First Kills: Our best first-time horror watches of 2022

Horrorville editor Brett Petersel invites the Letterboxd crew to revisit their favorite classic and current first-time horror watches of 2022.

LIST: Our crew’s favorite first-time horror watches of 2022

Here at Letterboxd, we (really) love horror films. So much so that, two years ago, we launched a dedicated HQ page just for the genre. Since then, Horrorville has published 700-plus lists, shared countless stories from actors, directors and musicians from all fields of the genre, grown the page to more than 45,000 followers, and, most importantly, kept the scares going year-round.

Our goal at Horrorville is to bring Letterboxd’s community together around a shared love of everything horror-related. Terror may be what tears our souls apart, but horror also brings us together. The wide-ranging genre is meant to be approached and interpreted in many different ways, and we continue to learn this from our members. Whether it’s a small debate about the best film ever (I enjoy throwing Nightbreed into the ring every chance that I get) or why a specific film is missing from a “best of” list (many of you are tired of seeing Halloween and The Shining get all of the glory), we enjoy reading your comments and engaging with every member who leaves a film suggestion.

In the final quarter of 2022 it’s safe (if anything is anything safe) to say this has been an amazing year for horror. We were gifted with new entries in the Scream, Predator and Terrifier series, Jordan Peele threw a curveball at us with Nope (Spoiler: it was aliens), and we were gifted a female Cenobite in Hulu’s Hellraiser, beautifully performed by Jamie Clayton. Unfortunately, some films, such as Evil Dead Rise, were pushed back to 2023 so they can be released in theaters (and to a wider audience), but we still have a number of movies this year to keep us busy.

The top ten films in the Official Top 50 Horror Films of 2022 according to the Letterboxd community’s ratings.
The top ten films in the Official Top 50 Horror Films of 2022 according to the Letterboxd community’s ratings.

Jack Moulton, our head of platform content and list-keeper extraordinaire, has been busy punching numbers and updating Horrorville’s Official Top 50 Horror Films of 2022. To be able to showcase 50 films already, all of them rated 3.0 out of five and above, is quite a feat, and goes to show how much the genre continues to evolve.

We’re still in a pandemic, so it’s worth noting that even while some films arrived both in theaters and on streaming services on the same release day (e.g. Halloween Ends), theatrical sales are showing a very strong turnout for horror. Whether it’s due to many of us being holed up for the past few years or just wanting to experience a film on the big screen with a huge bag of popcorn and surround-sound screams from fellow humans, horror movies provide a great return on investment. 

To celebrate Hallowe’en, I invited the Letterboxd team to share their favorite first-time horror watches with us—whether that be a classic or a current release. As is typical of any group of horror lovers, they came through with an eclectic mix of virgin scares. And now, on with the show. 

Slither (2006)

Written and directed by James Gunn
Watched by Brett Petersel

For years, Slither has been on my James Gunn watchlist, but it kept getting passed over by other films that he had written, such as The Belko Experiment and 2004’s Dawn of the Dead. I regret waiting for so long to watch it as it is a total blast! Plus, it’s great to see many of the cast members (Michael Rooker, Gregg Henry) from this film in other Gunn projects. Made well before his Guardians of the Galaxy days, Slither was Gunn’s feature directing debut and signaled him as one to watch in the body horror realm.

Its premise is classic John Carpenter-meets-David Cronenberg, as the small town of Wheelsy, South Carolina is slowly overrun by an alien plague that turns its residents into all manner of flesh-craving mutant monstrosities. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Michael Rooker in a grocery store salivating as he orders a bounty of raw meat to shovel down his gullet. Teafuelled calls the film “disgustingly good”, saying that it’s “the only movie where I couldn’t decide if I wanted to laugh or throw up”. Who can forget “Brenda the Blob”? Don’t be like me and wait fifteen-plus years to catch up with this early Gunn gorefest.

Videodrome (1983)

Written and directed by David Cronenberg
Watched by Annie Lyons

If 1980s horror has taught me anything, it’s that we are long overdue for a new wave of goo in movies. I want buckets of cinematic slime. I want more of the glistening carnality that oozed across my screen in Hellraiser (horny goo), The Thing (icky goo) and The Witches of Eastwick (horny movie, icky goo). And no movie that I’ve seen this year has made a stronger case for the special effect’s fleshy delights than Videodrome, David Cronenberg’s hallucinatory body horror staple about a sleazy TV producer (James Woods, also icky) who watches something he shouldn’t.

After all, as Cronenberg seems to whisper, why settle for injecting a movie into your veins when you can physically insert its tape into the tender flesh of yourself, driving it through the squelching folds carved out of your stomach? (A pulsating abyss affectionately referred to by Letterboxd members as the vcrussy, stomussy, chestussy and so forth.) The goopy and erotic phantasms aren’t exactly subtle. Nor is the familiar Cronenbergian thematic intersection of sex, violence, and media. But what makes my first Cronenberg outing feel so eerily prescient is how effectively he renders these cerebral ideas into visceral images, the type of body horror you feel in your gut… or stomach. Desensitization by overstimulation, media literally transforming the way someone interacts with reality, a physical evolution of sorts—it’s less technophobic than techno-paranoid, and therefore feels more true.

All that thematic goodness aside, I’m still thinking about the goo, if we’re being honest. Thankfully, I’m not alone. “The drip that drops from the bottom of Max’s gun-hand after he pulls it out of his stomach is one of the all-time lucky moments in special effects history. That drip bumps that shot over into greatness,” shares Haggie, while Soraya S. prescribes a heaping helping of “goopy fluid” to sterile modern cinema, adding that “David Cronenberg KNOWS that even if a man has a vagina on his chest and is storing videotapes and a gun in there, it can be sexy if everything is just covered in goo.” Body is ephemeral. Goo is eternal. Long live the new flesh!

Poltergeist (1982)

Directed by Tobe Hooper, written by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais and Mark Victor from a story by Spielberg
Watched by Gemma Gracewood

I’m one of two things when it comes to horror: a terrible snob, or a total baby. The snob comes out in force at the ridiculous performativity of it all, huffing and scoffing and watching the clock until the pantomime is over. The baby is reserved for what I consider to be true horror: events rooted in reality, usually involving very real and present danger to women and children. If the poster looks vaguely scary, it’s a nope from me. For this reason, I’ve missed a lot of truly excellent and very funny horror movies over the years, something guests of The Letterboxd Show have been rapidly rectifying by forcing thrills and grime on me and my co-host Slim throughout 2022.

And that’s how I finally—finally!—saw Poltergeist, a movie completely made for me. Suburban malaise! Parents smoking blunts up in the bedroom while their children are being spooked! A swimming pool full of bones! A horny teenage daughter! An anti-gentrification parable! Academic ghostbusting parapsychologists! JoBeth Williams as the best movie mother in history!

Horror-comedy has been one of my favorite hybrids ever since Peter Jackson put New Zealand on the map with an exploding sheep and yet, unlike Bad Taste’s bird-flipping alien, there was nothing on Poltergeist’s poster that suggested I’d get the full Jean Jacket ooze treatment, the jaunty dining room chair dance, the unsettling sexiness of Craig T. Nelson. And it’s a true spook-show, as Cate writes: “I like how there’s immediately ghosts. Absolutely no space for denial or skepticism or suspenseful creaking doors: once the place is haunted, it’s fully haunted... I also like how it still takes the time to be a goofy ‘80s movie throughout.”

It’s the Hooper-Spielberg combo for the win. “A perfect gateway horror film,” writes Brand Carpenter. “Forever grateful for my mom who introduced me to the film when I was little. Can’t wait to do the same with my kids.” I now know what my responsibility is as a parent.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

Directed by Charles B. Pierce, written by Earl E. Smith
Watched by Aaron Yap

For years, I had imagined Charles B. Pierce’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown to be a vampire film— perhaps subconsciously conflating its title with Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat— but turns out it’s much less fantastical than that, with horrors rooted in the mundane and swiped from the headlines rather than mythic text.

Loosely based on the Texarkana Moonlight Murders of 1946, it’s as much a grimy proto-slasher bridging The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Halloween, as it is a true-crime saga in the vein of In Cold Blood and Zodiac. The faux-doco aesthetics of Pierce’s first, and best-known work, The Legend of Boggy Creek—including the return of Vern Stierman’s matter-of-fact narration—are applied here in brutally stark fashion, charting the collective anxieties of a town rebuilding in the aftermath of war, but now destabilized by another manifestation of violent disorder. It’s “Norman Rockwell wholesome americana but extremely fucked up,” lana says.

Indeed, the film is, as Tony the terror observes, “a tonal circus show”, with bouts of clownish levity—bumbling, inept police officers, seemingly inappropriate music cues—that often stick out as a sore point for viewers. However, these instances of whiplash feel too deliberate to simply write off, especially when combined with Pierce’s immersive, textured grasp of period and location atmosphere, and as anna kendrick lamar says, his “selective narration, ominous chyrons, [and] bold uses of slowmo.” More so than many of the slashers it has come to prefigure, The Town That Dreaded Sundown chills the bone with its bleak, hypnotically plodding procedural. Rather than settling on cathartic comeuppance, it opts for open-ended disquiet—the sound of all the air punched out of our lungs by unresolvable dread.

Fall (2022)

Directed by Scott Mann, written by Mann and Jonathan Frank
Watched by Dominic Corry

Talk about elevated horror! Scott Mann’s Fall principally takes place 2000 feet in the air, atop an old radio tower in the middle of the desert, where two friends, Becky and Hunter, (Grace Caroline Currey from Shazam! and Virginia Gardner from 2018’s Halloween) are stranded due to the rusty ladder having broken off beneath them. Both experienced mountain climbers, they have ascended the radio tower to spread the ashes of Becky’s boyfriend (Mason Gooding), who fell off a cliff one year earlier in the film’s opening scene.

Many complained that this scene ripped off Cliffhanger’s opener, but I say more movies should rip off Cliffhanger! And they do it well here! I am a huge sucker for films in which the threat of falling to your death from a great height has a presence, and Fall may just be the apex of this genre. It’s a consistently inventive, occasionally grisly (and yes, sometimes silly) take on what I hereby deem “vertigorno”, and maintains the tension at levels that made me very uncomfortable for most of the movie. It was wonderful.

The slick compositing from director Scott Mann and his team gives the film a texture you might not expect. Often when movie scenes take place at this height with such wide backgrounds, the green screen nature of the filming makes itself known. But the makers of Fall nailed the background vistas perfectly, and the space around the leads feels real and unending. Bright sunny skies have never felt so threatening.

I don’t care that this is currently sitting on a 2.7 average rating on Letterboxd—those who love this movie, really love it. MichaelEternity may be onto something when he writes in his review that “maybe this movie only works on those with vertigo, but boy does it.” Stephen King recently tweeted that the film is “tight, terrific, and very, very scary. Reminded me a bit of Duel. Wish I’d written it.” A fun antidote to the recent surfeit of dark horror movies that take place in cramped, dank spaces, Fall is an agoraphobic delight, and is helping to fill the hole in my heart created by the absence of the similarly-scaled Final Destination movies.

Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

Written and directed by Deborah Brock
Watched by Samm

Amy Holden Jones and Rita Mae Brown’s 1982 slasher comedy Slumber Party Massacre is known best for its subversive feminist themes and not-so-subtle satire (you’ve probably heard of the iconic scene of the victims eating pizza off a corpse mid-massacre or the killer’s phallic murder weapon). Deborah Brock’s Nightmare on Elm Street-esque psychosexual musical sequel, 1987’s Slumber Party Massacre II, triples down on the qualities that make the first film such a cult classic. Madeline describes Brock’s film as, “the aftershock of violent trauma filtered through a prism of ’80s music videos and stellar gore effects. You see how trauma taints parties, eating, and especially sex… This movie is a better metaphor for surviving abuse than even the stellar Invisible Man (2020).”

As a survivor of the first massacre, Courtney’s dreams of her crush shirtlessly catching footballs are interrupted by trauma-fueled nightmares of a supernatural rockabilly murderer taunting her and killing her loved ones using his fully functional drill-guitar. Referred to as the Driller Killer, this guy largely speaks in song titles and can put on one mean musical performance. How does he tune his guitar with a power drill in place of a headstock? Who cares?!

As quirky as this goober is, Brock knows that where her film shines brightest is with her ensemble of iconic women. Liz writes, “Deborah Brock cares so little about her dumb jabroni rocker villain that she probably only gives him about twenty minutes of screentime, maximizing the time we get to spend with this super fun group of girls and their post-Bangles valley-paisley band.” They’re such an amazing example of the I-wish-I-was-their-friend group. A weekend with these teens consists of silly sing-along car rides, band practice, groupie idiot boyfriends, sex, smut-reading, Cheez Wiz, and some questionable Champagne-induced white girl dance moves. Maybe, or maybe not, the most ideal setting to take a PTSD nosedive.

Visitor Q (2001)

Directed by Takashi Miike, written by Itaru Era
Watched by Alicia Haddick

Can you really recommend Takashi Miike’s extreme horror exploitation film Visitor Q to anyone? It’s difficult. There’s a reason you usually hear praise for his other ultraviolent experiences like Ichi the Killer and Audition before this title is uttered in conversation. But horror is meant to shock, right?

Through the titular Q (Kazushi Watanabe) arriving into a dysfunctional family’s life that is already beset by domestic abuse and a father-daughter incestuous relationship, we have a physical manifestation of a person’s darkest desires and intrusive thoughts facilitating even more gross abuses. Without reprieve, our expectations of a normal family are ripped apart and destroyed as barriers of personhood are broken. The audience is invited to watch or squirm away. In a film with everything from necrophilia to lactation, it’s so extreme that through its disregard for normalcy a nuanced critique on the expectations of the family unit and their capacity for abuse rises to the surface… if you can watch for long enough without reaching for the remote.

Even as exploitation facilitates its commentary it’s hard not to think at times that it goes too far. Still, the mix of shock and contemplation from fellow Letterboxd members at least assures me I’m not alone in considering this a fascinatingly horrific experience. While Cristian Torres feels there is “too much shock to value it,” Darren Carver-Balsiger sees the film as “provocative, transgressive, and repulsive.” Both takes are perfectly valid. 

Ginger Snaps (2000)

Directed by John Fawcett, written by Fawcett and Karen Walton
Watched by Brian Formo

The Letterboxd and Film Twitter communities have been correct in their re-evaluation of Jennifer’s Body as a cult classic. But almost every bit of that reclaimed praise should also extend to Ginger Snaps, the early 2000s feminist werewolf movie that came before it. It features peculiar Canadian sisters/best friends who pass the time by staging elaborate forensic photos—all while neighborhood pets are being maimed by an unknown predator. When one of the sisters, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle), starts her period and local shithead boys start to howl at her, the beast that is attacking the town is about to emerge through her newfound primal awareness of sexual expectation and desire.

John Fawcett’s horror comedy is whip-smart and gross with fun practical effects that mimic the girls’ DIY forensic aesthetic. The twee, sardonic dialogue and sisterhood dynamic aren’t the only parallels with Jennifer’s Body. Both films share a despondent outlook on the body expectations thrust upon young women. This works well not just as a societal critique but within the horror genre itself. And both films focus on the POV of the friend/sister (Emily Perkins) of the girl receiving all the attention; the one witnessing the power dynamic shifts that can feed the monster within the monster that has possessed them. Anyone who is on the right side of history with Karyn Kusama’s film should also give Ginger Snaps a fresh watch. As Claira Curtis says, “Ginger Snaps takes the body horror of puberty and the restructuring of sisterhood in the face of puberty in its jaws and refuses to let go until the bloody end.”

Halloween Ends (2022)

Directed by David Gordon Green, written by Green, Paul Brad Logan, Chris Bernier, and Danny McBride
Watched by slim

Halloween has ended thanks to David Gordon Green. It’s over. The director’s final piece of his trilogy, Halloween Ends, is sitting at a 2.3 out of five on Letterboxd right now so you’re probably wondering why on Earth I am choosing this as my fave horror of the year. My own friends on Letterboxd are giving me the stink-eye!

If you’ve sat through twelve other Halloweens like I have, you are ready for something new when it comes to Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney) and Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). Let’s take a chance! Green had dropped seeds of it in his previous Halloween films regarding the trauma of Haddonfield and the evil lurking inside all of us, so I was pretty wowed when he decided to show a brand new character dealing with themes similar to Laurie—one that ended up giving into that darkness. I also loved seeing a weakened Michael Myers lurking in the sewers (maybe) due to Laurie herself leaving her dark past behind her and starting a brand new life with her granddaughter. The Shape’s solar panels of negativity had been cut off… until he found a new babysitter on the edge.

My buddy Dale has a similar thought in remembering how this won’t take anything away from potential future installments: “How do we keep telling the same story with the same adversaries for longer than the 40 REAL LIFE years they’ve been told? None of that takes away from new stories that can be told, or ignored for the sake of entertaining the masses in the future.”

Why not try something new? A life lesson to remember from the makers of Halloween Ends.

One Cut of the Dead (2017)

Written and directed by Shinichiro Ueda
Watched by Marcie Neubert

Like so many horror movies, viewer should know as little as possible about Shinichiro Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead before going in. I know that can be aggravating to read, but I cannot stress enough to watch this with only the barest amount of knowledge, as was the case for myself before my first viewing. The film centers on a small group of independent filmmakers working on a zombie picture when they find themselves in the center of a literal zombie apocalypse. It’s like every filmmaker’s biggest dream and darkest nightmare rolled into one! A simple premise with a huge payoff, just the way you want it. What follows is a wild ride that keeps your head spinning at the roller-coaster of narrative turns.

If you love the process of filmmaking itself, you’re going to enjoy every second of this. The real joy in One Cut of the Dead beyond all of the zombie goodness is seeing all the effort that went into completing this bootstrapped production. With a budget of only $25,000 (yes, that’s right, I didn’t forget a single zero there), the final product is a marvel. The thrill of knowing how these artists came together out of their pure love for cinema to create the film is mirrored in the thrill of watching the characters overcome their obstacles. What’s tougher, getting a movie made or surviving a zombie apocalypse? You be the judge.

One Cut of the Dead is currently streaming on Shudder and has a runtime of only 96 minutes, so you have no excuse not to check it out! As Dirk H puts it, “This film should be seen by anyone and everyone who loves movies, zombies, subversion, intelligent writing, B-movies, a good laugh, very clever filmmaking and surprises.”

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Written and directed by Steven Spielberg
Watched by Ella Kemp

It was a massive blind spot. I’ve known this for years, but there was something keeping me from A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Maybe it was that there was no way, surely, back in 2001, that Spielberg had figured out this freakish technology that seems to be controlling my life today? Maybe it looked a little cold. But you don’t need me to tell you how wrong I was: there is so much love and wonder in A.I. that I sometimes find it hard to remember it’s just one film.

Of course, Stanley Kubrick was supposed to direct (and there could have been a lot more out-and-out horror if he had) but there are still moments of great terror to be found in Spielberg’s vision. You could point to the Flesh Fair, a nightmarish monster truck-type arena focusing instead on, well, flesh, but the most petrifying thing for me is what David (Haley Joel Osment) is constantly searching for, the yearning this tiny robot boy feels, that kind of emptiness that drowns you in the middle of a nightmare when you realize that you are, in fact, all alone.

It’s scary not in a jump-scare sense, but in a way that makes you double check your loved ones’ phone numbers or when you last told them how much they meant to you, because the fear of losing them, or forgetting them, is just too heavy to even imagine. What scares me about A.I is how much it’s going to mean when grief is so much more potent than gore. It’s the most horrifying thing there is.

Midsommar (2019)

Written and directed by Ari Aster
Watched by Mike Harding

What an experience this was! I don’t know that it was one I enjoyed, but I know that it stuck with me through the following days. There’s a lot to love in the visual style of Ari Aster’s Midsommar—beautiful scenery, the village, the costumes, artwork, runes and buildings. Coupled with the near-constant summer sun, it all works to create a jarring cognitive dissonance as events begin to play out when this group of friends travels to Sweden on an anthropological trip for a summer festival held every 90 years. Turns out (surprise) there’s something a little more unsettling lurking underneath those crisp white clothes and bright skies.

Midsommar caused me to exclaim “JESUS HOLY F—KING CHRIST!!” out loud, numerous times, but thinking back on the experience, it’s surprising how much actually happens off-screen and isn’t revealed until after the fact. Marsh boy got it right on the money with their inclusion of Aster’s movie in their list of films that are even more damaging to think of than to actually see.

It is also, as many Letterboxd reviews and lists have pointed out, either totally not a date movie or maybe actually the perfect date movie as a litmus test for if your relationship needs some work. The emotional trauma we see Dani go through is beyond intense, and now I need a film where Florence Pugh just gets to smile and be happy, please. (Also: mind blown to discover that nice old Dan is the most beautiful boy in the world.)

Organ (1996)

Written and directed by Kei Fujiwara
Watched by Katie Rife

I watch so many movies for work that I don’t have a ton of time to explore different genres on my own. (I know, poor me.) So when I do have the chance to go down a rabbit hole, it’s usually tied to something that I’m working on. This year, the happiest surprises came from programming horror movies for the Music Box Theatre here in Chicago, and specifically from my co-programmer Will Morris, who introduced me to the untouchable coolness of Kei Fujiwara. (Here’s a picture of her, from a short film by her longtime collaborator Shinya Tsukamoto.)

Fans of Japanese horror might know Fujiwara from Tetsuo the Iron Man, where she plays the unnamed “girlfriend” who witnesses the title character’s grotesque transformation into a post-human f—king machine. But Fujiwara is no mere love interest. She also designed many of the movie’s props—“the phallic drill was her creation, made out of little more than a motor, tape and spray paint,” Willow Maclay explains—and is a visionary cyberpunk body-horror genius in her own right.

Fujiwara’s sole feature film as a director is 1996’s Organ, a grimy, maniacal movie whose grainy look and boxed-in 4:3 aspect ratio enhance the feeling that you’re watching something that you’re not supposed to see. The story loosely follows the adventures of a psychopathic surgeon/serial killer, the yakuzas who hired him to work for their underground organ-harvesting operation, and the cops who resort to increasingly violent tactics to try to stop him. But the plot is secondary to “continuously bombarding the viewer with images of grotesqueries, gore, rot and violence in brilliant color,” as Industria writes.

Fujiwara’s gore comes in both the brightly colored, Troma-esque toxic-waste variety and a more realistic, viscous, infected-looking pus that you can practically smell through the screen. Both types are eroticized, in disturbing sequences that glisten and squish. If Tetsuo is about transcending the limits of the human body, Organ is about celebrating its ability to produce colors and textures that are both nauseating and kind of beautiful. 

Fujiwara co-stars, in a dual role as the violently deranged, eyepatched leader of the organ ring and as a woman who wiggles out of a giant cocoon while squealing in orgasmic delight in an unforgettable hallucinatory sequence. She’s like the weird girl in your elementary-school class who plays with worms at recess and smells her fingers after sticking them in her ears, only all grown up and an avant-garde theater and film artist living in Tokyo. I hear she owns a restaurant now. I wonder what that place is like.

May (2002)

Written and directed by Lucky McKee
Watched by Mia Vicino

Letterboxd will tell you that May is a “psychological horror about a lonely young woman traumatized by a difficult childhood, and her increasingly desperate attempts to connect with the people around her.” IMDb will tell you that May is about “a socially awkward veterinary assistant with a lazy eye and obsession with perfection [who] descends into depravity after developing a crush on a boy with perfect hands.” And I will tell you that May is “the greatest movie ever made.”

I had been stubbornly putting this one off because I knew there was a graphic cat death scene, but Weekend Watchlist called, and it was my professional duty to answer. It’s been a long time coming—over the years, friends and strangers alike relentlessly recommended I seek May out as soon as they would catch a whiff of my rust-scented affinity for weird women and body horror. Maybe I should be concerned but I’m choosing to be flattered, because they were right—it was love at first watch.

As I gawked at May (Angela Bettis), she gawked at the boy with perfect hands (Jeremy Sisto of Clueless), a roguish mechanic and amateur filmmaker named Adam who says things like, “There’s an Argento playing at the Beverly in fifteen minutes. I took the afternoon off. They’re showing Trauma.” After he shows her a short film he made of two cannibal lovers eating each other, she kisses him so viciously that his lip bleeds, frightening him off. But it’s not just her teeth gnashing to devour him—her eyes are just as culpable.

One of the most effective aspects of writer-director Lucky McKee’s gothic character study is how it’s decisively shot from May’s point of view, dropping us squarely into her morbid, alienated headspace. The frame fragments subjects’ bodies into pieces as her unquenchable voyeurism siphons their power, redirecting it towards her own. Usually, the target is Adam’s hands, but sometimes it’s her lipstick lesbian co-worker’s (honorary scream queen Anna Faris) neck, or a nameless punk’s (Gregg Arakki muse James Duval) tattooed arm. Her obsession culminates in a surreal climax of loneliness, desire and mutilation that’s as gruesome as it is emotionally devastating.

Blood Quantum (2019)

Written and directed by Jeff Barnaby
Watched by Leo Koziol

The zombie genre has been so overcooked it’s hard to find any freshness, but horror fans wanting something different should check out the Indigenous horror Blood Quantum from writer-director Jeff Barnaby (Mi’kmaq). The dead are coming back to life outside the isolated Mi’kmaq reserve of Red Crow and while non-Natives suffer in the usual way zombie lore has told us, the Native inhabitants seem strangely immune to the zombie plague.

There’s a treasure trove of Native talent here both behind and in front of the screen, with the cast led by Wild Indian and Rutherford Falls star Michael Greyeyes (Muskeg Lake First Nation) and Night Raiders and The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open’s Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (Kainai First Nation). When I spoke with Greyeyes last year for Wild Indian he made sure to fit in some praise for Blood Quantum, saying, “ I love zombie movies and Jeff Barnaby is an amazing director.”

Barnaby’s film employs a split timeline that could feel a bit jarring, but it ultimately travels to a satisfying finish with all the mandatory levels of gore and visceral blood flow. As Matt Lynch puts it, Blood Quantum “confidently rides a line between the usual Walking Dead-style bleakness and actual satire, with a ton of terrific gore and some real honest-to-God humor instead of camp or silliness. A very good splatter film.”

Jeff Barnaby sadly passed away earlier this month at the age of 46. He was a unique talent with a fanbase hopeful for more from him. Barnaby’s 2013 feature debut, Rhymes for Young Ghouls, kick-started the career of Reservation Dogs lead Devery Jacobs (Kahnawake Mohawk First Nation), who reunited with the director on Blood Quantum. The world is left with his two features and several short films by which to celebrate his talent. Rest in peace, Jeff Barnaby, you saw the world like no other and that was your immortal gift. Wela’lin!

Vampire’s Kiss (1988)

Directed by Robert Bierman, written by Joseph Minion
Watched by Mitchell Beaupre

If you’ve been on the internet anytime in the last ten years, you’ve seen Nicolas Cage in Robert Bierman’s 1988 horror comedy Vampire’s Kiss. Of all the Cages to have been meme’d into oblivion, this may stand at the top of the pack. It’s not difficult to see why. Whether you admire gonzo Cage sincerely or ironically, this is him at his wildest—fully committed to a next-level bonkers performance as a publishing executive who believes he’s been bitten by a vampire (Jennifer Beals) and finds himself turning.

Take a stroll through the film’s Letterboxd reviews, and it’s no surprise that you’ll find the majority of people commenting specifically on what Cage is doing here. “A legitimate contender for the greatest performance of all-time.” “You might think you know Nic Cage, but you haven’t really experienced the real Nicolas Cage until you’ve seen this movie.” Hell, The Ringer even did an oral history on Vampire’s Kiss, calling it the “craziest Nicolas Cage movie of all time”, and jamming it with juicy details such as him requiring hot yogurt to be poured over his toes to get him turned on while shooting a love scene.

Vampire’s Kiss starts with the most Nicolas Cage performance to ever exist, and uses that as a funnel by which to explore workplace harassment. You’re stunned by the absurdity of it all, but that absurdity is expertly pitched as a reflection of how it should be more apparent to the world how ridiculous and cruel it is to see a boss demanding his assistant work all hours of the night to find a document that more than likely doesn’t even exist or be at risk of losing her job.

Written by Joseph Minion—a man with few credits, but what he’s got on his CV includes this and my all-time favorite film After Hours, making him the king of Help! I Got Too Horny and Now Everything’s Bad cinema and I thank him for it—there’s enough lunacy in Cage and the horny hijinks to make it worth a watch no matter what, but what really caught me off guard was getting past the outrageous surface and thinking about the layers laced underneath. Sally Jane Black puts it well: “As the film starts setting up the strange psychological miasma around Cage, it seems very much like the world around him is matching his bizarre performance, as if it was not merely the world through his eyes, but the world warped by him, objectively made as bananas as he is.”

Miracle Mile (1988)

Written and directed by Steve De Jarnatt
Watched by Jack Moulton

Okay, I’ll admit I might be cheating here. While Miracle Mile may not explicitly belong in the horror books, there is no doubt that it depicts a waking nightmare. We’ll encounter action, thriller, sci-fi, romance, and even comedy tropes before anything resembling a horror scene—but what is scarier than nuclear annihilation? Right now, with looming escalation on Russia’s behalf, the existential threat of the end of human history has rarely been this potent.

Anthony Edwards stars in a rare leading role as Harry Washello, opposite his future wife Mare Winningham as Julie Peters—the pair eloped in real life last year (cute!). When Harry oversleeps for their first date on the iconic Wilshire Boulevard, he finds himself on the mysterious receiving end of a dire warning about an apocalyptic chain reaction. His reckless anxiety in spreading the news leads to widespread hysteria across the city while his priority number one persistently remains to redeem his standing with Julie.

It’s a best-case scenario wrapped inside a worst-case scenario, following the daydream logic of “how do I win the girl back?” Answer: You save her. Sub-answer: That is, from something obscenely horrific. Coming in the late ’80s, the film exudes the giddy energy that makes the ‘one crazy night’ genre shine. With a fresh idea around every corner, it’s easy to forgive its loose ends, throwaway side characters and minor contrivances. This is a film coming raw on the heels of the trauma of the duck-and-cover generation, geared for panic.

The most frightening scene comes at the breakdown of society: with Harry’s crucial tip confirmed, the streets instantly jam up and it’s every man for themselves. It’s enough carnage to make you want to take your chances in your bathtub instead. And yet, even in the face of utter hopelessness, there is still value in fighting for love—because no matter what, love wins.

Trouble Every Day (2001)

Directed by Claire Denis, written by Denis and Jean-Pol Fargeau
Watched by Isaac Feldberg

“You were in love with her?” “It’s not the right word for it.” In the ineffably melancholic opening minutes of Claire Denis’ misunderstood masterpiece, an unidentified couple necks in the backseat of a car, a man kisses his wife’s forearm on an overnight flight, and a woman in a black slip smiles invitingly at a passing lorry driver, only to soon after be found crouched in nearby grass, gnawing on his flesh.

In their languid, lurid procession, set to a brooding title track by Tindersticks, these early scenes announce Trouble Every Day as a film of unusual potency and macabre intrigue, one in which the Gothic and the Romantic commingle in strange, disturbing ways. Denis has always been a filmmaker attuned to primal desires and instincts, and her choice to work within a genre framework foreign to her for Trouble Every Day perhaps account for the film’s frightening ability to stay beneath one’s skin.

Often wordless, though passionately articulated through unshakable images of sensuality and horror, the film introduces its characters gradually. The man on the plane is Shane (Vincent Gallo), who has brought his bride, June (Tricia Vessey), to Paris for their honeymoon; the blood-smeared woman is Coré (Béatrice Dalle), whose husband Léo (Alex Descas) has little recourse to address her cannibalistic appetites other than to lock her up at home. How the two couples connect is eventually made clear, but Denis is less interested in narrative progress than a sustained mood of haunting, ravenous emotion.

“This is truly the best horror film of the 21st century,” writes Jamie Rebanal, praising the film’s uncanny atmosphere, while Kenji Fujishima describes it as “an alternately lyrical and brutal vision of desire as pure lust, with cannibalism envisioned as the end result of tossing off one’s inner humanity in favor of animal instinct. But then, isn’t that what sex essentially is, in some ways?”

An erotic romance that’s as graphic for its sequences of horrific violence, Trouble Every Day explores attraction and repulsion as forces of nature. Intimacy registers as something similar, a site of pleasure and pain at once exhilarating and impossible to control. In the film’s understanding of this, and in its evocation of the bloodlust shared between sex and violence, Trouble Every Day treats cannibalism as a transgressive allegory for some hidden, innermost, all-consuming hunger.


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