New classics and fresh nightmares await those brave enough to stomach the most exciting horror films of the year
The horror genre is alive and well and perhaps even stronger than ever in the new world we’ve found ourselves in. While the COVID-19 pandemic kept many theaters closed for much of the year and further delayed release dates, plenty of films were able to cultivate followings and premieres online. Horror streaming service Shudder has had its most impressive year so far with a staggering number of originals and exclusives that have maintained a pretty phenomenal level of quality – a testament to the individual filmmakers who are making their marks on the genre and independent filmmaking as a whole.
The Halloween season is usually a time to treat yourself to horror classics and childhood favorites, but for those itching for something new and fresh that can still satisfy the need for blood, guts, and good old fashioned scares, we’ve compiled a list of the best new horror flicks to come out this year. Almost all of them are entirely original stories and range from monsters to psychological nightmares to serial killers to a deadly pair of jeans. Settle in, turn out the lights, and prepare for some new school thrills that may just become part of your yearly Halloween traditions.
‘Fear Street’ Directed by Leigh Janiak (Netflix)
The slasher genre is in the midst of a current revival with many new and original additions to the blood-splattered halls of fame as well as fresh reboots of classics like Halloween. But few feel as ambitious and as stylish as Leigh Janiak’s take on Fear Street, R.L. Stine’s popular book series for young adults. That youthful spirit and energy is present in this trilogy of films, but Janiak appears to have also been given free reign to make things as gory as possible. The three movies, each of which take place in different time periods – 1994, 1978, & 1666 – are fun, super violent, and also earn strong emotional moments. The intertwined story follows a group of people on a desperate quest to break the murderous curse that’s been haunting their town for centuries. Each individual film manages to stand strong on its own, but watching all three back to back makes for an incredibly rewarding experience where each chapter feels like it keeps getting better and better.
‘Sator’ Directed by Jordan Graham (Shudder)
Sator is a fully immersive experience. It’s definitely a horror film, one that takes inspirations from folk horror and gives off a Southern Gothic vibe with the way it frames its central location of a cabin out in the woods. But it’s also so much more – a singular, painstaking artistic vision, a master class in sound design, and perhaps even a dark form of therapy for its creator. Much like The Blair Witch Project, Sator is more about creating a mood and an atmosphere rather than offering a generic linear narrative. Its scares come more from the power of suggestion, from the things that you don’t see, and its imagery is more haunting and melancholic than directly gory or terrifying. It even has a few moments of handheld camera work, presumably shot throughout the years that this film was in production. Sator is an impressive film by any measure, but it’s all the more astonishing for the fact that its creator, Jordan Graham, did everything on it himself aside from acting. That includes directing, writing, cinematography, music, set design; you name it, he did it. The film follows a man named Adam (Gabriel Nicholson) living out in the woods in search of a mysterious and terrifying entity known only as Sator, who appears to have a mysterious connection to his family.
Read full Knotfest write-up: ‘Sator’ Will Fill Your Head With Paralyzing Dread
Watch full Screen Crusades interview with Jordan Graham
‘Censor’ Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond (Hulu)
Censor is inspired by the video nasty era of the UK, which saw a wave of absurdly violent and gory exploitation films flood the video cassette market. Naturally, this brought a harsh crackdown on what kind of content films should be allowed to show, and strict censorship laws swiftly followed. The film follows Enid (Niamh Algar), one of the members of the censorship board who considers her work to be an essential public service. As she pores over countless hours of graphic violence, she believes she’s protecting people from things no one should have to see. But when she views a film that brings back memories of a childhood incident, her entire world comes crashing down. Censor is an exceptionally smart horror film, one that tackles several social topics at once while still supplying plenty of bloody and expertly staged scares. It’s also one of the most gorgeous looking films of the list.
‘Malignant’ Directed by James Wan
James Wan has hinted at just how utterly unhinged he can be when given the chance – look no further than the third act (and let’s face it, most of the first two acts) of Aquaman or select parts of Saw and Insidious and The Conjuring. But his latest work is undoubtedly his wildest yet, and Wan pulls from everything he’s become famous for to create something bizarre, creative and extremely entertaining. The film centers on a woman named Madison (Annabelle Wallis) who begins receiving shockingly gruesome visions of a mysterious murderer. You never know what direction Malignant is going to veer into next, and it’s unapologetic love for genre and style make it one of the very best horror flicks in recent years. The film was released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max in September and frustratingly is no longer available, but it should be receiving a home video and VOD release any day now and return to HBO Max fairly soon after.
Read full Knotfest write-up: ‘Malignant’ Might Be the Wildest Horror Movie of the Year
‘Psycho Goreman’ Directed by Steven Kostanski (Shudder)
Psycho Goreman is about as niche as a film can get. It’s a bizarre cocktail that mixes a low-budget 80s and 90s VHS aesthetic, the practical rubber suits and makeup of shows like Ultraman and Power Rangers, the offkilker comedy of a late-night Adult Swim sketch, and the hyper-violence of a Troma film. The film centers on brother and sister Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) and Luke (Owen Myre) who stumble upon a glowing gem that awakens an ancient evil. Played by Matthew Ninaber in an incredible monster suit and voiced by Steven Vlaho, Psycho Goreman – as affectionately named by the siblings – was once on a quest to destroy the universe, only to be locked away. Now that he’s back, he can resume his quest. Problem is, the two kids have the gem that controls him. The film is genuinely and admirably all-in with its science fantasy universe, all done in a classic and practical way. They truly just don’t make ‘em like this anymore, and the level of commitment to that kind of artistry – even though it’s for an increasingly silly movie – is truly a marvel.
Read full Knotfest write-up: ‘Psycho Goreman’ is Ridiculous Campy Fun
‘The Amusement Park’ Directed by George A. Romero (Shudder)
The Amusement Park was made by horror icon George A. Romero back in 1973, but the movie was never released due to its content. Romero was hired by the Lutheran Society to create a film about ageism and the various problems that the elderly face in the United States for educational purposes. But being the artist that he was, Romero wound up making a film so genuinely disturbing and upsetting that the project was completely shelved, and thought lost until it was found and restored in 2017. The film is a masterful bit of psychological horror that illustrates the genuine terror of living as a senior citizen, following the events of one old man’s day at a surreal amusement park. Romero more than gets the point across. It’s incredibly fitting that one of the filmmaker’s very best films comes from beyond the grave.
Read full Knotfest write-up: George A. Romero’s Long-Lost Film ‘The Amusement Park’ Finally Sees the Light of Day
‘Werewolves Within’ Directed by Josh Ruben (VOD)
An eccentric and memorable cast of characters is what makes Werewolves Within work so well as a fun mixture of horror and whodunnits. A new forest ranger named Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) arrives in the small town of Beaverfield and is welcomed by Cecily (Milana Vayntrub), the friendly mail carrier who shows him around town, and Jeanine (Catherine Curtin), the owner of the local inn who gives him a place to stay. A snowstorm rolls in and Beaverfield’s power is knocked out, so the residents gather at Jeanine’s inn for shelter, only for some of them to start turning up dead with grisly wounds. What’s most refreshing about the film is just how modern it feels, both in its sharp sense of humor and how its plot manages to veer off the path of audience expectations. Things get very crazy very quickly and following a series of great reveals, the ending manages to not just be the best part on its own, but it also elevates everything that came before.
Read full Knotfest write-up: ‘Werewolves Within’ is a Funny and Clever Whodunnit With a Horror Edge
‘V/H/S/94’ Directed by Jennifer Reeder, Chloe Okuno, Simon Barrett, Timo Tjahjanto & Ryan Prows (Shudder)
The found footage anthology franchise V/H/S is finally back after seven long years away. V/H/S/94 is a welcome return to form for the series with some of its very best short films yet, including a news report live from some creepy sewers, a mad scientist that chops people up and puts them back together again, a cult-like militia group with a supernatural weapon, and much more. Things look as retro, scary, and imaginative as the found footage subgenre can get, making this new entry to the franchise possibly the best. It quickly became Shudder’s biggest premiere upon its release. Hail Raatma.
‘Slaxx’ Directed by Elza Kephart (Shudder)
Elza Kephart’s Slaxx gets itself a nifty little audience right away with its premise about a possessed pair of designer jeans that goes around killing the employees of a clothing store. The murderous pants strangles and disembowels people, slits throats with its zipper, and even cleans up the scenes of its crimes. It’s unapologetically silly – the jeans can also hypnotize people and at one point breaks out into a Bollywood dance – but surprisingly sharp, both in its sense of humor beyond the gory kills, and the larger thematic ideas on free enterprise and consumerism it has. Smart, bloody, and tons of fun in a crisp hour and sixteen minutes.
Read full Knotfest write-up: ‘Slaxx’ is a Ridiculous Yet Genius Slasher About a Possessed and Homicidal Pair of Pants
‘Spiral: From the Book of Saw’ Directed by Darren Bousman (STARZ and VOD)
Spiral attempts to mostly wipe the slate clean for the Saw franchise, as in, you thankfully don’t need to have seen any of the previous films to follow along. It’s a fresh story with all new characters, set in a world where Jigsaw has been dead for quite awhile now. The film stars Chris Rock as Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks and Max Minghella as Detective William, his rookie partner. The two of them are tasked with leading an investigation into who’s behind a series of grisly killings – killings that resemble the horrifying work of the infamous Jigsaw. A bonafide copycat is on the loose, and they’re specifically targeting cops. Spiral draws from the original film’s roots by being more of a thriller than a so-called torture porn horror film, making the traps feel more effective and fresh. The film widens the scope of the franchise, making it feel bigger than ever before, and it breathes new life into a series that was overdue for it.