What a year it’s been! Absolutely no one who went into 2020 had any accurate idea of what the year would bring, having brought the world itself to its very knees. While theater remained closed for most of the year, there weren’t a whole lot of theatrical movie releases.
However, between streaming, drive-ins, and the few months that AMC and Regal were open, we still got a fair share of horror movies coming out. So as we reflect back on this most challenging year, let’s focus on the positive, and look at the 10 best horror movies of 2020!
You can also check out our list of the Top 5 Disappointing Horror Movies of 2020
During the height of quarantine, this movie dominated drive-in theaters. It’s a bloody blend of Home Alone and The Purge, which pits a vicious Neo-Nazi played by an unrecognizable Kevin James against a young teen who proves to be quite the handful.
The titular Becky makes Kevin McCallister look like a pushover, as she brutally kills several home invaders with her own hands. It’s shocking, tense, brutal, and if you’re a little twisted, it’s a really fun watch.
For some, the most frightening thing in the world is normal life. Vivarium explores the anxiety associated with settling down, having children, and losing all sense of self. Writing as someone who is both a spouse and a parent, the fears are understandable.
For some it’s an absolute terror, and Vivarium explores it in a fascinating, albeit trippy, arthouse manner. It makes you think, question your own sanity, and in some ways, it makes you reflect on your own life.
8. The Hunt
This was the poor movie that just couldn’t catch a break. First it was delayed from its Summer 2019 release due to political controversy reasons, then it finally opened on Friday the 13th of March, 2020, just to see the entire world go into quarantine days later. The movie itself wound up being an over the top, insanely fun gore fest that perfectly captured the insanity of this year.
There have been other horror films that tried to explore social/political commentary, but The Hunt somehow gets it right by being just ridiculous enough to get away with what it’s trying to say. Whereas The Purge: Election Year took itself way too seriously, The Hunt gets its message across, while having a blast (quite literally).
On the surface (no pun intended), Underwater seemed like nothing more than an aquatic Alien knockoff. But right from the very start, it’s a heart-pounding adrenaline rush that never lets up for the entire runtime.
Once again, this movie proves that Kristin Stewart has always been a really talented actress, she was just given a terrible script and nothing to work with in Twilight. Underwater ends up being a big budget B-movie creature feature that’s full of tension.
6. Vampires vs. The Bronx
In what can only be described as a modern day Fright Night, Vampires vs. The Bronx uses blends monster horror with real life issues by using vampires as a metaphor for gentrification. And somehow it works brilliantly.
It gets its point across in a subtle manner, and never forgets to be a fun vampire movie. The protagonists are kids, who are also horror fans, so it’s easy to relate to them. Netflix originals are definitely hit or miss, and this one was a surprise hit in October.
5. Host (also featured on our Top 10 Shudder Originals of 2020)
At a time when the world was shut down and people were struggling with staying in quarantine, the film industry tragically took huge hits that it may never recover from.
While all film and television production had halted, this movie was being shot over Zoom, with each actor in their own homes. Not only did it reference and incorporate the real life pandemic into its plot, but in the spirit of The Blair Witch Project before it, it conjured up some terrifying scares with minimal budget and effects.
Host is a reminder of how so much can be achieved with so little in this beloved genre. Movies like Unfriended, Searching, and Ratter had previously done this style of film before, but none were quite as effective as Host. It remains one of the few movies that’s best viewed on a laptop screen (preferably alone in the dark).
4. The Lodge
While it made rounds at the festival circuit in 2019, we’re counting this for 2020 as it got is theatrical release this year. The first five minutes delivers an effectively shocking gut punch of a scene, and the tension only grows from there.
We get a family of characters who feel like real people in the sense that they’re all flawed and capable of being pretty awful to each other at times. But we see that they’re human and all the more sympathetic. Which makes their fate all the more tragic.
For most of its runtime, we find ourselves questioning whether something truly supernatural is happening, or if it’s all in their heads. The Lodge is a great example of isolation “snowed in” horror and deserves to be up there with the likes of The Shining and The Thing (both go to movies whenever it’s snowing outside).
3. Random Acts of Violence (also featured on our Top 10 Shudder Originals of 2020)
Where to begin? Known more for starring in comedies, Jay Baruchel directed this absolutely brilliant meta slasher that incorporates horror, comic books, and the perverse obsession society has for violence.
When a comic book creator inspires real life murders based on the comic, he must fight for his life, as well as reconcile with the violence he may have inadvertently promoted. Within the universe of this movie, the comic he created is based on a series of real-life unsolved murders, which begs a very thought-provoking question.
Do we glorify violence and crime with media based on real life instances? It’s all fun and games to enjoy someone like Freddy Krueger or Jason Vorhees, but what about movies based on real life murders? This film explores the morally gray area that we often get into, and does so in a fascinating and compelling manner.
Following up two Happy Death Day movies, Christopher Landon crafted another “horror parody” with a twist on the body-switch trope. Freaky has a lot going for it between its stellar cast, led by Kathryn Newton and Vince Vaughn, both of whom do a great job playing the other.
Its myriad of references make for a fun game of I Spy for horror fans, and like his previous work, Landon shows that you make a great horror movie with fully developed characters that we care about. Throw in a few awesome and bloody kills, and Freaky makes for a solidly fun slasher comedy that was a definite highlight in a year devoid of much joy.
1. The Invisible Man
Released in February of 2020, this was the last film that many saw in a theater before everything shut down. I called it as my personal favorite horror film of the year way back then, and as we approach the end of 2020, nothing has topped it.
Leigh Whannell set out to make the titular classic monster scary again, and did so by making him the villain rather than the protagonist. What we get is a brilliantly tense story with likeable characters that are easy to root for, unbelievable tension (particularly in that opening scene), and several legitimately jaw-dropping moments.
Having directed Upgrade two years earlier, Whannell perfected a style of action that involves eerily smooth camera movements that make brutal action scenes look amazing. And it’s on full display here, as the Invisible Man carries out vicious attacks that people seem to be powerless from because of how unexpected they are.
All the while, it serves as a subtle, yet present metaphor for the real life trauma that survivors of domestic abuse and violence struggle with, long after their abuser is gone. It’s equally tragic and cathartic, but it makes us root for Elisabeth Moss’ protagonist that much more.
What were your favorite horror movies of the year? Which ones did we miss? Let us know in the comments! Here’s to hoping that 2021 is better, as it already has an impressive lineup of horror films slated for release (many of which were due out this year)!