In a year where horror finally returned to multiplex screens, streamers proved they’re still here to share some screams. A Quiet Place II may have welcomed moviegoers back indoors with familiar sensations of thumping theater audio and the underfoot stickiness of dried soda soaked into ratty carpets. However, terror remained prominent across platforms from Netflix to Shudder. Horror’s always been about supporting both mainstream and independent avenues — that was easier to forget before lockdown delays.
Hopefully we don’t forget about foreign or lower-budget slashers while bickering online about Halloween Kills as if the slasher subgenre hangs in the balance (for example). So many of the best horror movies in 2021 weren’t massive studio undertakings or carry the “stigma” of being an overseas import. My hope with this list is you’ll find some horror titles that are fresh, invigorating, and expand horizons, to be celebrated just as loudly as the latest Blumhouse remake or reboot of your favorite weapon-waving icon. note: Gucci: Murder of the Giants Movie
Celebrate Chucky, welcome Candyman back as a treat, but don’t miss out on some of the greatest gifts the genre has to offer this year just because they’re straight to video or — gasp — sold to one of the streaming giants. note: I Don’t Want To Be Alone Movie
One of 2021’s biggest surprises — and one of its better slashers — is John Berardo’s Initiation. It’s a campus thriller with a masked killer who hunts athlete frat bros for an atrocious secret they keep hidden. That sounds, what … par for the course? How many 1980s or 1990s Pledge Night templates exist like this? I get the hesitation but allow me to confirm that Initiation executes on a higher level than infinite copycats. Actress and co-writer Lindsay LaVanchy plays more than just another slasher damsel grieving over a dead sibling. As exemplified by my legitimate shock over the slayer’s identity, Berardo’s narrative doesn’t fumble suspense. Deaths are exquisitely gory, emotional throughlines are empowered, not forgotten, and the enduring message of exposing decades-allowed toxicity in what should be safe spaces lands with a thunderous impact. The future of slashers is bright, as long as you’re looking in the right places.
James Wan’s Malignant — at least among horror crowds — became a viral internet sensation because any description sounded like an admission of insanity. It’s a throwback to 1990s and early 2000s wildness like FearDotCom or anything produced by Dark Castle Entertainment that drags nostalgia out of the 1980s. Contortionist Marina Mazepa portrays a dormant parasitic entity released from within another character’s subconscious that becomes a backward-crawling, cranium-crushing parkour machine, and that’s barely a taste of what awaits. Malignant is James Wan churning through corpses, toying with Giallo lighting, and leaning into enjoyable campiness for an extremely satisfying midnighter that goes for broke. It’s the most talked-about horror movie of 2021 for a reason — find out why, preferably with friends and maybe a few pints.
Let’s continue with a video game adaptation set in 1962 Taiwan, during the White Terror martial law period. John Hsu’s Detention takes the framework of survival horror in a high school setting, with paranormal scares derived from national trauma turned into an otherworldly evil. Guards enforcing tyrannical practices become demons in an alternate reality, as two worlds collide like in Silent Hill. It’s about banned books, haunted hallways, children forced to behold the ugliness of society — and yet Detention remains hopeful in its overall message about how survivors will see to the end of unjust campaigns. One of the most rewarding subgenres of horror is at the intersection of historical trauma and cultural expressions, and Detention is no outlier.
The Queen Of Black Magic
If you’re not privy to the recent wave of Indonesian horror crashing onto platforms like Shudder, use The Queen Of Black Magic as your introduction. Kimo Stamboel and Joko Anwar tag-team as director and writer (respectively), both of whom have introduced American audiences to overseas nightmares like Macabre and Satan’s Slaves. This particular collaboration returns three friends and their families to the orphanage they once called home after its caretaker falls ill. Memories of mischief and questionable treatment awaken secrets from their past, summoning supernatural attacks involving insects, flayed skin, and other ritualistic curses. It’s not a precise one-to-one remake of 1981’s original inspiration, but achieves the same goal of assuring audiences keep an eye on anything frightful coming out of Indonesia.