The world is a hellhole, so that usually means that horror is in a golden period. You can quantify the success of the horror genre in a variety of ways in 2023.
This year brought all sorts of questionably sticky treats to choose from. Softcore naughtiness and Lovecraftian horror? You got it! Alien invaders? They’re here! Killer dolls? Killing it.
So — let’s take a spooky trip down memory lane and look back at the best horror of 2023.
Suitable Flesh (Joe Lynch)
It’s no mean feat to try and capture the spirit of the legendary Stuart Gordon, who brought us Lovecraft adaptations such as Re-Animator and From Beyond. Joe Lynch manages just that whilst retaining his own style.
Suitable Flesh is down and dirty in the world of Lovecraft, with Heather Graham showing a natural affinity to the horror genre alongside stalwarts such as Barbara Crampton, and promising young things like Judah Lewis.
Horny body-swapping madness slathered in a deliciously skeezy 90s erotic thriller coating.
Huesera: The Bone Woman (Michelle Garza Cervera)
I can’t deny I roll my eyes when I see a horror movie doing the ”everyone thinks that I’m going crazy because of this supernatural entity haunting me” trope, but that’s mainly because there are, so many terrible examples of it. The top tier stuff just makes it more aggravating.
Huesera: The Bone Woman is one of those top-tier examples of it being done right. A woman’s pregnancy is seemingly haunted by an entity that terrorizes and manipulates her even after the child is born. Of course, it appears to the outside world that she is suffering from the realities of motherhood. Cervera ensures there’s reasonable doubt about the truth and isn’t afraid to dig under the skin of her protagonist and unnerve many a parent in the process.
No One Will Save You (Brian Duffield)
After being surprised by Brian Duffield’s superb splat-tastic romance movie Spontaneous, I was excited to read his next film, which was an alien invasion thriller with a home invasion spin. But No One Will Save You still managed to pull the rug out from under me with its tight and tense action.
Despite a wordless performance, Kaitlyn Dever commands the screen as a traumatized and isolated young woman battling against alien invaders that start out in a traditional grey bipedal form before chucking in some interesting new ones as the battle for survival goes on.
Saw X (Kevin Greutert)
Jigsaw and Spiral: From the Book of Saw were supposed to reinvigorate the Saw franchise by taking it further from the influence of Tobin Bell’s John Kramer. Instead, it falls to Bell to put the jumper cables to the series’ flesh with a prequel that goes back to the heady heights of those early days.
Saw X is a worthy new entry because it puts much more focus on character, fleshing out Jigsaw’s reasoning for his brutal justice with a more personal edge against a seemingly worthy adversary.
It’s like the villain version of Spider-Man 2, where there’s a glimmer of a life that could be for John Kramer before the world reminds him why it needs him (well, at least that’s how he sees it!)
Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor (Stephen Cognetti)
Now and then, a found-footage horror movie comes along and reminds me why I fell in love with the sub-genre. I genuinely did not believe the fourth entry in the Hell House LLC series would be one of them, but here we are.
Hell House LLC: The Carmichael Manor takes the action away from the Abbadon Hotel of previous films, which does refresh the formula to some degree, but really its greatest quality comes from taking things back to basics in building unease and dread.
M3GAN (Gerard Johnstone)
Chucky has the cynical, blood-splattered killer doll thing down to a tee, and Annabelle has the supernatural entity schtick going. So, where does M3GAN sit? It’s a rather bloodless film, with a checklist of overcooked modern tropes in its execution, but it’s on this list, so why?
Because it’s a really fun time and is fully aware of its limitations. M3GAN itself may feel like a cynical attempt to create a new horror icon, but it has worked because, visually speaking, she lives on the precipice of the uncanny valley that makes that effect so unsettling.
When Evil Lurks (Demián Rugna)
Demonic possession done differently. Rugna’s When Evil Lurks is a nasty piece of work that floods the screen with apocalyptic despair as it treats demons like a multipurpose disease, polluting the soil and the soul in equal measure.
When Evil Lurks doesn’t shy away from showing the devastating consequences of causing a deadly outbreak, nothing is off the table, and the demon may never be seen in physical form, but its malicious and manipulative intent is always on show.
Birth/Rebirth (Laura Moss)
There have been plenty of takes on the Frankenstein story, and Laura Moss achieves the admirable feat of recreating the gothic horror of the source material whilst feeling incredibly fresh in its modern womanhood-centered spin.
Marin Ireland is superbly cold, clinical, and antisocial as Dr. Rose Casper, a modern Dr. Frankenstein type, and Judy Reyes as nurse Celie Morales brings tragic obsession to the party as the unlikely pair team up to handle the reanimated body of a young girl.
Birth/Rebirth surprises with dark humor, heartbreaking tragedy, and abhorrent behavior as Rose and Celie push way beyond moral boundaries.
Godzilla: Minus One (Takashi Yamazaki)
While 2016’s Shin Godzilla made the radioactive lizard an abomination (in a good way!), it’s been quite some time since we got a pure angry creature from the sea Godzilla.
Enter Godzilla Minus One. Essentially another reboot of the Godzilla origin, but taking it back to before the gargantuan monster first waded from the ocean. Post-war Japan is in tatters in a variety of ways, and just as life is starting to return to some kind of normalcy when the mutated local legend Godzilla takes personal offence to people living in what it considers its territory.
And so Godzilla is a destructive force once more. Not friend to man, just generally annoyed man is in the way.
Infinity Pool (Brandon Cronenberg)
Brandon Cronenberg is really growing into his own skin (which feels like an apt description) and forging his own weirdo path as a director. He follows up surreal and violent bodyjacking in Possessor with a very different kind of body abuse in Infinity Pool.
There was no way a tale of two young couples meeting at a swanky resort was going to end well in a film that features a Cronenberg in the director’s chair, but yeah…Infinity Pool is a bit sadistic.
It’s helped on its way by two very different performances. Alexander Skarsgard exudes naivety and obliviousness in equal measure, while Mia Goth is menacingly manipulative and just a bit batshit.
Enys Men (Mark Jenkin)
Mark Jenkin’s Bait made for a striking audiovisual experiment, utilizing supposedly outdated and niche equipment to create an unsettling and intense tale of tensions in a cornish fishing village. It was abrasive and artful. Jenkin reteamed with many of that film’s cast to create Enys Men, an actual horror movie that doubled down on those qualities.
Enys Men is a low-fi folk horror that tells the story of a wildlife volunteer (Mary Woodvine) isolated on an uninhabited island off the British coast. Her secluded life appears to unravel in a strange dreamlike fashion.
It’s a film that I hadn’t even finished and knew would be the subject of divisive reviews. Enys Men is as experimental a horror film as you can get in the modern day. That comes the same year as the equally divisive and evasive Skinamarink gives some hope that horror can still be as strange, complex, experimental, and against the grain as this.
Brooklyn 45 (Ted Geoghan)
Being a chamber piece horror set in the aftermath of World War II means Brooklyn 45 could be accused of being little more than a fancy stage play being called a movie. However, its theatrical nature is what enhances it as an unorthodox ghost story.
A group of wartime pals, all of whom have personal grief and trauma from their time at war, reunite on a chilly December night in 1945 to support one of their number after the death of his wife. A cozy reunion becomes something more supernatural as the group’s dirty laundry is laid bare by literal ghosts of their past.
Brooklyn 45 features just the seven cast members, but all get to make an impact in a punchy, twisty-turny 90 minutes.
Evil Dead Rise (Lee Cronin)
Ten years had passed with an Evil Dead movie, and folks had started to come around to Fede Alvarez’s gore-soaked 2013 edition. So naturally, that vibe is what Sam Raimi brought back with director Lee Cronin taking the Deadite action to the city in Evil Dead Rise.
While it’s a bit disappointing just have a whole apartment block infested with Deadites, the fairly contained blood-splattered adventure we get does feel like a transference of the traditional Evil Dead setup. It largely works because of Alyssa Sutherland’s unhinged demonic performance.
Talk to Me (Danny & Michael Phillipou)
Arguably the breakout horror hit of the year. The Phillipou brothers’ fresh take on possession, curse movies, and general teenage tomfoolery is a fine example that old ideas can be refreshed in horror when done right.
The film’s mean streak propels it into unsettling territory, and the interpersonal drama that gets wrapped up in a possession gone wrong adds to the impact of their consequences.
Dark Harvest (David Slade)
I’m still not exactly sure how I feel about David Slade’s Dark Harvest. It has a really strange tone, feels like it was smushed together from several different interpretations, and it’s genuinely difficult to tell if some performances are meant to be bad as they appear.
And yet Dark Harvest’s story of small-town boys competing to beat the literal stuffing out of a supernatural scarecrow is dark, funny, and just the right kind of chaotic to make it stick in the mind. I genuinely would not be surprised to see this become a cult favorite of sorts in years to come.