This year was an outstanding one for horror films making the film festival rounds, which is where I see most of my movies each year. Thankfully, many films are making it to wider release quicker than in the past — for example, my #1 film of 2021 is already available on VOD, and several of my honorable mentions are on streaming services or on DVD or Blu-ray. Keep the following films in mind because some of them just may be future favorites for you in 2022!
1. The Feast (Wales)
Director Lee Haven Jones’ Welsh outing The Feast — a blend of folk, psychological, environmental, and supernatural horror — instantly became my favorite film of the year, regardless of genre, when I saw it as part of SXSW Online 2021 in March. In my Horror Fuel review, I said that The Feast is an “eerie slice of horror cinema that jangles the nerves and does a beautiful job of slowly unraveling its secrets until its mind-boggling third act sticks the landing. This is instant classic fright fare.” Annes Elwy gives an incredible performance as a food server helping out a very wealthy, very strange family for a dinner party. I often advise going in as cold as possible to films, and I strongly urge that you do so with The Feast for maximum jaw-dropping effect.
2. The Barcelona Vampiress (Spain)
Based on the true story and legends surrounding Enriqueta Martí, a woman suspected of being a serial killer of children but who may have been someone suffering from a mental disorder who committed only one kidnapping and no murders, The Barcelona Vampiress is a true cinematic spectacle. Director Lluís Danés employs a breathtakingly artistic array of cinematic techniques, including a palette of both black-and-white and full, vibrant colors, expressionist-style sets and shadow play, and grand guignol-influenced set pieces.
3. The Execution (Russia)
Like my top two choices for 2021, director Lado Kvataniya’s Russian serial killer feature The Execution (2021) is one of the best films of the year, regardless of genre. Be prepared to go through a wide range of emotions and character allegiances as the film twists and turns its dread-filled magic on you. Kvataniya cranks up the suspense superbly, and his debut as a feature-film director is a stunning effort highly recommended for cinephiles of all types.
4. Vurdalak Blood (Argentina/Singapore)
One of the finest vampire films in recent memory, writer/director Santiago Fernández Calvete’s Vurdalak Blood delivers both pathos and horror fantastically in this old-school tale of familial horror. The film is rich in atmosphere with unnerving amounts of dread and terror, along with characters that viewers can easily get behind.
5. On the 3rd Day (Argentina)
If you’re in the mood for a shocker fraught with tension and intrigue, and boasting a seventies Eurohorror vibe, incredible visuals, and thrilling performances, look no further than On the 3rd Day. Here is another film for which I highly recommend going in as cold as you can, because director Daniel de la Vega has crafted his film to keep viewers on the edge of their seats as they try to figure out what’s next. The third act absolutely delivers.
6. It Hatched (Iceland)
Weird, wild, and nothing short of wonderful, director Elvar Gunnarsson’s It Hatched is an offbeat horror comedy that is a mind-boggling blast. A woman (Vivian Ólafsdíttir) gives birth to an egg that hatches, and her husband (Gunnar Kristinsson) suspects that something is horrifyingly wrong with their offspring — perhaps because he has discovered a portal to Hell in their isolated home. Quirky characters and situations abound in this insane, fun feature that serves up all-in performances and wild surprises.
7. Nocturna: Side A — The Great Old Man’s Night (Argentina)
Writer/director Gonzalo Calzada’s Nocturna: Side A — The Great Old Man’s Night (2021) is that rare kind of supernatural horror film that can move you to tears while delivering the shudders. This work puts both its characters and viewers through the emotional wringer as its protagonist Ulises (Pepe Soriano), a man in his nineties, may be losing his memories, but can’t let go of some of his near-lifelong regrets.”
8. You Are Not My Mother (Ireland)
In my September review from the Toronto International Film Festival, I wrote, “Beginning with one of the most harrowing scenes in recent memory, writer/director Kate Dolan’s Halloween-set Irish horror outing You Are Not My Mother serves up traditional European folklore in a modern urban setting. The result is one of the most thrilling, eerie cinematic experiences of this year. . . [Writer/director Kate ] Dolan invests You Are Not My Mother with an eldritch atmosphere and a near-constant sense of dread.” Carolyn Bracken gives an emotionally raw and physically uncomfortable performance as a woman whose increasingly disturbing behavior frightens her teenage daughter.
9. Post Mortem (Hungary)
Director Péter Bergendy’s Post Mortem (2020) is a riveting slice of historical fright fare boasting sumptuous visuals, intriguing lead characters, and chilling supernatural set pieces. Promoted as Hungary’s first horror film, the story sees post mortem photographer — someone who takes photos of the recently deceased for, and sometimes with, grieving family members — Tomás (Viktor Klem) traveling with a carnival. Outside of one village that was ravaged by the Spanish Flu, he meets young Anna (Fruzsina Hais). The pair team up as paranormal detectives investigating a series of hauntings in the village.
10. The Turn of the Screw (New Zealand)
“Fans of classic horror and gothic horror will find plenty to adore and be delighted with in [Writer/director Alex] Galvin’s The Turn of the Screw,” I wrote in my Horror Fuel review. “The performances alone are enough to give it a high recommendation, and the technical aspects, direction, and screenplay seal the deal.” In this fine, imaginative adaptation of the classic Henry James novella, last-minute replacement actress Julia (Greer Phillips in a super performance) goes through what her director Richard (Ralph Johnson) calls an unofficial dress rehearsal in a Wellington theater, becoming increasingly distressed and fearful as the night goes on — and for good reason.
Honorable mentions: Red Snow, Vicious Fun, Gaia, The Last Matinee, Honeydew, Off Season, The Vigil, and Son, and surely some others that I will remember as soon as I publish this article!