The horror genre is experiencing a boom in both quantity and quality. 2021 has continued that trend and today’s episode caught up with some of the horror films released this year. Here is a rundown of the films reviewed on the show as well as a few titles released earlier this year. (Note: this is by no means a comprehensive list of this year’s horror movies but it is a directory of the 2021 releases reviewed thus far on this show.)
Fear Street Trilogy – A triptych of films based on the books by R. L. Stine. In 1994, a group of teenagers living in a tragedy-plagued community discover the source of the curse bedeviling their town. They trace its origins to events in 1978 and later to 1666. Each film tells an engaging standalone tale of terror while the trilogy interconnects in ways that are smart and produce a whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts.
Malignant – In James Wan’s latest, a woman (Annabelle Wallis) has visions of brutal murders. As people start showing up dead, she is implicated in the crimes. Malignant gained a lot of notoriety because of its outrageous twist but there’s nothing to the movie beyond its gimmick.
The Unholy – A disgraced journalist (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) stumbles upon an apparent miracle as a mute teenage girl (Cricket Brown) gains the ability to speak and communicates messages allegedly from the Virgin Mary. But something sinister may be at work. This is an acceptable piece of religious horror but it’s frustrating because it had the potential to be great.
Censor – Set in the UK during the video nasties panic of the 1980s, a BBFC film censor becomes obsessed with the work of a sleezy director, believing that his films are connected to the disappearance of her sister. Censor is a smart and skillfully made horror picture that is unnerving for its visceral shocks but also for the way illusion and reality bleed into one another.
The Power – In 1974, labor strikes caused a power shortage in London that forced overnight blackouts. A nurse is assigned to work the graveyard shift in a hospital where she encounters a supernatural presence. The Power is fundamentally a haunted house picture but it sets up a complex web of relationships and uses the supernatural to dramatize the intersection of gender and labor conflicts.
Slumber Party Massacre – 1981’s The Slumber Party Massacre satirized the slasher genre while also fulfilling many of the conventions that audiences expected to see. The 2021 remake replicates the basic premise—young women are threatened by a killer with a power drill—but it enhances the satire.
V/H/S/94 – The fourth entry in the anthology franchise is one of the better horror anthologies of recent years and one of the best entries in this series. Despite the weak wraparound story, each of the four primary segments are consistently good and offer a variety of stories and scares.
Jakob’s Wife – A minister’s wife (Barbara Crampton) develops a thirst for blood after an encounter with a vampire. She rediscovers a lust for life that is at odds with her traditional marriage. The film is at its strongest when it plays for domestic drama and dark comedy. This is likely to become a favorite among cult audiences and vampire fans.
Boys From County Hell – In a rural Irish town, a group of road construction workers disturb the tomb of a vampire. The reawakened creature wreaks havoc on the town. Recalling 1981’s An American Werewolf in London, this film brings new life to familiar horror tropes by combining the vampire story with compelling characters, a sense of humor, and a palatable sense of place.
Candyman – This sequel to the 1992 film returns to the Chicago neighborhood of the original movie. An artist (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) creates paintings about the urban myth of the Candyman and people around him begin to die. The new Candyman movie will likely be embraced by academics because it’s a thoughtful film that offers a lot to unpack but it falls short on narrative coherence and the visceral thrills becoming of a horror picture.
The Night House – A recently widowed woman (Rebecca Hall) investigates her late husband’s life after his suicide. She discovers an identical house in the woods nearby and begins to suspect that a supernatural presence is haunting her home. This is an exceptional film offering the suspense and scares of a haunted house picture while also exploring something deeper about grief.
Don’t Breathe 2 – In this sequel to the 2016 film, a group of criminals invade the home of blind military veteran Norman Nordstrom (Stephen Lang) and intend to kidnap his adopted daughter (Madelyn Grace). Don’t Breathe 2 can’t recapture the surprise or effective simplicity of its predecessor but this is a good sequel.
Old – Vacationers at a tropical resort discover an isolated beach where their bodies age quickly. They try to find a way off the beach while coping with the maladies of aging. While nowhere near the worst of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies, Old is disappointing because there’s a great film buried in there somewhere.
The Forever Purge – The fifth film in The Purge series is among the best. The morning after the annual murder holiday, a group of purgers ignore the end of the holiday and continue killing, with the goal of politically and ethnically cleansing the United States. The film’s political commentary is as relevant and provocative as ever but The Forever Purge also has more interesting characters and better action scenes than the other entries.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It – In the third film in The Conjuring series, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) assist in the defense of a young man who committed murder while possessed. The film’s technical qualities are a mixed bag of interesting visuals and obnoxious sound design. But this story offers something a little more interesting than most other installments of this series.
A Quiet Place Part II – Immediately following the events of the previous movie, a widowed mother (Emily Blunt) and her children return to town in search of help. The family encounters an old friend (Cillian Murphy) who helps them combat the monsters that have overrun Earth. The movie doesn’t have the impact of its predecessor but it does recapture much of what was so successful in the first film while expanding the story and deepening the themes.
Army of the Dead – After a zombie outbreak envelops Las Vegas, the government quarantines the city and plans to wipe it out with a nuclear bomb. A team of thieves and military veterans are recruited to steal the contents of a casino vault before the bomb is dropped. In usual Zack Snyder fashion, the movie is overambitious and underdeveloped but this is a fun piece of action and horror.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw – In this spinoff of the Saw series, a killer targets corrupt law enforcement officials and imitates the methods of the notorious Jigsaw murders. Spiral is a return to form after the mistakes of 2017’s Jigsaw but Spiral feels incomplete and it leans on police movie clichés.