Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time: The Top 10 Horror Films of 2022

March 3, 2023 | Posted by Joseph Lee
BARBARIAN Image Credit: 20th Century Studios

So this is late.

I don’t owe anyone an explanation but there was a time last year I didn’t want to watch horror. I didn’t want anything to do with death. I had to deal with my younger brother dying in August, something I’m still not over. Grief is really hard and I was surprised as anyone to know that something that used to be a comfort…wasn’t comforting me. It was making things worse.

I don’t really want to talk about it much, except to say again that grief is hard. I don’t know if I’ll ever be right. But eventually, I put on Return of the Living Dead and was able to enjoy it still. And honestly, my brother wouldn’t want me to give up what I love because I’m sad. So that’s how I was able to embrace the genre again.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t even sure I was going to do a list this year. I’ve sort of fallen into the mindset that it’s reductive to definitively classify movies as good or bad. Who cares, you know? I like movies most people don’t, and there are Oscar winners I’ll never watch. I have no desire to engage in film discourse with anyone but my friends anyway, given how toxic a lot of it has become. How someone can be hateful just because someone made a movie they didn’t like, I’ll never understand.

But as a lifelong, obsessive horror fan, I would love to comment on the amazing year for horror we had in 2022. We had lot of great from the mainstream, the independent scene and streaming. This was a year that an ultra-gory slasher like Terrifier 2 had a successful theatrical run. Long dormant franchises came back in big ways, showing they still had life in them. We got new movies with Ghostface, Pinhead, Leatherface and the Predator this year and Chucky is still kicking around on TV.

Not only that, but Hollywood is embracing the genre again and letting filmmakers try new things. Do all of them land? No. I mean whatever you think about Halloween Ends, at least appreciate the fact that David Gordon Green would have never been allowed to try something out of the box like that in the Dimension days. And isn’t it amazing that you could see the latest Jordan Peele movie only a few short months after watching a horror movie starring the Foo Fighters?

We had slashers, we had thrillers, we had aliens, witches and ghosts. There was something for everyone and a lot of really, really fun movies came out, so much so that a top ten doesn’t feel like it’s doing this year justice.

So I’m labeling three of the movies this year as the worst and ten as the best, but remember, this is my personal opinion. If you liked or didn’t like them, that’s okay! Let’s talk about it! But the fact that these people are even getting movies out there, living their dreams after whatever life gave them is pretty cool. Let’s all just remember that.

To put it bluntly: horror movies fucking rule. I’m so happy that the genre is experiencing the resurgence it is. I hope it continues to try new things and be scary, weird, fun and everything in-between.

With that in mind, here are my picks for the top three Worst Horror Films of 2022

#3: Firestarter

We’ve now entered the period where most of Stephen King’s stories have already been adapted, so now it’s time to remake them. In some cases, the movie is getting a second remake, like Children of the Corn (or Carrie before it). Firestarter is a novel that could benefit from a new adaptation, as the original is largely forgettable outside of the fire effects. Of course, the novel itself is largely forgettable. It should, arguably, make for a better movie than a book.

The remake is just bland and uninteresting. It shouldn’t be, it’s about a girl that can create fire with her mind, but it is. Not only does it change who the characters are completely from the novel, it makes them more unlikeable. Ryan Kiera Armstrong tries hard but the script does her no favors. The movie meanders from one point to another without anything having any real weight. It completely jettisons any kind of character development in favor of having something burn with CGI fire every ten minutes or so.

For a movie called Firestarter, it has absolutely no spark. I’ll stick with George C. Scott’s eyepatch and David Keith’s bad accent from the 1982 version over this.

#2: Umma

This was very close to being my worst of the year. Like Firestarter, it’s bland and uninspired. Like Firestarter, it features a cast that is genuinely trying only to be let down by the script. Sandra Oh in particular is actually quite good in it. But that script is wrought with half-baked ideas. The scares are lazy and formulaic while the drama is heavy-handed and over-the-top. There’s nothing worth recommending.

I watched this on a whim because I am an AMC Stubs A-List member and I still feel as though I overpaid. It’s telling that it’s been almost a year since I’ve seen this and I can barely remember it. Yes, recency bias may have saved this one from being my worst. The movie is so rushed and jumps from plot point to plot point that it has no time to build to anything. So it’s a series of half-measures to limp to an unsatisfying conclusion. It’s not scary, it’s not dramatic, it’s not suspenseful. Umma fails to deliver on any conceivable level, making the run time feel much longer than it actually is.

#1: Jeepers Creepers: Reborn

I think it can be said, in and of itself, the monster in Jeepers Creepers is an interesting concept. The problem is that the movies it is in are tainted by their director. I won’t go into the crimes of Victor Salva in this write-up, but he seems fairly unrepentant when you look at his work. As such, I have no desire to watch his movies anymore or contribute to giving him any more money. Hollywood had the answer: buy out the rights to the character and keep making the movies without all the other stuff weighing it down.

That’s easier said than done, particularly when you dedicate your reboot to his victim. Yes, that happened.

Real life issues aside, Jeepers Creepers: Reborn is easily the worst in the series. The movie is cheaply made, poorly written and insufferable. You can tell it was shot on a set and all of the backgrounds were digitally imposed. You can tell that the set itself was made of cheap materials. All of the money went into the Creeper itself, which still looks like the DTV version of the original monster it is. People paid money to make this thing but they didn’t pay a lot of it. That’s not even counting the script, which has characters that are both bland and easily disliked. Standard post-millennium slasher fare in terms of people just there to get killed. It does try something new with the mythology, but it barely has any relevance to what happens at the end. I just hope Dee Wallace got paid well for her cameo.

Hollywood, it’s okay to let the Creeper die. There are plenty of great ideas out there more deserving of our attention. Like can you believe there’s still only one Chopping Mall? Let’s get some sequels to that.

And now for something completely different…

If there’s one sign that the pandemic is well and truly on its last legs, it’s that Hollywood was comfortable putting those movies into theaters. But like always, I don’t like being negative. And if you like those movies, great. I don’t. So let’s agree to disagree and move on to…

The Top Ten Horror Films of 2022!

#10: Hellraiser

Director: David Bruckner

Cast: Odessa A’zion, Jamie Clayton, Adam Faison, Drew Starkey, Brandon Flynn, Aoife Hinds

Story: A take on Clive Barker’s 1987 horror classic where a young woman struggling with addiction comes into possession of an ancient puzzle box, unaware that its purpose is to summon the Cenobites.

Available on: Hulu

Last year David Bruckner got #1 with The Night House and his other film The Ritual also previously made my top ten. It was a safe bet that I was going to love this, and I did. The Hellraiser remake, much like The Thing or The Fly did in the 80s, is a perfect example of how to properly do a remake. You don’t simply copy what came before. You take the basic concepts and make it your own. The core of Hellraiser is there: the box, the cenobites, Leviathan, the chains, etc. But it’s a remix. It’s something new using something old. Heck, if you squint your eyes, you could assume this could still be part of the original canon.

There were complaints that this was too much like a slasher movie, but I say differently. Some of the characters are underdeveloped, sure, but their deaths mean something. They have impact, especially when a decision is made at the end. Even the best slashers aren’t really able to make every character death have a point. In this one, each death propels the story forward.

And you can’t really praise the new Hellraiser without praising the new Pinhead. Jamie Clayton does absolutely amazing, as I think anyone who saw the trailer assumed she would. She’s a different take on the character. While Doug Bradley played Pinhead as somewhat regal in the 1987 film, Clayton plays her version as colder, but with a gleam in her eye that suggest she really enjoys what she does. I would be interested in seeing a sequel. This is a reboot that manages to wash away the bad taste of what Dimension Films did to the series for decades.

#9: Resurrection

Director: Andrew Semans

Cast: Rebecca Hall, Tim Roth, Michael Esper, Grace Kaufman, Angela Wong Carbone

Story: Margaret’s life is in order. She is capable, disciplined and successful. Everything is under control until David returns – that is – carrying with him the horrors of Margaret’s past.

Available on: Shudder

There were a lot of independent movies this year that didn’t hit with me in the same way they did for others. Some of them I wanted to like. Some of them I even did like, but they barely missed this list. Resurrection was a late watch, but it manages to make the cut entirely on the performance of Rebecca Hall. It was Hall that kept me absolutely absorbed by The Night House last year and she does so again here. This is actually a weaker film (although still engrossing), so she actually has to do more heavy lifting.

The movie is just a fantastic look at trauma, in my opinion. If we don’t actually deal with it, it won’t matter how put together our lives are. Eventually it will come back and destroy everything. That’s the case here and Hall just gives a fantastic performance as someone who is breaking down completely from trying to deal with it unexpectedly. Since this is horror, we do get a more macabre twist, but without a great lead actress to sell it, the premise would all flat. And Tim Roth is no slouch either, coming off as menacing without doing a whole lot.

And this is another movie where the ending is going to decide whether or not you’re with it. I think Hall is able to convey what the ending actually is beautifully.

#8: Scream

Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett

Cast: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Melissa Barrera, Jack Quaid, Mikey Madison, Jenna Ortega, Dylan Minnette, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Sonia Ammar, Marley Shelton, Roger Jackson

Story: 25 years after a streak of brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, Calif., a new killer dons the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town’s deadly past.

Available on: Paramount Plus

I gave this a glowing review last year but even I’m kind of shocked that the fifth movie in a long-running slasher franchise made my best of list. But here we are and Scream 5 takes the eighth spot. It’s probably because a recent watch confirmed to me that it has the best script in the series since at least the first one. It just manages to nail the “requel” format and on top of that, takes some very cutting shots at toxic fandoms. And toxic fans really need to be taken down a peg or two, although there’s a strong chance it’ll go over their heads.

Beyond that, this is also the first Scream movie since the second to feel like it has any kind of stakes. Ghostface is not playing around and you can see that by how mean-spirited the kills are. They’re not necessarily any more graphic, but there’s just a cruelty behind them not seen in other films. The script makes some bold but necessary choices in order to establish that and as a result, the next film in the series will likely have fans fearing for the lives of their favorites more than they may have.

I don’t know how much longer this franchise can keep going, but this fifth movie proves it still has some life in it. It might be the best since the first one. I say bring on Scream VI!

#7: The Black Phone

Director: Scott Derrickson

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, E. Roger Mitchell, James Ransone

Story: After being abducted by a child killer and locked in a soundproof basement, a 13-year-old boy starts receiving calls on a disconnected phone from the killer’s previous victims.

Available on: Prime Video

Horror fans love our villains. It’s why there are so many franchises in the genre. We’ll keep going to see Michael Myers no matter how many times he comes back. So that’s probably why something like The Black Phone works so well. On paper, it shouldn’t. While it’s a Joe Hill story, it features a lot of the tropes that his dad made famous and ran into the ground. The small town, kids dealing with things kids shouldn’t deal with, psychics, all of that. And yet somehow the script, direction and especially performances make it work. It’s thrilling and rewards the viewer for coming along on the journey.

And really, there’s not enough that can be said about Ethan Hawke as the Grabber. The man is terrifying in this, even though I’m a grown man and wouldn’t be a target. And yet, there’s also something about the Grabber that’s kind of pathetic. But that only serves to make him scarier. He feels like someone with nothing to lose and those are the most dangerous. Hawke made the most of his screen time in this and yes, those masks helped. I don’t foresee the Grabber getting a sequel, even though he’s exactly the kind of character that horror makes franchise stars out of.

#6: Smile

Director: Parker Finn

Cast: Sosie Bacon, Kyle Gallner, Jessie T. Usher, Robin Weigert, Caitlin Stasey, Kal Penn

Story: After witnessing a bizarre, traumatic incident involving a patient, a psychiatrist becomes increasingly convinced she is being threatened by an uncanny entity.

Available on: Prime Video, Paramount Plus

The trailer for this movie was awful. It gave a lot away and honestly, made the movie feel like Truth or Dare (which was terrible). And yet something about the marketing got me inside the theater anyway and I couldn’t be happier. Smile is fantastically creepy. It is a surprisingly effective horror movie that does so many little things right that the usual overreliance on jump scares you get with this kind of movie still works. It’s a movie that sticks with you, which given the plot, you probably don’t want.

If I could say one thing about 2022, it was a year of great acting in horror. In this case, Sosie Bacon absolutely carries this movie on her back. I think her role is somewhat thankless, but she manages to convey exactly what paranoia feels like. The movie in general does that. Speaking from experience, paranoia is scary and exhausting. Bacon is able to show that through her performance and that helps draw you in as a viewer. A good character and a good performance will make even weak jump scares work, even if you know they’re coming. That’s the case here. Smile is deceptive in that way. The trailer did it no favors, because it is an effective, dark supernatural horror that gets under your skin.

#5: Bones and All

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Cast: Taylor Russell, Timothee Chalamet, Mark Rylance, Andre Holland, Michael Stuhlbarg, Chloe Sevigny, David Gordon Green, Jessica Harper

Story: A story of first love between Maren, a young woman learning how to survive on the margins of society, and Lee, an intense and disenfranchised drifter, as they meet and join together for a thousand-mile odyssey which takes them through the back roads, hidden passages and trap doors of Ronald Reagan’s America. But despite their best efforts, all roads lead back to their terrifying pasts and to a final stand that will determine whether their love can survive their otherness.

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

Hey look it’s this year’s “is this really a horror film” entry. There’s always one. And I wasn’t too sure myself before I watched it. After I watched it, I was convinced that yes, this is horror. It’s also romance. It’s also a coming of age story. It’s also a dark comedy. It’s a lot of things. It’s also sadly underrated because I love this movie. Luca Guadagnino is a very stylish director, you could see that in the Suspiria remake, but here he’s more restrained and it only helps the material.

It’s not pure horror, of course, but it’s definitely horrific. The cannibalism, which you don’t see much, is done in a way to be repulsive. Compare it to any other film on this list and the kills are done for shock or maybe even a laugh. In this, it’s disgusting without ever being graphic. Just the sound of it in one scene made me want to puke. And that’s to say nothing of Mark Rylance, who makes the most of his time on screen and is absolutely unnerving as Sully. So the horror definitely works. But it also works in many other ways. It’s just a really good movie that seems to be getting overlooked. Definitely check this one out if you were on the fence about it.

#4: X

Director: Ti West

Cast: Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Scott Mescudi, Martin Henderson, Owen Campbell

Story: In 1979, a group of young filmmakers set out to make an adult film in rural Texas, but when their reclusive, elderly hosts catch them in the act, the cast find themselves fighting for their lives.

Available on: Showtime, DVD, Blu-ray, video on demand

Ti West is such a fascinating filmmaker and somehow he managed to put out two (great) horror movies last year without anyone knowing about it. Now he’s got a third in the series coming out soon and I couldn’t be more excited for it. Pretty solid work after this unassuming slasher laid the groundwork. X is somewhat of a slow burn, but it pays that off with solid kills and memorable characters. Oh and some very creepy, strange moments that definitely leave an impression.

X is just a good slasher with a lot of effort put into it. And while yes, West deserves a lot of the credit, this movie shines thanks to Mia Goth in dual roles. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even know that Pearl was Goth at first, that’s how good she was. Of course, it was only a few months later that everyone would realize she was only scratching the surface on what she could do as the character. That said, X‘s strong cast, creepy moments and believable villains make it a very worthwhile horror film.

#3: The Menu

Director: Mark Mylod

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Paul Adelstein, John Leguizamo, Judith Light

Story: A young couple travels to a remote island to eat at an exclusive restaurant where the chef has prepared a lavish menu, with some shocking surprises.

Available on: HBO Max

Well, there had to be a horror comedy somewhere on this list. And that horror comedy is The Menu, a very dark movie that will teach you to be a little kinder to the service industry…or pay the price. Sadly the ones who need that lesson likely aren’t interested in hearing it, but that’s a rant for another day. This is another one where the horror part isn’t as overt, but here it’s a dark comedy so that makes sense. There are some very sinister things happening in this movie and yet they’re also funny. Whether or not you feel guilty for laughing may depend on if you’ve ever had to serve people before.

Ralph Fiennes is brilliant here as the Chef that is barely maintaining his composure as his grand design falls into place. He’s very calm and collected on the outside, but you can see rage bubbling just under the surface. Anya Taylor-Joy proves to be admirable as his foil and Nicholas Hoult is a guy you’ll want to punch in the face by the time the movie is over. The movie itself is funny, if never creepy at all. It would be easy to dismiss this as “torture porn” or whatever, but it’s not that. At all. There’s a method to The Menu‘s madness and it’s style of humor, carried with the strong performances, make it a very satisfying meal overall.

#2: Pearl

Director: Ti West

Cast: Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, Matthew Sunderland, Emma Jenkins-Purro

Story: In 1918, a young woman on the brink of madness pursues stardom in a desperate attempt to escape the drudgery, isolation and lovelessness of life on her parents’ farm.

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

All hail Mia Goth, Queen of horror. The genre is her world right now and we’re just living in it. If you need to be convinced, there is one particular scene in Pearl that managed to convince me just how great she was. Not only that, but it’s the reason Pearl manages to place just a little higher than X, even though I knew both were going to make it early on. Pearl gives Missy a monologue in which she tries to explain exactly what’s wrong with her and confess to what she’s done. It is a speech, nothing more, that manages to make you realize that something is seriously wrong with this character. Not just that, it makes Pearl both pitiful and absolutely terrifying. It’s chilling.

That Goth could take what is basically a soliloquy and sell it in the way that she does is what sold this movie for me. The rest is just icing on the cake, although it’s pretty sweet icing. The movie is essentially a one-woman show, but it’s designed that way. This is a character study and it turns out that Pearl, in her pursuit of stardom, is equal parts fascinating and demented. Maybe something made her this way. Maybe she was always this way. If you’re someone who crosses her path, it won’t matter much. I don’t know what Ti West’s plans are for Maxxxine, but I hope there’s a way he can revisit Pearl in the future. Goth is just too good in that role not to.

#1: Barbarian

Director: Zach Cregger

Cast: Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgard, Justin Long, Matthew Patrick Davis, Richard Brake, Jaymes Butler

Story: A woman staying at an Airbnb discovers that the house she has rented is not what it seems.

Available on: HBO Max

Some years, when I put this list together, I have trouble deciding my top pick. Some years, there can be as many as three that are interchangeable for the top spot. I don’t want to say that Barbarian is far and away the best horror movie of the year, but I knew the moment I walked out it was going to be my number one choice. Sue me, I have very specific tastes and this movie managed to cater to all of them. It’s strange, it’s funny, it’s gory and yes, it’s definitely creepy. It’s also surprising, which isn’t something horror does for me that often these days. I think it’s safe to say I wasn’t alone, as no one could possibly predict what was going to happen just from the film’s trailer.

That’s also what makes it a hard movie to review. I always operate under the assumption there’s someone reading this who hasn’t seen at least some of the movies on the list. And Barbarian is a movie you have to see without knowing anything about it. The places this film takes you are so much better when you go into it blind. That said, it does hold up on repeat viewings, because it has a very solid cast and it knows what it’s doing. Horror and comedy are all about the punchline and this manages to straddle the line between both genres. It is most definitely horror, but you will definitely find yourself laughing at the absurdity. And that’s by design.

Barbarian is a movie that begs to be seen and then dares you not to look away. I absolutely loved it and once the credits rolled, I knew it was my favorite of the year.

So, what was YOUR favorite scary movie? And what movies are you looking forward to this year? Let me know in the comments! And have a spooky 2023!