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Joel's Top Ten Horror Movies of 2020... That Aren't Host.

Written by Joel Harley

2020 was a great year! Looking back on it now, as it comes to a close, it's hard to remember the last time we had such a good one. Not for anyone or anything else, granted - but it was a great year for movies. In a year when you-know-what brought everything to a crushing standstill and whole industries to their knees, cinema was a constant solace.

While the state of the cinema industry itself remains unclear and in a kind of flux (will we ever see A Quiet Place 2, or Nia DaCosta's Candyman?), the movies that were released were some of the best we've had in years. Some of them had been in the can well before 2020 struck, while others were conceptualised, filmed and released in the midst of it all. What they have in common... these are some of the most impressive horror films I've seen in years. And, stuck in my apartment for months on end, I saw a lot this year.

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Host

Like everyone else, I adored Rob Savage’s Host. The perfect storm of timing and technology make this supernatural found footage flick the most 2020 horror film of 2020. After accidentally summoning a demon during an online séance, a group of friends are picked off, one by one, all via Zoom. The way Savage utilises the technology is pitch-perfect, from the 57 minute runtime to the film's creative use of filters and pre-recorded imagery.

"If it's so perfect, why didn't it make the Top 10, then?" you ask. Well, after almost a year of online teaching, awkward Zoom conversations with friends and family, and stupid, unnecessary work meetings, Host's scares now hit a little bit too close to home. I never want to see another goddamn Zoom interface again.

And here are the top 10 that aren't Host.

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Underwater

Does for the depths of the ocean what Life did for space. This deep-sea sci-fi horror channels its inner Alien to pit unlucky scientists against monsters from the Mariana Trench. Kirsten Stewart leads a strong cast (plus, ugh, T.J. Miller) in the best underwater sci-fi/horror film since Sphere. That might sound like faint praise, but I love Sphere and I loved Underwater too.

small-coverBuy from Amazon Scare Me

A horror anthology without the anthology. Two horror writers meet in a secluded woodland cabin to tell each other scary stories. The Boys star Aya Cash continues her domination of 2020 with this inventive comedy horror film, which also stars Josh Ruben and SNL guy Chris Redd. The stories - including a hilarious song-and-dance routine - are so well-told that you don't even need to see them. But, on the other hand, they're so well told that you'll really, really want to.

What it lacks in scares it more than makes up for with an abundance of wit and charm.

small-coverBuy from Amazon Freaky

If Happy Death Day was the Blumhouse riff on Groundhog Day, then this kooky slasher film is their take on the body-swap comedy. Hijinks indeed ensue when an awkward teenage girl swaps bodies with a deranged serial killer (Vince Vaughn). With only 24 hours to reverse the swap before it becomes permanent, Millie must learn to navigate the world from within the body of a gigantic middle-aged man. The Butcher, meanwhile, is having the time of his life. As was I, with this film.

small-coverBuy from Amazon The Pool

This 2018 creature feature only hit streaming site Shudder this year, but was by far one of their most exciting acquisitions. A man and his dog are trapped in an abandoned, drained swimming pool, with only a bloodthirsty crocodile for company. That’s all director Ping Lumpraploeng needs though – the stage (or pool, rather) is set for one of the most intense battles between man and beast you’ll see all year. I was left wrecked by the finale.

small-coverBuy from Amazon VFW

Grizzled veterans battle junkie punks in this spin on Assault on Precinct 13. Joe Begos’s grimy, ugly action film is chock full of talent – led by the always-reliable Stephen Lang, and backed up by George Wendt and William Sadler. The violence is gnarly, the splatter plentiful. Not since Hobo With a Shotgun has it been so fun to watch the old guard let loose.

small-coverBuy from Amazon Anything For Jackson

Hapless grandparents attempt to make a deal with the devil in this supernatural thriller by Justin G. Dyck. Kidnapping a pregnant woman in the hope of performing a ‘reverse exorcism’ and bringing dead grandson Jackson back to life, the plan goes awry when they look to the wrong demon for help. Its scares are subtle but effective, its villains curiously sympathetic in spite of, you know, all the kidnapping.

small-coverBuy from Amazon Relic

More spooky grandparents going bump in the night. This time it’s elderly Edna (Robyn Nevin), who gives her daughter and granddaughter a scare when she abruptly vanishes from her secluded home. Reappearing just as suddenly, it’s quite clear that something is amiss with grandma – and not just her rapidly diminishing faculties. Natalie Erika James’s supernatural horror story made for one of the most upsetting films I’ve seen this year, forcing me to confront my own fear of losing loved ones, mental decline and the ageing process.

small-coverBuy from Amazon His House

Another haunted house horror movie, but more than just another haunted house horror movie. Refugees Bol and Rial (Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku) struggle to adjust to their life in little Britain after escaping from war-torn South Sudan. As if condescending social workers, shitty neighbours and PTSD weren’t bad enough, there’s also the matter of the haunted house they’ve been set up with. But just what – or who – is really being haunted here? Is it the house, or Bol and Rial themselves? And just what is Matt Smith up to with that accent?

Packing scares to rival any Insidious or Conjuring sequel, His House is a carefully constructed combination of jump scares, psychological thriller and supernatural nightmare. Its imagery will stick with you for days, leaving the viewer - like Bol and Rial - haunted.

small-coverBuy from Amazon The Invisible Man

The last horror film many of us will have seen in actual cinemas before the ‘Rona shut everything down. Talk about going out on a high note.

Ten months later, The Invisible Man is still one of the best films of 2020, and would have been even without everything else that happened. The Invisible Man has never been scarier than he is here, at his most human. Leigh Whannell’s timely reboot of the old universal monster may be more Hollow Man than we might have expected, but that’s no detriment… I love Hollow Man and I loved The Invisible Man too.

small-coverBuy from Amazon Color Out of Space

Another in Nicolas Cage’s run of highly entertaining genre movies. Here he follows up the incredible Mandy with an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, helmed by Richard Stanley. As it turns out, the film barely even needs Nic Cage at his Nic Cage-est, as Stanley does incredible work with Lovecraft’s cosmic horrors. His vision of mutated rural Americana is a cross between From Beyond and Annihilation, mashing together sci-fi surrealism with gloopy body horror. As a result, it's the best Lovecraft adaptation since the 1980s; a worthy successor to Stuart Gordon and his Re-Animator.

 

About The Author
Joel Harley
Staff Writer
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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