Sickle's Top 10 Horror Films of 2021

We've survived another year of chaos and terror with a little help from the horror that gets us by. Honestly, it wasn't that hard to narrow down the list to my top 10 for 2021. I don't know if that's a sign of mediocrity in horror this year, a down season due to the pandemic, or perhaps even my own jaded self incapable of seeing the magic in some otherwise great films. Or maybe these 10 films were so entertaining and engaging that they simply made the job easy. It's the new year, it's no time to get depressed, so let's go with the latter.

As is the case with all our Top 10 of the Year lists, we try our best to do "official" releases of the year, but occasionally a year-old or not-yet released movie slips in, usually do to us attending or missing a festival. So, there is a slight bit of gray area on "2021".



10. Superdeep

Let me start by saying...Superdeep is not a good movie. The acting is mediocre, the writing (perhaps lost in translation for this Russia-originating film) is awful, and the promising plot is lost in senseless directions and weird plot holes. But this movie barely makes my top 10 list, however controversially, because the monster and a handful of the set pieces were a sight to behold. The creature's appearance is few and far between, but it was one of the best "body horror amalgamations" we've had in years. Combine that with some nasty and well-designed sets, and Superdeep deserves some recognition for some of its visual design. It is overall disappointing, which is all the more painful given the quality of the monster, set pieces, and plot concept.


9. The Sadness

It has gotten to the point in our horror journey that Efrit and I are sometimes just seeking something that can jolt us. We are so desensitized that anything that claims to be "too much" grabs our morbid curiosity. More often than not we leave disappointed and underwhelmed. This year's self-touted shock-fest was The Sadness. And while Efrit and I differ on our overall sentiment, I found the film to deliver on its grotesque and disgusting premise of what equates to a rabies-like virus that leaves most brain function intact. It makes for some nasty moments that make you wince. So for that aspect alone, I wanted to give it some kudos.


8. Antlers

There are several aspects of Antlers that I don't think work. It does carry itself like a "conventional mainstream" horror flick in its overall plot structure and through several scenes. It also struggles with pacing at times, failing to genuinely engage you with Keri Russell's trauma and subsequent alcoholism as she tries to move on and reconnect with her estranged brother. But the creature design and effects work, from the practical, CG, and sound effects, are easily the best of the year. They are so rewarding and memorable for me, it was enough for me to overlook some of the pacing flaws to enjoy the film. It forces the viewer to have a little extra patience, but the reward is worth it in my opinion.


7. The Exorcism of God

This exorcist horror film takes the relatively stale subgenre and throws in some fun twists. With some terrifying demonic imagery and with its climactic bits taking place in a prison, this film housed arguably the best jump scares of the year. If you're looking for a purely scary film that occasionally subverts your expectations, this movie may be worth seeking out for you. It can be quite campy and predictable in some moments, but the care put into the pacing and set pieces is evident throughout.


6. Wrong Turn

This movie is probably a bit high for a top-10 list, but I'm rewarding it for being such a pleasant surprise. Even with the "remake" label, I semi-expected something cheap and corny, like the rest of the franchise. Instead, this remake truly reset everything, taking away the Hills Have Eyes-esque mutant hillbillies concept that has been played to death, and instead built a very fresh world that was much more serious, brooding, and thought-provoking. While there are a few moments that drag, there is a decent amount of blood for fans of the franchise and a story that is much more engaging. It is certainly worth taking a chance on.


5. The Empty Man

I'd like to pay respects to the film creators over the years that have braved the Lovecraftian genre in film. It is hard to pull off and many have failed. But the failures are paying dividends on the recent attempts as it seems that new filmmakers are learning from the mistakes of the past and succeeding more frequently and with higher quality. The Empty Man is a perfect example of that progress. I had no idea what this movie was going into it, but it ended up being far more engrossing and impressive than I could've expected. You start to feel its runtime eventually, but you're so committed to the story and its insane conclusion that you're willing to deal with the extra effort. We need more Lovecraftian horror like this.


4. Offseason

Speaking of Lovecraftian horror, Offseason was a nice little gem from our time at Telluride Horror Show. It follows a more traditional Lovecraftian path of an island community with a dark and supernatural past, but the execution is some of the best out there. The monster/practical effects fan in me would've liked to see more of that Dagon-like approach, but with the more earnest and artful style of Offseason, but this movie offers plenty through its technical execution and acting to push past these preferences I hold.


3. V/H/S/94

Not only was VHS 94 one of the best horror films of the year, it is easily one of my favorite horror anthologies ever. Sure, it has that trademark campiness that many of the VHS films have, it hits in every single one of its shorts without a single miss. Sure, this is incredibly subjective, but my appetite for monsters and practical effects hasn't been this satisfied by a movie in years. It has virtually no substance to it, but it is highly entertaining. I re-watched it within days of seeing it and would watch it again with a horror fan who is seeing it for the first time.


2. The Night House

For any devout reader we have out there (thanks all five of you!), it has been beaten to death that there are three things that will make a horror movie score high for me...high quality filmmaking that tells a powerful and original human story using horror as a vehicle, a creative monster design with effective practical effects, and/or clever comedic concepts. The Night House is the former. This very human tale tackles depression and suicide in a powerful way that had me brooding on its content long after the movie was over. The superb storytelling and acting are housed within a well-executed horror bubble that wasn't quite as equal to the hype I'd heard, but still very effective.


1. Malignant

Even though I had high expectations for this movie going in with James Wan directing, this movie still impressed me with just how entertaining, unpredictable, and outright crazy it was. Despite Wan's Conjuring Universe spawning countless "ghost directors" that merely repeat Wan's formula, Wan didn't play it safe within his own craft. Malignant felt like a modern-day 80s movie that didn't make cheap attempts at homage, still feeling like an original slasher with a twist. It embraced its ridiculous plot and brought us along for the whacky ride. It lacks the substance of The Night House, but it makes up for it with its genre-bending escapades into humor and action, blended extremely well with its horror elements.


That's all for the top 10 horror movies of 2021! Check in next week for the Top 10 most anticipated horror movies of 2022!


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