Horror Fans Had a Screamingly Good 2023

Horror Fans Had a Screamingly Good 2023

In early 2023, io9 gazed into a blood-splattered crystal ball and made a list of all the horror entertainment we were most looking forward to. Some of the titles we were excited about delivered; others did not—and perhaps most excitingly, several releases we knew nothing about in advance swooped in and scared the hell out of us.

Here’s a look back at 2023’s biggest standouts (themes, titles, triumphs, and anti-triumphs) in horror movies and TV.

Spooky surprises

When Evil Lurks
Image: Shudder and IFC Films

We hadn’t heard of When Evil Lurks until its debut in the Toronto Film Festival’s midnight-movie section; ditto Talk to Me and Sundance. But sometimes a movie is so good (and so legitimately scary, in the case of these two titles) that pre-release hype becomes unnecessary, and all you need is the kind of ecstatic buzz that swiftly spreads among genre fans urging you to go see this movie now. Both of these excellent films made io9’s top films of 2023 list—and we didn’t even see them coming.

Under-the-radar standouts

Image: Shudder

In a year that saw a lot of horror content flooding screens and streams, it was sometimes easy to overlook movies that were highly entertaining but got a bit lost in the shuffle. The Pope’s Exorcist was met with a shrug when it hit theaters in April, but the Russell-Crowe-as-an-irreverent-priest-fighting-demons tale found new life when it hit Netflix in August. Just as worthy of second-wind discovery status: Brandon Cronenberg’s cleverly shocking Infinity Pool; Kurtis David Harder’s similarly twist-filled Influencer; and Jennifer Reeder’s Perpetrator, a subversive coming-of-age film.

Franchises that still slay us

Saw X
Photo: Alexandro Bolaños Escamilla/Lionsgate

Horror is, shall we say, a genre that’s very fond of sequels. We’re all for it when a part two (or a part 10) honors its inspiration while also justifying its own existence by delivering a satisfying, thrilling story. This year, the unkillable Saw franchise delighted fans by dreaming up Saw X, a tale that slotted into the time frame between its first and second film. The Nun II reminded us that the Conjuring Universe is still a reliable go-to for frights; Insidious: The Red Door, directed by star Patrick Wilson, overcame so-so reviews to become the highest-grossing entry in that long-running series; and while the Scream series recently hit a serious snag for behind-the-scenes reasons, Scream VI showed Ghostface could be an effective menace in any environment—even New York City.

Maybe the best franchise entry this year, however, was Evil Dead Rise—a film that introduced new characters (including kids, though this is not a movie for kids) and a new setting (a high-rise apartment building) but still felt spiritually linked to the cult-classic cabin-in-the-woods films that came before. We haven’t looked at a cheese grater the same way since we watched this one… and we probably never will.

Franchises that scared us (in the wrong way)

Image: Universal/Peacock

Excitement over David Gordon Green tackling a trio of new Exorcist films began to waver when his Halloween trilogy started delivering seriously diminishing returns. Pre-release fears were justified when The Exorcist: Believer proved underwhelming, even with original cast members Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair dropping by to bless the narrative—and now it’s unclear where the Exorcist revival goes from here, including whether or not Green will still be directing.

Elsewhere, Disney’s latest attempt at making The Haunted Mansion into a movie was met with a shrug, and the happenstance of titles slipping into the public domain brought Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey into the world… a movie that exists seemingly because it can, and for no other reason.

Frankensteins and Draculas

Image: Shudder and IFC Films

Sometimes the most familiar stories can yield the most unexpected delights. This year proved there’s still room for a wide range of tales inspired by Frankenstein and Dracula. Emma Stone’s stunning turn as a resurrected woman in Poor Things may be getting all the awards chatter at the moment, but 2023 also gave us an unlikely found family in Birth/Rebirth, as well as the lively The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster. On the bloodsucker side we got Nicolas Cage’s fang-tastically campy performance as Dracula in Renfield, and a completely different take exploring one specific portion of Bram Stoker’s novel in The Last Voyage of the Demeter. We’re assuming this trend will never die (ahem), and the stage couldn’t be better set for Robert Eggers’ much-anticipated Nosferatu and Zelda Williams’ Lisa Frankenstein in 2024.

Found footage

Image: Shudder

Speaking of trends that will never die—found-footage horror is still making an impact nearly 25 years after The Blair Witch Project, with films like Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor proving that there are still ways to squeeze fresh shrieks of terror from a genre that’s often accused of repeating itself. The biggest found-footage standout of 2023, however, came courtesy of the long-running V/H/S anthology series, which delivered maybe its most entertaining and shocking installment yet in V/H/S/85.

International chills

The Conference
Photo: Robert Eldrim/Netflix

Argentina’s When Evil Lurks wasn’t the only international title this year that proved subtitles do not take away from the potency of on-screen thrills. Thanks to streaming services like Shudder, which has a robust foreign-language horror selection and picks up a lot of festival favorites—making them easily accessible for general audiences—it’s never been easer to catch up on scary imports. Others we liked this year include In My Mother’s Skin, about a young Filipino girl who makes a desperate bargain to save her family during World War II; Mexico’s Huesera: The Bone Woman, about a rather nightmarish pregnancy; and delightfully gory Swedish slasher The Conference.

Risk takers

No One Will Save You
Image: 20th Century Studios

Sometimes the biggest frights come from movies that make unconventional choices and lean into them… really hard. Hulu release No One Will Save You crafted an alien-invasion thriller starring a lonely young woman haunted by her awful past—while also being the modern equivalent of a silent movie, using almost no dialogue to tell its story. Meanwhile, lo-fi sensation Skinamarink brought more eyeballs to an experimental film than any horror movie in recent memory, testing some viewers’ patience while giving others an all-consuming case of the creeps.


Five Nights at Freddy’s
Image: Patti Perret/Universal Pictures

Five Nights at Freddy’s proved the long wait for its arrival was worth it; it became the highest-grossing horror film of the year and also set records on Peacock when it hit streaming. And with no video-game clout behind it—just a tidal wave of buzz after its magnificent first trailer—killer robot-doll tale M3GAN danced its way into box-office success and set a sequel in motion almost immediately.

TV terrors

The Changeling
Image: Apple TV+

Shudder, Screambox, and even mainstream platforms like Netflix, Apple TV+, and Max have ensured that fans need never want for fresh blood on the small screen. Big hits included HBO’s blockbuster video game adaptation The Last of Us, Netflix’s Edgar Allan Poe frightfest The Fall of the House of Usher, and AMC’s “zombies are forever” spin-off programming keeping The Walking Dead universe alive, Dead City and Daryl Dixon. Other favorites: Apple TV+’s chilling The Changeling, Syfy and USA’s hilarious and splat-tastic Chucky, Shudder’s comic-inspired anthology Creepshow, and Prime Video’s fascinating body-horror tale Dead Ringers.

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