It's been a phenomenal year for horror movies, and with spooky season well underway, now is the perfect time to catch up. Since January, we've gotten a brilliant reinvention of a classic slasher franchise, a film that delighted us with its sheer unpredictability, and even a prequel released the same year as the original. Here are all the best horror films of 2022 to watch this Halloween season:
Halloween Ends (Peacock & Theaters)
Say what you will about Halloween Ends, but director David Gordon Green certainly didn't play it safe. His slasher trilogy closes in the most bizarre and unexpected way possible by centering its grand finale around a character we've never even met before. Yes, despite the advertising promising Ends would be all about Laurie Strode's (Jamie Lee Curtis) epic final battle with Michael Myers, that's actually kind of an afterthought. The movie is mostly concerned with a young man named Corey (Rohan Campbell), who's driven down a dark path after being accused of murder.
Admittedly, it's hard not to be disappointed that Ends often doesn't feel like a conclusion to the previous two movies given it's focused on introducing this brand new storyline, which then feels weirdly irrelevant to the actual ending. This plot would have been more appropriate for the second installment in a trilogy, not the third, and definitely not for the final chapter of the entire franchise. Key characters from past films really should have been given more to do (#JusticeForHawkins!), and Corey's romance with Allyson (Andi Matichak) is clunky and unconvincing.
But when viewed as its own thing and as an attempt to shake up the formula 13 movies in, Ends has its merits. Green's trilogy was largely about how Michael Myers infected the town of Haddonfield with grief and rage, so Ends expands on that in a compelling way by looking at what happens when this community that has been haunted by a monster effectively creates another monster, furthering an endless cycle of evil. Even without much Michael, the film still offers some creative, fun kills and shocking twists, and when we finally get to it, the conclusion of Laurie's plot is fairly satisfying — and, thankfully, it's a truly definitive ending.
It's appropriate that Ends pays tribute to Halloween III: Season of the Witch with its blue title cards, as they both may have similar legacies of being movies widely hated upon release for being so different (and for not focusing on Michael Myers), only for fans to gain some appreciation for them over time. Ends is perplexing and frequently frustrating, and it may not be the finale most of us wanted. But it's rare to see a director take such massive swings with a franchise knowing they'll be controversial, so it's hard not to at least admire Green for the effort.
The Hellraiser franchise has been on life support for pretty much the entire 21st century, propped up by sequels pumped out straight to DVD so the studio could maintain the rights. But David Bruckner brings new blood to the series with this grisly, if seriously overlong, reboot.
Odessa A'zion stars as a young woman dealing with drug and alcohol addiction when she comes across a puzzle box that summons the beings known as the Cenobites, including their leader, Pinhead. Bruckner wisely doesn't follow the original film's plot beat for beat, spinning up a new take that functions as a good jumping-in point for newcomers, but with enough of the first movie's DNA. The Cenobites are all gross and intimidating, and the movie is appropriately nasty, featuring several truly sadistic beats; even so, some fans will definitely wish it had gone further. Jamie Clayton, though, is creepy as our new Pinhead and a worthy replacement for original star Doug Bradley.
The main issue is that this reboot overstays its welcome at a needless two hours compared to the tight 93-minute original. But if your bar for a new Hellraiser is that it makes you wince on a regular occasion, the reimagining clears it.
Men (Video on demand)
Alex Garland's Men, which primarily explores toxic masculinity, could never be accused of being subtle. But the film from the director of Ex Machina and Annihilation is worth a watch in spite of its flaws if only to witness some of the most bizarre imagery of any movie released this year.
Jessie Buckley stars as a woman, Harper, who wants to spend some time alone in the countryside after the death of her abusive husband, but she soon finds herself terrorized by a series of men who all inexplicably look like Rory Kinnear. Kinnear gets to have a lot of fun as these increasingly awful men, including a young boy at one point, though Harper never seems to notice the resemblance between them all. Buckley also shines, not that we'd expect any less of her.
Everything Men is trying to say regarding the ways men can be toxic to women is fairly overt. But it sticks the landing thanks to the hilariously creative, revolting final 15 minutes, which really must be seen to be believed. The narrative isn't always the most compelling, but this is a director who knows how to craft an image that stays with us, whether we want it to or not.
Orphan: First Kill (Paramount+)
There's quite a bit about Orphan: First Kill that doesn't really work. The film is a prequel to 2009's Orphan, which (spoiler alert!) revealed that Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) is actually a 33-year-old woman with a disorder making her look like a 9-year-old child. Yet even though Isabelle Fuhrman is now in her 20s, she reprises Esther in First Kill, set before the original — meaning a 25-year-old is meant to appear as a child.
It's a wild conceit, and in the movie, the effect is unconvincing; it's always obvious when body doubles are being used or when Fuhrman is simply kneeling on the ground. But this only adds to the film's schlocky appeal, and First Kill comes recommended with that caveat mainly because of the way it pulls the rug out from under the viewer yet again. The 2009 movie was famous for its big reveal, and for a while, First Kill seems like an inferior prequel, given the true nature of what's going on is clear from the start.
But suffice to say, that turns out to not be the case, and it somehow manages to surprise us a second time, but in a totally different way than the original. Whatever you do, just don't take First Kill too seriously.
Significant Other (Paramount+)
It's been a strong year for It Follows star Maika Monroe, who leads two new horror films that are both worth catching up on.
The most recent is Significant Other, in which Monroe plays a woman with severe anxiety who reluctantly goes on a backpacking trip into the woods with her boyfriend, played by Jake Lacy. Most of the film is a two-hander between Monroe and Lacy, the latter of whom is clearly having an absolute blast with a juicy role. At a certain point, Significant Other seems like it's going for the record of "most plot turns in a 2022 film." It throws us a huge curve ball not too far in, at which point we feel we have a good sense of what the rest of the movie will look like. But Significant Other has an even bigger surprise up its sleeve from there, and it keeps changing its shape until late in the game to keep us on our toes.
Though it's a bit light and not exactly an A24 film, it also has a few things to say about anxiety and the fear of partners changing into different people as a relationship progresses. At times, it does verge into somewhat familiar, "Annihilation lite" territory. But if you're looking for a succinct horror film with some sci-fi mixed in, look no further, as without credits, it isn't even 80 minutes long. Need we say more?
Everyone's least favorite part of the V/H/S movies tends to be the wrap-around segments. So five films in, the franchise has finally decided, hey, let's just get rid of them!
Like the four previous installments, V/H/S/99 is an anthology consisting of unrelated found footage horror shorts, though it's the first that makes no real attempt to connect them around a larger story. Of the five segments this time, the only outright dud is the first, "Shredding," in which a seriously annoying punk rock band explores a possibly haunted music venue. But the others all have at least a few worthwhile scares or laughs, even if none would likely make a list of the series' greatest hits.
One of the highlights is the claustrophobic second segment, "Suicide Bid," in which a college student trying to get into a sorority is forced to spend a night in a coffin. Another fun one is the closer, "To Hell And Back," where two friends literally end up in hell on New Year's Eve 1999. Made by the filmmakers behind this year's Deadstream, that segment is absolutely wild and ridiculous but also a total blast. The other two segments, "Ozzy's Dungeon" and "The Gawkers," both meander somewhat but have decent payoffs, though the former doesn't really fully capitalize on its killer premise (a messed up look at a Legends of the Hidden Temple or Double Dare style game show).
V/H/S/99 at times takes the series too over the top — as you can imagine when one of the segments is literally set in hell — so it would be wise for the next installment to dial things back with more restrained chills. But the appeal of the franchise remains that it offers a varied grab bag of spooky treats that don't overstay their welcome, so it continues to make for ideal Halloween season viewing. Keep these coming every year, please.
No movie in recent memory has made more freaky use of bird sounds than Hatching. The disgusting Finnish film revolves around a young girl whose influencer mother runs a blog that would lead you to believe her life is utterly perfect. She comes across an egg that mysteriously grows to be as big as her, and soon enough, it hatches.
Hatching clearly doesn't have the absolute biggest budget in the world, so initially, we're not expecting much from whatever's inside this egg. But then the film brings us a shockingly impressive creature brought to life using practical effects, which is on screen all the time and looks fantastic. The film combines the bones of a classic creature feature with that of a body horror film, which eerily contrasts with the blissful facade the girl's mother is projecting to the world.
It truly can't be overstated how effective Hatching's sound design and practical effects are, and every croak and slurp from the creature gets under our skin. If you're already afraid of birds, the movie is sure to terrify even before the creature has done much, and at the film's core is a story about the dangers of parents placing their children under immense pressure. Hatching has a lot to offer in a modest package.
Why won't people stop stalking Maika Monroe in movies? Eight years after she starred in It Follows, Monroe leads the Hitchcockian thriller Watcher (not to be confused with Netflix's The Watcher) as a young woman, Julia, who moves to Bucharest and comes to believe a man is stalking her.
From its opening credits that zoom out to show Julia being intimate with her boyfriend in front of a large window, the film plays on the uncomfortable feeling of being watched combined with the terrifying loneliness of not being believed. Even though a known serial killer has been decapitating women in the area, Julia's own boyfriend is skeptical when she says she's in danger, and the initial encounters with the stalker are just subtle enough that police can't immediately arrest him; a particularly spine-tingling moment sees him sit directly behind her in a movie theater, breathing down her neck. Even we begin to question whether that serial killer really is on her tail or it's just an unrelated weird man, and the fact that Julia is in a foreign country and doesn't speak the language only adds to her crushing isolation.
Watcher is a slow burn, so don't expect an emphasis on scares, and the story isn't anything groundbreaking. But it's polished and efficient, and the payoff is worth the build-up.
Another year, another horror-thriller anchored by a masterful Rebecca Hall performance.
Last year we had The Night House, and 2022 brings us Resurrection, both must-sees if only because Hall is at the top of her game in them. In this case, she stars as a mother, Margaret, who begins spiraling after an abusive man from her past re-emerges. Tim Roth plays that man in a restrained but unnerving fashion, especially early on as he hovers in the corners of Hall's life tormenting her without technically doing anything illegal. But it's Hall who commands every frame, at one point busting out a show-stopping seven-minute monologue that would put her in the conversation for an Oscar if horror movies were actually taken seriously by the Academy.
The film smartly plays with our perception of reality throughout, forcing us to question how much of this is in Margaret's head and how much of what we hear recounted is true, as it explores themes of trauma from abusive relationships and how far a mother would go to hold onto her child. Resurrection features little to no overt scares, so like Watcher, it's ideal for those looking for something more on the thriller side. Still, expect some harrowing imagery and ideas, some of which aren't even depicted on screen; we're forced to picture it for ourselves.
Speak No Evil (Shudder)
Sometimes we'd rather die than be slightly impolite. That's one of the takeaways from the twisted Danish film Speak No Evil, where a husband and wife stay for a few days with a Dutch couple they barely know after meeting them on vacation.
Things take a dark turn, but first in a subtle way that ratchets up gradually. They're subjected to a series of indignities throughout the stay that make them uncomfortable, and the movie revels in the horror of these agonizing little microaggressions and insults, from being cornered into paying for dinner to having someone walk in and use the bathroom while you're taking a shower. We find ourselves screaming at the couple to just get the heck out, but they stay for far longer than they should, largely out of a desire not to be rude.
So the film serves as a clever commentary on our tendency to be passive and avoid confrontation to an extreme degree, leading to disastrous consequences and culminating in the year's most disturbing ending — and a chilling four-word closing line that's hard to forget. Be warned, though: Parents of young kids may want to avoid this one.
What if Logan Paul was tossed into a found-footage film? You might think it would be insufferable, but Deadstream ends up being a hilarious and spooky good time offering a steady stream of laughs and scares.
Joseph Winter (who also co-directs) stars as a YouTuber, Shawn, who's losing sponsors after a controversial stunt, so he attempts to turn his career around by live streaming himself spending a night in a haunted house. Shawn is clearly inspired by real YouTubers like Logan Paul and controversies like his "suicide forest" debacle, and the character is always performing for the camera, so some viewers may find him intolerable as a protagonist.
But what makes the film work is that unlike some real YouTubers, Shawn is irritating, yes, but also legitimately funny — though not always intentionally. It might be the funniest found-footage movie ever, in fact. Our protagonist's absurd cowardice is effectively played for laughs, as are the comments from his live viewers, who brutally roast him even when he's in real danger. But the laughs don't detract from the scares, and though Deadstream takes its time getting going, once it does, we're off to the races with plenty of jump-worthy jolts and impressive-looking ghosts. Watching it is like walking through a haunted house with your slightly grating friend, who finally wears you down into laughing with him.
A cross between It Follows and The Ring, Smile is nothing horror junkies haven't seen before, likely a few times. But it's a surprisingly scary version of that, and far better than it really needed to be.
Sosie Bacon stars as Rose, a psychiatrist whose patient violently dies by suicide in front of her while smiling ear to ear. Soon, Rose begins seeing and hearing things, including people staring at her with a sinister smile, and comes to believe she's been cursed. The ensuing investigation into this apparent curse borrows heavily from The Ring, complete with an abrupt cut to a person's twisted face. But Smile is packed with memorable scares along its familiar journey, the best of which don't actually involve the eerie smile that has dominated the advertising, but the realization that the person Rose is speaking to isn't who they appear.
It also has more on its mind than you'd expect, dealing with the way trauma can be an endless cycle, though a few dialogue scenes could have used tightening up. But if you're looking for a scare machine that will make you jump consistently without insulting your intelligence, Smile gets the job done. That being said, shame on you, Paramount, for giving away the movie's best scare in the trailer.
X (Video on demand) & Pearl (Theaters)
Who would have guessed going into 2022 we'd get not one, but two entries in an excellent new slasher series before Halloween?
In March, Ti West brought us the bloody satisfying Texas Chain Saw Massacre-inspired X, which follows a film crew who travel to a Texas ranch to shoot a pornographic movie, only to be terrorized by the farm's elderly owners. West delivers everything a throwback slasher should, showing respect for the genre's fundamentals with plenty of gory kills, but while not being afraid to mess around with its tropes.
Namely, West subverts one of the oldest slasher cliches, the idea that those who have sex must be punished and the final girl is an innocent virgin, and extrapolates it into a story about our obsession with youth and fear of aging. He even has us sympathizing with the killers at times, making for the only slasher you'll see where the villain gets an emotional montage set to "Landslide." Jenna Ortega is phenomenal, but the movie belongs to Mia Goth, who not only plays the lead, Maxine, but is also unrecognizable as the villain, Pearl.
Just six months later, West delivered a surprise prequel, Pearl, shot in secret before X even came out. Set in the 1910s, it flashes back to show the titular antagonist from X when she was a young woman, again starring Goth.
Wisely, West doesn't attempt to recreate X but goes for something entirely different, this time aping the style of early technicolor films like The Wizard of Oz — and there's even a truly unhinged scarecrow scene. Rather than an ensemble slasher where our leads are picked off one by one, it's more a contained character study of Pearl and the downward spiral she experiences sparked by her thirst for fame and validation. Don't worry, though: There's still blood and guts.
Goth turns in an even more stunning performance in Pearl than in the original X, and just like Resurrection, the highlight is a mind-blowing monologue she busts out near the end all in the same shot. The story beats in Pearl do feel more familiar than they did in X, and it's never as surprising as its predecessor. But it makes for a solid double feature paired with the original, and as a Goth acting showcase, it shouldn't be missed.
How do you reinvent a franchise as self-aware as Scream? By commenting on the idea of reinventing a franchise, of course.
In the style of 2018's Halloween or Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the latest Scream is "not quite a reboot, not quite a sequel," as one character puts it, mixing a new and returning cast while poking fun at this "requel" phenomenon sweeping Hollywood. As the best Scream films do, it incisively satirizes the genre and everything happening in the entertainment industry, especially by roasting toxic fans — Star Wars fans, in particular — for throwing a fit whenever a franchise tries anything different.
The new characters are instantly likable, including Melissa Barrera's Sam but especially Jenna Ortega's Tara, and David Arquette gives his best performance as Dewey in the series. Plus, the whodunnit elements are particularly well done this time, and Ghostface is as scary and brutal as ever. The idea of anyone else directing a Scream movie after Wes Craven's death was a dicey proposition. But directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett's love for Craven is apparent, to the point that they even figure out a way to have the characters themselves pay tribute to him in an ingenious meta twist. Wes would be proud.
Barbarian (HBO Max)
Barbarian is the Malignant of 2022: An absolutely wild new horror flick that came out of nowhere to defy all expectations, and like Malignant, it must be viewed as quickly as possible before someone ruins it for you.
The plot ostensibly involves a woman, played by Georgina Campbell, who books an Airbnb while she's in town for a job interview. But she finds a man, played by Bill Skarsgård, is already staying there, having also booked the same house. Is this just an honest mix-up, or is something more sinister happening? Little more can be said without giving anything away, but Barbarian is certainly not the generic thriller that description, and even the trailer, would lead you to believe.
Part of the film's appeal lies in its utter unpredictability and the experience of director Zach Cregger setting up a boilerplate premise, only to gleefully veer off the rails. After a certain left turn happens, the excitement that comes with having no sense of where the story is going anymore is an utter delight. Cregger manages to replicate that feeling a few more times, which is especially impressive given he's never directed a horror film before. Dropping spoilers for Barbarian should be a capital offense.
Bodies Bodies Bodies (Video on demand)
Bodies Bodies Bodies may be remembered as the defining Gen Z horror film.
The whip-smart satire follows a group of rich friends who gather for a hurricane party, where they play a murder-mystery game, but paranoia begins to spread as one of them dies for real. The film spends its first act carefully developing the relationships between the friends, only for everyone's fake niceties to slowly disappear, as their simmering hatred for each other boils to the surface in a highly entertaining fashion. In the process, Bodies Bodies Bodies sharply skewers its twenty-somethings' privilege, obsession with how they're perceived, and especially their tendency to get so wrapped up in their own world that they can't see what's really happening around them and jump too quickly to conclusions.
Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Myha'la Herrold, Chase Sui Wonders, and Rachel Sennott are all excellent and believable as friends — or fake friends, at least — with a history together, but Sennott is the clear stand-out. The film provides more killer laughs and quotable one-liners than many outright comedies, but the mystery also keeps us guessing, and while the solution isn't obvious, it feels thematically right the moment it hits. Bodies Bodies Bodies is a future cult classic in the making.
Nope (Video on demand)
What if Jordan Peele made Jaws? It would probably look a lot like Nope, a summer blockbuster spectacle about the nature of spectacle itself.
Peele's brilliant third film sees him put his stamp on the UFO genre, with Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer starring as a brother and sister who train horses for Hollywood productions. When a UFO appears near their ranch, their first thought isn't to run and hide but to attempt to capture footage, hoping it will make them rich and famous.
As is always the case, Peele has a lot on his mind, almost too much to be contained in one movie. He examines our obsession with creating and experiencing spectacle, as well the way trauma is commodified, exploited, and turned into content. It's also a commentary on moviemaking, the way the film industry mistreats its workers, and the erasure of Black people from the history of Hollywood. There's plenty more that can be read into Nope, but even stripping away all the metaphors, it's just a well-crafted UFO horror story, combining spectacular sights with Peele's trademark chills, and he makes particularly unsettling use of the sound of screams.
If the question is whether Peele is the most exciting new horror director to emerge in the last five years, Nope suggests the answer is a resounding yup.
Update Oct. 27: This story has been updated to include V/H/S/99