2021 was another chaotic up and down year, but at least we had movies! Somehow as I look back on this past year, it’s more of a fog than 2020 was. Or maybe they just merge together into one big extended fog. Either way, the high points were where I could lose myself in stories, connect with my friends in the horror community and celebrate something new and exciting that we could all enjoy. Here are a few of my favorites:
This film was one of my favorites out of Fantastic Fest 2019. It was supposed to come out at Easter 2020 but got bumped, like a lot of things did, and finally finally hit VOD in early 2021. Not really the journey it deserved, but I was thrilled to finally have the chance to see it again. The story of a young woman’s twisted relationship with her religion and with the people in her life digs deep and creates a story that is both frightening and tragic. Absolutely one of my favorites of the year.
2021 was a lot of things, and one of the best things was the Year of Elvira. She celebrated the 40th anniversary of her Movie Macabre show, hosted a movie marathon on Shudder, released a memoir, and continued to reign as the Halloween Queen of our Hearts. If you haven’t picked up her book yet, do so immediately. It’s a really in-depth look at the crazy track her career has taken, from her early years as a Las Vegas showgirl to her tenure in The Groundlings to the creation and amazing longevity of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. She has led an amazing life, and she tells her story in a way that is heartfelt and entertaining as all hell.
I anticipated that a movie about a pair of killer jeans would be entertaining (I was right, BTW), but I was happily surprised that a movie about killer jeans would be so adept at carrying such a poignant and affecting message. And Slaxx did both. Elza Kephart’s film hits all the marks. It’s funny, it’s bloody and it’s smart in its messaging. And the pants puppetry is beyond fantastic. Never thought I would see a pair of jeans crawl down a hallway and slurp up blood, but it happened!
Amelia Moses’ creepy werewolf tale was one of my top films of the year. I love this movie. A low budget film with a simple story, killer soundtrack and some really creepy moments, it has flown under a lot of radars. Which sucks, because it’s a really great film. Lauren Beatty plays a singer who retreats with her producer to his isolated home to work on her second album. While there, she begins to uncover long buried secrets and truths about herself. The film is really brought to life by the music, which was written and performed by indie artist Lowell. The songs add a beautifully haunting quality to the story. If you haven’t seen it. It’s available on VOD, as well as Shudder.
Leigh Janiak’s trilogy of YA horror hit a sweet spot that brought me back to my twelve-year-old self. I was an avid reader of R.L. Stein’s Fear Street series as a kid, and these movies made me so happy. SO HAPPY! They hit every bullseye - embodying the spirit of the original series while also giving it a modern and fresh tone. AND a queer love story! These films were beyond fun while also having some legit scary moments. They really embody that space between kid-friendly horror and grown-up horror. Nothing too intense, but the stakes are definitely higher than Goosebumps or Monster Squad. These movies made my summer happy.
Bernard Rose’s 1991 Candyman is one of my all time favorites. I was thrilled to see where this amazing story could go in its next chapter. A chapter driven by storytellers of color and a new perspective on race and violence in America. Nia DaCosta more than rose to the challenge and delivered a modern and unique tale that is still in keeping with the legend set down twenty years ago. The film is challenging and thought provoking and told in a way that is both scary and unexpected.
Theaters in my area began reopening in 2021, and while I was cautious, going back was a joy that I felt deep in my soul. I know we’re all sick to death of Nicole Kidman and AMC telling us how special the theatrical experience is (we know - we’re sitting in the damn theater), there is some truth to the sentiment. Getting to see new stories on a huge screen in the darkened theater was one of the things that I missed the most during lockdown, and carefully venturing back gave me a feeling of normalcy that I so desperately needed. Even though we’ve taken some steps backward over the past few weeks and have to be a little more cautious, I’m happy to know that the theater and my favorite seat will be waiting for me when the time comes.
Jill Gevargizian’s story about a lonely hair stylist who wants nothing more than to step into the lives of her clients is very much my jam. It’s beautiful and sad in the same vein as Lucky McKee’s May and delivers a powerful ending that is a full-on punch to the gut. I loved every second of it and am really looking forward to anything and everything that Gevargizian does next.
I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun in a theater. James Wong’s latest is absolutely insane. I never saw the turn coming and when I realized what was happening and just how far this story was going to go, my jaw hit the floor and I spent the rest of the movie with an excited, dopey grin on my face (my husband can confirm - he saw my open mouthed bliss). Sometimes the best experiences aren’t the ones that move you, but the ones that take you for a ride. And getting to see something so unique and unhinged was the kind of movie going that I have missed over the past couple of years. Thank you, James Wan, for giving us something that we could all talk about!
I am ride or die for Mike Flanagan and am down for whatever story he wants to tell. I am always thrilled when he has a new series or film on the release schedule, and it immediately becomes one of my most anticipated releases of the year. Midnight Mass proved a little different from his previous works in terms of tone and he once again delivered on quality. It’s a profoundly beautiful work that examines religion and belief in a really thoughtful way. It offers multiple perspectives to the same questions and really distills down what it means to have faith. Even for someone like me, who left religious thinking behind a long time ago, it was an immensely beautiful piece that offered some really beautiful moments in its amazing story.
We continue to live in weird and uncertain times, but as always, our love of horror helps us through. I truly believe that it serves as a much needed escape when things get difficult, and I look forward to discovering what 2022 will bring. In horror - not so much in the world. Unless this is the year that we nuke COVID. That would be pretty sweet.