The 15 Best Horror Films of 2020: Bri Spieldenner’s Picks
This list showcases my top 15 best horror films of 2020. Read on for my rankings!
I don’t think I need to say at this point that this has been… a year. We had a lot of expectations for horror films that we thought we would see that are now big question marks in an even bigger question-marked future. Candyman, Halloween Kills, Spiral: From the Book of Saw and Saint Maud are just a few titles that feel like they will never be released. The studios may say they know when they will be released, but that is a lie.
Despite all this negativity, the one thing we do know is that horror will persist, even when life is already horrific. But enough with the pessimism, because we are here to celebrate the best horror films of 2020, gosh darn it.
Some might say that not many horror films came out in 2020 due to the pandemic. I disagree! There was a slew of great movies that came out this year, many that made it extremely difficult to choose what to include in this list. If you want to see even more, check out my fellow writers’ lists as well: Kelly McNeely’s, Jon Correia’s, and James Jay Edwards’. Also Waylon Jordan has a list of the best horror novels to come out of 2020, if you’re someone who likes to read a little more than watch.
Will this list solve any problems? No. But does it give me a small amount of control in this free-falling year? I guess so.
My Top 15 Best Horror Films of 2020
15. I See You
I See You is a film that keeps you guessing with a very twist-driven plot, and it was one of the most fresh movies I’ve seen in a while. This film, by director Adam Randall, seemingly starts off as a haunted house movie, but transitions to something completely different.
A police officer (Jon Tenney) deals with the disappearance of a 12-year-old boy while also dealing with his wife (Helen Hunt) cheating on him. That’s when strange things start happening in their house, making both question what’s happening in their town, and after that things really get crazy.
This movie is a roller coaster and it does it well. It has great presence, partly due to its chilling score. This is a movie that you don’t want to go in knowing much about, so go in blind and get ready for the ride.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video
14. Anything for Jackson
We’ve seen exorcism films, probably a million, but have we yet seen a film billed as a reverse-exorcism? This unique twist on the possession genre will likely satisfy most horror fans as it has gore, haunted houses, scary sequences and a few laughs.
An older couple (Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings) kidnaps a pregnant woman with the intention of putting the spirit of their dead grandson into her unborn baby using an ancient spellbook that they do not fully understand.
The grandparents at the center of this are endearing and deeply disturbed, and I love them. This film flirts with comedy, but the scary scenes go hard here and the gore is more than sufficient which is why it is one of the best horror movies of 2020.
Where to Watch: Shudder
I find myself drawn to the bizarro and surreal side of horror more often than not, and this film was a perfect example of an odd little gem that exists outside of this world. Director Quentin Dupiuex (Rubber) crafts a tale about a man who at first seems boring, but becomes more and more deranged as it goes on, all due to a jacket.
Jean Dujardin (The Wolf of Wall Street) is a man who wants nothing more than a deerskin jacket, and spends his entire savings on getting one, driving him into a downwards spiral where he takes on another persona. Adèle Haenel (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) also stars as a waitress who helps Dujardin’s character through his duplicitous acts.
This film sucks you in just to see how far the characters are willing to take their charades, and they take them pretty far. It feels like a black comedy that takes on a horror story and the characters are both offbeat and intriguing to watch.
Where to Watch: HBO Max
I love films with a retro feel, and this one takes place in the 1990s video tape dating culture. Jon Stevenson’s VHS horror movie captures the dreary and uncomfortable nature of movies such as Joker (2019).
David (Brian Landis Folkins), a lonely bachelor, lives with his older mother whom he takes care of. He starts looking for a potential girlfriend by renting dating tapes but discovers a tape titled “Rent-A-Pal” where a man named Andy (Will Wheaton) talks to the camera, pretending to be a friend having a friendly conversation with the viewer (like Dora the Explorer) until it’s not clear if he’s acting or not.
One part dark and disturbing, one part romantic comedy, a lot of horror. This movie has a pretty “gross” feel to it, and you most likely will feel a lot of second-hand embarrassment. The idea is different though and honestly heartwarming in some ways, but that definitely does not apply to the ending.
Where to Watch: Hulu
You’ve probably read a few lists with Possessor on it already, but it’s just that powerful of a movie. While I don’t have as high of an opinion on it as other critics do (I prefer the director’s previous film Antiviral (2012)) this film is still an extremely violent, well thought out and fascinating sci-fi horror film. Brandon Cronenberg’s (son of David) visions continue to prove his parentage.
Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is an assassin who carries out her job by taking control of the bodies of people close to her targets through an implant. The assassin then returns to her body by committing suicide after killing her target. This complex job then leads our main character to start doubting her own identity, growing further and further detached from her family and increasingly psychopathic.
This is a great sci-fi concept and works out really well with some expertly shot surreal sequences during the mind transplants. It also gets really, uncomfortably violent in many scenes, especially the uncut version, making it one of the best horror films of 2020.
Where to Watch: VOD
10. His House
I’ve discussed His House a few times already, but it truly is a standout movie this year in horror. Remi Weekes’ directorial debut crafts an emotional and terrifying haunted house film about the refugee experience.
Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) are a couple fleeing war-torn Sudan who lost their daughter in the process. They seek asylum in England and wait in a detention facility before being granted asylum and given a dilapidated house that they are allowed to live in and restrictive rules that keep them from gaining independence. They experience haunting visions of a specter as they try to fix up their house that reveals different aspects of their personality and trauma.
This is definitely a film every horror fan should check out. It’s terrifying when it wants to be, and heartbreaking the next. The social commentary is accurately wrapped with horror into the plot and themes of this film.
Where to Watch: Netflix
This supernatural dreamy thriller is also a unique entry into the possession subgenre. Tilman Singer’s directorial debut (and also his film school thesis project) is a must watch for those who love 1980s European horror films.
Luz (not to be mistaken for Luz: The Flower of Evil which also came out this year on Shudder) follows the story of a taxi driver (Luana Velis) and a demon that has been following her since she summoned using a perverse rendition of a prayer. The demon, in love with her, switches bodies to get close to her as she enters a police station to report an incident, and gets hypnotized.
Telling a bold and mesmerizing story on what looks like bare bones budget and location, this haunting possession film is strange and beautiful. It has a remarkably experimental and atmospheric score that totally makes the film and a very hazy, retro look. The plot is a little confusing at first, so this is one film I would actually recommend reading about before viewing, or you could just watch it four times like me.
Where to Watch: Shudder, Amazon Prime Video, Tubi, Crackle, Popcornflix
This film (based on the director’s nightmares) has it all, and is VERY intense. I’d probably consider it my most surprising hidden horror gem this year, although I know Indonesian director Joko Anwar has been releasing bangers for the last decade.
Maya (Tara Basro) works as a tollbooth attendant in a city. One day, she is attacked by a man with a machete and soon finds out that the villagers from the village she grew up in are trying to kill her because they believe her family put a curse on the area.
This film has, hands down, my favorite opening scene of the year. The whole film is incredibly tense, violent, and surprising. Bringing in ghosts, skinless babies and puppets made out of flesh, this is not a film to be missed by fans of intense horror.
Where to Watch: Shudder
7. The Wolf of Snow Hollow
Finally! A new great werewolf movie… kind of. This was my first introduction to director, writer and star Jim Cummings and I immediately recognized that there was something special about this movie, and with his other movies after viewing them.
A small-town police officer (Jim Cummings) gets stressed out dealing with his father (Robert Forster’s last role) who refuses to step down from his role as sheriff despite his medical problems while a string of grisly murders of women start to happen with rumors of it being a werewolf.
This film takes the tropes of the werewolf movie and reveals intricate themes that circle these movies, especially that of male sexuality being “animalistic” and that these murders tend to revolve around women. Jim Cummings’ sense of dialogue is witty and deep, and this film will keep you guessing where it’s going with an interesting twist on werewolf lore.
Where to Watch: VOD
This technically came out more near the end of 2019, but I didn’t check it out until 2020 and also time is an illusion so therefore it stays on the list because it deserves the recognition. This horror comedy from director Rob Grant takes boating horror to a whole new level with a quick-witted script, some gnarly gore and a few twists to keep you interested. It’s also a single-location horror film, which is always impressive.
Three young friends (Munro Chambers, Emily Tyra and Christopher Gray) plan on going on a day long trip on their wealthier friend’s yacht, but end up getting stranded on the boat after stalls in the middle of the ocean, while one of the friends is also suffering from a harpoon wound.
I saw this as a fan of Munro Chambers after the retro sensation Turbo Kid (2015), and his acting and bizarre character did not disappoint. The three characters have great chemistry and the film goes from funny to disturbing from scene to scene. It makes for a great watching experience for anyone looking for a fun time as one of the best horror films of 2020.
Where to Watch: Showtime
5. Dogs Don’t Wear Pants
Any film that mixes sex and horror well is pretty much my favorite movie (looking at you, David Cronenberg) and this film is the epitome of that. This Finnish film, directed by J.-P. Valkeapää, combines aspects of grief, horror and extreme BDSM exploration.
A man (Pekka Strang) who has been struggling to deal with the death of his wife from drowning and trying to connect to his daughter, meets a dominatrix, Mona (Krista Kosonen), which sets him off on a path of dealing with his grief through erotic pain.
Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is a great exploration of grief and has some truly uncomfortable scenes of BDSM and death. The acting is incredible and the production design and camera work goes hard, making this one of the best horror films of 2020.
Where to Watch: Shudder
This is a horror film and that is an undisputed fact. It may be labeled a “comedy” and may be mostly comedic, but I challenge anyone to tell me that the last 15 minutes don’t make this a great found footage horror film. Directed by Jack Henry Robbins (son of Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon) this retro VHS film will appeal to anyone who was a fan of ‘80s television.
Filmed entirely on VHS, this bizarre film is composed from the video recorder that a young boy (Mason McNulty) receives for Christmas and accidentally tapes over his parents’ wedding video. He uses it to tape late night television shows that he isn’t allowed to watch. As such, most of the film is parodies of late night ‘80s show that are absolutely hilarious and filled with well known comedy actors (Mark Proksch, Kerri Kenney, Thomas Lennon, etc.) and a performance from the singer Weyes Blood. In the midst of this, the main character and his best friend find out about a haunted sorority house in their town, and decide to explore it, leading to the horror elements.
There is so much to like about this film. It feels like Adult Swim Infomercials mixed with the authentic VHS feel of the horror film WNUF Halloween Special (2013). All the skits are hilarious as is the main character and his friend, and the ending presents a unique and unsettling haunting.
Where to Watch: Hulu
3. The Invisible Man
It’s hard to believe The Invisible Man came out this year, pre-Pandemic. I barely remember those days, but what I do remember is this film rocks. Directed by Leigh Whannell (Upgrade, Insidious: Chapter 3 and writer and star of Saw) this new interpretation of The Invisible Man was both unexpectedly excellent and competently handled.
Cecilia (Elizabeth Moss) escapes her wealthy, abusive boyfriend (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). After finding out that he committed suicide, she starts sensing a presence around her, or maybe it’s just her PTSD-induced paranoia.
Elisabeth Moss is amazing in this film and she is easily the best part of it with her moving, realistic and uncomfortable performance. The twist this film takes on the invisible man lore is also very modern and smart, and the plot holds a few twists of its own, too.
Where to Watch: HBO Max
2. The Berlin Bride
Not many people have seen this movie, so allow me to introduce you to the most bizarre, dream-like and kooky film of this year. Directed by Michael Bartlett (House of Last Things) this film is inspired by the silent film era, Edgar Allen Poe’s work and E.T.A. Hoffman.
Two odd men from Berlin, at different times, stop by a park and discover parts of a mannequin. The mannequin then casts a spell on both of them to try and reunite itself.
This absurdist masterpiece probably won’t satisfy anyone looking for a traditional horror film, but fans of David Lynch’s brand of cinema might take a fancy. Leaning heavily into ‘70s filmmaking aesthetics and unfolding like a nightmare fever dream, I cannot recommend this film enough.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video, Tubi
Showing my age much? But seriously, this movie is the BOMB. This film felt so relatable to 2020, I was surprised it was filmed in 2019 (and even more surprised it was based on a book written in 2016). Directed by Brian Duffield (writer of The Babysitter) this high school rom-com/black comedy/depressing nightmare perfectly captures the feeling of impending doom of the youngest generation.
Mara (Katherine Langford) is a student in high school when her classmates start spontaneously combusting, traumatizing her class and eventually causing the government to quarantine them to try and figure out what’s wrong. After the first explosion, one of her classmates (the adorable Charlie Plummer) confesses he has had a crush on her after coming to the revelation that they could die at any moment, making their plans and hopes obsolete. What follows is a lot of drugs and alcohol, a little bit of romance, a lot of dealing with depression and all that topped off with buckets of high school kids’ innards.
I was totally, 100% committed to this film from the first minute. It never loses steam and so perfectly captures the emotions of modern-day America. It reels you in with what you think will be a cute high school rom-com and then destroys you when you think you’re safe. The writing is incredible and realistic, and with one of the most pertinent stories of the year this tops my list of the best horror films of 2020.
Where to Watch: VOD
The Lodge – Hulu
Spree – Hulu
The Platform – Netflix
Come to Daddy – Amazon Prime Video
Swallow – Showtime
Synchronic – VOD Jan. 12, 2021
Murder Death Koreatown – Amazon Prime Video, Tubi
So as it turns out, quite a few great horror movies came out in this trash year! Now, hopefully you can start the new year right with some of the great films 2020 had to offer. Check out my other lists for even more horror to choose from, including the best horror films directed by women and the best horror films made by Netflix, Hulu, Shudder and Amazon Prime, as well as the best posters from this year.
You can also check out my list on Letterboxd with my complete ranking of all the horror films I liked this year.
Here’s to saying goodbye to this hellish year, and working towards a better future in 2021!
‘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.
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.
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.
Shudder Gives Us Something to Scream about in 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
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.
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.
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.
Bog: Dynamite fishing in a rural swamp revives a prehistoric gill monster that must have the blood of human females in order to survive.
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.
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.
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?