Mary Beth McAndrews’ Top 10 Horror Films of 2023

best horror Mary Beth McAndrews

On a personal level, 2023 was a deeply strange one. I turned 30, I directed a movie, I accomplished some really cool things, and I also was the most depressed I’ve been in a long time. Professionally I was thriving but personally, I was struggling. As I waded through a quagmire of emotions and old wounds that had been ripped open, horror movies were, of course, a salve. But somehow, so many releases this year spoke to my inner rage, sadness, and confusion. While this year’s bigger franchise titles and high-budget horror were mostly entertaining, they often felt shallow with attempts at warmth that fell just a bit too short to resonate.

But in the realm of indie horror, there was so much being done to grapple with queerness, rage, gender identity, and the chaotic nature of being alive. This is where I found myself returning all year. And I wasn’t alone, as titles such as Skinamarink and Talk To Me garnered viral attention that manifested in box office dollars. We’re starving for these kinds of stories and hopefully, 2023 has shown the world that there’s so much more out there for horror.

My personal top 10 list is, well, personal and gathered based on how deeply these films affected me both while I watched and in the days/weeks/months after. My favorite horror movies of the year pierced me like a knife and stuck with me throughout a year full of incredible horror titles. Needless to say, it was a weird, queer year and horror’s future has never looked so bright.

10. Godzilla Minus One

I was lucky enough to visit Japan this year and the trip just so happened to overlap with the Japanese release of Godzilla Minus One. While my husband and I didn’t see it there (no theaters with English subtitles), being able to just see the excitement and love for the franchise was special enough. So when we finally saw the film for ourselves back in the States, it made the viewing experience all the more incredible.

Takashi Yamazaki takes the beautiful sincerity of the Godzilla franchise and still manages to make a terrifying monster whose destruction is unmatched. Plus Yamazaki serves up an incredible homage to Jaws featuring the gaping maw of the King of the Monsters. If you had told me I’d cry at a Godzilla movie this year, I would’ve laughed. But here I am, a woman who sobbed her way through the film’s finale. Godzilla Minus One is warm, terrifying, and, most of all, hopeful.

9. Enys Men

Mark Jenkin’s nightmarish folk horror Enys Men chilled me to the bone in March and I haven’t been able to shake it since. Light on narrative but strong on haunting vibes, this is the kind of arthouse horror that will either win you over instantly or keep you at a distance. But if you’re willing to give yourself to Jenkin’s haunting cinematography that frames the landscape as deceptively beautiful, it just may swallow you whole. To say anything more would ruin the experience of Enys Men, just prepare yourself to ride on vibes and drift into Jenkin’s strange world.

8. Megalomaniac

Look, I know this is a divisive pick due to just how violent it is towards women. But, from my perspective, Karim Ouelhaj isn’t using that violence solely for spectacle. Instead, he’s painting a very painful picture of intergenerational trauma, the toxicity of patriarchy, and how that can manifest in daughters, not just sons. Using the actual serial killer The Butcher of Mons, Ouelhaj peels back layers to craft a hypothetical reality where the killer’s spawn grapple with their legacy and how they fit into the world.

It’s the best piece of extreme horror this year, pushing boundaries and asking really difficult questions that don’t have great answers. It’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, but for those who are interested in disturbing arthouse, it’s a must-watch.

7. Horror In The High Desert 2: Minerva

Dutch Marich’s Horror In The High Desert 2: Minerva is one of the scariest movies of 2023. The first film was already terrifying, but Marich stepped his game UP with the second installment. The world is bigger, the scares are more frequent, and the stakes feel higher than before. This is how to do good, scary found footage. It isn’t complicated in technique, but it is deeply rich in lore. That combination delivers some of the most exciting found footage I’ve seen (paired with a later entry on this list).

6. Huesera: The Bone Woman

Michelle Garza Cervera’s feature film debut is emotionally devastating and essential viewing. The tale of Valeria, a woman who throws herself into motherhood despite having no real maternal instincts, is so sadly relatable to both me and many other queer people I know. There’s so much pressure, especially in Valeria’s world, to follow expectations of marriage and motherhood. But this also isn’t just about motherhood.

It’s about accepting yourself and the pain that comes with such acceptance. Cervera shows a side of queerness and identity that’s so often ignored in horror, a side that is complex and nuanced and never clear-cut. This isn’t just about being scared to be a mother. This is about the fear of losing yourself entirely to fit into a life that isn’t your own.

5. Swallowed

Carter Smith’s Swallowed set a dirty and queer tone for 2023, for which I am forever grateful. Shot in a claustrophobic 4:3, the film follows a young aspiring porn star whose best friend gets them stuck in a drug deal gone bad. And those drugs are, in fact, bugs! While this is definitely body horror, it’s not John Carpenter body horror. Rather, it’s something more restrained, yet still terrifying. It’s queer but not just about queerness. It’s gross, it’s campy, and Mark Patton delivers some of the year’s best one-liners. Don’t mess with this queen, y’all.

4. The Outwaters

Finally, Robbie Banfitch’s found footage cosmic nightmare was unleashed onto the world this year. While the first 45 minutes are a traditional found footage movie, the back half is a chaotic hellscape that throws you through time and space. Bodies collapse into piles of organs and blood splatters the sand. Screaming tentacles skitter across the landscape and our four heroes are reduced to nothing but piles of shrieking flesh. It’s disgusting, it’s scary, and it’s unlike anything I’ve seen before.

3. Skinamarink

Now the scariest movie of 2023, at least for me, was Kyle Edward Ball’s liminal horror nightmare Skinamarink. An experiment in patience for some, Ball’s look at two children being toyed with by some kind of entity brought me back to a time I had long forgotten. I once again was five years old, in a new house, unable to sleep and staring at the shadows on the walls. One moment in particular had me crawling out of my skin as I wanted nothing more than for it to end and end my misery.

Sure, it’s not everyone’s taste, but the fact that it grossed over $1 million at the box office shows that there is a taste for the weird and deeply unsettling, especially when it comes to horror movies.

2. Soft Liquid Center

I demand everyone see this movie purely because I love it, it’s gorgeous, and it is so painfully accurate in its depiction of life after escaping abuse. Steph Holmbo, the film’s star, co-wrote this with the film’s directors, Joseph Kolean and Zachary Guttierez, and heavily drew from her own experiences to shape this unique horror narrative. I won’t say much more as this is a film that needs to be experienced, but it dug its nails deep into my heart and ripped it out while I said thank you.

1. When Evil Lurks

Surprisingly, as a person who waxes poetic about found footage, queerness, and identity, my favorite film of the year doesn’t really fall into any of those categories. But that’s because Demian Rugna’s When Evil Lurks is so unbelievably mean that I can’t help but deeply respect its goals and its existence. No one is safe in Rugna’s follow-up to Terrified (and his segment in Dread’s Satanic Hispanics!). For Rugna, taboos are meant to be broken and there’s nothing more I love than seeing filmmakers break taboos in smart and surprising ways.

On top of that, Rugna took the narrative notes from Terrified and delivered a much more cohesive, and expansive, world that I want more of immediately. The fact that Shudder released this and gave a wider audience access to such a film is yet another example of how transgressive horror is growing (despite a seeming spike in puritanical ideals around cinema overall). If this is what is dominating conversations in 2023, I’m absolutely giddy about the depravity coming our way in 2024 and beyond.

Check out the rest of Dread Central’s Best of 2023 content here!



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