Entertainment

The Best Horror Movies of 2021 (So Far)

Get spooked.

the queen of black magic
'The Queen of Black Magic' | Shudder
'The Queen of Black Magic' | Shudder

Welcome back! It's our fifth consecutive ongoing "best of horror" annual here at Thrillist—check out our 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 entries here—and we're excited you're back for another run. Horror cinema is tracking to have a banner year in 2021, partly because so many promising genre films got pushed back for pandemic reasons, and also because let's face it: When we're living in scary times, filmmakers make scary films. And sometimes they're really good films. So let's dig in already.

(As always, please remember that the "rankings" are mainly for fun. The top films may have something extra special about them and are truly must-sees if you have limited time, but I firmly recommend every movie on this list. Thanks.)

ALSO READ: The Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Movies of 2021 (So Far)

honeydew
Dark Star Pictures

15. Honeydew

Release date: March 12
Cast: Sawyer Spielberg, Malin Barr, Barbara Kingsley
Writer: Devereux Milburn, Dan Kennedy
Director: Devereux Milburn
Why it's good: It's a touch overlong and more than a little familiar, plot-wise, but there's still something viscerally intense and memorably creepy about this one. It's basically just an artsy take on the stuff we've seen (repeatedly) in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Wrong Turn franchises—clueless city folk arrogantly stumble across a small, disturbing community deep in the woods—but there's still something undeniably effective about its creepiest moments.
Where to watch it: VOD

godzilla vs kong
Warner Bros. Pictures

14. Godzilla vs Kong

Release date: March 31
Cast: Alexander SkarsgĂĄrd, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall
Writer: Eric Pearson, Max Borenstein
Director: Adam Wingard (You're Next)
Why it's good: Sure, the non-kaiju moments aren't quite as diverting as is the full-scale monster mania, but there's just enough humanity on display here to keep things from feeling too much like a Transformers sequel. This enjoyably broad follow-up to Godzilla, Skull Island, and King of the Monsters has all the peaks and valleys of its predecessors—but it also has some of the craziest large-scale kaiju madness... ever! Plus it also works as an eye-popping adventure flick.
Where to watch it: In theaters & HBO Max

in the earth
NEON

13. In the Earth

Release date: April 16
Cast: Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia, Reece Shearsmith
Writer: Ben Whealtey
Director: Ben Wheatley (Kill List)
Why it's good: A researcher and a wilderness guide trek deep into a foreboding forest—during a mysterious pandemic, no less—and come across not only an unhinged madman (of sorts) but also a theory that our planet is simply trying to kill us. Backed by a great Clint Mansell score, this artsy horror flick isn't interested in conventional scares—but it does leave a creepy impression all the same.
Where to watch it: In theaters

slaxx
The Horror Collective

12. Slaxx

Release date: March 18
Cast: Romane Denis, Brett Donahue, Sehar Bhojani
Writers: Elza Kephart, Patricia Gomez
Director: Elza Kephart (Graveyard Alive)
Why it's good: There's always room for another good absurdist horror comedy, and this unholy mixture of So Fine (1981) and Exte: Hair Extensions (2007) is frequently a fast-paced, funny little hoot of a movie. The plot is just a framework on which to hang the flick's willfully silly premise—yes, it's about denim jeans that slaughter lots of people—but the cast is game, the writing is fun, and the carnage is pretty kooky.
Where to watch it: Shudder

willy's wonderland
Screen Media Films

11. Willy's Wonderland

Release date: February 12
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Beth Grant, Emily Tosta
Director: Kevin Lewis
Why it's good: Nicolas Cage locked inside an abandoned arcade with a menagerie of massive murderous monsters? Sign me up. There's also a rudimentary slasher flick structure tossed in to keep things moving, but this flick is at its best when it's just Cage beating the holy hell out of Chuck E. Cheese-style animatronic aggressors and/or a vintage pinball machine. Obviously not much of this is meant to be taken all that seriously, but it still works in a tongue-in-cheek midnight movie sort of way.
Where to watch it: VOD

lucky 2021
Shudder

10. Lucky

Release date: March 4
Cast: Brea Grant, Dhruv Uday Singh, Leith Burke
Writer: Brea Grant
Director: Natasha Kermani (Imitation Girl)
Why it's good: "A young woman finds herself being stalked by an unknown assailant" is how a lot of horror movies open, but this one has a lot more on its mind than just another series of gory dispatches. It's actually a very clever and progressively more compelling "time loop" story that focuses on the cyclical nature of violence and how difficult it is to escape from terrifying memories. (It's also fun, too.)
Where to watch it: Shudder

the power
Shudder

9. The Power

Release date: April 8
Cast: Rose Williams, Diveen Henry, Amy Beth Hayes
Writer: Corinna Faith
Director: Corinna Faith
Why it's good: It's all about the atmosphere in this low-key but entirely engaging British chiller about a nurse forced to work in a dingy old hospital that keeps losing its electricity. It's a simple enough premise, but the location and the production design are top-notch, and the general vibe of the piece is just endlessly eerie. Lead actor Rose Williams delivers some great work too, especially given that the entire movie rests on her shoulders.
Where to watch it: Shudder

jakob's wife
RLJE Films/Shudder

8. Jakob's Wife

Release date: April 16
Cast: Barbare Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Bonnie Aarons
Writer: Travis Stevens, Kathy Charles, Mark Steensland
Director: Travis Stevens (Girl on the Third Floor)
Why it's good: Comedy and horror can be a risky balance sometimes, but when you've got a pair of lead actors who know what's going on, the result can be pretty great. Such is the case here as two genre veterans play a low-key, religious couple who run into a serious vampire problem, and must also contend with some unexpected marital friction at the same time. 
Where to watch it: VOD platforms

the stylist 2021
Arrow Films

7. The Stylist

Release date: March 1
Cast: Brea Grant, Najarra Townsend, Laura Kirk
Writers: Jill Gevargizian, Eric Stolze, Eric Havens
Director: Jill Gevargizian
Why it's good: There is no shortage of compelling horror films that are essentially dark character studies of their main villain, and this nicely shot, dryly amusing slasher flick is the latest addition to the canon. Imagine Maniac (1980 or 2012) only this time around the killer is a highly disturbed hair stylist who likes to collect various souvenirs from her victims. Benefits from a disconcertingly classy visual motif as well as a fantastic lead performance from Najarra Townsend, whom horror fans will know from Contracted (2013).
Where to watch it: VOD

psycho goreman
RLJE Films

6. Psycho Goreman

Release date: January 22
Cast: Nita-Josee Hanna, Owen Myre, Adam Brooks
Writer-director: Steve Kostanski (The Void)
Why it's good: It's a gleefully goofy (and frequently gory) 1980s throwback flick in which a pair of kids befriend (enslave?) a monstrous alien killer. It's all very gory and silly and fun, like a sardonic yet affectionate mockery of Harry and the Hendersons that lands a lot of good laughs through amiable shock value and unapologetic weirdness. The Astron-6 vibe may not work for everyone, but it sure does for me. (Check out Manborg, The Void, and/or The Editor!)
Where to watch it: VOD

prisoners of the ghostland
RLJE Films

5. Prisoners of the Ghostland

Release date: TBD
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Nick Cassavetes
Writers: Aaron Hendry & Reza Sixo Safai
Director: Sion Sono (Cold Fish)
Why it's good: Nicolas Cage leads an eclectic international ensemble in an equally bizarre casserole of sci-fi, western, horror, and dark comedy. Here, Cage is tasked with venturing into a violent netherworld in an effort to rescue an insane kingpin's granddaughter. This movie, which screened at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, might be 10% too "gonzo" for most mainstream viewers, but those who appreciate Cage's current brand of genre insanity will find much to like here.
Where to watch it: TBD

the queen of black magic
Shudder

4. The Queen of Black Magic

Release date: January 29
Cast: Ario Bayu, Hannah Al Rashid, Adhisty Zara
Writer: Joko Anwar (Impetigore)
Director: Kimo Stamboel (Macabre)
Why it's good: A group of old friends gather at the creepy old orphanage in which they were raised, and all hell pretty much breaks loose from the jump. It's a remake of a 1981 film, and one of the coolest, craziest Indonesian horror films of the past several years. If you enjoy this one, you should also check out Satan's Slaves, May the Devil Take You, and May the Devil Take You Too.
Where to watch it: Shudder

dementer
Dark Star Pictures

3. Dementer

Release date: March 2
Cast: Brandy Edmiston, Larry Fessenden, Katie Groshong
Director-writer: Chad Crawford Kinkle (Jug Face)
Why it's good: This low-key shocker deals with a former cult member who begins to worry that her disturbing past is about to catch up with her and spill over into her new role as a caregiver. Backed by some excellent performances and some very disturbing themes, it's one of the year's strangest (and best) indie horror releases.
Where to watch it: VOD

bloodthirsty
Raven Banner Entertainment/Brainstorm Media

2. Bloodthirsty  

Release date: April 23
Cast: Lauren Beatty, Greg Bryk, Katharine King So, Michael Ironside
Writers: Wendy Hill-Tout, Lowell
Director: Amelia Moses (Bleed with Me)
Why it's good: A talented young singer gets the chance to work with a renowned but creepy producer, but of course his studio is located somewhere isolated and of course she goes there anyway. But this woman is carrying a secret of her own, and it might be even worse than her new patron's. Like lots of very clever horror movies, Bloodthirsty starts out in one somewhat conventional direction before heading off in some more creative ones.
Where to watch it: VOD

saint maud
A24

1. Saint Maud

Release date: January 29
Cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Knight
Writer-director: Rose Glass
Why it's good: Call it a low-key character study, a "slow burn" psychological thriller, or just a deeply fascinating tale of religious fervor, but there's no denying that this debut feature from Rose Glass is something special. It's about a young caretaker who is dealing with a crisis of faith—and a crisis of mental health at the worst possible time. To say more would ruin the joy of discovery.
Where to watch it: VOD

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Scott Weinberg is a contributor to Thrillist.
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