Fresh Frights: 2021's Best New Horror Films for Spooky Season

'Fear Street,' 'Things Seen & Heard,' 'V/H/S/94' and more essential viewing this Halloween

BY Alex Hudson and Alisha MughalPublished Oct 15, 2021

So you've already marathoned your way through Squid Game and October isn't even half over — you're going to need some more scary movies to make it all the way through spooky season. While the classics are always an option (and, hey, there's a new Halloween movie opening this weekend), you might be looking for something new.

Luckily, 2021 has already delivered a solid selection of new horror movies to dig into in the lead-up to Halloween. From over-the-top blockbusters that perfectly play into classic genre tropes to under-the-radar sleeper hits, the year has given us some must-see scary movies that may well turn into annual traditions in the years to come.

Here are the best and spookiest new films to watch this Halloween.

Army of the Dead
Directed by Zack Snyder
Where to watch: Netflix

Unlike most films on this list, Army of the Dead isn't exactly a horror movie, but this action-thriller from Zack Synder is a solid twist on the zombie genre. While most zombie movies involve escape, Army of the Dead flips the script by having its protagonist (Dave Bautista) break into a zombie enclave — Las Vegas, where the so-called "shamblers" have been quarantined — to lead a high-risk heist at one of the casinos. At nearly two and a half hours, it's far too long, but the gory zombie deaths and Tig Notaro's scene-stealing supporting performance make it a worthwhile watch.

Boys from County Hell
Directed by Chris Baugh
Where to watch: Shudder

A group of road workers accidentally awaken the vampire that inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula in this Irish gem. Boys from County Hell delights through whip-smart characters and a self-aware/self-recursive heart of gold (it walks just this side of parody by virtue of a grim vulnerability written into each character, especially the father-son duo at its core; think In Bruges as opposed to Shaun of the Dead). Though it certainly satisfies in the gore department, it's a perfect film for those moments when you might want a break from the unadulterated terror delivered by some of the other movies on this list.

False Positive
Directed by John Lee
Where to watch: Hulu

If Rosemary's Baby had a baby with Dead Rings, then it would be this deeply creepy Ilana Glazer gem. Glazer plays Lucy, a woman who desperately wants to have a baby but can't get pregnant. Her husband (Justin Theroux) takes her to too-perfect fertility doctor John Hindle (Pierce Brosnan), who miraculously impregnates Lucy through an insemination technique he invented — this is when things get icky. On the one hand, False Positive humorously skewers New York's millennial  bourgeoisie, as well as the way society hypocritically rationalizes the trauma of motherhood away; on the other disembodied hand, False Positive hooks its slimy, Cronenbergian tentacles into your skin from the first frame, digging deeper and deeper as it subtly layers on a facetious mundanity, until finally its jaw-dropping denouement bursts through your chest and takes your breath away. (Sorry, Canada, but it's only on Hulu for now.)

Fear Street Trilogy
Directed by Leigh Janiak
Where to watch: Netflix

These aren't the R.L. Stine stories you remember from your childhood. While Leigh Janiak's trilogy has roots in a series of young adult novels, these three films are decidedly R-rated, with swearing and disgusting gore aplenty. But even more important than the blood-gushing body horror is the emotion at the heart of these tales of teenage survival. The Scream-worshipping Part 1: 1994 is a touching lesbian romance, summer camp slasher Part 2: 1978 delves into the social traumas of being a teenager, and colonial folk horror Part 3: 1666 is a frightening look at persecution and prejudice. Throw in some cool-looking monsters, lots of era-appropriate music and a retro slasher aesthetic, and Fear Street is an absolute blast to watch.

The Medium
Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun
Where to watch: Shudder

Liable to make even the most seasoned horror fan watch through trembling fingers, The Medium descends upon us from the minds behind Shutter and The Wailing. Vivifying and redefining the found-footage genre, The Medium depicts a documentary team following Nim, a shaman in Northern Thailand, as she works to get to the bottom of her niece Mink's possession. At first it seems as though Mink is possessed by Nim's family's ancestral goddess, a sign of an inheritance of shamanism. But when Mink's behaviour takes a sharp turn towards what-the-fuck, Nim suspects extremely dark forces are afoot. The Medium is unrelenting and unrepentant in its depiction of our worst fears (in addition to many scenes of human death, animals are killed onscreen — be warned). It never takes the easy way out, never lessens its pressure on our exposed nerves, as it compellingly and terrifyingly tackles ideas of godlessness, predestination and inherited sins. Not bothering to quell any of the tension it creates, The Medium will set over you like a pall that'll become increasingly murky as days pass, which they will — this one will stay with you for an abominable while.

The Night House
Directed by David Bruckner
Where to watch: VOD

In this cerebral scary movie, Rebecca Hall plays Beth, a widow mourning her recently deceased husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) in the house he built for them. The apparently stable Owen died by suicide, and Beth is having a tough time understanding why — she had always been the mentally unstable one in the relationship. In between tears and swigs of scotch, Beth is visited on a nightly basis by a being she believes to be her husband's ghost. Convinced there's more to Owen's suicide, Beth tries to get to the bottom of why he might have died, and in so doing she uncovers grisly secrets about him and herself. The Night House turns and roils like a maze, like the Rubik's cube of a house at its centre. Though its horrors are ripe for interpretation — it's deliciously meta while being simple and raw — The Night House is a must-watch for Hall's wrenching performance alone.

Shiva Baby
Directed by Emma Seligman
Where to watch: Crave

Shiva Baby is horror because of its tone, not its content. The story of a sugar baby (Rachel Sennott) who unexpectedly runs into both her sugar daddy and her ex-girlfriend's wife at a shiva (a Jewish memorial tradition), the debut feature from Emma Seligman is pure stress. Family tension builds to a feverish crescendo, made all the more disturbing by Ariel Marx's spine-tingling score, made up of dissonant screeches and jarring plink-plonks. It's a pointed commentary on social pressures and family expectations, and my blood pressure has risen just writing about it.

Things Heard & Seen
Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
Where to watch: Netflix

Amanda Seyfried is pitch perfect as a stifled, tortured housewife in this adaptation of Elizabeth Brundage's novel, All Things Cease to Appear. Turning the classic haunted house story on its head, Things Heard & Seen locates the danger within a decaying marriage, positioning an old house that was once the site of much violence instead as a shelter against bad men. A meandering, mournful ghost story, this movie will break your heart before it scares you half to death.

Directed by Timo Tjahjanto, Chloe Okuno, Ryan Prows and Simon Barrett
Where to watch: Shudder

The fourth instalment in the V/H/S anthology series, V/H/S/94 is quintessential horror. The overarching plot follows a SWAT team as they move through a mysterious cult's warehouse full of mystified dead bodies and towers of VHS tapes. Punctuated by stories about a Rat Man living in a city's sewers, a zombie's funeral, a mad scientist's damned creations, and white supremacists utilizing a vampire as a biological weapon, this film packs a gory punch. Campy and thought-provoking, V/H/S/94 is also refreshing in that it turns the trope of the final girl on its head; because the women of this film are to be feared, it's paradoxically the safest female viewers might feel watching a body horror film. 

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