For the past couple of years, the pandemic has played merry hell with all sorts of supply chains—not least among them, the movies. 2020 saw countless titles delayed or shelved, while other releases straggled out during a time when theaters were only sporadically open—if at all. New titles dropped onto streaming services, often without fanfare, and for the viewer looking to get their horror fix in the midst of all the real-world horror, it was often difficult to know where to look.
Fortunately, while the pandemic may not yet be over, the movie landscape, at least, has returned to something more closely approximating normal. 2021 has seen a wide array of new horror releases—some of them transplants from last year, others new blood in the water. From big-ticket items like Halloween Kills and a third installment in the expansive Conjuring franchise to indie pictures and horror flicks from across the pond, there have been plenty of spooky things to watch.
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Here are a few of the best horror films that dropped in 2021, in case you find yourself in need of a good scare or two as we head into the new year…
Premiering at Sundance, Prano Bailey-Bond’s cautionary tale about the road to hell being paved with good intentions is also a fascinating love letter to the “Video Nasty” era of British horror, when state-sponsored censors demanded judicious cuts be made to horror movies in the name of public morality. With a committed lead performance by Niamh Algar and some eerie stylistic flourishes, this is one indie film that has made a splash with audiences on both sides of the pond.
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The Night House
The latest from David Bruckner (V/H/S), The Night House received high praise for the unique approach taken to its creature—and for the “gripping central performance” offered by Rebecca Hall. Hall plays a woman whose husband has died by suicide. She is haunted by strange events and dark secrets, which lead her to discover an eerie, mirrored version of her own house on the far side of the lake.
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Broadcast Signal Intrusion
This festival favorite received limited VOD release in 2021. Broadcast Signal Intrusion—like manhy movies of late—is a throwback to another time. In this case, that time is 1999, as a video archivist discovers a series of pirate television signals that interrupted public broadcasts, which may have something to do with the disappearance of his fiancé…
In the Earth
Some movies made during the pandemic can feel a little too real right about now, which might be the case with Ben Wheatley’s hallucinatory latest. This movie covers everything from folk horror to fungal infections (treading on pandemic fears) while also offering up all of the kaleidoscopic weirdness that Wheatley is known for. The film features a small cast of characters thanks to COVID-19 protocols.
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Simon Barrett made a name for himself as a writer via collaborating with Adam Wingard on horror hits like You’re Next, The Guest, and the 2016 Blair Witch. With Séance, he made his feature directorial debut, spinning a ghostly slasher set in an all-girls boarding school. Notably, the film has a very Simon Barrett twist.
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A Quiet Place Part 2
Were audiences clamoring for a follow-up to John Krasinski’s 2018 post-apocalyptic horror hit? They certainly got one, and by all accounts, it did very well for itself—raking in nearly $300 million at the box office. This in spite of, y’know, all the pandemic stuff. The reviews were pretty universally good, too, with the critics consensus at Rotten Tomatoes calling it a “nerve-wracking continuation of its predecessor” that “expands the terrifying world of the franchise without losing track of its heart.”
Inspired by the classic R. L. Stine book series, this trio of bloody YA slashers that leapfrogs through time was released on Netflix near the middle of the year, taking the horror community by storm. Beginning in 1994—before jumping back to 1978 and then 1666—this ambitious trilogy tells the story of one town’s curse and how it came to be. All three installments share exciting young casts and are written and directed by Leigh Janiak (Honeymoon).
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Helmed by up-and-coming director Nia DaCosta and co-written and produced by horror wunderkind Jordan Peele, this reboot/sequel to the 1992 classic was supposed to come out back in 2020 but the release was bumped all the way to August of 2021. It was worth the wait, though, as DaCosta, Peele, and company breathed thrilling new life into a classic horror legend.
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James Wan’s long-awaited new non-franchise horror project was kept pretty tightly under wraps until its release—a mystery made all the more frustrating as it was yet another title originally slated for 2020 that was pushed to September of ’21. While the end result may have been more stylish than scary, the film’s go-for-broke premise and bonkers third act more than made up for any other shortcomings.
The latest installment in the fan favorite horror anthology series dropped as a Shudder original in October of 2021, bringing horror hounds a new quintet of found footage-style flicks, including entries from Simon Barrett, Timo Tjahjanto, Ryan Prows, and others. It also gave the horror community at least one meme, which seems very 2021 for a movie set in ’94. Hail Raatma.
Adapted from a short story by Nick Antosca (Channel Zero) and produced by Guillermo del Toro, this bleak, rainy parable of abject poverty, abuse, and the death of the American small town is also a monster movie featuring a Native American myth brought to all-too-visceral life. Another eagerly anticipated 2020 release that was bumped to this Halloween of this year.
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Last Night in Soho
Ever since Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead—and his memorable trailer for the imaginary movie Don’t, wedged in the middle of Grindhouse—fans have been waiting for him to take a swing at a full-on horror film. He finally does just that in Last Night in Soho, a stylish and stylized slice of nostalgia that reveals how living in the past can be more dangerous than we realize.
The Spine of Night
Harkening back to the rotoscoped animation of films like Heavy Metal and Ralph Bakshi’s Fire and Ice, this extremely adult fantasy cartoon from Philip Gelatt (Love, Death & Robots) and Morgan Galen King brings plenty of cosmic horror back to its sword-and-sorcery roots—not to mention more blood and gore than pretty much the entire rest of this list combined.
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