Best horror films of 2021
The year 2021 was a horror show when it came to watching the news, but a great one when it came to watching horror movies. From the citizens of Haddonfield banding together to tackle Michael Myers in Halloween Kills to the sight of Nicolas Cage taking down a bunch of animatronic monsters in Willy's Wonderland, here are the best big-screen terror tales of 2021.
Blood Red Sky
In this terrific Netflix horror-thriller, Peri Baumeister plays a German vampire named Nadja, whose attempt to fly across the Atlantic and receive treatment for her condition is wrecked when her plane is taken over by hijackers. To protect her still-human son, Nadja sets about taking apart the armed goons with unexpected, thrilling, and blood-drenched consequences. Outlander fans with strong stomachs may care to know that Graham McTavish has a supporting role.
The Fear Street Trilogy
Director Leigh Janiak (Honeymoon) details a curse which has doomed so many residents of the fictional small town of Shadyside in her three-pronged R.L. Stine adaptation, set in 1994, 1978, and 1666. The result is a deliriously entertaining, gore-drenched reframing of the slasher genre's thrills, spills, and kills. "I love the slasher movie, but we've done that, right?" Janiak told EW. "We've done slasher movies in various ways, and I was interested in how we could reinvent the genre a little bit. Part of that came from this opportunity to tell a different kind of story that had a bigger narrative, connected over all three, that you need to watch in a short amount of time to get the full experience. It's not a traditional sequel model."
Halloween Kills is positioned between 2018's essentially self-contained Halloween and the upcoming Halloween Ends and at times feels more bridge than film, with Jamie Lee Curtis' badly-injured Laurie Strode on the sidelines for much of the movie. But the Michael Myers-caused mayhem is nicely deranged, and Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Kyle Richards makes a welcome return to the franchise after four decades away, reprising the role of Lindsey Wallace. "I sat down with her at a coffee shop in Beverly Hills, and it was very funny because [of] how recognized she is in a world I don't necessarily inhabit," director David Gordon Green told EW. "But her charisma is immediate, and her talent is extraordinary, and we hit it off right away. I immediately got inspired to go write more for her."
Last Night in Soho
Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright returns to the horror realm with this tale of an aspiring fashion designer named Eloise, played by Thomasin McKenzie, whose sweet dreams about 1960s London turn sour and begin to seep into her modern-day life. "First and foremost, he gave me a list of around 50 or so films to make my way through, all horror and psychological thriller films from around the '60s: Rosemary's Baby, Repulsion, Don't Look Now," McKenzie told EW, about working with Wright. "That really allowed me to get an idea of the mood, the visuals, the psychological thriller that he wanted."
Every night, the same man breaks into the house of a self-help author and her partner and tries to kill them. Actress Brea Grant (Heroes) stars in, and wrote, this Shudder original, a fresh take on the slasher genre from filmmaker Natasha Kermani (Imitation Girl).
Aquaman director James Wan returns to his down-and-dirty Saw-era horror roots with this bonkers and bloody tale of a woman who starts to remotely witness murders after receiving a blow to her head. "Right after Aquaman 1, I knew I was jumping in to Aquaman 2 at some point, but I needed to take a little break, I needed a palette cleanser," said the director. "There's only so many PG-13 movies I can make before I get bored of that. I honestly I just miss my Saw days, my Death Sentence days and my Dead Silence [days], and I wanted to go do those again."
Filmed during the pandemic, M. Night Shyamalan's adaptation of writer Pierre Oscar Lévy and artist Frederik Peeters' graphic novel Sandcastle is arguably the Sixth Sense director's strangest film and certainly contains among his most horrific scenes. Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, and Rufus Sewell, among others, portray a group of vacationers on a remote beach for whom the sands of time are very much running out. "It's based on this graphic novel that I was given from my daughters," Shyamalan said. "I read it, and the premise was so powerful, of these people that went to this beach and their experience that happens on that day… I thought it was very frightening and emotional, and the ideas just started coming, and I tracked down the owner, and the person that wrote it. It was just a beautiful thing, and kind of touching, that it came from my daughters, this story about getting older very, very quick."
PG: Psycho Goreman
In filmmaker Steven Kostanski's horror-comedy homage to low budget science fiction-horror movies of the '80s and '90s, a couple of kids (Nita-Josee Hanna, Owen Myre) unearth a homicidal beastie in their back garden. "The basic premise of the movie is that a brother and sister dig up an ancient evil warlord and they go on adventures with him because they are in possession of a magical gem," says the director.
The titular monster, Psycho Goreman, was inspired by Kostanski's childhood love for pop culture villains. "I'm a big fan of characters like Skeletor and Megatron and Darth Vader and Lord Dread from Captain Power. I love those kinds of villains that also have very elaborate looks that translate well into action figure form. So my approach with designing PG was, what is the look me-as-a-kid would get excited about if I saw him on a store shelf somewhere? What is the ideal monster toy that I'd want to buy?"
A Quiet Place 2
One of the first films to be given a wide release this year, director John Krasinski's sequel to his 2018 hit offered a string of nerve-racking set pieces as Evelyn (played by the director's wife, Emily Blunt) and her brood continue their attempt to survive in a world overrun by blind monsters. "I was never going to do it if he didn't direct it," Blunt said to EW. "My hands were tied by the brilliance of the ideas and his hands were tied because I said he had to direct me."
Morfydd Clark plays the title character: a troubled, religion-obsessed nurse caring for the lymphoma-stricken, and more carnally-minded Amanda (Jennifer Ehle). Director Rose Glass' intimate, unnerving debut genuflects in the direction of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? but succeeds in becoming its own distinct venture, one likely to gather an army of congregants.
Brea Grant also stars in this directorial debut from Jill Gevargizian about a murderous hair stylist (Najarra Townsend) who becomes obsessed with Grant's bride-to-be. Gevargizian's film was partly inspired by her own experiences working as a hair stylist in Kansas City. "It's still my bread and butter," she says. "The salon where I work is where we shot the salon scenes in the feature. So, you can come in and get the real-life Stylist experience!" The Stylist can currently be viewed on the Arrow platform.
Just as writer-director Julia Ducournau's breakthrough film Raw isn't just about a young woman who develops a taste for human flesh, her at times jaw-droppingly visceral, Palme d'Or-winning follow-up, Titane, isn't just about a young woman who has sex with a car. Having said that, Ducornau did put a lot of thought into the scene which found Agathe Rousselle's central character getting seriously auto-erotic. "The idea was to make you believe there was a seduction going on between her and the car," the filmmaker told EW's Joey Nolfi, "that there was a complicity between them, that we'd see it as a sex scene involving two consenting figures: her and the car, and that both of them were together."
Dave Davis (The Walking Dead, True Detective) plays a New Yorker named Yakov who reluctantly agrees to act as an overnight "shomer"—someone who watches over the body of a recently deceased person. In the course of his duties, Davis' character must deal with all manner of spookiness atmospherically orchestrated by first-time writer-director Keith Thomas. "When I wrote it, I was like, 'Wow, it's crazy that no one has made this [before]'," says the filmmaker. "It turned out, when we were going into production, that there were some shomer scripts floating around Hollywood for a while. I never read any of them, so I don't know where they took it, but certainly the set-up is ideal for a horror film."
Someone among the bickering inhabitants of a small, snowbound town is a werewolf. But who? By the time director Josh Ruben and writer Mishna Wolff provide the answer in this horror-comedy you may have half-forgotten the question thanks to the fabulous, hilarious performances of its deep-bench cast whose members include Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, Michaela Watkins, Harvey Guillén, and Cheyenne Jackson. "We were up in the Catskills and we were so remote from everything," Richardson told EW about the film's shoot. "It was easy to get in the mindset of the character, because we were up in this lodge, we were the only ones staying in this place, and the only people we were around were each other. So the idea of being in this closed-off remote town, it was like, 'Oh, that's what we're living right now!'"
Is there anything more fun than watching Nicolas Cage have fun? The Face/Off actor plays, with mucho glee, a mysterious gentleman forced to battle possessed animatronic monsters while cleaning a Chuck E. Cheese-style restaurant. The fact that he continues to make the place spick-and-span as the bodycount rises is one of the many treats found in this berserk tale from writer G.O. Parsons and director Kevin Lewis.
"Nic was a great partner," says Lewis. "It was funny because I said, 'I only have time to do probably two-to-three takes Nic.' And he goes, 'Well, Kevin, I like to do it in one!' I was like, 'Sounds good to me.'"
Rare is the horror franchise which achieves a highpoint on its seventh outing, but screenwriter and Wrong Turn series creator Alan McElroy manages just that with this latest tale of backwoods mayhem. Matthew Modine stars as a worried father attempting to find his daughter, who has fallen prey to a new-to-the-franchise bunch of lunatics while hiking the Appalachian Trail. Charlotte Vega is terrific as our lost heroine and director Mike P. Nelson keeps matters moving at a clip toward the movie's jaw-dropper of a conclusion.
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