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The Best Horror Movies Of 2021

For the past several years, the horror genre seems to have been enjoying another renaissance. From 2017's Get Out and 2018's Hereditary to 2019's Ready or Not and 2020's Possessor: Uncut, movies in this category are reaching new artistic heights, providing sharp social commentary, and giving us lots and lots of gore. This is all great news as far as fans are concerned. The more horror films receive positive reviews and box office success, the more get made, and the more we have to watch. 

The new year appears to be off to a solid start, with the following films certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes in early 2021. There are many choices in different flavors of the genre, from the body horror of Saint Maud to two outrageous Nicolas Cage vehicles. The category is once again primed to dominate the discourse and scare the heck out of as many viewers as possible. 

Films that have already been released are listed according to their freshness rating. We've also included some films we're hyped to see that have release dates later in the year. Grab your popcorn bowl, dim the lights, and settle in for some scares — or at least some trippy acting and visuals. Here are the best horror films of 2021. 

Saint Maud

A24's Saint Maud has made the rounds of film festivals since 2019, but it didn't get an official release until Jan. 29, 2021, with streaming availability following on Feb. 12, 2021. Writer/director Rose Glass makes an impressive debut, judging by the film's current 93% certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and Metascore of 83 on Metacritic, which puts it in their must-see category. The film stars Welsh actress Morfydd Clark as Maud, a nurse whose piety masks a shady past. Maud becomes the hospice provider for Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), but her care turns into an obsession with her ward's soul.

Praise for the psychological horror of Saint Maud is high. David Fear of Rolling Stone called it "a genuine revelation, and the sort of holy terror that restores your faith in a genre," and Katie Walsh of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Glass has crafted a film rich in history, reference, psychology, spirituality, style, and even some gore, but it never overstays its welcome, recognizing that less is more." Positive buzz for Saint Maud has been building steadily since its premiere, and it's become the first genuine horror hit of the 2021 pandemic world. The film has won several awards on the festival circuit, including The Attenborough Award for British/Irish Film of the Year at 2021's London Critics' Circle Film Awards. 

Saint Maud is rated R for gore and sexual content, and clocks in at a tight 84 minutes. The film is available on Amazon Prime. 

PG: Psycho Goreman

From its title alone, the Canadian film PG: Psycho Goreman sounds like a new Troma picture — with all the over-the-top violence that studio usually entails. Hatched from the mind of writer/director Steven Kostanski (whom you may remember from the indie horror flick he co-wrote/co-directed in 2016, The Void), the plot sounds like the kind of midnight movie made for the horror/comedy camp audience: A young brother (Owen Myre) and sister (Nita-Josee Hanna) find an alien (Matthew Ninaber), give him the titular name, and control him with a magical amulet. Gory hijinks ensue.

After being acquired by RLJE Films and Shudder, PG: Psycho Goreman had its debut on streaming and in theaters on Jan. 22, 2021. The film is sitting at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, with a lot of praise for Kostanski's ability to blend and send up science fiction, fantasy, horror, and comedy. Film Threat's Rob Rector says, "The movie's ability to flirt with the familiar and completely turn it on its head is what keeps Psycho Goreman so perversely fresh and fun throughout," while MaryBeth McAndrews of Paste Magazine calls it "a necessary explosion of ridiculous fun in a time when it's needed most." The film may currently be rented on Amazon Prime and is not rated.

Prisoners of the Ghostland

Fresh off its debut at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Prisoners of the Ghostland is the latest project from gonzo director Sion Sono. The movie is a wild tale of a bank robber ironically called Hero (Nicolas Cage), who is forced by the corrupt head of Samurai Town to find his daughter, Bernice (Sofia Boutella), or die trying. Horror vet Bill Moseley plays The Governor, the crime boss who outfits Hero in an explosive suit and gives him three days to find Bernice or lose everything.

Prisoners of the Ghostland, which is Sono's English-language debut, was originally going to be filmed in Mexico until Sono suffered a heart attack, which changed production plans. The film doesn't seem worse for the change. The juxtaposition of Western tropes against the backdrop of Japan gives the film a lot of its kick. Though it was enthusiastically received by the audience at Sundance, some viewers were less than enthralled. Given Sono's prolific output — he's got over 50 films under his belt — not all of them can be winners.

However, other critics have echoed the Sundance audience buzz. Little White Lies' Hannah Woodhead calls it "an excellent introduction to the director for anyone who hasn't dipped into his filmography" and praises Cage's "solid, snarling turn." Kristy Puchko of MEL Magazine says "It's bonkers. It's brilliant. It's Nicolas Cage in all his give-no-f***s glory." It may not be Sono's or Cage's best work, but it's resonating with their fans, and it sure sounds like a wild ride. As of March 2021, the unrated film is pending distribution. 

Sacrifice

In co-directors Andy Collier and Toor Mian's Sacrifice, pregnant Emma (Sophie Stevens) and her husband Isaac (Ludovic Hughes) travel to Isaac's birthplace in Norway because he has to take care of his recently deceased mother's property. There, they deal with the local sheriff, played by famed horror actress Barbara Crampton, and run afoul of a cult that worships a sea god.

Cults are horror movie staples, from the original 1973 version of The Wicker Man to 2019's Midsommar. While Sacrifice has drawn at least one comparison to the latter because of its Scandanavian setting, just judging from the tentacles on the poster, it appears to have more in common with H.P. Lovecraft.

Kat Hughes of The Hollywood News calls the movie "[m]ysteriously moody and chillingly atmospheric," while Staci Layne Wilson of Women in Horror says "Sacrifice is a beautifully shot, well-acted film that builds tension expertly."

The film has a 75% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but that's based on only 12 reviews, so its standing here could be surpassed as the year goes on. The film is not rated.

Reunion

Home is often where the horror is. The New Zealand film Reunion continues the theme of the past catching up with the present, this time in the form of Ellie (Emma Draper), a pregnant woman fleeing her abusive partner and heading to her childhood home to reconcile with her estranged mother, Ivy (Julia Ormond). Ellie leaves one awful situation only to end up in another. With a 71% freshness rating, Reunion appears to hit a sweetly terrifying spot. 

Reunion has had a limited release in theaters and streaming beginning Feb. 5, 2021, and is written and directed by Jake Mahaffy, a filmmaker, photographer, and artist currently known more for his short films. Reviewer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists calls it "[a] compelling, well-made film that creeps up on you," while Anton Bitel of Projected Figures says it "is a nuanced, slippery psychodrama." The film is not rated.

Willy's Wonderland

Released on Feb. 12, 2021, in both theaters and on streaming services, Willy's Wonderland is another wild ride with the illustrious Mr. Cage. Cage plays The Janitor, a man desperate for cash who agrees to clean the titular amusement center in a small town. It turns out the animatronic characters at Willy's are possessed, because of course they are. It's less a fright-fest than a fun, violent, Five Nights at Freddy's-esque romp. 

The latest effort from director Kevin Lewis, working from a script by G.O. Parsons, has ticked up to 64% on Rotten Tomatoes since its premiere. Nick Schager of The Daily Beast says that the movie "ably fulfills its promise as a bonkers saga," and The Hollywood Reporter's Frank Scheck notes that nowadays, "Cage's movies don't have to be reviewed, but rather stamped with official certificates of weirdness."

Of the two gonzo Cage performances this year, The Janitor isn't quite as captivating as his oddly magnetic Hero in Prisoners of the Ghostland. Even so, being blessed with two outrageous Cage characters in two cuckoo-bananas horror films in one year is a boon for fans of the actor's late-career work. The 88-minute film is not rated.

The best upcoming 2021 horror movies we can't wait to watch

Several hotly anticipated horror films that have been held back due to the pandemic are now slated to come out later this year. These are the ones we're most excited to see. 

Set to be released on Aug. 27, 2021, the update of Candyman takes place 10 years after the original Cabrini-Green towers were demolished. Nia DaCosta directs a high-powered cast, including Yahya-Abdul Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, and Tony Todd, and is credited on the script along with Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld. Todd is particularly pleased to be involved. The film is rated R.

A Quiet Place Part II was scheduled for Sep. 17, 2021, but was recently moved up to Memorial Day weekend, May 28, 2021. Writer/director John Krasinski returns to helm the mayhem as the surviving members of the Abbott family try to defeat the alien invaders from the first film. Will their knowledge and experience save them from the human terror that lurks beyond? Emily Blunt again stars as Evelyn Abbott, with Cillian Murphy joining as Emmett. The film is rated PG-13.

You can't keep a good killer down — at least not in the Halloween franchise. Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, and Andi Matichak reprise their roles as Laurie Strode, her daughter Karen, and her granddaughter Allyson, respectively, as rampaging killer Michael Myers returns yet again to face the formidable trio. Halloween Kills is the second part of a trilogy that began with 2018's Halloween, a direct sequel to the original 1978 film of the same name. David Gordon Green again directs from a script he wrote with Danny McBride and Scott Teems. The film is scheduled to be released on Oct. 15, 2021, and is rated R.

Produced by Academy Award-winning director Guillermo del Toro and directed by Scott Cooper, Antlers, which stars Keri Russell and Jesse Plemons, will be released on Oct. 29, 2021. The mysterious R-rated film's trailer features an unseen creature, a young boy, and a lot of blood.