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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Brad Miska Highlights 10 Horror Films That Brought Him Joy in 2020

Previous Best of the Year Articles: 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020

This year was different in many ways, but for me, it’s extra strange because it’s the first time in 20 years I didn’t compile a “best of” list. I always look forward to celebrating the year in horror because I get to flex a bit and shine the light on so many films often overlooked by mainstream entertainment sites. However, this year I’ve felt a bit lost.

“The worst year of our lifetime” was a vastly different experience for each individual, but for me, it’s been fraught with tension and anxiety, constantly soaked in the fear of losing the business that Tom and I have invested two decades worth of blood, sweat and tears into, or even my parents, one who is breathing with a single lung. If the pandemic wasn’t enough to constantly stress about, I had to continually fight with politically-charged, defiant family members amidst the most strenuous political climate in recent memory. Woe is me, I know, but know that I feel for any of you who have struggled in way worse ways through this treacherous year. I send all my positive energy your way.

On the brighter side of things, I did have a baby. This may sound like an excuse (maybe it is?), but half the reason I took so long was because of my dedication to the site and all of you. It’s not easy to let go. Thankfully, I have John Squires in my corner, the first person I’ve ever trusted to run the site if I were to drop dead (it’s 2020, just go with it), not to mention the entire Bloody Disgusting team, all of who continually blow my mind with the top-notch horror content that they all put their entire heart and souls into. This brings me to Meagan Navarro, Bloody Disgusting’s rock, our very own horror superhero. Her commitment to the genre is unmatched and has taken the lead here at Bloody when it comes to reviewing movies. As much as I kicked and screamed (in my head), it just felt appropriate to pass the baton and have her do this year’s “best of” list (read it here).

This year just fucking sucked and the last thing I wanted to do was consume any content that made me feel like shit. My head just wasn’t in the right place. I sort of “floated” my way through 2020, taking it day by day. When it came time to even think about the best films of the year, I couldn’t focus. So, while Meagan is taking the reigns on honoring the best of the best, I’m going in a different direction by celebrating the films that brought me joy in an otherwise joyless year. Here they are, in no particular order.

Underwater (d. William Eubank; 20th Century Studios)

Before the pandemic, I was a young and innocent dad-to-be, just enjoying my buckets of popcorn and my weekly trip to the theater in hopes of being mildly entertained by a horror film. I expected pretty much nothing from Underwater, being that it had suffered through a painfully long production and release, only to be “dumped” in January by Disney’s newly-minted 20th Century Studios. But I’m an optimist (I am?!), a fan of William Eubank’s The Signal, and also thought the trailers carried the distinct Alien vibe that I’m always jonesing (Jonesy?) for. And say what you will about Twilight’s Kristen Stewart, but I kind of fucking love her. The very idea that maybe she could give us her own version of a Ripley was pretty exciting to me. In short, it was gonna take a lot to disappoint me.

Flaws be damned, Underwater is a mega energy bomb that comes out of the gate with fists flying and never slows down. Eubank somehow not only squeezes all the pressure he can out of the claustrophobic environment, but also finds a way to deliver on a grand scale. The dirty, dark and grimy found-footage-like camerawork creates a constantly unnerving underwater atmosphere that only adds to the believability of the grandiose finale that can only be described as Lovecraft meets Cloverfield. It’s epic.

If anything, Underwater fully delivers on its promise. Maybe even over-delivers.

Gretel & Hansel (d. Osgood Perkins; Orion Films)

I bleed for slow burn horror and Osgood Perkins always delivers in spades, this time with his hauntingly beautiful Gretel & Hansel, best described as an A24-light fairytale that would pair nicely with The Witch or The Blackcoat’s Daughter. I’m bummed that Orion Pictures is going in a new direction with their horror as they were taking some truly daring swings with their productions.

A theatrical release, Gretel & Hansel is anything but mainstream, as it appears that Orion gave Perkins a paintbrush and let him do whatever the hell he wanted with it; he has such a unique eye and offers something different in a sea of the same. It’s colorful and atmospheric, yet tremendously bleak, feeling unsafe at all times. The result is an impressively atmospheric and gorgeous film that’s also unapologetically dangerous. Add this one to your satanic horror starter pack.

The Invisible Man (d. Leigh Whannell; Universal Pictures)

Leigh Whannell is a horror master, and with The Invisible Man, he finally made the Universal Monsters scary again. I just wanted to forget what was going on in the world and thankfully I haven’t been this immersed in a movie in a long time.

The tension is immediate and never lets up, delivering an unapologetic and punishing horror film that leaves you with all the feels. Whannell is a horror magician, this time using sleight of hand to continually trick the audience, dazzling with a handful of surprises. It’s all fun and games with Whannell, who still manages to give the film a voice and something important to say without hammering the viewers over their heads with the message. As for Elisabeth Moss, she is outstanding, propelling The Invisible Man to all-time great status.

The Hunt (d. Craig Zobel; Universal Pictures)

The world was ending, I was the only one in the supermarket ever wearing a (makeshift) mask, and toilet paper was long gone. My anxiety was through the roof, movie theaters were on the verge of closing, and I had a crushing fear that this pandemic would somehow destroy the business I spent 20 years building. Thankfully, Craig Zobel’s The Hunt was surprise-released on PVOD and provided me with everything I needed at the moment. The Battle Royale-meets-Hostel splatterfest is pure escapism, hitting a sweet spot of bloody and chaotic fun that wasn’t preachy but still managed to shock and awe.

The Hunt is actually surprisingly harmless, and never lets its agenda-less commentary get in the way of having a good time. It aims to please, carrying an unlimited supply of hilarious gore gags and boasting an all-time great performance by the infinitely great Betty Gilpin. Next to Freaky and Monster Hunter, this may be the best popcorn horror film of the year.

We Summon the Darkness (d. Marc Meyers; Saban Films)

The only thing that makes a satanic horror film even better is when you inject it with metal. This year’s Pyewacket is We Summon the Darkness, an 80s-set indie road trip thriller that is blessed with the mesmerizing Alexandra Daddario, who makes us fall in love with her bad side.

The film does an impressive job in its quest for authenticity from the music to the excellent fireside chat about Metallica and Megadeth that I’ve had dozens of times myself. The movie does have a second act lull when the two boys are trapped in the pantry, but the three girls are so entertaining it keeps it all together ahead of the crazy finale.

We Summon the Darkness is just so lovably fun and would pair nicely with other heavy metal horror films like Deathgasm, The Devil’s Candy, Lords of Chaos, Heavy Trip, or even Black Roses.

Unhinged (d. Derrick Borte; Solstice Studios)

Talk about a perfectly-timed quasi-slasher that was nothing short of cathartic in the middle of this nightmarish year.

Unhinged is pure adrenaline, a grimy, grit-your-teeth thriller that pulls no punches and delivers incredibly fun nonstop ultra-violent action.

The film captures the essence of the 1980s with Russell Crowe delivering a vicious performance reminiscent of slashers of that time, and epic Schwarzenegger-esque one-liners that help hammer it all home.

The horror-tinged Unhinged is astoundingly unapologetic and quite brutal, a film that should be nothing short of a home run with Bloody Disgusting readers.

Scare Me (d. Josh Ruben; Shudder/RLJE Films)

This was a rough year and all I wanted to do this fall was get toasty warm next to a fire, drink some whiskey and watch horror movies. The one that really resonated with me was Josh Ruben’s Scare Me, an infectiously fun thriller that would have snuck into my top ten list had I compiled one this year.

Ruben daringly breaks the “show, don’t tell” rule of filmmaking, putting viewers in the classic cabin-the-the-woods setting where Ruben, alongside the always magnetic Aya Cash, share horror campfire stories in an attempt to scare each other silly. Scare Me is pure comfort food, a super fun, hyper-energetic, and engaging film that took me back to the good times where I’d sit around with my friends all night watching horror movies and talking about them until the break of dawn.

The Mortuary Collection (d. Ryan Spindell; Shudder/RLJE Films)

My love for Ryan Spindell‘s The Mortuary Collection cannot be overstated. It’s not just one of the best horror films of the year, but it’s easily one of my favorite horror anthologies ever made.

Anthologies are incredibly hard to execute, especially when you’re attempting to find coherency between all of the shorts. The Mortuary Collection harkens back to the all-time great “Tales from the Crypt” series with the look and feel of last year’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark adaptation, only without the $25 million dollar price tag. From the production design to the special effects, it’s downright shocking how good this independent production is.

The Mortuary Collection not only calls back to some of our favorite horror anthologies, but also legendary filmmakers from Sam Raimi to John Carpenter. It’s a wild and crazy film that has no boundaries and pushes the gross-out gags to the very limit, while also delivering excellent punchlines that the Cryptkeeper would have loved to cackle over.

I only ask one thing from a filmmaker – don’t fucking bore me. With Mortuary Collection, Spindell crafts an infinitely rewatchable and endlessly fun anthology that’s the closest thing we’re getting to a new “Tales From the Crypt” anytime soon.

Freaky (d. Christopher Landon; Universal Pictures)

Christopher Landon is one of the few filmmakers I trust to mix horror and comedy. Happy Death Day and its sequel Happy Death Day 2U have already withstood the test of time, proving to be light-hearted horror classics that are infinitely fun to watch. With Freaky, Landon invents his own Friday the 13th, with this one turning Vince Vaughn into the slasher.

While Friday the 13th didn’t start having fun with its tropes until The Final Chapter, the franchise has become known for its over-the-top fun nature that’s become part of its DNA. Freaky celebrates that “fun” side of the slasher genre, offering up a horrific take on Freaky Friday, imagining if the “final girl” swapped bodies with the killer. It’s clear Landon is a lifelong horror fan as he showers the film with loving tributes, nodding to several slasher greats that all helped set the table for Freaky’s existence.

It’s hard juggling multiple genres, but Landon is a master, understanding that the comedy must come in the context of the scenes and not be jammed in just to provide a moment of slapstick or parody. With that, Freaky is a slasher movie first and foremost, but it’s also extraordinarily fun. Vince Vaughn’s performance is just the icing on the cake.

Monster Hunter (d. Paul W.S. Anderson; Screen Gems)

After an insanely tumultuous year, it’s nice to go out on a high note, especially one this fun. I have a contemptuous relationship with filmmaker Paul W.S. Anderson that has eased over the years. After the nasty, brutal and (at the time) frightening Event Horizon, I expected the same with his adaptation of Resident Evil. For an R-rated zombie movie, it’s extraordinarily light on the blood and guts, and each sequel shambled even further from its horror roots. While Anderson returned for the final three films in the series, he didn’t truly find his voice as a filmmaker until the grand finale.

Paul W.S. Anderson is in final form with Monster Hunter, a fresh start for the filmmaker who puts his love of 80s action “horror” on display, harking back to classics like Aliens (the spider sequence, oh my!) and Predator, and even throwing tribute to Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. It’s big, crazy, nonstop popcorn-munching fun. There’s immense action, a spectacle of special effects (some great, some terrible), and Milla Jovovich shines, as always, alongside the ever-so-charming Tony Jaa. Monster Hunter is far from perfect but it’s exactly the reason theaters exist and it’s kind of a shame that most will be experiencing it at home. I’m really hoping the pandemic doesn’t hurt sequel chances because, god damn, this one is a blast from start to finish.


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