By Naomi Roper
It’s that time again for our annual countdown of the best horror films of 2023. This year was a solid year for mainstream horror and a banner year for festival hits with the majority of our top 10 featuring indie horror films. We were lucky enough to attend Soho Horror, Celluloid Screams, TriBeca, LFF and Frightfest this year and will be looking to attend some new film festivals in 2024. Before we get into the Top 10 here are our favourite performers and scenes of the year along with a few films that didn’t quite make the top 20:
Horror Performances of the Year – Alyssa Sutherland (Evil Dead Rise), Jenna Kanell (Faceless After Dark), Juliette Gariépy (Red Rooms), Sophie Wilde (Talk to Me), Nick Stahl (What You Wish For), Antony Starr (Cobweb).
Horror scenes of the Year – Courtroom sequence in Red Rooms, Man v Car in Suitable Flesh, Ellie cooks eggs in Evil Dead Rise and ladder sequence in Scream VI
Piper – hands down my favourite festival experience of the year with Elisabeth Hurley battling line readings, CGI rats and the Pied Piper of Hamlin. Made to be watched with a rowdy crowd at The Prince Charles Cinema in London.
Dark Harvest – fantastic world-building as the boys of a small town in the 1950’s must battle a supernatural creature that comes to life each year. Suffused with melancholy.
The Coffee Table – the darkest of dark comedies with a central accident so atrocious that you just can’t take it seriously. Imagine the blackest, sickest comedy of manners you can imagine.
Renfield – Nic Cage as Dracula and Nicholas Hoult wearing soft fluffy jumpers as his sidekick. What more do you need to know?
Infinity Pool – Mia Goth living her best life and Alexander Skarsgard in a dog collar. A fun, creepy, weird ride.
20 –Falling Stars
In a world in which witches are real and come to earth to harvest humans once a year three brothers unwisely visit the grave of a witch. Needs some judicious editing (all the scenes in the radio station go absolutely nowhere and slow the pace to a crawl) but fantastic world-building and stellar performances.
Falling Stars screened at Celluloid Screams 2023.
19 – When Evil Lurks
Writer/director Demian Rugna follows up his much-loved chiller Terrified with this tale of demons loose in the modern world. Fascinating world-building and some truly gnarly sequences are let down by a script that doesn’t really go anywhere. It doesn’t help that the protagonists are somewhat dim bulbs. The less said about the inclusion of autism as a symptom of demonic possession the better. You won’t be able to get certain scenes out of your head but you’ll forget how the movie ends. Still, I’d love to see more in this world with a much more cohesive script.
When Evil Lurks is available to stream on Shudder and can be rented/bought on Amazon
18 – Clock
A woman pressured by her husband and father to have children visits a mysterious clinic which promises to reset her biological clock. It does not go well. Gaslighting and body horror abound in this intriguing look at the overwhelming societal pressure women are under to become mothers.
Clock is available to stream on Disney Plus in the UK.
17 – Beau is Afraid
Ari Aster’s divisive follow-up to Midsommar proved too elusive for mainstream cinema-goers (maybe it was the giant cock monster?) but will no doubt get a second life on streaming. Joaquin Phoenix is exceptional as ever as Beau – a man travelling home to his mother’s funeral. Beau is Afraid is a tragi-comic journey through Dante’s 9 circles of hell with Patti LuPone as the monstrous mother at the centre. It’s the sort of movie that features a lengthy and beautiful animation sequence which is simply the build-up to a sex joke. Features the needle drop of the year- you’ll never look at Mariah Carey the same way again. Arguably overlong but a cult classic in the making.
Beau is Afraid is available to buy on Amazon.
16 – The Pope’s Exorcist
Russell Crowe stars as the Pope’s Exorcist dispatched to deal with a possession at the home of Julia (Alex Essoe of Flanagan series (Midnight Mass, Bly Manor etc) and Starry Eyes fame). Look is this a good movie? No. Is this a ridiculously fun movie that I have watched 4 times already? Yes, yes yes. Russell Crowe complete with a comedy Italian accent is having an absolute whale of a time and most importantly knows precisely what he is doing and what movie he is in. That’s why it’s such fun. It’s great to watch something where you can see the actor was just having a riot making it. Where’s my sequel?
The Pope’s Exorcist is available to buy on Amazon now
15 – Monolith
Clever, hypnotic storytelling as a woman riding out a professional catastrophe hides out in her parents’ palatial pad and starts a podcast where she becomes obsessed with tales of mysterious oblong sculptures that just appear on people’s doorsteps. Starring Evil Dead Rise’s Lily Sullivan this was a pandemic shoot with Sullivan front and centre throughout interacting with other actors only on phone calls or Zoom. Combines all my favourite things – conspiracies, sacred geometry and an overwhelming sense of dread.
Monolith screened at Frightfest 2023
14 – There’s Something Wrong with the Children
Two couples (one with two kids, one childless) visit a ruin with a mysterious cavern while on holiday. This is a rookie error as the correct thing to do when spotting mysterious ruins is to run away in the opposite direction. The children start to act strangely and chaos reigns. I do love an evil kid movie and the two in this are especially vicious. Huge fun and deserves to be seen by a much wider audience.
There’s Something Wrong with the Children is currently streaming on Paramount Plus in the US and Canada.
13 – Scream VI
Ghostface takes Manhattan. Badly let down by dull killers and an undue focus on Sam struggling with having a serial killer as a father) Scream VI has one of the most vicious sequences in the franchise where our heroes have to escape Ghostface by crawling across a precarious ladder propped between two apartment windows. It’s a shame that Scream VII seems to have self-immolated due to a series of increasingly poor decisions from the powers that be. If this is the end of the franchise (for now) it’s not a bad swansong but maybe it’s time to let Ghostface rest in peace.
Scream VI is available to stream on Paramount Plus and can be bought on Amazon
12 – Thanksgiving
Eli Roth is a deeply problematic soul so it pains me to tell you that Thanksgiving (directed by Roth from a screenplay by Jeff Rendell) is a stone-cold banger and the slasher of the year. After a Black Friday sale turns into a rampage a killer in a pilgrim mask appears to take his bloody revenge on those involved. Many gruesome deaths ensue including a “creative” use of a Christmas Turkey. All the (thinly drawn) protagonists are awful meaning you don’t feel too bad about any of the deaths. The Boston setting provides us with many excellent Boston accents and the kills are huge fun. Nasty, bloody, gruesome fun. Also delighted to see that Patrick Dempsey is having something of a career renaissance. Blatant sequel grubbing in the last 30 seconds but they’ll be a fool if they don’t continue it. Slasher of the year.
Thanksgiving was released in cinemas and will be coming to home video soon.
11 – Lovely Dark and Deep
The directorial debut of Teresa Sutherland (the writer of hugely underrated horror The Wind) Lovely Dark and Deep stars Barbarian’s Georgina Campbell as a woman drowning in grief and searching for something she has lost in the unforgiving landscape of a US national park. Eerie and unsettling.
Lovely Dark and Deep screened at Fantasia International Film Festival.
10 – Red Rooms
A dark queasy look at humanity’s fascination with violence from writer/director Pascal Plante. Features the most interesting protagonist of the year in Kelly-Anne (Juliette Gariépy). Kelly-Anne’s motivations are truly murky. Is she an avenging angel? A true crime junkie? A desperately sick woman who gets a perverse thrill from seeing the unseeable? It’s a chilling and fascinating performance. The movie is scalpel precise in what violence it chooses to show and its soundscape is the stuff of nightmares. The courtroom sequence is jaw-droppingly obscene.
Red Rooms screened at the London Film Festival.
9 – Talk to Me
The buzziest horror of the year. Talk to Me sees directors Danny and Michael Philippou crafting a fun modern take on possession as dumb teens use a mummified hand to talk to ghosts. Sophie Wilde gives the horror breakthrough performance of the year as Mia who becomes obsessed with talking to her dead mother. Mia is already an outsider in her group (there is a nasty undercurrent of racism to all the teens dealings with her) and the spirits know exactly what buttons to press. I didn’t rate Talk to Me that much when I first saw it but on re-watch this is an impressively cruel movie with Mia no match for the supernatural forces she encounters. Arguably pulls its punches with the final scene but hugely impressive storytelling.
Talk to Me is currently streaming on Netflix UK and is available to rent/buy on Amazon
8 – Suitable Flesh
Joe Lynch has a whale of a time directing a very loose gender-swapped version of Lovecraft’s The Thing on the Doorstep. Heather Graham and Barbara Crampton are both superb in this very sexy, silly, fun body horror. Judah Lewis became the boy everyone was thirsting over in his role as Asa, a troubled teen whom Heather Graham’s psychiatrist unwisely gets emotionally involved with. Plays out like a 90’s erotic thriller just with Lovecraftian body switching ancient entities. Huge fun and Graham and Crampton are both goddesses.
Suitable Flesh is available to rent/buy now and is coming to Shudder in January.
7 – Where the Devil Roams
The Addams family triumphs once again with this beautiful, hyper-stylised look at a violent carny family struggling to stay together despite poverty, PTSD and death trying to rip them apart. Toby Poser is heartbreaking as the violent mother prepared to do anything to keep her family safe. The score is haunting and the black-and-white cinematography is beautiful. Be warned – the titular poem (written by Toby Poser) will never leave your head.
Where the Devil Roams is available on VOD in the US.
6 – Cobweb
Not sure the distributors could have messed up this release more if they tried. Released in August in the US and September in the UK this is a movie made to be watched during Halloween season. It reeks of decay & pumpkin spice lattes. Antony Starr (The Boys) is genuinely frightening as an unhinged patriarch whose son is convinced something is living in his walls. Directed by Samuel Bodin (who also directed the superb French horror series Marianne) Cobweb is a chilly, Halloween classic in the making anchored by fine performances from Starr, Lizzy Caplin as his terrified/deranged wife and Woody Norman as the scared son. A fun thrill ride and much more violent than you might expect.
Cobweb is available to buy now.
5 – New Life
Writer/director John Rosman blew us away with this tense, cleverly constructed look at the lives of two very different women. Hayley Erin plays a mysterious woman on the run while Elsa (Sonya Walger) is the fixer facing a life-changing medical diagnosis who is tasked with finding her. Another one best watched completely cold. The movie is a slow burn taking a little while before you realise why it’s on a best horror list but when it gets there? Terrifying. The two female leads are superb and it all builds to a climax that is quietly emotionally devastating. “
New Life screened at Frightfest 2023.
4 – Faceless After Dark
Jenna Kanell of Terrifier fame stars as Bowie, a woman who found fame in a killer clown movie and now has to cope with an overly obsessive fandom that sends her filth in her DMs, an industry that doesn’t respect her, a girlfriend that isn’t yet quite ready to live her truth and a legacy contract from the clown movie that doesn’t give her merch rights. But when an intruder comes to call things go a little differently than you might expect. Jenna Kanell (who also co-wrote the film along with Todd Jacobs) is sexy, fierce and fearless in this fun slasher. 90 minutes of screaming feminist rage as Bowie decides it’s time to pay back those who have wronged her. Loved every single second.
Faceless After Dark screened at Frightfest 2023.
3- What You Wish For
Ryan (Nick Stahl) is a down-on-his-luck chef who accepts an invite from his old culinary school buddy to visit him on his latest private chef posting in Latin America. Ryan is hiding from loan sharks and blown away by the glitz and glamour of his friend’s lifestyle even though Ryan might just be the better chef. But when something very unexpected happens Ryan gets swept up into a new life against his better judgement and discovers that the grass is not always greener. As the title says careful what you wish for. What You Wish For (from writer/director Nicholas Tomnay) is an absolute banger that deserves a wide audience. The deserved winner of the audience award at Celluloid Screams 2023 it’s a fun puzzle box of a movie that takes its sweet time revealing its secrets. Nick Stahl is fantastic as the very pragmatic Ryan just trying to keep afloat. Tense, funny and very clever What You Wish For is a delight.
What You Wish For screened at Celluloid Screams 2023.
2 – Good Boy
So, so wrong. Girl meets guy on dating app. Girl finds out guy is (a) a millionaire and (b) keeps a man in a dog suit as a pet. Girl allows point a to overcome her understandable concern re point b. Girl has the survival instincts of a suicidal lemming. Good Boy is short, sharp, nasty, and perverted wrongness from writer/director Viljar Boe in his pitch-black comedy follow-up to the criminally underseen Til Freddy. Go in cold. You won’t regret it.
Good Boy is available to rent or buy on Amazon
1 – Evil Dead Rise
Lee Cronin triumphs in this sleek nasty re-boot of the much beloved Evil Dead franchise. Despite a solid (if unremarkable) remake in 2013 the Evil Dead franchise has struggled to move on from the long shadow cast by its creators Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi but with Evil Dead Rise we finally have a terrifying new entry worthy of the Evil Dead name. Alyssa Sutherland stars as Ellie, a single mother struggling to raise her kids in her crumbling apartment building. When an earthquake reveals the Necronomicon and vinyls containing the rituals needed to raise the Deadites Ellie’s wannabe DJ son plays them and chaos ensues. Sutherland is terrifying as Deadite Ellie, a cold thing made of cruelty. Her first act is a twisted, perverted version of maternal love as she seeks to feed her children while daydreaming about what their insides look like. Lily Sullivan is fantastic as the sister struggling with her discovery that she is about to become a mother while dealing with the horrors that have been unleashed in her sister’s building. Impressive practical effects and gallons of fake blood keep the gore hounds happy. It also features hands down the best title card of the year. Gory, horrifying and cold Evil Dead Rise is the best horror of 2023.
Evil Dead Rise is now available to buy and is currently streaming on Netflix UK.