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Joel's Top Ten (ish) Horror Movies of 2021

Written by Joel Harley

Congratulations all, if you're reading this, you made it through another year. Was it any better or worse than the one which preceded it? Regardless of how the whole COVID thing is going, cinema kicked back to life with a series of big hits and great movies. Nia DaCosta's Candyman finally got released! There was a new Wrong Turn! Michael Myers is back!

These things are easier to write if there's an underlying theme, and the theme to 2021 seemed to be comebacks: Candyman, Michael Myers, Wrong Turn, Chucky, Jigsaw and the V/H/S franchise all saw new entries into their respective franchises. Even COVID got in on the action with a spin-off of its own - the Omicron variant. Behind the lens, great filmmakers were producing exciting new work, and my own favourite actor dropped his best hattrick since The Rock, Face/Off and Con Air. There were a few flops, of course (Halloween Kills being my most hated Halloween entry since Resurrection, and I detested Spiral too) but, largely, it was a great year for horror. Everything else? Not quite so much.


small-coverBuy from Amazon 10. V/H/S '94

Just when you thought it was safe to turn on the VCR… the V/H/S franchise returns. ’94 finds the found footage anthology firing on all cylinders – the best movie in the series since the first one. It struggles to maintain the brilliance or intensity of its first twenty minutes or so (Hail Ratma!) but there’s not a dud amongst the lot. Be kind to yourself... rewind, and then watch it all over again.

small-coverBuy from Amazon 9. The Deep House

Another return to form, this time for the French extremist filmmakers Baustillo and Maury (Inside), back after their tepid and disappointing Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel. Their best movie of 2021 (the other one being the gnarly, also very impressive Kandisha) is this underwater haunted house movie, delivering some of the most claustrophobic imagery and intense scares since The Descent.

small-coverBuy from Amazon 8. Candyman

After an absence of far too long, director Nia DaCosta returns a horror giant to his proper standing, in this slick reboot slash sequel. Coming at the story from a fresh, modern (and all-too timely!) angle while remaining respectful to the Daniel Robitaille mythos and the irreplacable Tony Todd, this is a smart and lively take on the Candyman legend. The buzz is real.

small-coverBuy from Amazon 7. Fried Barry

An original, and what an original. The simple story of an alien bodysnatcher (Gary Green, the titular Fried Barry) running amok in Cape Town, South Africa. Ryan Kruger’s debut feature is a demented take on our Amblin favourites - think ET meets 2013's Under the Skin, with a side order of crack den. A sci-fi slash body horror movie like no other, Fried Barry is the best trip you’ll take all year. Maybe resist the urge to supplement with a few edibles: this one is more than enough as is.

small-coverBuy from Amazon 6. Prisoners of the Ghostland / Willy's Wonderland

Recent years have seen movie icon and Internet meme Nicolas Cage establish himself as something of a genre powerhouse. From Mom and Dad through to Mandy and The Color out of Space, Cage has delivered, time and again, on a series of delightfully off-the-wall horror movies. The trend continues with Sion Sona’s demented post-apocalyptic man-on-a-mission movie, which winds Cage up and lets him off, facing Bill Moseley’s sleazy frontier town warlord. Altogether now: “testicle!”

Tied in joint sixth place, Cage’s second showing on this list is a more conventional kind of horror movie than his post-apocalyptic Western, but Willy’s Wonderland is by no means by-the-numbers. Cage plays a silent, unnamed badass, playing janitor to a dilapidated theme restaurant. Pit against a gang of murderous animatronics, the janitor finds himself answering the question “what if Five Nights at Freddy’s, but with Nicolas Cage?” If that sounds too trashy for you, well, there's always Pig.

small-coverBuy from Amazon
Buy from Amazon
5. Bloody Hell

Released everywhere else in 2020 but in the UK in early 2021 - which was when I managed to see it - Bloody Hell is a terrific subversion of the once ubiquitous torture subgenre. Fleeing the country to escape his own infamy, the shady but charismatic Rex (Ben O' Toole) is kidnapped as soon as he lands in his chosen holiday destination of Finland. At the mercy of a family of twisted cannibals, Rex must engineer an escape while he still has a leg left to stand on. This black comedy horror film is one of the year's most original efforts (whichever year you choose to lump it in with); blackly hilarious, razor-sharp witted and shockingly nasty.

small-coverBuy from Amazon 4. Wrong Turn

The year’s most successful returning horror franchise is the one closest to this writer’s heart. I have loved the Wrong Turn series ever since 2003, and so I was thrilled to see it return with a new entry for 2021. Mike P. Nelson’s folksy reboot is an entirely different beast to the cheap schlock (what, no mutant hillbillies?) which preceded it, but no less fun.

small-coverBuy from Amazon 3. In the Earth

I'd had my fill of pandemic-themed, socially-distanced virus horror movies by early 2020, if we're being honest. After that horrifying cover version of 'Imagine' and a whole half-year of online teaching, I could quite happily never see another Zoom interface again (Rob Savage's Host being the only exception). Leave it to Ben Wheatley to put his own spin on pandemic filmmaking, casually dropping one of the year's best horror movies as he goes. With not a Zoom screen in sight, this eco-horror story sees a hapless scientist up against an angry mother Earth, and Reece Shearsmith doing an incredible Jack Torrance impression.

Buy from Amazon
2. Malignant

James Wan put that Fast & Furious and Aquaman money to good use in his return to the horror genre. The film's evocative one-word title may put audiences in mind of such classy yet dry chillers as Insidious and Sinister, but this... isn't that. A campy, schlocky, scary, mildly hilarious slasher film slash possession story slash giallo, this is as inventive and creative as mainstream horror gets. Packing in slick action (that jailhouse rockout!) a truly original horror villain, and an incredible twist, this is the most fun I had with a horror film - or, indeed, any film - all year.

small-coverBuy from Amazon 1. The Sadness

After taking the festival circuit by storm, this Taiwanese-Canadian zombie horror film is set for release in early 2022. When a long-running pandemic suddenly mutates, the people of Taiwan find themselves battling a virus of a very different kind - slathering, bloodthirsty zombies. Don't let the gentle title fool you, The Sadness is one of the nastiest zombie films I've ever seen; the most intense thing since [Rec]; the bloodiest since Braindead the best zombie movie since Train to Busan. High praise? The Sadness was my favourite movie of 2021 and, upon its worldwide release, it'll be my favourite movie of 2022, too.

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About The Author
Joel Harley
Staff Reviewer - UK
Haribo fiend, Nicolas Cage scholar and frequently functioning alcoholic. These are just some of the words which can be used to describe Joel Harley. The rest, he uses to write film criticism for Horror DNA and a variety of websites and magazines. Sometimes he manages to do so without swearing.
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