By Dr. Zaius
Monday, January 14th, 2019 at 3:00 pm
This past year was one of the best for horror. In the world of film there were big-budget blockbusters and critical and financial successes. On TV and the various streaming services we were treated to a bevy of soon-to-be classic series. Eli Roth hit it out of the park with his phenomenal History of Horror on AMC. Netflix went back to the Mike Flanagan well and struck gold again with The Haunting of Hill House. Hulu is releasing new horror films every month as part of their Into the Dark series, along with the Stephen King-inspired Castle Rock. Shudder is dominating the horror streaming world providing the horror fan the closest experience to walking the video store aisles (you’ll hear the words “Shudder Exclusive” a few times in this list). Speaking of Shudder, we got the epic return of Joe Bob Briggs, who did three separate Drive-In marathons for the network, breaking the internet with his first. We even got the return of horror-staple Fangoria magazine!
Compiling my top genre (horror/sci-fi/thriller/etc.) list of 2018 proved difficult. The original idea of a Top 10 quickly spiraled out of control and ballooned into a Top 20, plus Honorable Mentions. In an amazing coincidence, a ton of these films were done by first-time feature directors. So without further ado, let’s get to my list of Top 20 Horror & Genre Films of 2018.
Honorable Mentions: (in no particular order)
A Quiet Place – One of the biggest critical and financial successes of the year, John Krasinski burst onto the scene, albeit quietly”¦ While I had my issues with character choices, you can’t deny the tension that builds throughout.
You Might Be The Killer – A Shudder Exclusive, this is a smart meta slasher that real horror geeks will love.
Terrifier – David Howard Thornton > Bill Skarsgard in the scariest modern horror clown department. His performance as Art the Clown is all you need in this gorefest.
Ravenous – A terrific and somewhat original take on the zombie apocalypse set in rural France.
Pyewacket – A girl mourning her father summons a demon to deal with her overbearing mother. Great performances from the leads and a really psychological drama amidst the horror.
Triggered – Maybe the perfect film for the bipartisan “snowflake culture,” Chris Moore’s high school slasher flips traditional roles and creates a fun and quotable little indie horror movie.
Bird Box – I LIKED IT, LEAVE ME ALONE!
Ghost Stories – I love a good horror anthology and Ghost Stories is eerie and haunting and features a great performance as usual from Martin Freeman.
Killer Unicorn – Basically what would happen if I Know What You Did Last Summer took place in Brooklyn’s LGBTQ party scene; a hilarious mix of gore and laughs making the film festival circuit.
Summer of 84 – Just missing my top 20, this film was like Stranger Things meets Super Dark Times with maybe the darkest ending of the year.
And now”¦ the Top 20…
Alex Garland’s sci-fi film is a visual masterpiece with some truly haunting scenes and a wonderful ensemble with powerful female leads. This definitely demands a rewatch. Currently streaming free on Amazon Prime.
19. Book of Monsters
The winner for Best Feature at the NYC Horror Film Festival (where I saw it), Stewart Sparke’s Book of Monsters is a loving tribute to the 80s with a teenage girl and her friends battling practical effects monsters at her secluded farmhouse party. So much fun and gore.
A Shudder Exclusive (that’s twice already), this Argentinian ghost story is legitimately scary, dealing with a trio of hauntings in the same Buenos Aires neighborhood as paranormal investigators search for answers.
Paco Plaza is the acclaimed director of Rec, and now the Spaniard gives one of the best modern exorcism films about a young catholic school girl who faces demonic possession after sneaking out of class to play with a ouija board in a secluded section of her school. Currently streaming on Netflix.
Panos Cosmatos creates 2018’s most beautiful version of pure insanity and his vessel is Nicolas Cage. Cage plays a man whose wife is taken by a cult and he seeks drug fueled, blood soaked revenge. Amazing score and cinematography, this is destined for cult status. Available now on Shudder.
THIS IS HOW YOU DO A REMAKE!!! Take a classic that cannot be topped, and use the outline of a story to create something wholly new and original. Luca Guadagnino’s retelling of Argento’s gothic dance school horror changes the color pallette and score but adds genuine dread. Dakota Johnson is a revelation and if you only know her from 50 Shades, check her out here. Available for purchase on Amazon Video.
Leigh Whannell creates one of the most fun and actioned packed genre films in years with a truly inspired performance from Logan Marshall Green as a man with a chip in his brain allowing him to become a human-terminator of sorts as he searches for his wife’s killer. This felt like a 21st century episode of Twilight Zone. Available on Amazon VOD.
13. The Endless
For my money I like The Endless a tad more than Annihilation. Building off the best trailer of the year, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead direct and star as brothers who escape a cult only to return to confront their demons and deal with the true mysteries of the group. A science fiction mindtrip, this was one of the most fascinating films of the year, with tremendous cinematography. Available on Netflix
12. The Ranger
Co-written and directed by Jenn Wexler, The Ranger is Green Room by way of Return of the Living Dead. A taut thriller about a group of punk rockers hiding out in a national park controlled by a menacing park ranger, the film delivers a suitably epic villain (Jeremy Holm) and plenty of bloody fun. It also has the best and most ass-kicking soundtrack of 2018. Soon to be heading to Shudder. Check my interview with director and co-writer Jenn Wexler here.
11. May the Devil Take You
Timo Tjahjanto killed it this year with this and The Night Comes For Us. This film is essentially the Indonesian Evil Dead and like Fede Alvarez’s 2013 update, this is a brutal gorefest with some of the year’s best scares. Available on Netflix
10. The Ritual
Winner for most original monster of the year has to be the one in David Bruckner’s British horror film. A college reunion trip into the woods turns into nightmare fuel as they’re stalked by something. Then it gets scarier when they reach a remote cabin. This is filled with truly dark imagery and a terrifying sense of foreboding. On Netflix now.
9. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
One of my favorite movie watching experiences of the year happened right at the end as this debuted on Netflix in late December. The choose your own adventure story allows you to enter the twisted mind of Charlie Brooker and Black Mirror and experience the tech-noir Twilight Zone of the 21st century in a game changing way. Watch and play on Netflix.
8. Satan’s Slaves
Stop where you heard this”¦ But a Shudder Exclusive, and my second Indonesian horror film of the year, Joko Anwar’s film scared the heck out of me. When the matriarch of a family is withering away on her deathbed, her four children start seeing strange unexplainable things, and they get worse after she inevitably dies. Anwar is great at making subtle camera movements to build tension and it gets scarier as more secrets are revealed.
7. The Witch in the Window
Andy Mitton takes less than 80 minutes to craft a fantastic ghost story set inside a family drama, a recurring theme this year. Simon (Alex Draper) buys a fixer upper to flip, hoping to stabilize his failing marriage and relationship with his son, only to find it haunted by the spirit of Lydia, a woman who traumatized young kids years earlier.
The movie I am most excited to include, David Gordon Green somehow made the best and scariest Halloween film since Carpenter’s 1978 original. A financial blockbuster, Halloween succeeded in the only two important details it needed to get right, Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. Jamie Lee Curtis is tremendous and the new Carpenter score was awesome. Available now on Amazon VOD.
Takes a Cam-Girl to write a Cam-Girl movie and Isa Mazzei writes a hell of psychological cyber thriller. Directed by Daniel Goldhaber in his feature debut, Cam stars Madeline Brewer in what should be an Oscar nominated role as a successful webcam girl trying to crack the top 50 on her site, when her identity and subsequent career is seemingly stolen by a clone. Brewer sells the paranoia and stress of this and I went down the rabbit hole with her, ripping at my hair until I found out the truth. Cam takes a risque subject and uses it to empower it’s female protagonist and create a unique and nerve-wracking viewer experience. Cam is on Netflix now.
I am not a fan of the “Rape and Revenge” subgenre of horror. The categories contains well known Video Nasties like Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave. Now we can finally include a genuinely great film to this subgenre with Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge. Set in the stunning Moroccan desert, a rich man is having a weekend tryst with his mistress, the gorgeous Jen (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz). When his friends show up early for the “guy’s only” part of the trip, Jen is raped, assaulted and left for dead. Throwing caution and logic to the wind, Fargeat creates one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen, especially given the material. Lutz carries the film on her blood soaked back and the ending is a true spectacle of cinema. Revenge is on Shudder now.
While Cam is a cyber thriller, Searching takes place completely within the cyber realm as director Aneesh Chaganty uses 20-years of search engines and internet systems to introduce his characters and has the entire film work out throughout a series of online webcams, searches, and google maps. It helps that Searching a taut thriller and a great whodunit with a star making performance from John Cho as a dad desperate to find his missing daughter after she skips a study session and disappears. The film has a lot to say about modern cyber culture and as a parent myself, it gave me cold sweats. Searching is available on Amazon VOD.
2. Sorry to Bother You
My overall number 1 film of 2018, STBY doesn’t fit the general definition of “genre film”, but hulu lists it as a sci-fi, fantasy, comedy. Boots Riley crafts the most original motion picture of the year looking at Oakland in an alternate future where most of the jobs are gone and in order to succeed you must pass to the darker side of greed. Featuring an amazing ensemble cast including Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson and Armie Hammer, you will watch while not believing what you’re watching until the jaw dropping ending. Sorry to Bother You in streaming on hulu now.
Not just the best horror film of 2018 but a true classic in the making, first time feature filmmaker Ari Aster makes the scariest mainstream film in years and evokes memories of The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, and more. Buoyed by what should a shoo-in Oscar nomination for Toni Collette, Aster’s film is portrait of grief and the impacts it can have on a family all while hiding a true evil that manifests underneath. This comes together in what to some is a divisive, and to others (myself included) a brilliant and horrifying twist that sent a shiver so far down my spine, that to this day I check my ceiling before climbing in bed at night”¦ and I am a 36 year old, married father of two. Hereditary is streaming FREE on Amazon Prime now.
There you go. An absolutely marvelous year for horror, my Top 10 exploding into an epic list of 20+ great films.