The horror movie genre has been a bit of a mixed bag in 2023.
On one hand, fright fans witnessed the release of one of the most thrilling horror films in years.
On the other hand, viewers got a bunch of sequels — including a goodly number worth watching — as well as some fairly fresh takes on old ideas.
And on yet the other hand — since we are taking horror here and monsters can have as many hands/claws as they want — there was a seemingly never-ending parade of (at best) macabre mediocrity and (more often than not) horribly bad films.
I’ve combed through a huge number of these flicks and have come up with a list of some of the top horror releases from 2023.
The timing, of course, is pegged to the Halloween season, when even non-horror fans seem to like a good jump scare or two.
All 10 of my picks were released widely in 2023, although some may have premiered earlier, most likely at film festivals.
So, try mixing some of these new offerings in with your old favorites (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Let the Right One In,” “Zoltan Hound of Dracula,” etc.) during your own scary movie marathons in the days and nights leading up to Halloween.
I limited my picks to ones that are all available to stream/rent/download, which means some of the more recently released gems won’t be found here. Also, the picks are ranked from (very, very) best to, yeah, possibly still worth your time if you don’t have any other plans.
1. “Talk to Me”
I simply can’t get enough of this low budget Australian horror film, having already seen it a record (for me) five times in theaters and looking forward to even more viewings via streaming in the near future.
Obviously, I’m not alone, as “Talk to Me” — which premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival in October 2022 — has been a surprise hit at the box office.
Everything about this film works – from the writing and acting to the special effects and convincing scares – in this tale of a group of teenagers who find they can contact the dead with the use of a freaky embalmed hand.
The result is more than just the finest horror film of 2023. It’s simply one of the best horror movies of all time.
Although the film premiered back in December 2022 (obviously for Oscar consideration purposes), it wasn’t released theatrically until early January and, thus, is fair game for this list.
“M3GAN” is a wonderful update on the “Chucky” premise, as a child in need of a forever friend is given an extraordinary doll with a taste for blood. Only this time around, the resulting killing spree can’t be credited to a serial killer who has transferred his soul (via voodoo, of course) into a doll, but rather must be blamed on faulty programming.
So 2023, right?
The film is fun, clever and menacing, with a killer doll who already seems to have achieved icon status. Further following in Chucky’s footsteps, M3GAN seems destined to be a highly successful horror movie franchise.
3. Meg 2: The Trench
Nobody beats up sharks — especially deadly prehistoric sharks that are roughly the size of 18-wheelers — quite like Jason Statham.
And he’s back at it again in this sequel that’s even better than the original model from 2018. OK, maybe it’s not technically better — in terms of quality writing, fine acting and all those other things that aren’t all that important in a film like this. But it’s certainly more fun — and way more over the top — and that translates to a shark tale that is very worth your time this Halloween season.
4. “Viking Wolf”
The title is reminiscent of one of those goofy Syfy channel numbers — like “Ghost Shark” or “Ice Spiders” — where you spend more time scoffing at the special effects than actually being afraid.
Yet, “Viking Wolf” is anything but a laughing matter. Instead, this Norwegian horror film — which was released on Netflix in early 2023 — ranks as one of the most chilling werewolf epics to come around in years.
The story kicks off more than a thousand years in the past, when Vikings discover a wolf cub during a raid in Normandy. They decide to take the cub with them back to Norway — a decision that proves costly for generations to come.
The feature grows increasingly intense as the rest of the tale unfolds, doubling down on cool creature moments and big scares. Yet, “Viking Wolf” is also a film with a ton of heart — which is what’s really likely to stick with viewers long after the end credits roll.
5. “The Boogeyman”
The film is wonderfully unsettling, slowly building a nightmare scenario that feels both surreal and right around the corner. It’s based on a 1973 Stephen King short story of the same name. And when it comes to the wildly varying quality of King adaptations, “Boogeyman” is closer to “It’ than “Dreamcatcher.”
It’s not, however, recommended late-night viewing for all parties, given that the film might leave you questioning whether you’re actually hearing something moving in your bedroom closet as you turn off the light and rethinking whether you need to check under the bed just one more time.
I actually got a bit of the shivers just from writing that last paragraph, which further underscores the effectiveness of this Rob Savage-directed supernatural horror flick addressing the thing “that comes for your kids when you’re not paying attention.”
6. “The Blackening”
I tend to steer clear of the intentionally funny horror-movie lampoons — including most of the “Scary Movie” flicks — preferring instead to get laughs from horror films that aren’t trying to be funny. That’s why “Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest” is by far my favorite in that franchise.
Yet, this lampoon, specifically skewering how Blacks have long been portrayed in horror films, is a definite keeper. The film, which tells of a reunion of friends for a Juneteenth getaway in a cabin the woods, is smart, funny, well-acted and produces more legitimate scares than one typically gets in these types of horror lampoons.
7. “Evil Dead Rise”
I’m part of the camp that will always have a hard time with any “Evil Dead” film that doesn’t star the great Bruce Campbell. Yet, I still enjoyed this latest chapter in the seemingly never-ending tale of the dastardly Deadites.
It’s a wholly intense film, which gets off to a incredibly strong start and then just continues to ratchet up the menace, blood and gore as we move from a lakeside cabin to the home of what’s about to be a very unhappy family.
Ellie, the possessed mom played by Alyssa Sutherland, is nothing short of the stuff of nightmares.
8. “Cocaine Bear”
“Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” were quite likely the only films in 2023 to scare up more advance buzz than “Cocaine Bear,” which brought the Internet to its knees with its amazing coming attractions trailer.
The Elizabeth Banks-directed film then lived up to its advance hype, offering up equal amounts of ludicrous humor and horror as it tells the story of a forest creature who is certainly willing to fight for its right to party.
It’s worth seeing for many reasons, not the least of which being the chance to witness the late great Ray Liotta — in one of his last performances — do what only Ray Liotta could.
There’s something to be said about having low expectations, which is exactly what I had after watching just a few seconds of Nicholas Cage overact (yet again) in the trailer for this film. Yet, I try to be somewhat of a horror completist, and I had a few hours to kill in Los Angeles before going to see Phish at the Hollywood Bowl, so I plopped down the money for a matinee screening.
It turned out to be a very good idea, given that the Chris McKay-directed film is a really fun action/horror/comedies. Nicholas Hoult is superb in the title role, playing a supernaturally powerful servant to Dracula who is looking to make a career change. And, yes, Cage overacts in the role of Dracula – but in all the right ways.
10. “Scream VI”
Did we need another “Scream” movie? Absolutely not. But I’m still glad we got one as fun as this sixth installment, which now finds Ghostface terrorizing folks in New York City. Most of the main characters from the classic run of “Scream” films are now gone, except for unstoppable talk show host Gale Weathers (played by Courteney Cox), but the new crew — introduced in the previous “Scream” flick — and some old friends help move the story forward in a way that does justice to Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s creation.