The COVID-19 pandemic has caused huge disruptions across the entire entertainment industry, with release dates pushed, productions halted, theaters closed, and massive uncertainty about the future of the industry. But even though movie fans have had to stay home, there has thankfully been no shortage of new films to check out.
This is especially true for the horror genre. Horror has long thrived as a home entertainment format–in the ’80s, the big franchises like Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th found numerous fans via VHS. Even before the pandemic, many of the best horror movies went straight to streaming, and over the last few months, some films have reached audiences they might not have previously.
While Netflix and Amazon Prime continue to be among the biggest players in the increasingly competitive streaming wars, niche services are also thriving. This is particularly true for AMC’s horror platform Shudder, which constantly releases some of the most impressive and acclaimed horror movies from around the world. The last few months have seen some of its best and highest-profile releases to date.
We’ve picked the best from the past few months on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Shudder, and Video on Demand. All can be watched right now, and reveal just what an exciting time it is right now to be a horror fan.
12. Blood Machines
It’s not entirely clear if Blood Machines is a movie or a series, but either way, it’s well worth watching. It’s a 50-minute feature that’s split into three parts, and the very loose plot involves a pair of cosmic bounty hunters who are chasing an AI-powered spacecraft, out of which flies a cosmic ghost woman… or something. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter. What’s important here are the wild, often stunning visuals that feel both futuristic and retro, combined with a pounding score from synthwave star Carpenter Brut. Directors Raphaël Hernandez and Savitri Joly-Gonfard (who collectively use the pseudonym Seth Ickerman) previously made the amazing video to Brut’s song Turbo Killer, and although at times Blood Machines feels like an extended music video, it doesn’t stop it from being an eyeball-melting experience.
11. The Pool
Fans who enjoyed last year’s alligator shocker Crawl will want to check out the similarly toothy and utterly ridiculous The Pool. It centers upon a man, his girlfriend, and their dog who find themselves trapped in an empty swimming pool when someone accidentally lets the water out. Which would be bad enough, but things get even worse when they realize there is a CGI crocodile in there with them. Malaysian director Ping Lumpraploeng clearly knows the whole setup is ridiculous, so he dispenses with all reality early on and settles into entertaining the audience with a series of increasingly unlikely situations as the characters attempt to escape without being eaten.
10. The Platform
Even though it was bought by Netflix in 2019, by the time this powerful Spanish dystopian horror satire hit the service this year, its themes of isolation and food shortages felt horribly relevant. At some point in the future, prisoners are placed into a narrow skyscraper-like construction consisting of hundreds of levels. Each level is occupied by two people, with a gap in the center through which a large platform passes daily, containing food. The lower the platform gets, the less food is left. Director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia juggles humor, gore, thrills, and social commentary without letting any one aspect overwhelm the other, and while it might not be the best film to relax with and forget about the world outside, it’s an undeniably impressive experience.
9. Random Acts of Violence
Jay Baruchel is best known for his comedic roles in movies such as Knocked Up, Tropic Thunder, and the How to Train Your Dragon series, but he changed gears for his second movie as director. Random Acts of Violence is a slasher movie based on the comic book of the same title, about a comic writer whose hit book–titled Slasherman–inspires a wave of grisly real-life murders. Much as Scream did in the ’90s, Random Acts of Violence works as both a scary movie and a self-referential observation of the genre. In this case, it’s the question of the impact of violent media on society, and the movie is both thought-provoking and startlingly gory.
Streaming: Video on Demand
Dangerous things–whether creatures, viruses, or strange objects–brought back from space has long been a favorite topic for sci-fi horror filmmakers. The latest example is Sputnik, a Russian shocker that is now available on VoD. In this case, a cosmonaut has returned to Earth following a mysterious accident, with what seems to be a symbiotic alien lifeform living inside him. Oksana Akinshina plays a doctor who must figure out what it is and how to get it out of him–and it’s hardly a spoiler to say that the space parasite is not friendly. While Sputnik takes ideas from numerous famous movies, including Alien and Arrival, it’s a scary, serious, and stylish creature feature.
7. Get Duked!
Streaming: Prime Video
The title of this British horror-comedy refers to the Duke of Edinburgh award, an achievement program that encourages young people to learn new skills and work together as a team. In this case, it’s a quartet of troublesome teenage misfits who have been dispatched to the Highlands of Scotland and encounter a group of murderous locals. Horror comedy is hard to do well, and while Get Duked leans more heavily into the laughs than the scares, it’s absolutely hilarious, with a clever script, winning performances, and an unpredictable storyline. And if you ever wanted to see a group of elderly Scottish farmers tripping on mushrooms while dancing to hip-hop, this is the movie for you.
6. La Llorona
The Latin American legend of La Llorona inspired the disappointing Conjuring universe movie The Curse of La Llorona last year, but thankfully this version is way better. It takes the basic story of the “crying woman” who drowns innocent children, and sets it in contemporary Guatemala, a country still recovering from decades of brutal civil war. A retired general, responsible for many war crimes, is living out his final days in a house surrounded by protesters. Most of his domestic staff have quit, and one of his newest employees, a girl named Alma, doesn’t seem to be who she says she is. It’s a slow-burning movie more interested in atmosphere than cheap shocks, and like Guillermo del Toro’s similarly-themed The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, shows that supernatural scares are no match for real-life horrors of war.
5. The Relic
Streaming: Video on Demand
Australia has produced many great horror movies over the years, and The Relic is the latest acclaimed chiller from Down Under. It stars Robyn Nevin as Edna, an older woman who disappears after her husband dies, leading her daughter and granddaughter to travel to her spooky old house. Soon after, Edna returns, but something is very wrong. The Relic is an impressive directorial debut for Natalie Erika James that infuses an affecting family drama with a tense, disturbing atmosphere.
Indonesian filmmaker Joko Anwar is one of the hottest international directors in horror right now, and his latest film, Impetigore, is well worth checking out. It’s a creepy folk horror film about Maya, a woman who discovers she might have inherited a big house in a spooky, isolated village, prompting her to travel there with a friend. Unfortunately, a terrible curse has fallen upon the community, and the villagers believe that Maya could be their salvation. It’s a visually striking and atmospheric movie that uses traditional and folklore to great effect.
Streaming: Video on Demand
One of the most original and disturbing horror movies of the year, writer/director Carlo Mirabella-Davis’s Swallow certainly won’t be for everyone. It focuses on a newly married woman named Hunter, brilliantly played by Haley Bennet, whose claustrophobic lifestyle with a workaholic husband and crumbling mental state lead her to start eating inanimate objects around the house. The objects start small… but get bigger. While Swallow has an obvious exploitation hook, it’s actually a non-sensationalized movie that deals intelligently with issues of mental health and of a woman’s control over her own body.
2. The Vast of Night
Streaming: Prime Video
The Vast of Night is more of a sci-fi movie rather than straight horror, but given the huge overlap between the genres, fright fans are sure to love it too. It’s an engrossing story of a DJ and a switchboard operator in a small New Mexico town who stumble upon a mystery when they hear a strange radio signal being broadcast one night. The engaging lead performances from Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick, the 1950s setting, and mix of mystery and menace make this an absolute must-see for fans of conspiracy movies and classic horror/sci-fi anthology shows such as The Twilight Zone. Director Andrew Patterson pulls off some incredible camerawork on a limited budget too, suggesting he has big things in front of him.
It’s easy to see why Host has become one of 2020’s most talked-about movies. It’s the first horror film to use COVID-19 as part of its storyline, but instead of making a Contagion-style pandemic movie, director Rob Savage takes a far more mundane setup–a group of friends having a Zoom call during lockdown–and turns it into a highly effective found footage film. The believable performances, expert pacing, and taut 55-minute running time more than make up for the occasionally generic nature of the scares, and the fact it was genuinely made remotely during lockdown only adds to its relevance.