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The Best Horror Movies Of 2021

There's something special about horror. What other genre has devoted fans looking to scream in complete and utter terror? The best horror brings out the terrified kid in all of us, and can even be cathartic: When times are tough, being able to experience fear in a fictional context is often the best medicine. 2021 was definitely a difficult year, which means there's never been a better time to dive into the world of frightening film.

Horror movies have been enjoying quite the renaissance recently. A plethora of high-brow offerings have given naysayers a reason to take a second look at the genre, while gleefully campy, violent, and outright ridiculous films have delighted fans of every stripe. 2021 served up a particularly diverse smorgasbord of choices, from parodical gore-fests to searing thrillers. The greatest will leave you laughing, shaking, crying, and screaming, long after the credits roll. These are the best horror movies of 2021.


"Lamb" is an exciting new entry in the world of horror. María (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) are sheep-herding farmers living in a remote Icelandic village. They tend to their sheep faithfully, but there's an undeniable sense that something is missing from both of their lives. One day, one of their sheep gives birth. The lamb offers a unique opportunity for both María and Ingvar to get what they've always wanted: a child.

We could say more, but the mysteries of "Lamb" are best unveiled on screen. Writer-director Valdimar Jóhannsson expertly balances shocking moments with an almost unrelenting sense of quiet — this film is a slow burn of unparalleled tension. Rapace delivers one of the year's very best performances as María, who is full of rage, hope, and grief. What results is slow, hypnotic, and essential. While "Lamb" may feel a bit slight at times, this highlights the film's raw, emotional undercurrent. Many of its most frightening moments will live with you long after it's finished.

The Night House

2021 was a pretty impressive year for Rebecca Hall. Alongside starring in "Godzilla vs. Kong," she made her directorial debut with "Passing," which she also wrote. On top of all that, Hall starred in one of 2021's best horror movies, David Bruckner's "The Night House." Bruckner is no stranger to the genre, having previously directed "The Ritual" and "V/H/S." He's also been tapped to direct the 2022 "Hellraiser" remake.

Hall stars as Beth, a school teacher devastated by the recent loss of her husband, Owen (Evan Jonigkeit). She spends her evenings coping with alcohol and going through Owen's belongings, trying to make sense of it all. The bizarre note he left behind — "You were right. There is nothing. Nothing is after you. You're safe now" — only makes things more confusing. When bizarre things start happening in her once-peaceful home, Beth begins to take action. Soon enough, she realizes she's in grave danger.

The tension in "The Night House" builds slowly and steadily over its 110 minutes. In large part, this comes from Hall's brilliant performance. As observed by film critic Sara Michelle Fetters for MovieFreak, "Hall ties herself into pretzel-like knots: flying high one moment, wallowing in self-pity and despair a nanosecond later." This makes "The Night House" a thrilling ride, with a memorably chilling ending.


When a movie opens with a reference to "The Shining" — a bird's-eye view of a car, alone on a road, in a dense forest — you know you're in for something creepy. Writer-director duo Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli's "Violation" is exactly that. This film can feel relentlessly bleak, especially as it transitions from its warm, dreamlike beginning into its graphic and terrifying second half. But it's also remarkably powerful. Moreover, its staunch female perspective (co-writer-director Sims-Fewer also stars) is both refreshing and vital.

Miriam (Sims-Fewer) heads to a cabin where her sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and Greta's husband Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe) are waiting for her. As Wendy Ide of The Observer notes, "Violation" marks a "brutal and brilliant directorial debut," and is "grueling, but fiercely intelligent filmmaking." This film is a striking take on the revenge genre that uses its fragmented timeline in innovative and lingering ways.


Julia Ducournau's feature film debut, "Raw," is a shocking story about a student with a penchant for cannibalism. Five years later, Ducournau returned with "Titane," a nigh-indefinable experience that thrilled audiences at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. It even won the festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or – a truly impressive feat for a horror film.

"Titane" follows Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), a woman with a complex attraction to cars who also happens to be a serial killer. Her bizarre story is full of pulse-pounding thrills and incredibly shocking bursts of violence, mechanophilia, and ... well, we really shouldn't say anything else. "Titane" is the sort of film that must be seen to be believed.

Though there's gore here, and enough terror to make you violently squirm in your cinema seat, "Titane" is a pretty big departure from what many might expect out of a horror film. It has a remarkably strong sense of humanity, and is actually an extremely tender and emotional film. At its core, it's about people in desperate need of love and connection. It's all brought to life by truly excellent performances from Rousselle and Vincent Lindon.


A tremendous directorial debut from Prano Bailey-Bond (who also co-wrote the film), "Censor" blurs the lines of reality. An ode to the era of "video nasties," the film recalls a time when blood-splattered flicks were forced to go underground. Niamh Algar stars as Enid, who works as a British film censor. She loves what she does, and sees herself as an essential defender of morality, protecting an unsuspecting public from the terror of violent videos. Enid is also struggling with her sister's mysterious disappearance, which happened in childhood. A particular horror film she is tasked with reviewing seems to speak directly to her and her devastating loss. It sends her on a frightening journey — one that may or may not be a complete nervous breakdown.

"Censor" is a period-faithful horror with plenty of compelling imagery and a genuinely unique point of view. Bailey-Bond shows serious muscle in her debut, and Algar gives a layered and intriguing performance. A mysterious, creepy ending makes "Censor" especially memorable.

The Fear Street Trilogy

A hugely ambitious effort, director Leigh Janiak's terrifying "Fear Street" trilogy follows a group of teenagers who team up in an attempt to defeat the curse that plagues their town. The films span hundreds of years: "Part One" is set in 1994, "Part Two" in 1978, and "Part Three" all the way back in 1666. All three are glorious celebrations of horror film history, chock-full of references to classics of the genre.

"Fear Street Part One: 1994" brings viewers to the town of Shadyside, which is devastated by a series of murders. "Fear Street Part Two: 1978" takes us to Camp Nightwing, where a fun color war turns deadly. Finally, "Fear Street Part Three: 1666" tells the colonial tale of how Shadyside got its mascot — and its curse.

Each film in the trilogy is unique, but the stories are intertwined. They also feature many of the same characters, with Deena Johnson/Sarah Fier (Kiana Madeira), Sam Fraser/Hannah Miller (Olivia Scott Welch), and Josh Johnson/Henry Fier (Benjamin Flores Jr.) acting as anchors through all three films. One thing's for sure: You'll never forget your trip to Shadyside.

A Quiet Place Part II

John Krasinski has become a major force in Hollywood, both in front of and behind the camera. Most notably, he wrote, directed, and starred in 2018's "A Quiet Place," which was a huge box office success. Some were surprised that such a talented comedic actor knows horror so well, but Krasinski quickly proved it was no fluke by returning to write and direct "A Quiet Place Part II." Though the global box office was still struggling with the pandemic, the film turned in an extremely impressive $297 million worldwide.

"A Quiet Place Part II" takes place shortly after the first film, with its terrifying monsters still wreaking havoc on Earth. Viewers finally gain glimpses of what life was like before the monsters came to destroy humanity: Flashbacks provide vital context and flesh out the characters we've grown to love. They also offer a nice opportunity to see more of Krasinski's dramatic acting chops.

Beyond this thoughtful development, "A Quiet Place Part II" offers plenty of big, monster-heavy scares that keep pulses pounding. What results is every bit as strong as its predecessor. The ending even gives us a little bit of hope ... or does it?


May (Brea Grant) is a successful self-help author who urges women to be self-reliant. Her fans are clamoring for her next book, but she just can't seem to get started. As it turns out, the thing that's causing her serious case of writer's block is a mysterious intruder who appears to try to kill her every single night. These recurring break-ins are destroying May's sanity ... but are they just a figment of her imagination? Her husband Ted (Dhruv Uday Singh) certainly seems to think so.

This is the chilling premise of "Lucky," written by Grant and directed by Natasha Kermani. A twisty time-loop slasher, "Lucky" adds an exciting new dimension to "final girl" cinema. What results is an excellent feminist horror flick that features an incisive look at violence against women and the difficulties so many victims face when it comes to being believed. "Lucky" is so good, it makes balancing hair-raising scares and thoughtful social commentary look easy.


A whole lot of horror takes itself super seriously, but "Slaxx" reminds us that the genre can also be very, very funny. This scintillating and hilarious takedown of the fast fashion industry follows Libby (Romane Denis), a teen who's landed a job at Canadian Cotton Clothiers, an ultra-hip clothing store. The company is a proud supporter of ethical practices, and counts GMO-free clothes among its myriad offerings. CCC is about to launch Super Shapers, a new line of designer jeans suited to any and all body types. Every pair is a perfect fit.

Unfortunately, these pants have other plans. They're killer jeans. You read that right — the jeans have a mind of their own, and are out for blood. For a gang of garments, they're capable of truly impressive feats. "Slaxx" has a lot of fun showcasing their most brutal murders, while never taking itself too seriously — or, really, remotely seriously. You haven't really lived until you've seen sentient denim slaughter influencers, consume human bodies, and dance like nobody's watching to some excellent Bollywood music.

PG: Psycho Goreman

Being a kid is hard. Children struggle to make friends, fight with parents, and do battle with homework. Sometimes, as is the case in "PG: Psycho Goreman," they even accidentally summon a hyper-violent alien overlord. Thankfully, the young heroes of this film aren't about to meet an ugly end, as the amulet they discover forces the big baddie to obey all of their silly, childish whims.

"PG: Psycho Goreman" is every bit as ridiculous as it sounds, and nobody is happier about that than everyone involved in making it. Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) and Luke (Owen Myre) are having the time of their lives with Goreman (Matthew Ninaber and Steven Vlahos), and it's impossible to not love every minute of it. If you need a reminder that horror can be a hell of a lot of fun, this is your film. Bonkers violence, midnight movie vibes, and hilarious dialogue — Goreman's "Not my hunky boys!" will live in your head forever — and a final nosedive into insanity take "PG: Psycho Goreman" from clever to classic.

The Amusement Park

George A. Romero's bold and unpredictable approach to filmmaking made him a legend. 1973's "The Amusement Park," which was considered lost until it reemerged in recent years, is not as obviously horror-riffic as other Romeo movies, like "Night of the Living Dead" or "Creepshow." As anyone who's seen it can testify, however, it's definitely one of 2021's most terrifying films.

"The Amusement Park" is very clear about its intentions from its very first moments. Actor Lincoln Maazel, who plays the main character, tells the viewer that the film they're about to see examines the harsh realities elderly people face, which anyone lucky enough to grow old will one day confront themselves. He concludes by saying, "The amusement park which you are about to visit illustrates some of the many problems people of my age face on a daily basis. We ask for your sympathy as you watch."

Maazel proceeds to play a man excited to go out to the local amusement park. But it's not long before excitement turns to dread, which soon devolves into outright terror. At every opportunity, the old man is brought face to face with disgust, scorn, and rejection. It seems like there is nothing he, nor anyone of similar age, can do right. All the while, a scythe-wielding figure lurks in the background. Surrealism has never been so terrifying — or so honest.

The Boy Behind the Door

Kevin (Ezra Dewey) and Bobby (Lonnie Chavis), a pair of young boys, are kidnapped and taken to a mysterious old house shrouded in darkness. Though Bobby manages to escape, knowing that Kevin is still locked up brings him back. In order to save his friend, he has to contend with the terrifying, axe-wielding creep who kidnapped them in the first place. As a searing depiction of any parent's worst nightmare, this film might be a bit too much for some to bear, let alone sit through 88 minutes of. For those who can, however, "The Boy Behind the Door" is an unparalleled journey into terror.

Directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell, this film is both a poignant testament to the power of friendship and a gloriously spooky thrill ride. Its two leads are tremendous — any cinephile will end the film hoping to see plenty more of them in the future. "The Boy Behind the Door" will have you screaming for your life as you white-knuckle your seat. The fact that it accomplishes this by depicting the unknown terrors of broad daylight makes it even more impressive.

My Heart Can't Beat Unless You Tell It To

A fraught psychological horror, "My Heart Can't Beat Unless You Tell It To" is a terrifying film masquerading as a family drama. Jessie (Ingrid Sophie Schram) and her brother Dwight (Patrick Fugit) care for their chronically ill younger brother Thomas (Owen Campbell). Thomas is barely able to go outside, and regularly consumes blood in order to stay alive. This blood isn't prescribed by a doctor, though — his siblings get it by regularly committing murder.

Director Jonathan Cuartas makes an impressive feature-length debut with "My Heart Can't Beat Unless You Tell It To" — horror hounds would do well to remember his name. The film's assured direction, chilling characters, and mastery of tone polishes it into a true gem of the genre. From the first scene to the last, it's a horrifying and tense experience that offers a stark reminder of just how far some families will go to protect their own.