It’s been a strange and, indeed, scary year so far, but not for the reasons we horror fans would generally prefer. But while we may not have gotten Halloween Kills, Antlers, Nia DaCosta and Jordan Peele’s Candyman, James Wan’s Malignant, or a new Conjuring movie this year, there’s still been plenty of good horror movies coming out to take our minds off the real-life horror around us – you just have to know where to look.
A lot of this year’s best horror has been coming out in unexpected places. With movie theaters either shuttered or showing a severely limited slate due to the pandemic, many of the year’s best horror pictures have been released on VOD or have gone straight to streaming services like Netflix, Shudder, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Fortunately, no matter how you watch your movies, there’s bound to be something on this list that will keep you sleeping with the lights on for at least a few nights…
15. Extra Ordinary
It may be more comedy than horror, but this extremely British ghost story was nonetheless a festival favorite at this year’s Panic Fest (which happened back in January, when we were all still blissfully unaware of the pandemic that was coming) and should prove more-than-adequate for fans of the quirky horror-humor of What We Do in the Shadows. “Even the weakest ghost can possess cheese quite easily.”
14. Blood Quantum
Jeff Barnaby’s indigenous take on the zombie movie got festival play back in 2019 and hit streaming this year, where you can catch it on Shudder. While the beats may feel routine, the change of milieu to life on a reservation makes the by-now-familiar zombie picture something altogether new and different, and makes Blood Quantum feel politically relevant in that classic zombie movie way.
13. Color Out of Space
Speaking of movies that technically came out in 2019 but that most of us didn’t get to see until this year, Richard Stanley’s welcome return to the director’s seat after an absence of nearly a decade is also one of the best Lovecraft adaptations ever made, even if it could have used either a little more or a little less Nicolas Cage, depending on who you ask.
12. Gretel & Hansel
Oz Perkins, son of Psycho’s Anthony and director of recent indie darlings like The Blackcoat’s Daughter and I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, brings his unique visual style to this retelling of a classic fairy tale that is expectedly dark and often absolutely stunning to look at. Even if you weren’t lucky enough to catch it in theaters this year, it’s now available on VOD.
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Korea has been getting zombie movies right lately. A few years ago, they brought us the modern classic Train to Busan, and this year’s hit, about a guy who is still alive in isolation in the midst of a zombie outbreak, might just feel a little too real for some of us in the midst of 2020…
10. The Mortuary Collection
Another festival favorite that made its way to Shudder, The Mortuary Collection is a “must-see undertaking for horror fans” that pulls off that rare feat of maintaining a “consistently high level of quality” across an anthology film. That’s all from the critics consensus at Rotten Tomatoes, where the movie enjoys an impressive 95%. Also, it bears mentioning that it’s worth the price of admission just to see leads Caitlin Custer and Clancy Brown having a blast telling each other spooky stories.
9. La Llorona
No, not the Conjuring universe one that came out last year, this Shudder exclusive about a deposed South American dictator who is forced to confront the horrors that he perpetrated while he was in power “puts a fresh spin on the familiar legend by blending the supernatural and the political to resolutely chilling effect,” according to the critics consensus at Rotten Tomatoes.
This sophomore effort from David Cronenberg’s son Brandon continues to push boundaries and push the envelope in a tale of corporate assassins who can possess the bodies of anyone they want, with predictably horrific (but still unpredictable) results.
7. Sea Fever
This impressive Thing-on-a-boat movie elevates that by-the-numbers premise with strong performances, stunning visuals, and a compelling message about our collective responsibility in the face of global climate change. Another movie that got festival play in 2019 and a wide release via streaming in 2020, you can watch Sea Fever on Hulu or VOD.
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6. Black Box
One of the “Welcome to the Blumhouse” quartet of original horror movies released to Amazon Prime, this horror/sci-fi debut from co-writer/director Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour was pretty unanimously considered the standout of the bunch, featuring a mind-bending story about amnesia and grief, and strong central performances from Mamoudou Athie and his co-stars.
Relic isn’t the first horror film to tackle the real-life trauma of watching a loved one deal with declining mental faculties (see also the recent Taking of Deborah Logan), but this slow-burn horror is a surprisingly mature and accomplished take on the material from debut co-writer/director Natalie Erika Jenkins.
This short, sharp, and scary movie from director Rob Savage about six friends holding a séance over Zoom was one of the first horror films shot – and set – during the pandemic lockdown, and it makes the most of its limitations and the zeitgeist to craft a claustrophobic film that makes us as afraid to be in our own homes as we are of leaving them.
3. The Invisible Man
Writer/director Leigh Whannell and star Elisabeth Moss take a very different approach to this latest remake of a classic Universal monster property. Utilizing the familiar H. G. Wells story of a scientist who turns himself invisible to make a thriller about abusive relationships, domestic violence, and toxic masculinity, Whannell and Moss turn in what Thrillist called “one of the best ‘studio’ horror films in recent years.”
2. His House
Over on Rotten Tomatoes, this Netflix original has an impressive 100% “fresh” rating, and a glowing critics consensus that reads, “Featuring genuine scares through every corridor, His House is a terrifying look at the specters of the refugee experience and a stunning feature debut for Remi Weekes.” Obviously, we couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
Those who use the Twilight films as an excuse to underestimate Kristen Stewart do so at their own peril, but even here, where she’s doing her best impression of Ripley from Alien, she’s not really the selling point so much as the subaquatic sci-fi horror that feels like a throwback to the films of the early aughts in all the best ways, right up to a cyclopean last-act reveal that should please fans of cosmic horror.
Featured still from "Gretel & Hansel" via Orion Pictures.