Lists · Movies

The 15 Best Horror Movies of 2021

Some of the year’s best horror movies are bloody, others are funny, and a lucky few manage to deliver both.
Best Horror Movies
By  · Published on December 28th, 2021

5. Malignant

James Wan Malignant
Warner Bros.

Some directors make their name in smaller(er) genre films only to turn their back on them once they’ve hit it big with family-friendly blockbusters — looking at you Peter Jackson and James Cameron — but not James Wan. The filmmaker made several modern horror gems (kicking off more than a few franchises in the process) before delivering billion-dollar hits with Furious 7 and Aquaman — and then he gave us Malignant. A young woman begins having visions of murders committed by a black-cloaked figure, and things grow progressively weirder from there. Fun visual effects, some energetic action beats, and a reveal that revels in its ridiculousness make for a highly entertaining watch.

Available on Blu-ray and to stream on HBO Max and VOD. Read my full review here.

4. Initiation

Saban Films

More than any other film on this list, co-writer/director John Berardo‘s Initiation looks the most generic and familiar, and that makes its strengths all the more impressive. A college’s pledge week turns into a bloodbath as a masked killer paints the quad red with slaughter and social media shenanigans, but the truth behind it is even more disturbing. Again, sounds basic enough, but the film manages what the recent Black Christmas reboot can’t and delivers a smart slasher with a commentary on our sexist reality. From an Afterschool Special-like opening to some wonderfully bloody kills and terrific red herrings through to a highly effective ending, this is a slasher deserving of more eyeballs.

Available on Blu-ray and VOD.

3. Fear Street: Part One – 1994

Fear Street Part 1

No matter your overall thoughts, Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy is something special and a real event for genre fans. While I don’t feel as enamored with the two follow-ups, Fear Street: 1994 is a fantastic throwback that uses nostalgia as a strength rather than a crutch. Teenagers used to the bad reputation held by those on their side of the tracks, but things get worse as upstanding folks start slaughtering those around them. Gruesome and gory deaths share the screen with a smart script and, wait for it, characters we actually give a damn about! That’s no small thing, but it is a rarity, and here we can’t help but care about these teens thanks to both the performances and the talents of co-writer/director Leigh Janiak. If you skipped these films for fear they were for the kiddies, think again and give all three a spin.

Available to stream on Netflix. Read my full review here.

2. The Empty Man

The Empty Man Th Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Yeah yeah, this is arguably a cheat, but since no one saw The Empty Man‘s quick and uneventful theatrical release in 2020, I’m counting its VOD premiere in early 2021 as its debut. (My list, my rules!) A private eye tasked with finding a missing girl discovers something far more intense instead — involving a cult, a conspiracy, and some densely packed truths. Writer/director David Prior gifts genre fans with a horror movie akin to Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness in its complexities, length, and unwillingness to spoon-feed viewers. The opening sequence is its own little horror film, and then it shifts in tone and appearance to become something else — an engrossing, atmospheric, engaging mystery that pulls viewers and PI alike into something far bigger than expected.

Available to stream on HBO Max and VOD.

1. The Sadness (Taiwan)

an ax in The Sadness
Raven Banner

It’s a dick move putting a movie that hasn’t even secured a US release yet at the top of the list, I know, but I honestly had no other choice. The Sadness is a rip-roaring, bloody as hell tale that hits hard and hits frequently. The city of Taipei explodes with violence after a pandemic returns with a vengeance, and a young couple struggles to reunite through streets run red with blood. We’ve seen this kind of story before, but writer/director Rob Jabbaz ramps up the carnage and perversions to epic proportions. Strains of everything from 28 Days Later to Shivers to The Ebola Syndrome can be glimpsed here, but the vicious energy is all Jabbaz. Absolutely not for the faint of heart or those easily offended by bodily brutality, The Sadness is the horror film I’ve thought most about since my first viewing. The madness is infectious.

Currently unavailable. Read my full review here.

Honorable mentions: Blood Red Sky, Gaia, Kandisha, The Medium, V/H/S/94

Read more from the 2021 Rewind here.

Pages: 1 2 3

Related Topics: ,

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.