Steve's Horror Favorites of 2021

Written by Steve Pattee

Well, it’s that time of the year again. The time when everyone already did their “Top 10” list and here I am, dragging my slow ass across the finish line.

But, honestly, what did you expect.

If this is your first time checking out my favorites list, first and foremost, thank you! Secondly, to clarify, I don’t call my lists “Best of” because they might not necessarily be the best thing I read or watched or experienced that year. Instead, I use “favorites” because sometimes something sticks out more for a variety of reasons. Bear with me, you’ll see.

With the exception of the last title, these are in no order at all. Also, I didn’t watch nearly as many movies as I wanted to this year (or read nearly as many books, for that matter), so the vast majority on this list is the written word. Let’s get to it!

small-coverBuy from Amazon Willy's Wonderland, directed by Kevin Lewis

One of two movies on this list (well, kind of), Willy’s Wonderland is nowhere close to one of the best movies I’ve seen this year, but holy hell is it the most fun.

Nicholas Cage stars as a man whose car inexplicably breaks down in a remote town. Strapped for cash, his nameless character agrees to work overnight in a Willy’s Wonderland (think Chuck E. Cheese) cleaning the joint for the coin for his car repairs. Things go downhill when the animatronics in the place come alive and start attacking.

There’s a lot to love about this film, and one of those things is Nicholas Cage. His character takes everything in stride as he puts down any problem that comes up, all without saying a goddamn thing. That’s right, he has no lines.

Brutal, violent, and just ridiculous, this one brings the laughs and gore.

You can read Joel's review here.

small-cover SHUDDER

Look, as long as Shudder keeps kicking ass, I’m going to keep putting it on my lists. Not only does the horror streaming service just keep adding great films (including originals!), and not only are Joe Bob Briggs and Darcy a regular thing now, but the channel also had an Elvira special. Hot damn, they are the gold standard of streaming services for horror fans.

If you haven’t yet signed up, at least give the seven-day trial a whirl. At $50 a year, it’s one of the few bills I don’t mind paying at all.

small-coverBuy from Amazon With Teeth by Kevin Kangas

First, full disclosure: I know and am friends with Kevin Kangas.

That said, I’ve been a fan of Kangas’ movies before I even knew him. Due to coronavirus and the hurdles it's created for filmmakers – especially indie filmmakers – he’s been focusing on his prose as an artistic outlet and color me impressed.

His debut novella With Teeth is a gory, violent, and bloody good time. It follows Guy as he discovers the sex workers in the local park have dark secrets. (Hint: those secrets rhyme with “vampire teeth”.) This sucker (see what I did there!) moves fast and before you know it, the ride is over. I’m already in line for the next book.

This one is a great example of what I was talking about above. While With Teeth might not have been the best book I read in 2021, it’s one of my favorites because Kangas shows that he is just as skilled behind the pen as he is behind the lens.

small-coverBuy from Amazon The Headless Boy by Kelli Owen

Kelli Owen’s The Headless Boy has solidified her already wide-ranging talent.

I haven’t read all of her work yet – it’s on my plate – but one of the things I love about her style is how her horror is always grounded. Sure, there might be a monster lurking in that river, but we’re going to address it Law & Order style. I loved it.

But The Headless Boy shows us Owen can write quiet horror as well and deliver the goods just as easily.

The Headless Boy revolves around Jake and Maggie, a husband and wife that have moved to a new house in a new town for a new start after a devasting miscarriage. Of course the house is haunted. In this case, it’s a little boy. And the little bastard doesn’t want to play nice.

If you’re looking for a creepy ghost story that will have you checking over your shoulder at the slightest noise, find The Headless Boy.

You can read my review here.

small-coverBuy from Amazon Children of Chicago by Cynthia Pelayo

I’m a sucker for mysteries, and when you toss in the supernatural, it’s wonderful. Cynthia Pelayo’s Children of Chicago does exactly that.

Following Detective Lauren Medina as she investigates the murder of a teen (killed at the same location where her sister’s body was found when they were kids), things get much darker as the killings are connected. And the murderer might not even be human.

Children of Chicago ticks all my boxes when it comes to my favorite genres (horror/thriller/mystery), and to find out it’s just the first book in a potential series delights me. This is the first time I’ve read Cynthia Pelayo, but it’s certainly not the last.

You can read my review here.

small-coverBuy from Amazon Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca

What have you done today to deserve your eyes?

Word about Eric LaRocca’s Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke had started flying around the Twitterverse months before I read it, so I was prepared for a letdown by the time I started it. It just seems to happen that way. The more people play something up, the higher the risk it won’t live up to the hype. I’m happy to report it is every bit as good as people say.

The whole thing starts with the selling of an apple peeler, then turns into a descent into debauchery and body horror. Told in a series of emails, the novella gets under your skin so slowly, you’re not quite sure how you got there. Who would think the sale of a simple apple peeler would lead to such depravity?

Again, as a novella, the less said about the plot the better. Do yourself a favor, go in blind. This lives up to the hype.

You can read Gabino's review here.

Buy from Amazon Mister Glow-Bones and Other Halloween Tales by Ronald Kelly

This originally came out in 2014 but was re-released in 2021, so it counts.

While he's been a legend in the genre for decades, I had not read any of Ronald Kelly’s work until this year. I had the extreme pleasure of meeting him at 2021’s Scares That Care weekend, and he was so personable, I picked up one book, then went back to his table later and picked up two more.

That’s part one of this twofer. Meeting Ronald Kelly. The guy is awesome.

The other part is this collection, Mister Glow-Bones and Other Halloween Tales. The book not only has stories penned by Kelly, but also contains little true nuggets of his own past Halloween experiences. Those are as just as fun as his stories.

If you’re looking for a new read by an author who deserves more eyes, pick this one up.

small-coverBuy from Amazon Man, Fuck This House by Brian Asman

This is the last book I read in 2021, and hot damn, is it a great one. I’m not going to lie, I bought this strictly on the title alone because Man, Fuck This House is a spectacular one. And, fortunately, the book absolutely delivers.

The danger with going too much into the plot of novellas is you have the very real problem of potentially spoiling the book. So let’s just say it revolves around a haunted house, an asshole kid, and a whole lot of what-the-fuckery. Seriously, man, fuck that house.

Prior to reading this, I had not heard of Brian Asman, but midway through the novella, I picked up the physical versions of this and two of his other works (Nunchuck City and Jailbroke) because it really is that good. And, the bonus? The ending takes a turn I never saw coming, can’t remember if it’s ever even done before, and is batshit crazy. Asman took the standard haunted house tropes, poured some gasoline on them, and set them ablaze. Then he took the ashes, spread them around crazy town, and put it all back together to end his book. Holy wow.

Seriously, go get this book.

small-coverBuy from Amazon Come With Me by Ronald Malfi

Another year with a Ronald Malfi release, another year with a Malfi release on my “Favorites of” list. No apologies.

It frustrates me that Ronald Malfi isn’t a household name at this point, and this exemplifies that frustration. The book follows a man named Aaron as he continues an investigation he had no idea his wife was doing until she was murdered. (Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler, it happens in the first few pages.)

With a solid mystery, supernatural elements, and one hell of an ending, Come With Me is a must-read and absolutely begs to be a movie or series.

You can read my full review here.

small-coverBuy from Amazon Burner by Robert Ford

Okay, so technically this came out in November of 2020, but I didn’t read it until 2021, so it counts. My list, my rules.

I’ve not read a lot of Robert Ford’s work, but everything I read prior to this is quiet horror, and I thought that was his style. But that was before he punched me square in the throat with Burner and laughed as I held my damaged larynx, crying and trying to breathe.

My favorite subgenre in horror and thrillers is probably revenge, and Burner primarily deals with it. But it also does something else. It does a thing I have a love/hate relationship with. It makes you really think about revenge. Me? I’m a guy that likes black and white tales of comeuppance. But I love/hate stories that make you ponder if revenge is even worth it more because they make me really question my beliefs, and that's a hard thing to accept. I don't like seeing the good guys doing what I believe is the right thing, only to increase their suffering because of it. I Saw the Devil is a great film that addresses this. And Burner is a great book that does it as well. The complexity of media like this makes the impact far more forceful than when it's cut and dry.

I’m intentionally vague about the plot because you need to go into this blind without any preconceived notions and let Ford do his thing. You’ll thank me later.

Burner is brutal, unapologetic, and hyper-violent. And thought-provoking, devasting, and tragic. It’s not just the best thing I read in 2021, it’s on the shortlist of one of my favorite books I’ve read period. It’s that good.

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Steve Pattee
US Editor, Admin
He's the puppet master. You don't see him, but he pulls the strings that gets things done. He's the silent partner. He's black ops. If you notice his presence, it's the last thing you'll notice — because now you're dead. He's the shadow you thought you saw in that dark alleyway. You can have a conversation with him, and when you turn around to offer him a cup of coffee, he's already gone.
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