Top Ten Horror Movies of 2017
Let me start by saying, I watched a metric shit-ton of horror movies this year. I don't have an actual count, but my estimate is upwards of ninety. NINETY. Now, normally, even with that large a pool to pick from, I'd still have a hard time coming up with a top ten, as so many--so very many--are pure creamed crap. Not so in 2017. I had to shave off a good five (so stick around for the honorable mentions).
On with the shoooooo...
10. From the trailer, there didn't seem to be much hope for HAPPY DEATH DAY. A seemingly derivative premise done up with sorority girls instead of Bill Murray couldn't possibly be good, right? Wrong. Turns out it was fucking fun. Due in no small part to a star turn by Jessica Rothe as a sorority meanie who learns to be a decent human being by getting killed a whole bunch of fucking times. I waffled on DEATH DAY's rank, but there was never an option of dropping it from a best of list.
9. HELL HOUSE LLC came out of left field. I hadn't heard a ton, one way or another, about this little indie that popped up on streaming services and promptly scared the piss out of me (luckily I have an excess of puppy pads laying around the house for...convenience). Found footage isn't really my thing--anymore--but this one is quite effective. The producers of a yearly haunt rent out a venue that in turn haunts them...to death!
8. Now. There have been a lot of conversation in horror circles about what constitutes a horror movie and I want to come out and say, right this second, that if I catch even a whiff of horror wafting off something then I'm shoving a bloody flag in it and calling it MINE. If a film intentionally evokes feelings of terror, whether it be jump scares, heightened and unrelenting confusion, torture/gore, or simply a creeping dread, it’s horror. It can be other genres, too, sure. But it’s not NOT horror. Which brings us to RAW. A french family drama with...um...bite(s). Adorable daughter enters veterinary school and suddenly hits an age where she craves both boys and succulent meats, thankfully, her sister is VERY understanding.
7. I enjoyed Mark Duplass's first venture into the world of mumblecore horror, CREEP, a film built almost entirely on the writer/director/actor's smirk, but I wasn't over the moon. So you can imagine my less than enthusiastic response to a sequel. Let's be honest, indie horror sequels are hardly every a good thing, and with a premise that leans so heavily on Duplass's charisma and, well, creepiness, I could see it wearing thin real quick-like. But, CREEP 2 far surpasses the original and brings a whole lot more to the table (and I'm not just talking about Duplass's penis, which, well (insert heavy thudding sound) makes for an uncomfortable several moments. Desiree Akhavan is along for the ride as our favorite psychopath's fearless videographer and it is their chemistry that really raises the stakes and drives a few home.
6. I first heard about SUPER DARK TIMES directly from the filmmakers on my favorite horror podcast, Shock Waves, and was immediately obsessed with the idea of a 90s period piece that calls to mind films like DONNIE DARKO, BULLY and RIVER'S EDGE. Now, I don't need external hype, I can run an entire P.R. campaign on something I think I'll love...entirely in my mind. So, I was set up for disappointment. But, SUPER DARK TIMES pays off on every comparison. Stunning performances by the young actors and a story so tense, I don't think I unclenched my asshole for the entire last third.
5. BETTER WATCH OUT was a complete surprise. I'd been hearing good things about it since it premiered in the festival circuit as Safe Neighborhood, but hadn't really heard much about the premise. So, I went in blind and so should you. Suffice it to say, this movie spins the babysitter in danger trope like a top and you'll be wondering why exactly you're laughing at such horrible people doing such terrible things.
4. I absolutely loved Sean Byrnes' directorial debut THE LOVED ONES (eccentric girl nabs herself a prom date) and was stoked to hear that we were getting his follow-up. Well, THE DEVIL'S CANDY is a different animal entirely. It traipses between supernatural and serial killer storylines with such a nimble step that the tension just creeps right in like a crack in the sidewalk. People talk about Ethan Embry as a frenzied father but Pruitt Taylor Vince steals the show with a dark turn as a developmentally challenged child killer. Holy shit.
3. You know it was a great year for Stephen King adaptations when IT is actually the second best one. GERALD'S GAME was always King's "unfilmable" novel, but Mike Flanagan (Hush, Oculus) manages to churn a story of accidental imprisonment into something truly horrific with the help of a magnificent performance by Carla Gugino. Even the book's stickiest (and most maligned) plot point pays off for a scare or two and there'll be one scene that you won't be able to shake. Some things can't be unseen.
2. THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER had huge buzz among the horror festival folk back when it was called FEBRUARY. It even showed up on quite a few industry insider's top ten lists right up there with THE WITCH. But then it languored away in film limbo while Oz Perkins (yup, Anthony's son) bided his time and made I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE for Netflix. What took them so long to get this masterful chamber piece of a horror out, I have no idea. Kiernan Shipka is utterly unsettling as a private school girl descending into an occult madness (or is it all too real?), while Emma Roberts desperately hitchhikes across the state to get to the school. THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER inhabits that same space that Kubrick's THE SHINING does, atmosphere as character, questionable realities and shocking violence.
1. When GET OUT was released to near universal acclaim, I had just caught THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER and was certain, absolutely, that nothing was going to knock it off the top spot I'd set aside for it. I wasn't prepared for Jordan Peele to elevate the genre in such a delightfully subversive way. In GET OUT, Peele doesn't send Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) to meet his white girlfriend's overtly racist parents, no, these people are "woke," they seem to be making an effort and in this case that's even more dangerous and unexpected. Kaluuya is fantastic as the terrorized boyfriend as are the rest of the cast, particularly Betty Gabriel, who plays the family's housekeeper with a delightfully understated derangement. It's funny, scary and sticks to your brain like tar paper.
Honorable Mentions: So many movies traveled in and out of the bottom third of the list over the last two months. Among them: IT, MOTHER, SPLIT, COLLOSSAL, PREVENGE, IT STAINS THE SANDS RED and THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS. I'd recommend checking them out as well.
Have you seen all of these? What were your favorites this year?