In my opinion, 2022 was a fantastic year for horror. With excellent horror films of every type being released in cinemas and on streaming, from the artistic and beautiful to the gory and intense, from creative new takes on stale franchises to innovative, out-of-the-box concepts, there was always something new and frightening to watch. It was a great year for horror literature as well, with terrifying anthologies, spooky stories of all sorts, and classics told in fresh and exciting ways.
If you’re looking to bring the scares in 2023, here are my favourite horror films from 2022 and my favourite horror books read in 2022 (some old and some new):
Best horror films of 2022 (Follow me on Letterboxd!)
Bones and All, dir. Luca Guadagnino
Who would have thought a film about cannibalism could be so tender (pun not intended)? This delicate, haunting, horrifying film was not only my favourite horror film of the year, but one of my favourites of any genre. As outsiders from society, finding solace in each other as they satisfy their urges (the story can be read as a both queer allegory and one of addiction,), this film is all about contrast. The central couple’s intimacy with each other contrasts with the wide open landscapes of the cinematography and setting. The soundwork contrasts the gnashing, gnawing sharpness of their actions with the quietness of the solitude around them. And the contrast between the final two shots are as emotional as they are gutting.
Prey, dir. Dan Trachtenberg
I won’t lie: I was pretty over the Predator franchise before this one. They didn’t seem to be doing anything new or interesting with it, until Prey. By setting the story in the 1800s and making the protagonist a budding Comanche warrior, the movie not only creates a premise that makes perfect sense (the Predators travel through space to take on the best warriors on various planets; why wouldn’t they have done so in the past?). Amber Midthunder turns in an incredible performance, and the movie is tense and tons of fun.
Nope, dir. Jordan Peele
If there was any question whether Jordan Peele is the king of modern horror films after Get Out and Us, Nope would answer it. Um, not with the title, though, because the answer is a resounding yes. It goes without saying that every one of his films is incredibly smart and well-crafted, a series of Chekov’s guns you barely even see hanging on the wall until they are deployed and you realise that they’ve been there all along. Nope is an impeccably layered film that pays tribute to classic sci-fi while creating something completely contemporary in its themes and commentary. Naturally because it is horror, Keke Palmer will not get the accolades she deserves, but she certainly does deserve them for a star-making performance.
The Menu, dir. Mark Mylod
I had low expectations for this film going in, mainly because of a lack of hype or promotion around it, at least here in Ireland, and I was more than pleasantly surprised. More of a dark, comedic satire than a true horror, but with plenty of grisly moments to ramp up the tension, The Menu was very clever, and over the top in all the right places. Ralph Finnes and Anya Taylor Joy were both excellent, and Hong Chau’s perfect, deadpan “no” was one of my favourite line deliveries of the year. Also loved that they brought in some heavy hitters (Chef’s Table‘s David Gelb and Michelin star chef Dominique Crenn) on the food side of things to make the plates look appropriately grandiose.
Wendell & Wild, dir. Henry Selick
The Nightmare Before Christmas has been one of my favourite films since I was a child and I wore out a VHS of it by watching it over and over (yes, I’m one of those people who will remind you emphatically that it was directed by Henry Selick, not Tim Burton). Wendell & Wild, Selick’s first feature film since 2009’s Coraline, doesn’t reach those lofty, rewatchable heights, but it was extremely charming and sweet with some fantastic visuals to boot. The plot had a little too much going on, but I loved the character design and the animation overall.
Bodies Bodies Bodies, dir. Halina Reijn
This one took a bit to grow on me, but the more I’ve thought about it and the more time has passed since seeing it, the more I love it. Every character is so goddamn annoying in an extremely entertaining way. The practical lighting is fantastic — I appreciated that for a movie where the premise requires most of the lighting to be via (admittedly, unrealistically bright) cell phone flashlights, you could still actually see everything going on. And never will you hear the phrase “upper middle class” spat out with more bile than in this film. Hilarious, and sure to be a cult classic.
Bonus: Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror, dir. Kier-La Janisse
This documentary from last year has been on my to-watch list for a while, and I finally made the time to invest in its 3+ hour runtime, and it was well worth it. Film-focused documentaries can sometimes feel like a clip show, with the creators relying too much on the works shown to speak for themselves rather than weaving them into the themes and creating a collage. This long, thorough, immersive documentary is a fantastic example of what a doc should do — citing films through clips to support the analysis and demonstrate the themes, and creating a story of the history of folk horror in a fascinating and engaging way.
Best horror books I read in 2022 (Follow me on Goodreads!)
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)
This is one of those books that I find myself astonished to have never read before. I feel like I have, in some ways — its influence so strongly exerts itself on so much other horror fiction that I’ve read (or seen, or listened to) and love. Sometimes the one downside of coming late to a “blueprint” work (late as in I’ve read many horror novels before picking up this one; I’m not trying to imply I should’ve read it upon its publication in 1959) is that aspects feel trite or cliche even when logically you realise that it was that particular work that created the element that so many following works used until it became a familiar trope. But with this novel, the writing is still so fresh and smart that it staves off the knowledge that so many of the characters and plotlines became archetypes of haunted house stories to come.
Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
Like Hill House, I can’t believe I didn’t read this novel sooner. I read Song of Solomon in high school, which took me a long time to warm to but which I eventually loved, and somehow I haven’t read anything by Toni Morrison since. Anyway, in the hopes of adding some literary flair to my usual spooky season reading, I finally read Beloved this past October. This is one of the most powerful and haunting novels I’ve ever read, one of the best and most interesting horror novels and one of the best American novels, period. Morrison’s writing is rich and deep, beautiful and brutal all at once. The circular, dense nature of the narrative makes it difficult to parse in places, but it’s deliberate in the way it demands your focus and attention. The characters are complex and fascinating. The themes are hard and heavy, visceral and intense. One of my goals for 2023 is to read the rest of Morrison’s work.
Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap (2021)
Not every story in this short story collection is horror, but as it spans a variety of genres and draws inspiration from Filipino folklore and myth, there is plenty for horror fans to enjoy. Yap’s prose is rich yet light, creating an atmosphere that makes even the few stories in this collection that might be a bit lacking in plot still enjoyable to read, and makes the standouts of the collection really shine with haunting, unsettling vibes. A powerful debut collection; I’ll eagerly be awaiting more of her work.
The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling (2019)
I’ve seen mixed reviews of this book, but I personally found it to be immensely creepy, hitting many of my personal fear factors — caves, the dark, and miscommunications and betrayals that could turn out deadly. Gyre is a spelunker, tasked with a dangerous but lucrative mission on an alien planet, and Em is her handler. Naturally there’s more to both than meets the eye. I love the claustrophobic feel of this novel, both in the setting of the cave and the suit, and in the information that Em withholds from Gyre.
Jawbone by Mónica Ojeda (trans. Sarah Booker) (2018)
I originally gave this book 3 stars on goodreads and then came back a few days later to bump it up to 4 because I could not stop thinking about it. Disturbing and haunting, this is an odd but beautiful book with lyrical writing and a gnawing, visceral presence. It sticks with you, forces you to turn it over in your mind long after you finish turning over the pages.
Dracula by Bram Stoker (via Dracula Daily) (1897)
Like many people this year, I got onboard with reading Dracula via the email newsletter Dracula Daily. For those unfamiliar, Dracula is an epistolary novel that takes place between 3 May and 7 November, so Dracula Daily’s concept is to email each day’s content on the day it occurs, in chronological rather than book order. It was a creative way to revisit a novel I didn’t really appreciate in high school, and I had a good time chatting about “emails from my friend Jonathan” with friends throughout the summer and fall.
A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers (2019)
Deliciously disgusting and yet somehow erotic, the cannibalism scenes in this novel are the literary equivalent of the mealtime displays in the Hannibal television series — each dish lovingly, sumptuously described as the narrator devours her former lovers. Overwritten in places (although, I believe, deliberately so), this is a gross and shocking sendup of foodie culture and food critics, and a fun and awful read.
Tender is the Flesh by Augustina Bazterrica (trans. Sarah Moses) (2017)
Another novel about cannibalism, Tender is the Flesh couldn’t be more different than A Certain Hunger. While A Certain Hunger revels in the task, Tender is the Flesh looks at the bloodthirstiness of capitalism and the language of masking, rather than describing violence. It’s extremely disturbing and very well-written, relentless and brutal and utterly gripping in both its dystopian setting and the traces of real-world society throughout.
The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas (2022)
This is a retelling of Rebecca, which I’ve never read, so that will be on my to-read list for 2023 after this gorgeous novel. Set just after the Mexican War of Independence, this is a beautifully written gothic romance, with the perfect haunting tone and atmospheric setting. Due to the gothic styling, the pacing is slow in places, but the lushness of the background and the intensity of the characters made it a compelling and intriguing read throughout.
Tell Me I’m Worthless by Alison Rumfitt (2021)
A gory, visceral story distilling the horror of the the modern-day British “culture wars”, wrapped up in the guise of a classic haunted house novel. I loved this book both for its allusions and homages to Shirley Jackson, Angela Carter, and others and for its sharp mapping of the creeping fascism and other bigoted ideologies (specifically transphobia but also antisemitism and others) onto the haunted house narrative. Rumfitt’s writing is so smart and also thoughtful, creating a complex and nuanced look at all the internal and external horrors that create both trauma and the environment of the house.
Bonus: Talking Scared Podcast, hosted by Neil McRobert
If you are looking to read more horror in the new year and you want recommendations of recently published or upcoming books, I highly recommend Neil McRobert’s Talking Scared podcast. Each week McRobert interviews one of the biggest names in horror, from Stephen Graham Jones (The Only Good Indians, My Heart is a Chainsaw) to Carmen Maria Machado (In the Dream House, Her Body and Other Parties) to Lee Mandelo (Summer Sons) to Ellen Datlow (editor of the The Best Horror of the Year anthologies). I don’t always love the books he chooses to feature, but I’ve had enough hits (I picked up Isabel Cañas’ and Caitlin Starling’s books after hearing their interviews, to name a few) that I always take close note of the authors he invites on.