James’ Favorites of 2023

2024/01/03 18:38:41 +00:00 | James Doherty

It’s been another blockbuster year for horror, but then again it always feels like that. Superhero fatigue has set in and major franchise pictures haven’t returned as expected, but horror, as ever, always seems to reach new heights. The news in 2023 may have been a load of gout, but the horror has been pure gold.

So, without further ado, here is a list of my top 10 of 2023. 

RoboDoc: The Creation of RoboCop

Arrow Films, Vinegar Syndrome and others who have perfected the art of producing feature-length behind the scenes documentaries really have their work cut out for them thanks to RoboDoc. RoboDoc has broken the mould by creating an in-depth documentary that takes you through the entire film scene-by-scene. RoboDoc combines a retrospective documentary, director’s commentary and behind the scenes features into one glorious 4-part series.

No stone has been left unturned when gathering contributors - from Peter Weller to the actor who played the mayor who got punched out of a 2nd floor window. The film is covered from every possible angle and it’s fantastic. 

Everything you ever wanted to know about RoboCop is contained within this ultimate companion piece, and the good news is the team are already working on RoboCop 2. The team behind RoboDoc are onto something big and long may it continue.


Cobweb went relatively unnoticed when it was first released in July – primarily because it was released against Oppenheimer and Barbie, who were armed with an atomic bomb and Ken, respectively. It also feels slightly out of place as Cobweb is set against the backdrop of Halloween, but don’t let misplaced movie release put you off this effective and creepy tale about a boy who may be sharing a house with more than just his odd parents. 

The aforementioned parents are played by Lizzy Caplan and Anthony Starr, who are excellent and the most unsettling things on screen. Cobweb is a movie that is happy to take its time in telling an old-fashioned scary story. The camera work and lighting design is gorgeous and it’s refreshing to see new horror that is happy to take a nostalgic approach to filmmaking. Read the review of Cobweb.

The Woman in Black and other Ghost Stories

I have been a huge fan of generally every incarnation of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black – the book, the theatre production, the radio play - the 2012 film was a little more grey than black, but you can’t have it all.

This ghost story is up there with The Turn of the Screw and the Haunting of Hill House – it’s a classic. The story centres around a young solicitor who must travel to a rural and secluded English town to take care of the affairs of a deceased client, but during his stay in town he keeps encountering the woman in black.

The book celebrated its 40th anniversary in October and to commemorate the anniversary Vintage have released the collective ghost stories of Susan Hill with beautiful new illustrations from Nick Tankard. Other stories in the collection include: Dolly, The Man in the Picture, Printer’s Devil Court and The Small Hand.

There is a familiar tone and style I love about Hill’s ghost stories – her writing is so descriptive that the weather and location become characters in themselves and after reading one of her passages you can smell the morning dew coming of the November dawn.

It’s a Wonderful Knife

Festive horror is kinda my thing. Christmas Evil, Black Christmas, Don’t Open Till Christmas, Silent Night (2012) – I watch these religiously every Christmas – nothing says ‘Christmas’ like a dead suffocated body wrapped in plastic swinging back and forth in a rockin’ chair… if you know, you know.

So, when there is a new festive release full of frights, I’m generally all over it. This year’s new holiday horror is It’s a Wonderful Knife, and I’m sure you can guess by the title that this movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, but that doesn’t stop it being fun.

The action is slapstick, the story fantastical and crazy, and Justin Long is the new Donald Pleasence – a horror hall of famer who can play any character across the horror spectrum. It’s a Wonderful Knife may just be added to next year’s seasonal watch list. Read the review of It’s a Wonderful Knife.

Raging Grace

The stand out film of FrightFest 2023. Hands down!

I had heard good things about Paris Zarcilla’s London-based thriller and it had received rave reviews at SXSW 2023, but I wasn’t expecting it to be as powerful as it was. Joy is an undocumented Filipino woman working in the UK with her daughter, Grace. Joy is offered a job cleaning at a stately house that may have a few skeletons in its closet.

Raging Grace isn’t really an out-and-out-horror, but it does concern itself with the horrors of everyday – xenophobia, abuse, regret and survival - and it does it with style, empathy and grace (forgive the pun).

One reason I especially like Raging Grace is that it presents horror in a world we all recognise. There’s nothing fantastical or far-fetched about Joy and her life, it’s just that her life is quite horrifying. Read the review of Raging Grace.

Eight Eyes

Another highlight of this year’s FrightFest was Eight Eyes. It was tucked away on one of the smaller screens during the festival, but that isn’t an indication of the movie’s quality.

A couple gate-crash a wedding whilst travelling around eastern Europe and in the process they meet a charismatic man named Saint Peter, who shows them the sights of his town, but the couple find out that there are some sights you can’t unsee.

Eight Eyes is a fever dream, a twisted fairy-tale, a European folk horror yarn and a grindhouse throwback all wrapped into one tight story. The director, Austin Jennings is certainly one to watch for the future, although he has been on the scene for a while – he currently directs The Last Drive-in with Joe Bob Briggs

In an age of franchises and movie universes it’s refreshing to see that independent and experimental stories are still being told. Read the review of Eight Eyes.

Mr Nightmare

One of the recent joys I have discovered is the Mr Nightmare YouTube channel, and the great things about discovering a channel that has been running for years is there’s an entire back catalogue to enjoy.

The premise of Mr Nightmare is simple, but very effective. Simply, Mr Nightmare – he doesn’t appear to have a given name – tells stories submitted by viewers. Each episode is based around a theme – 4th July, Christmas, sleepovers and each is accompanied with a selection of images, some light musical accompaniment and Mr N’s deadpan tone.

The stories range from ghostly encounters to attempted abductions. Some are silly, some are chilling and some appear to be made up, but that doesn’t mean the quality is bad – far from it.  There are other similar channels out there and it is hard to know which came first, but Mr Nightmare is the best. Check out some of Mr Nightmare’s videos.

Leave the World Behind

Leave the World Behind reminds me of RoboCop… I’ll explain. Both present worlds that are about to fall off a cliff, but all the inhabitants are blissfully unaware.

Leave the World Behind starts off on a melancholy note and it goes downhill rapidly, although the thing that chills me is that the main protagonists are surrounded by luxury and are unaware of how desperate their situation is. Most films depict an apocalypse or nuclear attack as all-out carnage, but there’s a quiet tranquillity, and almost surreal acceptance of the events in Leave the World Behind, especially with the ending. 

There’s also a mix of the things you want to see in a dystopian tale – distrust, frustration, anger and despair. Given the subject matter, it’s difficult to say that I ‘enjoyed’ the film, but it was certainly one that had me gripped.

A Ghost Story for Christmas: Lot No. 249

In the UK, ghost stories and Christmas go together like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. During the 70s, the BBC would make an annual ghost story for Christmas, usually based on a work by MR James. This tradition has recently been resurrected by Mark Gatiss. I love ghost stories during the festive season and I think it’s something the British do bloody well.

This year’s chilling tale stars Kit Harrington as Abercrombie Smith in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lot No. 249. In this 30-minute short story, Smith is concerned by the illicit practices of colleague Ned Bellingham and tries to uncover the power lot no 249 has.

The story and setting is old, but Gatiss’s take Isn’t. It’s surprisingly contemporary and it takes some interesting creative licenses that make it glisten a little more. It’s obvious Gatiss loves the genre. Lot No. 249 is available to watch in the US via BritBox.

The Last of Us

I’m going to be terribly unoriginal with this choice as I’m sure it is on everyone else’s ‘best of’ list. I was a little unsure with The Last of Us at first – I got fatigued by The Walking Dead and I think no one has been able to better George Romero’s commentary on how savage humans can become during an apocalypse. But, I was blown away.

Long, Long Time is now one of my all-time favourite episodes of any TV show and after watching it once, I had to watch it again. Each instalment is its own story but the vines from each connect one another. The series does a fantastic job of presenting Joel as the hero, but really, his actions could doom mankind further. Amazing action, amazing acting, amazing storytelling. Just amazing.

  • James Doherty
    About the Author - James Doherty

    James is a life-long horror fan since coming across Halloween on late-night TV, when he was 9 years-old. He was too scared to watch it all the way through, so when things got too scary he changed the channel. When he worked up the courage he would switch back to Halloween. This happened several times. He has previously written for GoreZone magazine in the UK and the Evolution of Horror.