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The Best Horror Movies Of 2020

Real-life horror took center stage in 2020, a year that will go down in history for all the wrong reasons. The coronavirus pandemic brought much of the world to a standstill, sowing fear and discord in all corners of the Earth. Over a million people lost their lives to COVID-19 during 2020, but despite the dire situation, many found themselves drawn to horror films. After all, research suggests that watching horror unfold on screen makes it easier to deal with in the real world.

"Scary movies allow viewers to practice coping with distressing emotions, such as fear, in a safe and controlled environment," Dr. David Tolin of the Anxiety Disorders Center told Hartford HealthCare. "As we gain a sense of mastery over fear, real-world concerns such as the COVID pandemic become less scary to us as well." Luckily, several scary horror movies were released in 2020, meaning people had plenty of options when it came to desensitizing themselves. If you're looking to master your fear (or, like us, you just love horror movies), here's what you should be watching.

From brutally violent black comedies to the films that used classic tropes to address real-life issues and injustices, these are the best horror movies of 2020.

Relic harnesses the horror of dementia

The Australian horror film Relic has some star power behind it (Jake Gyllenhaal produces, with Marvel mainstays Anthony and Joe Russo acting as executive producers), but it's the talent in front of the camera that ultimately makes the difference here. Emily Mortimer stars as a woman whose elderly mother (a delightfully creepy Robyn Nevin) has vanished from her remote home. With her daughter (The Man in the High Castle's Bella Heathcote) in tow, she sets off to investigate. She discovers an empty house covered in a strange black mold, a mold that appears to have spread to her mother when she mysteriously reappears with no knowledge of her disappearance, as well as a new violent streak. As the mold-like bruise on her chest begins to spread, her family is torn between helping her and fearing her.

On the surface, Relic is a haunted house flick, but this film is really about the horrors of dementia. Debutant director Natalie Erika James got the idea for the film after visiting her grandmother's "really creepy traditional Japanese house" in the countryside. Sadly, she was suffering from Alzheimer's disease and was no longer able to recognize her granddaughter. The filmmaker took this unsettling feeling and used it to create one of the most chilling movies of 2020. "Few horror films have so effectively harnessed genre tropes to address a clinical illness directly," said The Arts Desk, which revealed that James was inspired by another unmissable Aussie horror, 2014's The Babadook.

Blood Quantum is a First Nations zombie film that asks some hard questions

The Canadian horror film Blood Quantum addresses some uncomfortable truths about the Great White North's colonial past, and it delivers some fresh zombie thrills in the process. An infectious disease is turning everyone in Canada into mindless flesh-eaters in writer-director Jeff Barnaby's film — everyone except the First Nations people. As the world around them descends into chaos, a resilient Mi'kmaq community secures its patch of land, keeping the hordes of roaming "Zeds" outside. The Zeds won't stop until they've devoured everything, however, which Barnaby (who is Mi'kmaq himself) called "an explicit metaphor" in an interview with Seventh Row. "It's not even f****** thinly veiled, it's like a shovel between the eyes."

Barnaby set out to "hold up a mirror to settler Canada" with Blood Quantum, though he also wanted it to work purely as a horror movie, which it most certainly does. To call the zombie subgenre oversaturated would be a gross understatement at this point, but Barnaby was clearly aware of this going into his film because he got pretty creative with his kills. "You think you've seen every way to dispatch a zombie, and then someone applies a chainsaw to a skull in a particularly satisfying manner," said The New York Times in just one of the many positive write-ups the film has received. Barnaby was favorably compared to both John Carpenter and the godfather of the zombie movie himself, George A. Romero, in the reviews.

After Midnight is a genre-melding creature feature

If there's one thing that will take your mind off a painful break up, it's getting stalked by a monster. That's the position that Florida man Hank (Jeremy Gardner, who also wrote and co-directed this romantic creature feature) finds himself in when his girlfriend of a decade suddenly leaves him. His heartbreak turns to terror when said monster starts coming to the front door of his backwoods home at night, scratching and growling. After Midnight flits between an increasingly paranoid present day Hank and flashbacks to happier times, before bartender Abby (Brea Grant, whose performance was singled out for praise by the Los Angeles Times) packed her bags and split.

As the creature's attempts to enter Hank's home become increasingly aggressive, the truth about his relationship with Abby is slowly revealed. Turns out it wasn't all that loving near the end, and the bartender had been pining for a more eventful life in Miami. The audience is forced to entertain the notion that the man they've been sympathizing with might just be the monster of the story, but it wouldn't really be a creature feature if there was no creature. After Midnight's memorable monster was inspired by real animals ("Baboons have always terrified me," Gardner told Rue Morgue), and it's plenty scary. This is a horror movie at heart, but it devotes itself to the romance arc equally, making for a unique experience that fans of both genres can enjoy.

La Llorona is a terrifying new take on a Latin American myth

Guatemalan horror La Llorona made a name for itself on the festival circuit before dropping on Shudder to rave reviews in 2020. In Latin American myth, La Llorona (aka the Wailing Woman) is the vengeful spirit of a woman who murdered her children and now roams the mortal world, looking for living kids to replace her own. Writer-director Jayro Bustamante tweaks the tale in his film, using it to shine a light on his country's violent past. "Even though La Llorona is a very misogynistic legend, it's beloved, so I decided to transform it and make La Llorona cry for the land, for all of the desperate people looking for justice," Bustamante said at the Tokyo International Film Festival.

In line for some supernatural justice is Guatemalan dictator Enrique Monteverde (Julio Diaz), who oversaw the genocide of native Ixil Mayans in 1981 (a real atrocity that took place during the Guatemalan Civil War). When his guilty verdict gets overturned on a technicality, the eponymous ghoul shows up to make things right. "These people need a force or spirit coming to them from the other world to make them react because, otherwise, they will continue to think they are the best," Bustamante said. "This was the reason to use La Llorona to push them to this sense of justice." It's not an easy watch, but La Llorona was one of the most gripping movies of 2020, horror or otherwise.

Uncle Peckerhead is basically the 'punk rock Full House'

Punk rock horror flick Uncle Peckerhead flew under the radar in 2020, but this darkly bonkers feature from Matthew John Lawrence won't remain unknown forever because it's got cult classic written all over it. The film follows a small-time band named Duh, and these musicians run into some van trouble just as they're about to set off on a six-stop tour. The desperate trio start asking anyone with a van if they would be willing to loan it out, which is where Uncle Peckerhead (or "Peck") comes in. The kindly Southerner tells Duh that he'll take them on their tour if they cover the cost of gas, and the day is saved. What Peck fails to mention is that when the sun goes down, he transforms into a flesh-eating demon.

Because ditching Peck would mean getting rid of the van, Duh decides to let their otherwise friendly roadie stick around, so long as he agrees to take a sleep aid every night and not devour anybody. Hilarity and horror ensue in equal measure as their tour goes from bad to worse. If it sounds like something you might see on TV late at night, that's because this was Lawrence's original intention. "I wanted to pitch an idea to Adult Swim, and my idea was to do a play on a sitcom," he told Horror News Net, adding, "It was like a punk rock Full House with a redneck Mr. Belvedere."

Vampires vs. the Bronx takes a bite out of gentrification

One of New York's most famous neighborhoods gets gentrified by pasty-skinned bloodsuckers in the critically acclaimed horror comedy Vampires vs. the Bronx, the feature film debut of Saturday Night Live segment director Osmany "Oz" Rodriquez. SNL boss Lorne Michaels produced this Netflix film, which follows three local kids (Jaden Michael, Gerald W. Jones III, and Gregory Diaz IV) as they defend their beloved borough. An influx of trendy new stores likes Bone and Thread ("Is it a clothing store or a restaurant?" one bemused resident asks) is putting local businesses under pressure, and the trio's favorite bodega is in trouble. When the gang discover that the real estate group behind it all is actually run by a coven of vampires, they're forced to take action.

Speaking to NOW MagazineRodriquez said that he set out to make "a fun adventure film for kids who look like me and my friends growing up in the Dominican Republic — the kind of kids who aren't really represented in these kinds of stories." He decided that the ongoing gentrification of the Bronx was a perfect angle for such a project, and the spooky side of the story developed naturally from there. "All the conversations were similar in how much the neighborhood's changing and how much the identity is being sucked out," he said. "I just made the connection to vampires really quick." And as a result, Vampires vs. the Bronx was the charming, feel-good horror that everyone needed in October 2020.

#Alive is the perfect zombie movie for 2020

In 2016, Train to Busan proved beyond any doubt that South Korea knows how to do zombies, but director Cho Il-hyung made sure to remind the world of that fact with 2020's #Alive, a story of self-preservation and isolation. Video game streamer Oh Joon-woo (Yoo Ah-in) is home alone when ravenous people infected with a mysterious virus start tearing through his Seoul neighborhood. With his mom, dad, and sister all absent, he's forced to come out his gaming bubble and fend for himself. He manages to do just that for a time, but he soon runs out of supplies and ideas. He's on the verge of taking his own life when he notices a signal coming from an apartment in the adjacent building and has a last-second change of heart.

#Alive really gets going when Oh teams up with Kim Yoo-bin (Park Shin-hye). The pair bond over walkie-talkies and devise an escape plan, knowing that they will likely die if they simply stay put. Together, they battle their way to the roof of Oh's building, encountering both living and undead threats along the way. #Alive reminds us that when times get hard people will often turn on each other, but it comes with a more hopeful ending than most zombie movies. Both Yoo and Park are big stars in their home country, and they're at the top of their games in this fast-paced thrill ride.

The Beach House is a Lovecraftian nightmare

A homerun from a first-time director, Jeffrey A. Brown's The Beach House is a Lovecraftian body horror that inadvertently struck a chord in 2020. It was actually made before the novel coronavirus struck, but "it is impossible not to look at Brown's film within the context of our current climate," The Hollywood Reporter said. "The COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the world only serves to enhance the anxiety induced by the film." 

The cause of said anxiety is a strange fog coming off the water in front of the titular house, where two couples are staying. Young partners Emily and Randall (Liana Liberato and Noah Le Gros) were hoping to repair the cracks in their relationship with a romantic getaway, but they end up sharing the house with Mitch and Jane (Jake Weber and Maryann Nagel), who've been pushed to breaking point by Jane's health problems.

College dropout Randall suggests spicing things up with some edibles, but they consume them at the worst possible time. As the marijuana takes effect, the holidaymakers notice that the peculiar fog is surrounding the house. When they investigate the beach the following morning, some strange pods appear to have washed up, and things get weirder from there. One by one, the characters start to fall ill to an invisible enemy, and the realization that they're in the midst of a potential extinction event hits home. The Beach House is bolstered by a haunting score from EDM artist-turned-film composer Roly Porter.

His House is a haunted house film with a difference

The trailer for His House caused quite the buzz when it appeared online four weeks before its October 2020 premiere, not only because the Netflix film looked sleek and scary but because the premise eliminated the most complained-about plot hole in horror. A stellar introduction from newcomer Remi Weekes, His House is the story of an immigrant couple who arrive in the UK after a treacherous journey from war-torn South Sudan. Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) and Bol (Sope Dirisu) are given a rundown house in an unwelcoming council estate, which they're more than happy with. However, they soon realize that they're not alone in there, and they literally have nowhere to go.

"Unlike traditional haunted house stories where the protagonist might be able to escape, our protagonists — two displaced asylum seekers — do not have the privilege to simply leave," Weekes told Collider. "Rather, they are stuck having to survive within their house. This is often the case in the UK, where asylum seekers have to follow draconian rules when given accommodation." The original idea for the film came from co-writer Felicity Evans, who began developing the concept back in 2014 after reading about a supposedly real haunted house that fell into disrepair. It developed into a harrowing story about the immigrant experience, one that was as relevant as ever in 2020. As far as directorial debuts go, this one was absolutely perfect — His House boasts a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating.

Host was born from a viral prank

The most 2020 of all the 2020 horrors, Host is an ingenious British film set during the COVID-19 pandemic. It follows six friends who, in an attempt to alleviate the boredom of lockdown in the UK, invite a medium to their weekly Zoom meeting. One of the group fakes making contact with a dead friend during their online seance, a prank that comes with an unintended consequence — she accidentally invites a demonic spirit in. One by one, the friends are visited by the malevolent guest, who intends to log them off permanently.

Host began as a prank played by creator Rob Savage, who tricked his friends into thinking he'd been attacked by something in his attic. He told them he was going upstairs to investigate strange noises and then switched to a clip from the film [Rec] at just the right moment. Savage knew he was onto something when the video went viral, but he also knew that if he was going to turn it into a feature film, he would have to act quickly. "We wanted it to be something that we could shoot and release within lockdown, or as close as we could get," he told Short of the Week. "The whole thing from the initial idea to delivering it was 12 weeks."

The 60-minute film was released on Shudder to rave reviews. It holds a perfect 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where critics hailed it as timely and effective.

Elijah Wood's Come to Daddy is a violent crowd-pleaser

The guys that brought you The Greasy Strangler reunited for an equally bold and bizarre horror in 2020, the Elijah Wood-led Come to Daddy. The former The Lord of the Rings star plays 30-something musician Norval Greenwood, an L.A. brat who still lives at his mother's Beverly Hills mansion. He hasn't seen his father for decades, but that's about to change. When Norval receives an unexpected invitation from his estranged dad, the mustachioed man-child sets off for Oregon and soon discovers the shady truth about his family fortune — his old man kidnapped the child of the richest guy in Thailand and then double-crossed his partners out of their share of the ransom. Now, if Norval wants to make it out of Oregon alive, he has to step well outside of his comfort zone and silence his father's disgruntled co-conspirators permanently.

Writer Toby Harvard and director Ant Timpson combine the best elements of indie horror with B-movie sensibilities here, touching on mature themes while never scrimping on the violence (a man is relieved of his genitals in one eye-watering scene). This is Wood's show, however. He's become adept at playing eccentric types since his Middle-earth days, and he absolutely nails Norval. "He's a bulls*** artist that would be a completely unlikable character in a lesser actor's hands," Bloody Disgusting said in its review. "Wood can play the douchey type with an earnestness that makes him endearing despite his flaws."