Overall I thought 2019 was a great year for film all around and horror did not disappoint. There was great horror everywhere you looked in 2019. Mainstream horror hit the theaters and the indie horror scene continued to grow and improve. The streaming world made amazing contributions to horror with Netflix producing several great movies and Shudder continuing to dominate the genre with their Shudder Exclusives and foreign imports. And I need to shout out Hulu and Blumhouse for their spectacular Into the Dark series, in which the streaming service puts out a new seasonal horror film every month. So let’s jump in and see which horror films made the cut…
First the Honorable mentions in no particular order:
Sweetheart – A Blumhouse-produced creature feature with some socio-political subtext (Netflix).
In Search of Darkness: A Journey into Iconic ’80s Horror – A spectacular 4+ hour fan-driven documentary about horror’s craziest decade.
Happy Death Day 2U – Yes, it’s more Back to the Future 2 sci-fi, but it’s still super fun with a great cast (VOD).
Into the Dark: Pilgrim – The best Thanksgiving horror film ever (Hulu).
Into the Dark: Culture Shock – Fantastic sci-fi/horror story set on the Mexican border with lots of topical relevance (Hulu).
Daniel Isn’t Real – Great little indie horror film about a boy’s imaginary friend who could be a product of mental illness or just some unearthly evil entity (VOD).
Satanic Panic – Society meets Rosemary’s Baby, a super fun cult movie with a lot to say about economic class (VOD).
Climax – Drug fueled insanity from Gaspar Noe (Amazon Prime).
Depraved – The best modern Frankenstein adaptation by the master of independent New York horror, Larry Fessenden (Hulu).
Hail Satan? – A fantastic and informative documentary on The Satanic Temple and its fight for legitimacy (Hulu).
The Nightingale – A brutal and unflinching period piece/rape & revenge saga from The Babadook’s Jennifer Kent (Hulu).
Bliss – One of the best modern vampire films, a dirty and gory outing from Joe Begos (VOD).
Knife + Heart – A ’70s-style slasher set against the backdrop of gay porn industry, with some gnarly kills and some almost supernatural twists (Shudder).
Little Monsters – Lupita Nyong’o leads a hilarious zombie comedy with stellar child performances (Hulu).
Midsommar – I wanted to love Ari Aster’s sophomore film, but I only liked and admired it. Great cinematography and filmmaking, but a weird, too comically awkward take on The Wicker Man (VOD).
And now… My Top Ten Horror Films of 2019:
10. In Fabric
Directed by Peter Strickland
Maybe it’s recency bias as I literally watched this the day of writing this list, but this was the craziest and most bonkers horror film of 2019. Drawing inspiration from Suspiria, In Fabric is a movie about a cult that occupies a department store and sells an evil dress… yeah, an evil dress. It gives rashes, wild dreams, and has a mind of its own. I was laughing, yelling at the scream and generally not believing what I was watching. You’ll never look at washing machines, mannequins, and department store changing rooms the same way ever again. (VOD)
9. Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror
Directed by Xavier Burgin
A phenomenal documentary from the book by Robin R. Means Coleman, Horror Noire delves into the history of black horror and has insight from many of the top African American writers, directors, creators, and actors, as well as historians. From tropes to stereotypes to attempted to subvert them past and present, no stone is left unturned and you’ll learn and be entertained. Most of all, you’ll want to seek out many of the films discussed and watch them on your own. (Shudder)
Directed by Jordan Peele
In his sophomore effort after his Oscar-winning genre debut in Get Out, Jordan Peele trades racism for class conflict and creates a legit scary film with some tremendous performances. Lupita Nyong’o should (but likely won’t) receive an Oscar nomination for her amazing double role here. Peele is two for two and the sky’s the limit for him in this genre. (VOD)
7. The Perfection
Directed by Richard Shepard
What starts as a genuinely moving romantic drama very quickly takes a sharp turn into visceral madness when gifted musician Lizzie gets sick on a trip with new lover fellow musician Charlotte (Allison Williams). Bouncing all over the horror spectrum from psychological torture, to rape/revenge, The Perfection is a dynamic film with two amazing lead performances, and deliciously evil villain (Steven Weber) and some truly disgusting moments. (Netflix)
6. Lords of Chaos
Directed by Jonas Akerlund
The best horror to come out of the real world, Lords of Chaos is based on the true story of a Scandinavian black metal band filled with loud music, burning churches, death, and murder. Two unreal performances from Rory Culkin and Emory Cohen feature in a dark, tension-filled film. When you start researching the real story the film is based on, it gets even more creepy, as does the fact that Cohen’s character Varg is still alive and has a cult following on social media. (VOD)
5. The Lighthouse
Directed by Robert Eggers
Two lighthouse keepers are stranded on their small island and proceed to slowly go insane. Are there mermaids? Lovecraftian water monsters? Honestly, who knows and who cares? Because watching Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe give Oscar worthy turns in this film is worth the price of admission. Add in some of the best sound design and cinematography you’ll see in any movie this year, and The Lighthouse is a must-see mindtrip of a movie. (VOD)
4. Ready or Not
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
Maybe my favorite horror film of 2019 and definitely the most fun, Ready or Not combines elements from Clue, You’re Next, and House of the Devil and creates a wholly original and hilarious horror comedy with an amazing ensemble led by Samara Weaving as a bride who marries into a gaming empire and agrees to play along with a ritual her in-laws have about playing a game on her wedding night. The cat and mouse game that ensues is tremendous, the cast hits all the right notes, and it appeals to gorehounds and horror/comedy fans alike. It also has the most fun score of the year. (VOD)
3. One Cut of The Dead
Directed by Shin’ichiro Ueda
Made in 2017 in Japan on a shoestring budget, this groundbreaking, 4th wall blow up of a zom/com hit America in 2019 as a Shudder Exclusive and it managed to live up to all the hype. I don’t want to spoil the surprises if you haven’t seen it, so just know this is a movie about a zombie movie that is interrupted by an actual zombie apocalypse. Except the filmmaker won’t cut and chases his actors and zombies around with a camera to get his shots. That’s all I can say. The rest is just phenomenal and original as Ueda makes the most intriguing zom/com since Shaun of the Dead. (Shudder)
2. Doctor Sleep
Directed by Mike Flanagan
The best horror creator of the decade, Mike Flanagan does it again. He makes another near-perfect film out of an “unfilmable” Stephen King story. Tasked with the impossible job of both interpreting King’s novel AND making a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s beloved horror classic The Shining, Flanagan does what he always does and makes a great horror film. The cast is fantastic, the callbacks are meaningful, and the final 30+ minutes are utterly spellbinding. Best of all, Doctor Sleep is two and a half hours and it flies by.
And # 1… Tigers Are Not Afraid
Directed by Issa Lopez
Another horror film from 2017 that made land in the U.S. in 2019, Tigers Are Not Afraid is a mesmerizing achievement, a stunning ghost story, and an all too real horror story about life amongst the cartels in Mexico. Some of the best child acting you’ll ever see, Tigers Are Not Afraid is scary, haunting, and emotional. It’s an amazing film about the power of imagination and love when up against horrors both real and supernatural. I knew I loved it when I saw it, and it remained my #1 Best Horror film of 2019.