Top 10 Horror Films Of 2020 (Danny “Dr. Zaius” Torkel’s Picks)

The Invisible Man Movie

By most metrics 2020 SUCKED. As someone who believes movie theaters are akin to religious institutions, 2020 was an especially rough year for me. Without blockbusters and theater crowds to keep us entertained, movie fans turned to streaming services and VOD. Perhaps the only silver lining was horror. Horror killed it in 2020 with some tremendous early hits I was actually able to see in theaters and then tons more from the comfort of my couch thanks to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and above all Shudder. Shudder was a shining beacon in the dark of plague halted year for horror fans and for only $5 a month it is worth every penny.

In 2020 we saw the return of the horror anthology, typically great foreign horror and the rise of young promising writers/directors who can dominate this genre for years to come. So let’s take a look at my Top Horror Films of 2020!

Disclaimer: I am including GENRE films here as well. I know many in the horror community love to argue over what is horror, a thriller, fantasy, etc. So anything that qualified as a “genre film” can make the list…

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Color out of Space – The return of Richard Stanley after over two decades away, this is an incredible modern take of Lovecraft’s story with a somehow subdued AND crazed Nicolas Cage at the same time. Stanley could become this generation’s Stuart Gordon with future Lovecraft adaptations planned. (Watch on Shudder.)

The Vast of Night – I loved this little throwback to The Twilight Zone about mysterious signals picked up over the radio by two young people in the ’50s. Lots of long dialogue scenes may be too much for viewers who want edge of their seat tension, but I absolutely enjoyed every minute. (Watch on Amazon Prime.)

Spree – If you love Joe Keery as Steve in Stranger Things you may want to miss this one. Keery shines as “uber” creep Kurt who drives a ride share and whose goal is to go viral at all costs. The scariest part of this cyber-techo-horror is that it felt shockingly plausible and all too realistic. (Watch on Hulu.)

Scare Package – A super fun little horror anthology that made its debut on Joe Bob’s Last Drive In on Shudder, Scare Package packs 7 stories into its runtime, and while some don’t hold up, the ones that do hit dead on, especially Chris McInroy’s hilarious and gooey One Time in the Woods and Aaron B Koontz’s fantastic wraparound Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium. (Watch on Shudder and check out The Lasser Cast podcast review here.)

VFW – The most John Carpenter film to come out in a long while, Joe Begos’s film is like The Expendables meets Assault on Precinct 13. Gritty, super violent, and with an amazing cast of veteran character actors, you’ll feel like you are watching a film from a bygone era of grindhouse cinema. (Watch on Shudder.)

Anything for Jackson – Longtime character actors Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings shine as a couple so desperate to get their deceased grandson back that they make a deal with the devil, literally. Super creepy with elements of possession and cult horror, as well as the supernatural, this is a dark and moving watch. (Watch on Shudder.)

Host – The biggest surprise hit of 2020, Host was made during quarantine by actors over Zoom. Clocking it at less than an hour, Host hits hard and fast and delivers some of the most legit jump scares of the year.

In Search of Darkness II – In 2019, David Weiner was able to release a 4+ hour love letter to ’80s horror using various crowdfunding platforms and a Shudder release. In 2020, we got ANOTHER 4+ hours of awesome ’80s horror content, with new interviews, films, and year by year breakdowns. 4+ hours, constant entertainment, never boring. (And here is our The Lasser Cast interview with director David Weiner.)

Climate of the Hunter – An odd little arthouse horror flick, Climate of the Hunter was one of my favorites in 2020 just for its strangeness. Two sisters compete for the affections of an old friend who may or may not be a vampire. It is like nothing you’ve seen before, a darkly funny film with some striking visuals. (Watch on VOD and check out my interview with director Mickey Reece here.)

And Now… the Top 15.

1BR movie still

15- 1BR

Cults are scary because as we’ve seen through recent history they are very much real. 1BR is about a young girl in LA who moves into a great new apartment complex that is harboring dark secrets. Featuring a tremendous starring turn from Nicole Bryden Bloom, David Marmor’s intense film will leave you holding your breath. (Watch on Netflix and check out The Lasser Cast interview with producer Alok Mishra and co-star Naomi Grossman here.)

14- Run

Aneesh Chaganty’s debut feature Searching was one of my favorites in 2018 and his sophomore film Run transfers the hopelessness and fear we felt for the parent in Searching to the child in Run. Kiera Allen is a wheelchair-bound teen living with her overbearing mother, played by the wonderful and terrifying Sarah Paulson. I won’t spoil anything, but Run is most certainly a thriller and the horror comes from Allen and her character’s desperation as the film heads towards a conclusion. (Watch now on Hulu.)

13- Possessor Uncut

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in the Cronenberg orchard and Possessor Uncut is easily better (I said it) than Brandon’s father David’s early films in the mid ’70s. A sci-fi horror brain melter, the film combines Cronenberg-style body horror with taut drama and two great lead performances from Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbot. It may require multiple viewings, but they will be worth it. (Watch now on VOD.)

12- Sputnik

Movies like Sputnik have been done before, even fairly recently. The film takes inspiration from Alien, and reminded me of modern sci-fi creature flicks like Life (2017) and even Venom (2019). The difference is unlike those last two, Sputnik is truly great, infusing the “alien inside me” plot line with Cold War tension, a unique twist on creature/human relationship and some great performances. (Watch now on Hulu.)

11- Love And Monsters/Underwater

Totally cheating here, but this serves my greater plan, which is to praise Brian Duffield. Duffield co-wrote Underwater with Adam Cozad and co-wrote Love And Monsters with Matthew Robinson from his own story. Both films are super fun relishing in their surroundings. Underwater is a tight, no frills, edge of your seat aquatic creature feature (my all time favorite horror sub-genre) with a true “HOLY SHIT” ending, and Love and Monsters is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi action romance (whew) starring Dylan O’Brien as a big-hearted scaredy cat living in the underground after monsters having taken over Earth, trying desperately to reach his girlfriend who is alive with other survivors. Duffield has a knack of writing characters you actually care about and root for and both films benefit from terrific supporting casts and special effect creatures. (Watch Underwater on HBO Max; Love and Monsters on VOD.)

10 – Amulet

Romola Garai’s film takes its time to get going, but once it does it does not relent. A soldier dealing with PTSD moves in with a woman and her sick mother. His plans are derailed by the mom, whose illness may be more than meets the eyes. Disturbing, dark, and at times disgusting film (in a good way), Amulet is part possession horror, part creature feature, with tons of subtext and crazy imagery. The last 25 minutes are crazy! (Watch now on Hulu.)

9 – Scare Me

The simplest film on the list, Scare Me takes horror back to its campfire roots. Two authors, one much more prominent than the other, gather in a rustic cabin and try to scare each other. No special effects, no frills, just scary stories told in the dark with some laugh out loud deliveries and a growing creepiness that builds throughout. Writer/director/star Josh Ruben delivers in all three phases. (Watch now on Shudder.)

8 – His House

The number 1 movie on my friends’ and mine YouTube channel, The Lasser Cast, His House is a haunting film combining the real world horrors with the supernatural. Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku shine in Remi Weekes’ film as two Sudanese refugees who receive asylum in England and come face to face with the ghosts of their past, and the literal ghosts in their new home. Some breathtaking imagery and legit scares, His House was Netflix’s best genre effort in 2020. (Watch on Netflix.)

7 – The Mortuary Collection

I love horror anthologies, and The Mortuary Collection was the best horror anthology in recent years. Written and directed by Ryan Spindell, the film features a fantastic performance from Clancy Brown in the wraparound story, while the middle stories feature some truly inspired gory delights. Like Creepshow and Trick ‘r Treat, this is an anthology you’ll want to rewatch and leave on in the background. (Watch on Shudder.)

6 – The Dark and the Wicked

No pun intended, perhaps the darkest film on my list with at least two terrifying moments I’ll never forget TDATW is a film you experience and survive more than you enjoy. Two siblings dealing with aging and sick parents creates an air of realness to the story before the truly malevolent forces come out to play. This is one I wish I could have seen in a totally dark theater. (Watch on VOD.)

5 – Spontaneous

The MVP of 2020 for me was Brian Duffield. Mentioned above thanks to co-writing Underwater and Love and Monsters, Spontaneous was his feature-length directorial debut and it was one of my favorite films of 2020. Two high school students fall in love as their fellow students begin spontaneously exploding in and out of school. Hilarious, scary, emotional, and reflective, this movie had me laughing and crying on and off for 100 minutes. No one has a knack for writing young characters you genuinely like better than Duffield. (Watch on VOD.)

4 – Impetigore

Joko Anwar’s Impetigore was my favorite foreign horror film of 2020, starting with an all-time opening sequence in which toll clerk Maya (Tara Basro) is stalked by a machete-wielding maniac. Maya learns about a mysterious inheritance that takes to a village believed to be cursed by the natives there. Anwar’s second straight horror hit (Satan’s Slaves), this was a pulse-pounding film that takes serious chances. (Watch now on Shudder.)

3 – The Wolf of Snow Hollow

The movie I will likely rewatch the most of my Top 10, The Wolf of Snow Hollow is a thunderous achievement for writer/director/star Jim Cummings. Cummings’ lawman John Marshall is a man in crisis and this is a film about his total deconstruction. Already divorced, dealing with a teenage daughter, a sick father, and battling alcoholism, it doesn’t help when his quaint little town is besieged by a serial killer who may or may not be a werewolf. At times hilarious, at times poignant, Cummings will be a force to be reckoned with in the future. This was also the last film of the late Robert Forster and he is terrific in it. (Watch on VOD.)

2 – Hunter Hunter

For 80 minutes, Hunter Hunter is a super tense thriller about a family of survivalists living off the grid, dealing with a wolf who has invaded their food supplies. And then comes the final ten minutes and with no exaggeration, the best ending I have seen in YEARS. I have not been this floored by an ending to a horror film since Frank Darabont’s The Mist in 2007. Terrific performances by Devon Sawa and Nick Stahl, but the standout is Camille Sullivan in a breakout performance you will never forget. My advice, don’t watch a trailer, don’t read full reviews, JUST WATCH IT! (Watch on VOD.)

The Invisible Man Movie

1 – The Invisible Man

And here it is, my favorite horror film of 2020, and this may be a nostalgia choice. Leigh Whannell’s reimagining of the classic HG Wells’s tale was the last horror film I saw in theaters before COVID-19 shut the world down. I remember the gasps from the crowd during one particular scene in a restaurant. Whannell’s update tags out mad scientists for modern technology and rings scares from scenes where our protagonist literally stares down long empty hallways and stares at chair cushions. Elisabeth Moss deserves (but won’t get) an Oscar nomination and I loved the script incorporating all the gaslighting and real-world horror women deal with, without going overboard and beating its chest with its message. The Invisible Man is a tour-de-force that I am so thankful I got to see in the dark crowded theater. Whannell is linked to the upcoming Wolfman and Escape from New York remakes and between The Invisible Man and Upgrade (2018), I cannot wait to see what he does with those properties.

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