In an alternate simulation, my mid-year horror recap might read differently. Earthrealm #2895 avoided COVID-19’s pandemic spread and watched Saint Maud, Antlers, and Candyman (plus others) when they released on their initially slated dates. Theaters never closed down, studios didn’t erase schedules, and their government correctly anticipated a viral spread with preemptive, proactive measures. We, on this unfortunate hunk of space rock, have been robbed of massively anticipated new releases (small potatoes in the grand scheme). Still, there exists an overlooked truth in this cursed year in our home planet’s history: 2020 carries no shortage of worthwhile horror releases.
Oddly enough, the horror genre didn’t skip much of a beat with the closure of nationwide theater chains. I’ve seen 70-plus horror flicks in 2020, only counting those officially released as of this article’s post date, thanks to an always-continual release of genre content that hits video-on-demand platforms (pandemic or not). Countless under-seen gems land on services like Netflix or Shudder, and there are always rentable titles on wide-release VOD platforms. Don’t let the misconception of boarded-up AMC or Cinemark entryways convince you otherwise. Horror cinema continues to thrive as a genre, even while we should all be parking our butts inside. Need proof and time killers? Here are my favorite horror flicks of 2020 so far, with precise instructions on where to find them.
Stay at home, share some screams or howls and keep yourself and others safe so we can confidently reopen with flattened numbers soon enough. Please. I really, badly require a haircut.
Streamable: HBO Max, YouTube ($3.99), Google Play ($3.99), Amazon Prime ($3.99), Vudu ($4.99)
As far as horror-comedies come, 2020 doesn’t get much better than Snatchers. I had this to say out of last year’s South by Southwest festival about Stephen Cedars and Benji Kleiman’s offbeat maternity madness: “Initial parallels to 2007’s Teeth fade quickly as the film splices Mean Girls DNA with Critters or Gremlins, or most appropriately, Slither.” Franky, more horror flicks about teenage pregnancy should include “vag-canons.” I’m sorry for being crude, but one of the year’s best genre kills so far is a gynecologist who gets his head eviscerated by an unexpected projectile.
Stars Mary Nepi and Gabrielle Elyse navigate high school hormones, Mexican birthing curses, and alien womb creatures as rekindled besties with “Joseph Kahn-adjacent” character traits. Their journey is outrageous, as dictated by a highly energetic and favorably gory tone. It’s like reliving high school all over again but with way more practical monsters utilized to their fullest creature-feature designs. Honestly, how aren’t more people talking about Snatchers?
Streamable: Amazon Prime ($3.99), Google Play ($3.99), Vudu ($3.99)
Pro tip: watch Swallow right before The Invisible Man. Their narrative timelines could equate to one woman’s abusive relationship with Swallow as the before/during, and The Invisible Man depicting how it doesn’t stop afterward. A fuller picture where singular features frequently can only address one of either “before,” “during,” or “after.”
Haley Bennett plays a victim caught within domestic imprisonment so unsettling she consumes household objects as an independently rebellious release. It’s her only reclamation of self, too afraid of escaping her suburban lockdown. A provocative glimpse of hopelessness, our ignorance of trauma in destructive moments, and the harmful ways we scream for help without striking any attention. No ghosts nor slasher villains here, yet terror and tension still cut through Swallow like a sharpened game piece through your intestinal lining.
Hit the link for my full review of Swallow, or you can read Sarah Foulkes’ /Film review in which she left the film far more disappointed than myself.
A levitating slab full of culinary delicacies that are picked bone-clean every time the feast reaches your holding cell? Welcome to The Platform, a diabolical take on dystopian classism where “volunteers” are tested inside a tower where each floor houses two roommates. The experiment is simple: will the top stories only eat what’s needed for daily rations, or shovel their bellies full to bursting like gluttons? Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s societal breakdown is intellectually stimulating, helplessly barbaric, and weaponizes nutrition in a way that promotes world-class visual storytelling. Just remember, as I forever will, the panna cotta the message!
You can take a ride over here for my full review of The Platform, or get a genre education by reading Meredith Borders’ /Film review.
Streamable: Amazon Prime ($5.99), Google Play ($5.99), YouTube ($5.99)
Craig Zobel’s hot-button The Hunt was one of the final theatrical releases before stay-at-home orders went into effect, which accounts for a $6.5 million box office haul in total after debuting with $5.3. Then, after theaters closed, it was announced The Hunt (among other titles) would pivot directly onto home platforms for the comparable ticket price of $20. All this is to say, yes, I’m including a Blumhouse release on this list, one that never earned the theatrical recognition it deserved, then had to compete with titles like Bloodshot and The Invisible Man amongst countless cheaper VOD options.
Weary friends grilled me over and over about The Hunt because they didn’t want any political agendas shoved down their throats. Understandable, but Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof’s screenplay is scorched-earth exploitation first, foremost, and throughout. Vocality is across the board, all political “agendas,” but more as a representation of online culture in an “everything sucks” style of aggression. No one is safe, but no one should be offended. Just appreciate the gory deathmatch carnage and cackle as every stereotype of the worst humans imaginable meet titanically violent deaths. Oh, and Betty Gilpin as one of the year’s most badass heroines.
You better believe I’ve got a full review of The Hunt right here, which Chris’ /Film review does not parallel in agreement.
Y’all in the mood for a feudal 1500s South Korean creature-feature? Hell yeah! Even better? The mythical, mountain-dwelling megabeast that starts mauling kingdom guards is named, wait for it, “Sparkles.” Abandoned as a wee pup, forced to survive by feeding on plagued corpses, Sparkles grows to become a menace to the rulers who once left him for dead. Now ex-general Yoon-gyeom (Myung-Min Kim) must hunt the “wild” beast as commanded by his lord, which strikes a grand Monster Hunter meets Dynasty Warriors vibe (video games, for context). “I could have watched Sparkles devour eleventy billion more backstabbing officials and corrupt soldiers partly because justice is divine, alternatively because sweet-and-swift combos define intensive melees,” I previously wrote and still stand behind. It’s a whole lot of political backstabbing, chew-toy demises, and undying love for Sparkles. Now let me cuddle the gaseous, boil-covered “Monstrum.”
Oh, and you’re correct to assume I’ve got a full Monstrum review right here if you’re so inclined to click.
Ghost Killers Vs. Bloody Mary
Streamable: Tubi, Amazon Prime ($3.99), YouTube ($3.99), Google Play ($3.99), Vudu ($3.99)
Ghost Killers vs. Bloody Mary is the goriest, wackiest, most fiendishly sophomoric (in a fun way) Brazilian horror comedy you’ll desire. Its maturity level is grade-school equivalent at times, and while “social media horror” is typically a hard sell for me, this YouTube paranormal crew’s encounter with face-to-face evil tickles my uber-goofy horror funnybone. Analyzing the film’s DNA would reveal traces of Sam Raimi and Todd & The Book Of Pure Evil, as the “Ghoulbusters” are punished without remorse for faking their haunted encounters episode after episode. Not exactly the sharpest crayon in the toolshed, but certainly the bloodiest, zaniest, and most indulgent when it comes to one-upping slapstick terrorization scene after scene.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a full review of Ghost Killers vs. Bloody Mary written – JUST KIDDING. It’s right here. Plus, you’ve got Andrew Todd’s /Film review right here!
Come To Daddy
Streamable: Amazon Prime ($5.99), YouTube ($5.99), Google Play ($5.99), Vudu ($5.99)
By execution alone, you’d have no idea Come To Daddy marks Ant Timpson’s directorial debut where Elijah Wood plays a “soy boy” hipster who must honor his father through extreme violence. It’s unequivocally rowdy in every sense of the word, from Stephen McHattie’s deadbeat maniac performance to fecal toxins to Wood’s horrendous bowl-cut inspiration. You’ll feel naughty for laughing at some of the film’s darker comedic bits given the brutality and blood present, which embody the freedoms of midnight cinema in too many senses (a positive). Always at its best when Michael Smiley is allowed to do whatever his psychedelic hitman character dares desire. Bonkers, unashamed, and full-tilt looney tooney psychotic.
For a deeper dive, read my full review here or Caroline Cao’s Tribeca 2019 /Film review here.
Streamable: Amazon Prime ($3.99), YouTube ($3.99), Google Play ($3.99)
What if Paranormal Activity was a quirky Irish rom-com that ditched found footage, chose a more Ghostbusters route, then added a dash of satanism? That’d be the adorable, ectoplasmic-slimy, and heartwarmingly tender Extra Ordinary. As my review out of SXSW 2019 reads, “Mike Ahern and Edna Loughman’s Extra Ordinary comes together as the tonal lovechild of Jared Hess and Taika Waititi, playfully mocking horror beats instead of unleashing them.” The kind of film where a ho-hum civilian ignores her ghost whispering ability while appliances float in midair, and the communications only get more charming as the film progresses. Oh, did I mention Will Forte plays a one-hit-wonder musician now trying to summon an underworld deity? Plus, spontaneous sacrificial combustion! Extra Ordinary has it all.
Streamable: YouTube ($5.99), Amazon Prime ($5.99), Google Play ($5.99)
“Matt, I know about Underwater. It’s a mainstream horror release starring Kristen Stewart, you dolt.” Yeah, but did you watch Underwater? William Eubank’s more than serviceable aquatic horror disasterpiece only raked in $17.3 million domestic, which leads me to believe you skipped out on some nasty seabed fearsomeness. Don’t let the naysayers sway your opinion. “It’s Alien, but underwater” is a precise summation of the film’s duration, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Eubank’s compelling worldbuilding takes us leagues deep into a submerged drilling facility, where he wastes no time flooding the structure’s compressing corridors. The likes of Stewart, Vincent Cassel, and Mamoudou Athie flee not only from their damaged station but creatures hot in their wake. I don’t love who dies early (c’mon), but some of you will be happy to learn [spoiler alert] T.J. Miller indeed suffers a later-on gruesome fate. People claim that’s a selling point for some, so there you go! Plus, that third-act reveal? Underwater is everything I want from an early-year horror blockbuster, down to Stewart renditioning her very best Ellen Ripley.
Oh look, here’s my full review of Underwater! Also, here’s Chris’ /Film review!
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