Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer
If there was one silver lining in this year of, well let’s call it what it was, the weirdest apocalypse ever, it would be that people probably watched more movies and television shows than usual. Lockdown meant we needed to find an outlet for our stressful days, and watching horror movies have always been one of the best ways (besides getting your killstreak on in your favorite video game) to face your fears without having to worry about any actual real world repercussions.
It’s been a good year to be a horror fan and even if you’ve seen a lot of them, there are always those hidden gems that slip under your radar. So with this in mind I’ve put together the best of the best of MY favourite genre, for you to enjoy.
Here are the TOP 20 BEST HORROR MOVIES OF 2020.
#20 La Llorona
A fresh spin on a familiar legend, set exceptionally well against the backdrop of a real life horror, La Llorona (not to be confused with Blumhouse’s Curse of La Llorona) tells the story of an aging war criminal who, after being acquitted of his crimes, finds himself and his family being haunted by the ghosts of his past.
Well shot and emotionally impactful due to the real life connections (the genocide of native Mayans in Guatemala), this was a slow burn with a strong start, a bumpy middle and overall a solid use of this terrifying supernatural entity.
#19 The Wolf of Snow Hollow
An above average werewolf movie is hard to find (trust me, I’ve looked). And as a fan of this furry bastard, I’m always on the lookout for an enjoyable creature feature that has him on full display. With a great looking werewolf and a nice whodunit at its core, this movie does a good job of giving audiences a modern day werewolf movie with a twist.
Sadly, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to, as the lead character got on my nerves. Still, this is one werewolf movie that’s a cut above the average fare.
A fantastic zombie horror that incorporates modern technology both as a saving grace and as a warning to those who live their lives completely disconnected from the real world. This South Korean flick delivers the thrills, chills and loads of adrenaline that can sometimes be lacking when you’re dealing with the shambling undead.
It more than made up for the disappointing follow up to the stellar Train to Busan. This is a zombie movie any fan of the genre would delight in.
It’s one of those fears you don’t see often in horror movies (fear of your neighbors), but when it’s done right (Rosemary’s Baby/The Burbs), it can be just as impactful as any other sub-genre of horror. 1BR is the story of a young woman who thinks she’s found the perfect apartment to rent, until she realises her neighbours take the whole “housing rules and regulations” thing to the extreme.
It doesn’t have a big budget, but more than makes up for it with strong performances, claustrophobic settings, and an ending that will leave you chilled to the core.
#16 Scare Me
Just when I thought I had seen every kind of horror movie there is, Scare Me hits me with one of the strangest. An inspiring novelist rents a cabin to try and write his dream book. He meets with another writer who is also staying nearby and, unlike him, she’s the real deal. They get together and decide to see who can tell the scarier story. And the rest? Well you’ll just have to see it for yourself.
With scenes that feel heavily improvised and a tone that switches from humorous to horrific as the story unfolds, Scare Me may not be the scariest horror movie I’ve ever seen this year, but it was definitely one of the most original and engaging.
#15 Scare Package
I’m always on the hunt for good horror anthologies and this year, we got two of them! Scare Package is the first on my list and, unlike most other anthologies I’ve seen, it’s extremely self-aware and embraces its comedic side with both bloody hands. The main story that connects them all is very rough, unlike say, Trick ‘r Treat, but it’s filled to the brim with blood, gore and lots of love for fans of the genre. And it’s the kind of movie that’s a blast to watch with your horror-loving friends.
#14 The Platform
Non-horror fans tend to dismiss the genre as gratuitous. To that I say, go watch a movie like The Platform and tell me horror doesn’t know how to be smart! The social commentary here never overtakes this striking and visceral analogy for the selfish nature of humanity. Simply put, if everyone takes only what they need, we could all thrive. And The Platform takes this powerful message and delivers it with grisly abandon. It’s clever, it’s chilling and it’s definitely worth watching if you missed out on it.
#13 The Lodge
The Shining meets Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Lodge is a lesson in the importance of dealing with your emotional wounds, lest it returns in horrific ways. A woman who has lived through some serious trauma (she survived a mass suicide cult) is left alone with the children of her new boyfriend in the snowy, titular lodge. The kids are still grieving for their dead mother and their actions culminate in a finale that makes the ending of The Mist look like a happy fairytale. If you like your tension delivered with a slow meticulous burn, The Lodge is the vacay spot for you.
#12 Black Box
If Total Recall was a horror movie, it would look a bit like Black Box. The best of the “Welcome to the Blumhouse” group of movies released this year, this movie tells the story of a man who has lost his memories after an accident that also claimed the life of his wife. His memories are fractured and he goes to a doctor who utilises tech called, (say it with me) the Black Box, and in doing so he regains memories, but they may not be his own. The acting here is what elevates this story, and while there are stumbles balancing the genres of science fiction and horror, the directing is astute enough to ultimately pull it off.
With an excellent twist in the third act and a finale that leaves us open to a sequel, Black Box is a strong debut by first time director Osei-Kuffour Jr and I’m looking forward to seeing what he brings us next.
A twisted spin on the terrors of being a teenager, Spontaneous will instantly catch your attention with an opening scene that is, in a word, explosive. Whip smart and with a wicked sense of humor, this movie is a fantastic send-up of other genre films like Donnie Darko and Heathers, it never bothers to weigh down viewing audiences with too much scientific info or overly tedious explanations and just revels in the madness and the fun. With a rare, unpredictable nature you don’t usually see in horror (you have no idea who’s gonna explode at any given time) this is one movie that gloriously lives up to its name.
A fun spin on a well-worn trope, Freaky follows in the footsteps of Happy Death Day, which added a horror spin to Groundhog Day, and takes the “body swapping” of Freaky Friday and shakes things up by making the two main “swappers” an ordinary teenage girl and a serial killer.
With some fun slasher moments that would make Jason Voorhees envious, and a great comedic lead in Vince Vaughn, Freaky is one of those horror movies you can sit back, nibble away on a bowl of popcorn, and just enjoy a solid slasher flick for the ages.
#9 His House
When the ghosts of your past literally haunt you there’s no place safe to hide, not even your new home. His House is another superb addition to the genre that utilises horror to tell a much deeper tale. The tragedies suffered by our two leads, migrant couple Bol and Rial, are a real-life horror that most of us will thankfully never experience.
The brilliance of this film is the way their experiences and the choices they made to escape the atrocities in their homeland of South Sudan are manifested as the kind of visual horror that makes your hair stand on end. With perfect, deliberate pacing, a great use of light and shadow, and the kind of acting reserved for Oscar-caliber films, His House is an instant classic which will stand the test of time along with similar films like The Others and The Haunting (1963).
If ever a horror movie was perfectly made for the year 2020, it would be this one. A British found footage horror movie, but shot in the style of another genre winner, Searching, Host tells the story of a group of friends who, with seemingly nothing better to do (have these people never heard of video games?!), decide to have a séance. When crap inevitable goes sideways we are forced to witness, through the claustrophobic lens of their laptops no less, the gruesome demise of these foolish people, as a demon picks them off one by one.
Using laptops/phones to shoot this movie was a stroke of genius as the narrative lends perfectly to this visual style. And it causes us the audience to be forced to look directly into our screens as we try to make out what’s standing right out of frame, or is casting shadows, or making the lights flicker. With those “look behind you!” moments that have you yelling at your screen, Host will leave you hitting “end call” faster than you can say Boo!
An ode to classic sci-fi horror movies of the 60s and 70s, this is a Russian tale of an alien that forms a parasitic/symbiotic bond with an astronaut. The man finds himself locked away as his superiors try to figure out what to do. While stories like this one aren’t new, the Russian spin on it does make it feel that way, and I appreciated seeing how different they may have dealt with something like this happening on their side of the world. With sharp visuals and equally dramatic and thrilling moments, Sputnik has the right mix of smarts and sinister that any fan of the sci-fi horror genre can instantly get behind.
Some horror movies are harder to watch than others, at least, those which may hit close to real life fears. Relic tells the story of a woman whose mother has gone missing. So she returns to her childhood home with her daughter to find her, only to have her mother show up on her own. But there’s something wrong with Grandma and they have to find out what before it’s too late.
A somber and chilling analogy of growing old and developing ailments that can affect your mind, like Alzheimer’s, with visuals that directly tie into the decaying state of this family’s matriarch mind, and terrifying spectres (real or imagined) haunting this family, this is the kind of movie that audiences who prefer nuance with their nightmares will appreciate.
This is one of those movies that I appreciation of it grew the more times I’ve viewed it. Underwater may be inspired by films like The Abyss and Leviathan, but it also stands solidly on its own.
With claustrophobic settings (the drilling site here is thousands of leagues beneath sea level) and extremely original designs for the deep sea creatures that are picking off this crew one by one, the story makes use of not just the fear of the unknown, but the fear of being completely out of your natural element and fighting to survive at every turn. If the monsters don’t get you, the atmosphere (or lack of it) will, and with an ending that you will never see coming, Underwater, like Event Horizon, is one of those movies I think people will grow to appreciate more as time goes by.
#4 Color Out of Space
HP Lovecraft’s work has always been some of the most difficult to adapt. Otherworldly in every sense of the word, most movies that attempt to do so fall flat. That’s not the case with this trippy send-up, inspired by the works of the famed author, Color Out of Space. With visuals that look like an acid trip, loads of blood and gore, and the icing on any crazy cake, Nicolas Cage as the patriarch of a family who sees a large meteor land in their backyard and well, the rest you need to see for yourself. Nutty in the best ways possible, if you’re a fan of the kind of crazy horror flicks that were usually only made in the 80s, this one is ripe for the picking.
#3 The Mortuary Collection
The other anthology horror film I saw this year, The Mortuary Collection is a fine addition to the sub-genre. Sharp visuals, great production value, and all well-crafted stories connected by a solid main plotline (director Ryan Spindell also worked on web series 50 States of Fright) this anthology is one of the best I’ve seen since Trick ‘r Treat. And with Clancy Brown (Highlander, Starship Troopers, The Shawshank Redemption) delivering as the head of the mortuary, you know you’ve got something truly special in this collection.
David Cronenberg’s son Brandon proves the apple, or in this case, nightmare-inducing apple, doesn’t fall far from the tree with his body horror film Possessor. It is a macabre and brutal version of body possession (that in this story doesn’t require any demons but instead is based in science fiction) as a woman named Vos takes possession of unwitting victims and forces them to pull off assassinations.
Stay far away from this one if body horror isn’t your thing, but if it is, the visuals here will not leave you wanting more. And the acting by Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbot completely pull you into this unapologetically gruesome world. And here I thought The Fly was the grossest movie I’d ever seen!
Runner-up: The Invisible Man
The only reason this movie didn’t make #1 for me is, while I enjoyed every minute of it, the story didn’t creep me out half as much as my top pick did. That said, what writer/director Leigh Whannell did with his updated version of this classic character is nothing short of amazing. Starring the versatile and talented Elizabeth Moss as our lead heroine, Cecilia, a woman who has to go on the run from her abusive boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). After being told he has died, she thinks it’s finally okay to come out of the shadows, but when strange things start happening to her, Cecilia suspects Adrian might be closer than anyone realises.
There is so much to appreciate here, from the ingenious way Whannell frames a room, making you the viewer just as paranoid as Cecilia, to the “upgraded” ideas behind what makes the Invisible Man, ahem, invisible, and the great performances by everyone involved, this thriller never fails to keep your attention. One of my favourite parts is the one in the mental hospital when Adrian goes up against the guards. Whannell hasn’t directed many movies, but the camera tricks he used in his other fantastic genre outing, Upgrade, is on full display in this scene and works perfectly here to show how trippy (and terrifying) it would be to fight something you can’t see. Not just one of the best horror movies for 2020, but one of the best movies of the year period! Here’s hoping we get to see The Invisible Man (or woman) back again very soon.
#1 The Dark and The Wicked
The Exorcist would be proud. The Dark and The Wicked tells the tale of two siblings who return to their parents farm to await their father’s passing, as he has taken ill and cannot be moved to a hospital in fear he will pass away during transport.
What could’ve easily settled for silly jump scares and loads of gore instead goes the smart route of slowly, ever so slowly, wearing on both the nerves of these characters as well as you, the viewing audience. While there are those expected “boo!” moments, the film crawls under your skin with a great score and those quiet, creepy moments, like the creak of a floorboard, shadows where there shouldn’t be any, and loads of other subtle scares that build on the ominous nature of the story unfolding. And the actors here give there all in creating characters you can connect to, and in doing so characters you are terrified for, as you get closer and closer to the inevitable conclusion.
I devour tons of horror movies every year, so for someone such as myself to sing praises to one of them, you know this movie has a lot more to it than just another demonic tale. I recommend watching with headphones on and the lights dim low, as something dark and wicked is definitely coming your way.
So that’s it, my best of the best this year in horror. Thank you to all my readers for your continued support, not just in the horror section here (you guys know I love ALL movies right?) but on the site as a whole. It’s one of my greatest joys, talking about movies with my friends and seeing how much you guys enjoy what we at RMR are doing makes it all the more worthwhile. So let’s leave this crazy year behind and keep pushing towards a better tomorrow.
Here’s to a New Year and a new batch of films to enjoy!
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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