Jerry Smith’s Top 10 Horror Films of 2020!
Let’s be honest, 2020 has been one for the books. Easily the most chaotic year I’ve lived through in my 40 years, it’s hard to find positives in a year that brought us to our knees. That said, a 2020 silver lining for this writer, has been the number of horror films that I’ve really latched onto. There was something for everyone this year, from slow-burn dread to found footage gems, we the horror lovers were certainly blessed by the terror gods. Putting together this list of my top 10 horror films of the year wasn’t easy though. I had to trim from twenty-three to ten with this one, but I’m glad to touch on the horror that stayed with me. As always, this list is 100% my own choices, so if there’s something you feel should have been included, by all means, comment with your choices and I’d love to read them!
10.) The Lodge (Dir. Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz)
Full disclosure: this film will depress the hell out of you. Taking the A24 but not made by A24 approach, The Lodge is a slow burn gem, but what it isn’t, is a film you can watch very often. Focusing on two children, who soon after the suicide of their mother, are left to stay in a snowy vacation cabin with their father’s new lover, the film is a great example of what happens, when grief isn’t properly addressed. Over the course of the film, the anger the children have towards the new mother figure in their life grows, until we don’t quite know who the real villain is. A stomach-churning film and one that sticks with its viewer, The Lodge really caught me off guard.
9.) The Beach House (Dir. Jeffrey A. Brown)
I love me some cosmic horror, and Jeffrey A. Brown’s The Beach House was 100% my jam. What’s great about this one, is how you’re given a lot to digest, but the answers are purposely left up to the viewer. A young couple who are very much coming to the end of their relationship take a last-ditch effort vacation to the beach house of the boyfriend’s parents. A mysterious leak begins to infect the area, and we’re then knee-deep into some Lovecraftian dread, mixed with a J.G. Ballard look at how a fracture in normalcy can make people crack at the seams. The Beach House also features a scene involving a foot that will make you wear slippers anytime you watch a movie afterward. Certainly one of the top 10 horror films of the year.
8.) Bit (Dir. Brad Michael Elmore)
I cannot vouch for this film enough. Having already been a huge fan of Elmore’s previous film, The Wolfman’s Hammer (free to watch HERE), going into Bit, I knew I’d be pleased. Definitely more of a commercial film than TWH, Bit follows Laurel (Supergirl’s Nicole Maines) a young woman leaving her small town to stay with her brother (James Paxton) in Los Angeles, to experience life and find herself. Showing its love for The Lost Boys, Bit then brings a group of vampire women into the mix, making Laurel decide whether she wants to be part of the “Bite Club” or carve her own path. An LGBTQ gem, Bit gives viewers a badass crew of vampires and great performances by Maines and Paxton.
7.) Underwater (Dir. William Eubank)
Kristen Stewart is somewhat of a Ripley for a new generation in Eubank’s excellent aquatic horror film Underwater. The amount of times I utilized my movie pass with this one is insane, seeing it seven times in two weeks. Taking a hit the ground running approach and never stopping, Underwater follows a group of drillers trying to escape the destruction of their facility. The survivors of the explosion are soon met with some of the most impressive monsters in years and we’re blessed with a tense, action-packed horror film. A bit of Alien and Deep Star Six with a surprise reveal that will leave your mouth wide open, this is a great one.
6.) Scare Me (Dir. Josh Ruben)
Josh Ruben’s Scare Me caught me off guard in the best of ways. Not typically the biggest fan of horror-comedies, I didn’t expect to dig it as much as I did, and what the film did was instantly become a staple in my household. The writing, acting, and tonal shifts in this monologue heavy story of two writers trying to one-up each other is as impressive as can be. Ruben is excellent as Fred, an aspiring writer with some real deep-rooted anger issues, forever challenged by successful women.
When Aya Cash’s Fanny character arrives, successful author and all, Fred’s desire to outshine her begins a back and forth game of coming up with terror-filled stories, in hopes of scaring the living hell out of the other. Scare Me is an acting extravaganza, it really shows how great writing can translate so well, when you have some of the most impressive performances of the year. Adding to the humor of the film, SNL’s Chris Redd shows up for a while as a pizza delivery guy, for a hilarious sequence of events. Top 10 horror films of the year material for sure.
5.) The Dark and the Wicked (Dir. Bryan Bertino)
The Strangers and The Monster director Bertino returned with a film filled with enough slow-burn dread to rival The Lodge with The Dark and the Wicked. A brother and his sister arrive at their childhood farm, to look over their dying father and mentally ill mother and the worst darkness around begins to take the family over, in this absolutely bleak and hopeless feeling film.
Definitely not for everyone, but The Dark and the Wicked is most definitely for this writer. Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott, Jr. are excellent as the sibling duo and great supporting performances by Julie Oliver-Touchstone and Xander Berkeley (read Drew Tinnin’s interview with Berkeley HERE) make this eerie flick one to watch.
4.) The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula: Resurrection (Dir. The Boulet Brothers, Nathan Noyes)
My love for the Boulet Brothers is massive (read my recent chat with Dracmorda and Swanthula Boulet). The drag icons of filth, horror, and glamour are two of the most interesting personalities around. Taking what makes their Dragula series so much fun to watch and injecting that into a 2-hour spinoff film titled Dragula: Resurrection, the duo give viewers a film that is a hybrid of drag competition, straight horror, and some of the coolest looking sequences of the year.
Making the theme of Halloween front and center, Resurrection brings back past contestants who for one reason or another, had more to prove, and not only gives fans of the show the costumes you love, but adds so much more to the mix. Going deep into the contestants stories and life, Resurrection offers some of the coolest and most horrific ensembles, but also features some heartfelt stories to go with the personalities. Excellent stuff. We may be biased for a number of reasons, but this is definitely one of the top 10 horror films of the year for us, bar none.
3.) Alone (Dir. John Hyams)
A remake of the 2011 film Försvunnen (Gone), John Hyams’ Alone is my kind of survival horror film. Taking our worst fears of being stalked while traveling alone, this one follows a woman doing her best to start a new path for herself, before being stalked by a man with sinister intentions.
One of the coolest pressure cooker films around, Alone has the ability to slip under your skin and live there. Ozark’s Marc Menchaca is terrifyingly calm as a man intent on doing bad, bad things and Jules Wilcox leads the film with a performance that you want to root for the entire film. Alone takes the scariest parts of traveling alone and amplifies them, making room for one hell of a film.
2.) Gretel & Hansel (Dir. Osgood Perkins)
Osgood Perkins directed a film that will forever be in my top ten favorite films of all time with The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Hearing that the filmmaker would be helming Gretel & Hansel, a new take on the classic tale, my ears immediately perked up. A genius when it comes to giving viewers visual masterpieces, Perkins returned with quite easily one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen with this one, and the mood, score and performances make Gretel & Hansel such a cornucopia of eeriness and dread. It’s Sophia Lillie is so good as Gretel and Sleepwalkers/Ghost Story’s Alice Krige is absolutely mesmerizing as the fable’s witch. Perkins’ take on the material takes everything we read as children and subverts it into one hell of witchy time, and one of the top 10 horror films of the year.
More of a feminist take on the story, this new interpretation makes carving your own path the focal point and it works so well. The writing is solid, the direction is wonderful and every single frame could be hung on a wall.
1.) Host (Dir. Rob Savage)
It’s rare to feel like you’re experiencing a truly special moment in horror history. Watching Host for the first time, I felt myself reliving the moments of watching The Blair Witch Project for the first time. This outside the box supernatural hit took every bit of anxiety we feel with a Covid existence and utilized it to tell a story IN this pandemic. When a group of friends gets together on Zoom for a virtual seance, all hell breaks loose and each character has to fight for their lives as a malevolent spirit begins to put each of them in danger.
What Gemma Hurley, Jed Shepherd , and Rob Savage crafted, was a fresh take on the found footage subgenre and the entire cast of Host shines with gusto in this terrifying, groundbreaking classic in the making. I have revisited this one at least a dozen times by now and it never loses its charm, effect, and scares. What a movie. The very cream of the crop that is the top 10 horror films of 2020.