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Best Indie Horror of 2021

2021 may have been a real-life horror show, but at least the onscreen horror was strong; here are 30 of our favorites you may have missed.

2021 was a year punctuated with long-awaited, COVID-delayed theatrical releases, including Nia DaCosta’s extraordinary reimagining of Candyman and David Gordon Green’s follow-up to the box office smash Halloween (2018), Halloween Kills. In addition to these two, the ten most profitable films of the year were all new entries from familiar properties save for one (The Unholy). These included A Quiet Place: Part II, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, The Forever Purge, Don’t Breathe 2, Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, Spiral, and Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. 

With a few exceptions, including the buzzworthy James Wan-helmed Malignant (coming in at #11 of the year’s most successful horror films), a vast number of truly exceptional independent horror films flew under the radar. So, the Morbidly Beautiful writing team came together to share 30 of our favorites from 2021. It’s highly likely many of these films will be undiscovered gems for you — films you didn’t quite get around to watching or ones you missed hearing about.

Our hope is that this list introduces you to some remarkable new horror films you’ll consider seeking out while you wait for some of 2022’s most anticipated releases. 

PART 1: 1-10 

Last Night in Soho, My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell it To, Saint Maud, The Night House, Little Fish, Till Death, Willy’s Wonderland, The Power, Jakob’s Wife, Antlers

1. Last Night in Soho

Last Night in Soho is a visually stunning masterpiece. It is delectable for the eyes and ears featuring, rich-color expression and a fantastic throwback to the music of the 1960s. The seamless transition between time and space adds to the fantasy element. Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), a naive dreamer with a heart of gold, toggles between an alternate universe she enters in her dreams. While in this altered reality, Eloise meets Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a fellow creative who inspires and ignites her passion for retro fashion design.

Adding to the intrigue is how unevenly time shifts during the sleep segments. It’s unclear how much time Eloise is spending in this other reality. One night of sleep could be days or weeks. This device moves the story and maintains the audience’s interest as one is left to piece events together. The movie is a unique undertaking, which can still be appreciated for its other qualities, if not for its loose storytelling.

(Recommended by Kara Grimoire)

Last Night in Soho tells a story that zips and zigs and zags as the hopeful present-day of Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) is crashed into by the dark past of Sandi (Anya Taylor-Joy), unfolding as a slick supernatural-mystery time hopper. The story of Sandi grows darker by the scene and blossoms like a flesh wound, her world showered with equal parts glamour and grit, the seedy characters dulling the shine of the flashy city lights of 1960s London. When Eloise gets sucked into Sandi’s world, director Edgar Wright unleashes a spectacular bleeding neon, a bump-in-the-night playground that grips and thrills and jolts at every turn.

While Anya Taylor-Joy is superb and striking as the doomed dreamgirl Sandi, Thomasin McKenzie is as real as it gets. She absolutely crackles and lights up the screen, and watching McKenzie in total command of a demanding lead role is as thrilling as the film itself. Working as both a coming-of-age and loss of life story, the question at the center of Last Night in Soho isn’t “do you believe in ghosts,” it’s “have you already become one?”

(Recommended by Jason McFiggins)

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

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is an emotional and bleak horror film about the strain of familial obligation. Director Jonathan Cuartas fashions an investing story that follows a trio of siblings. The youngest sibling, Thomas (Owen Campbell), is suffering from a mysterious illness that requires him to drink human blood. The two elder siblings, Dwight (Patrick Fugit) and Jessie (Ingrid Sophie Schram), are forced to desperate measures to keep their delicate younger brother alive.

There’s sorrow in every inch of this film and a palpably beautiful gloominess. It revels in human complexity and explores the messy nooks and crannies of sibling relationships. Patrick Fugit’s Dwight is a harrowingly sad character who becomes the film’s empathetic core, while Ingrid Sophie Schram’s Jessie is devoted and possibly a bit unhinged herself. Fugit and Schram play off of one another beautifully, creating a toxic microcosm within the three-person family that is utterly fascinating.

Cuartas gives us a horror that doubles as a meditative family drama that is worth going all-in on.

(Recommended by Jamie Alvey)

3. Saint Maud

A taut, suspenseful, and unnerving tale of a young woman’s spiritual crisis, Saint Maud is remarkable in every way.

A home care nurse for the terminally ill, Maud is an intensely devout young woman struggling to save the soul of her dying patient, Amanda. A former renowned dancer and vivacious beauty, Amanda just wants to embrace her final fleeting days on Earth with as much joie de vivre as she can muster. But her hedonistic tendencies conflict with Maud’s narrow view of saint vs sinner.

Recovering from some unspoken trauma, Maud has turned to religion and devout devotion to make sense of her pain. She desperately clings to the belief that her life holds some greater purpose than the tragic cards of misery and loneliness she’s been dealt in life. Soft-spoken and reserved, she conveys a quiet intensity that hints at the dark storm brewing beneath the ‘Hail Marys’ and ‘Our Fathers’.

Maud is straddling the delicate line between religious fervor and psychosis, and that line is beginning to blur in increasingly devastating ways.

With spellbinding performances from Morfydd Clark and Jennifer Ehle, this startling directorial debut from Rose Glass is beautiful, harrowing, and uncompromising. A female-driven tour-de-force, it’s the kind of haunting revelation that lingers long after the shocking gut-punch of an ending.

(Recommended by Stephanie Malone)

4. The Night House

What would you do if you found yourself at the apex of centripetal darkness? The Night House poses this very question through the eyes of its bereaved protagonist, Beth. Every act of the film exposes a different wound of the human condition, from grief and betrayal to loneliness, confusion, and finally — to the most dreadful concept of them all — nothingness. The Night House deftly subverts the tropes of a typical ghost story at every turn, offering a new perspective on the many ways in which grief and the great unknown can haunt us.

The beauty of this film is in the many ways in which it terrifies viewers, inspiring cautious over-the-shoulder glances and existential dread in one fell swoop. It’s not enough to simply elevate the heart rate. The Night House, fueled by nuanced writing and exceptional performances, is here to tap into primal fears with fresh and stylized execution. When it comes to this movie, the less you know the better. Experience this haunted house alongside Beth so you can witness and conquer, the power of unresolved trauma and uncontended fear in real-time. You certainly won’t regret it.

(Recommended by Maggie Stankiewicz)

5. Little Fish

Little Fish is as terrifying as it is romantic, showing the most devastating way to lose a loved one: right before your eyes through memory loss. Like memory itself, the film is fragmented with one main storyline surrounded by glimpses of the past that construct the relationship of two people living through a memory loss pandemic. Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell excel as the leads, with O’Connell earning every ounce of our empathy and Cooke projecting her deep heartache onto the viewer in a stunning performance.

Emotional, scary, intense, and thoughtful, Little Fish is a beautifully crafted unconventional, gut-punch romance that lingers in your thoughts. Not a conventional horror, the film instead frightens from within each individual viewer as they contemplate what it would be like to witness friends and loved ones forget who you are, and you them. And then forget who you are yourself. It’s a premise that is both heartbreaking and alarming, but one that oddly and beautifully leaves splinters of hope. The emotions and themes of Little Fish are layered, complex and powerful, yet its presentation of the essence of humanity is miraculously simple.

Think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets Memento written by Nicholas Sparks. Seek this film out, before you forget.

(Recommended by Jason McFiggins)

6. Till Death

Megan Fox is making her second go-round of being the “it girl” this year, so it was a nice surprise that she made her way back to horror. We all first fell in love with her in Jennifer’s Body; Till Death was a complete departure from the horror-comedy role, and instead gave us a very straightforward survival thriller that was nearly as bloody.

Emma is stuck in an abusive marriage. On her anniversary, her husband chains him to her in their isolated cabin in the dead of winter. When she wakes up the following morning, she finds herself at the center of the world’s most harrowing revenge plot. The creep factor of winter horror is underrated, and you’ll fall in love with the resilience of Emma as we’re shown what a person is truly capable of in order to survive in S.K. Dale’s impressive directorial debut.

(Recommended by Guest Writer Jessica Gomez, @writerjessicagomez on Instagram)

7. Willy’s Wonderland

Killer animatronics in a children’s amusement center and an overnight employee trying to survive may scream Five Night At Freddy‘s to some, but this film is a different kind of a spook. No predictable jump scares here, but an action-packed night during which Nicolas Cage disembowels, breaks and utterly destroys possessed animatronics, all while trying to be a good janitor.

That set-up already sold me on the flick, but there is something extra that tickled the gamer in me. This film is like a video game, and it is not FNAF. Rather, it’s a film constructed like a video game: it has a silent protagonist, it has a backstory that no one really cares about, and it has new enemies arrive in a way that feels like boss fights on a level. In other words, it feels like a video game in the best way. And while it is not a film you rewatch to find hidden meanings, it does not need to be deep. It is fun, fast, and has a great theme song that you will be checking out on Spotify.

And have I mentioned it has Nicolas Cage grunting his way through the movie? It’s just another proof that Cage’s career renaissance is happening and making horror if not better, then certainly more amusing.

(Recommended by Dax Kurowska)

8. The Power

Set in 1970’s London, nurse Val (Rose Williams) spends her first day working a shift at a nearly abandoned hospital while enduring the scheduled electricity “blackouts” that were enforced at the time. While navigating the delicate politics of internal staff, Val struggles to protect a young child from a mysterious, vengeful force that destroys everything in its path.

This aptly-named film reflects again and again how the vulnerable are preyed on by societal structures, allowing for abuse and violence while those in power turn a blind eye (The fact that the blackouts were themselves a political ploy to avoid paying coal minors can not be overstated). Val encounters predators of every kind her first night on the job, each struggling against and warped by their own predetermined rung on the social ladder.

While this may sound preachy, Val’s role as a lonely, friendless woman of indeterminate race makes her vulnerability clear. Everyone she encounters, be it childhood bully, rapey electrician, or supernatural, murderous spirit, becomes a potential threat.

The human interactions here are just as terrifying as the supernatural, combining the heightened anxiety of walking to your car at 3 am with the breathtaking horror of fighting off an eye-gouging specter. Every moment is filled with menace.

(Recommended by Alli Hartley)

9. Jakob’s Wife

It took four years for Travis Steven’s Jakob’s Wife to translate from the script to Shudder, as Barbara Crampton was insistent on not rushing the creative process. I think the years and patience it took to find the right story proved that some methods are worth waiting for. What Crampton brings to her character Anne Fedder is a soul-opening treat: emotional, identifiable, and one of her best roles to date.

Anne’s encounter with “The Master”, a vampiric creature, in an abandoned warehouse one night brings an unusual twist of fate — turning her from the dormant dutiful housewife to a blood-thirsty middle-aged woman searching to reclaim what she so long ago abandoned: her self-identity. Soon her husband, Pastor Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden), is forced on this journey with Anne in a series of mishaps and dead bodies for better or worse as Anne struggles to maintain her humanity.

After thirty years, both husband and wife battle the light and the dark of their preconceived notions related to their traditional marriage roles. There is no more perfect pair — with fiery chemistry and magnificent power play of the sexes — than Crampton and Fessenden.

This film really resonated with me as it explored the societal challenges women have with putting the needs and expectations of others first. Jakob quickly learns he needs to let Anne demonstrate her independence while reflecting on his own role in taking her for granted. Both have been alienated. Within their new unconventional marriage, this couple will have to redefine what their union now means in sickness, health, and immortality.

Jakob’s Wife is an absolute must. It may not be heavily saturated in elevated horror themes, but it touches you at the soul level.

(Recommended by Laura A. Sloan)

10. Antlers

There are some movies that you watch and enjoy, then forget. Scott Cooper’s Antlers is not one of those.

This is a movie that stays with you. Antlers is full of juxtaposition. Its dark, really dark, subject matter and story are in stark contrast with the absolutely beautiful way the movie is shot. It looks stunning, but its heart is dark and corrupted, which makes this an incredibly unsettling watch. In parts, it reminded me of the old X-Files episodes — you know, the good ones, the ones that pulled heavily from folklore and urban legend.

The creature design in Antlers is superb, it has a reasonably high gore count, and the acting is pretty damn good throughout. But the abiding thing that will stay with you is the atmosphere of the film. It’s a tough trick to pull off, but when it works, it makes for a great horror film. And Antlers is a great horror film.

(Recommended by Mike Wrigley)

PART 2: 11-20

Slaxx, Vicious Fun, Prisoners of the Ghostland, Danni and the Vampire, Gaia, Red Snow, Super Hot, Sound of Violence, Fear Street, Pig

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11. Slaxx

What I love so much about a film like Slaxx is just how absolutely unexpected it is. This charming film with a hilariously ridiculous concept — a pair of possessed jeans that tries to kill everyone locked overnight in a retail store while preparing for their biggest sale of the year — does a great job both delivering on and subverting expectations. What I expected was a silly, campy bit of satire that poked fun at our culture of internet celebrity, impossible beauty standards, fast fashion, corporate greed, and consumerism. I thought I’d have a few laughs and a bit of fun, and I was not disappointed.

However, what I also got was a surprisingly smart film that packs a punch I didn’t see coming. This quirky, fast-paced, and gory survival slasher from co-writers Elza Kephart and Patricia Gomez cashes in on laughs and thrills before selling audiences on its real humanitarian message.

Intentionally cheap effects are designed to make you giggle, and the acting is deliciously over the top. The scenes where the jeans come to life and start dancing on the shop floor are gleeful (be sure to stay tuned to the end credits for some fun behind-the-scenes shots showing the ingenious way this unique vision was brought to life). But beyond the hell-of-a-good-time glitz of its surface sizzle is a sharp skewering of the ugly global politics behind fashion’s beauty promise.

There are two jobs I believe should be mandatory for every young person because they can help shape the kind of human you become: waiting tables and working retail. Both can be punishing. But the people who know how to treat these warriors of customer service — the ones who show empathy and appreciation for how hard these jobs can be — are often those who have walked a mile in the shoes of those who now serve them. The ‘Karens’ of the world who believe the customer is always right, no matter how wrong he or she may be, and who demand to “speak to the manager” are almost never the ones who know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that kind of abuse.

Slaxx appeals to a broad audience — but perhaps none more than the beleaguered survivors of retail hell who understand all too well how much truth underscores the satire. It’s required viewing for those who understand the real horror of America’s most fundamental religion: mass consumerism.

(Recommended by Stephanie Malone)

12. Vicious Fun

Through a series of incidents, horror journalist Joel finds himself locked in a restaurant during a group therapy session for serial killers. He initially tries to blend in among them for his own safety, but it’s only a matter of time before his true, non-homicidal identity is discovered.

As evidenced by his previous film, The Oak Room, director Cody Calahan has a penchant for drawn-out sequences set within a limited number of locations. But while The Oak Room was a mysterious, unsettling fable, Vicious Fun goes in the opposite direction, throwing gore and surprises at the viewer within minutes, and never letting up. It is a ridiculously enjoyable, well-crafted trifle layered with nostalgia, gruesome violence, measured humor, not to mention delicious performances by Ari Mullen and Julian Richings.

Drenched in neon by cinematographer Jeff Maher and propelled by Steph Copeland’s synth motifs, it also happens to be a treat for the eyes and ears. As far as ’80s pastiche goes, this is not one to miss.

(Recommended by Robert Rosado)

13. Prisoners of the Ghostland

Despite being outrageously deranged and mystifying at times, Prisoners of the Ghostland blew me away. To say it was a disorienting storyline is an understatement. Was it a flashback from that time in college I did shrooms, or is it simply one of the most convoluted, yet still incredibly entertaining films ever made?

I cannot resist a Nic Cage saga! Whether the film is a perfect Cage storm like Mandy or not even close, his understated crazy works for me. In this case, the neon-drenched dystopian future from hell was amazing to see. Geishas, samurais, and cowboys inhabit a colorful Japanese-inspired world. The town is lorded over by a whited suited man known only as, the Governor, another favorite of mine, Bill Moseley. The Governor has many “nieces” and “granddaughters” in this town, and it seems his favorite, Bernice, has gone missing and he wants her back. Bernice ran away and ended up in the mysterious Ghostland, and the Governor has brought in the person that he thinks can bring her home — a man only known as Hero (Cage).

The Governor has trust issues and to make sure Hero does what he is told, without hurting or in any way spoiling the girl, he puts him in a leather suit complete with small charges in strategic places that will explode if he doesn’t follow the rules. Two on his neck, which would kill him, one on each arm if he manhandles Bernice, and one on each testicle in case he, well you get the idea.

Absurd, irrational, funny, and beautifully filmed, Prisoners of Ghostland is a landmark film that I think will stay around and be remembered. Even without understanding all the symbology thrown out (I’m admittedly metaphorically challenged sometimes), a reluctant champion named Hero changes the world for good, despite all possibilities. One of my favorite scenes is Cage delivering his big speech to the Ghostland inhabitants. “If you’d told me three days ago, I’d be standing here with one arm and one testicle, trying to reason with you bitches, I would have said ‘Impossible’ too!”

You must see this darkly humorous film — if just for that speech!

(Recommended by Vicki Woods)

14. Danni and The Vampire

Now, imagine if “Hal Hartley went Horror” meets everything you wish Twilight could have been. That’s the glorious comedic sensation of Max Werkmeister’s Danni and the Vampire. Werkmeister knew how to bring that originality onto the festival circuit this year with the much-needed dark and comedic horror film about a drifter and a vampire finding their ultimate soul mate in each other.

The stunning and uninhibited Alexandra Landau plays Danni, the notorious bounty hunter of creatures. Danni’s role has been dormant for years and it isn’t until she meets Remy (Henry Kiely), a dashing vampire she is coerced into capturing, does that fire reignite within her again. The two find solace and escape in each other, and this unlikely romance of chemistry is guided brilliantly by Werkmeister’s direction.

For me, it was as if Danni was Ginger, and Remy was Fred in this alternate misfit’s reality. Together they dance literally and narratively through their journey of discovery of each other and self. With a strong supporting cast, outrageous montages, and witty dialog, Danni and the Vampire is magical in its comedic timing.

Out of all the films in 2021, Danni and the Vampire hit the love note for me. I needed a good laugh and a bloody release. I needed to smile, and I needed to love the simple moments again. Many horror-comedy films promise to deliver in this area, but few actually do. Werkmeister’s film, however, is worthy of comparison to other successful classics such as Shaun of the Dead and What We Do In The Shadows. I’m looking forward to this becoming a theatrical and future Shudder release in 2022, and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

(Recommended by Laura A. Sloan)

15. Gaia

Our uneasy, predatory relationship with our planet has been mined for horror many times over, but one of the best of these films released in recent years is Jaco Bouwer’s unsettling, hypnotic Gaia.

Less heart-pounding and more skin-crawling, Gaia tells the story of South African forestry official Gabi (Monique Rachman) who gets injured while on assignment and is taken in by Barend and Stefan, a father and son pair of quasi feral, forest-dwellers (Carel Nel and Alex Van Dyk). Their off-the-grid lives enable them to protect her from a mysterious, malevolent entity that calls the woods home, one to which they may have a more personal connection.

It’s a bit of a slow burn, but its dread-inducing, hypnotic tone, along with some incredible makeup effects and top-notch performances from its small cast make Gaia one of the more memorable horror movies to explore mankind’s capacity to harm our environment and how, if we’re not careful, it can do far worse to us.

(Recommended by Conor McShane)

16. Red Snow

The first feature-length Christmas-themed vampire horror film, Red Snow, pierced my heart like a wooden stake and marks my favorite indie horror film of 2021. After watching and re-watching nearly 300 Christmas-themed horror films for my forthcoming book A Scary Little Christmas: A History of Yuletide Horror Films (1972-2020), I’ve endured (and enjoyed) my fair share of good, bad, and ugly takes on the Christmas horror subgenre.

Writer-director Sean Nichols Lynch delivers the goods with Red Snow, a witty and fun horror-comedy that follows a struggling vampire romance novelist named Olivia Romo (Dennice Cisneros) who encounters a cabal of real-life vampires over Christmas break while working on her latest book.

The story is skillfully crafted, balancing its comedic approach with horror elements throughout. The film also serves as a vehicle for charming lead actress Cisneros, who utterly slays in her role as the meek yet resourceful Olivia. Her enchanting performance alongside lead vamp Luke (Nico Bellamy) constitutes a platinum standard in cinematic chemistry. Lest we forget the welcome appearance by genre veteran Vernon Wells, who plays a vampire hunter named Julius King.

For me, Red Snow constitutes one of the few memorable counterpoints to a largely insufferable 2021 – a dismal year plagued by global instability, pandemic woes, and seemingly unending crises.

(Recommended by Matthew DuPee)

17. Super Hot

I caught Super Hot streaming on Prime last year, and it seems to have flown well under the radar, which is absolutely criminal! It’s a heartwarming tale about unrequited love, a vampire sorority, human sacrifice, and pizza. This is the kind of low-budget comedy horror that you can put on with friends and have a wonderfully lively movie night.

It’s not one of those b-movies with intentionally bad acting and poor quality set design, which is also a lot of fun by the way. The acting has got a lot of heart, and there is clearly passion in the film-making. What is lacking in the budget is thoroughly made up for in love for the genre, which is something I always love to see in indie horror.

So if you’re still catching up on last year’s offerings, I implore you to add Super Hot to that list.

(Recommended by Peter Hayward-Bailey)

18. Sound of Violence

Striking a chord with its unique premise and visceral cinematography is Alex Noyer’s Sound of Violence. Premiering at SXSW 2021 and going on to play at several other renowned film festivals around the globe, Sound of Violence has continued to earn critical acclaim yet still deserves way more love than it has received.

With his first feature film effort, director Alex Noyer wisely chose to expand upon his 2018 short, Conductor, which features one of the most beguiling characters I have ever had the pleasure of coming across. Alexis (exquisitely portrayed by Jasmin Savoy Brown) is a young woman who, after surviving a severely traumatizing event earlier in life involving her family, inexplicably regains her lost sense of hearing and becomes a passionate student of music. But when she learns her beloved ability to experience sound is in jeopardy, Alexis decides to embark on a maniacal path to retain her sense of hearing through gruesome experiments.

Delivering heart, horror, dark humor, and some truly satisfying scenes of gore, Noyer’s feature debut is an adventurous viewing experience. Sound of Violence is currently available to stream on Amazon, Showtime, and more.

(Recommended by Danni Winn)

19. Fear Street

Goosebumps gets all the attention, but for those of us who have been into horror since childhood, R.L. Stine’s long-running Fear Street book series was an important stepping stone into darker, more realistic horror. Leigh Janiak’s three-part Fear Street anthology brought a welcome, intoxicating dose of nostalgia as we follow a group of high schoolers from idyllic Sunnyvale and its rival town Shadyside, whose ominous, problematic past is still alive and unwell.

It’s hard to cover all of Shadyside’s storied history between the Fear and the Goode families and the class warfare between two neighboring towns, but in these tales from 1994, 1978, and 1666, murder, witchcraft, zombies, curses, and supernatural spirits cover plenty of ground. The stories are as heavily inspired by modern horror films as they are lovingly curated from the book series, so you don’t have to be familiar with the books to enjoy this trio.

The young cast paired with the sentimentalism of the books that 80s kids grew up on creates the perfect marriage for an entertaining and relevant watch. Surprising kills, solid writing, and an ultra-fun soundtrack.

(Recommended by Guest Writer Jessica Gomez, @writerjessicagomez on Instagram)

One of the shining jewels of 2021 was absolutely the 3-part Netflix extravaganza that would informally come to be known as the ‘Fear Street Trilogy’. Helmed by Leigh Janiak (director of the intimate, beautifully haunting 2014 film Honeymoon), the trio of films begins with the first (and for this reviewer’s money, best) entry, Part One 1994. It serves as a commemorative love letter to the late 90s self-aware slasher where Scream would forever make its mark.

Scored by the same composer of that film, Marco Beltrami, Fear Street’s introductory film is not just one of 2021’s best indie horrors, but one of the greatest teen slashers of all time. From start to finish, it is visually aplomb and highly sadistic in its bag of bloody tricks. Featuring a cavalcade of ridiculously root-able (and relatable) snarky teens, this 107-minute outing features never a dull moment and never once pulls punches in depicting hard-hitting murder mayhem.

90 percent of the characters are people most audiences would not want to see die, allowing for some refreshingly high stakes in a genre that can too often relegate its characters to mere cannon fodder. Furthermore, 1994 is not content to merely echo the films it lovingly pays homage to… its storyline is expansive and unpredictable, throwing in more than a couple of uniquely fusing horror elements that offers it a shining and welcome unique horror identity.

(Recommended by Rob Gaeta)

20. Pig

I’ll say right off the bat, if you want to hear a much, much better take on this movie than mine, then head over to where ever you stream your podcasts and listen to the Cheer and Loathing episode that deals with this. That being said, onward!

Pig is a divisive movie. You’ll either love it or detest it. I fall into the former camp.

On paper, this is a ridiculous movie — which just goes to show why you should never judge a movie purely by its blurb. Because what this film actually is when transferred from paper to screen is a goddamn masterpiece. It’s stunningly beautiful, really well directed, and scored wonderfully. What’s more, the acting is absolutely on point. Nic Cage was perfectly cast for this role; he is one of the rare actors that can carry an entire film with fairly sparse dialogue purely by his force of personality. Love him or loathe him, you can’t deny there is no one else quite like him.

Aside from that, what we get here is a moving reflection on love and loss. It’s chock full of beautiful moments that reveal so much about what it means to be human. Yet, it never feels overly saccharine or preachy.

This isn’t an action movie by any means, but it still feels quick-paced, and it’ll hold your attention far more than any mindless kerpow, zap, bang! flick. If you like films that make you think, are stunning to look at, and leave you reeling with emotion — look no further than Pig.

(Recommended by Mike Wrigley)

PART 3: 21-30

The Medium, Psycho Goreman, Slumber Party Massacre, Sator, In the Earth, The Blazing World, Werewolves Within, Untitled Horror Movie, The Queen of Black Magic, Bloody Hell

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21. The Medium

The Medium delivers a real scare factor. The possession genre inhabits oversaturation with Exorcist look-alikes and direct to video atrocities which have damaged the infamy once held by the “Religious Terrors” or “Moral Panic” genre. The Medium redeems a category of films that have become a joke. The mock documentary presentation lends to the believability of the picture. This approach transitions well from Nim (Sawanee Utoomma), a shamaness sharing the story of how she came to her station and is then tasked with the treatment of her possessed niece Mink (Narilya Gulmongkolpech).

Lending to the respectability of the film is the lack of vocal enhancement effects or cliche tactics that audiences have become too familiar with regarding afflicted characters. The film plays it straight, making for a long-overdue breath of fresh air.

(Recommended by Kara Grimoire)

22. Psycho Goreman

Psycho Goreman is absolutely dripping with coolness. Writer and Director Steven Kostanski injects so many fall-about funny moments into this film that you just can’t help but fall in love with it. This is helped immeasurably by the casting, especially the remarkable Nita-Josee Hanna in her feature film acting debut. She plays the endearingly batshit crazy Mimi, a fearless, precocious, and self-confident 8-year-old girl. Mimi gets the lion’s share of hilarious dialogue, and Hanna really makes the most of it, delivering the most outrageous lines so deadpan and with such sincerity that you’ll wish you had Mimi as a sister when you were growing up.

Playing foil to her is Luke, her slightly older and long-suffering brother. The dynamic between the two of them is pure gold. Psycho Goreman (PG) himself also weighs in with some beautifully timed one-liners and utterly quotable quips destined for cinematic infamy.

Basically, this movie is everything you want from a pure entertainment film. It’s a delight from start to end, really re-watchable, and unlike anything else. Quite frankly, any movie that can get this cynical, jaded old curmudgeon laughing out loud is going to be worth your time.

(Recommended by Mike Wrigley)

23. Slumber Party Massacre 

Danishka Esterhazy’s Slumber Party Massacre, based on the 1982 fan favorite, had big shoes to fill as the first remake of the franchise.

When it began as a serious semi-sequel to the original, I couldn’t help but feel disappointment; I love a good old-fashioned slasher, but the reason SPM is such a classic is its ludicrousness. When the tables got flipped and the beloved camp and lunacy set in, the story found its footing. The film is overtly feminist while also poking fun at horror tropes as it follows a group of brave, intelligent women on vacation in the woods who take their destiny, and Russ Thorn’s fate, into their own hands. Bumbling men and Thorn’s phallic drill be damned — these women are out for blood, and they have a plan.

While nothing will touch the original, this ambitious remake reminded us what it was like to have fun while watching horror — a welcome reprieve from a tough year. It wasn’t exactly “eating a pizza on a corpse” good, but with a badass cast and a reprisal of an iconic villain with a fresh spin, there’s plenty to love. Much better than I expected from a SciFi release.

(Recommended by Guest Writer Jessica Gomez, @writerjessicagomez on Instagram)

24. Sator

The story behind Sator‘s production is nearly as fascinating as the film itself, and I mean this as a compliment. Painstakingly crafted over six to seven years, filmmaker Jordan Graham served as the director/writer/cinematographer/editor/composer, etc., of this chilling story about a family being systematically seduced, manipulated, and bewitched by a woods-dwelling entity — a demon that Graham’s own grandmother, June Peterson, seems to have created autonomously during her battle with dementia.

Incidentally, Peterson, who passed away not long after filming completed, plays a version of herself within the film, and the screenplay was written to deliver her perceived accounts of the supernatural into a different medium.

At every step, in every capacity, Sator bucks all the trends and unfurls its tale in the most outlandish yet compelling ways. Entire sequences pass with no dialogue, film stocks and aspect ratios change without warning, few conclusive answers are granted, all these elements and more contributing to a nightmarish cumulative effect. Not since 2009’s Paranormal Activity has the abrupt transition from day to night instilled such terror in this reviewer.

Sator is not a banging on the wall, waking you from sleep with a jolt. It is the front door creaking open, welcoming the midnight wind, entreating you to pray that nothing steps inside.

(Recommended by Robert Rosado)

25. In the Earth

Starring Ellora Torchia (Midsommar) and Joel Fry (Game of Thrones), Neon’s In the Earth is a somewhat labored meditation on the elusive power of nature. Nature of the human condition, as well as the more idyllic forestry that comes to mind when one hears the term, is ripe for study in this mind-bending and shocking thriller that fosters much thought long after the final frames have rolled.

One to be watched alone, and in the dark (as the majority of horror films really should), In the Earth tackles themes of obsession (as well as the ensuing mania) and mankind’s predisposition towards violence… themes that ring pervasively and perpetually true in cultures across the world that value self-interest over genuine human compassion, or love for the natural world.

(Recommended by Rob Gaeta)

26. The Blazing World

From completely out of nowhere came this trippy little mood piece, co-written, directed, and starring Carlson Young of MTV’s Scream fame.

The indie horror gem is about a young woman who returns to her childhood home, the site of her twin sister’s drowning as a child. Coming back to a place that’s familiar yet different, our heroine begins to explore gateways to an alternate world where her sister may still be alive. However, as the 1666 source material illustrated, this is a fascinating but frightening place. Whether our lead girl gets lost there or makes it back in one piece is the driving force in this spooky flick that functions as a sort of 21st-century sequel to the original story.

Ultimately a rumination on grief, the film was co-written with Carlson’s friend Pierce Brown (author of the Red Rising novels) whose abilities as a writer perfectly complimented Carlson’s ideas. This one’s a visual treat that suggests Carlson is a force to be reckoned with, an auteur soon to be on the rise that knows how to make the story pop with moody set pieces and transcendent direction.

If you’re looking for something cool that went under the radar, Carlson Young’s The Blazing World is well worth your time.

(Recommended by Chris Maino)

27. Werewolves Within

It makes me sad that more people haven’t seen Werewolves Within. It’s a smart, funny, creepy whodunit (I googled it, that’s really how that is spelled, no matter how wrong it feels to the eye). It’s a pretty simple premise; a loosely connected, highly isolated community discovers that one of their members is either a werewolf or a killer. Either way, it’s bad news. The movie smartly plays with paranoia, prejudice, and socio-political differences, without ever turning preachy or didactic.

Despite taking place in cold and barren winter, Werewolves Within feels cozy in the same way that bottled movies like Clue or Ready or Not do. Sam Richardson gives an absolute charm bomb of a performance, with a game supporting cast. Most impressively, the film manages to be a successful version of the myriad genres it plays in.

It’s the rare horror-comedy that is both scary and funny. Its political commentary lands and the mystery is fun, with enough red herrings and false leads to keep even savvy viewers guessing.

(Recommended by Kelly Mintzer)

28. Untitled Horror Movie 

It begins as standard found footage fare, yet looks suspiciously good. It felt a little too perfect. And right at the point where I had enough of the cliched ridiculousness, one of the victims breaks character and complains about how illogical her character is.

Untitled Horror Movie is a found-footage-within-found-footage parody, and it’s brilliant. After their show falls on hard times, a group of snarky actors plans to make a smartphone-found-footage horror movie. But after a lack of ideas, they take the kind of obvious action we all love so much. The rest of the film teeters between parody and seriousness. And at the end, there is a priceless punchline. 

For me, a found footage fan, this was the most impressive ff movie of the year because it’s unafraid to poke fun at itself, constantly keeps you guessing, and feels like it was made with fresh enthusiasm.

(Recommended by Jamie Marino)

29. The Queen of Black Magic

How do Indonesian horror masters follow up gut-punch horror entries like Safe Haven from V/H/S 2, produced by Kimo Stamboel, and Satan’s Slaves, written and directed by Joko Anwar? They team up to shock and delight horror audiences with a loose remake of a 1981 Indonesian horror film, The Queen of Black Magic.

In the film written by Anwar and directed by Stamboel, three men take their wives and children to the orphanage where they grew up to visit the dying man who raised them. While visiting the orphanage, which is curiously missing many of its orphans, strange and violent events occur that reveal the dark and buried secrets of the orphanage and its patriarch Mr. Bandi.

The Queen of Black Magic has everything a horror fan could want in a horror film. The film has witchcraft, apparitions, creepy children, unsuccessful decapitation, insects who have no issue entering a human body, a long-buried mystery, revenge, and buckets of blood.

Not only is The Queen of Black Magic a fantastic, nightmarish, and brutal horror film that is one of my favorite horror films of 2021, it made Fangoria’s “Killing It: 2021’s Best Deaths In Horror.” Make sure to check out The Queen of Black Magic, streaming exclusively on the Shudder streaming service — or on Blu-ray for you lovers of physical media.

Morbidly Beautiful previously reviewed The Queen of Black Magic while it was on the festival circuit, and you can find those reviews here and here.

(Recommended by Patrick Krause)

30. Bloody Hell

I first saw Bloody Hell at a film fest in October of 2020, and it became widely available to stream in January of 2021. An absolute gem of a film that flew depressingly far under the radar, I jump at every opportunity to talk about it in the hopes that more horror fans will discover this hidden treasure.

Bloody Hell delivers the rare, impeccable balance of brutal horror and riotous laughs. The film’s press release perfectly teases this genre-blending treat: “What would happen if a character like John Wick walked into the home of a deranged family with dark secrets?” The answer is glorious, unadulterated, joy-inducing madness.

Boasting a script saturated with sparkling wit — and brimming with spot-on film and genre references, this Aussie export is original, wildly entertaining, and wickedly fun from beginning to end. And it features a breakout performance from the magnetic and endlessly charming Ben O’Toole, who honestly deserves the kind of fanfare funny guy/action star Ryan Renolds has enjoyed.

From its killer soundtrack to its unique and engaging story, everything about this strange and surreal horror adventure just works. A shining bright spot in a traumatizing year, Bloody Hell is the kind of pure, blissful escapism we all need and deserve.

(Recommended by Stephanie Malone)

EDITOR'S NOTE
Be sure to also check out Not Your Final Girl’s Best Indie Horror Films of 2021 for a look at more must-see indie horror not covered in this list, including some of my personal favorites: Censor, Martyrs Lane, Caveat, Titane, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, The Sadness, The Amusement Park, and Hunter Hunter.

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