With horror being one of the most plentiful movie genres in terms of the sheer number of yearly releases, there’s usually a nice variety between sitewide “Best Of” lists. Here at IGN, Talk to Me took top honors in 2023. Other popular choices include When Evil Lurks, Evil Dead Rise, and Thanksgiving (to name a few). These seem to be the overall consensus when it comes to high-end ranks, but this year had so, so, much more to offer.
Let’s talk about those damn fine horror films that might have missed out on “Best of Horror” lists but still deserve their special recognition. Everything from prominent summer theater releases to absurd sorority slashers about killer sloths. I watched 100+ new horror flicks that were released in 2023 (plus another 30 or so at film festivals that are slated for 2023 release), so I promise I won’t lead you astray. Note: Not all of these films are streaming originals, so streaming platform may change after time of publish.
The Most Underrated Horror Titles On Streaming
The Boogeyman (Hulu)
Rob Savage’s adaptation of Stephen King’s short story The Boogeyman is the definition of “solid” horror filmmaking. Every culture has a “boogeyman,” and Savage coaxes out the fundamental terrors of a shadow-lurking beast with beady eyes piercing through the darkness. A cast including Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina, and David Dastmalchian anchor a story about a fractured family fighting against a devilish creature, keying into intrinsically childhood paranoias that require a nightlight. “Savage doesn’t shy away from in-your-face jump scares, which are [the film’s] addictive bread and butter,” I wrote in my IGN review. Some killer lighting usages from flashing reds as the entity inches closer with each pulse, to a glowing moon orb rolled to inspect sounds from afar, help the otherwise formulaic storytelling structure stand out. It’s not the best horror movie of the year, but might be the most crowd-pleasing by standard horror expectations.
The Blackening (Starz)
“We Can’t All Die First” might be the best tagline of 2023. As you probably guessed, it’s referencing the trope that Black characters always die first in horror movies. Enter The Blackening, where every character is Black, and the commentary is sharper than Jason’s machete or Michael’s knife. It’s a raucous horror comedy from the Black perspective that’s more the realm of comedy than horror, but big laughs don’t weaken intended impacts. Writers Tracy Oliver (of Girls Trip fame) and Dewayne Perkins know funny, and while the film’s third act thins any slasher thrills, it never lets up roasting the horror genre for decades of whitewashed normalities. Some jokes may be low-hanging fruits and references simplistic (your Screams and whatnot), but that doesn’t stop The Blackening from being one of the funnier horror comedies of the year.
Huesera: The Bone Woman (Shudder)
I reviewed Huesera out of Tribeca in 2022 (now Huesera: The Bone Woman), but it didn’t hit Shudder until this year. While I wasn’t the highest review out there, it’s still a worthwhile international haunting story from an emerging filmmaker to watch, Michelle Garza Cervera. As I concluded, “Huesera unites unearthly evils with pregnancy paranoias and modern feminism in this tale about normalizing every woman’s choice to become a mother or not.” Cervera’s behind-the-camera voice is vital as the story’s womanly themes ring loudest, and lead actress Natalia Solián does a tremendous job playing “tormented, tired, soulfully lost.” It’s a solid flick about pregnancy fears and traditional Mexican beliefs, crawling under your skin when it counts.
Mother May I? (Tubi)
May I tempt you with a performance showcase for Kyle Gallner and Holland Roden? That’s Mother May I?, a psychological thriller about the dangers of playing therapist, withholding grief, and hallucinogenic fungi. Writer and director Laurence Vannicelli weaponizes therapy-speak and role-playing as a couple becomes either the victim of intensely potent magic mushrooms or a freak possession. Gallnner’s Emmett brings Roden’s Anya (his partner) to his deceased mother’s country estate, where Anya attempts to play psychiatrist by pretending to be Emmett’s mother — but she never breaks character. We watch as Gallner’s dazed and confused Emmett attempts to rationalize what the hell is going on, while Roden transforms from Anya into an entirely different character. It’s an experimental fever dream that Vannicelli executes quite well, with much credit given to tremendous leading roles.
The Sacrifice Game (Shudder)
Jenn Wexler’s The Sacrifice Game is the horror version of The Holdovers. Her sophomore feature, co-written by Sean Redlitz, boasts shades of genre influences from The Blackcoat’s Daughter to The Babysitter, putting a serial killer spin on Christmastime horrors. An eclectic cast featuring Aladdin’s Mena Massoud, indie horror standout Chloë Levine, and former freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy find themselves trapped in a ritualistic plot stained by spilled blood over the holiday break. Take a spin back into the 70s thanks to period costumes and music choices, putting a very lost-in-time stamp on the evils within Blackvale School for Girls that accentuates the Satanic panic of the era. It’s grimly festive, the ensemble shines, and is one of the best original horror flicks Shudder put out this year.
Haunted Mansion (Disney+)
I don’t care about dying on my “Haunted Mansion is good, actually” hill alone. Bury my body so I can join the 999 spirits sharing Rosario Dawson’s new residence. Writer Katie Dippold and director Justin Simien unite to conjure a stellar gateway horror attraction that might not be the spookiest, but does deal with some hefty themes about death and the afterlife. A cast including Dawson, Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito, Owen Wilson, and LaKeith Stanfield are allowed to be proper goofballs in a supernatural scenario, which works through Disney’s lens. As I already said in my review for IGN: “Haunted Mansion successfully balances emotional sweetness and just-frightening-enough spectral scares with a Disneyfication of genre tropes, becoming a fun-filled scary movie for (almost) the entire family.” Where are my other Haunted Mansion loyalists?
Night of the Hunted (Shudder)
A man. A woman. A gas station. A hunting rifle. That’s all Night of the Hunted needs to keep you glued to your seat: a thriller about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. From the director of P2 and Maniac (Franck Khalfoun) comes a tense-as-hell survival thriller about a traveler who’s being held inside a gas station by a psycho whizzing bullets by her head. It’s unapologetically bleak, twisting the story into some ruthless directions as other drivers stop for gas or a phone allows for communication between protagonist and antagonist. Not many people talked about this one when it dropped around Halloween, so here’s hoping it gets discovered on Shudder now that we can breathe after end-of-year crunches.
Dark Harvest (MGM+)
It’s a shame because Dark Harvest was initially slated for a big-screen release, but only saw limited Alamo Drafthouse theaters thanks to a two-year delay. David Slade’s adaptation of Norman Partridge’s harvest-horror novel is a treat for Halloween worshippers that deserved a much bigger rollout. Dark Harvest turns the clock back on an Anywhereville, USA locale that seems isolated from the rest of the country, introduces audiences to a yearly October tradition where boys fight for a chance to escape city limits, and releases a Jack-O-Lantern creature named Sawtooth Jack that kills any kiddies who can’t do the same unto him. Slade’s eye for graphic violence (like in 30 Days of Night) is alive and well despite the young leading characters, which makes for an R-rated gateway horror film for more mature fans. I’ll be revisiting this one in future spooky season binges.
Summoning Sylvia (Starz)
Wesley Taylor and Alex Wyse create a delightfully queer indie horror comedy with Summoning Sylvia. Expect a brisk and sassy hoot of a haunted bachelor weekend thanks to, well, the summoning of this “Sylvia” character. It’s inarguably more comedy than horror in the genre equation, which isn’t a problem at a tight 75-ish minutes that’s bursting with cute spooky-witty lines. You’re here for the solid ensemble serving ghost story laughs and unsubtle commentary through a queer horror lens, both of which have plenty of momentum. Plus there’s a cappella Smash Mouth? What else can you ask for?
Shaky Shivers (Screambox)
Did you know that beloved Fast & Furious actor Sung Kang directed an adorable, silly little horror comedy that hit streaming this year? Shaky Shivers feels like prime-era Goosebumps (minus scares), focusing more on sugary sweet messages about teenage friendships. Brooke Markham and VyVy Nguyen play lovable besties who work together at an ice cream shop, one of whom might be a werewolf. There also might be zombies, cult freaks, and undead sidekicks like out of An American Werewolf in London. Never in a million years would I peg Kang’s directorial debut as a low-budget creature feature best served as sleepover entertainment, but that’s the case. It’s nothing revolutionary, but charming enough as younger-geared horror entertainment.
It’s always exciting when new filmmakers find interesting ways to reinterpret iconic horror tales. Laura Moss’ Birth/Rebirth is a clever tweak on the story of Frankenstein, this one even more focused on Dr. Frankenstein versus his monster. Moss and co-writer Brendan J. O’Brien toy with grief-stricken themes as a single-mother nurse who’s just lost her daughter to illness meets a doctor playing God in her apartment. Marin Ireland delivers a top-notch performance as Rose, the Herbert West of this story given how she’s developing what’s pretty much the Re-Animator serum, with Judy Reyes as the sorrowful mother who will do anything to get her child back. It’s a character-driven take on classic horror ideas that could easily fit Larry Fessenden’s brand of indie films (very much a compliment), lurking in the shadows of New York City to bring the horrors of parenthood out to play.
Slotherhouse (Streaming on Hulu)
Too many horror movies fail to meet their attention-grabbing titles (looking at you Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey), but Slotherhouse is, against all odds, the real deal. Betcha weren’t expecting a sneakily hilarious sorority house slasher featuring a pissed-off Panamanian sloth that’s also incredibly pro-animal to sneak onto Hulu this year? Director Matthew Goodhue leans into the comedy of this claws-out horror comedy as “Alpha” the Sigma Lambda Theta (SLTH) mascot starts offing sorority sisters one by one. “There are shades of Fox’s Scream Queens or CW’s Riverdale … [but] Slotherhouse won’t be in contention for Best Horror Kill of the Year,” I wrote in my IGN review. Don’t expect Alpha to shred flesh like Cocaine Bear, but please give this out-of-its-mind take on animal attack flicks a shot. Do it for the sloths surfing social media, Sloth-fu, and sloths driving speedsters.
Candy Land (Tubi)
No, this isn’t a horror version of Hasbro’s sugary-sweet children’s game. Writer and director John Swab is nowhere near family entertainment with his gruesome sex worker thriller. A young cast explores the dangers of truck stop “lot lizard” employment, finding themselves in a slasher take on “saints vs. sinners” that wears its sleazy influences well and with pride. Swab does right to avoid stereotypical representations of sex workers and shows compassion towards the industry, the whole murderer subplot notwithstanding. There’s more going on than titillation and teases in Candy Land, as the lot lizards fight for their lives against an evil that’s stalking their place of business. Sprinkle in some Christian angst waged against the “disgusting” free-spirited souls, and you’ve got yourself a perfect storm of seductive-scary-sacrilegious unrest.