What a strange year its been...
...Various sites and critics have begun to put out their top ten lists of best horror films of the year so far, yet all of ours look very different than they might have had the pandemic not disrupted film releases. Already, we should have seen Nia DaCosta's Candyman, The New Mutants, Antlers, and many others, all of which I expect may have ended up on this list had they released already.
Still, plenty of great films came out before and after theaters shut down, with horror fans getting everything from philosophical love stories to traumatic films about isolation and ultra-gory zombie comedies. The list below is just my personal opinion of what have been my ten favorite horror films of the year so far. So if you disagree with any, let me know what you've enjoyed that didn't make the cut!
NOTE: THE FOLLOWING ARE IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
Color Out of Space
You could say that the work of H.P. Lovecraft has made a triumphant return to screens, having risen in popularity over the last decade, with many filmmakers outside of the late Stuart Gordon taking inspiration from the iconic author and adapting his stories. Director Richard Stanley (Hardware) has also made his noteworthy return to horror with Color Out of Space, an adaptation of Lovecraft's short story which sees Nicolas Cage and his family battling supernatural forces taking over their home, and their bodies. Colorful, moving, and deeply disturbing, Color was one of the early jaw-dropping horror films of 2020 and remains one of the best of the year so far.
Ah, the journey that The Hunt went through. Craig Zobel's film was initially pulled from it's original release date due to concerns over timing and threats from conservatives over the portrayal of conservative-leaning characters in the film (despite the fact that they are, indeed, the heroes of this picture). A story which sees liberal elites kidnapping and hunting MAGA types for sport, The Hunt is nothing unique, but what it is is a hilarious film that pokes fun at both sides of the equation while providing gallons of blood, non-stop action, eye popping surprises, and one hell of an engaging performance from the kickass Betty Gilpin that has me wanting to hire her to insult people I don't like for me.
The Invisible Man
After the disastrous Tom Cruise-starring The Mummy, Universal put its monster universe on hold and all but gave up. Then, they formed a partnership with Blumhouse to give new life to their cabinet of creatures, and the first to hit screens was Leigh Whannell's The Invisible Man. And holy shit, did it work. Scrapping Universal's previous approach of big budget set pieces for a personal, claustrophobic story about a woman (Elisabeth Moss) who believes she's being stalked by her supposedly dead ex-husband who is now invisible, the film carefully explores themes of male toxicity in what isn't just a suspenseful horror flick with plenty of neat camerawork and choreography, but an important rallying cry for women that features a powerful performance from Moss. I sure as hell wouldn't want to mess with her!
If you thought Goodnight Mommy from filmmakers Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz was uncomfortable, that was just the appetizer for the cold-blooded terror that is The Lodge. A chilling psychological horror story about a woman forced to stay in an isolated cabin with her boyfriend's two kids, who just so happen to hate her, The Lodge is arguably the most disturbing horror film of 2020 so far, with twists and turns that will make you want to scream and pull your hair out until you're left sitting on the floor, mouth agape, in complete shock. The atmosphere in this film is CRUSHING, hardly ever allowing audiences a moment of relief. Needless to say, The Lodge is not messing around.
Some of you are going to see Scare Package on this list and say, "B-b-but it's so cheesy!" and whatever other complaints, but you know what? EXACTLY. It is cheesy. And fun. And gory. And one of the best times I've had watching a movie this year. Scare Package is a horror anthology featuring eight silly, practical effect-filled segments, and it's the first of its kind in the sense that no other horror anthology leans as heavily into comedy and meta humor as this one does. Creator Aaron B. Koontz told me in an interview that the goal was to focus on tropes and poke fun at them, but with love, and that's what Scare Package is. This anthology is one that was made by horror fans for horror fans, and every wink, nod and reference to favorite horror flicks is further proof of how much passion went into making this film.
Some of you may not be familiar with the work of Perry Blackshear, but you should be. Director of the deeply unsettling They Look Like People, Blackshear returned this year with a romantic horror story about a man who falls in love with a deadly Siren, and the love the so called "monster" feels for him in return. Like They Look Like People, Blackshear takes the focus off of the "evil" that we apply to all monsters, and instead identifies the Siren as a multi-layered being that craves love and companionship just as badly as we all do, in what is ultimately a poignant and beautiful film about loss and the complicated feeling that is love. If you enjoyed the 2014 film Spring, then this is a must-watch.
We Summon the Darkness
Look, no lie, if your film has star Alexandra Daddario kicking ass and taking names, chances are, I'm going to love it. The great thing about director Marc Meyers' We Summon the Darkness is that it also happens to be a phenomenal movie. Following a trio of girls who take a group of dudes back to their place to party during the era of the Satanic Panic, this twisty horror flick turns multiple horror conventions on their heads, with a unique motivation from our killers and applause worthy performances from Daddario, Maddie Hasson and Amy Forsyth. The moral of this story and many others on the list: don't mess with women, because they can and will fuck you up.
Speaking as someone who grew up in the Midwest, the thought of suburban life forever always terrified me. Get a job you hate but that pays the bills. Get married. Have a kid. Raise the kid. And die. Yeah, no thanks. Never sounded all that pleasant to me. Well, apparently, director Lorcan Finnegan feels similarly, because his film Vivarium is the Black Mirror-esque metaphor for the horrors of suburban life. Following a couple played by Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots who become trapped in an empty suburban neighborhood where they are forced to raise an alien child that is not their own, promised eventual freedom if they do, this isolationistic horror came out right around the beginning of quarantine, and touches on many of the claustrophobic anxieties we've all had lately. Once Vivarium grabs a hold of you, it never lets go, leading viewers down a path of heartbreak and paranoid terror.
Craving a good old fashioned creature feature? The Wretched from directors Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce is the film made to satisfy your needs. There's a reason that it's been absolutely slaying at the drive-in. Playing out like Fright Night meets Disturbia with a witch, the film follows a rebellious teenager who comes to believe that there is a child-stealing witch living next door to him, and only he can stop her. As creepy as it is fun and boiling with imagery that will make your skin crawl, The Wretched is a spooky homage to old school horror perfect for a late night watch at the drive-in.
A lot of filmmakers have trouble balancing humor and scares. A LOT. It's difficult to scare audiences just as much as it is to make them laugh, and even more daunting to do both. But director Lars Damoiseaux manages each exceptionally well with the bloody feast of gore that is Yummy. This zombie flick follows a couple who arrive at a questionable hospital for some plastic surgery, only to accidentally unleash a zombie plague. Blood paints the walls of this hilarious film which features one of the most outrageous, physical dick jokes that I've ever seen. And yet, despite the effective but lowbrow sense of humor, Yummy also packs a hell of an emotional punch, and is never heading in the direction you think it is. One of the better surprises of the year.
A few other films to keep an eye out for that haven't officially released yet but are quite good: 'The Beach House' and 'The Relic'.
By Matt Konopka