2018 was a damn great year for horror films. I don’t have the mental capacity to make a ranking list, so here are some of my favorite horror movie/TV memories of the past 365 days…
I can’t resist this simple, straightforward telling of the dire consequences of negative wish fulfillment. It plays out like the world’s darkest AFTERSCHOOL SPECIAL. NICOLE MUNOZ stars as Leah, a broody goth-lite teen with some serious anger management issues. Both she and her mother (LAURIE HOLDEN) are struggling through the aftermath of the recent death of Leah’s father and neither is very adept at channeling their darker emotions regarding the loss. Mom’s solution is to move into an isolated house in the woods, which only makes Leah feel estranged from her friends and even less in control of her life. The two have an epic fight and an enraged Leah ends up performing a black magic ritual that promises to snuff out her mother’s existence. Shortly after, the two make amends but the conjured evil spirit (Pyewacket) happens to have an impeccable work ethic and is insistent on finishing the job. PYEWACKET won’t likely blow your mind and it has no interest in reinventing the wheel but what it lacks in innovation, it more than makes up for with sincerity and basic competence. It’s a classic story, as sturdy as a tree trunk, and the central characters are relatable enough to make it genuinely suspenseful.
This flick about an online sex worker battling wits with a malicious doppelganger left me itching for a more definitive conclusion. I’m giving it high props anyway for keeping me thoroughly entertained. I can’t pretend to understand exactly what transpires but the exploration of the loss of identity in the social media age is fascinating anyway. My absolute favorite element of this slightly aggravating head-scratcher is its phenomenal central performance by MADELINE BREWER who delivers a memorably effervescent star turn. I hope to see her in many more films in the future.
I would not have minded if OVERLORD went a little more nuts in the monster department. This movie about a rag-tag team of American soldiers discovering a sinister Nazi plot didn’t quite have the gooey grand finale I was anticipating but it’s still tons of old-school fun. KURT RUSSELL’s son WYATT excels at just the type of rough-around-the-edges, reluctant hero character his father perfected back in the day. Something tells me this one is going to play better at home than in the theater and has a long life of cult fandom waiting ahead for it. There are more than a few highly impressive set pieces and I’m of the feeling that multiple viewings will only enhance them.
THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT
I’m not the biggest fan of the original THE STRANGERS (although I flip for its “Because you were home” scorpion tail sting) so I was surprised how much I dug this low investment, side-dish sequel. The novel trailer park as funhouse setting really worked for me and try as I might, I could not help loving its MTV-era reliance on ‘80s pop music. If you’re going to be murdered, it may as well be to the synth-stained vocal stylings of KIM WILDE.
I do wish Meg ate more people but this movie starred JASON STATHAM and therefore it rocks.
The plot is nothing to write home about but boy is Art the clown scary as hell. DAVID HOWARD THORTON has such an expressive mug and he delivers one of the best make-up heavy horror performances since ROBERT ENGLUND portrayed you know who. Ultimately the movie itself didn’t quite grab me but its nightmarish centerpiece miscreant certainly did.
THE WITCH IN THE WINDOW
Writer/director ANDY MITTON (YELLOWBRICKROAD, WE GO ON) has tacitly become a tremendously reliable horror auteur. His light poetic touch gives his modern horror tales an uncanny vibe that makes them feel like classic psychological ghost stories. As superbly crafted as the supernatural element of this tale is, it also earnestly relays a rocky yet moving relationship between a father and his son. If you are a fan of haunted house movies, this is a must.
I have not seen the original 1980 Indonesian Horror film of the same name that this film is a loose prequel/sequel to but if it’s anywhere near as creepy as this flick, I certainly want to. Writer/director JOKO ANWAR does an incredible job juggling a multitude of characters in this family haunting tale, each of which is as vital as the other. There’s a strong autobiographical element that brings a sense of natural realism and it makes the horror scenes that much more credible and terrifying.
A QUIET PLACE
I can’t think of any other movie going experience in which the premise of the film (sound =death) took such hold of an audience; so many glaring eyes at anyone who dared rustle in their seats or chew popcorn! I’m a sucker for a movie with a big heart (the father/daughter reconciliation left me misty-eyed) that can also scare your socks off. PG-13 or not, this monster thriller had moments of squirm-inducing anxiety that brought me back to my first viewing of ALIEN.
Speaking of confronting the downfall of society with more than one hand tied behind your back, BIRD BOX (based on a book written before A QUIET PLACE) is another compelling take on an apocalypse (I grew up entranced by THE LAST MAN ON EARTH and WHERE HAVE ALL THE PEOPLE GONE? so Hollywood, feel free to make more). This Netflix nugget dropped instantly inspiring a million memes and an inevitable backlash but I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t keep me perpetually captivated. I so relate to any material that focuses on the terror of being responsible for another life because I have nightmares about my cats getting lost every night. Plus nobody can get me to say a bad word about SANDY B.
THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE
I was more than a little miffed when I learned writer/director MIKE FLANAGAN had the audacity to perform a major renovation on SHIRLEY JACKSON’s exquisite tale. I decided to hate-watch it anyway and sure as hell, my hate turned to love at record speed. Lo and behold FLANAGAN, against all odds, delivered a JOHN IRVING goes to hell masterpiece of family dysfunction. The neat as a bow ending felt like a bit of a betrayal but I’ll never curse a hearty four-course horror meal over a too sweet dessert.
THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA
This here is my jam. I’m never more happy then when I can escape into a horror series that clicks in all the right places with charming characters and an excellently decorated home base. I miss BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER so much in these dark times and the wonderfully dark SABRINA eased my longing and then some. I could have used a little more of Salem the cat but cousin Ambrose (CHANCE PERDOMO) provides a reasonable stopgap and MICHELLE GOMEZ as Mrs. Wardwell is the best mischievous frenemy since Dr. Smith rattled the Robinsons in LOST IN SPACE.
CASTLE ROCK “The Queen”
Oh boy. I dug this entire (sometimes uneven) series but the seventh episode appropriately titled “The Queen” rocked my heart into oblivion. Horror royalty SISSY SPACEK delivers a performance for the ages as Ruth, a woman crashing through eventful periods of her life under the spell of dementia. It’s an hour of soul-shattering television and just when I thought it couldn’t get more pitch-perfect they went and played the most appropriate song in the universe, NANCY SINATRA’s “Time”. Bravo.
Aw, when NICOLAS CAGE gets the right material he can bring something that exactly no other man can. I haven’t enjoyed him this much since he went full on bonkers in VAMPIRE’S KISS. Speaking of material, someone please buy a fruit basket for costume designer ALICE EYASSARTIER for me. All I want is a baseball jersey with either a number 44 on it or a roaring tiger face. Wow, 2018 sure was the year for the mind-f*ck movie, eh?
My eyes really couldn’t get enough of this movie. It’s like watching a heady sci-fi epic while flipping through an artsy coffee table book at the same time. ALEX GARLAND finds this incredible middle ground where the beautiful and the grotesque collide and many times it’s hard to decipher whether you should “aw!” or “ew!” (many times, both at the same time is appropriate). The final act flew a couple hundred miles over my head but I adore the mystery of it anyway. I know it is impossible but there’s also a creature attack scene in this movie that has me fantasizing about GARLAND remaking 1979’s PROPHECY about twenty-four hours a day. My dreams are too big for this world.
It’s a rare and beautiful thing when a film adaptation lives up to its source material and this flick does just that with remarkable craftiness and gusto. I’m a big fan of ADAM NEVILL’s novel of the same name and I’m so impressed with how this film prunes out elements that might not have worked on screen and more impressively, added layers that miraculously deepen the tale. The premise is familiar survival horror territory but in a genius stroke, the main character is tasked with battling guilt and grief just as much as he must lock horns with an unimaginable backwoods monster. This movie towers in my head because I first watched it with my Mother and brother after my father had died and it somehow struck me as an anthem saluting perseverance when facing the unfixable.
Ugh. I know this movie is difficult. I think it goes about a mile too far into the WTF?-zone in the last lap too- but it unnerved me soooo good in places that I felt near crazy at times. I was honestly so discombobulated by the nefarious sound design that at one point, I thought that a wounded stray dog had come into the theater and was barking for help. I found myself in a semi-dream state where I wouldn’t be surprised if I started to hallucinate. Whatever its faults, it brought a tangible waking-nightmare feeling that I have to give mad props to. Much has been said (deservingly so) about TONI COLLETTE’s performance but I also have to throw mad laurels at ALEX WOLFF (who is also great in MY FRIEND DAHMER) who played the son. He killed me. After THE MOST HORRIFYING OCCURRENCE, his reaction is to go to bed! The dude goes to sleep! Finally, I feel like I’ve been represented on screen!
I can’t believe I was warned NOT to see this movie by a “friend”! Are you kidding me? Some people say this movie is “too long” to which I say, “Boo-hoo, pack a lunch and settle in.” Yes, I loved every minute of it. It’s the female peacock version of ARGENTO’s masterpiece, generally the same worthy bird, just with a more subdued color palette. TILDA SWINTON has never been more TILDA (even when she’s not TILDA) and DAKOTA JOHNSON brings it in ways I never would have guessed she was capable of. I also dug the lovely cameo from OG witch-bait JESSICA HARPER and the trifling stand out presence of RENEE SOUTENDIJK (EVE OF DESTRUCTION). Director LUCA GUADAGNINO impeccably nests the supernatural crisis in real-world events to ground them and then swings the pendulum into surreal otherworldliness just when you’ve gotten your sea legs. Haunting, brutal and trippy as all get out, I didn’t want to leave this witch school, I was begging for tenure.
My list is not in any order but I’ve saved my personal favorite for last anyway. This blessed return to Haddonfield, Illinois may not be the most original or artistic of the year but it filled my heart with the most horror-infused joy anyway. I’m just so damn grateful to spend quality time with my favorite horror character again- and I’m talking about Laurie not Mike. I am truly in worship of this incarnation of my hero. It may have been more comforting to see Laurie as the fully functioning yet hyper-neurotic, Type A personality in 1998’s H2O but in this alternate timeline, JAMIE LEE CURTIS brings back Laurie’s square peg outsider quality which I think is crucial. (even if it’s not as snugly satisfying). It’s a subtle, fascinating performance that I only wanted to see more of. The movie is best when it’s keeping itself as sharp, clean and streamlined as a butcher knife and only stumbles when it needlessly complicates things (or neglects to kill off deserving characters). Sure, I would much rather have learned the fates of Tommy and Lindsey (or even Ben Tramer) over Lonnie but there’s so much obvious Easter egg love for the fans that it feels gluttonous to complain (Laurie still has her ENDSOR portrait!). And then there’s that score! Just the luxury of getting wrapped up in that JOHN CARPENTER synth-quilt again feels like a glorious windfall.
All in all, it’s a modern slasher masterpiece in my book; the characters are strong, the atmosphere is intoxicating and the kills feel consequential. This is the one movie that I’ve seen this year that I’m sure to return to again and again. The original HALLOWEEN is THE ground zero for my unabashed horror fandom and (although I highly value ROB ZOMBIE’s personal interpretations as well) this truly felt like going home again.
That’s it! I didn’t like everything, I swear. I just decided to leave the movies that I was less enthused by out in the cold where they belong. I also sure as hell didn’t see everything so if there are any titles I forgot to mention that you enjoyed, let us all know in the comments! Happy New Year!