This has been the hardest year for coming up with a top 10 list that I can remember, and it’s definitely not because I struggled to find favorites. We have seen some greats in recent years, but 2022 was an absurdly good year for horror. Nope, Scream and Bodies Bodies Bodies were easily some of my favorite movies of the year, without hesitation. And yet, somehow, they didn’t make my top ten. Heck, Nope could possibly be the best horror film of the year and still isn’t on here. Any other year, they could very well have been the top three (I’m at least somewhat satisfied knowing they’d round out my top 13) but this year was an embarrassment of riches. I’m hoping that momentum can keep up as we head into the new year. I doubt we’ll see another year on this level for a while, but then again, there are already some titles I’m incredibly excited about in 2023.
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Some of the best horror of the year was found on TV/streaming shows as well, which warrants pointing out. Netflix’s adaptation of The Sandman was a dream come true as a longtime fan and definitely hit outright horror in the diner episode. Stranger Things put Kate Bush back on top of the charts and delivered one of its very best seasons, if not the best, finally giving the series a central antagonist that was an actual character and not just a giant cloud. Wednesday was another personal favorite. It didn’t gel with everyone, but I thought taking a CW-esque teen show and injecting Wednesday Addams into the middle of it was the single funniest thing they could have done. And it was further proof that this was truly Jenna Ortega’s year and we were all just living in it. I also cannot forget to mention one of my very favorite things that happened in horror this year: a return to the days of Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments with Shudder’s 101 Scariest Horror Movie Moments.
So, before we jump into the list—in roughly descending order with the favorite at the bottom, and also keeping in mind that this is a list of entirely subjective personal preference—here are some very honorable mentions: Nope, Scream, Bodies Bodies Bodies, The Cursed, The Invitation, Glorious and Werewolf by Night.
I had a feeling Prey was going to be good. Dan Trachtenberg and a scaled-back, standalone story, period piece felt like a winning combination. I’ve been dying for franchises to undertake more ventures like this and I’m so happy it paid off, especially as well as it did. But even if I had a feeling it would be good, I had no idea that it would be this good. This is more of an outright horror film than any other Predator entry, mostly because of its limited scope. The team of commandoes in the original were picked off pretty easily and this is just one young woman and her dog, in the woods, alone, armed with nothing but a tomahawk. She’s completely outmatched and that’s the point, not to mention a huge part of what makes horror so exciting in the first place: Here’s the situation, it’s not good, how’s she going to get out of it? Those are primal elements. But at the same time, it is an incredibly strong movie that tackles the traditional “young hero seeks to prove themselves” structure in a refreshingly nuanced way.
Here’s the movie that came along at the last second and bumped Scream off my list. This is a satirical takedown of ultra-wealthy foodie culture that is simply too good to pass up. Nicholas Hoult’s Tyler is the kind of character whose comeuppance you’re anxiously awaiting from the moment he steps on screen, but when that comeuppance actually comes, it’s better than anything I could have expected. Truly, chef’s kiss to that. More than anything, though, The Menu is largely about the fact that achieving the top level of success in any industry means that one day you’ll be dealing exclusively with the kinds of people you never even wanted to know, and that you’ll become someone you never wanted to become. Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy are both incredible.
This is not a joke. It’s not a bit. I love sequels that take big swings and it feels like it’s been a long time since we’ve really had one. Jason Goes to Hell, for example, is a fave of mine. Halloween Ends felt like a gift for me, personally, and it would be absolutely foolish for me to not accept it. It’s not just that I like this kind of sequel, either. This kind of movie is one of my favorites, period. Whether it’s Christine or May, this character-centric descent into monstrousness is my bread and butter, and to make it a bit of an indie romance on top of that, and then to layer all of that against the backdrop of a Halloween sequel? It’s like catnip to me. And as different as it is, it’s very clever in the way it layers in those Halloween elements, like the fact that Laurie is largely unaware of the danger of Michael until coming face-to-face with him in the third act, just like the original, and that Michael has almost the exact same amount of screen time as he had in the first movie. It’s equal parts a Halloween flick and a movie about small towns and the idea that you cannot control how people perceive you, you can only control how their perception changes you.
The fascinating thing about Pearl is that, with the movie being framed from Pearl’s perspective, everyone in her life is an antagonist. They are an obstacle keeping her shackled to a life that she is desperately trying to claw her way out of. The Wizard of Oz was a noted influence on this movie, and keeping that in mind, Pearl’s mother is basically the Wicked Witch of the West, but she’s actually a deeply empathetic character, who sees exactly what her daughter is capable of and is doing everything in her power to prevent this from happening, but can’t. Pearl is a terrific companion piece to X, an intimate character study of someone realizing that they have found the only shot they will ever get in their entire life to achieve their dreams, and missing that shot. It puts X in perspective, knowing we’re reintroduced to her as an old woman burdened with a lifetime of that knowledge.
Barbarian was the movie that everyone insisted you see with a crowd, that everyone said you should know as little going in as possible, and they were absolutely right. But it’s not because of the plot, necessarily. What made Barbarian so great to see with an audience was its structure, which I don’t think anyone was remotely prepared for. There’s a beautiful combination of this lunatic, unhinged, surprisingly grindhouse-esque plot, with a structure usually reserved for an anthology even though the film is basically telling one singular story. I love the way information is given to the viewer, so uniquely and precisely. From the realization of what the threat actually is and how it came about, to the way a certain character speaks very differently with his reps versus his friends. It does so many things they tell you not to do in screenwriting classes, again, mostly structurally, and serves as a terrific reminder that rules don’t mean crap if you’re confident in exactly what you’re doing.
I’ve gone on record as a fan of even many of the direct-to-video Hellraiser movies, but it really shouldn’t be any secret that the franchise we wound up with was not the one we should have had. I’ve been happy to take any “pretty good for what it had to work with” entry in this franchise for a long time now, but it’s been a very long time since we’ve had a really good Hellraiser movie, let alone a great one. This is a great one, and that feels like a miracle. There was a lot of discourse online when it came out about the movie not being horny enough, but I think there is, if anything, a redistribution of horniness that David Bruckner’s Hellraiser excels at. In this movie, the horniness is handed largely to the Cenobites themselves more than the human characters, and that is very much in keeping with Clive Barker’s original novella, The Hellbound Heart, more than any of the prior films. Doug Bradley’s Pinhead had an emptiness, a coldness that made that character so uniquely his and so endearing. Jamie Clayton’s Pinhead is extremely into what she is doing and fits this new film so, so well. The Night House was my favorite film of 2021, so I was already excited at the prospect of Bruckner helming this one, especially with the way that movie dealt with visual patterns, and it was just as spectacular as I’d hoped in that regard.
Welcome to the meat industry that is modern dating. Literally. Fresh provides a perspective on men, modern romance and cannibalism that manages to be entirely, well, fresh. At the same time, it is so uniquely, specifically crafted to be the horrific, stomach-churning, anxiety-inducing, and yet somehow genuinely fun and funny movie that it is. Sebastian Stan plays an incredible creep and his dance sequence is absolutely one of the scenes this year that I’m least likely to forget any time soon.
The Black Phone
Maybe my favorite thing about The Black Phone is that it’s the most I’ve seen my wife love a movie in a long time, if not ever. We went to see this so many times in theaters. Not that I’m complaining, of course, because this is one of those ideas you see every so often that you just wish you came up with yourself. A boy is kidnapped by a local child murderer dubbed The Grabber. Everybody knows what’s been happening. He knows what his likely fate is from the very beginning. But what if you could be guided by the ghosts of the kids who didn’t make it, all of whom tried, and failed, but each got a little closer? And to be able to use that combined knowledge, without any sadness or jealousy on the part of the dead, because they want to see their killer brought to justice and—more than anything—they do not want what happened to them to happen to anyone else. That’s the core of the movie. Scott Derrickson once again knocked it out of the park. His arm is mint.
This is without a doubt the horror movie of 2022 that I’ve already rewatched the most. I just can’t stop. I think X is a miracle of a movie, a study on the relationship between sexuality and horror without talking down to the audience, while being an expertly crafted, incredibly fun grindhouse slasher throwback at the same time. It really soars in the “Landslide” scene in particular, which is a beautiful moment of peace in an otherwise wildly outrageous night of horror. When it split screens, my heart breaks in two. For the film crew, that song is the first real moment they’ve had to bond, to just genuinely hang out and get a feel for one another. For Pearl, it’s about knowing you have never, ever, ever lived the life you wanted and that there is nothing you can do to change it. It’s about having nothing to show for your life but the wrinkles on your skin. It’s amazing that a movie that is such a wild, violent, fun ride is also meditative and tragic in its own way.
My favorite horror movie of the year. I’ve seen some criticize it for just being about stalking and for the fact that it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. But it is so textured. You feel eyes on Maika Monroe in every frame. Her performance is fantastic, too. My single favorite scene of the year is a scene on a train, which is just a conversation between two people. And in any other movie, you would know what to expect from that scene, when it is finally the two of them alone, and all illusions can be dropped. But that’s not what happens, no mask is lifted, no charade dropped, and it’s the worst and most unsettling thing that could happen to her at that time, especially as it’s coupled with the other thing that is revealed at that moment, without a word. It’s hard to talk about without giving too much away, because this is possibly the least-seen film on this list. It’s a small story, but the way it unfolds is masterful, right from the POV of the opening credits. I can’t say enough good things about Watcher. Just, you know, watch it.