Top 12 Horror Films of 2020: The Good, The Gruesome and The F**ked Up!
We all know that 2020 has been a horrendous year for everyone so we won’t dwell on that. Instead we’re going to celebrate the incredible selection of Horror Films on offer this year. Film Festivals went virtual, Zoom brought terror to our computer screens and streaming became our life line. We may not have been able to go to the cinema but we could snuggle up at home, turn the lights off and scare ourselves so much that we didn’t want to go to the bathroom in our own house. Despite some of our most anticipated Horror films being delayed we were still treated to an onslaught of incredible genre films that brought terror to our living rooms.
Where: Amazon Prime
Who: Director: John Hyams Cast: Jules Willcox, Marc Menchaca & Anthony Heald
Why: Though it’s premise may sound simple and familiar, a cat and mouse game through the wilderness where a woman with something to run from must survive both the killer on her trail and the elements, Alone infuses it with tension and thrills. With a minimal cast who all do an incredible job this felt like a fresh take on the thriller tropes we all know. The villain of the piece, known only as Man, is genuinely disturbing. He may look like a Flanders type but he’s definitely more of a Dahmer in his actions. Jules Willcox, who plays our protagonist Jessica, is incredible in the role of a smart woman caught in a horrific situation. She carries the trauma her character has faced throughout with subtlety and sympathy. The cinematography and performances stand out and make this game of survival an intense and enjoyable watch.
11. Scare Me
Who: Director: Josh Ruben Cast: Josh Ruben, Aya Cash, Chris Redd & Rebecca Drysdale
Why: I love anthologies set ups in Horror films (as you’ll see later in this list), and Scare Me may not be a typical anthology but it’s intriguing take on the format had me hooked. Josh Ruben wrote, directed and starred in this unique film that utilised a single location and the ‘tales around a campfire’ narrative device. With only five cast members, including the brilliant Aya Cash and Chris Redd, and one main location, this film does a lot with only a little. For anyone who writes, or sees themselves as creative, it’s a worthwhile watch about the craft of creating a story and how to build a world. The performances are great, but the ultimate winner of this film was the sound design. Each story woven is brought to life through sound and shadows with delicate precision. It’s a Horror-Comedy that nails the humour and still manages to get a few jump scares in for good measure.
Who: Director: Jon Stevenson Cast: Brian Landis Folkins, Will Wheaton, Amy Rutledge & Kathleen Brady
Why: Before the days of Tinder, Grindr and Hinge, there was a weird thing called ‘Video Dating’. The idea of this off putting form of dating is horrific enough in itself, but in Jon Stevenson’s directorial debut Rent-a-Pal, it is explored further with deep insight and disturbing results. When Dave, a lonely man who cares for his ailing mother, visits his local video dating service he ends up with something unexpected: a tape labelled ‘Rent-A-Pal’ and a new best friend. This is an incredibly internal Horror movie that deals with loneliness, desperation and mental health issues whilst managing to be completely unnerving in parts. Brian Landis Folkins plays Dave in a way that makes it almost impossible not to sympathise with him, and Will Wheaton as the pre-recorded best buddy Andy is somehow soothing one moment and threatening the next. I laughed, I cried, I winced.
Where: Currently Unavailable in UK
Who: Director: Brea Grant Cast: Angela Bettis, Chloe Farnworth, Nikea Gamby-Turner & David Arquette
Why: Mandy, played by Horror icon Angela Bettis, is about to start her 12 hour nursing shift, which sounds stressful enough without the added caveat of an organ smuggling ring, dim-witted cousin on the loose and a cop killer being admitted to the hospital. I love a Horror that allows the females to be unique, flawed and the most interesting characters of the piece, and this film definitely does that. Mandy, her cousin Regina, and her shift manager Karen are all women on the verge and work perfectly as a gang of anti-heroes. The production design and lighting are colourful and explosive, whilst the subject matter is dark and depraved. For a film about such a macabre topic this is truly funny and one of the most enjoyable films about organ trafficking that I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. 12 Hour Shift is fast paced and darkly comedic with a Grindhouse 90’s aesthetic and a ‘fuck you’ attitude.
8. The Hunt
Who: Director: Craig Zobel Cast: Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Ike Barinholtz & Wayne Duvall
Why: With all the controversy around this release there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to see it (it was actually the last film I saw in the cinema before lockdown). Nobody is safe in this modern satire of the class system and political leanings of America. Betty Gilpin is Crystal, a mysterious and absolutely bad-ass ‘deplorable’ chosen to be hunted by ‘the elite’ and she is incredible throughout with great facial expressions and strong presence. The fight and stunt choreography in this is a delight, combined with some brilliantly timed, and frankly hilarious, kills it’s an exciting Thriller and Action mash up. Despite all the build up, which could have ruined The Hunt by setting the bar too high, I was not disappointed in this film, it was action packed and humour filled with a no holds barred attitude.
Who: Director: Rob Savage Cast: Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova & Caroline Ward
Why: The Pandemic changed a lot about cinema this year, pushing back release dates and closing cinemas. It also brought new ideas and creations to the Horror genre, one of which was Host, an ingenious and timely take on the found footage film. Created by Rob Savage after a creating viral video sensation, Host takes the form of a Zoom call with six friends attempting a seance using the video call technology. Of course, it goes wrong and they unleash a presence upon themselves that they must each face from their own box on the screen. The practical effects, and how they were pulled off safely during lockdown, are incredibly impressive and make for one hell of a jump scare fest. This is one film I recommend watching on a laptop screen instead of a TV, just to add to the atmosphere and feel like you’re a part of the haunted call.
Who: Director: Natalie Erika James Cast: Robyn Nevin, Emily Mortimer & Bella Heathcote
Why: True fear in Horror movies often comes from the real implications and ideas behind it, especially the ones that deal with grief, loss and illness. Relic beautifully encapsulates the horror, anguish and stages of grief a family dealing with dementia goes through in a genre film that gets under your skin with it’s scares and emotional message. The term slow burn can put some people off, but the eruptive conclusion of Relic proves that the buildup was not only worth it but essential to the resonant message of the film. As a directorial debut by Natalike Erika James it is a strong display of nuance and a skill for creeping dread but also for creating believable and sympathetic characters. Three generations of women must deal with pain, loss and life’s horrible inevitabilities. This is the second entry on this list that will have you shivering and crying in equal measure.
5. His House
Who: Director: Remi Weekes Cast: Sope Dirisu, Wumni Mosaku, Matt Smith & Javier Botet
Why: From one gut punch Horror to another, this British film is another directorial debut that hits like a sledgehammer. Remi Weekes manages to tell a confident and heartfelt story whilst bringing some unexpected visuals that are beautiful and otherworldly. A refugee couple from Sudan seek asylum in the UK after a harrowing boat escape that resulted in the deaths of multiple people, including their daughter. They’re given a house in an unknown area and a whole heap of rules to follow that leave them abandoned and scared in a house that becomes a nightmarish trap. It does not hold back in bringing the horror right away whilst still managing to leave some of its most shocking and terrifying events for the film’s climax. The messages of this film will sit with you just as long as the ghostly visuals do.
4. The Platform (El Hoyo)
Who: Director: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia Cast: Ivan Massagué, Zorion Eguileor, Antonia San Juan & Emillio Buale Coka
Why: So this one was technically released in 2019, but it only became available in the UK in 2020 so I’m counting it. In this dystopian Horror Sci-Fi there is a prison of unfathomable levels with a singular platform that provides the only source of food to everyone in there, starting from the top level all the way to the bottom level. It is a horrific set up, one that can be enforced or volunteered for, which adds to the mystery of this strange place. And the mystery is what keeps this film so engaging, we focus on what is happening and are given very few answers, just food for thought, if you’ll pardon the pun. The societal messages are loud in this film and it doesn’t hide its message about class levels and the attitudes of the haves and the have-nots. However, it still manages to be a brutal, grisly and blood drenched Horror film whilst successfully spreading its reflection on society.
3. The Mortuary Collection
Who: Director: Ryan Spindell Cast: Clancy Brown, Caitlin Custer, Cristine Kilmer & Jacob Elordi
Why: As mentioned before I am very partial to a good Horror anthology, especially one as visually beautiful as The Mortuary Collection. Each segment tells a separate story but they all manage to be imbued with similar gothic aesthetics and stunning, yet gruesome, practical effects. There’s a Lovecraftian monster story, a ghost story and even a female revenge story that had me wincing and howling at the ‘big finish’. The wrap around story of Montgomery Dark, a tall and foreboding mortician looking for an assistant, is just as thrilling and entertaining as the tales he tells. It’s macabre, a Goosebumps novel for an adult crowd, and yet delightfully beautiful to watch with gorgeous production design and creepy atmospherics. This film joins the ranks of V/H/S, Trick ‘r’ Treat and Southbound in my best Horror anthologies list. I for one would happily revisit the Raven’s End Mortuary for another series of grisly, table turning stories from our resident mortician.
Where: Currently Unavailable in UK
Who: Director: Ryan Kruger Cast: Gary Green, Chanelle de Jager & Sean Cameron Michael
Why: Starting life as an award winning short film by writer/director Ryan Kruger, Fried Barry is an eccentric, drug fuelled, nightmare logic inducing film filled with jump cuts, jarring sound design and otherworldly special effects throughout. Gary Green stars as the titular Barry who, in short, is an absolute asshole until he is abducted by aliens, one of which takes his body for a joyride around South Africa. This is a visual journey with some amazing set pieces including a very quick and very accidental pregnancy, a strobe lit rave scene and an all out chainsaw battle. There’s not a moment of pace dropping, it’s a wild rollercoaster ride of excess and hits every insane high note to keep an audience fascinated and staring at the screen in awe. I’m still not fully sure what I saw whilst watching this, but I know it stuck with me visually and had me mesmerised every step of the way.
1. The Invisible Man
Who: Director: Leigh Whannell Cast: Elizabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge & Storm Reid
Why: The year was only just beginning when I sat down to watch this tense and unrelenting Horror film in the cinema. Leigh Whannell was already a well known and well loved name in horror before he put himself in the Directors chair. His film Prior to The Invisible Man was 2018’s impressive Body Horror Sci-Fi Upgrade that set him up as a name to watch, something cemented by this follow up film. With its narrative of the effect a toxic and abusive man can have on their partners life this film manages to expertly allow us into our protagonist Cecilia’s trauma without ever revelling in it. This reimagining of a classic Universal Monster reawakens it for a modern #metoo audience and doesn’t relent on the scares. Elizabeth Moss is incredible as Cecillia and Whannell makes sure that we as the audience believe and follow her, never allowing us to see her as the ‘crazy woman’ or falling for the gaslighting she is consistently exposed to. From the opening scene that had me audibly gasping from my seat I knew this was going to be an amazing movie, I was never disappointed and it still lives with me long after the house lights came back up.
There are definitely a few that I’ve not had a chance to watch that have been rated highly on other people’s lists. I’m sure once I get chance to sit down and watch Brandon Cronenburg’s latest feature Possessor, Jim Cummings’ The Wolf of Snow Hollow and Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ Swallow there could be some swapping and changing (or just adding, because there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing) of this list. For now though, this is my round up of some of the amazing Horror’s that the miserable year of 2020 offered us. Here’s to 2021 and more Horror on our screens but less in our own lives. Happy New Year gorehounds!