Horror cinema is thriving. It feels important to note that after a year like 2022. While the past 12 months saw industry trades choked with grim or despairing reports on the box office of original movies and new ideas, the news surrounding chillers has been strangely sunny and full of cheer. From the year beginning with a robust relaunch of the Scream franchise to its ending, where the horror-comedy-satire amalgamation of The Menu won audiences over twice, once in theaters and again on streaming, we’ve seen repeated testimonials to the fact audiences like being scared—and they don’t necessarily care if the movie has a colon, numeral, or hyphen in the title.
Along the way, we’ve seen some genuinely nervy and daring attempts to push the boundaries of cinematic dread, be it in the art house, a la Speak No Evil , or the multiplex, courtesy of Smile. We’ve also been thrilled by high-concept shocks like the twisty Barbarian. Which is all to say that it has been a superb year for horror movies.
Below are the ones we suspect are the best.
What better place to begin this list than with what many of us consider to be the most ferocious surprise of the year—it’s certainly one of the most entertaining. Barbarian was originally marketed around a quirk of modern living (AirBnBs and other forms of home-sharing). Our newfound “sharing economy” turns into nightmare scenario though when a young woman named Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives in the dead of night to a house she’s rented, only to find a man (Bill Skarsgård) already there. He too claims to have rented the home, and given that it’s storming outside… he invites her in.
To say anymore of the plot would be to rob the uninitiated of the movie’s truly sinister twists and narrative switchbacks. But suffice it to say that writer-director Zach Creggar has made the most original and unpredictable chiller in years, relying as much on his background as a comedy writer and actor as his previously unknown talent to unsettle. There is a warm, deceptively free-wheeling energy to a narrative that, like a good comedy set, takes you on a journey with detours, asides, and thematic repetitions that illuminate something about human nature. However, the nature Barbarian hopes to illuminate is on the nasty, toxic side of life. So instead of laughing, it mostly leaves you holding your breath in pure, dreadful anticipation. – David Crow
A brand new masked slasher killer movie is reason enough for celebration. But Bitch Ass touts its titular villain as “the first Black serial killer ever to wear a mask,” even as it pays tribute to Black horror movies of decades past. Citing films like The People Under the Stairs, Tales From the Hood, and Candyman (whose legendary star Tony Todd serves as this movie’s “horror host,” Titus Darq) as touchstones, first time director Bill Posley serves up a Halloween candy bucket worth of B-movie fun.
Bitch Ass is the tale of a group of low-level criminals who break into the wrong home and find themselves at the mercy of a board game obsessed murderer in a mask. Packed both with creative kills (including at least one that left the audience screaming in sympathy) and knowing winks to the audience about the genre, it’s the exact opposite of the often ponderous “elevated horror” subgenre. Pull up a beanbag chair and settle in for a VHS-style throwback on a chilly October night. – Mike Cecchini
The Black Phone
The Black Phone reunites director/writer Scott Derrickson with his Sinister co-screenwriter, C. Robert Cargill, as well as that film’s star, Ethan Hawke, in a sharply focused thriller based on a story by Joe Hill. The film takes place in 1978 in a Denver suburb held in the grip of the Grabber (a twisted Hawke), who has abducted and murdered five young boys in the area. When 13-year-old Finney (Mason Thames in an outstanding film debut) becomes his next kidnapping victim, it’s only a matter of time before he meets the same fate—until a disconnected rotary phone on the wall of the Grabber’s basement begins to ring with calls from his previous victims.
Like Sinister, The Black Phone is a slow burn at first that escalates the tension once Finney is in the hands of Hawke’s genuinely unsettling Grabber. The build-up of period details, the unpredictable narrative, and, most importantly, the development of the endearing relationship between Finney and his 11-year-old sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) make this an effective, frequently terrifying, and eventually poignant horror outing. – Don Kaye
Bodies Bodies Bodies
It is debatable whether Halina Reijn’s brutally mean-spirited satire of Gen-Z life is actually a horror movie. This easily could be better described as a very modern variation on the type of whodunit murder mysteries that buttered bread for Agatha Christie (or, these days, Rian Johnson). However, A24 calls it horror, and we have to admit its core characters are pretty terrifying even before the bodies start piling up.
To get an idea of the side of youth culture that Bodies Bodies Bodies aims to butcher, the film’s central protagonists are five recently graduated college friends, plus two significant others who made a big mistake. And collectively, they’ve decided to get together on the night of a hurricane to play mind games with a side of booze and drugs. But when their faux murder mystery game, “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” concludes with a real corpse, these kids realize the bacchanal is just getting started. It’s like Lord of the Flies with a TikTok account. – DC
Bones and All
Even with the divisive remake of Suspiria under his belt, we certainly didn’t expect Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) to bring us a movie about flesh-eating ghouls in late 2022. Perhaps the fact that it’s also a romantic coming-of-age tale and road trip movie might disqualify it as a “horror movie” in the purest sense of the word for some folks. But independent of its cannibalistic subject matter (and yes, there are subtle supernatural elements at play with that as well, it’s not a matter of taste or choice for our screen cannibals), there are plenty of other elements that put Bones and All over the top as one of the best horror offerings to come out of 2022.
Chief among those is atmosphere. Bones and All positively drips with unsettling menace, especially whenever our two young “heroes” (Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Ross) find themselves encountering others of their kind. There’s a natural seediness to their nomadic lifestyle, but it’s when they sniff out (or get sniffed out by) fellow flesh-eaters, particularly Mark Rylance’s beyond creepy Sully, that you may find yourself wanting to run for them. And of course there are still gruesome scenes of people devouring other people to contend with, so you’ll get your gore fix to go along with all those bad vibes. Top notch use of Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” too. – Mike Cecchini
Rob Savage’s follow-up to his pandemic Zoom movie, Host, is another found footage film. This one is based around an obnoxious live-streamer, played by Annie Hardy, who picks up a strange old woman while broadcasting her show from a car she stole from her friend. If you can put up with the company of Hardy’s character espousing right-wing nonsense and annoying people with anti-mask rhetoric, there are some excellent scares to be enjoyed here.
Savage plays with the uncanny and throws us into a situation viewers don’t understand any more than his characters—it’s an immersive film which keeps you on edge right until the end, throwing weird and uncomfortable images at us from the dark. Dashcam also rewards a second viewing, too, for the comments that are coming in during the broadcasts which pick apart the narrative with help from the internet. An intense short sharp shock of a film for those who can stomach an intentionaly repellent protagonist. – Rosie Fletcher
One of the nicest genre surprises to come out of the SXSW Film Festival is Joseph and Vanessa Winter’s Dreadstream. Even last spring it seemed ready to become a rare Shudder gem, so it’s gratifying to know that destiny is now fulfilled on the ghoulish streaming service. Unapologetically attempting to be Evil Dead (or perhaps more accurately Evil Dead II) for the Twitch era, Deadstream follows an absolutely despicable YouTube personality who is in for the worst night of his life… and possibly the last.
See, Shawn Ruddy (played by writer-director Joseph) fancies himself to be something of an internet provocateur but really he’s just a shady individual who’s a hair’s breadth away from being cancelled when he agrees to spend the night in a haunted house, live-streaming his adventures. At first it’s all smartass remarks and snark, but eventually there will come the shrieking and screaming as his at-home audience (who we view the experience as) realizes before Ruddy that there are more than just bumps going on this night. And you know what? It’s so much more entertaining if we don’t tell him and instead watch the suffering together. – DC
If I’m being completely honest, it’s really hard these days to keep watching horror movies (or dramas) about women and children getting locked in basements. One suspects that writer Lauryn Kahn and director Mimi Cave would agree. Nonetheless, they’ve made one of the more fiendishly pointed riffs on the hellish concept with this feature-length debut for Cave. Because—spoiler-alert—when introverted Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) thinks she’s met a man who’s too good to be true (and who’s played with disarming charm by Sebastian Stan)… she has.
After an intentionally idyllic indie rom-com meet-cute, it isn’t long before Stan’s Steve has drugged Noa at his cabin in the woods and reveals that he intends to harvest her body, like many women before her, for a clientele with an unusual taste for exotic meats. But that doesn’t mean they can’t have some fun before she expires, right?! The horror of Fresh is that Steve really thinks this is a reasonable itinerary for a long holiday, and the appeal of the movie is that Cave and Kahn don’t disagree as storytellers: they wallow in a bleak but unexpectedly bemused humor that gives way to righteous fury. It also includes the best revenge sequence of the year. – DC
Despite being a horror movie about a rest stop glory hole, Rebekah McKendry’s Glorious manages to avoid most of the pitfalls you might associate with such a setup. This is a curious, twisty movie about primordial gods and the monsters among us, with True Blood star Ryan Kwanten at the center of things as a heartbroken man called Wes, who is struggling to cope with the end of a relationship.
Pulling off the highway into a rest stop after leaving his girlfriend, Wes stumbles into the empty restroom to throw up, but that won’t be the end of the worst hangover of his life. It’s best not to know too much about Glorious going in, but you’ll never look at a rest stop bathroom the same way again, and if you see a single locked stall at the end of it? Weigh the mistakes you’ve made in this life and get the hell out of there… if you can. – Kirsten Howard
Created over 30 years, Phil Tippett’s stop-motion experimental horror film Mad God was one of the wildest animated projects not just in 2022, but in decades. Utilizing the craft he learned working on the original Star Wars trilogy, Jurassic Park, and RoboCop, Tippett has managed to weave an instant cult classic here, featuring an imaginative but subjective plot that follows an assassin traveling through a bleak, dystopian underworld filled with seemingly endless twisted characters and sets, forging along until your mind feels utterly poisoned by the savagery and cruelty of it all.
Yet, every frame of Mad God is compelling. The dreamlike quality of its horrifying atmosphere is intoxicating. It’s a nightmarish spectacle that is truly unforgettable, festering from an inhuman painting that has somehow come to life on screen. The abstract film will surely be what you make of it, but if there is a lesson to be learned from the traveller’s journey, it’s that we will always create the things we fear the most. – KH
Writer-director Alex Garland (Annihilation) ventures full-on into the horror genre with this unnerving, queasy mix of folk terror and social commentary. Jessie Buckley is outstanding as Harper, a woman trying to recover from the shocking death of her estranged husband. She retreats to a country estate for some alone time, only to discover that all the men in town are not just condescending to her but share some disturbing characteristics. Rory Kinnear (Bill Tanner in the last few James Bond films) gives a tour de force performance as nearly all the men in the movie, with the aid of prosthetics and CG, and as the realization sinks into the viewer that these are all the same actor, the implications grow more disturbing.
Garland flawlessly maintains an atmosphere of dread and claustrophobia all the way through the movie, even if he makes his point a little more heavy-handedly as the movie slouches toward the finish line. The climax itself turns the metaphorical into the physical with less than successful results, but Men nevertheless maintains Garland’s status as one of our prime genre explorers who’s got more than just shocks and scares on his mind. – DK
Is The Menu a comedy or horror? As it turns out, it’s something better: a tasty and daring mingling of both flavors that’s been served on a dry plate of satire. Directed by Succession’s Mark Mylod, the film is an old-fashioned parable/fantasy about eating the rich. It’s not particularly subtle or original, but it’s satisfying every time Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) explains with maximum condescension to his elite clientele that tonight they’re going to suffer… and by the end they might even thank him for it.
The film has an ostensible everywoman hero played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who gives audiences at least one person to root for as she attempts to talk, plead, and finally outwit her way from tasting the final course, but the truth is this is a meal best served cold, cynical, and scrumptious. – DC
Jordan Peele’s third film as director is also his most ambitious. Gone is the reliance on familiar horror tropes that his first two movies relied on. There also is no longer an immediate need to entertain you with frequent jokes or non-sequiturs. This is not to say there isn’t also a gallows sense of humor in Nope (2022). But there is also a more patient desire and confidence to ruminate on darkness—both in the form of literal night skies and in the figurative. It is a film about, among other things, the traumas we hide away—or worse still attempt to exploit.
The movie is still too recent to spoil here, but suffice to say Nope works as a grand and grisly allegory for the beast of an entertainment industry that Peele has fed his whole life. After decades in the business, Peele seems eager to consider what happens to people who give it everything, all in the name of catching a single fleeting moment of glory, or at least a high quality photograph of a UFO. – DC
It was a bit surreal when during the closing credits of Ti West’s X, the genre auteur revealed he had filmed another horror movie in secret—and one that would be a direct prequel/spinoff of the grisly ‘70s slasher we had just watched. Aren’t post-credits teasers the province for slick studio products, as opposed to arthouse risks? Not anymore. By nearly every metric, Pearl is an even more daring excavation of horror ideas, as well as a vast improvement on X.
More old school Hollywood psycho-melodrama than ‘70s exploitation, Pearl is a character study about a ticking time bomb we know must go off, played again in her youth by Mia Goth, who here abandons the thick old age makeup she donned in X for something more disturbing. Set in 1920 after the end of World War I, the movie’s visual language is actually more in-line with MGM musicals of the 1930s, only now a grown-up Dorothy will bang the Scarecrow dreamboat of her fantasies. It’s a nasty piece of candy-colored work that is given uncomfortable life by a fearless performance from Goth. West and his muse have already confirmed they will be making a third film in their burgeoning anthology, but it’s hard to imagine topping this nightmare. – DC
The fad of horror reboots keeping the title of the original movie, even while nevertheless being a sequel to what came before, is continued by what should be called Scream 5. That trend is also mercilessly mocked by characters within the film as they discuss the quirks and banalities of the modern horror genre. This feels right. Despite being the first Scream movie made without the late, great Wes Craven’s involvement, 2022’s Ghostface revival is one of the series’ better sequels. It maintains the smug wiseacre qualities of the classic entries while also upping the slasher movie brutality and gore to levels we haven’t seen since poor Drew Barrymore called out to her mum and dad in 1996.
Scream ’22 is thus a worthy addition to its long-in-the-tooh franchise (unlike a few other slasher hanger-ons of recent weeks) that shows the writing/directing team of Radio Silence gets what makes this meta-textual franchise so much fun, including when it takes the piss out of its own fans. Bonus points, too, for unintentionally launching Jenna Ortega’s newfound status as a scream queen with her intense opening scene here acting as a starting bell for a year filled with three other horror-adjacent projects, including one further down on this list. – DC
Recent polls suggest that most American kids’ dream job is becoming a social media influencer. If that’s true, worried parents can just show younguns’ this. Written and directed by Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes, the Shudder horror reworks the Carrie archetype for the world of Instagram via Aisha Dee’s uncannily tranquil Cecilia (Sissy to her name to grade school enemies). It’s a subtle performance by Dee since for much of the first act, the audience is forced to struggle at figuring out what is going on beneath the surface of Cecilia’s calm waters… before realizing there is nothing behind that placid smile.
Still, there’s a lot of value in Zen, particularly on IG where Cecilia presents herself as a mental health advocate while glossing over the fact that she’s never apparently been to therapy and is certainly not a licensed psychologist. She meets one though, and many other judging eyes, when reluctantly agreeing to attend a bachelorette weekend with her childhood bestie Emma (Barlow). Her childhood bully is also there (a perhaps too cartoonishly cruel Emily De Margheriti). The movie admittedly has issues in the margins, but in the main it’s anxiety-inducing stuff, particularly with an ending where no one gets healed. – DC
The biggest hit of the Halloween season may not win points on originality due to a plot line that essentially throws The Ring, It Follows, and Drag Me to Hell in a blender, but you’re lying if you don’t admit Parker Finn’s supremely stylish Smile didn’t get under your skin. In a feature-length debut that adapts Finn’s own short film “Laura Hasn’t Slept,” complete by having Caitlin Stasey reprise her role as the troubled Laura, Smile is determined to traumatize the very act of grinning. Laura knows what’s up, as she rants incoherently about an evil presence invisible to everyone but herself—and how it’s just smirking at her. Her emergency psychiatrist Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) doesn’t believe it at first, but after her patient is also grinning like the devil while doing unspeakable things to her face, Rose begins to understand. Soon she’s seeing smiles everywhere too. And they’re not friendly.
As a narrative, Smile is mostly a construct for Finn to weaponize feelings of despair, oppression, imminent doom, and other hallmarks of mental illness. And while his screenplay is more than happy to unpack these knotty ideas, it’s at its most jovial and entrancing when slowly unveiling a sadistic mean streak that relies on audience familiarity with the genre. That makes it all the better to tease and torment you with its unblinking, mirthless cheshire grin. – DC
Speak No Evil
This psychological genre outing directed and co-written by Christian Tafdrup is the single most horrifying film this writer has watched this year. A Danish couple on vacation with their young daughter meet another family from Holland on the same trip, with the latter clan extending an invitation to come stay at their house. When the Danish family takes up the offer, it’s only a matter of time before a series of uncomfortable incidents eventually escalates into a nightmarish scenario.
Tafdrup gets great, realistic performances out of his cast as he slowly but inexorably tightens the screws: just about anyone watching can relate to the awkward, sometimes embarrassing moments that occur between people trying to get to know each other, and the way we will often bend over backwards to remain polite. But the narrative remains (mostly) plausible before turning terrifying as the film masterfully transitions into a darker, more hideous set of circumstances. Rich with commentary on everyday relationships and full of crushing dread, Speak No Evil will almost certainly make you think twice before accepting an invitation to stay at someone’s house again. – DK
Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters made a movie this year in which they were systematically possessed and butchered by demonic spirits. Honestly, that previous sentence could just be “Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters made a movie!” Yep, the ‘90s alt-rock favorites follow in the tradition of everyone from the Beatles to the Ramones by playing themselves onscreen, but there is an extra level of smirking, self-deprecating joy since their movie is a camp horror spectacle where Grohl grows fangs and dices a bandmate in half with a chainsaw, mid-sex scene!
The style and tone is visibly inspired by Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead flicks. Admittedly, director B.J. McDonnell’s directorial style lacks the same level of flair or inventiveness, but the gore is on point and the movie’s shaggy tone is genuinely amusing, if never quite exciting. The pic has an added poignancy, too, since it was one of the last projects drummer Taylor Hawkins worked on before his sudden death in March. His big screen end thus plays a little differently than intended. – DC
Not to be confused with Netflix’s own recent television series The Watcher, Chloe Okuno’s Watcher made a small splash on the festival circuit earlier this year by crafting an atmospheric and painfully believable parable about how a woman’s dread can be too easily dismissed as paranoia. Starring It Follows’ Maika Monroe as Julia, our heroine is a restless soul that’s followed her boyfriend (Karl Glusman) back to his native home in Bucharest. There she will learn how even a well-meaning beau can unintentionally gaslight when she says the man across the street (Burn Gorman) is just watching her through her window. Day and night.
Apparently the screenplay, written by Okuno from a story by Zack Ford, was not originally set in Bucharest, but the choice to pursue tax breaks in a foreign land turned out to be a sharp one since Julia’s inability to understand what the men around her are saying—and yet implicitly know—only heightens parallel feelings of alienation and maddening condescension, all while her apparent stalker ventures closer to her personal space. The narrative is not particularly surprising, and a third act reversal feels so heavy-handed that it borders on the contrived, but the tension Watcher builds cuts deep. So if you haven’t entered its gaze, definitely look it up on Shudder. – DC
It’s been nine long years since writer-director Ti West played in the horror genre on the big screen, and his return to the form proved to be one of the most controversial thrillers of 2022. An unsubtle reimagining of slasher movies for modern sensibilities, X returns to the grisly subgenre’s origins by setting its tale in the backwoods of Texas during the late 1970s. And while the film’s central characters—group of amateur pornography filmmakers—don’t run into a guy holding a chainsaw, perhaps they wished they had after coming across a not-so-harmless elderly couple named Howard (Stephen Ure) and Pearl (Mia Goth under nigh unrecognizable old age makeup).
Goth pulls double duty as both the unhappy Pearl and the unequally unsatisfied Maxine, an exotic dancer who has been deluded into thinking adult films are her way out of a deadend life. Some of the kills in the third act are spectacularly gruesome, however if we’re being honest, we think West has more success in the film’s first half, which is surprisingly melancholic while considering the ravages of time and mortality by way of smut movies. – DC