Movies & TV / Columns

The 411 Horror Movie Awards, Part 1: Best Scare, Best Effects, Best Kill, More

February 12, 2024 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Evil Dead Rise Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Ordinarily this time of year, yours truly would present a list of my ten favorite horror films. I’m not doing that this year. Lists are too constrictive and don’t allow for you to see the best that horror truly has to offer in a given year. Sure, I could expand the list, but instead I’m doing something I’ve been wanting to do for years. I assembled a panel of six writers and we made our picks for twelve different awards.

2023 in horror had tremendous highs and terrible lows. We had some great sequels but we had blatant, terrible cash-ins. We had exciting kills and great effects, but then we also had movies that didn’t try at all. We had two experimental horror movies that split horror fans multiple ways. You either liked them both, hated them both or perhaps hated one and liked the other. That’s probably a good way to sum up the year in general. It was very much a mixed bag.

While returning characters like The Flash and Indiana Jones didn’t do so well in mainstream Hollywood (depending on who you ask), horror favorites came back to applause. Godzilla, Ghostface, Jigsaw, the Deadites and even that damn Abaddon Hotel all returned to acclaim. There were also new monsters created, new ideas explored and new approaches to horror.

Anyone who knows me knows I don’t gatekeep horror. All styles and methods are welcome as long as you love the morbid and macabre.

I’m not the only one giving my thoughts this time. As I said, there’s a panel. This year it consists of (in alphabetical order):

* Tony Acero
* Jake Chambers
* Joseph Lee
* Bryan Kristopowitz
* Rob Stewart
* Jeremy Thomas

I think that’s enough of an intro, because we have a lot of awards to get to. Be advised, some of the categories here are in and of themselves, spoilers.


As always, we start with a bit of negativity. Bad horror movies can usually be tolerated more than other movie genres. We tend to look down on the movies that don’t try very hard, are dull or are made purely for a cash-in. This year’s nominees include a little of all of those. They were the movies that even us more forgiving horror fans rolled our eyes at.

And the nominees are…

Children of the Corn

“This is damning with faint praise but this is not the worst Children of the Corn I’ve ever seen. It does feature a lengthy discussion about the politics of CORN, so, you know…it’s still not great. And that’s before the goofy cornstalk monster shows up. Before the terrible effects at the end. At least Kate Moyer did well. More personality than many of the evil kids in these movies.” – Joseph Lee

“Just about other year, this would have been an easy #1 for me. Children of the Corn’s biggest flaw — and that’s a high bar considering the cheap CGI, the 40 minutes of agricultural debate, the nonsense script and everything else — is that it doesn’t commit to the bit. For some reason Kurt Wimmer tries to play this straight, and it fails in jaw-dropping style. Bless young Kate Moyer for somehow being the only person who understood what kind of shlocky nonsense she was in and just going for it, because she’s the only light in this thing.” – Jeremy Thomas

Enys Men

“Dreadfully tedious and boring, if you like movies where nothing happens outside of a lady checking on some plants, this is for you. This movie made me appreciate Skinamarink even more because it at least had a sense of dread. This was just a bore.” – Rob Stewart

The Exorcist: Believer:

“My expectations for horror, in general, are low. The bar sits around my ankles wondering why I won’t raise my standards. Simply put, horror is somewhat similar to comedy to me in that it is subjective. Different strokes for different folks and all that. So, when I heard of a new Exorcist movie, I didn’t rant and rave that they ruining a classic (Let’s face it, III was trash), nor did I jump on the hype train of adulation. I went in expecting average, and they couldn’t even give men that. The Ellen Burstyn extended cameo was every bit a nostalgia hire as 2009 WWE’s. The cute little cultural hand-holding ending, while perhaps attempted to send a positive message, came off as hokey and weak. The makeup effects were cool, if only because it gave a fair reminder of the previous films. The film just didn’t have any meat.” – Tony Acero

“Easily preferred the first season of the 2016 Exorcist TV series to this mess. Not that David Gordon Green’s Halloween movies were great, but they were at least dumb fun. The silly attempt at making an “Avengers” of different faiths to fight the demon had potential, but this movie took itself so seriously that is was never fun, scary, or interesting.” – Jake Chambers

“There is a long line of filmmakers that just do not understand what made The Exorcist work. Not many of them get to work on an actual Exorcist sequel. So in that regard, David Gordon Green is in good company with the likes of John Boorman, Paul Schrader and Renny Harlin. Because this movie feels like it comes from an entirely different franchise from someone that probably genuinely does love The Exorcist but didn’t understand it.” – Joseph Lee


“I’m not even upset at the preachiness of this film. I was fortunate enough to have been given a fair warning of what to expect before pressing play, and yet I still aws shocked (in between yawns) and simply how boring it was. An essentially two-person show can be difficult, but if the content is there and the acting is consistently rising in conflict and performance, there is plenty goodness to be had. This, however, was simply not it. Roughly an hour is spent on the is he/isn’t he plot but by the time we get to the result, I was already bored out of my mind.” – Tony Acero

“Frankly, Nefarious is barely a horror film. It’s not that it isn’t scary; it’s that it doesn’t try to be. I’ve said it before; I don’t care that this film is an attempt to spread beliefs that I don’t agree with. I care that it’s intensely dull and that almost all the runtime consists of two actors trying to work with painfully bad material that has nowhere to go.” – Jeremy Thomas

“A movie with what could have been an interesting plot is a not-so-subtle stealth Christian movie with political propaganda. Glenn Beck shows up to make it extra obvious and gross. But if you ignore that, it’s still not good. The scriptwriter thought they were clever but you can see every plot point and moment happening from miles away. Once it shows its cards with its message, it gives the rest away. Then you have Sean Patrick Flannery’s bizarre performance that is neither menacing nor sympathetic when required, but laughable at all times.” – Joseph Lee

Winnie the Pooh: Blood & Honey

“I wanted to like this so much! The trailer, the idea, the gall all had me supporting the cause and the creation of some beloved creatures going all Blair Witch and Hatchet on people, but from the shitty title cards to the end, this was garbage. Horrible writing, unbelievable characters, shoddy camera work, inconsistent motivations, hardly any cohesion between scenes, and just an all around horrible film. I’ve seen better TikToks.” – Tony Acero

“I mean, what do you want me to even say here that hasn’t already been said by a number of people, myself included? It’s one of the most mind-numbingly incompetent horror films I’ve ever seen. Much like Children of the Corn, it doesn’t seem like it knows it should be cheesy fun, and unlike Children of the Corn its filmmaker knows nothing about how to film a movie. At least learn to light a movie before you decide to make one, or through a few extra bucks on the low budget to hire someone who can. Trash of the lowest level and one of the worst horror movies I’ve seen in years.” – Jeremy Thomas

“Who was this made for? Who could this rushed together, low-budget mess possibly appeal to? Besides the director, I mean, who is apparently making a sequel even though nobody liked this one. There’s just nothing to it. After the premise is set up and we get to the opening, it’s just people being killed by guys in Halloween masks. It’s blatantly obvious this was made to score a quick buck, which they did due to morbid curiosity. Oh but hey, Pooh rips off the top off a character we know nothing about before shoving her into a woodchipper! Because that’s entertaining! THIS AIN’T THE POOH YOU GREW UP WITH, YOU GET IT YET? The sad thing is, The Banana Splits Movie showed you can take old children’s properties and turn them into horror with entertaining results. That movie had heart and a sense of humor. This did not. At least it was short.” – Joseph Lee


Winnie The Pooh: Blood & Honey


Horror can be a very forward-looking genre. Horror fans can also be that way. We’re always ready for the next kill, the next scare, the next sequel. So of course we’re giving an award to a movie that’s not even out yet.

And the nominees are…

Beetlejuice 2

“Who the hell ever thought we would get a sequel to Beetlejuice ever, let alone three plus decades later? I know I didn’t. And while I’m concerned that the magic that made the first movie such a classic horror comedy is long gone and severely dissipated, I’m excited to see what director Tim Burton and star Michael Keaton have in store. Because, really, what made them say that they have what they need now? What is it about Beetlejuice 2 that made them decide now is the time to do a sequel?” – Bryan Kristopowitz


“While Pearl wasn’t exactly asked for, it was a decent enough follow up to X, which was amazing. If this follow-up combines the best of both films, it’s going to be great. Giving it an 80’s grindhouse feel is a recipe for greatness. I’m looking forward to more Mia Goth, even if she’s allegedly putting boots to faces undeserving. ” – Tony Acero

I’ve been very vocal about my love of both X and Pearl, so it should surprise no one that this is my most anticipated horror film of 2023. Mia Goth is back as her character from X with a badass-looking cast including Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Monaghan, Bobby Cannavale, Lily Collins, Giancarlo Esposito, Kevin Bacon, and Halsey in a film that promises to pay homage to the 1980s era? With Ti West at the helm, I have nothing less than the highest expectations here.” — Jeremy Thomas


“Remaking this is bold, and giving Lily-Rose Depp the title role is braver, but we’ve got Eggers behind the lens, and although I found The Witch to be just so-so, I did enjoy Lighthouse. If there’s one thing he does well, it’s mood, and that’s all this film needs is some gothic bad-assery. ” – Tony Acero

“Not big on the ‘elevated horror’ trend that Robert Eggers helped usher in, but The Northman was awesome so I’m expecting something more like that here.” – Jake Chambers

“Robert Eggers doesn’t miss in my book. Say what you want about the stupid ‘elevated horror’ label; with The Witch he delivered a modern horror classic and The Northman was bloody brilliance. He’s one of the few people I would trust to take on the classic Nosferatu story and with the cast he’s assembled, I’m deeply excited. Lily-Rose Depp was fantastic in Silent Night (not the Joel Kinnaman film, the other one), Bill Skarsgaard is perfect Count Orlock casting and Nicholas Hoult is decent too. There’s every reason to expect another bit of amazing horror here, and I am for it.” — Jeremy Thomas

A Quiet Place: Day One

“The first two films were both amazing, but it’s taking a big swing to set the next one at the beginning of the apocalypse. Part of that was the family we followed. This time we’re being asked to follow new characters. Luckily, the movie is led by Lupita Nyong’o, who is tremendous. And the trailer looks great, so I’m sure this is going to be another fun, tense movie.” – Joseph Lee

Saw XI

“What the heck is going to happen next? What is the next movie going to be about? Will we get something that will fit in with the already established franchiser timeline, or are we going to get another movie like Saw X, something that doesn’t adhere to much of anything that’s already been established? What is John Kramer’s next project?” – Bryan Kristopowitz




Monsters come in all shapes and sizes and in horror, they’re not always creatures. It can be a kaiju, an alien, a serial killer, ghosts, demons and everything in between. This year, the monsters ruled in many ways, both on the screen and at the box office.

And the nominees are…

Sawtooth Jack (Dark Harvest)

“Sometimes monsters can be tragic, especially in horror. Isn’t that the entire point of Frankenstein? In Dark Harvest, even before everything gets explained, you know that Sawtooth Jack is only a monster in appearance and action. He’s ugly, he’s killing teen…but he’s also getting killed every year so a town can experience prosperity. In Sawtooth Jack’s case, he’s also nominated because he just looks really cool. A living embodiment of Halloween.” – Joseph Lee

“I think Dark Harvest had some issues with its story and pacing, but one thing it didn’t trip up on is its monster. Sawtooth Jack has everything he needed to become a lasting horror monster — amazing character design, some gnarly-ass kills and a tragic backstory. He was good enough that even though I didn’t adore the film, I would happily sit down to watch another one and that says a lot.” — Jeremy Thomas

Ellie (Evil Dead Rise)

I love the Deadites, but I don’t know that any of the ones from the films have ever had quite the personality that Alyssa Sutherland’s has. Sure, we had Evil Ash and Linda, but there was something a bit more effective in how Ellie balanced the horror and the glee. It felt more original Elm Street Freddy than the Freddy’s Dead style that original trilogy Deadites had, and I loved it. She felt like a terrifying demon who was even more terrifying because she loved what she was doing. With the current franchise going in the more serious (but still fun) direction, Sutherland and Lee Cronin put together the perfect notion of what such a Deadite should be, setting the bar high for the next one.” — Jeremy Thomas

“I can’t recall any other horror villain this year that was as scary and alluring as Ellie. Look, I’m just saying, there are worse ways to go. Alyssa Sunderland put everything she had into her performance here and the result was perhaps the most memorable Deadite to ever be captured on screen.” – Joseph Lee

Godzilla (Godzilla: Minus One):

“I feel like this category was made for Godzilla. It’s best MONSTER. Godzilla came back as a ferocious, devastating force of destruction in 2023. He wins!” – Rob Stewart

“Is there really another options for #1? Godzilla is THE movie monster of 2023. He absolutely dominated the competition, with all due respect to everyone else. I enjoy the Legendary films for what they are, but this film turned Big G back to a horror (or horror-adjacent at least) character and you felt his power in every way. I’m still in awe of what Toho did here.” — Jeremy Thomas

“I may be the biggest kaiju nut to ever work for 411 and even I had doubts of what they would pull off with Godzilla Minus One. Go look at my comments on Jeffrey’s review, you’ll see. I should never have doubted the once and future KING of the monsters.” – Joseph Lee


“M3GAN is one of the few recent-memory horror villains worthy of spinning off a new franchise. She was creepy, fun, and she looked great.” – Rob Stewart

“The blonde haired doll wins this by a longshot. Even 2nd place is there simply because it’s grotesque and the harbinger of a demon child. One could argue that M3GAN IS a demon child of sorts, and man is she dastardly. Whether she’s dancing awkwardly in a hallway or chasing a child on all fours, she’s freakin nuts.” – Tony Acero

John Carver (Thanksgiving)

“We haven’t had a good and recognizable big Hollywood movie slasher in a good, long while, so it was great to see the Thanksgiving slasher John Carver in action. He’s vicious and mean and incredibly violent, and he never seems to be the exact same guy every time we see him. Why is that? What the heck is really going on? That’s half the fun of Thanksgiving. And with the way the movie ends, it makes you wonder what the heck John Carver is going to do next. I can’t wait to find out.” – Bryan Kristopowitz


Godzilla (Godzilla Minus One)


Since the days of the silent era, make-up effects have been very important to the horror genre. From bringing all of your favorite monsters to life to creating even the most basic kills, effects are integral to a good horror story. That’s why it’s important to cast a light on the films that use them…effectively.

And the nominees are…

Evil Dead Rise

“Look, if you’re going to make an Evil Dead film, one thing you have to get right is the effects. And they’ve never failed to date. Evil Dead Rise gave us some wonderful practical effects and prosthetic work, piling on the bloody fun. There are multiple sequences in here that thrilled me as an Evil Dead fan from the elevator possession to the parking garage showdown, basically everything that Ellie did — and that’s just off the top of my head. Easily some of the best effects work in horror of 2023.” — Jeremy Thomas

“While I didn’t like this movie much, it had the best and biggest traditional monsters and kills while using mostly practical effects.” – Jake Chambers

“The Evil Dead formula: Blood + More blood + EVEN MORE BLOOD = very good (and brutal) looking flick.” – Rob Stewart

“The coolest thing about each version of the Deadites is how they not only stand out from other versions, but are still clearly The Evil Dead. In this one we also get a new variant, the Marauder, a bizarre hybrid that goes out in a suitably gory finish. – Joseph Lee

Godzilla Minus One

“If there is any justice in the world, Godzilla Minus One will win the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. It’s incomprehensible to me that the film made the big guy look as good as it did on the budget they had to work with. This film returned Godzilla to feeling like the force of nature that he has been with some truly stunning sequences. Remarkable work here.” — Jeremy Thomas

“I refuse to believe this movie cost what we were all told it cost. Godzilla looked super!” – Rob Stewart

“You’ve all probably heard about the slim budget used to pull this movie off, and while it’s been rumored it was higher than that, it’s still impressive. Godzilla has never looked better than he does here, and he’s entirely CGI (or at least looks it). I’ll miss the days of the in-suit acting but if Godzilla and his destruction looks this good, I can’t complain.” – Joseph Lee


“I said it before under best monsters, but M3GAN looked phenomenal here. And there was a robot fight at the end!” – Rob Stewart

“A combination of CGI, practical effects and acting brought to life a killer doll so memorable, she’s Chucky for Gen Z. Whether you liked or hated the film, you have to give them respect for the work done for the titular monster. She has that uncanny valley look that already make you uneasy, but unlike the mediocre Child’s Play remake, I can see how a kid would want to have M3GAN as their new best friend.” – Joseph Lee

Saw X

“It’s a Saw movie, so you expect to see some of the best practical and CGI enhanced special effects. Saw X doesn’t disappoint. Gross, nasty, and cringe inducing, and that’s before you see the blood boarding sequence, which is the most disgusting thing the franchise has ever done. Just amazing work. Just how the heck are they going to top themselves in the next one? Will they even try?” – Bryan Kristopowitz

When Evil Lurks

“If you’ve seen Terrified, you are aware of what this director can do in terms of effects and makeup. It’s grotesque. In this film alone, we have a demonic infestation, an axe to the head, then to the face, a child’s head used as a popcorn bucket, dripping foreheads, bloodied hairballs, a child being mauled to death, the same lady getting hit by a car TWICE! All in color, with lingering shots just to make sure you know it happened. ” – Tony Acero


Evil Dead Rise


As Stephen King once said, “if I find I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.” Some of the best horror movies don’t contain a single kill. But many of the great ones do. And many of the more fun movies have plenty of nasty kills within. You don’t have to even be a good horror movie to have a great kill. Just go for the gross-out and you’ll become instantly memorable.

And the nominees are…

Brain Surgery (Saw X)

“If you’re a fan of the Saw movie traps then this was a great return to form (as long as you’re not thinking too hard about how Jigsaw could put all this together in a foreign country), and I was grossly amused by this impossible task.” – Jake Chambers

“Ewwwwwww!!!!” – Tony Acero

The Ladder (Scream VI)

“This takes a win simply because it was tense and almost hilariously long. Scream films have always been great with the balancing of horror and comedy, completely unlike the character Anika’s balancing on the ladder. First, she is stabbed in the stomach, then coerced to climb across a ladder from one apartment to another, and finally taunted by Ghost Face before being forced off and falling to her death. While everything else on this list was a bit overkill in terms of gore and just stomach-churning visuals, this one is old school emotional and simple.” – Tony Acero

Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner (Thanksgiving):

“From the very first time Eli Roth graced us with the original Thanksgiving trailer in 2007, I’ve been curious about the giant human-turkeys in the final shot. He teased it again in the trailer for this and when the actual sequence finally happens, it doesn’t disappoint. Just the worst possible way to go out I can imagine and then it somehow gets worse after our poor victim is cooked alive.” – Joseph Lee

Dumpster Decapitation (Thanksgiving)

“There was some good slasher nonsense in Thanksgiving, but this early kill of a mouthy diner worker included multiple tropes until the gruesome cut-in-half ending.” – Jake Chambers

“A slasher movie’s first kill by the slasher killer can make or break a movie, and John Carver’s first attack in Thanksgiving sets the tone for the rest of the movie. It’s vicious and brutal and mean-spirited as hell, which is a bit surprising since the actual first violence in the movie, the inciting incident for John Carver’s appearance, is sad and ridiculous. It’s a good example of how Thanksgiving is more of a super jet black comedy as opposed to an outright horror flick. It’s an odd balance that could fall apart very easily. Thankfully for director Eli Roth and the audience the movie doesn’t fall apart and that balance is achieved.” – Bryan Kristopowitz

“The first of John Carver’s kills in Thanksgiving, this elicited both a gross-out AND a humorous reaction from my theater.” – Rob Stewart

Mom Has A Snack (When Evil Lurks)

“As brutal as the dog attack was, that was more scary than the best kill in my book. Frankly, both that one and this one could have fit under Best Kill but I have to go with this one, which was more horrifying than shocking where the dog death was vice versa. As we see the car coming up the road and hear the sounds coming from the woman, we know what’s happened and it’s already horrific. Then we see it and it’s even worse. Of all the kills in horror over the past year, this is the one that sticks with me the most.” — Jeremy Thomas


Saw X


Scares are the name of the game. If you aren’t trying to elicit fear from the viewer, what are you even doing? While most horror fans are jaded to these types of things, every once in a while a movie comes along with something that still gets under our skin.

And the nominees are…

Chase Bentley’s Final Recording (Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor)

“Look, many of you all know clowns legitimately terrify me. So there are a number of sequences in Hell House LLC Origins that could have terrified me here. But the moment when Chase finds himself face to face with the creepier of the two clown costumes and it starts following him? Good gods. I am not kidding when I said I had to leave my office and watch the rest of it in a portion of the house that was better lit with another person in the room to make it through. What an absolutely inspired scare.” — Jeremy Thomas

The MRI Machine (Insidious: The Red Door)

“As someone with a touch of claustrophobia anyway, MRI machines make me uneasy. I don’t think I’m alone, and I think Patrick Wilson knew that when he put this one together. Just take the normal anxiety of being stuck in a tiny tube and add ghosts. Enjoy the nightmares you have afterward.” – Joseph Lee

“I didn’t expect to love this scene as much as I did. I like the Insidious films fine, but it’s their subtler scares that tend to get me. This one though… it’s the helplessness that Patrick Wilson’s Josh is in, stuck in that MRI machine. There’s a lot I can criticize about this film, but Wilson directed this scene to perfection and my heart was racing for a while after.” — Jeremy Thomas

Look Under The Bed (Skinamarink):

“When the little boy finally makes it up to his parents’ room and sees what can only be described as dream-ghost versions of them, it was one of the most realistic depictions of the experience of seeing familiar people in a weird dream, and it freaked me out.” – Jake Chambers

“Skinamarink in general is like a bad dream, and the fact that you can never truly make out what’s going on is part of that. It has a lot of creepy moments, but none more so than the moment when Kaylee is called upstairs. There’s nothing huge in this moment, but the tension continues to build as she’s told to look under her bed and then comes back up to find that things in the room have changed. It only gets worse from there.” – Joseph Lee

Riley’s Possession (Talk to Me)

“A lot of people get possessed in Talk to Me. And the results can be horrifying or even darkly comedic. But nothing tops when it happens to Riley (Joe Bird), who proceeds to scare everyone in the room before bashing his own face into the furniture over and over. It’s all fun and games until someone tries to rip out their own eye.” – Joseph Lee

The Dog (When Evil Lurks)

“On shock factor alone, this was just wild. The film as whole is unrelenting in its death scenes. One nearly made the list, but it wasn’t technically a kill – just a lady chomping on her kid’s brains while she walks. But this…this was WILD, and it was AFTER a surprise axe to the face scene. So basically, a little girl stands aside a dog, and surprise surprise, it’s possessed and wants to eat her face. What we see after the attack is a gradual exposure of the dog with a kid’s face in his mouth, blood pouring, child rag-dolled. It was gruesome, crazy and intense as fuck.” – Tony Acero

“When Evil Lurks lives up to its name and then some with how mean-spirited it is, but nothing tops this one. It just comes out of absolutely nowhere and after it hits, it keeps going for longer than anyone wants it to. It’s horrific, disturbing and shocking. Exactly what horror should be.” – Joseph Lee

“Was there a more shocking moment in horror this year than the dog? I can’t think of one. We know something awful is about to happen as the scene unfolds, but trust when I say I was not ready for how sudden and savage it was. My heart practically jumped out of my chest and I found myself staring in slack-jawed terror at what had happened. Damian Rugna really did just say ‘Fuck them kids’ and went full-bore, and I lived for it.” — Jeremy Thomas


When Evil Lurks

And that’s it for Part One! We’ve got six more awards to hand out, which we’ll do at the end of the week!