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As we round the final bend toward the end of an especially scary movie year, there’s tons of holiday-season downtime to finally dim the lights, light up the small screen, and play catch-up on all the frightful films that somehow might’ve escaped your gaze over the course of the past 12 months.
The 2022 creepy-movie calendar gifted fans with a huge variety of horror treats, from inspired franchise revivals like Scream, Hellraiser, and Prey to killer last-gasp sequels like Halloween Ends. In the midst of all the mayhem, a ton of fresh and original ideas came slashing to the forefront, from the wickedly primal underground terror of Barbarian to the otherworldly, skybound scares of Jordan Peele’s Nope.
Check out our roundup of the nine best horror flicks from the year that was, and see how yours compares. Whether you’ve seen ‘em all or still have some leftover adrenaline that needs a fresh jolt, there’s no time like the binge-ready present to scorch some popcorn, grab the remote, and test your malevolent movie mettle from the comfort of home.
Newly reimagined after years of hit-and-miss sequels since the franchise’s 1987 debut, David Bruckner's Hellraiser debuted directly this year to Hulu and starred Jamie Clayton as an all-new (and effectively evil) Pinhead. That was just the movie’s first killer call: As a return-to-the-roots reboot, Hellraiser deftly balanced the series’ deep and familiar lore while stacking terrifying new tropes onto its Cenobite-led scares, all through the eyes of Riley McKendry (Odess A’zion) — a suffering survivor of humanity’s hard knocks who made for a fantastically flawed protagonist.
Another great reset of an undeniable slasher classic, Scream brought the best ideas from the Wes Craven-created series together with a cast that mixed old-school favorites Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette with a new batch of teens doomed to walk in the bloody footsteps of their haunted Woodsboro forebears. Filmmakers Radio Silence (aka Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett) not only closed the circle on years’ worth of dangling Ghostface dread; they also effectively set up a new direction for the Scream franchise that’s set to take another step when Scream VI arrives on March 10 of 2023.
Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Michael Myers inhabit a Haddonfield that’s heaving under the weight of an inescapable horror legacy in Universal’s Halloween Ends, the third and final film in director David Gordon Green’s modern Halloween trilogy. A terrifying ode to the idea that you can never really go home again, Strode’s final family fling with pure evil almost comes full circle as the movie carries out a clever, if divisive, torch-passing for its iconic killer. Framed by a creepy score from franchise founder John Carpenter alongside son Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, it’s a wrenching reflection on the way a small town’s darkest deeds can stalk its streets forever — even when its weary residents carry haunted memories that keep them on perpetually high alert.
Sometimes a movie’s marketing strategy has fans fully invested (and already half-scared) before they ever arrive in theaters. That’s part of the trick that Paramount pulled with help from first-time feature writer-director Parker Finn in Smile, a jump scare-scattered fright fest that wrings tons of tension from psychiatrist Rose Cotter’s (Sosie Bacon) descent into suspending her own disbelief at what compels someone toward violence. Nothing in the teasers prepared audiences for the film’s frightening final act — a selling point that compels those who’ve seen the movie, grinning like lunatics of course, not to spoil for the blissfully uninitiated.
X and Pearl
We’ll cheat and count both X and its same-year prequel Pearl as one gigantic, grotesque new entry in 2022's horror hall of fame. House of the Devil directing alum Ti West brought some of that 2009 film’s familiar slasher feel to X’s deceptively sleazy story of a ‘70s porno shoot gone wrong, in the process elevating main baddie Pearl (Mia Goth) into a devilishly delicious antagonist with staying power. With Pearl exploring the disturbed Texas loner’s early-1900s backstory in the prequel’s semi-surprising September release, there’s already more in store: West and Goth are already hard at work on MaXXXine, a horror sequel set to pick up after the events of X.
A terrific prequel that treads all-new ground in the well-traveled Predator story-verse, the Dan Trachtenberg-directed Prey rolled the clock back to the 18th Century for a suspenseful game of cat-and-mouse that, despite its primitive setting, punched far above its sticks-and-stones firepower. Comanche warrior-healer Naru (Amber Midthunder) emerges as the film's solo human stalker who gets wise to the idea that something bigger than a bear is killing off North American natives and settlers indiscriminately, and the tactical set pieces that frame her every tense encounter with the advanced alien hunter rank as some of the best since Arnold Schwarzenegger became one with the jungle in the 1987 original. Better still, there’s a very good — and very clever — canine companion scampering along for every twist and turn of Prey’s wild pre-modern ride.
The Black Phone
A Joe Hill short story, a hauntingly horrifying mask, and Ethan Hawke continuing a strong recent string of villain roles — this time as the child-murdering terror known as the Grabber: In Universal’s The Black Phone, it all comes together for a supernaturally scary tale that stands out among this year’s crowd of more conventional slashers. Plying the stark streets of 1970s Denver as a young boy (played by Mason Thames) communes with the Grabber’s past victims via a mysterious black phone, the movie reaches a gruesome climax in a creatively creepy coming-of-age story with an entrails-strewn trail of terror in its wake.
Barbarian starts with a great premise and only gets more gloriously unpredictable from there: Two strangers (Georgina Campbell and Bill Skarsgård) find far more than a simple inconvenience when they double-book a rental house in part of Detroit’s abandoned urban sprawl, kicking off a chain of twisted discoveries that reach decades back in time. Infusing the scares with Cabin Fever-worthy comedic moments and the kind of cloistered-freak thrills that animate classics like The Hills Have Eyes, first-time horror director Zach Cregger (an alum of comedy troupe The Whitest Kids U’ Know) even found the perfect slimeball role for the eminently likable Justin Long — all in a story that merges the concept of calculated evil with something far more instinctive, ancient, and primal.
Nope isn’t just one of the year’s best horror movies; it’s one of the year’s best movies, period. Jordan Peele’s freaky 2022 fright fest came as an exponentially more ambitious grab-bag of big ideas than the deep-thinking twists that propelled his Oscar-winning Get Out (2017) and 2019’s horror followup Us. The uncanny unknown of a UFO visitation transforms into a Steven Spielberg-style, wide-eyed compulsion for stars Daniel Kaluuya (Otis "OJ" Haywood Jr.) and Keke Palmer (sibling Emerald "Em" Haywood) to reach out and make contact through their docu-camera — but of course it's an idea that proves far worse for them than for all the thrill-seeking movie fans fortunate enough to tag along. In a year where a handful of horror films staked out genre-crossing concepts to create more multi-dimensional frights than your typical scary-story setup, Peele and Universal collaborated for an original IP that rates as the cleverest — and the scariest — of them all.