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Richie Best Of 2020 Main

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Richie's Top 20 Horror Movies of 2020

Written by Richie Corelli

2020 brought a lot of terror. We all know this. Besides the political unrest that covered most of the globe; besides the hatred and bigotry that continued to poison humanity; besides the environmental disasters that claimed countless lives, there was an aggressive virus that infected close to eighty-million people. Whether we wanted to admit it or not, we all faced danger.

COVID-19 affected nearly everything, including the movie industry. Most of the blockbuster movies that were scheduled for a 2020 release were pushed back to 2021. But while there was no Candyman reboot, no A Quiet Place sequel, or no new Halloween film, there were a ton of indie-horror and art-horror pictures being released. The absence of the majors left more breathing room for the minors.

I narrowed down my favorite horror movies of the year and ranked them below. I cast a large net under my definition of horror. Some of the movies I listed are thrillers. Some are dramas. One is even a teen comedy. A couple of them are fast-action. A lot are slow-burns. But they all share the common element of fear. That’s one of the things I love about horror: How malleable it is.

Horror movies are an escape. They allow us to experience tension without actually putting ourselves in harm’s way. Unlike the real-world, if things get too intense during a movie, we can plug our ears or turn away from the screen. Thankfully, this past year gave us plenty of opportunities to do just that…

small-coverBuy from Amazon 20) Come to Daddy (directed by Ant Thompson)

Elijah Wood is good at weird. From the unhinged Frank in Maniac (2012) to the nerdy Tony in I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017), Wood makes his outsider characters seem real. Come to Daddy continues this tradition. He is cast as Norval, a privileged hipster who is reunited with his estranged father. The relationship between the two of them seems okay at first, but this is a horror movie, so things take a dark turn. Come to Daddy is ridiculous in the way it twists and turns. The violence is unrelenting. Yet Wood’s facial expressions and awkward reactions are genuinely funny. And that humor plays like a winking eye; Come to Daddy knows that it’s over-the-top. It encourages its audience to enjoy the outrageous and gory fun.

Click here to read the Horror DNA review of Come to Daddy.

come to daddy

small-coverBuy from Amazon 19) She Dies Tomorrow (directed by Amy Seimetz)

Amy knows that she is going to die tomorrow. She doesn’t how she knows this. She just knows. She tells her friend Jane, who is initially dismissive. But then Jane realizes that she too is going to die tomorrow. From here, it spreads like a virus. As more people connect, more people realize that they are going to die the next day. Director Amy Seimetz doesn’t tie this film down to a narrative beyond the concept. Instead, she lets it float and meander, allowing the idea to simmer. For audiences who are willing to move along with her, She Dies Tomorrow is an effective mood piece that brings up feelings of restlessness, uncertainty, and fear.

she dies tomorrow

small-coverBuy from Amazon 18) Impetigore (Perempuan Tanah Jahanam) (directed by Joko Anwar)

Believing that she might be due an inheritance, Maya, along with her best friend Dini, travel to the isolated village of Harjosari. There they encounter unexpected horrors stemming from a curse related to Maya’s family. As the women try to navigate through the mystery of Maya’s lineage, they make a gruesome discovery. Impetigore is folk-horror that deals with the inheritance of sin. The pacing is set to catch viewers off guard, maximizing shock, as the tone shifts from high-action to slow-burn and back to high-action. It’s all tied together through atmosphere. The cinematography captures setting. The camerawork feels like being lost in a forest, desperate to get home.

impetigore

small-coverBuy from Amazon 17) The Deeper You Dig (directed by John Adams and Toby Poser)

Ivy and Echo have a solid mother / daughter relationship. When Echo goes missing, Ivy is fueled by worry, determination, and retribution as she sets out to solve this heartbreaking puzzle that has overtaken her life. Peppered with symbolism, The Deeper You Dig is ghost story led by realistic characters and a well-scripted plot. The movie was created almost entirely by a single family in upstate New York; John Adams, Toby Poser, and their daughter Zelda. The Adams family proves that a large crew and a million-dollar budget are unnecessary for good filmmaking. All one needs is a solid story, believable acting, smart cinematography, and an emotive dark-ambient score. The Deeper You Dig delivers all of this in spades.

Click here to read the Horror DNA review of The Deeper You Dig

the deeper you dig

small-coverBuy from Amazon 16) The Beach House (directed by Jeffrey A. Brown)

Emily and her boyfriend Randall share a beach house with another couple in a remote vacation town. Their pleasant time is cut short when a mysterious fog washes ashore. It soon becomes evident that this fog is dangerous. It carries a parasite that sickens and kills its hosts. The film follows the survivors as they desperately try to leave the town.

The Beach House stumbles a little in its first act, but once it takes off, the frightening atmosphere takes hold and doesn’t let go. The movie is a bare-bones cosmic eco-thriller with elements of body horror. The format is fairly simple. But the execution is strong. The Beach House is a movie with genuine feelings of peril.

the beach house

small-coverBuy from Amazon 15) VFW (directed by Joe Begos)

A lot of the movies on this list could be categorized as “art-house” horror. VFW isn’t one of them. A throwback to '80s aesthetics, VFW feels like what would have happened if John Carpenter made a late-night grindhouse flick. Dark sets are lit in high-contrast with flashes of reds and blues while a horror-synth soundtrack prods and slinks underneath. The thin story mainly serves to set-up the violence; a new drug called hype makes its users act like wild freaks, mindless and obsessive. Across the street from the hype drug-den is a VFW that is occupied by old, grizzled soldiers. When the drugs are stolen and end up in the VFW, the punk dealers, who look like they are straight out of a Troma production, send the addicts to attack. From there, its absolute carnage. This movie is a wonderfully shameless romp through blood-soaked mayhem, a celebration of B-movie trash.

Click here to read the Horror DNA review of VFW.

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small-coverBuy from Amazon 14) Hunter Hunter (directed by Shawn Linden)

The trailer for this film, like so many other movie trailers, reveals too much. All one needs to know is the basic set-up. A family of fur trappers live off the land in the Canadian wilderness. Joseph is gruff and rustic. He spends the days teaching his thirteen year old daughter, Renee, how to hunt and trap. Anne loves her husband, but thinks that it might be better for Renee to have more experience in the outside world where she could interact with other people. When an aggressive wolf begins to stalk them, tensions rise. Joseph goes out to hunt the animal. He finds more than he anticipated. While straightforward, Hunter Hunter is not typical cabin in the woods story. It’s a grisly trek; a taut, harsh tale that gets darker and more macabre with each act.

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The Invisible Man Poster SmallBuy from Amazon 13) The Invisible Man (directed by Leigh Whannell)

The original version of The Invisible Man, directed by the great James Whale, is an absolute classic. But sometimes, an old concept benefits from a fresh coat of paint. The 2020 reboot suffers slightly from plot ambiguity. But overall, this tense psychological thriller works. Instead of following the invisible man as they did in 1933, this contemporary reinterpretation puts audiences in the shoes of Cecelia, a woman gaslighted by an abusive ex who uses optical technology to hide himself in plain sight. Elisabeth Moss’ portrayal of Cecilia as she transforms from self-doubting to confident, from skittish to courageous, is outstanding. Supported by a deceitful camera that likes to pan away and linger on empty spaces, The Invisible Man reminds audiences that true horror isn’t always easy to see.

the invisible man

small-coverBuy from Amazon 12) La Llorona (directed by Jayro Bustamante)

This is not the schlocky Curse of La Llorona movie from The Conjuring Universe. This is a completely different kind of movie. It’s far from a traditional ghost story and does’t feel like a supernatural horror at all. In fact, the bulk of the film rolls out as a slow-moving political drama. Expertly filmed with heavy and oppressive camerawork, General Enrique Monteverde faces accusations of genocide and crimes against humanity for his mistreatment of the indigenous Mayan people. He and his family are confined to their house while he recovers from illness. Outside their windows are leagues of activists and protestors demanding justice. Monteverde is based on a real person; Guatemalan war criminal, Efraín Ros Montt. Weaved through this narrative of actual history is the Latin American folklore of the weeping woman. La Llorona is a ghost who roams the town, crying for her drowned children. The movie’s use of myth to teach real events is impressively seamless.

Click here to read the Horror DNA review of La Llorona.

la llorona

Sea Fever Poster SmallBuy from Amazon 11) Sea Fever (directed by Neasa Hardiman)

Sea Fever was in production well before COVID hit, but the themes of infection will certainly resinate in 2020. Siobhan is a scientist who joins a crew on a fishing expedition. Along the way, a bioluminescent organism infects the ship with a deadly parasite. Siobhan, at odds with the rest of the crew, demands everyone quarantine. Trapped on a boat in the middle of the sea, the team struggles to find ways to survive.

Director Neasa Hadriman doesn’t hide her influences and parts of Sea Fever call to classics like Jaws (1975), Alien (1979), The Thing (1982), and The Abyss (1989). But Hardiman puts enough of herself into this film that it stands on its own. She keeps the effects minimal and puts most of its emphasis on crawling tension. Part creature feature, part medical horror, Sea Fever is a steady, uncomfortable ride.

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small-coverBuy from Amazon 10) Possessor Uncut (directed by Brandon Cronenberg)

Brandon Cronenberg’s second movie is not for everyone. Possessor Uncut is bleak and bloody. The gore and the violence will leave audiences squirming in their seats as precise, clean direction of practical effects make the carnage feel wet and tactile. The story is Philip K. Dick-inspired sci-fi blended with extreme techno-horror. Tasya Vos is a contract killer. In order to get near her high-profile victims, her consciousness is implanted into people close to the target. In a display of corporate greed, she is hired to posses a man named Colin Tate and, through him, eliminate the CEO of a large company, opening the position for her client. While on the mission, Tasya’s mind begins to slip. The psyche of her host begins to seep into her own, compromising her sense of self.

Possessor Uncut is cold and unrelenting. It juggles feeling of confusion and self-awareness. As the bodycount rises, the one target proves itself to be the most at risk is empathy.

Click here to read the Horror DNA review of Possessor Uncut.

possessor uncut

Swallow Poster SmallBuy from Amazon 9) Swallow (directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis)

As a genre, horror tends to be clumsy with its treatment of mental illness. Swallow is better. It follows Hunter, a woman suffering from pica, an illness related to obsessive compulsive disorder where the afflicted is compelled to eat non-food items. While audiences do see Hunter ingest some sharp and dangerous items, that isn’t the focus. Instead of exploiting the bloody details, Swallow does the right thing and narrows in on the psychological aspects of Hunter’s pain. The film follows her through her troubled marriage, watches her superficial interactions with her in-laws, and sees her despondent when she is alone. Shot with careful color use and unhurried, immaculate framing, Swallow is the rare psychological body horror that shows that emotional agony could be far worse than anything physical.

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Anything For Jackson Poster SmallBuy from Amazon 8) Anything for Jackson (directed by Justin G. Dyck)

Justin G. Dyck is an accomplished director, but this is his first time dabbling in horror. Before Anything for Jackson, his filmography mostly related to Christmas movies. Yet sometime after Baby in a Manger and before Christmas in the Rockies, Dyck directed this terrifying story of kidnapping and Satanism. Anything for Jackson is a supernatural tale of how far people will go for those they love. It follows grieving seniors, Audrey and Henry Walsh, who are blinded by anguish after losing their grandchild in a car accident. Their desperation leads them down a dark path.

Ghostly and ghastly, Anything for Jackson inverts expectations and shows a different kind of villain working a different kind of magick. Built on strong acting and successful scares, this movie is a dark spot in Dyck’s otherwise snow-white filmography. And that’s a good thing.

anything for jackson

small-coverBuy from Amazon 7) Color Out of Space (directed by Richard Stanley)

Nicolas Cage is best when he’s over-the-top. Color of Space gives him plenty of opportunities to go berserk and he delivers again and again. But beyond Cage’s antics is genuine horror. Based on the short H.P. Lovecraft story of the same name, Color Out of Space follows the Garner family as they begin to have surreal and dangerous experiences after a meteor crashes on their farm. The movie is a build, with each scene growing stranger and more severe than the one proceeding it. It’s the tale of destruction, on a micro level as the Garners mental health fractures, and on a macro level as pollutants threaten to damage the planet. Underlined by Colin Stetson’s otherworldly soundtrack, grotesque and psychedelic visuals create a hallucinatory landscape built from hazy purple and blue fogs and shiny iridescence. It’s an unstable world and plays to the natural fear of the unknown.

Click here to read the Horror DNA review of Color Out of Space.

color out of space

small-coverBuy from Amazon 6) Host (directed by Rob Savage)

The basic story for Host is the kind of thing that’s been done thousands of times; people get together for a séance and accidentally unleash spectral evil. It’s straightforward but effective. The twist this time around isn’t in the movie. It’s behind the scenes. COVID-19 effected all movie production this past year. But the cast and crew of Host didn’t let the pandemic stop them. The movie was created over the internet, where everyone was safely distanced. The actors took online classes about lighting and practical effects to help boost the production value. The movie capitalizes on the isolation that is felt while chatting online, showing how helpless and scary it is to be both connected and disconnected with your friends at the same time. Host is a film that lends itself less to a theater and more to a computer screen. Its a movie that speaks to the moment.

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The Lodge Poster SmallBuy from Amazon 5) The Lodge (directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala)

Teenage Aiden and his little sister Mia resent Grace, their future stepmother. In an effort to help the trio get along, the three head out to a remote Massachusetts lodge. This backfires. After they trio gets snowed in, Aiden and Mia take to gaslighting Grace. It only gets worse from there. The kids do a fine job acting. The audience is left wondering if the children are lashing out because they are psychologically wounded, or if they are just plain sadistic. But it’s the performance of Riley Keough that commands the movie. Her portrayal of the emotionally damaged Grace is outstanding. The Lodge is a slow-moving film, beautifully shot with reoccurring images of stark scenery. The movie feels cold. Themes of religious extremism, mental illness, and general cruelty underline these frigid atmospheres of anxiety and dread.

Click here to read the Horror DNA review of The Lodge.

the lodge

small-coverBuy from Amazon 4) Spontaneous (directed by Brian Duffield)

At its core, Spontaneous is a teen drama. The movie hits all the clichés: boring lectures, football games, prom, graduation, and a sad montage with Sufjan Stevens playing in the background. But it breaks away from other movies of this sort because the kids at Covington High School have a unique problem. They keep exploding. It’s messy. And no one knows why it’s happening.

As her classmates pop like blood-blisters, Mara finds herself falling in love with an endearing, awkward, giggly classmate named Dylan. The brilliance of Spontaneous is how it balances tones. Mara’s quick-witted cynicism is hilarious. Her pain is heartbreaking. Her existential fear is terrifying. The film cycles though these feelings with impressively smooth transitions. That said, as more classmates die, the overall tone gradually darkens as Mara tries to push the horror from her mind.

spontaneous

small-coverBuy from Amazon 3) The Wolf House (La Casa Lobo) (directed by Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña)

Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña’s art-house, stop-motion fairy tale is influenced by real-life horror. Colonia Dignidad is a post WW2 colony in Chile that was run by emigrant Nazi Germans. The camp, which is protected by the Chilean government and is still in existence, has a long history of atrocious behavior. The Wolf House is the tale of María, a young girl who escapes the camp after being punished for releasing two pigs. Pursued by a wolf, María and the pigs hide in a house in the woods. The story is abstracted through surrealism, with metaphors and symbolism in-place of traditional storytelling.

The directors spent five years building this movie from life-sized, ever-changing sets. They don’t hide their media, allowing their intentionally crude designs to heighten the visuals. Filmed to mimic a single-shot, the masking tape, clay, and paint that are used to make these moving sculptures are constantly shifting and morphing into other things. The imagery is unsettling, less Coraline and more Eraserhead. Pigs grow human arms and legs. Limbs drop off. Eyes hollow-out of human faces. Two-dimensional paintings swirl around a wall and then push into the third dimension and overtake physical space. The Wolf House is a visual feast; disturbing and unnerving.

the wolf house

His House Poster SmallBuy from Amazon 2) His House (directed by Remi Weekes)

His House follows a refugee couple, Bol and Rial, as they escape a war-torn South Sudan to seek asylum in England. They are assigned a house by the government with strict rules under penalty of deportation. The building they are moved to is a dilapidated mess. Garbage litters the floor. Pests scurry about. The door is literally falling off its hinges. It’s bad. And it gets worse. As night comes, the couple soon realizes that the house is haunted by an apeth (night witch). In the darkness, the building fills with spectral visitors, hiding in shadows and crawling through walls.

His House plays to supernatural traditions. The scary creature designs encourage nightmares while the camera misdirection sets the audience up for jump scares aplenty. But the best horror movies are the ones that work on different levels and this film goes far beyond a simple haunted house story. As daybreaks, the genre tropes give-way to real life terror. His House is a record of racism, cultural identity, and assimilation. The acting by Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku is tense, poignant, and believable. Theirs is a tale of desperation; of past sins and painful atonement.

his house

small-coverBuy from Amazon 1) Relic (directed by Natalie Erika James)

Age is scary. Horror movies are full of vengeful ghosts, hordes of zombies, and axe-wielding murderers. But old-age is a far more common killer. It hunts with different weapons: cancer, blood disease, diabetes, et cetera. Relic, the debut full-length from Natalie Erika James, shows an elderly woman struggling with dementia. Family matriarch, Edna, has gone missing. Her daughter Kay and her granddaughter Sam go to Edna’s house in the woods to look for her. Edna eventually returns with no insight as to where she was. As the three women work though generational tensions in an effort to decide the next step, creepy occurrences happen throughout the house. Relic is clever in it’s layering. On the surface, the horror comes from the spooky house. The dark corners of the home and the banging in the walls are disquieting. The slow camera and the subtle score skillfully build atmospheric unease. The house is reflective of Edna’s brain; darkening, deteriorating, cluttered, and difficult to navigate. It’s a brilliant depiction. The metaphorical components are clear without being forced. This isn’t a white-horse-in-the-bedroom kind of symbolism. It’s a subtle layer that supports the storytelling without overtaking it. Led by outstanding and heartbreaking performances by all three leading women, and capped with an inventive ending, Relic is as sad as it is scary. It’s one of the best movies of 2020, regardless of genre.

Click here to read the Horror DNA review of Relic.

relic

About The Author
Richie Corelli
Staff Writer
Richie isn’t ignoring you. He just can’t hear you over the music. He’s been plugged in to his headphones for decades, diving into the zine culture of the 90s, blogging relentlessly through the 00s and beyond. He knows more about certain bands than he knows about himself. His love of music is rivaled only by his love of horror. If it’s creepy and spooky, he’s into it.

Horror DNA sutures his two passions together, giving him a platform to analyze and express his feelings on horror scores, soundtracks and live performances. It’s a celebration of all that goes bump in the night.
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