Obvious statement incoming: 2020 is one giant mess of a year. Nothing about it is normal, including the release slate. The pandemic threw a major wrench in the theatrical lineup, among countless other things, and much of the year’s most anticipated titles got bounced to next year and beyond. Digital, VOD, and streaming services became the heroes of 2020’s horror, as they went into overdrive to ensure horror fans were kept busy these past several months.
Truly, the amount of new horror that came our way despite all the postponements is staggering. Just look at October alone, where Netflix, Hulu, Shudder, HBO Max, and VOD dropped an onslaught of titles to make for the busiest release month possibly of all time. So much so that it’s easy to lose track. Horror lives and dies by word of mouth, and this insanely packed schedule makes it all the harder to keep great horror at the forefront of the conversation.
If the sheer volume of releases overwhelms you, or you’re simply looking to dig in a little further beyond the big releases, we’ve got you covered.
Here are ten great recent 2020 releases you might have missed.
This surprising festival crowd-pleaser hit Shudder this summer to bring croc insanity to the masses. Our own Trace Thurman adored it, saying out of Fantastic Fest last year, “It knows what viewers are expecting and playfully toys with those expectations, stringing them along on a roller coaster of fun.” The Pool follows dog trainer Day (Theeradej Wongpuapan), who decides to relax at the Olympic sized pool with his dog Lucky after completing a photoshoot. He falls asleep, unaware that a crew member flipped the switch to drain the pool before leaving. Day wakes up trapped, and his problems are compounded when a crocodile gets trapped with him. It’s every bit as insane as it sounds. There’s a lot of suspense to match the laughs but be warned: an extended scene involves an animal death. It’s played with the darkest of dark humor.
This Netflix original, released in the first half of the year, centers around a strange, vertical prison facility with one cell per floor and two inmates per cell. Every day, food is lowered through the levels via a platform, with the inmates only allowed to eat whatever is left on the platform for a fixed period. Every month, the inmates are randomly reassigned to a new floor. Those at the top level feast in luxury while those many floors down starve, or worse. There’s no subtlety to this film’s overt metaphor, but that doesn’t make it any less effective. Things get brutal and repulsive. It’s a major highlight of 2020 horror.
This horror-comedy gem quietly dropped on Prime Video on August 28, which is a shame because it’s also a fantastic crowd-pleaser. Ninian Doff’s feature debut defies easy classification, blending a coming-of-age comedy with a survival thriller. It’s violent, hallucinogenic, and downright hysterical. A bumbling foursome of delinquent teens, Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben), and DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja), and homeschooled loner Ian (Samuel Bottomley), embark on a trek across the Highlands for an award, yet find themselves dealing with the locals. Some want to party, and others are determined to hunt them down for sport. This innovative little feature will worm its way into your heart and leave you grinning from ear to ear.
The Witch: Part 1- Subversion
Another quiet Netflix release after an equally quiet time on VOD, this South Korean thriller brings a new spin on the superpowered action film. Ja-yoon is a well-adjusted high school student with loving parents and a talent for singing. The only catch is that the teen can’t remember a thing about her past. She’ll have to uncover those lost memories if she hopes to save those she loves when dangerous people from her childhood come to collect. These people, like Ja-yoon, have unique abilities, like telekinesis. It’s a visceral action-thriller unafraid to get bloody, written, and directed by Hoon-jung Park, the screenwriter behind the excellent and disturbing I Saw the Devil.
The latest by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (The Endless, Spring) centers around New Orleans paramedics and longtime best friends Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan). The pair are called to a series of gruesome and bizarre accidents that prove to be linked to a new psychedelic drug, one that hits close to home when Dennis’s daughter goes missing. In his determination to find her, Steve gets drawn into the mystery in which everything he knows about reality- including time and space- changes. It’s a mind-bending sci-fi mystery with every bit of the elegance, emotional heft, and ingenuity you’d expect from the filmmakers. Synchronic released in theaters only on October 23, which is why it slipped under the radar- the filmmakers urged fans to wait for a VOD release, which is still on the way.
Holly (Azura Skye) is a woman on edge, barely holding it together as life’s stressors continue to build. Her husband Rob (Bryce Pinkham) can’t land his promotion and rarely spends time at home. Her kids can’t stop fighting and ignore her. She’s tormented by a mouse loose in her home. Then there’s her high school student with a major crush on her. Once her sister pops back in her life, wielding her emotional baggage like a weapon, Holly unravels. Played like an eerie horror movie, Skye delivers a compelling performance as a woman suffering a breakdown while no one around her seems aware. With an unreliable narrator where reality isn’t entirely as it seems, Holly’s downward spiral builds toward a potent finale.
Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula
Between surprise hit Train to Busan and its animated prequel Seoul Station, director Yeon Sang-Ho proved the zombie apocalypse remains fertile ground for thrills, social commentary, and emotional depth. Now available on digital, his latest takes this franchise in yet another new direction, going full-throttle on the Max Mad style Blockbuster action spectacle. Four years after the initial zombie outbreak, the overrun Korean peninsula is closed off to the world to prevent spread. A Hong Kong crime boss sends a group of mercenaries back in to retrieve a stash of money, and the group discovers they’ll have to deal with survivors as well as the zombies. While not as emotionally hard-hitting as its predecessor, Sang-Ho continues to prove a master of world-building and delivers a thrilling and fun entry in action-horror.
Attack of the Demons
Set around Halloween in 1994, Barrington, Colorado is kicking off its annual music festival, drawing in attendees from out of town. After centuries of planning, a demonic cult uses the headlining band as ground zero to unleash a horde of mutating demons in their plot to destroy humankind. It’s up to a trio of non-demon hunters to thwart the demon apocalypse. Director Eric Power infuses a plethora of genre influences into a charming comedic tale told through his painstaking process of cut paper stop-motion animation. The animated film wears its horror influences on its sleeve and then some, but the art style and lighthearted humor mean it’s accessible for all ages. It’s a Saturday morning cartoon type of horror, and it’s available on digital now from Dark Star Pictures.
His House follows husband-and-wife Sudanese refugees Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku). They’ve fled their war-torn village, crossed the ocean, survived a degrading stint in a U.K. detention facility, and have been finally granted an opportunity for housing in their new country. That opportunity comes in the form of a large yet dingy apartment, full of roaches and rot, in an unfriendly neighborhood where they seem to be the only immigrants. Almost immediately, it becomes clear that Bol and Rial don’t just face hostility outside the walls of their new home, but inside as well. Each night brings visceral terrors, as evil may have followed them over from their old country. Writer/director Remi Weekes’ feature debut delivers the scares in this Netflix release. It helps that Bol and Rial are tormented by a witch, played by genre stalwart and creature actor Javier Botet.
Anything for Jackson (Coming to Shudder on December 3)
With nearly all horror-comedies, the movies tend to emphasize one over the other. Many horror-comedies forget the scares entirely. That’s not the case with director Justin G. Dyck’s Anything for Jackson. His feature offers dark comedy in the form of a grieving older couple desperate to resurrect their grandson by kidnapping a pregnant woman to perform a Satanic ritual. It’s quickly apparent that the couple is in over their heads, often in a comedic way, as they stumble through dark arts of which they know nothing. Yet, the further they get into their rituals, the more their house becomes inundated with restless spirits, some of which mean harm. Anything for Jackson explores grief in an exciting new way, full of unsettling moments and some incredibly effective ghost designs. It’s spooky and funny and shouldn’t be missed when it arrives on Shudder soon.
Bonus: Memories of Murder
Thanks to Parasite‘s massive success earlier this year, Bong Joon-Ho’s long-unavailable 2003 masterpiece got a small theatrical and subsequent VOD release in preparation for its shiny upcoming Criterion disc. For fans of Joon-ho, Parasite, and true crime thrillers, Memories of Murder is an absolute must. Set in a small Korean province in 1986, two clashing detectives struggle to catch a serial rapist and murderer. Like the director’s Oscar-winning feature, Memories of Murder blends drama, mystery, thriller, and real crime, making it less easy to categorize. It does include a few harrowing moments of horror, featuring women getting stalked and hunted like prey. The film is loosely based on Korea’s first serial murders, which took place between 1986 and 1991 in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province. Those crimes went unsolved until September of last year, in which new DNA evidence linked convicted killer Lee Chun-jae to the crimes. A month later, it was reported that he confessed to killing 14 people and raping more than 30 women. It casts Memories of Murder in a new, intriguing light.