20. Spiral

A somewhat familiar narrative that’s well acted, nicely shot, and offers a satisfying conclusion for those who are patient with it, Spiral was a commendable treat. I also loved seeing a same-sex male couple as the central characters, and even though I wish Malik’s backstory had been more fleshed out, it still resonated with me.

19. Freaky

Fun and flighty with plenty of giggly moments and a few that actually made me guffaw, but not quite as much substance as in Christopher Landon’s other playful slasher send-up Happy Death Day. The “clam jam” line makes up for absolutely everything, though.

18. The Hunt

An ultra-violent satire with an over-the-top premise that puts an interesting twist on The Most Dangerous Game. By casting “redneck deplorables” fighting for their lives against vegan NPR neoliberals, the film challenges and holds a mirror to us-vs.-them mentality. Thought-provoking if not always profound, and Betty Gilpin is absolutely delicious in the lead.

17. VFW

A futuristic dystopian low-budget siege film that features Stephen Lang kicking ass in a neon-soaked, grindhouse hellscape all set to a score that would make Carpenter jealous. Come ON, in what world would I not love this?

16. The Cleansing Hour

A chilling update to the possession sub-genre that plays out on the set of a vlogger-exorcist’s fake YouTube show. Cynical, creative, and quite shocking at parts, plus the much underused Kyle Gallner make this a win for me.

15. The Mortuary Collection

2020 was the Year of the Horror Anthology. Two of the three major ones are on this list (Scare Package just missed the cut). The Mortuary Collection is a creepy, atmospheric, gory blast. I was completely in love with the production design, and I firmly believe Clancy Brown needs to play The Tall Man in a Phantasm reboot.

14. Sea Fever

Great films are often those that understand exactly what they are and don’t try to be anything more, they just focus at excelling as themselves. Sea Fever is one such film. It’s icky and disturbing and doesn’t hold back. Alien meets The Thing meets Cabin Fever set on an Irish trawler. I mean, YO!

13. The Wolf of Snow Hollow

A darkly amusing genre mashup exploring toxic masculinity, fatherhood, and internal demons. I’m an admitted sucker for werewolf stories and this movie reminds me why. There’s some great comedic and horror beats, and the camera work is bursting with style and personality. It’s no Thunder Road, but Jim Cummings proves he’s still one fearless fucking filmmaker.

12. The Lodge

Paralyzing, agonizing, and very mean-spirited yet full of gorgeous cinematography and outstanding performances. Probably the most nightmarish film of the year as you really, really, really don’t want to see what happens next, but you can’t find a way out. Also? Fuck dem kids.

11. La Llorona

A quiet and tantalizing film that has less to do with the Latin American legend of the Weeping Woman and more to do with the inherited cultural trauma of the Guatemalan Civil War, La Llorona has stuck in my mind for months, and will continue to do so for many more.

10. Gretel & Hansel

An impressive update of the age-old Grimm fairy tale. It’s moody and heavy and packed to the gills with dread. It’s also aesthetically stunning and gorgeous and one of my new favorite Films-That-Use-Color-Expertly. Patient, meditative, and rich from start to finish.

9. Hunter Hunter

On the surface, the film appears to be any other run-of-the-mill survival story of a scrappy family living in the remote wilderness facing a roaming wolf on their land. But slowly it becomes clear that this film is…so much more. Horrifying, gripping, and unforgettable. And that ending is BRUTAL.

8. Relic

Haunting and heart-wrenching, this very slow burn mounts to a truly terrifying third act. Dynamite performances from Emily Mortimer and Robyn Nevin elevate a metaphorical story that mediates on grief and parental loss. Debut director Natalie Erika James doesn’t hold back or hold hands, and I’m very curious to see what she does next.

7. Anything for Jackson

Has there ever been a more sympathetic or likable pair of villains than the elderly couple at the center of Anything for Jackson? The answer is no, so props must be given not only to Julian Richings and Sheila McCarthy but also director Justin G. Dyck for bringing to life one of the unnerving, dark, and strangely humorous films of the year.

6. His House

Another outstanding 2020 debut feature. Director Remi Weekes effortlessly blends existential terror with the supernatural to craft a new sort of haunted house film that sticks in the mind and soul thanks to twisty, striking visuals and bravura performances.

5. Scare Me

Delightful. So freaking delightful. Easily the film that most surprised me this year, and one that genuinely stands out in a crowd. It’s minimalism done to a T, relying on sound, dialogue, and performance to frighten and entertain–and it works! Cozy, witty, and razor-sharp on its dissection of writing culture, an A+ for debut director/writer/star Josh Ruben and co-star Aya Cash.

4. The Invisible Man

A relentlessly uncomfortable viewing experience in the best possible way, Leigh Whannell updates the time-tested tale into a suspenseful exploration of domestic abuse, toxic masculinity, and resilience. A gut-punch of a film that weaponizes space and pushes psychological terror to the max to profound effect.

3. Host

Unquestionably the hottest horror film of 2020, Host will also be a perfect time capsule of its time. Made entirely in quarantine, it’s a brief, nail-biting little film-that-could that had everyone, myself included, jumping at shadows and small noises in the night. Not only will this be the film we all remember as the pinnacle of what it meant to live the horror of 2020, but its techniques will be imitated by filmmakers for years to come.

2. The Dark and the Wicked

Easily the most terrifying film of the year. A perfectly executed masterpiece of insidious sound design, shadow play, and suffocating dread all wrapped around some supremely disturbing visuals. It’s incredibly bleak, a different yet equally unsettling sort of nihilism perfected in director Bryan Bertino’s earlier creep-fest The Strangers.

  1. Possessor

Mind-bending, unflinching, and bizarre. Brandon Cronenberg follows up Antiviral with a film that is both homage to his father’s work and a showcase of his own sensibilities as a filmmaker. Everything about the film is slick and sleek, from the gory violence to the glorious aesthetic to the spellbinding performances. Cerebral and evocative and stunning, it takes the top spot for me this year for how unique and (you guessed it) possessive the viewing experience was.

Well, that does it for 2020–a truly solid slate of horror. Here’s to keeping up the creep in 2021! See you there, Chatterers!