Movies & TV / Columns

The 411 Horror Movie Awards, Part 2: Best Film, Best Acting, Best Direction, More

February 19, 2024 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Godzilla Minus One Image Credit: TOHO International

Here we go with the second (and final) part of this year’s first-ever 411 Horror Awards! This is where we get into the big decisions, as we look at the top categories and the best the genre had to offer. For those who may have missed part one, here are the winners thus far:

* Worst Horror Movie of 2023: Winnie the Pooh: Blood & Honey
* Most Anticipated of 2024: Nosferatu
* Best Movie Monster: Godzilla (Godzilla Minus One
* Best Effects: Evil Dead Rise
* Best Kill: Brain Surgery (Saw X)
* Best Scare: The Dog (When Evil Lurks)

Same panel as last time, same guys giving their thoughts on the best of the year. This year it consists of (in alphabetical order):

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

Now that we have all the introductory stuff out of the way, let’s get into it!


Music has been integral to great horror film since horror films first gained sound, maybe even before. It can be part of what makes a great scare or even help set the mood for what’s to come.

And the nominees are…

Drum & Lace (Cobweb)

Cobweb is a film that I wish more people had a chance to see, because it’s a very solid bit of gateway horror. Drum & Lace’s dreamy, dark fairytale-like score goes a long way to adding mood to the film. It’s hauntingly gorgeous and makes wonderful mood music in and out of the film. Honestly, it is one of the few scores that I really enjoy listening to on its own, which says a lot.” – Jeremy Thomas

Naoki Satō (Godzilla Minus One

“Naoki Satō had a tall order (no pun intended) when composing Godzilla Minus One; he had update the classic Godzilla sound. I was surprised and deeply impressed with how good of a job he did. The score for the kaiju film is less bombastic than most Godzilla films and leans more on atmospheric elements, but that makes it a perfect fit for this particular film. It’s heavy and almost oppressive in some situations, setting the tone for the post-war Japanese tragedies and selling the threat in such scenes as the Ginza City attack. Gorgeous work all around.” – Jeremy Thomas

“It would have been a great score without the classic Godzilla theme. And that theme is only used three times, one of which is the end credits. The other times it’s used, it’s only when it can have the most impact: Godzilla’s attack on Ginza and when the Japanese citizens try to fight back. The score definitely went for a “less is more” approach and that worked.”

Charlie Clouser (Saw X):

“It’s a Saw movie. You know ahead of time that the movie’s score is going to be top notch and memorable, even if the movie somehow isn’t. Saw X is no different. It’s great to hear “Hello, Zepp” again in a movie theater.” – Bryan Kristopowitz

Brian Tyler & Sven Faulconer (Scream VI)

“I can’t imagine what the pressure that Brian Tyler felt in terms of composing the music for 2022’s Scream. It’s not an easy act following Marco Beltrami’s instantly recognizable work and while Tyler did fine with that film, he seems to be way more comfortable with the score to Scream VI. Sven Faulconer joins in this time around and we got a fairly bold score in terms of this franchise. We still get that iconic Scream main theme in a motif heard throughout as well as the return of the Ghostface theme from the last film, but it gets a little adventurous and more expansive in keeping with the larger setting of New York, with a couple flutterings of a gothic sound in there as well. Bridging that gap between old faves and new directions is what these last couple films have been all about; Tyler and Faulconer did hat job really well here.” – Jeremy Thomas

Pablo Fuu (When Evil Lurks)

“There’s just something about the score for this movie that just gets under my skin. I guess that makes sense given everything else that happens in the movie. But the use of string instruments is unnerving and it almost comes off as Jaws-esque. It says a lot that there’s a lot of horrific things happening on the screen and somehow the music still evokes dread.” – Joseph Lee


Godzilla Minus One


Believe it or not, horror movies aren’t as easy to write as you’d think. It’s not all jump scares and gore. An effective horror movie has to have well-written characters we care about or none of that works. It has to have a story we’re invested in or the kills mean nothing.

And the nominees are…

Ari Aster (Beau is Afraid)

“The complexity stood out to me here, especially as a non-traditional horror story.” – Jake Chambers

“The fact is, Ari Aster won over a lot of horror fans with Hereditary and Midsommar. He could have played it safe with his next film. The fact that he instead made a film that was incredibly personal and borderline self-indulgent says a lot about his devotion to the craft, I think. The script for Beau is Afraid takes some wild swings, and the viewer may not always be willing to go with it. And yet, within the confines of the world Aster created, it still fits, somehow.” – Joseph Lee

Tracy Oliver & Dewayne Perkins (The Blackening)

“While not exactly as Meta as it was made out to be, The Blackening was a great addition to the Slasher-Comedy genre that had phenomenally funny characters and great moments.” – Rob Stewart

“This film had every opportunity to go either direction, good or bad. Horror comedy is hard; topical horror comedy is even harder. But Tracy Oliver & Dewayne Perkins made a genuinely hilarious flick that was populated with funny characters. And sure, some of that is the wonderful comic timing but the jokes really land for the most part. If you haven’t checked this out yet, do yourself a favor and give it a shot because it’s well worth it.” – Jeremy Thomas

Dennis Paoli (Suitable Flesh):

“Adapting a Lovecraft story has to be a daunting creative endeavor. Because, really, how do you do it? What do you include? What do you exclude (beyond the racism)? And do you really want to put up with the inevitable crap from the Lovecraft fans who, like all other fandoms, are never quite satisfied? Paouli clearly figured out how to do it, and Suitable Flesh is one of the best Lovecraft adaptations to date. Truly remarkable work that you have to see and experience fresh. I keep saying that but it’s true. Everything about Suitable Flesh will surprise you.” – Bryan Kristopowitz

Danny Phillippou & Bill Hinzman (Talk to Me)

“There’s a lot that makes Talk to Me work, but it all starts on the page. Danny and Michael Philippou wrote one of the best scripts of the year here, creating dialogue that (in a horror rarity) actually sounds like how young people talk and smartly leaning into thematic material that can be read a number of different ways. But what makes the story so effective is that even if you aren’t looking for a deeper message, it simply works as a creepy horror flick. Talk To Me was mostly lauded for the performance and technical aspects (and those are great), but I’m happy to be able to give the writing a well-deserved shout-out too.” – Jeremy Thomas

Demian Rugna (When Evil Lurks)

“When Evil Lurks doesn’t work without a strong script. You can do all the demon possession and gross effects you want, but it’s the bleak world Rugna crafted that sells it. At its core, the movie is about a man that wants to protect his children. Unfortunately, evil is indeed lurking. Every scene is written well and the result is a disturbing, nihilistic movie that isn’t for everyone, but wasn’t meant to be.” – Joseph Lee


Suitable Flesh


Romero. Craven. Carpenter. A great horror movie usually has a great director the helm, leading things with a steady hand. You can tell when a movie has great direction. It looks good. It sounds good. It scares good. Everything that can go right does, because all the elements tie together perfectly.

And the nominees are…

Kyle Edward Ball (Skinamarink)

“When a director can make a movie that looks so inexpensive yet you can’t figure out how they did it, that needs to be celebrated. This was Texas Chainsaw Massacre levels of pulling off that illusion, making the terror of the story all the more creepingly real.” – Jake Chambers

“I know Skinamarink was wildly divisive, but it kept me on the edge of my seat and had me convinced there was SOMETHING there that was just… out of… reach..” – Rob Stewart

Lee Cronin (Evil Dead Rise)

“It’s a lot harder to make a successful Evil Dead film than I think people can imagine. You have to have that perfect mix of horror and humor. Lee Cronin took on a tall task by finding that balance in a setting the franchise was unfamiliar with, and he pulled it off with flying colors. His direction work in this is better than what we’ve seen in horror from people far more experienced than him. It’s wonderfully shot and all comes together for a thrilling new entry in the franchise. I wouldn’t at all mind seeing him do another one of these.” – Jeremy Thomas

Danny & Michael Phillippou (Talk to Me):

“I suppose the highest praise goes to the fact that these guys were essentially “YouTube Directors,” and put out a gem of a horror film with the sheen and veneer of seasoned vets, but aside from that, they were atmospheric and commanded the eye. They weren’t afraid to let us settle on the macabre, while still utilizing light to set the mood.” – Tony Acero

Demian Rugna (When Evil Lurks)

“Demián Rugna became one of my favorite indie horror directors just off this one film. Rugna has a singular vision when it comes to When Evil Lurks and the way he puts it all together puts the fear and shock factor back into indie horror. There’s a lot of slow burn dread in this, but Rugna was able to balance that with some of the most fear-inducing moments I can remember in a while.” – Jeremy Thomas

Takashi Yamazaki (Godzilla Minus One)

“An easy winner for Best Direction, as Godzilla managed to balance several tones, didn’t shy away from showing the beast despite its budget, and was a huge financial success.” – Rob Stewart

“Takashi Yamazaki is about to become a big deal in Hollywood thanks to one movie. And yet all I’ve seen him talk about in interviews is what he wants to do in his next Godzilla movie. It’s still amazing to me that one man was able to do so much (he also wrote the script and supervised the visual effects) to bring such a movie to life. And you can tell it’s a capable director when you watch it. Godzilla’s on screen for maybe twenty minutes, and that’s a high estimate. But every moment he’s there, it feels impactful. When he’s not? The movie is still amazing. I say give him as much money as he wants for the next one.” – Joseph Lee


Demian Rugna (When Evil Lurks)


As with any genre, a supporting performance is one that is limited on screentime but not on ability to steal the show. In a horror movie, it could be someone we like that gets killed off quickly. It could be the final girl’s best friend. Or it could be the monster itself.

And the nominees are…

Dave Bautista (Knock at the Cabin)

“Big Dave continues taking some of the better (or at least more challenging) roles of any wrestler-turned-actor. Here he plays a soft-spoken teacher out to stop the end of the world.” — Rob Stewart

“We’re wrestling fans here at 411, and most of us love to see a wrestling star find success elsewhere. And Dave Bautista’s acting ascension is perhaps the clearest example. Bautista delivered some of the most nuanced work of his career in Knock At the Cabin, a film I didn’t love but one that was very much an actor’s film. As the most memorable of the antagonists in M. Night Shyamalan’s film, Bautista contrasted his physicality with a mild mannered performance to make one of the most sympathetic villains of horror in the past year and I loved it.” – Jeremy Thomas

Nicolas Cage (Renfield)

“It’s Nic Cage playing a flamboyant, charismatic version of Dracula. It was exactly the performance we all needed it to be.” — Rob Stewart

“I know that Renfield’s weird vibes weren’t for everyone, but Nicolas Cage was clearly having a lot of run playing old-school Dracula and it elevated the film. Cage has always been able to mix wildly divergent tones and it’s not his most madcap performance but it’s still a lot of fun, making for one of my favorite of the year.” – Jeremy Thomas

Sofia Garcia (Everyone Will Burn):

Everyone Will Burn was one the best horror films of 2023 that almost no one saw because it was a Spanish language film which went VOD. But it’s worth watching just for the performance of Sofia Garcia as Lucía, a mysterious child who is more than she appears. Garcia nails the creepy evil child thing perfectly and plays into the film’s mix of horror, drama, comedy and telenovela goodness. This is a film I implore more people to see, and Garcia is a big part of that.” – Jeremy Thomas

Shawnee Smith (Saw X)

“Seeing Shawnee Smith’s Amanda back in a Saw movie is weird, sure, but if you’re going to do a movie that’s essentially all about Tobin Bell’s John Kramer, it would seem wrong not to have one of his main apprentice’s along for the ride. Amanda gives Saw a surprising amount of heart, which is odd considering what happens in the movie and, well, it’s a Saw movie. Who would ever consider the Saw franchise as having heart? Will she be coming back, too, in the next one?” – Bryan Kristopowitz

“I was just happy to see the return of “Amanda”, especially since they didn’t try to face de-age her or any other kind of make-up to explain away why she looks older thus giving Shawnee the freedom to just play the long-time Jigsaw acolyte as only she can.” – Jake Chambers

Alyssa Sunderland (Evil Dead Rise)

“Said it in the first part of this and I’ll say it again. Alyssa Sunderland was easily the best Deadite to ever Deadite. She just puts everything into playing Ellie to become a frightening monster. Deadites aren’t supposed to be fun. They’re demons that send your soul to Hell and use your body to torture your loved ones. That doesn’t mean they can’t be, but let’s put things into perspective. Sunderland is able to convey that performance as something very alien to humanity, becoming an instant threat as soon as she’s introduced.” – Joseph Lee

“If you’re going to play a Deadite, you have to be game for anything. I don’t think there’s been someone more game than Alyssa Sutherland, who threw everything she had into this delightfully malicious performance. As Ellie, Sutherland is creepy and menacing but balances that out with a malevolant glee that really sparks life into the film. She got some of the most memorable horror moments of 2023 and made the most of them.” – Jeremy Thomas


Dave Bautista (Knock at the Cabin)


The villain. The final girl. The hero. Archetypes in horror became that way because of an iconic lead performance. Bela Lugosi made the definitive Dracula. Jamie Lee Curtis became the ultimate Scream Queen. A strong performance can carry a horror film or it can make a great movie greater.

And the nominees are…

Tobin Bell (Saw X)

“While Tobin Bell has essentially been the star of the Saw franchise since it started Bell’s John Kramer has never really been the star of a Saw movie, which is one of the reasons why Saw X is so great. It really is his movie, and while you sort of always knew that Bell could do it (carry a movie), it’s still a surprising pleasure to see him get to actually do it. Bell is nothing short of phenomenal in Saw X.” – Bryan Kristopowitz

“If there’s one thing people clamored for more and more as the SAW films rolled out almost yearly, it was the presence of Tobin Bell’s John Kramer. Soft-spoken, damaged, and mechanical genius, he was someone people rooted for. Here, he was able to act more than probably any other iteration of the Saw films, and it allowed us into a mind we were already familiar with, but only ever saw the evil side. Bell was allowed to fully commit to the human side, and although the sympathy garnered was minimal, we finally got a Tobin Bell led film.” – Tony Acero

“Throughout the Saw movies, the John Kramer scenes have always been some of the most compelling. In Saw X, we got the full-Kramer, as Tobin plays the pseudo-protagonist from beginning to end, and he was kind, sympathetic, demented, ruthless, desperate – an acting clinic from one of the best.” – Jake Chambers

Heather Graham (Suitable Flesh)

“Easily one of the best performances of Graham’s career, Suitable Flesh has Graham’s psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Derby trying to help a disturbed young man, only to find out later on that she’s really dealing with something else entirely. Graham is incredibly brave throughout the movie and she carries the movie until the end. It’s difficult to say any more without spoiling the movie (and it’s really best for everyone if you go into the movie as fresh as possible). Trust me: you will remember Heather Graham after watching Suitable Flesh.” – Bryan Kristopowitz

“I’ve always been a fan of Heather Graham’s, but I never thought she had this kind of performance in her. As Elizabeth Derby in Joe Lynch’s deliriously fun homage to Stuart Gordon, Graham completely understands the assignment and rocks the screen with two distinct performances. She carries a very delicately balanced film on her back, and it’s her campy approach to the Lovecraftian horror-meets-1990s erotic thriller that keeps it on course. I’m ecstatic to see her getting the kudos she deserves for this performance and hope it leads to more work for her in the genre.” – Jeremy Thomas

Ryunosuke Kamiki (Godzilla Minus One):

“I think it’s safe to say that you never watch a Godzilla movie for the characters. Even the strongest in the series didn’t have the strongest characters. Ryunosuke Kamiki turned that on its ear with his performance as a failed Kamikaze pilot with PTSD. The performance is just harrowing and the fact that he seemingly continues to lose, almost as if Godzilla has an issue with him personally, just makes his story even more captivating. By the time the ending comes around, you’ll be cheering him on as he fights the King of the Monsters.” – Joseph Lee

Joaquin Phoenix (Beau is Afraid)

“An incredible performance I’m only not putting at #1 because he’s so scared throughout, but these are horror awards and I want to recognize the more traditional aspects of the genre.” – Jake Chambers

“As someone who suffers from paranoia and panic attacks, I thought Joaquin Phoenix absolutely nailed that. Sure, he did go a little over the top, but I feel that was the point. He wasn’t portraying how actual paranoia looks to the outside world, he was portraying how it feels to those who deal with it. While I had issues with Beau is Afraid overall, Phoenix’s performance was not one of them. It was fearless.” – Joseph Lee

Sophie Wilde (Talk To Me)

“To be a top contender for the best film of the year, you definitely need a solid lead. Depending on the horror film, there will be expectations. For instance, there’s the Final Girl, the flawed husband, the child protagonist, and sometimes we just see “evil” win out over everyone, making no one more important than the other. In Talk to Me we saw Sophia Wilde take her facial expressions to crazy places as she played a damaged and lonely teenager. Every scene was believable, even when her character was making some dumb decisions. She was easy to root for and expressed horror amazingly.” — Tony Acero

“No one made as big of a splash on screen in the horror genre in 2023 as Sophie Wilde. There were plenty of good performances this year, but Wilde’s raw, committed performance as Mila made us take notice and put her on the map. It’s the kind of Final Girl performance that will only become more appreciated with time, making her my pick for Best Lead Performance of 2023.” – Jeremy Thomas


Tobin Bell (Saw X)


This is it. Our top picks for the best horror movies of 2023. A great horror movie is able to combine every aspect into something truly memorable and unique.

And the nominees are…

Evil Dead Rise

“For me, a big upgrade over the 2010’s reboot/sequel, I quite enjoyed the characters and this take on the Deadite universe.” — Rob Stewart

“I don’t think the Evil Dead series has missed yet. Five movies and a TV show and it’s still putting out great stuff. I also love the idea of different filmmakers putting their own stamp on the series while still making something that feels like it belongs. Evil Dead Rise is the latest to do that, as it is definitely brutal and unhinged, but still darkly comedic. And it has the single greatest Deadite performance in the entire series. Can’t go wrong there.” – Joseph Lee

Godzilla Minus One:

“I’m not a hardcore kaiju fan but it’s hard to deny that Godzilla Minus One is a knockout success. It’s a kaiju film that makes you care about the human characters without sidelining its titular monster, which is a pretty rare balancing act. We can quibble all we want about whether these films are horror (I would argue strongly yes), but at the end of the day this sits atop my list not only of the best horror films of the year, but as the best film of 2023 period.” – Jeremy Thomas

“I cannot possibly praise this movie enough. I mean, the fact that I went intto this expecting a just monster movie and got so much more says it all. I didn’t expect to feel things and become weepy at the fate of the human characters. I didn’t expect to root against Godzilla. Godzilla is terrifying here, as his attack on Ginza proves. Powerful movie and one of the very best Kaiju movies ever.” – Joseph Lee


“If you have the patience for this “experimental” horror movie, then you may appreciate the one-of-a-kind experience in abstract horrific mood.” – Jake Chambers

“This can be a very frustrating and at times, tedious movie, if you don’t have an open mind. But it does reward patience. I figured this out around the time one of the kids goes upstairs and I realized how tense I was. I was just waiting for bad things to happen and it was giving me anxiety and making me feel uncomfortable. So somehow, in spite of the way it was shot, the movie still managed to get under my skin through sound and the darkness. I didn’t think I’d be able to sit through it again, and yet found myself thinking about it weeks after. Then I watched it again and showed it to others. It’s possibly the most hypnotic horror film of last year.” – Joseph Lee

Talk To Me

“By the time July of 2023 hit, I had already given up on the year’s horror output. While M3GAN came out the gate as something worth checking out, it still didn’t tickle the horror bone as much as it did the joyful thriller. This is not a knock, but I was ready for the hair on the back of my neck to tingle, and from M3GAN onward, we got a flurry of weak entries. Then Talk to Me came out and floored me completely. Mostly by way of surprise, the film hooked me from the beginning and didn’t let go. I have issues with the ending, but they are minimal and pale in comparison to the pure joy I got from enjoying the fears, the cast, the effects, and the foreboding sense of knowing the results of the risk the kids were taking yet not willing to look away.” – Tony Acero

“Every year there’s a much ballyhooed indie horror film that comes out of the festivals and hits theaters with a lot of hype. They don’t always live up to that buzz, but it’s hard to deny that Talk To Me did. With a star-making turn from Sophie Wilde, some wild effects sequences, a masterful approach to its tension and some impressive thematic depth, this little ghost film that could was one of the most striking horror films of the year as well as one of my favorites.” – Jeremy Thomas

“Talk To Me is a horror movie that deserves a lot of success. It’s creepy and scary. It’s bold enough to be weird and take chances. It has some very, very dark comedy. It is undoubtedly bleak. It’s also allegorical, if you’re into that sort of thing. The most important thing is that it’s very effective and one of horror’s strongest efforts this year.” – Joseph Lee

When Evil Lurks

“No film grabbed me by the throat quite like When Evil Lurks. Possession films and zombie films are a dime a dozen these days; so are infection films. And yet this film found a way to combine all those subgenres to make something that is profoundly, horrifyingly fresh. It has all the elements of what makes a great horror film assembled in just the right way and earns its spot among the best of the year.” – Jeremy Thomas

“It’s rare I watch a horror film that’s so brutal I don’t want to watch it again but this might be it. (It won’t be, I’m a masochist like that). Just unrelentingly bleak and disturbing. It’s like Demian Rugna came up with the title first and then took that as a challenge. This earns the title of ‘Evil’ and then some.” – Joseph Lee


Godzilla Minus One