There’s no question about it, original horror helped to keep a struggling film industry financially afloat in 2022. While legacy projects like Halloween Ends and Scream continued to be profitable gap fillers on the release calendar, brand-new works consistently entered the arena to critical and commercial success.
Excellent newcomers Smile and Barbarian were unexpected hits, and even lukewarm releases like The Invitation held up an ungrateful box office with the might of releases five times its budget. While there’s still plenty to be concerned about, I’m proud of our community for using original ideas to keep audiences coming back for more, just as it always has.
Original and otherwise, there has been so much to select from across the past twelve months. Below you’ll find a holistic view of my ten favorite horror releases this year.
10. Orphan: First Kill
The rebirth of Dark Castle Entertainment has finally arrived. The revitalization of the early aughts spookhouse came in the form of an Orphan prequel, a seemingly impossible task given the fact that irreplaceable star Isabelle Furhman was twelve years older. But, director William Brent Bell took the bull by the horns and achieved a miracle; a campy, outrageous and often iconic second chapter in one of horror’s most water-cooler-worthy properties.
Orphan: First Kill is just as zany and shocking as the original, and that’s something to applaud. This unpretentious carnival of carnage will leave you gawking in disbelief, and that’s a promise. Take a listen to my conversation with Bell on my podcast Development Hell where he spills the beans on the long, frustrating road to getting this successful release into the wild.
9. This is GWAR
I knew next to nothing about the extraterrestrial splatter-punk performance art collective GWAR before witnessing this extraordinary Shudder documentary. However, I had some faint memories of their appearances on Beavis and Butt-Head, which struck an uncanny sick feeling into my six-year-old tummy that I never fully forgot.
Now the This is GWAR documentary from director Scott Barber pulls back the curtain on the group’s crippling interpersonal dramas and the high art punk they unleashed upon a grunge-obsessed early 90s America. As progressive as they are grotesque, GWAR epitomizes the radical acts of horror and punk in a way I could have never fully fathomed before this unmissable doc.
8. The Black Phone
From the mad mind of horror author Joe Hill came the year’s scariest Blumhouse production. Based on Hill’s short story of the same name, The Black Phonegifted the genre one of its most compelling new antagonists. The Grabber, a child killer, played with chilling precision by Ethan Hawk, charades as a birthday party magician before abducting his young male victims into the back of a black van.
This Scott Derrickson-helmed feature shares many of the same touchstones that made Sinister, his previous Hawke collaboration, so successful. This time Derrickson turns up the emotional dials by featuring a believable human monster at its rotten, wasp-invested center. The supernatural qualities of The Black Phone are also successful because their understated and genuinely frightening. This Blumhouse summertime blockbuster breathed life into the genre, so here’s hoping a Grabber origin film is possible.
7. Pennywise: The Story of It
The recent adaptations of Stephen King’s epic killer clown novel get all of the attention these days. It: Chapter 1 sits as the highest-grossing horror film of all time, with the second film not falling far behind. However, years before these glossy and CGI-happy versions crept into our peripheries, there was a 1990 mini-series directed by horror hero Tommy Lee Wallis (Halloween III). While the budget was comparably low, it still had the power to effectively traumatise an entire generation, thanks partly to a timeless performance by Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown.
Now, after years of process, filmmakers John Campopiano and Chris Griffiths have finally unleashed their in-depth documentary Pennywise The Story of It. This detailed doc spares no detail, interviewing nearly all members of the Losers Club, Tim Curry and even the key creatives behind the 1990 version of Stephen King’s masterclass in phobia. Pennywise: The Story of It is a labour of love and an absolute treat for any King fan.
Ti West (House of the Devil) has had an unprecedented year. The nouveau Master of Horror was arguably one of the most important voices in cinema in the early 2010s, however, a shift to larger budgets and different genres left the slinky auteur somewhat out of the conversation. But in 2022, West had a comeback nearly as significant as when Craven re-emerged with Scream in the mid-90s.
X was released by A24 and featured an intriguing cast of faces, both fresh and familiar. A slasher movie drenched with atmosphere, flavour and charm, X won over audiences and critics immediately upon impact. Auspiciously, it also features official Scream Queen Jenna Ortega mere months after her movie-stealing appearance in Scream (and not to mention the same year she’d become a household name with Netflix’s Wednesday). By way of extreme talent and some decent timing, X has already become a scary classic worth revisiting.
It seems to me that horror fans have become somewhat exhausted by the recent Blumhouse Halloween trilogy. Heavy as concrete and equally self-serious, these otherwise adequate legacy films made space for a fifth Scream release to do what the franchise does best: refresh the system.
Nasty and a little mean-spirited, Scream (2022) still brought much-needed levity and fun into the nostalgia space. While its script is often clunky, an outstanding cast and breakneck pacing make for a Ghostface entry that I’m grateful for. Keep an eye out for my favorite kill of the year taking place in broad, unabashed daylight. In line with the underrated Scream 4, the fifth film is a delightfully gory hybrid of YA and hard R.
4. House of Darkness
Whenever I’m asked for a singular horror movie suggestion from 2022, my first recommendation is usually Neil LaBute’s intimate and eerie two-hander House of Darkness. Months before Justin Long became the official Scream King of the year with Barbarian, he graced this uncomfortably alluring horror movie that unfolds a lot like a work of tightly crafted theater.
Criminally under-discussed, this gothic little shitshow should keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat from start to finish. A great deal of its success is owed to the lead performance by Kate Bosworth, who expertly fills the space with menace and charm. LaBute choreographs his leads with hypnotic ease, and it’s somehow still a shock when the story takes its final few twists of the knife.
Carlotta Peredas Piggy is a 2022 Sundance selection that was destined for greatness. Based on the short film, this blood-soaked Spanish revenge thriller is a smoke signal for greater things to come from the emerging filmmaker. A beautiful and brutal exploitation of fatness, Piggy still manages to handle itself with poise and respect.
Concerning a young woman tormented about her weight by her peers, she’s soon the only witness in her bully’s violent abduction. As a fat individual myself, I’m grateful for the visibility Piggy provides. While it struggles at times to balance pity and compassion, it’s a deeply rewarding cinematic experience and one of the most important horror releases of the year. With feminine hues of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Piggy is violent, fun and destructive.
You’re right, Nope isn’t a horror movie. It’s a goddamn horror event. Jordan Peele busted back onto the scene with one of the most exhilarating and perfect examples of movie-making in years. A horror sci-fi experience at its core, Peele’s third directorial effort has similar undeniable touchstones to the horrors of early Steven Spielberg projects Duel and Jaws. It’s comforting, terrifying, and wholly original … but most importantly, it’s absolute movie magic.
In Nope, Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya play siblings forced to face (and hopefully) defeat a truly unimaginable horror hiding in the sky. A monster movie like I have never seen before; the creature design here is so fantastic, so breathtakingly original, it disrupted my worldview and opened doors to cosmic horror nightmares rarely ever dreamt up in storytelling before.
It’s rare when modern horror is as downright scary as it is ecstatically fun. We haven’t been privy to this combination of cross-factors since the golden age when indie behemoths like A Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday the 13th were terrorising and bewildering unsuspecting audiences in the early 1980s. Now filmmaker Zach Cregger enters the chat with Barbarian, a totally outrageous and equally unexpected foray into Airbnb terror that left audiences gasping and cupping their faces like grandmothers in a strip club, mildly mortified but endlessly entertained.
With a story that makes little sense, Barbarian unfolds paycheck to paycheck, leaving no time for the audience to catch up and take notice of any imperfections or plot holes. Instead, it introduces a horror formula unlike I’ve never seen before and a mutant antagonist that will leave you literally screaming at the screen. Its ability to keep you guessing is, in part, in its nonsensical plotting and pace, but the joy of its horrors and gleeful macabre left this debut effort my favorite horror film of the year.
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