When the great 2020 pandemic got its hooks into the world in April, and the Cinemas across the country were shuttering their doors, I was guessing that we were going to have really slim pickings for great horror films this past year. I’m so happy to be wrong! There were some absolutely fantastic horror films released, but you had to get to most of them via streaming festivals.
Thank all that is wholly horrifying that the Film festivals came to the rescue. For a while, it appeared that they would be submarined just like all of the other public functions suffered this year. But a funny thing happened on the way to the apocalypse. The festivals, one by one, started streaming their films. The irony is that though I was housebound, I was able to “attend” so many more festivals than I ordinarily would have been able to do. It was an unprecedented amount of movies for us to process, but it was totally worth it!
My great thanks to the following Festivals, for which I was able to stream content from this year:
Shudder, Amazon, Netflix, and IFC Midnight also were very good about getting great new independent horror films uploaded onto their sharing platforms. HBO also had some impressive new programming that was worthy of inclusion on this list. So, despite the fact that the size of the screen got reduced to my living room offerings, I still got to see plenty of films to recommend for you!
ERIC’S TOP 10 HORROR FILMS OF 2020
The Night ★★★★★ (USA) Directed by Kourosh Ahari Starring Shahab Hosseini and Niosha Jafarian. Nightstream, Available on IFC Midnight on January 29, 20201
It’s a slow burner, but it really crafts a great story. It’s an immigrants tale, of the struggles of a young Iranian couple making their new lives in the USA, but struggling to manage their relationship, and are forced to take shelter from a night of too much drinking and bickering, at a mysterious vintage hotel, that harbors lots of secrets and forces the secrets out of the couple. It reminds me strongly of the Robert Wise classic, The Haunting (1963), similarly using subtlety and nuance to perform the spooks and dread. It’s a tremendous film from start to finish. It is my favorite film of 2020.
TheQueen of Black Magic, ★★★★★ (Indonesia) Directed by Kimo Stamboel Starring Ario Bayu, Hannah Al Rashid, Tanta Ginting, and Miller Khan Nightstream, Streaming this summer on A24.
Hands down, this was the scariest movie I saw this year. The story takes place at an orphanage, where three men return with their families to the orphanage that raised them, to pay homage to the old headmaster who is slowly dying. The old man, though, carries some absolutely awful secrets with him and those secrets are being brought back with a vengeance. The families are subjected to the terror and black magic of one of their forgotten abused orphan siblings bent on revenge. There are so many moments in this movie that will make your flesh crawl. With the right distribution, this movie is destined to be a classic.
Murder Bury Win ★★★★★ (USA) Directed by Michael Lovan Starring Mikelen Walker, Erich Lane, Henry Alexander Kelly, and Craig Crackowski Another Hole in the Head Film Festival
This movie was tailor-made for me. It’s certainly horror adjacent, but this comedy/thriller/absurd worst-case scenario movie keeps delivering great punch-lines and grisly moments. This is a tale of chasing your dreams, catching that dream, and then see that dream go up in a bloody cataclysm because of greed and manipulation. It’s graced with a fantastic ending that is imperfect for the characters but perfect for the story. Bonus points for the best use of a bear trap in any movie I can remember. I recognize that I’m predisposed to like a movie like this, but it hit all my buttons, and I loved it! An absolute must-watch for board game fans.
The Platform ★★★★1/2 (Spain) Directed by Galder Gazelu-Urrita Starring Ivan Massague, Zorion Eguilor, Antonia San Juan, and Emilio Buale Available on Netflix
One of the most fascinating concepts I’ve seen come down the pipe in a very long time. It is a parable for the corruption and failure of economic structures and class warfare. A platform of food descends through a prison of untold depths, stopping at each floor where prisoners get a limited time to eat what they can before it continues its way to the floors below, to people subject to the whims of the prisoners above them. Brutal, intelligent, and hugely atmospheric, this movie makes you a little ill, but it always has your attention.
May the Devil Take You Too ★★★★ (Indonesia) Directed by Timo Tjajahnto Starring Chelsea Islan, Widka Sidmore, Baskara Mahendra, Lutesha, Arya Vasco, Karina Slim, Shareefa Daanish and Hadija Shahab
The sequel to the terrific May the Devil Take You. A group of orphans musters the help of the young survivors of the first movie to combat a devil conjured into this world who possesses their evil orphanage caretaker. Thematically, the movie feels like A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 : Dream Warriors, with a group of foolhardy but brave kids taking on a sadistic monster beyond their means to defeat. Bolstered by terrific charismatic turns from a very young cast, and certifiably scary stuff. Indonesia is the source of so much horror greatness right now.
Love and Monsters ★★★★ (USA) Directed by Michael Matthews Starring Dylan O’Brien, Jessica Henwick, Michael Rooker, Ariana Greenblatt, and Dan Ewing Available on Amazon Prime
A crowd-pleasing studio effort, a coming-of-age hero’s journey quest, with giant crustaceans mollusks, and amphibians. Dylan O’Brien is in prime form here, as a normal guy with heroic aspirations. Told with great heart, and it’s a rare genre film that has real emotional resonance. Ray Harryhausen would be proud of the prolific and detailed monster work. This is a great gateway film for people who like creature features. Most importantly, this movie is FUN.
The Rental ★★★★ (USA) Directed by Dave Franco Starring Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, and Jeremy Allen White. And a Frenchie named Reggie. Available on Amazon Prime.
This slasher thriller spends a good chunk of its run time setting up the character dominoes so that they all can come crashing down in the third act. Two couples go on a vacation getaway in Bandon Oregon. There is a Venn-diagram of the couples’ relationships that entangle familial, romantic, and professional bonds that sets up for some dramatic dominoes for fatal consequences. Personal betrayals come face to face with a creep who has been video recording all their activities, turning brother against brother and husband against wife, allowing the creep to split apart the group for a slasher hunt. The movie is a brutal downer, but well acted and well scripted.
Skull: The Mask ★★★★ (Brazil) Directed by Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman Starring Natalia Rodrigues, Ivo Muller, Wildon Andrade, and Rurik Jr. Chattanooga Film Festival, No Streaming Information Available Yet
Skull: The Mask is a gleefully gory story of a Sao Paolo cop trying to stop a cultist group and the monstrosity that they summoned with a cursed mask relic they discovered in the Amazon. Natalia Rodrigues is great as the jaded and burned out cop in the corrupt precinct, chasing down a terrifying and seemingly unstoppable ogre. This is like a Brazilian version of Friday the 13th, but with a real plot and much better acting.
Lovecraft Country ★★★★ (USA) Creator: Misha Green Starring: Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollett, Courtney B. Vance, Aunjanue Ellis, Wunmi Mosaku, Abbey Lee, Montrose Freeman, Jordan Patrick Smith, and Jamie Chung. Available on HBO Max
Lovecraft Country follows a young soldier, Atticus Freeman (Majors) returning from a tour of duty in the Korean War, back to his Chicago home, where the Civil Rights movement is in its infancy, and Jim Crow is the rule of the land. Atticus learns that he has magic in his bloodlines, and that through that magic are hordes of sinister and incomprehensible powers. It can be scary times to be a black man, in America, and the coincidental timing of this show at a time of racial reckoning cannot be understated. The show can be very daring, often on the verge of coming off the rails, and sometimes steers into melodrama, but the stellar acting, the wonderful set designs, and the provocative story telling (and lots of sex and gore) make it one of the best things currently on HBO Max. This hugely inventive story is in discussion for a Season 2, and given the success of the first season, will be a likelihood.
Uncle Peckerhead ★★★★ (USA) Directed by Matthew John Lawrence Starring Chet Siegel, David Littleton, Ruby McCollister, and Jeff Riddle. The Portland Horror Film Festival, Now available on Amazon Prime
Proof that punk rockers… and ghouls… can be endearing! Uncle Peckerhead is both vicious and really funny. A ghoul roadie who takes up with a young punk rock band and is something of a good luck charm but also a brutal monster. The fantastic band dynamics of young kids with big dreams, and a weird grizzled fella who happens to transform into a bloodthirsty monster is storytelling gold. This was by far, my favorite film of the Portland Horror Film Festival this year.
Jumbo:This might have been my favorite movie of the year, but it’s a dark fantasy more than a horror movie. Weird and creepy concept of a young woman falling in love with an amusement ride. It is a great coming of age movie, with weird sexual overtones. Chattanooga FF.
The Hunt: Political satire meets The Most Dangerous Game. Hyperviolent and controversial, there is a snarky message for those open enough to find it. Betty Gilpin owns every frame that she appears in, and her fight with Hillary Swank was epic. Amazon Prime.
Eerie Fairy Tales: A beautiful Estonian anthology with dark fantasy, science fiction, noir horror, and Agatha Christie short films by the excellent Mart Sander. A great offering from HPLFF, but not horror enough to make this list. H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival.
Mandibles: Another strange and absurd black comedy-fantasy from the mind of Quentin Depieux. Two French beach bums discover a giant housefly and intend to teach it to do tricks, with the intent to get rich with their new “pet”. Highly absurd and frequently amusing, but not quite enough thrills to make this a horror movie. This was the closing movie for Nightstream.
Underwater:An action-packed alien clone with the most impressive (SPOILER ALERT) representation of Cthulhu that you’ll ever see. Paper-thin characters, but top-notch production values. Highly Entertaining. Amazon Prime and HBO.
The Return: A good haunted house/time travel cosmic horror outing. The plot plays like a Swiss watch, and it take a great new twist on a haunted house story. Winner of the best feature at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival 2020.
Lapsis: This is a dark sci-fi comedy, and also misses the list for being just on the other side of the horror-or-not line. It’s a fascinating blue-collar observation of staring down tech-driven obsolescence. A great performance from Dean Imperial as the lovable loser grifter schmuck.
Parable: South Africa came to the table with a terrific teen possession movie this year at the New Orleans Horror Film Fest. As the film plays out, the villain of the movie changes and the film goes from horror/rom-com to full-blown horror show in the third act.
ERIC’S TOP 5 HORROR SHORT FILMS OF 2020
Killing Small Animals: BRUTAL. This may have been the most cringe-inducing film I saw all year. The graduation of an unfeeling woman graduating from a butterfly and working her way up the evolutionary ladder to the inevitable dreadful close. From Boston Underground FF.
Stucco: Janina Gavankar (True Blood) is struggling to piece her life together following a romantic breakup, and when she discovers a hole in the wall of her home that is growing and hiding something awful behind the stucco cladding of her house. Tongues are prominently featured. Creepy! This showed at the Portland Horror Film Festival.
Waffle: The idea of having a BFF service (a half step away from prostitution) gets played out in a wonderfully silly way and with some super sinister intent. The irony sauce is ladled on in just the right way. Wicked and fun. This played at both the Portland Horror Film Festival and Popcorn Frights.
The Doe: A young woman who has gone on a romantic weekend with her boyfriend, ends up breaking up with him and in a fit of madness, goes completely feral in the French countryside. A slow-burn and nearly wordless but haunting short film.
The Howling Wind: A stark and brooding noir film wherein a farmer takes in a stranger taking refuge from a dust storm outside, but the traveler has a suspicious history, and was once welcome shelter from the storm becomes a hostile showdown. Very little dialogue, but saturated with moody imagery, this wrings out a ton of tension in a short amount of time.