It feels absolutely shocking that we have entered into another year – the pandemic has certainly made time feel like an oddity with the days, months and years rushing by without regard for anything else. It feels like we were all expecting 2021 to be a different year where the virus had dispersed and we were almost back to normal, but unfortunately that’s not the way things have planned out. It was another year constantly sat on tenterhooks awaiting for life to return to normalcy and yet it never did.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom because we were gifted with an abundance of horror films that took the edge of the negativity and gave us something to escape into. Whenever I write these lists I realise just how many outstanding pieces of horror we had in the year, which just reminds me why I love the genre so much.
I have to be honest and say that extreme horror didn’t feel particularly strong to me, and there weren’t many stand out pieces but we can’t have it all, can we? So without further ado (and to stop my incessant waffling) here are my favourite horror films of 2021. And no, they’re not numbered and ranked because that’s just an unnecessary effort.
The Deep House
Dir. Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury
When I heard the news that a found footage horror would be coming from the minds behind French extremity film Inside (2007) my excitement levels peaked. Following a YouTuber couple as they grab their cameras and their dive kits to venture down into a murky lake and explore an abandoned underwater house. You’ve got a haunted house movie and a found footage movie all in one – what more could you want? I’m terrified of the ‘underwater’ so watching this one was really uncomfortable and I loved the inventive aspect of taking a haunt into the water.
In The Earth
Dir. Ben Wheatley
This one was an odd one for me because when I left the cinema I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the film, and actually felt like it wasn’t for me. But as the days passed, the film lingered in my head for longer and longer, which proved to me just how powerful it was. Wheatley’s ecological horror film puts a scientist and park scout into a desolated woodland as they discover more about people and nature than they had anticipated. It’s a unique film with a particular pacing, but it will really settle into your pores and get you thinking for days to come.
Dir. Nia DaCosta
In preparation for this I rewatched the original Candyman (1992) and it doesn’t hold up well, nor is it a particularly good film for me. So knowing that we would be graced by Nia DaCosta’s telling was very exciting. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II stars as a young photographer who happens to discover the myth of the Candyman and begins his obsession into portraying the story through his artwork. DaCosta’s version of Candyman is far superior than the original, and whilst pays homage in many respects, does all the things and more that the first film couldn’t do. Also having the story told by a Black female strengthens the powerful messaging behind the film.
Dir. Madeleine Sims Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli
This film has been on my radar ever since Alexandra Heller-Nicholas mentioned that it would be very up my street, and she was not wrong. Violation follows Miriam whilst she is away on a trip in an isolated cabin with her partner and her sister with her retrospective partner. During a trip into the woods she is raped by her sister’s partner and seeks revenge for the wrongdoing. This is one of my favourite films ever, and it gripped me in such an emotional and overwhelming way. You can read this film in many different ways but it was not the rape revenge film I was expecting it to be, and it left me with so many thoughts. I don’t want to say much more but go watch it and then have a read of my thoughts over on Ghouls Magazine.
A Classic Horror Story
Dir. Massimiliano Mechilli
Mainstream Italian horror hasn’t been on the menu for quite some time (extreme Italian horror is booming – and I highly recommend you check out TetroVideo who are releasing some nasty but amazing stuff) so it felt incredibly refreshing to see that Netflix would be delivering us a little slice. A Classic Horror Story is certainly a marmite film because it is both a love letter to the horror genre and an absolute piss-take of it at the same time. It clearly references nearly every famous horror film and pokes at it’s side so you’ll only really get on with this one as a die-hard horror fan – if you don’t get the references it could easily become very boring.
The Empty Man
Dir. David Prior
Everyone I know has mentioned this as a 2021 horror, yet online it says 2020 but you know what, fuck it, it’s here on the list now. The Empty Man is a film that is hard to describe because it has so many layers but on the surface it’s about a cop looking to solve a mystery and getting caught up in a mysterious group. But the film is much more than that and kept me gripped throughout as it felt like different stories entwined. It reminded me of some of the nosleep articles that I was obsessed with and really made me feel completely unsettled.
Promising Young Woman
Dir. Emerald Fennel
Another rape revenge film on the list… You should know by now that this subv-genre of horror is a favourite of mine. Although distressing and hard to watch, rape revenge films have a sense of empowerment to them like nothing else. Promising Young Woman follows Cassie as she becomes the vigilante of the night by disposing of men who do not understand the meaning of consent. This film hit me very hard, and drove home just how devastating sexual assault is, but what I felt was so good about this film is that it felt real, and the ending although not as cathartic as watching Jennifer Hills in I Spit On Your Grave (1978) chop off dicks, was something to behold.
Coming Home In The Dark
Dir. James Ashcroft
Bleak, depressing and soul destroying films are absolutely my vibe and Coming Home In The Dark has all those vibes and more. A family picnic turns into one of the most horrific and terrifying experiences when they are interrupted by two unexpected guests. This film is a slow burn, but it holds a tension throughout that will make you feel sick to your stomach. It’s a New Zealand film and would suitably accompany films such as Hounds of Love (2016) and Snowtown Murders (2011).
We Need To Do Something
Dir. Sean King O’Grady
This film was one of my final watches of the year, and I hadn’t really even heard anything about it so watched it on a whim. And how glad I am that I did. Based on the novel of the same name by Mac Booth III – a book I actually had on my to-read list as apparently it is very disturbing, so obviously this was always going to be my jam. As a family finds themselves amidst an intense storm, they take shelter in their bathroom only to find they are trapped. It’s a claustrophobic film that goes very dark, and explores how quickly sane people who love each other can lose their minds and do the most horrific things against one another.
Dir. Rob Jabbaz
This film is probably the closest film to ‘extreme’ as this list is going to get this time, but I wouldn’t go into it expecting something that is taboo breaking. Whilst many people couldn’t even handle this one, it’s more down to the sheer graphic depictions of gore and violence more so than anything else. It’s hard to even describe this film because it’s fucking nuts, but we follow a young woman as a deadly virus breaks out and makes everyone want to murder, rape, eat and all sorts anyone they come into contact with. It pays a lot of respect to CATIII films and reminded me of Herman Yau’s Ebola Syndrome (1996), so it’s definitely a fun yet fucked-up watch.
Dir. Valdimar Johannsson
Many people have remarked that they wouldn’t categorise this film necessarily as horror, but I would absolutely argue that point because there is so much horror in this story. A couple who live on an isolated and completely remote farm find themselves looking after a half human half sheep baby. This folklore tale is disturbing in what is portrays physically, however the true horrors of the film come from it’s look at motherhood and the desperation that people can feel to have a child. It goes very dark in places, but also doesn’t touch on certain subjects that instantly popped to mind. You can watch my full thoughts over on YouTube.
You’re Dead Helene
Dir. Michiel Blanchart
I had the pleasure of being a judge on the short horror films panel at Celluloid Screams Festival this year, which meant I was lucky enough to indulge in an abundance of incredible short horror films. But we did have to pick one winner and that was none other than You’re Dead Helene which might just be one of my favourite short films ever made. A man tries to dump his girlfriend, but as she’s already dead and a ghost, she decides to make his life a living hell. I don’t want to spoil this one, I just want you to go and watch it but it is frightening, it is heartwarming, it is heartbreaking but overall it is just a really beautiful horror short with so much emotion and character.
Nocturna: Side A – The Great Old Man’s Night
Dir. Gonzalo Calzada
If you don’t like crying until you are dehydrated then I would touch this film. I went into this one completely blind at Celluloid Screams festival and came out barely able to breathe at how fucking devastated I was. It was such an emotionally driven film that afterwards I had to take a cold walk around the area to sort myself out, and some other viewers had a little therapy session in the women’s bathroom. This is such a beautiful piece of film that combines horror with humanity and leaves you pondering what life is all about.
Dir. Steven Kostanski
I’M THE HECKING BEST!!! Once you’ve watched this one then you’ll absolutely be screaming that everyday at the top of your lungs. Usually I don’t like ‘fun’ movies, I prefer ones that completely destroy my soul and my life but for Psycho Goreman I’ll make all the exceptions. Two young siblings accidentally summon an ancient and evil alien overlord, but headstrong Mimi decides she is the boss and Goreman is going to be her bestie. This film is just fun as fuck and makes you feel good – i haven’t had so much delight from a horror film in a long, long time. The characters are so damn good and Mimi played by Nita-Josee Hanna is the fucking best (better than all the rest).
The Night House
Dir. David Bruckner
Bruckner is one to watch because he’s getting a bit of track record in my books for only producing absolute bangers including Southbound (2015) and The Ritual (2017), so it wasn’t the biggest surprise that The Night House also delivered the goods. A young woman is alone, lost and grieving after her husband dies. She is isolated inside the house that he intricately built for them with his architect lens on, but as she spends more time there she begins to uncover very dark and disturbing secrets. This film completely took me by surprise because I went into it without much knowledge and I would suggest you do the same, because it is stunning and haunting.
My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To
Dir. Jonathan Cuartas
Another moody piece which is slow-burning throughout, but worth every single second. My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To seems to have gone under the radar for so many people so hopefully I can put it back on. At the core, this is a vampire film but with a completely different take – instead focusing on the bonds between siblings and how something such as the need to drink blood can be akin to a devastating disease that ravages the whole family. The performances are close to perfection and the narrative holds a sombre tone throughout that will make you rethink your assessment of vampirism. This would work as a great accompaniment piece to a favourite of mine Stoker (2013).
A Little More Flesh II
Dir. Sam Ashurst
Ever since Sam Ashurst was kind enough to send me a screener to A Little More Flesh I have had him on my radar as a filmmaker to watch. And even before then the amazing FX artist Dan Martin told me over a beer just how incredible Ashurt’s work was so he’s been one to watch for some time. A Little More Flesh II is a follow-up piece but also a standalone piece of art – completely shot during UK lockdowns, the film utilises technology and space whilst showing one of the most disturbing portrayals of manipulation and stalking on-screen.
Dir. Jordan Graham
This is one of my favourite films of all time ever, and I could talk for days on end about just how much I loved this. It is an exceptionally slow burn, so if that’s not your thing then I would highly recommend to stay away as you won’t like it. But if you like dark and brooding pieces that irritate your mind and get under your skin for a very, very long time then Sator is for you. Graham created this film over the course of 7 years completely by himself, even building the cabin in which much of the film is set. The atmosphere is unlike anything seen before and you’ll feel so incredibly creeped out that you won’t be able to sleep. Oh and did I mention that most of this is completely true? You can find out more about that in my interview with Jordan Graham.
- Another dark and wicked film that has no happy endings and doesn’t pretend to. A German coming of age film that would be perfectly paired with Super Dark Times (2017).
- Broadcast Signal Intrusion
- Probably in the top for many people but I just couldn’t quite put it in there. Very unique and has some video game characteristics – perfect for a creepy Sunday watch.
- No Man of God
- I will watch anything about Ted Bundy because I find serial killers fascinating, and Amber Sealey’s portrayal of the conversations between Ted and FBI agent Bill is fascinating.
- The Scary of Sixty First
- Genuinely thought this film would be my number 1 of the entire year, but I can’t say I loved it. However what I did love is that it gives absolute no fucks at just how offensive and innapropriate it is. There is a question around whether this should have been made though.
- The Murder Podcast
- If you’re looking for something hilarious and fun to show your mates then you’ve just found it.