Top Ten Horror Movies of 2020
Every year I call this list my top ten of the year but always struggle with the title. These aren’t the ten best movies of the year. I am certainly not qualified to be the sole voice in that discussion. This year has been a disaster for a myriad of reasons I refuse to go through in this article. However for small budget scary films, the year was an absolute joy. Here are my top 10 FAVORITE films for 2020.
10. The Beach House
The Beach House is a solid small budget film with an incredibly talented cast. Basically a Color Out of the Ocean The Beach House gives us soft Lovecraft vibes for ninety minutes. Sometimes a film hits right and you want to spend more time with it. That is why our live tweet along at The Weird Symposium was such a hoot but also why my interview with director John Squires was so memorable. I saw this film for the first time at the Chattanooga Film Festival which at the time was the first online film festival. We have subsequently gotten use to the online format for these things but it doesn’t mean CFF and The Beach House don’t hold a small place in my heart. The Beach House is on Shudder. Shudder is rad too.
9. Why Don’t You Just Die
What a weird little film. Why Don’t You Just Die feels a bit like a throwback to the Guy Ritchie films of the nineties while channeling the dirtiness of Fight Club. It fits in this list only with the loosest possible definition of horror but it deserves to be watched by millions of people who haven’t been paying attention to Arrow Video as they have picked up a series of movies lately that are exciting and innovative (looking at you The Stylist). At its core Why Don’t You Just Die is Russian gangster film set in the Meet The Fockers cinematic universe. It uses violence and gore to propel the movie forward but the characters are what will keep you engaged. You can rent it for .99 cents on Amazon. Go do that right now.
Underwater gets the dubious distinction of being the last movie I saw in the theatre before COVID made it unsafe. The Screenland Armour is having a heck of time throw another coin to the Witcher will you. I sat for a tight ninety minute orchestra of tension as Kristen Stewart made her way through dozens of different video game levels miles under the sea. The supporting cast was fantastic and the boss at the end blew my mind and had all of us monster people here at Signal Horizon buzzing for days. If you think it was what I thought it was, you were right. IYKYK. Watch Underwater on HBO Max.
7. His House
The debate about how to repair our immigration system has been used as a political cudgel for the last four years but director Remy Weekes has already given us a horror movie that reflects the perils of our discourse. His House is what I called refugee horror and gives us a horror movie allegory to view immigration through. At it’s core His House asks us exactly what we would do to survive. The answer is a lot. Some of those actions we would not be proud of. I would rather have to live with the ghosts of those choices than die along with them. Weekes should be on your list of directors who we expect big things from in the years to come. It is a Netflix original so check it out there.
6. The Invisible Man
The closest to a big budget main stream film on this list Blumhouse did it again. I can’t say enough about how Leigh Whannell has reimagined this classic movie monster as a gaslighting tech giant with the means and ability to imprison his victims out in the open. The Invisible Man about abuse but as we extend the metaphor a bit we can find the roots of other problems we have faced this year; technology enhanced disinformation and the ability for science to both solve and create a host of problems. Elisabeth Moss is operating on the next level here I have spent the last year living in fear of an invisible attacker that could kill me at any time. If the Invisible Man isn’t a perfect analog I am not sure there is one. You can watch it on HBO right now.
Holy crap Sputnik ruined me. Like full in my feelings ruined me. Sputnik is a Russian film about a space alien who lives in a astronaut during the day and comes out to feed at night. The creature is terrifying and harkens back to the pit monster from Enemy Mine. However creature work aside Sputnik seems to be speaking about what it is to feel like an alien in a world that really values how well you can conform. It is the standout performances from the two leads that will keep you engaged for the longer runtime. There are a number of films from IFC Midnight to come. This is the first from them on the list but certainly not the last. You can check it out on Hulu.
I am old. I appreciate a film that knows what it is and moves us along in a relatively short timeframe. Host fits this bill perfectly and was one of the first true surprises of the spring. Essentially one of the first fully Zoom features of the pandemic era Shudder brought us a full horror movie perfect for the shut-ins we have all become. Host even brought a ton of Easter eggs with it showing off its horror movie cred with aplomb. It was FUN to watch in distinctly unfun time of the year. I haven’t looked at Zoom backdrops the same way. Neither will you. Check it out on Shudder right now.
There is no film that impacted me in quite the same evocative way as Relic hit me. The final tableau alone left me with tears in my eyes and a pervasive sense that time continues to tick for all of us and that what annoys us about our own parents will inevitably annoy our own children about their aging parents some day. Relic is about a matriarch who goes missing and a house with a fading memory. The House offers a few opportunities to spook us out while the subject matter offers up a mediation on how many of us (including me) feel torn between the people who raised us and the people we are tasked with raising. It is another film from IFC Midnight cementing their status as leaders in this genre. It is masterpiece and deserves all of the praise. You can watch it on Vudu now.
2. The Dark and the Wicked
Admittedly I am not one that typically enjoys dark and heavy movies. This whole year has felt like that. I have sought entertainment that has leaned away from this type of story telling. That being said The Dark and the Wicked is not a movie I would call uplifting. Bryan Bertino who wrote and directed The Strangers gives us another film about a dying family figurehead and the destruction that death can cause.
In retrospect The Strangers has a meanness to it that I never found off-putting but rather entertaining. The same could be said for The Dark and the Wicked. If Relic acts more like a stage play this movie leans a bit more into the spectacle of filmmaking. Bertino is in his element with this one and in my opinion this film would make a killer double feature with Relic. You can check it out on DVD or Blu right now.
1. Blood Quantum
Blood Quantum is another film high on my list for a myriad of reasons. I saw it at this year’s Panic Fest which brings back nothing but fun memories of a world where we could all gather in one space without killing one another. Indigenous horror is a subgenre poised to explode in years to come and as it does folks far smarter than I will point to Blood Quantum as one of the first break throughs.
Another movie about the role of generational trauma Blood Quantum turns the tables on the traditional zombie narrative. Only white people can get turned in this world which makes Native Reservations sanctuaries and the aboriginal characters in this story masters of their own fates. What they do with their new found power and status becomes the fulcrum the rest of the film pivots on. It is the best horror film of the year. Speaking directly to the genocide the west has perpetuated for centuries while ticking off enough zombie tropes to keep all zombiephiles engaged. If we want smart horror we want more films from Jeff Barnaby.
Tyler has been the editor in chief of Signal Horizon since its conception. He is also the Director of Monsters 101 at Truman State University a class that pairs horror movie criticism with survival skills to help middle and high school students learn critical thinking. When he is not watching, teaching or thinking about horror he is the Director of Debate and Forensics at a high school in Kansas City, Missouri.