Best Horror Movies of 2023 List by Ricardo Serrano Denis, Dan Morris, and Gabriel Serrano Denis

In the past, horror’s been boxed into trends and subgenres that end up defining whole decades. The Eighties belonged to the slasher, the Nineties to vampires and teenager killers, and the early Aughts to J-Horror remakes and zombies. Recent years have proven to be the exception. Horror has resisted the easily packaged identities of previous eras in favor of a more flexible approach that fosters different kinds of terror rather than just continuing to push a few dominant ones. The year 2023 continued this trend.

It was a strong year for horror on all fronts, an impressive feat when you consider the genre has given equal weight to both established franchises and more original material. Scream VI, Insidious: The Red Door, and The Nun II did very well at the box office, for instance, proving they carry enough of an audience to justify future entries in the coming years. Meanwhile, the indie horror smash hit Talk To Me became a fan favorite that owed a lot of its success to word of mouth via social media, something that also helped Skinamarink and The Outwaters garner attention.

There are enough horror success stories to go around that prove audiences are certainly willing to indulge the genre whether it comes in the form of a bigger budget production, such as The Pope’s Exorcist, or if it comes from other countries at more modest budgets, as is the case of the critically-acclaimed mass possession film from Argentina When Evil Lurks.

Bottom line is, people are watching horror. They are going to the movie theaters to see it and they’re streaming the hell out of it through Screambox and Shudder. It makes putting together a list of the best horror movies of the year quite the task. But it speaks to the wealth of quality terror we’ve gotten in the span of these last 365 days.

Without further ado, here’s the list for the best Horror movies of 2023, a collection of scares that worked hard for our screams and got them.

Sister Death
Directed by Paco Plaza
Released by Netflix in association with El Estudio

Director Paco Plaza, co-creator of the found-footage zombie movie REC, gave Spanish audiences their very own Conjuring-like movie in 2017 with Verónica. It was based on a real 1991 case in which a girl died under mysterious circumstances after using a Ouija board. The movie featured demonic horror, a striking sense of dread and isolation, and a blind nun that became a fan favorite in her brief but intense appearance. The movie’s follow up, Sister Death, goes back in time to explore the origins of the blind nun and the power she possesses to sense and experience the dead. It’s one of the most genuinely scary movies of the year.

The story follows a novice called Narcisa as she joins a convent-turned-school with a troubling history tied to the Spanish Civil War. Narcisa’s reputation precedes her as she is said to have been visited by the Virgin Mary, a nod to an actual event known as the “Garabandal Apparitions” of the 1960s. The convent carries secrets encased in violence, each pointing to a dark confession that’s yet to be made. The reasons behind Narcisa’s eventual blindness build towards deeper revelations as well, and they put the very ideas of martyrdom, salvation, and duty on a cold slab.

Sister Death takes full advantage of the unsettling nature of biblical mysteries and how holy places such as convents can be as terrifying as they can be places of spiritual strength. Paco Plaza masterfully frames the scarier sequences to give viewers a good idea of what lurks in the shadows instead of keeping absolutely everything under shrouds. It’s truly terrifying and a step in the right direction should a bigger story wish to unfold from the blind nun’s encounters with the supernatural and Verónica before it. -Ricardo Serrano

The Pope’s Exorcist
Directed by Julius Avery
Released by Sony Pictures

This was supposed to be the year of The Exorcist: Believer, the return of the franchise that started off with what many consider to be the scariest movie of all time: William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973). Instead, it was the real exorcist that Friedkin’s Father Merrin was based on, Father Gabriele Amorth, that came to save the year from being a completely wasted effort for exorcism movies in Julius Avery’s The Pope’s Exorcist.

Featuring a very committed performance by Russell Crowe, The Pope’s Exorcist follows Father Amorth as he helps a family going through a classic case of possession. But the possession hides something deeper, something with enough meat on it to justify turning the movie into the start of its very own horror franchise.

The Pope’s Exorcist is as close as we’ve gotten to a BPRD movie in recent years. There’s a fair amount of lore and worldbuilding here, establishing a Vatican-based web of priests that trace demonic activity and analyze cursed artifacts to then send their holy men on soul-saving missions. It all results in a very fun but still appropriately terrifying showing of possession horror that seems intent on expanding into multiple movies. I wasn’t expecting to leave with so much story our of The Pope’s Exorcist, but I’m glad to have been proven wrong. -Ricardo Serrano

Dark Harvest
Directed by David Slade
Released by United Artists

Based on the classic book by Norman Partridge, Dark Harvest is the type of film Halloween movie marathons were made for. It lives and breathes the season, finding horror in its most recognizable symbols. The story is set in a small town in America where kids participate in a Halloween “run” to hunt down and kill a creature called Sawtooth Jack, a pumpkin-headed being whose death brings the day’s celebration to an end and secures another year of successful crops.

The story mixes elements of Lord of the Flies with Pumpkinhead for a look at uncompromising traditions and unfair ‘rite of passage’ expectations. Director David Slade gets every bit of angst, rage, and violence out of this group of kids on camera, commenting on the type of conditioning they’re subjected to just by virtue of being a part of a small-town culture with a very skewed view on order and authority. On top of that, the practical effects on display make Sawtooth Jack both terrifying and vulnerable, framing him as a kind of tragic monster whose horror is collectively thrust upon him. Dark Harvest should become necessary viewing come the Halloween season, right beside Carpenter’s Halloween and Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat. -Ricardo Serrano

Scream VI
Directed by Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin
Released by Paramount Pictures

This one’s bittersweet to write. With the controversial departures of protagonists Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega, it seems that all the character work that both Scream V and Scream VI did in the hopes of going for one more entry with them is now out the window. Regardless, these troubles don’t prevent the enjoyment of Ghostface’s bloody trip to the Big Apple in part six. Directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin (Ready or Not) took full advantage of the location change to create some truly devilish kill scenes and an even more nuanced take on the state of horror movies in recent years.

Scream VI looks at many things, but it’s the focus on legacy and toxic fandom that really sets it apart. It’s not new territory for the franchise, but it’s handled here in a way that truly adds to the conversation. There’s no interest in retreading the more common talking points. The violence, the slasher horror, the mystery, it all conspires to corner these ideas and carve as much as possible out of them. It seemed for a moment that the inevitable part seven of the franchise was going to take the story even further into uncharted territory. But that won’t be happening now as rumors of a soft reset that brings back Neve Campbell’s character hint more at a future led by nostalgia than anything else. And yet, nothing should prevent you from enjoying Scream VI as one of the greatest entries in the franchise and one of the best horror movies of the year. –Ricardo Serrano

Directed by Laura Moss
Released by IFC Films

Interpretations and reimaginings of Frankenstein are a dime a dozen, often with multiple releases derived from the same source coming out in the span of a single year. While there are a lot of great examples of it (just this year we had Poor Things, a movie that won the Golden Lion at Venice), few stand above the rest as truly exceptional. Laura MossBirth/Rebirth is one such film.

A nurse (Judy Reyes) suffers the worst tragedy a mother could bear: the death of her child. Her hospital’s morgue technician (Marin Ireland) steals the kid’s corpse to further her secret experiments on the reanimation of dead flesh. Laura Moss opts to focus on the mother and the scientist for her take on Frankenstein, making the metaphorical creature operate a bit more in the background to really explore our very human resistance to loss. In the process, though, we get one of the cleverest reimaginings of the “Victor Frankenstein” character we’ve had to date.

Moss splits this classic character in two, making the nurse represent the desperate parent and the morgue technician the cold and calculated scientist. Their personalities build a kind of macabre co-dependence that grows through their vulnerabilities, making for a deeply painful and personal story that tests not just the limits of medical ethics but also those of a parent in denial. Birth/Rebirth is one of the best Frankenstein reinterpretations in years because it uses the source to create something new. It deserves to be watched and discussed. –Ricardo Serrano

Written and Directed by Kyle Edward Ball
Released by IFC Midnight/Shudder

Few horror movies dominated discussion in the way that Skinamarink did this January. And that discussion was certainly warranted, even if it was polarized. You will either love this movie or absolutely despise it. Still, no horror movie this year was like it. Kyle Edward Ball’s debut turns the haunted house film into an abstract nightmare. It’s Poltergeist by way of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror. Time and place have no meaning as a malevolent spirit deconstructs the world around a young child. The film is shot entirely from the child’s point of view. Dread seeps into every moment as Ball taps into all the familiar childhood fears; things under the bed, waking up parents, and of course, what lurks in the dark. Skinamarink is the kind of low-budget film where the limitations only work to its advantage. –Dan Morris

Enys Men
Written and directed by Mark Jenkin
Released by Neon

God bless director Mark Jenkin for pulling a David Lynch when people ask about his film Enys Men. His refusal to explain the film, a middle ground between The Wicker Man and Don’t Look Now, only benefits from a lack of clear explanation. Cornish for “Stone Island”, Mary Woodvine plays a volunteer studying plant life on a remote island. She lives a life of routine with the occasional chat with a supply man. The more she researches a mysterious flower, though, the more everything unravels around her. Jenkin composes strange dreamlike images throughout Enys Men. Some images seem to exist outside of time. Others seem drawn from the subconscious and fears of Mary Woodvine’s character. And it’s the power of Woodvine’s performance that really sells the film. The actress is utterly captivating as the nameless volunteer. Her performance never openly reveals anything but conveys the isolation as much as the scenery does. –Dan Morris

When Evil Lurks
Written and Directed by Demián Rugna
Released by IFC Films/Shudder

Terrified brought Argentina director Demián Rugna to the attention of American horror fans. When Evil Lurks should cement him with those same genre fans. Rugna’s rethinking of the demonic possession film is as gory and violent as it timely and political. A father, played by Ezequiel Rodríguez, attempts to move his family to safety as a demonic infestation takes hold in his unnamed country. Rugna follows the path of this pandemic’s chaos in gory detail, going deeper the more out of control things become. People knowingly ignore precautions spreading the disease. The government does as little as it can. By the time Rodriguez’s character tries to end the horror he’s partially responsible for unleashing, it’s far too late. No other film seems to have captured the horror of the last three years as well as When Evil Lurks. –Dan Morris

Talk To Me
Written and directed by Danny and Michael Philippou
Released by A24

On the surface, Talk to Me seems like another horror movie where dumb teens do dumb things. But the debut film from brothers Danny and Michael Philippou feels rooted in much older horror. The story of teens using a mysterious hand to communicate with the dead plays like a modern take on early 20th century horror stories like W.W. Jacob’s “The Monkey’s Paw.” People find an occult object, don’t understand it, and decide to use it for their own amusement. Instead of being set at a seance in a drawing room, though, the filmmakers have the characters shoot their interactions with the dead for social media. For Sophia Wilde’s Mia, the hand represents a means of assuaging her grief. Wilde is heartbreaking as the teen already isolated by her mother’s death. Her ignorance of how this occult object works allows the unspeakable to occur. The Philippou brothers ramp up the horrors as she continues to rely on communications with the dead. Honestly, Talk to Me is just a good ol’ fashioned ghost story for the 21st century made with expert hands. –Dan Morris

Evil Dead Rise
Written and directed by Lee Cronin
Released by Warner Brothers

WBDiscovery has made a lot of boneheaded business moves over the last few years. However, let’s thank whoever decided Evil Dead Rise should be released theatrically and not be a streaming exclusive. This is the kind of horror movie that’s meant to be seen with a crowd. Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell promised a fifth Evil Dead film for years, but who could have guessed it would be this good? Hole in the Ground writer/director Lee Cronin injects gallons of new blood into the storied franchise. He has an eye for impressive visuals, from a massacre witnessed entirely through a peephole to the gory finale. The film has the things you expect (The Necronomicon! Deadites! Chainsaws!) but never feels like a retread at any point. On top of all of this, the movie is just great gory fun. You’ll probably never look at a cheese grater the same ever again. –Dan Morris

Huesera: The Bone Woman
Directed by Michelle Garza Cervera
Released by Cinépolis Distribución

Horror has always been a melting pot of genres and themes that blend together to release fears into the ether, resulting in monstrous physical manifestations or torturous psychological terror. Mexico’s Huesera: The Bone Woman, like the best horror movies, goes a step further, managing to manifest both the physical and the psychological by way of trauma relating to pregnancy, motherhood, sexual identity, and religious fervor, as well as the sociological. Valeria (played with intense and grounded believability by Natalia Solián), a pregnant woman suffering haunting hallucinations while her body changes and contorts, must also confront her family’s expectations as well as her fragmented sense of self in a nightmarish journey threatening to her apart from the inside. Huesera pulls off the challenging task of addressing the horrors of bringing life into an unknown world through the eyes of a lesbian woman twisted into a heteronormative life of reproduction without bludgeoning the audience with its message and never losing sight of its main character’s inner pain. Director Michelle Garza Cervera reveals the myriad conflicts slowly, as she does with the horrific imagery that plagues Valeria as well, guiding her strong character towards a climactic ritual that is both terrifying and liberating. It’s horror with a nuanced message, elegant and subversive. –Gabriel Serrano Denis

Infinity Pool
Directed by Brandon Cronenberg
Released by Elevation Pictures

It’s tough to follow up the film that cements your visual and thematic personality, much more so when you’re the son of one of the masters of horror. But Brandon Cronenberg, son of David Cronenberg (The Fly, Videodrome, A History of Violence), having achieved a strong aesthetic of visceral transmutations with 2020’s Possessor, further extends his reach with Infinity Pool and comes back with a bloody, gooey fistful of horror. A filmmaker much more interested in the horror of the psyche than his father, he still leaves the door wide open for shocking body horror and disturbing sexual violence. Telling the story of emasculated writer James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård), who is suffering writer’s block while vacationing with his wife (Cleopatra Coleman) in an unnamed country where anything goes, Cronenberg again employs the visceral style of Possessor, this time to find the monster hidden beneath the facade of banality. Since vacationers in the country can commit any crime and suffer no consequences (their clones are the ones who receive punishment), the film delves into the deep recesses of privileged violence. Mia Goth delivers another performance worthy of sitting amongst the best of the year as an actress that pushes James to the furthest reaches of depravity. A horror-fueled fugue filled with repressed sexual desires, body-morphing orgies, and almost unbearable emotional torture, Infinity Pool was a rare and beautiful thing in 2023: a film with no limits. –Gabriel Serrano Denis

Faces of Anne
Directed by Kongdej Jaturanrasmee and Rasiguet Sookkarn
Released by M Pictures

I was lucky enough to catch Thai horror mindtrip Faces of Anne at the 22nd New York Asian Film Festival this year, a film I’d read about fleetingly, but whose central premise stayed with me. An amnesiac woman wakes up in a strange room where she is taken care of by mysterious caretakers and interrogated by a “doctor” who tells her her name is Anne. As Anne attempts to piece together her identity and the circumstances that led to her internment, her face suddenly changes, yet she remains the same person. And every few minutes, her face morphs yet again. Piece by piece, twist by twist, we are led down a rabbit hole of shifting identities, Groundhog Day-like timeloops, and one horrifying ax-wielding monster hell bent on killing anyone in its path. It may sound like a lot, and for a while, it doesn’t make much sense, but this surreal ride is full of tension and emotion thanks to assured directing by Kongdej Jaturanrasmee and Rasiguet Sookkarn and the various committed performances by the leads. No matter the face Anne wears, her fear and persistence to survive always rings true. A sort of Jacob’s Ladder meets Suspiria for the modern age, Faces of Anne hopefully makes its way to blow viewers’ minds in the West again soon. –Gabriel Serrano Denis

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