End of the Year Wrap-Up

It was an interesting year for horror films in 2022. We got a few new classics, a few surprises, and two of the biggest franchise disappointments in recent years. We also got a glut of high-profile but incredibly mediocre films from critical darling directors. Here’s a quick wrap-up of the horror titles I was able to watch.

Honorable Mentions

BARBARIAN The best horror film of the year, Barbarian is a breath of fresh air. Funny, suspenseful, topical, and, most importantly, unpredictable, the movie succeeds in an area where so many have failed: it’s all about the strong, well-written characters. Fast-moving and exciting, Barbarian is classic horror storytelling without having to resort to cheap theatrics or media hype. A

THE BLACK PHONE After dabbling in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Doctor Strange, Scott Derrickson returned to horror with this terrific ghostly tale of a kidnapped 13-year-old who must communicate with the spirits of his captor’s previous victims in order to escape. As with Sinister, Derrickson delivers a strong story, smart characters, and an intense climax. B+

SMILE Smile is the kind of slow-burn horror tale that never grows old. While investigating the gruesome death of her patient, a psychiatrist uncovers a supernatural plot that literally gets under its victims skin and drives them to the brink of sanity – and suicide. Much like The Ring, Smile‘s story is structured as a mystery, building to a nerve-jangling resolution that’s both bleak and honest. B+

X Having been a fan of director Ti West since 2009’s House of the Devil, it was a pleasure to see him grow into the mature filmmaker he is today, and X is his best work yet. A small group of people looking to break into the porn biz during the turbulent time of ’79 unknowingly walk into hell in the form of an elderly farmer and his unstable wife. A witty, scary slow-burn into madness, X will leave you smiling for many reasons. B+

(Dis)honorable Mentions

SCREAM It was only a matter of time until Scream lost sight of its core and adapted the silliness of its self-referential movie-within-a-movie Stab series. As with most franchises nowadays, the new Scream goes backwards by introducing new characters related to the originals and creating an overly complicated web of relatives and suspects, and – just like the first movie – it all climaxes at Stu Macher’s old house. Neve Campbell is always lovely, but she, along with Courtney Cox, are pushed to the side in a scare-free plot that rarely makes sense. Flat and empty. D+

NOPE Critics can’t seem to praise Jordon Peele enough, even giving this borefest rave reviews, despite the fact it rips off Close Encounters of the Third Kind without attaining any of that classic’s energy and awe-inspiring chills. Instead Nope offers a story about horse breeders trying to catch a UFO on film for fame and fortune, an interesting premise that’s unfortunately swallowed in humdrum character arcs and a massively pointless subplot that’s nothing more than the product of over-indulgent filmmaking. D

TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE In the history of bad sequels, there has never been one quite as horrendous as the new Texas Chainsaw (that is until Halloween Ends). Limping along like a zombie looking for brains, the new Massacre is devoid of plot, character, personality, and energy – it’s a dumb byproduct that feels so disingenuous to the original, one wonders if the writers actually paid attention to Tobe Hooper’s masterwork. The return of Final Girl Sally Hardesty smacks of desperation, and when Leatherface is about to chainsaw her, she asks him to say her name. When at any moment did Bubba actually speak, and why would he know her name? D

HALLOWEEN ENDS After a rough start with the 2018 Halloween reboot, followed by a spike in creativity with the energetic Halloween Kills, the newest, and allegedly last, chapter in the Michael Myers saga is a sucker punch to the gut. Lacking any shred of suspense or story fluidity, Halloween Ends removes everything that made the earlier Halloween movies work so well – even eliminating MM for most of the movie! – replacing those elements with a needless and boring “doomed romance” subplot involving characters you couldn’t care less about. The worst. F

Twice Dead, Uninvited, Village of the Damned, and The Zodiac Killer

TWICE DEAD (1988) The down-on-their-luck Cates family inherit and move into a dilapidated Los Angeles manor, once owned by famous 1930s actor, Tyler Walker, who killed himself in the attic. When a gang of violent squatters are forced out of the house upon the family’s arrival, they seek revenge against the Cates, only to feel the wrath of Walker’s murderous spirit, hellbent on protecting his beloved house, and who may have eyes for the Cates teen daughter. Standard haunted house/slasher fair enlivened by a good cast and plenty of energy. Look for Raymond Cruz and Todd Bridges in small roles. B

UNINVITED (1987) You’ve never seen a movie like Uninvited, and if you have, I’m sorry. A yacht full of vacationing idiots are terrorized by a genetically altered tabby cat that vomits out a mutated second cat (no, seriously!) that kills anyone it feels threatened by, which in this case are cretins, thugs, and Gordon Gekko wannabes with fake mustaches and hammy acting abilities. This lacks the slightest shred of creativity or credibility, with a hand-puppet to represent the cat-monster and seasoned actors looking embarrassed to be a part of any of it, especially George Kennedy, and Clu Gulager in really bad dentures. F

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960) Overpraised British sci-fi/horror about a small village, which, after a mysterious event, becomes home to a small group of super-intelligent, mind-controlling children that share a hive mind. Too much time is spent on trying to rationalize the situation – this seems especially trivial since the kids are obviously otherworldly – and there’s uninteresting banter between the military, who want to exploit the children’s powers, and the scientists who want to study them. The kids are well-cast and their devious nature undeniably fun, but much of the special FX have dated, and lead alien kid, Martin Stephens’, awkwardly-dubbed lines are annoying. I just wish the filmmakers had allowed the script to have more fun with the children and paid less attention to the boring adults. C+

THE ZODIAC KILLER (1971) A cheap and tacky slasher flick exploiting the real life Zodiac killing spree of the ’60s and ’70s, in which someone with a flashlight and gun is murdering couples in Northern California. Amateur to the core, this low-low budget flick has stiff acting, awkward direction, and uninteresting characters, most of which exist to complain, create drama, and get killed. The real Zodiac Killer was never caught, but here he’s presented as a disgruntled, misogynist mailman (Hal Reed) who prays to a black altar and refers to himself as the Supreme Zodiac! Skip this and watch the David Fincher film instead. C