(This article is part of our Best of 2020 series.)
This is one of those ‘technically true’ titles, in that of all the films I saw last year that were released in 2020, these are indeed the top five. Of course, these are the ONLY films released in 2020 that I saw, so… That being said, I did enjoy most of them, and even the lowest film on the list had its moments. Most of the films – well ALL of the films – I did see were horror related, but even in that limited genre I haven’t seen many 2020 releases (like Possessor or La Llorona or even The Invisible Man).
It’s odd to look back on the list of films I was most looking forward to in 2020 and see that only two of them made it into release – and I still haven’t seen either one. I’d tell you which ones I’m most looking forward to in 2021, but I’m afraid of jinxing it. Honestly, I just hope that we’re all well enough to HAVE a theater industry when this is all said and done.
Anyway, is this the list I would make if I’d seen more films? Probably not, but I still enjoyed all of them and think they’re worthy of a look. (You can read my full review for the film by hitting the link in the heading.)
A young couple with issues goes to a beach house just before tourist season and meets an older couple. A fog closes in, conflicts arise and gruesome body horror becomes the order of the day when the fog turns out to be more than it appears. There are some moments of great tension, but there are also far too many lackluster conversations and a certain flat affect to everything that deadens the suspense. Jeffrey A. Brown manages to suffuse everything with a sense of dread, and the last fifteen minutes have some excellent horror moments, but getting there is a bit of a slog at times.
The Mortuary Collection
I do love a good anthology film, and Shudder had a slew of new ones this year with Scare Package, Scare Me and this film by Ryan Spindell (at least partly based around his 2015 short film The Babysitter Murders). The quality of the production is quite high and I love the setting of the framing story – a funeral home in the spooky town of Raven’s End. None of the stories treads any new ground, something the film itself seems to delight in telling us every chance it gets, but well-done horror is its own reward, sometimes. Some of the ‘stories’ are little more than vignettes, but they’re all worth the time it takes to watch. For my money the only part of the film that gives us anything new is the framing story itself, featuring a suitably creepy Clancy Brown as the town mortician and Caitlin Custer as a job applicant with a secret. Good anthology films are hard to come by, but The Mortuary Collection makes it look easy
Host was the only film actually MADE in 2020 that I managed to see this year. It had a significant amount of buzz around it and I’m a sucker for found-footage films, but I did wonder if it had been oversold. Happily, I enjoyed it thoroughly, and it would probably have ended up on this list even if I had watched a ton of other films. Rob Savage and friends got together to make a video call horror film around the idea of a virtual seance gone wrong. It’s not the only “screen footage” horror film, but it managed to ride the zeitgeist of our plague year, making familiar moments of video conference mundanity into elements of dread and horror (I’ll never take Zoom video backgrounds for granted again). It’s not just a gimmick movie, though, managing to deliver both character and scares. Host rides the edge of being a little too long, but manages to come down on the right side of length for me. One of my favorite found-footage films ever, not just this year.
This should probably be my top film of the year. It’s so good. A young refugee couple, Rial and Bol, are given temporary housing in a shabby council estate. They’re haunted by the horrors that they’ve seen, the daughter they’ve lost while fleeing their home, and by horrific, disturbing visions of the dead and something Rial believes is a “night witch” that has followed them to their new country. There’s no real good way to describe His House. It’s a haunted house story, but it’s also about trauma, betrayal and the loneliness of leaving everything you know behind. It’s about the ghosts we flee, and the ghosts we keep with us. It jumped me, it frightened me, and it moved me. Everything you want a great horror film to do.
I freely admit that part of my love for this film has to do with the fact it was the last film I saw in the theater. It was also a great adaptation of one of my favorite H. P. Lovecraft stores, and a bravura return to form for Richard Stanley – who hadn’t worked on a feature film since the disastrous production of The Island of Dr. Moreau in 1996. I loved it when I saw it – making Tommy Chong’s voice into a vehicle of terror was a standout moment – and it’s only grown in my estimation since then. To quote myself: Managing to include much of the creeping terror of the original story, while ditching the undercurrents of class and racism, Richard Stanley’s return to genre filmmaking is fantastic, in more ways than one. Though elements – of both character and plot – are sometimes underwhelming in Color Out of Space, the effect of the whole is one of cosmic horror and existential dread. Just what I want from a Lovecraft adaptation.
And that’s my admittedly limited list of Top Five films for 2020! It could easily be called “The Only Five Films That Bob Saw This Year!” That being said, I think there are some good ones on the list. What’d I miss, though? What horror flicks from 2020 do I absolutely need to see before another year goes by? And what were your Top Five – horror or not?