Category Archives: Fright Club

A celebration of horror movies with updates on our monthly Fright Club film series at the Gateway Film Center.

Fright Club: Friend Groups in Horror

Spooky buddies! What’s what we’re talking about, that’s who we’re talking to.

5. The Ritual (2017)

David Bruckner has entertained us with some of the best shorts in horror today, including work from V/H/S, Southbound, and one of our favorites, The Signal. Directing his feature debut in The Ritual, Bruckner takes what feels familiar, roots it in genuine human emotion, takes a wild left turn and delivers the scares.

Five friends decide to mourn a tragedy with a trip together into the woods. Grief is a tricky, personal, often ugly process and as they work through their feelings, their frustration quickly turns to fear as they lose themselves in a foreign forest where danger lurks.

The film works for a number of reasons, but its greatest triumph is in making the woods scary again. That environment has become such a profound cliché in horror that it is almost impossible to make it feel fresh, but there is an authenticity to the performances, the interaction among the characters, and the frustration and fear that grounds the horror. And then there is horror—intriguing, startling, genuinely frightening horror. Yay!

4. The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

You know the drill: 5 college kids head into the woods for a wild weekend of doobage, cocktails and hookups but find, instead, dismemberment, terror and pain. You can probably already picture the kids, too: a couple of hottie Alphas, the nice girl, the guy she may or may not be into, and the comic relief tag along. In fact, if you tried, you could almost predict who gets picked off when.

But that’s just the point, of course. Making his directorial debut, Drew Goddard uses that preexisting knowledge to entertain holy hell out of you.

Cabin is not a spoof. It’s not a satire. It’s sort of a celebratory homage, but not entirely. What you get with this film is a very different kind of horror-comedy.

3. Tigers Are Not Afraid ( 2017)

Issa Lopez’s fable of children and war brandishes the same themes as Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth, but grounds the magic with a rugged street style. One pack of feral children have only each other and their imaginations to keep them safe.

Tigers follows Estrella, a child studying fairy tales—or, she was until her school is temporarily closed due to the stray bullets that make it unsafe for students. As Estrella and her classmates hide beneath desks to avoid gunfire, her teacher hands her three broken pieces of chalk and tells her these are her three wishes.

But wishes never turn out the way you want them to.

2. The Descent (2005)

Adventuring buddies get together for a bit of spelunking. Writer/director Neil Marshall begins his film with an emotionally jolting shock, quickly followed by some awfully unsettling cave crawling and squeezing and generally hyperventilating, before turning dizzyingly panicky before snapping a bone right in two.

And then we find out there are monsters.

The grislier the film gets, the more primal the tone becomes, eventually taking on a tenor as much like a war movie as a horror film. This is not surprising from the director that unleashed Dog Soldiers – a gory, fun werewolf adventure. But Marshall’s second attempt is far scarier.
For full-on horror, this is one hell of a monster movie.

1. It Follows (2014)

It Follows is a coming-of-age tale that mines a primal terror. Moments after a sexual encounter with a new boyfriend, Jay discovers that she is cursed. 

As Jay’s close-knit crew does what they can to help her evade the shapeshifting horror that follows her, Mitchell captures that fleeting yet dragging moment between childhood and adulthood and gives the lurking dread of that time of life a powerful image. There is something that lies just beyond the innocence of youth. You feel it in every frame and begin to look out for it, walking toward you at a consistent pace, long before the characters have begun to check the periphery themselves.

Fright Club: Best Horror Movies of the 1930s

We dig deep into the history of horror to pay tribute to some of the true cinematic breakthroughs – films that defined horror and are still imitated and adored today.

5. Dracula (1931)

Oh, Bela. When Lugosi took the screen in 1931, no one was yet tired of Dracula. It was still a literary property only made once into a film, albeit illegally and under a different title by F.W. Murnau. (If you haven’t seen the masterpiece that is Nosferatu, please do.)

Bela, alongside director Tod Browning, got to create the image that would forever define the most mimicked, reworked, revamped – if you will – monster in cinema.

4. The Black Cat (1934)

Rocky Horror owes a tremendous debt to Edgar G. Ulmer’s bizarre horror show. The film – clearly precode – boasts torture, tales of cannibalism, and more than the hint of necromancy.

Plus Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff?! What is not to love? It looks great, as does Karloff, whose lisp is put to the most glorious use. What a weird, weird movie. So good!

3. Vampyr (1932)

The well-groomed if aimless dreamer wanders with what appears to be a fishnet to a secluded little inn. But trouble’s afoot.

And dig those crazy shadows!

The great Carl Theodor Dreyer co-wrote and directed this gorgeous black and white fantasy. The painterly quality of Dreyer’s frames and the bizarre character behavior give the film a surreal atmosphere you can’t shake. His decision to limit dialog to a minimum and craft the movie with traditional silent film gimmicks benefitted the dreamscape atmosphere.

2. Freaks (1932)

Short and sweet, like most of its performers, Tod Browning’s controversial film Freaks is one of those movies you will never forget. Populated almost entirely by unusual actors – midgets, amputees, the physically deformed, and an honest to god set of conjoined twins (Daisy and Violet Hilton) – Freaks makes you wonder whether you should be watching it at all. This, of course, is an underlying tension in most horror films, but with Freaks, it’s right up front. Is what Browning does with the film empathetic or exploitative, or both? And, of course, am I a bad person for watching this film?

Well, that’s not for us to say. We suspect you may be a bad person, perhaps even a serial killer. Or maybe that’s Hope. What we can tell you for sure is that this film is unsettling, and the final, rainy act of vengeance is truly creepy to watch.

1. Frankenstein (1931)/Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

James Whale’s brilliant take on Mary Shelley’s novel looked at Frankenstein’s monster and saw the cruelty humanity was capable of committing. For him, the monster was the central and most interesting figure. Unlike Shelley’s antihero, Whale’s creature was utterly sympathetic, an oversized child unable to control himself, making him simultaneously innocent and dangerous.

Barons and aristocracy, the European setting – the film distrusts scientists and public officials as fools unable to reign in their own ambitions no matter the dire consequences.

Four years later, James Whale and Boris Karloff – with tag along make-up man Jack Pierce – returned to Castle Frankenstein for another tale of horror. What makes this one a stronger picture is the dark humor and subversive attitude, mostly animated by Frankenstein’s colleague Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger).

The sequel casts off the earnestness of the original, presenting a darker film that’s far funnier, often outrageous for its time, with a fuller story. Karloff again combines tenderness and menace, and Elsa Lanchester becomes the greatest goth goddess of all film history as his Bride.

Fright Club: Closets in Horror

There are few spots on earth that generate more terror than a closet. Maybe the woods, the darkness beneath your bed, but what else? And why? We look into our favorite scary moments in cinematic closets for the latest episode, joined by filmmaker Timothy Troy, who knows a little bit about this topic.

5. Poltergeist (1982)

There are so many moments in Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg’s Eighties gem to point to. But the clown alone, or the meat face alone, or any one of those memorable moments alone wouldn’t have made the film the classic it is. It needed that closet.

We’re used to seeing a closet as a small, dark, creepy space but at Cuesta Verde, it’s a gateway to another dimension. One that could suck your little pajama-clad daughter in. One that could belch out a giant beast that will eat your family whole.

4. Halloween (1978)

The scene has been done to death by now, but when John Carpenter and co-writer Debra Hill first put Laurie Strode in that louver doored closet, audiences lost their shit.

Why would she do it? To buy time for the kids to escape because she’s smart and selfless. And then what? She’ll fashion a tool to take down the intruder. The scene cements Strode as the film’s true hero, but waiting in that tiny little space with slats of light and Michael’s breathing was a test of endurance for the audience. One that hundreds of horror movies have ripped off but none has recreated.

3. The Ring (2002)

Who saw that coming? No one, that’s who.

2. Carrie (1976)

Piper Laurie turns in one of the most gloriously villainous mother characters in cinematic history, terrifying and self-righteous. But this is a moment in Carrie White’s life (a luminous Sissy Spacek). Carrie is fighting back.

And you know what that means.

That means the closet.

1. The Conjuring (2013)

We are very rarely fans of the jump scare, but we give it to director James Wan. He is the master.

And yes, it’s technically a bureau rather than a walk-in closet, but man, we jumped.

Fright Club: Best Foreign Language Folk Horror

We were so inspired by Kier-La Janisse’s documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched that we decided to dive into some of the best films her 3+ hour documentary couldn’t spend much time on. In particular, we wanted to highlight some of the greatest folk horror films not in the English language.

We highly recommend Roh (2019, Malaysia), La Llorona (2019, Guatemala), and Luz, The Flower of Evil (2019, Colombia). But here are our five favorites:

5. Viy (Russia) (1967)

Drunken seminarians, farmhouses, witches – Viy sets you up from its opening moments for a classic folk tale. Three seminarians turned out for break get lost in the woods. They ask an old lady to let them sleep in her barn for the night. She’s not an ordinary old lady.

Konstantin Ershov and Georgiy Kropachyov’s silly, spooky yarn tells of class struggle and superstition. Poor Khoma, our bumbling, drunk hero, is screwed no matter what he does. State/religious authority will beat him, the wealthy will beat him, or supernatural evil will harm him in ways he can’t quite picture.

Even though there’s a clear element of silliness in this film, the core image of a man in over his head gives this Russian folk horror a punch.

4. November (Poland) (2017)

Imagine a world in which Bergman’s Seventh Seal made it with Burton’s Edward Scissorhands and you kinda get a sense of Rainer Sarnet’s November.

At the center of the film lies the unrequited love of two peasants. Liina (Rea Lest) is hopelessly in love with Hans (Jörgen Liik). Hans has the hots for the daughter of the local German baron. Lina and Hans each try to capture the attention of their beloved while communing with ghosts, employing the services of kratts and witches, managing lycanthropy, evading the plague, circumventing arranged marriages, and avoiding starvation during the impending long winter.

The movie is a mishmash of comedy, romance, fantasy, political theory, and philosophy all shot in exquisite black and white. Somehow it comes together, like the kratts, in a way that seems fresh, bizarre, and interesting.

3. Hagazussa (Germany) (2017)

Making a remarkably assured feature debut as director, Lukas Feigelfeld mesmerizes with his German Gothic poetry, Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse.

Settled somewhere in the 15th Century Alps, the film shadows lonely, ostracized women struggling against a period where plague, paranoia and superstition reigned.

It would be easy to mistake the story Feigelfeld (who also writes) develops as a take on horror’s common “is she crazy or is there malevolence afoot?” theme. But the filmmaker’s hallucinatory tone and Aleksandra Cwen’s grounded performance allow Hagazussa to straddle that line and perhaps introduce a third option—maybe both are true.

The film lends itself to a reading more lyrical than literal. Feigelfeld’s influences from Murnau to Lynch show themselves in his deliberate pacing and the sheer beauty of his delusional segments. He’s captured this moment in time, this draining and ugly paranoia that caused women such misery, with imagery that is perplexingly beautiful.

2. The Wailing (South Korea) (2016)

“Why are you troubled?” Jesus asked, “And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see — for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

Though the true meaning of this quote won’t take hold until the final act, it presents many questions. Is this film supernatural? Demonic? Or, given the corporeal nature of the quote, is it rooted in the human flesh?

Yes.

That’s what makes the quote so perfect. Writer/director Hong-jin Na meshes everything together in this bucolic horror where superstition and religion blend. The film echoes with misery, as the title suggests. The filmmaker throws every grisly thing at you – zombies, pustules, demonic possession, police procedural, multiple homicides – and yet keeps it all slippery with overt comedy.

1. Lamb (Iceland) (2021)

Among the many remarkable elements buoying the horror fable Lamb is filmmaker Valdimar Jóhannsson’s ability to tell a complete and riveting tale without a single word of exposition. Rather than devoting dialog to explaining to us what it is we are seeing, Jóhannsson relies on impressive visual storytelling instincts.

His cast of three – well, four, I guess — sells the fairy tale. A childless couple working a sheep farm in Iceland find an unusual newborn lamb and take her in as their own child. As is always the way in old school fables, though, there is much magical happiness but a dire recompense soon to come. It is an absolutely gorgeous, entirely unusual and expertly crafted gem of a film. You should see it.

Fright Club: Skeletons in the Closet 2022

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Yes, each spring we get to dig around Oscar nominees’ closets to find the bad horror lurking behind those glittery ball gowns. And this year it’s a fine season!

Here are five of our favorite bones from Oscar nominee skeletons.

5. Aunjanue Ellis (Best Supporting Actress, King Richard): The Resident (2011)

Ellis alone is reason to see King Richard. She’s breathtaking. But she hasn’t always had such luck with roles. In Antti Jokinen’s lifeless voyeur horror The Resident, she gets little to do but be the supportive bestie while a slumming Hilary Swank struggles with her new landlord.

Christopher Lee makes an appearance in what might be the only interesting thing about the film – not his performance as much as his presence. This was one of Hammer Studios modern releases, reuniting Lee with the studio that made him (or was it Lee who made the studio?).

Other than that, Jeffrey Dean Morgan misses the mark, Swank degrades herself and Ellis goes underutilized.

4. Ciarán Hinds (Best Supporting Actor, Belfast): The Rite (2011)

Veteran character actor Ciarán Hinds gets his first Oscar nomination this year for Belfast. No stranger to horror, Hinds has starred in the good (The Woman in Black), the bad (Mary Reilly) and the underseen (The Eclipse).

He does what he can to class up Mikael Hafstrom’s pedestrian 2011 possession flick The Rite.

Hoping to help a seminarian find his faith, Hinds’s Father Xavier sends him to learn exorcism from the best: Hanibal Lecter. No, it’s Anthony Hopkins as Father Lucas Trevant, but they know what you’re thinking.

Hopkins hams it up, trying to resuscitate Michael Petroni’s script with as much bombast as he can muster. It doesn’t work. Hinds is wasted, but so too are Rutger Hauer, Alice Braga and Toby Jones.

3. JK Simmons (Best Supporting Actor, Being the Ricardos): The Snowman (2017)

If we were weighing by disappointment, The Snowman would be #1. Tomas Alfredson followed up Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with this Norwegian crime thriller and he packed his cast with heavy hitters: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer, Toby Jones, Chloe Sevigny, and 2022 nominee for Best Supporting Actor in Being the Ricardos, JK Simmons.

Why does it feel like there are gaping holes in the plot? Because the film was released, but they didn’t shoot the entire script. Who needs all the pieces to a mystery, anyway?

The actors do what they can, but the source material trades in darkness for misogyny and nonsense. Gainsbourg, Sevigny and Ferguson all play thankless roles while Simmons’s character appears, seems like a bad guy, disappears and never makes a dent in the storyline.

Nonsense.

2. Kirsten Dunst (Best Supporting Actress, The Power of the Dog): The Crow: Salvation (2000)

Sure, we could have gone with fan-favorite Interivew with the Vampire because, after all, it was not very good. Kirsten Dunst, Oscar-nominated this year for The Power of the Dog, was great in it, though.

She’s the best thing bout The Crow: Salvation, too, but that’s not saying a lot.

The third installment sees a surprisingly stacked cast (including Walton Goggins and Fred Ward) conspire to let a scapegoat die for their sins. He comes back as the single blandest Crow ever.

Dunst is the victim’s sister and she does what she can, but the writing is god-awful, the makeup is laughable, the staging, action, set design and direction are all just sad. It made us sad she took the role.

1. Kristen Stewart (Best Actress, Spencer): Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (2012)

Before we start, we want to point out that, like her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson, Kriten Stewart has proven to be a dependable, remarkable talent. She’s shown adaptability and range across a ton of great indie films, some of them very solid genre efforts. We were thrilled to see her nab her first nomination for Spencer.

But before all that, there was Twilight. This series could be the whole podcast. Do you know why? They SUCK. Shiny vegetarian vampires? Mopey, special teens? YA fodder with the most profoundly backwards, disempowering message? Yes to all four films, so which is the worst?

The last one is the worst one because of 1) that creepy baby, 2) the imprinting. The CGI on that fast-growing Renesme is diabolically bad, but not nearly as heinous as the plotline where a grown man chooses an infant for his future spouse and that infant’s parents are good with it. So wrong.

Fright Club: Nazi Zombies

One of our favorite offshoots of the zombie genre revolves around the worst creatures there ever were: Nazis. Here we dip a toe in Zombie Lake (actually, that one doesn’t make the final list) and talk through our favorite undead SS.

5. Blood Creek (2009)

What would be more compelling viewing than Superman Meets Batman? Henry Cavill’s run-in with a Nazi zombie played by Michael Fassbender. Clearly.

In Joel Schumacher’s Blood Creek, a Nazi scientist finds a Viking runestone on a West Virginia farm, where blood sacrifice turns him into an ageless monster, and a weird, runestoney ritual keeps him bound in the farmer’s basement. That guy – that Nazi zombie – is played by Michael Fassbender. Whose mind is blown?

Cavill comes into the picture when his character Evan comes looking for a long-lost brother. He offers a fine turn full of longing and regret, and Fassbender is mesmerizing. The guy cannot turn in a bad performance. He’s completely feral, totally unhinged. It’s like he has no idea that the movie he’s in is just not good.

4. Outpost (2008)

By 2008, the idea that the Nazis fiddled with occult ideologies in order to create a perfect killing machine was pretty played out in this subgenre. Steve Barker’s Outpost goes one further by embracing both that cliche and a tried-and-true action formula.

Is the result cookie shaped? It is, and yet the film benefits from an ensemble unafraid to exceed expectations and a cinematographer (Gavin Struthers, The Witcher series) who knows how to amplify claustrophobic tensions.

Ray Stevenson (Thor) stars as leaders of a group of mercs hired by a mysterious man to venture into the woods toward an old bunker. No reason to worry! Excellent support from Michael Smiley, Richard Brake and Julian Wadham round out a cast that works the hell out of this script.

3. Shock Waves (1977)

Wait, Peter Cushing AND John Carradine? Plus Nazi zombies? What kind of gift is this?!

Cushing is the SS Commander holed up on a deserted island since the war. He’s not in hiding, necessarily. He’s moored himself there on purpose to save us all from…something worse than Nazis.

Maybe the first Nazi zombie film on record, Shock Waves deserves credit for not only pioneering the idea but also sidestepping what would eventually become cliche. The makeup effects are simultaneously terrible and awesome. And as dumb as much of the script is, director ken Wiederhorn (Return of the Living Dead) lenses some genuinely creepy segments of the troops.

2. Overlord (2018)

Overlord drops us into enemy territory on D-Day. One rag-tag group of American soldiers needs to disable the radio tower the Nazis have set up on top of a rural French church, disabling Nazi communications and allowing our guys to land safely.

What’s on the church tower is not so much the problem. It’s what’s in the basement.

A satisfying Good V Evil film that benefits from layers, Overlord reminds us repeatedly that it is possible to retain your humanity, even in the face of inhuman evil.

Plus, Nazi zombies, which is never not awesome!

1. Dead Snow (2009)

Like its character Erlend, Dead Snow loves horror movies. A self-referential “cabin in the woods” flick, Dead Snow follows a handsome, mixed-gender group of college students as they head to a remote cabin for Spring Break. A creepy old dude warns them off with a tale of local evil. They mock and ignore him at their peril.

But co-writer/director/Scandinavian Tommy Wirkola doesn’t just obey these time-honored horror film rules, he draws your attention to them. His film embraces our prior knowledge of the path we’re taking to mine for comedy, but doesn’t give up on the scares. Wirkola’s artful imagination generates plenty of startles, and gore by the gallon.

Spectacular location shooting, exquisite cinematography, effective sound editing and a killer soundtrack combine to elevate the film above its clever script and solid acting. Take, for example, the gorgeous image of Norwegian peace – a tent, lit from within, sits like a jewel nestled in the quiet of a snowy mountainside. The image glistens with pristine outdoorsy beauty – until it … doesn’t.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGg_HeCB0vM

Fright Club: Best Meat Loaf Horror

Music lost a big voice recently with the passing of Marvin Michael Meat Loaf Aday. That big voice and fascinating physical presence made itself known in a lot of movies, too. Most impressive was his performance in Fight Club, but he left a mark on horror as well.

Here we remember our favorite Meat Loaf roles in horror movies.

5. Stage Fright (2014)

Think Glee meets Wet Hot American Summer meets Phantom of the Opera meets a grisly end. Throw in some Kabuki and you have writer/director Jerome Sable’s weird wooded horror.

It doesn’t always work, the tonal shifts, in particular, leaving you dizzy. But it’s a fun watch and Meat Loaf delivers an unseemly turn as the sinister entrepreneur at the center of the misrun camp.

It’s a fun, weird one.

4. Burning Bright (2010)

He’s only in it for a minute, but Meat Loaf leaves a lasting impression in this one.

Stepdad Johnny (Garret Dillahunt channeling pure Florida white trash) wants to go Tiger King before Tiger King was cool. He buys a tiger from Mr. Loaf, whose warning to the budding zookeeper sets the stage for what’s to come.

What comes is a somewhat problematic story about a young woman’s choices. You’ll see a little bit of Aja’s Crawl, too. For its B movie trappings, though, the film boasts a number of incredibly tense scenes with this tiger – not a CGI tiger, either. This is the real, toothy deal.

3. Masters of Horror: Pelts (2006)

Dario Argento directed two shorts for the excellent Masters of Horror series. Pelts concerns itself with a fur trader with a weakness for strippers. Mr. Loaf excels in this one.

Argento rarely tapped social issues in his work, but one of the reasons this film is so unnerving is the way the kill sequences are choreographed. This is smart, jarring, horrific stuff.

But in the end, it’s Meat Loaf’s lumbering, creepy central performance that makes the whole thing work.

2. Tales from the Crypt: What’s Cookin’ (1992)

Gilberg Adler mainly wrote and produced this HBO series, but he directed a couple of episodes, including this cannibalism gem.

The cast is great: Christopher Reeve, Bess Armstrong, Judd Nelson, Art LaFleur (and, of course, that perfect voice of John Kassir as Crypt Keeper). But Meat Loaf steals the show as creepy landlord Mr. Chumley.

The performance also has a little nod to another one of the big, beefy actor’s roles…

1. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Meat Loaf started played multiple roles for the LA-based Rocky Horror stage play, but for Richard O’Brien’s screen adaptation, he left a big impression in just the one role of Eddie.

He has a big song and dance number, and he gives the legendary Tim Curry so much to react to. It’s a pivotal scene and an unforgettable (if brief) performance. But like doomed Eddie, Meat Loaf’s voice haunts the entire soundtrack – one of the reasons those songs live on.

What a guy. Makes you cry. Unt I did.

Fright Club: Addiction Horror

Addiction is its own horror story, which may explain why so many filmmakers use monstrous imagery as metaphor for addiction. We count down the best horror films that use addiction to freak you out.

5. Enter the Void (2009)

Gaspar Noe films from the point of view of Oscar, an American who deals drugs in Tokyo.  When Oscar is shot in a police raid, the camera follows his subconscious as Noe tries to illustrate a nightmarish link between drugs and death.

Noe’s trademarks – jarring opening credits, roller coaster camerawork, extended takes – are all here, and the result is a nearly two-and-a-half hour barrage of extreme violence, graphic sex, drug-fueled hallucinations and an often hypnotizing gloom that may leave you feeling physically beaten. It’s an experience. But like most of Noe’s work, it’s also hard to turn away from, even if you want to.

4. Habit (1995)

Writer/director/star Larry Fessenden explores alcoholism via vampire symbolism in this NY indie. Fessenden plays Sam, a longtime drunk bohemian type in the city. He’s recently lost his father, his longtime girlfriend finally cut bait, and he runs into a woman who is undoubtedly out of his league at a party.

And then he wakes up naked and bleeding in a park.

The whole film works beautifully as an analogy for alcoholism without crumbling under the weight of metaphor. Fessenden crafts a wise, sad vampiric tale here and also shines as its lead.

3. The Addiction (1995)

Like most of director Abel Ferrara’s work, the film is an overtly stylish, rhythmically urban tale of brutal violence, sin and redemption (maybe). Expect drug use, weighty speeches and blood in this tale of a doctoral candidate in philosophy (Lili Taylor) over-thinking her transformation from student to predator.

Taylor cuts an interesting figure as Kathleen, a very grunge-era vampire in her jeans, Doc Martens and oversized, thrift store blazer. She’s joined by an altogether awesome cast—Annabella Sciorra, Edie Falco and Christopher Walken among them.

Ferrara parallels Kathleen’s need for blood to drug addiction, but uses her philosophy jibberish to plumb humanity’s historical bloodlust.

2. Evil Dead (2013)

With the helpful pen of Oscar winner Diablo Cody (uncredited), Fede Alvarez turns all the particulars of the Evil Dead franchise on end. You can tick off so many familiar characters, moments and bits of dialog, but you can’t predict what will happen.

One of the best revisions is the character of Mia: the first to go and yet the sole survivor. An addict secluded in this cabin in the woods with her brother and friend specifically to detox, she’s the damaged one, and the female who’s there without a male counterpart, which means (by horror standards), she’s the one most likely to be a number in the body count, but because of what she has endured in her life she’s able to make seriously tough decisions to survive – like tearing off her own damn arm. Nice!

Plus, it rains blood! How awesome is that?!

1. Resolution (2012)

Michael (Chris Cilella) is lured to a remote cabin, hoping to save his friend Chris (Vinny Curan) from himself. Chris will detox whether he wants to or not, then Michael will wash his hands of this situation and start again with his wife and unborn baby.

But Michael is in for more than he bargained, and not only because Chris has no interest in detoxing. Directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson (working from Benson’s screenplay) begin with a fascinating and bizarre group of characters and a solid story, layering on bizarre notions of time, horror and storytelling in ways that are simultaneously familiar and wildly unique. The result is funny, tense, and terrifying.

Fright Club: Best Horror Movies of 2021

Big year! In fact, horror may have saved movies this year. That’s what lured people back to cinemas —A Quiet Place Part II, Candyman and other genre films. And even though we don’t entirely consider Last Night in Soho a horror film, Edgar Wright’s giddy take on giallo was a blast in the theater.

But horror also flooded streaming services, where you could find some of the most amazing bloody treasures in 2021: Jakob’s Wife and Fried Barry made you glad you had a Shudder subscription, and Double Walker proved true indie horror was alive and well.

It took some time to boil it down, but here are our 10 favorite horror films of 2021.

10. Titane

Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or-winning Titane is alive with alternating color palettes, pulsating sounds and endless shocks of body horrific visuals. The sudden bursts of violence are downright pedestrian alongside the parade of boldly squirm-inducing clashes of flesh, bone and other.

But as she did with her first feature, Raw, Ducournau finds humanity clawing out from the inhumane. Truly unforgettable performances from Vincent Lindon and Agathe Russell provide intimate examples of the extremes that even the most damaged souls are capable of in the search to care and be cared for.

It may not be shy about homages and influences, but Titane is indeed its own ferocious animal. Open the cage look the F out.

9. Caveat

The room is dark, decrepit. A wild-eyed woman with a bloody nose holds a toy out in front of her like a demon slayer holds a crucifix. The toy – what is it, a rabbit? A jackalope? – beats a creepy little drum. Faster. Slower. Hotter. Colder.

This is how writer/director Damian Mc Carthy opens Caveat and I am in. An expertly woven tapestry of ambiguity, lies and misunderstanding sink the story into a fog of mystery that never lets up. McCarthy unveils a real knack for nightmarish visuals, images that effortlessly conjure primal fears and subconscious revulsion.

Mc Carthy does a lot with very little, as there are very few locations and a total of three cast members—all stellar. You won’t miss the budget. Mc Carthy casts a spook house spell, rattling chains and all, and tells a pithy little survival story while he’s at it.  

8. Psycho Goreman

Endlessly quotable and boasting inspired creature design and a twisted Saturday Morning Kidventure tone, Psycho Goreman is a blast

Fans of writer/director Steven Kostanski’s 2016 breakout The Void (a perfect blend of Lovecraft and Halloween 2) might not expect the childlike lunacy and gleeful brutality of Psycho Goreman (PG for short), but they should. His 2012 gem Father’s Day (not for the easily offended) and his 2011 Manborg define not only his tendencies but his commitment to tone and mastery of his material.

His ensemble here works wonders together, each hitting the comedic beats in Kostanski’s script hard enough that the goretastic conclusion feels downright cheery. This movie could not be more fun.

7. The Retreat

The Retreat shows how satisfying it can be when cabin-in-the-woods horror is done well.

Director Pat Mills builds an air of dread and tension minus the usual gimmickry. Writer Alyson Richards pens a lean, mean, bloody survival thriller that boasts some welcome surprises and a smart social conscience. Realized via strong performances from Tommie-Amber Pirie and Sarah Allen, heroes Renee and Val’s relationship feels perfectly authentic, with a sexuality that’s never exploited by a leering camera. And while you may be reminded of 2018’s What Keeps You Alive, there is a critical difference.

The couple in that film could have been heterosexual, and it still would have worked. But here, the fact that it is a same sex couple being hunted matters very much to the story at work. It enables Richards and Mills to anchor a revenge horror show with a satisfying metaphor for the violent threats LGBTQ folks continue to face every day.

6. A Quiet Place Part II

For a few well-placed and important seconds, there it is: the much-discussed nail from A Quiet Place. And like most everything else in writer/director John Krasinki’s thrilling sequel, the nail’s return carries weight, speaking visually and deepening our investment in these characters’ terrifying journey.

There is no shortage of exhilarating, squirm-inducing and downright scary moments, but Krasinski instills it all with an impressive level of humanity. He gives the enterprise a welcome retro feel and his flair for visual storytelling has only strengthened since the last film.Paragraph

AQPII is lean, moves at a quick clip, thrills with impressive outdoor carnage sequences and yet commands that same level of tension in its nerve- janglingly quiet moments. Krasinski had a tough task trying to follow his 2018 blockbuster, one made even tougher now having to prove the sequel was worth saving for a theaters-only release. On both counts, we’d say he nailed it.

5. Censor

It’s 1985, Thatcher’s England: an era when controversial films hoping to make their way to screens big and small found themselves more butchered than their characters. Writer/director Prano Bailey-Bond and co-writer Anthony Fletcher evoke such a timestamp with this film, not just in the look and style, but with the social preoccupation.

Censor is a descent into madness film, but its deep love and understanding of the genre play a central role in this madness. Niamh Algar’s performance as the video nasty censor in question is prim and sympathetic, deliberate and brittle. It’s clear from the opening frame that Enid will break. But between Algar’s skill and Bailey-Bond’s cinematic vision, the journey toward that break is a wild ride.

4. My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To

Making an unnervingly assured feature film debut, writer/director Jonathan Cuartas commingles The Transfiguration’s image of lonely, awkward adolescence with Relic’s horror of familial obligation to create a heartbreaking new vampire tale.

Many things are left unsaid (including the word “vampire’), and My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To confines itself to the daily drudgery of three siblings. Dwight (Patrick Fugit) longs to break these family chains, but sister Jessie (Ingrid Sophie Schram) holds him tight with shame, love, and obligation to little brother, the afflicted Thomas (Owen Campbell).

What could easily have become its own figurative image of the masculine longing for freedom mines far deeper concerns. Cuartas weaves loneliness into that freedom, tainting the concept of independence with a terrifying, even dangerous isolation that leaves you with no one to talk to and no way to get away from yourself.

3. Lamb

Among the many remarkable elements buoying the horror fable Lamb is filmmaker Valdimar Jóhannsson’s ability to tell a complete and riveting tale without a single word of exposition. Rather than devoting dialog to explaining to us what it is we are seeing, Jóhannsson relies on impressive visual storytelling instincts.

His cast of three – well, four, I guess — sells the fairy tale. A childless couple working a sheep farm in Iceland find an unusual newborn lamb and take her in as their own child. As is always the way in old school fables, though, there is much magical happiness but a dire recompense soon to come. It is an absolutely gorgeous, entirely unusual and expertly crafted gem of a film. You should see it.

2. Candyman

This new Candyman is the most delicious brand of horror sequel. Thanks to the startling vision of director/co-writer Nia DaCosta and producer/co-writer Jordan Peele, it is a film that honors its roots but lives so vibrantly in the now that it makes you view the 1992 original from an urgent new angle.

DaCosta’s savvy storytelling is angry without being self-righteous. Great horror often holds a mirror to society, and DaCosta works mirrors into nearly every single scene in the film. Her grasp of the visual here is stunning—macabre, horrifying, and elegant. She takes cues from the art world her tale populates, unveiling truly artful bloodletting and framing sequences with grotesque but undeniable beauty. It’s hard to believe this is only her second feature.

By the time a brilliant coda of sadly familiar shadow puppet stories runs alongside the closing credits, there’s more than enough reason for horror fans to rejoice and…#telleveryone.

1. Saint Maud

Maud (an astonishing Morfydd Clark) has some undefined blood and shame in her recent past. But she survived it, and she knows God saved her for a reason. She’s still working out what that reason is when she meets Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a former choreographer now crumbling beneath lymphoma.

Ehle’s performance strikes a perfect image of casual cruelty, her scenes with the clearly delicate Maud a dance of curiosity and unkindness. Clark’s searching, desperate performance is chilling. Writer/director Rose Glass routinely frames her in ways to evoke the images of saints and martyrs, giving the film an eerie beauty, one that haunts rather than comforts.

Glass’s film treads the earth between mental illness and religious fervor, but its sights are on the horror of the broken-hearted and lonesome.

Fright Club: Scary Santas

This season has inspired so much horror. You have classics like Black Christmas, foreign masterpieces like Inside, Calvaire and Sheitan, and tons upon tons of guilty pleasures. Today we narrow the focus to the best of the Santas – those fur coated, black booted terrors that can really ruin a festive noel. Here are our favorites.

5. Christmas Evil (1980)

Lewis Jackson’s yarn about a damaged boy growing up to be a murderous Santa may sound like every third holiday horror to come out in the 80s, but because it was one of the first to do it, it doesn’t fit the predictable pattern. More importantly, Brandon Maggart’s sympathetic performance elevates this film above schlock horror like Silent Night, Deadly Night (and its sequels) to something considerably better.

Yes, childhood memories of Dad and Mom getting cozy under the mistletoe while Dad’s dressed as Father Christmas have had an ill effect on Harry. His zealotry concerning the season, the ribbing he takes from people he knows, and the naughtiness he sees all around him finally push him over the edge. Predictable enough, and with a low budget that allows for very few jingle bells and whistles. Still, Jackson’s script goes unexpected places and Maggart delivers more than standard fare as the marauding Claus.

4. A Christmas Horror Stor ( 2015)

A trio of Canadian directors – Steve Hoban, Brett Sullivan, and Grant Harvey – pull together a series of holiday shorts with this one. Held together by Dangerous Dan (William Shatner), the small-town radio announcer who’s pulling a double shift this Christmas Eve, the tales vary wickedly from three teens trapped in their own wrong-headed Nativity, to a family who accidentally brought home a violent changeling with their pilfered Christmas tree, to a dysfunctional family stalked by Krampus, to Santa himself, besieged by zombie elves.

Yes, there is a second film out this holiday season with Krampus in it. You know what? This one’s better – in fact, it’s almost patterned after Krampus director John Dougherty’s cult favorite Trick r’ Treat and it offers more laughs and more scares.

Plus Shatner! He’s adorably jolly in the broadcast booth, particularly as the evening progresses and his nog to liquor ratio slowly changes. This is a cleverly written film, well-acted and sometimes creepy as hell. Merry f’ing Christmas!

3. Deadly Games (1989)

That mullet! That house! Rene Manzor’s 1989 holiday horror predates Home Alone by one year, but both films have the same idea in mind. What if an incredibly rich family leaves a kid to defend himself against home invaders on Christmas Eve?

Except in this case, rich doesn’t begin to cover it and the home invader isn’t a couple of suburban thugs, it’s a psychotic dressed as Santa. Patrick Floersheim brings layers of tragic man-chid mental instability to the role, and that gives the film a lot of depth. Alain Lalanne is adorable as the mulleted boy who believes in Santa, and Louis Decreux – as his go-along-with-anything grandpa – is equally precious.

The editing leaves a lot to be desired, so the action sequences and montages lack propulsion. But the set decoration is amazing. This is a fun one.

2. Saint (Sint) (2010)

What is every child’s immediate reaction upon first meeting Santa? Terror. Now imagine a mash-up between Santa, a pirate, and an old-school Catholic bishop. How scary is that?

Well, that’s basically what the Dutch have to live with, as their Sinterklaas, along with his helper Black Peter, sails in yearly to deliver toys and bag naughty children to kidnap to Spain. I’m not making this up. This truly is their Christmas fairy tale. So, really, how hard was it for writer/director Dick Maas to mine his native holiday traditions for a horror flick?

Allegorical of the generations-old abuse against children quieted by the Catholic Church, Saint manages to hit a few nerves without losing its focus on simple, gory storytelling.

1.Rare Exports (2010)

It’s not just the Dutch with a sketchy relationship with Santa. That same year Saint was released, the Fins put out an even better Christmas treat, one that sees Santa as a bloodthirsty giant imprisoned in Korvatunturi mountains centuries ago.

Some quick-thinking reindeer farmers living in the land of the original Santa Claus are able to separate naughty from nice and make good use of Santa’s helpers. There are outstanding shots of wonderment, brilliantly subverted by director Jalmari Helander, with much aid from his chubby-cheeked lead, a wonderful Onni Tommila.

Rare Exports is an incredibly well-put-together film. Yes, the story is original and the acting truly is wonderful, but the cinematography, sound design, art direction and editing are top-notch.