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A Bloody Good Time: The Top 10 Horror Films of 2021

February 8, 2022 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Leila Sykes Caveat Image Credit: Shudder

Woof. What a year.

That’s how I opened last year’s edition and I think it holds true for this year. Life just seems to suck more with a pandemic out there still ruining our lives. At the very least, we got vaccines this year and booster shots and I feel a lot safer going to the movies again. Granted I didn’t go much, and I kind of enjoyed it when AMC spread the seats out more, but it was nice when I got to get out and see movies.

But I largely spent this year watching movies the same as I did last year: at home. And while I would say the overall quality wasn’t as strong as last year, we still had a lot of good stuff to watch if you knew where to look. And it’s great that the streaming services are still out there cranking out great content, because Hollywood mostly crapped the bed this year. Sure, there were some decent movies (some of which barely missed out on this list), but the studios were mainly putting out middling, at best, sequels to everything from Spiral to Don’t Breathe 2 to the sadly disappointing Conjuring 3.

And that’s not to say the independent scene was perfect either. Horror is still dark and dreary in a time when we really need horror to not be dark and dreary. A movie like that can and does still work, but there’s a big difference in something like 2020’s The Lodge and 2021’s The Banishing, both of which are dreary but only one of which was interesting and captivating.

I think I’m just burned out on the stuff that I was really into before a socially-isolating pandemic forced me to reevaluate the world and my place in it. I don’t even think movies I loved from years past would have hit the same right now.

What I wanted out of this year was variety and thankfully, that was what I was able to get. I wanted weird, wild and crazy, and I got that too. Malignant was a big ball of Hollywood WTF, Vicious Fun lived up to its title and The Queen of Black Magic was just insane. And not a single movie I’ve mentioned so far made either list!

Long story short, the horror genre really needed to move on from grief porn and between some of the entries on this list and the arrival of movies like Scream and Ti West’s X in 2022, it looks like we’re doing that. And now you’ll have a good understanding of my thought process going into this year. There probably aren’t any all-timers, but there’s a lot of great stuff in this list. Movies that are interesting, engaging or entertaining. Movies that I thought about for days after. Movies I’m still thinking about. That’s what made my list of the best of 2021.

But before we get to the best, we have to get to the worst. And really, even someone making a movie I didn’t enjoy still made a movie, which is more than I could do. So I still try to find positives even in the worst stuff I’ve seen. Because like I said, the time to be depressed and miserable is over. Hopefully horror remembers it can be fun as we move on.

With all that out of the way, here are the top three Worst Horror Films of 2021:

#3: Separation

This is the most damning with faint praise thing I’ve ever said about a movie, but this is the best movie William Brent Bell has ever made. The man’s filmography includes such “classics” as The Devil Inside, Stay Alive and Brahms: The Boy II. So yeah, this is definitely damning with faint praise. And Separation is not a good movie. It’s a boring Kramer vs. Kramer with horror elements drama that borrows liberally from Mama, among other things. But it’s certainly the most ambitious movie Bell has ever made, it’s not safe like his other movies have been. There are very few jump scares and you can tell that writers Nick Amadeus and Josh Braun had something they wanted to say with this. I think it just got lost in translation from a director with a poor track record who does not know how to craft suspense. I don’t think that’s unfair at this point with the work he’s put out.

And it must be said, Brian Cox and especially Rupert Friend turn in pretty strong performances. The problem is that it’s just dull. Whatever they script was going for is muted out by pointless hallucination sequences and dreams that have no bearing on anything. The supernatural elements actually drag it down the drama, which is NOT a complaint you want to have with a horror film. I shouldn’t be more interested in a custody battle than a haunted house in a movie like this. But here we are. Throw in a stupid twist at the end (which you will figure out as soon as it’s hinted at) and you have a movie that isn’t nearly as outrageously bad as Bell’s other work, but it’s somehow worse: It’s boring and forgettable.

#2: Demonic

I wouldn’t call myself a huge defender of Neill Blomkamp, but I also think his reputation has been unfairly tarnished. People tend to forget how great District 9 was, and while movies like Elysium and Chappie weren’t earth-shattering, they weren’t worth the critical drumming he was hit with at the time. So when a guy with fresh ideas and a unique vision says he secretly made a horror film, that’s something I take notice of. And you can definitely see he had some unique ideas when he came up with Demonic…on the surface.

What it really is, is just another take on The Cell or, to be more insulting about it, Incarnate. It’s going into the person’s mind to fight evil. And the way Blomkamp presents it is new, but ultimately surrounded by the trappings of every other possession horror film you’ve ever seen. Not only that but he doesn’t seem to have the budget to pull off the effects he wants to pull off. Or maybe the heroine is supposed to look like she does when she enters that world. But it’s off-putting and annoying to watch. And that’s before you get into trying to care about paper-thin characters and a plot that definitely feels like it’s just there to be window dressing.

Maybe Demonic would have worked better as a short film. Maybe he needed a bigger budget. But I think the script is the most to blame here, because I can forgive aesthetic choices if the script isn’t rudimentary, and this one is. But I still say this is his first miss.

#1: The Unholy

It’s the second year in a row myself and Jeremy find ourselves in agreement on the worst horror film of the year. The Unholy represents Hollywood at its most cynical: a by-the-numbers, vaguely-defined horror movie clearly only there to be a product.

I was done with this kind of pseudo-religious horror movie a decade ago and apparently they’re still making them. This one is especially bad because it’s got a decent cast and absolutely wastes them. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (who I will admit tries very, very hard to save this), William Sadler and Cary Elwes. Elwes might as well not even be in this as he wastes his appearance with a terrible accent. And you just know the scriptwriter gave himself a high five when he has the editor tell JDM’s character that he would “sell his soul for a story” and Morgan says that he “already did.” Then there’s false jump scares with a Jesus statue, demon vision, and the whole thing is just meandering and boring. It wants to be Stigmata but ends up being closer to one of the sequels to The Prophecy. One of the ones without Christopher Walken.

And now for something completely different…

I don’t like being negative. And honestly, even the worst 2021 had to offer still wasn’t as bad as most years. I’d rather watch any of the three above again over The Devil Inside or that Castle Freak remake again. The bottom three, for me, are mostly just going to be forgotten.

So let’s forget them now and move on.

Here are the Top Ten Horror Films of 2021!

#10: Titane

Director: Julia Ducournau

Cast: Vincent Lindon, Agathe Rousselle, Garance Marillier, Laïs Salameh

Story: Following a series of unexplained crimes, a father is reunited with the son who has been missing for 10 years. Titane: A metal highly resistant to heat and corrosion, with high tensile strength alloys.

Available on: Video On Demand

My kneejerk response to this movie was to post a tweet about how I had many, many questions. I mean, I still do, but I don’t think any of them will be answered. I don’t know if I want them to be answered. Titane kind of exists in its own little world and doesn’t really care about the rules of the real world. It makes its own rules. You’ve already come this far, continue to follow the film on its journey and see where it goes.

Honestly, I’m still not 100% sure I’d even label this as horror. There’s a body count, there’s body horror, and there’s a lot of moments where I didn’t know what I just saw. But it’s also a drama, a pretty touching one at that, and it’s also very darkly comedic. Had I not been in the right frame of mind for Titane, I think I would have hated it. But I wanted a weird and wild movie and that’s what I got here. And yet, everything that happens still fits into the bizarre logic of this film. It wouldn’t work in any other film, but feels like a natural progression here, somehow.

I couldn’t tell you if this is something I would want to watch again, but I was captivated the entire time. Whether it was by the incredibly brave performances by Vincent Lindon and Agathe Rousselle, the nasty body horror or the movie’s capability of making me feel sympathy for a cold-blooded killer, I was engrossed in the story being told. It’s multiple genres and yet defies definition. It’s its own thing. If you take David Cronenberg’s Crash, William Lustig’s Maniac and little bit of Tetsuo: The Iron Man, then throw them all in a blender, you get Titane. I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as a lot of others seem to, but I couldn’t look away and I’m still trying to figure out what I watched. It’s certainly memorable.

#9: A Quiet Place Part II

Director: John Krasinski

Cast: Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Djimon Hounsou, John Krasinski

Story: Following the events at home, the Abbott family now face the terrors of the outside world. Forced to venture into the unknown, they realize the creatures that hunt by sound are not the only threats lurking beyond the sand path.

Available on: Paramount Plus

I kind of hope Cillian Murphy gets a spinoff movie at some point, because I’d really like to see what happened to his character before he shows up in this movie. Anyway, as is the standard for horror movies, the sequel is not as good as the original. But considering the ridiculously high bar of A Quiet Place, Part II still comes in as an emotional, suspense-filled movie with some horrific imagery here and there. In the most obvious statement I’ll make in this countdown, John Krasinski is good at directing and writing movies.

This one focuses more on Millicent Simmonds than even the first, which is probably for the best as she’s completely capable of carrying a movie on her own. But luckily we get Murphy’s new character as well, which is a treat. I think the only real problem is that the emotional core isn’t quite as strong as the first (the family is split up for most of the movie) and there are some decisions made that are dumb just for the sake of drama. Some can be explained away, but not all of them. This also felt very much like a “middle chapter”, so it’s not a surprise that there will be a third.

But that suspense formula the first movie set up still works, and there are plenty of tension-filled moments here. The scene on the train specifically has stuck with me. And then there’s the beautiful, haunting cinematography showing the world that has moved on following the end of the world. I’m on board with seeing where this franchise goes, especially if the movies continue to be quality.

#8: The Boy Behind The Door

Director: David Charbonier & Justin Powell

Cast: Lonnie Chavis, Ezra Dewey, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Micah Hauptman, Scott Michael Foster

Story: After Bobby and his best friend Kevin are kidnapped and taken to a strange house in the middle of nowhere, Bobby manages to escape. But then he hears Kevin’s screams for help and realizes he can’t leave his friend behind.

Available on: Shudder

I’m a sucker for a movie where kids go up against horrific circumstances and overcome them by being badass. IT, The Monster Squad, Phantasm, The Gate. The Boy Behind the Door is more realistic than any of those, but that doesn’t make the kids in this movie any less badass.

This is a very tense movie that relies on suspense and atmosphere (and suggestion) to build its scares. The fact the protagonists are children facing every parent’s worse nightmare is probably a somewhat cheap tactic for that, but it is effective. We mainly follow Bobby as he works to free his best friend Kevin from a kidnapper with, let’s say nefarious intent. The movie is not afraid to put its actors in peril, and in any other movie, the kids might get away scot-free. You’re never sure that’s going to be the case here. There were many moments where I was convinced one or both of them would die. I won’t say if I was right or not, but I will say that the fact that I was never sure for the safety of the leads is a big credit to the movie’s pace, directing and script.

The only flaw, the one that brings it down to me. is the kidnapper. I can’t reveal a lot about them because who they are is kind of a twist, but I will say that they were a lot more intimidating when they were in the shadows. Once we see the face of the threat, they begin to ham it up and give villain speeches like they stepped out of an entirely different movie. It’s disappointing but it’s only a small misstep. But it’s a minor flaw that can easily be ignored when it’s contained in a movie this engaging.

#7: V/H/S/94

Director: Jennifer Reeder, Chloe Okuno, Simon Barrett, Timo Tahjanto, Ryan Prows

Cast: Anna Hopkins, Christian Potenza, Kyal Legend, Shania Sree Maharani, Budi Ross, Donny Alamsyah, Christian Lloyd, Cameron Kneteman

Story: A police S.W.A.T. team investigates about a mysterious VHS tape and discovers a sinister cult that has pre-recorded material which uncovers a nightmarish conspiracy.

Available on: Shudder


Sorry, um, where was I? Oh yes, V/H/S/94, which is probably the best in the series. I know that this series has its detractors but I’ve mostly enjoyed them, even if I considered Viral to be a misstep.

94 would have been rated even higher if not for the final story, which honestly was about as “on the nose” about recent political events as you can get. Sure, redneck militias have been a thing for a long time, but the timing was suspect. But even beyond that, the final story just wasn’t that good. It was silly, annoying and paint by numbers. And, honestly, with how darkly comedic it was, it didn’t fit the tone of the rest of the movie.

The rest of the movie though? Great. The wraparound serves its purpose. The first story begins the trend of the weird and violent, with a few creepy moments and a grotesque monster I guarantee you’ve never seen before. The second story is a nice bit of suspense with a wild ending. This sets the stage for the third story, which is my favorite. It’s absolutely insane, gory, violent and even kind of emotional. I honestly wouldn’t have minded an entire feature like this. If that Siren short from the first film can get a spinoff, let’s get one about the mad scientist making cyberpunk Tetsuo abominations.

I had a lot of fun watching this. They realized “Safe Haven” was considered the best story of the first three movies for a reason and made more like that. Well played, let’s keep this franchise going.

And hail Raatma.

#6: Till Death

Director: SK Dale

Cast: Megan Fox, Eoin Macken, Callan Mulvey, Jack Roth, Aml Ameen

Story: A woman is left handcuffed to her dead husband as part of a sick revenge plot. Unable to unshackle, she has to survive as two killers arrive to finish her off.

Available on: Netflix

Handcuffs and a weekend cabin in the middle of nowhere just aren’t going to go well for marriages that are on the rocks. Note to married couples: if you are having issues in your relationship, light BDSM is not the way to solve them! Unless those issues are that things aren’t kinky enough, in which case have at it. That description may evoke Gerald’s Game for you, and it should, because there’s a lot here that reminds me of that. But outside of the general concept (husband dies, wife is trapped in the middle of nowhere), Till Death is very much its own thing.

Megan Fox has had a reputation of being a bad actress in Hollywood. The Transformers movies are what they are, and she probably doesn’t have the best track record. But Jennifer’s Body has been getting a reappraisal over the years and she showed up to prove something to somebody in this movie. And she nails it, because Fox has to carry this movie on her own and she does it. She’s aided by the film itself, putting her in the harshest of circumstances and then somehow making those circumstances worse as the movie continues. And the person responsible for it all is already dead, basically escaping justice. It’s hard not to feel angry for her and want her to survive.

But once again, she is in the position of having to carry the entire thing on her own just due to the isolated nature of it and she is able to do that admirably. This is a movie concept that just works. She really sells the despair of knowing she’s been set up to die but being too damn stubborn to let that happen. That makes for an incredibly tight, suspenseful little horror film that definitely surprised me.

#5: PG: Psycho Goreman

Director: Steven Kostanski

Cast: Nita-Josee Hanna, Owen Myre, Adam Brooks, Alexis Hancey, Matthew Ninaber, Kristen MacCulloch, Steven Vlahos, Reece Presley

Story: After unearthing a gem that controls an evil monster looking to destroy the Universe, a young girl and her brother use it to make him do their bidding.

Available on: Shudder

I mean, you watched the trailer, right? You understand why this would appeal to someone like me, right? This movie seems like it was made with me in mind. Would you be surprised to learn that I was initially very disappointed in it? Maybe it was my frame of mind at the time, I don’t know. But when I first watched this, I was sad that it wasn’t hitting me like I wanted it to.

But after it was over, I couldn’t get that song out of my head. Or some of the jokes. And so I realized I had to give it another chance immediately. I did. Then I watched it again the next week. Then again a month later. It quickly turned into a comfort film, much like Return of the Living Dead or Tremors. Am I saying it’s as good as those movies? I mean, maybe. It’s certainly similar to them in tone, gore and comedy. Maybe in ten years time or so, people will see this as a classic in its own right. That’s not my place to say. I just know this movie grew on me quickly and is now something I absolutely love.

It won’t be for everybody, particularly because the humor can miss at times and Mimi tends to be a little too good at being a brat. That said, the visuals were amazing (so many great, practical creature effects!) and the jokes that do land are hilarious. PG’s love of hunky boys, his awkwardness when invading dreams, his definition of “a warrior’s death”, it all works. Honestly, I loved just about everything about the Archduke of Nightmares. I hope we get sequels and he’s put even even stranger circumstances. This movie was weird, wild and more importantly, fun. It was the heckin’ best. Yeah, yeah yeah.

#4: Jakob’s Wife

Director: Travis Stevens

Cast: Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Bonnie Aarons, Robert Rusler, CM Punk

Story: Anne is married to a small-town minister and feels like her life and marriage have been shrinking over the past 30 years. After a chance encounter with “The Master,” she discovers bite marks on her neck, a new sense of power and an appetite to live bigger and bolder than ever. As Anne is increasingly torn between her enticing new existence and her life before, the body count grows and Jakob realizes he will have to fight for the wife he took for granted.

Available on: Shudder

I really liked Travis Stevens’ other movie The Girl on the Third Floor, so I was interested to see this movie’s take on vampires. This also has the benefit of including the seemingly ageless Barbara Crampton, which even CM Punk would probably say is a step up from him as the lead.

This movie reminds me a lot of Ginger Snaps. I can’t put my finger on why. Maybe it’s that the woman becomes a monster and it also lowers her inhibitions. Or maybe it just has that general vibe. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it was an influence. That’s a positive comparison, by the way, because I really enjoyed it. Crampton is really, really good in it. She’s absolutely committed to the script and whatever weirdness comes her way. I guess when you start your horror career in Re-Animator, nothing’s really that out of the box. It’s just always nice to see genre veterans not afraid of trying new things. Jakob’s Wife also has a high kill count and several impressive special effects, including the gross bite mark on Anne’s neck which actually throbs. For some reason that was worse than anything else to me. Not only that, but it’s a horror comedy, and a funny one. The banter between Anne and Jakob, particularly after she turns, makes the movie that much better.

This is a perfect Halloween movie, the right amounts of spooky and sometimes funny. And it was able to mix them both very well, which is tricky.

#3: Caveat

Director: Damian Mc Carthy

Cast: Jonathan French, Leila Sykes, Ben Caplan, Conor Dwane

Story: A lone drifter suffering from partial memory loss accepts a job to look after a psychologically troubled woman in an abandoned house on an isolated island.

Available on: Shudder

This was a late addition but I’m glad I managed to watch it in time. In the middle of a year that had no clear direction, Caveat remembers that the ultimate goal of horror is to be scary.

Every film prior to this made me feel things, but that doesn’t necessarily make them scary. This is, because it’s simple. It’s a haunted house story, or possibly a revenge thriller. It toes that line for a while until it makes a decision at the end. By that time that decision is made, you’re hopefully as engrossed by the story as I was to be floored. It has a lot of tension and that tension is actually building to something. That something is unsettling and stuck with me after the movie was over.

It’s so easy to make a movie like Caveat, but so difficult to get it right. Everything hinges on the performances and the pacing. The movie never quite lingers in one moment for too long. It wants to keep you engaged, and it does that by constantly keeping things moving, even when nothing is really happening. There’s always the feeling that something is off and our lead is in danger, which heightens things and prepares you for the film’s final twists and turns.

There’s no catch here, Caveat is just a damn effective horror film.

#2: Saint Maud

Director: Rose Glass

Cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle

Story: A pious nurse becomes dangerously obsessed with saving the soul of her dying patient.

Available on: Hulu, Paramount Plus

There are two really big moments in this movie that made me feel uncomfortable in different ways. The first is in the trailer (which I recommend avoiding) and the second is the last few shots of the movie. Both are equally haunting and cemented this movie as one of my favorites of the year. But hey, it’s an A24 horror film. Right away you know if you’re on board for that sort of thing or not. And yeah, Saint Maud could have been too dreary for its own good, but it remembered to have a point, which is why it ultimately won me over.

This movie went in directions I didn’t know it was going to, and yet the film’s conclusion is entirely logical in a completely insane kind of way. It reminded me a lot of religious take on May(2002), and I definitely believe Angelia Bettis would have nailed this role twenty years ago. Not that we needed her, because we had Morfydd Clark, who absolutely kills it. Somehow she’s both unassuming and at times menacing, as there were multiple times I thought she was going to murder someone for her very extreme faith. So tiny and quiet, yet there was a bubbling intensity that always made her feel like a threat to those around her.

Perhaps the best part of the movie, outside of Clark’s performance and how crazy things eventually get, is that it left me wanting more. We only given glimpses into what happened with Maud before she found “God”, and I just really want to know what it was to make her snap to this degree. Which I guess is the biggest compliment I can give the movie.

#1: The Night House

Director: David Bruckner

Cast: Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Evan Jongkeit, Stacy Martin, Vondie Curtis-Hall

Story: A widow begins to uncover her recently deceased husband’s disturbing secrets.

Available on: Video-on-demand, DVD, Blu-ray

One of my favorite parts of Midsommar, and one of the parts that make it a difficult watch for me, is how well it nails mental illness. The Night House is similar in some ways, as it’s a study on grief. Yes, after I spent the entire opening of this movie decrying horror’s penchant for grief porn, my #1 horror film of the year is a movie that has a commentary on grief as part of its premise. Both things can be true, is all I can say to that. And I think The Night House has something important to say with how it handles that and still manages to weave a scary, mindbending mystery into that message.

I do have a bit of a qualm with the trailer for making this movie seem like something it wasn’t (some type of ghost movie involving a mirror world) but once I got into it, I was sucked into the mystery and never knowing where the movie was going, which is rare. I had an idea of how it would end and thankfully was 100% wrong on that. Let me just say that I thought the movie was going to go one way, and had it went that way, I would have hated it.

Rebecca Hall somehow pulled off unlikeable and sympathetic in the same go. Because hey, people that are dealing with a lot aren’t likeable sometimes. I know I’m sure as hell difficult to deal with when I’m at my worst. Sometimes we’re very sarcastic. Sometimes we blow things off. Sometimes we get sucked into our own BS. A lesser movie would have had her friends abandon her as a result but this is a different movie. The scares worked at times, even if the jump scares were a little much. I did like the use of a prolonged jump scare though. There’s a moment when it does the usual “LOUD NOISE” scare, but it holds onto it for an extended period to the point it becomes uncomfortable. Excellent way to turn that concept around.

Between this and The Ritual, I am so ready for Bruckner’s take on Hellraiser. Bring on the new sexy Pinhead. Bruckner will deliver, I’m absolutely convinced of that.

And that’s it for me! 2021 delivered, and hopefully 2022 will too. I mean we’re already off to a great start thanks to Scream, and we still have X, Halloween Ends, the new Hellraiser, The Black Phone, a new Salem’s Lot and even a new Jordan Peele movie that’s probably already being called overrated as we speak.

Join me next year, won’t you?