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The 15 Best Horror Films of 2020: Kelly McNeely’s Picks



best horror 2020

It’s the end of a particularly surprising and eventful year, and there have been some… challenges. Due to obvious reasons, mass gatherings (and therefore audiences) have been hard to come by, so the arts industry has been forced to adjust. While missing out on live events, film festivals have gone digital, which opened up a whole new channel for films to reach audiences. We’d already seen distribution turn to streaming platforms, where indie horror festival favorites will get picked up by Shudder, Amazon Prime, or Netflix, skipping the limited theatrical release and jumping right into our homes. It’s a blessing and a curse, allowing more access to films than ever before, but taking away the magical experience of a great movie audience.

Part of the tricky pickle with this is that — since there are few films with official theatrical release dates this year — there are more films with a somewhat tenuous timeline. It may have first hit the festival circuit in 2019, but didn’t land distribution until 2020. But of course I’d like to include them, because they really should be seen. So as such, this list will include some films that were made in 2019 but didn’t see a wide audience until 2020. Cool? Ok cool.

Alright. After this whirlwind of a year, it’s nice to know there’s still some good in the world (in the form of some stupendous horror films). It’s time to wrap up with a list of some of the best** horror films to somehow find their way into 2020.
* *Disclaimer: Based on what I’ve seen so far this year, using an arbitrary rating system. 

15. The Lodge

The Lodge best 2020 horror

Best Horror 2020: The Lodge

Synopsis: During a family retreat to a remote winter cabin over the holidays, the father is forced to abruptly depart for work, leaving his two children in the care of his new girlfriend, Grace. Isolated and alone, a blizzard traps them inside the lodge as terrifying events summon specters from Grace’s dark past.

Why you should watch it: The Lodge opens with a dramatic bang, then takes its dear time dragging your body through an inescapable, cold dread. Co-written and directed by Goodnight Mommy‘s Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, it’s got a bit of a slow burn, but it’s bleak as hell (and who doesn’t love that).

14. Anything for Jackson

Anything for Jackson

Best Horror 2020: Anything for Jackson

Synopsis: A bereaved Satanist couple kidnap a pregnant woman so they can use an ancient spellbook to put their dead grandson’s spirit into her unborn child but end up summoning more than they bargained for.

Why you should watch it: Currently sitting at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes,  Anything for Jackson is the Canadian indie horror that could. Written and directed by two horror fans who have seasoned their skills working on family-friendly Christmas fare, Anything for Jackson is one of 2020’s more pleasant surprises. With creative, creepy ghosts and a complex range of emotions, it’s definitely worth a watch.

The film’s two leads — played by Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings — are absolutely delightful, despite their whole “kidnap an innocent pregnant woman” reverse exorcism plan. To learn more about the film, you should check out my special behind-the-scenes visit to the film’s set. I learned a lot!

13. Freaky

Freaky best horror 2020

Best Horror 2020: Freaky

Synopsis: After swapping bodies with a deranged serial killer, a young girl in high school discovers she has less than 24 hours before the change becomes permanent.

Why you should watch it: Freaky was co-written and directed by Happy Death Day’s Christopher Landon, and you can tell. It’s fun, it’s goofy, and it’s got a clever concept that’s the ultimate take on the Freaky Friday body swap. Vince Vaughn really has a great time with the role of a dorky teenage girl trapped in the body of a giant serial slasher, and it’s equally fun to watch him stumble through it all. It’s a real crowd pleaser!

12. The Hunt

best of 2020

Best Horror 2020: The Hunt

Synopsis: Twelve strangers wake up in a clearing. They don’t know where they are, or how they got there. They don’t know they’ve been chosen – for a very specific purpose – The Hunt.

Why you should watch it: Initially set for release in September 2019, The Hunt was ultimately shelved until 2020 due to the (ridiculously projected) controversial nature of the film. It was scandalous, it was explosive, and no one had even seen it yet. Blumhouse later (very wisely) used some excellent pull quotes for the film’s poster, promoting the film by cashing in on some recklessly vocal opinions. 

When audiences finally got to see the film, they were treated to a good ol’ fashioned body count bonanza, pitting liberal elites against right-wing deplorables in a culture-clash battle royale, cranked up with comical levels of violence. It’s a wildly fun film driven by an incredible performance by GLOW’s Betty Gilpin — the story of the tortoise and the hare has never been delivered with such intensity. Come for the controversy, stay for the satire, The Hunt is a clever, fun, violent film that’s sure to get folks talking.

11. Come to Daddy

best of 2020

Best Horror 2020: Come to Daddy

Synopsis: A privileged man-child arrives at the beautiful and remote coastal cabin of his estranged father, whom he hasn’t seen in 30 years. He quickly discovers that not only is his dad a jerk, he also has a shady past that is rushing to catch up with him.

Why you should watch it: Come to Daddy is very dark and darkly funny, with frenzied, unexpected violence that jumps in and shocks you when you least expect it. But all that aside, it has a really deep emotional heart. You can read my full review here and my interview with the film’s director, Ant Timpson.

10. After Midnight

best horror 2020

Best Horror 2020: After Midnight

Synopsis: Dealing with a girlfriend suddenly leaving is tough enough, but for Hank, heartbreak couldn’t have come at a worse time. There’s also a monster trying to break through his front door every night.

Why you should watch it: Written by and starring Jeremy Gardner (of The Battery fame), After Midnight is a real genre hybrid. It’s part romantic drama, part comedy, and part horror, and it’s an absolute delight, with my favorite use of Lisa Loeb’s Stay in recent cinematic history.  It also features Henry Zebrowski (Last Podcast on the Left) as Hank’s comic relief best friend, so that’s a fun bonus.

9. Relic

best of 2020

Best Horror 2020: Relic

Synopsis: A daughter, mother and grandmother are haunted by a manifestation of dementia that consumes their family’s home.

Why you should watch it: Relic is thematically reminiscent of The Taking of Deborah Logan with a splash of House of Leaves. It’s dark, twisting horror about the desperate tragedies we go through when watching a loved one in decline, as their mental and physical health deteriorates. It’s a heartfelt and deeply moving film driven by powerful performances.

8. 1BR

best horror 2020

Best Horror 2020: 1BR

Synopsis: Sarah tries to start anew in LA, but her neighbors are not what they seem.

Why you should watch it: 1BR is an awkwardly named but well made film that falls open in layers. It’s a great reminder of how, sometimes, simple horror can be the most effective. I fully believe this is a film you should go into as blind as you possibly can, so don’t watch the trailer (it reveals too much), just check it out. It’s on Netflix, so, yanno. Easy access. 

7. Color Out of Space

Best Horror 2020: Color Out of Space

Synopsis: After a meteorite lands in the front yard of their farm, Nathan Gardner and his family find themselves battling a mutant extraterrestrial organism that infects their minds and bodies, transforming their quiet rural life into a technicolor nightmare.

Why you should watch it: This movie is kind of bonkers, and clearly took some practical effect inspiration from The Thing (which is a very good thing). It’s Nic Cage and Lovecraft, as directed by Richard Stanley. I feel like I can probably just leave it at that? 

6. The Mortuary Collection

Best Horror 2020: The Mortuary Collection

Synopsis: An eccentric mortician recounts several macabre and phantasmagorical tales that he’s encountered in his distinguished career.

Why you should watch it: I love a good horror anthology, and The Mortuary Collection is one of the best I’ve seen in a while. Stylistically it’s stunning; the production design is the perfect blend of aesthetics from the 50s to the 80s, and each story is a lovely little morality tale tucked into a sweet scary package.

With an anthology, it can be tricky to tie each segment together in a way that doesn’t feel disjointed or slap-dash, but writer/director Ryan Spindell (read my interview here) cohesively weaves them all together in a way that’s both visually and narratively appealing. You can read my full review here

5. The Invisible Man

best of 2020

Best Horror 2020: The Invisible Man

Synopsis: When Cecilia’s abusive ex takes his own life and leaves her his fortune, she suspects his death was a hoax. As a series of coincidences turn lethal, Cecilia works to prove that she is being hunted by someone nobody can see.

Why you should watch it: Written and directed by Leigh Whannell (Upgrade), The Invisible Man takes the Classic Monster tale and defibrillates it with a jolt of too-relatable horror. It revels in the absolute terror of knowing that something is wrong and having no one believe you; the hopeless frustration of how isolating abuse can be. 

It’s brilliantly shot and wonderfully acted (Elisabeth Moss, ladies and gentlemen), and its scares and action sequences pack a real wallop. But most importantly, it understands a fear that probably every woman has had at one point or another. That palpable feeling. The understanding that — for some men — cruel actions are invisible. 

4. The Wolf of Snow Hollow 

Best Horror 2020: The Wolf of Snow Hollow

Synopsis: Terror grips a small mountain town as bodies are discovered after each full moon. Losing sleep, raising a teenage daughter, and caring for his ailing father, officer Marshall struggles to remind himself there’s no such thing as werewolves.

Why you should watch it: The Wolf of Snow Hollow is a darkly funny small-town terror tale with an impressive lead played by the film’s own writer/director, Jim Cummings. Cummings plays a recovering alcoholic/overworked cop who’s… kind of an asshole, to be honest. But he’s so flawed and so very stressed, that you can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. 

Cummings skillfully turns what would normally be an unlikable character into someone sympathetic — all with perfect comedic timing. And that’s not even to speak on the merits of the movie as a whole, which has a unique tone that strings together a whole bushel of overlapping emotions. And while you’re riding that rollercoaster of feelings, it slowly crawls upwards, pulling you through tension you can feel in your gut. One scene in particular reminded me of that iconic basement scene from Zodiac (which is all I will say on the matter). It’s definitely a film that deserves as much attention as it can possibly get. 

3. The Dark and the Wicked

best horror 2020

Best Horror 2020: The Dark and the Wicked

Synopsis: On a secluded farm in a nondescript rural town, a man is slowly dying. His family gathers to mourn, and soon a darkness grows, marked by waking nightmares and a growing sense that something evil is taking over the family.

Why you should watch it: Written and directed by Bryan Bertino (The Strangers), The Dark and the Wicked is a masterclass in dread. It’s soaked in nerve-wracking fear and the apprehension of something terrible to come. Visually and emotionally, The Dark and the Wicked is inescapably bleak. It feels like a genuine horror film, one that builds tension and terror with a calm ease that makes it that much more unsettling. I could go on, or you can read my full review for all the nitty gritty details. 

2. Host

best horror 2020

Best Horror 2020: Host

Synopsis: Six friends hire a medium to hold a seance via Zoom during lockdown, but they get far more than they bargained for as things quickly go wrong.

Why you should watch it: Host is the best thing to come out of 2020’s quarantine. Filmed over one dramatic Zoom chat, the film is intimate, compelling, and actually friggin scary. It’s fraught with tension and genuinely effective jump scares, and it brilliantly uses the COVID-19 lockdown to both create and encourage its plot. 

Host is an impressive debut from director Rob Savage. Currently sitting at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, the film was shot in chronological order and was mostly improvised, so it feels very genuine. Impressively, Savage managed to turn a viral tweet of the prank he played on his friends into a feature film, which — after the success of Host — has since landed him a three-picture deal with Blumhouse. We can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. 

1. Possessor

best horror 2020

Best Horror 2020: Possessor

Synopsis: Possessor follows an agent who works for a secretive organization that uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies – ultimately driving them to commit assassinations for high-paying clients.

Why you should watch it: I said in my review that Possessor was possibly the best film of the year, and after circling through everything I’ve seen in 2020, I stand by that statement. Brandon Cronenberg’s sophomore feature is complex, cruel, visual perfection, and it’s brilliant. The concept is fascinating and the acting is flawless, with nuanced micro-expressions that speak volumes. The cinematography by Karim Hussein — who also worked on Random Acts of Violence — vibrantly bleeds into the film and enhances every single frame. It’s heady, it’s ruthless, and I think it’s this year’s best. 


Vicious Fun

Vicious Fun

Synopsis: Joel, a caustic 1980s film critic for a national horror magazine, finds himself unwittingly trapped in a self-help group for serial killers. With no other choice, Joel attempts to blend in or risk becoming the next victim.

Why you should watch it: I may be ahead of myself, as so far Vicious Fun has only been released as part of Sitges in Spain and Monster Fest in Australia, but I loved this film so I think it’s worth the early inclusion. Vicious Fun is an appropriately named warm embrace of the horror genre.

Made for horror fans by horror fans, it puts the classic tropes on blast and has a wild time while doing it. It’s wildly entertaining, on-the-nose funny with a synth-heavy score, and it doesn’t skimp out of the blood and guts. You should definitely keep an eye out for it, and you can read my full review here

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‘Scream VII’ Greenlit, But Should the Franchise Take a Decade-Long Rest Instead?



Bam! Bam! Bam! No that’s not a shotgun inside the bodega in Scream VI, it’s the sound of producer’s fists rapidly hitting the green light button to further franchise favorites (i.e. Scream VII).

With Scream VI barely out of the gate, and a sequel reportedly filming this year, it seems horror fans are the ultimate target audience to get ticket sales back at the box office and away from “press play” streaming culture. But maybe it’s too much too soon.

If we haven’t learned our lesson already, banging out cheap horror movies in quick succession isn’t exactly a fool-proof strategy to get butts in theater seats. Let’s pause in a moment of silence to remember the recent Halloween reboot/retcon. Although the news of David Gordon Green blowing off the gossamer and resurrecting the franchise in three installments was great news in 2018, his final chapter did nothing but put the tarnish back on the horror classic.

Universal Pictures

Possibly drunk on the moderate success of his first two films, Green advanced to a third one very quickly but failed to provide fan service. Criticisms of Halloween Ends mainly hinged on the lack of screen time given to both Michael Myers and Laurie Strode and instead on a new character that didn’t have anything to do with the first two films.

“Honestly, we never once considered making a Laurie and Michael movie,” the director told Moviemaker. “The concept that it should be a final showdown-type brawl never even crossed our minds.”

How’s that again?

Although this critic enjoyed the last film, many found it off-course and perhaps a stand-alone that should have never been connected to the redeveloped canon. Remember Halloween came out in 2018 with Kills releasing in 2021 (thanks to COVID) and finally Ends in 2022. As we know, the Blumhouse engine is fueled by brevity from script to screen, and although it can’t be proven, hammering out the last two films so quickly might have been integral to its critical undoing.

Which brings us to the Scream franchise. Will Scream VII get underbaked purely because Paramount wants to reduce its cooking time? Also, too much of a good thing can make you sick. Remember, everything in moderation. The first movie was released in 1996 with the next almost exactly a year later, then the third three years after that. The latter is considered the weaker of the franchise, but still solid.

Then we enter the decade release timeline. Scream 4 released in 2011, Scream (2022) 10 years after that. Some may say, “well hey, the difference in release times between the first two Scream movies was exactly that of the reboot.” And that is correct, but consider that Scream (’96) was a film that changed horror movies forever. It was an original recipe and ripe for back-to-back chapters, but we are now five sequels deep. Thankfully Wes Craven kept things sharp and entertaining even through all the parodies.

Conversely, that same recipe also survived because it took a decade-long hiatus, giving new trends time to develop before Craven attacked the newer tropes in another installment. Remember in Scream 3, they still used fax machines and flip phones. Fan theory, social media and online celebrity were developing fetuses at that time. Those trends would be incorporated into Craven’s fourth movie.

Fast-forward another eleven years and we get Radio Silence’s reboot (?) which made fun of the new terms “requel” and “legacy characters.” Scream was back and fresher than ever. Which leads us to Scream VI and a change of venue. No spoilers here, but this episode seemed oddly reminiscent of re-hashed past storylines, which may have been a satire in and of itself.

Now, it’s been announced that Scream VII is a go, but it leaves us to wonder how such a short hiatus is going to fare with nothing in the horror zeitgeist to channel. In all of this race to get the big bucks, some are saying Scream VII could only top its predecessor by bringing back Stu? Really? That, in my opinion, would be a cheap effort. Some also say, that sequels often bring in a supernatural element, but that would be out of place for Scream.

Could this franchise do with a 5-7 year hiatus before it ruins itself on principle? That break would allow time and new tropes to develop — the franchise’s life’s blood — and mostly the power behind its success. Or is Scream heading into the “thriller” category, where the characters are just going to face another killer(s) in a mask without the irony?

Perhaps that is what the new generation of horror fans want. It could work of course, but the spirit of the canon would be lost. True fans of the series will spot a bad apple if Radio Silence does anything uninspired with Scream VII. That’s a lot of pressure. Green took a chance in Halloween Ends and that didn’t pay off.

All that being said, Scream, if anything, is a masterclass at building hype. But hopefully, these movies don’t turn into the campy iterations they make fun of in Stab. There is still some life left in these films even if Ghostface doesn’t have time to catnap. But as they say, New York never sleeps.

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Horror Director Can’t Save ‘Shazam! 2,’ Latest Superhero to Tank at the Box Office



What used to be a sure-fire ticket grab is becoming just another unpopular station stop at the box office. We are talking of course about the MCU and DCEU. In particular, the latest perceived super-flop Shazam! Fury of the Gods.

Some of you may consider Shazam’s opening weekend of $30.5 million nothing to sneeze at, but consider Scream VI’s opening weekend totals of $44.5 million. A Scream movie out box-officing a comic book film? What world do we live in?! A horror one.

Given the dismal returns of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and its recent predecessors, the golden age of capes and superpowers seems to have died with Spiderman: No Way Home (no way home indeed).

There are many factors that could have contributed to its low ticket take. Critics weren’t really impressed with Shazam! and his friend’s latest adventure and its CinemaScore rests at a B+. Also, star Zachary Levi has been given some unpopular opinions on social media which may have led to him being soft-canceled.

Further, the whole DCEU is in the middle of a very public and tumultuous overhaul and a lot of these franchise characters are edging toward the chopping block. So viewers might be watching trailers, and muttering, “What’s the point?”

Still, Shazam’s weak opening may not be indicative of what it will do digitally. Home screens seem to be the catchall of failing franchises with subscribers squeezing out every penny of their hefty monthly membership prices instead of having to pay more for a “premium” theater seat.

But let’s talk about Shazam’s horror ties. Both the first movie and now its sequel was directed by someone who normally gets his money from jump scares. David F. Sandberg (Light’s Out, Annabell Creation). He gives the Shazam movies a slight horror feel with an emphasis on the supernatural, there is definitely some crossover.

But that doesn’t mean fans are likely to follow (remember The New Mutants?). In fact, legendary horror director Sam Raimi has some box office skin in the game this week with the diminishing sci-fi adventure 65, which he produced, starring Adam Driver. Not even an A-list star could pull this film out of the primordial muck as it sits sinking faster than a Tyrannosaurus in the La Brea tar pits. Raimi’s hand is also planted in the MCU with last year’s very successful Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness with a $185 million opening weekend.

Another horror director, James Wan, is hoping to raise the sinking DCEU ship with his sequel to Aquaman called Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom set to be released by this Christmas (we’ll see).

The bottom line is that Shazam! Fury of the Gods isn’t really a bad movie. In fact, it might outshine the original as far as VFX and story. But seats are sitting empty in the cineplex nowadays for men and women in super suits which may or may not be because of behind-the-scenes drama. It may also be because avid fans aren’t finding anything fresh to consume and pushing the product to the back of the fridge in lieu of something, like Scream, which respects its base and delivers on its promises while still being aware of its expiry date.

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Shudder Gives Us Something to Scream about in April 2023



Shudder April 2023

The first quarter of 2023 is over, but Shudder is just picking up steam with a brand new slate of films coming to their already impressive catalogue! From obscurities to fan favorites, there’s something here for everyone. Check out the full calendar of relase below, and let us know what you’ll be watching when April rolls around.

Shudder Calendar 2023

April 3rd:

The Slumber Party Massacre: A female high school student’s slumber party turns into a bloodbath, as a newly escaped psychotic serial killer wielding a power drill prowls her neighborhood.

Magic: A ventriloquist is at the mercy of his vicious dummy while he tries to renew a romance with his high school sweetheart.

April 4th:

Don’t Panic: On his 17th birthday, a boy named Michael has a surprise party thrown by his friends, where a session with a Ouija board accidentally unleashes a demon named Virgil, who possesses one of them to go on a killing spree. Michael, now plagued by violent nightmares and premonitions, sets out to try and stop the killings.

April 6th:

Slasher: Ripper: The new series on Shudder takes the franchise back in time to the late 19th century and follows Basil Garvey (McCormack), a charismatic tycoon whose success is only rivaled by his ruthlessness, as he oversees a city on the cusp of a new century, and a social upheaval that will see its streets run red with blood. There’s a killer stalking the mean streets, but instead of targeting the poor and downtrodden like Jack the Ripper, The Widow is meting out justice against the rich and powerful. The only person standing in the way of this killer is the newly promoted detective, Kenneth Rijkers, whose ironclad belief in justice may wind up being yet another victim of The Widow. 

April 10th:

Bog: Dynamite fishing in a rural swamp revives a prehistoric gill monster that must have the blood of human females in order to survive.

April 14th:

Kids vs. Aliens: All Gary wants is to make awesome home movies with his best buds. All his older sister Samantha wants is to hang with the cool kids. When their parents head out of town one Halloween weekend, an alltime rager of a teen house party turns to terror when aliens attack, forcing the siblings to band together to survive the night.

April 17th:

Final Exam: In a small college in North Carolina, only a select few students are left to take mid terms. But, when a killer strikes, it could be everyone’s final exam.

Primal Rage: A baboon escapes from a Florida campus lab and starts spreading something bad with a bite.

Darklands: A reporter investigates ritual profanations and finds himself involved with a Druidic cult.

April 28th:

From Black: A young mother, crushed by guilt after the disappearance of her young son 5 years previously, is presented with a bizarre offer to learn the truth and set things right. But how far is she willing to go, and is she willing to pay the terrifying price for a chance to hold her boy again?

Shudder From Black
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