While the whole decade has been great for the genre overall, 2017 saw a massive surge in both box office numbers and critical acclaim between films like It and Get Out. The latter of the two was an Oscar winner and a game-changer. This year might not have quite reached those numbers, but that’s never really the point. And it still came close. The genre isn’t in competition with itself. We were riding the high of 2017 going into this past year, and the results were fantastic. 2018 was a hell of a good year for horror. We continued to see some new voices and impressive ideas on the screen, but we also saw the return of several iconic franchises, characters and creators in ways that we never would have expected only a few years ago.
Much of 2018 felt like walking into a ‘90s video store all over again, as we were once again treated to new Leprechaun, Puppet Master, Hellraiser and Children of the Corn movies. That’s pretty much only one Wishmaster away from a complete set. On a much more high profile scale, we had not only the return of Michael Myers after a nine year absence since Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, but the return of Jamie Lee Curtis, John Carpenter and Nick Castle to the fold as well. Just the idea of that happening is a love letter that most Halloween fans probably never thought they would see. The year also brought The Predator back to Earth in a messy but extremely fun sequel and a new interpretation of Suspiria as well.
We got Pumpkinhead on the comics page, Ash vs. Evil Dead came to a close on the small screen, Friday the 13th: The Game put out its best content yet in the single player challenges, love letters to the series’ history, before the lawsuit over the franchise brought its output to a screeching halt. And Michael Myers, Leatherface, Jigsaw and Freddy all kept up video game appearances as well in Dead by Daylight. Most surprisingly of all, Robert Englund returned to play Freddy in a Halloween episode of The Goldbergs. The horror icons are back in full force, without a doubt.
And there have been some staggering original voices as well, some that dominated theaters and others that flew under the radar. With this kind of output from the past year, I can’t wait to see what 2019 has in store.
It’s worth noting that this is a list of favorite films and not the best of the year, one because I’m not the final say on objective quality, and mostly because there’s still so much I haven’t seen.
I’m as surprised about this as anyone. I did not care for Leprechaun Origins at all, but that was largely due to the fact that it strayed so far from anything that made any of the original films interesting. It was a huge mistake to not only abandon that character, but to intentionally take a humorless approach to a silly concept. While the new sequel doesn’t bring back Warwick Davis, it’s the same Leprechaun in a direct sequel to the original movie—which also makes it the first direct sequel in the Leprechaun franchise in general. Not only does it reunite us with all of the silly charm that defined this series back in the day, it’s actually a genuinely funny comedy in its own right. The humor is stupid and smart in equal doses and that’s exactly what I wanted. Plus, there are two kills in there that would make the Final Destination movies jealous.
This Netflix original—in the US, at least—is thematically the male version of The Descent, which we probably didn’t need. Yet it exists and I’m kind of glad it does. It’s about a group of friends reuniting for a hiking trip in Sweden to honor their friend who died. One of them, Luke, blames himself and fears the others blame him as well—and to an extent, he’s right. There’s a great character conflict at the center of it and an incredible monster design. The last couple of years have seen a major resurgence in folk horror and I couldn’t be happier about that. I think this is David Bruckner’s best film to date.
Everything about this, except for maybe the casting of John Cho, sounded like it was going to be terrible. The trailers didn’t really do it any favors either. The gimmick of being a sort of found footage movie, told through chat cams and search history and apps, essentially a browser-based film, seemed cringe-worthy. And that’s my number one reason why it’s on this list, even when there’s a gray area on whether it counts as horror or not. Searching came out of nowhere and surprised everyone. It’s a really strong movie that hinges on great performances and the way it’s told allows for some clever new tweaks to the age-old murder mystery format. I think a lot of people slept on this one, but that was a mistake. It’s absolutely worth checking out.
Here’s another one that people completely missed in theaters. I was lucky enough to hear good things when it was playing around me, but the theater I saw it in was otherwise completely empty and that’s about what I’ve heard from everyone else who saw it too. The concept is a little bit “Purge in a high school” but for the most part, it’s a pitch-black satirical take on the Salem Witch Trials for the Instagram age. It’s got more to say than “technology is bad” and takes a look at not only who we are online, but why. The script is really smart, there are some great performances from the main ensemble. It absolutely earns its bonkers third act. People are just starting to come around to seeing this on VOD, and that’s good. The more eyes on this one, the better.
A Quiet Place
When it first hit theaters, the hype went through the roof. People were calling it this year’s Get Out and even talking about the potential for major Oscar nominations. That hype has since calmed down. I don’t see A Quiet Place getting a Best Picture nom, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t very good. John Krasinski directed the hell out of this thing. The concept alone is scary. I think that more than anything hooked people in. While the monsters are almost entirely CGI, they’ve got an intriguing design, something that harkens back to Alien a little bit. The family drama works so well. And it’s incredible to see character arcs so clearly conveyed in a film that features almost no dialogue. There are some incredibly tense sequences too.
You Might Be the Killer
“Movie based on a Twitter thread” sounds like a terrible idea. But said thread by Sam Sykes and Chuck Wendig was admittedly hilarious. It told a clear story and offered some meta commentary on the nature of slasher films so, in a sense, it was tailor-made for a feature adaptation from the get-go. Adding Fran Kranz and Alyson Hannigan to the mix was just what it needed to be one of the funniest slashers of the year. The Twitter thread is obviously expanded on, but in a way that feels completely natural. Everything fits exactly the kind of humor that made this concept work in the first place. It would make for a fantastic double feature with Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.
Suspiria is, as many expected from the trailers, completely different from the original. And at the same time, it isn’t. It’s telling the same basic story, but it’s doing it in a very different way. The color palate is much more muted, the cinematography much more restrained. It’s a long movie, but it doesn’t stray from being surreal or dreamlike as the original was. It’s not simply a more narrative-focused approach. It’s just as stylistic as the original, but the style is totally different, allowing for a completely new experience. Tilda Swinton deserves so much credit for the three separate roles she plays, two of them under heavy makeup. The film also has a lot of fun with the fact that we already know the school is home to a coven of witches, so some of the best sequences revolve around seeing those gears in motion and getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what’s going on inside the academy. I think the best change made for the purpose of this film, though, is the change from ballet to modern dance. I was skeptical of that at first, but the way it’s portrayed feels ritualistic, feels pagan, so that every time they’re dancing, it genuinely looks and feels like a ritual.
There have been a lot of rape-revenge movies in recent years and all of them, no matter how successful the approach, are hard to stomach just on concept alone. This is generally seen as horror at its most extreme. But Revenge refreshingly tackles the subject with a predominantly female gaze. Most of these films about women being assaulted and taking their revenge have ben directed by men. It’s not surprising that when we give that story to a woman to tell, we wind up with something that looks and feels new. Cinematically, Revenge is not ugly, even if the subject matter is. It’s a very stylish film that really crafts the origin of an absolutely badass heroine. Yet she’s a heroine who’s completely in over her head, who’s surviving against insurmountable odds. She’s wounded, she’s terrified, but she’s going to do whatever it takes to live. There are a couple of moments so gruesome that they actually made me gag. But the film’s not going for the gross-out. It’s just an adrenaline-fueled breath of fresh air.
Toni Collette gives one of the best performances of the year, in any genre, in this film. This is a dysfunctional family drama that also happens to be an incredibly creepy, powerful, supernatural horror film. It’s a movie about grief and about being changed by that grief and transforming into the worst possible version of ourselves. Even though I knew a lot of the basic beats going in, I forgot about all of them, with one moment in particular being absolutely shocking to the point that I sat there in stunned silence for the duration of the whole scene. This film has some genuinely unsettling scares, but it’s the emotional rawness that really makes it stand out. It had been overhyped to death by the time I got around to it and I was still blown away nonetheless.
Halloween was, without a doubt, my favorite horror movie of the year. It was not what I expected it to be. But it was everything I wanted it to be and everything it should have been. It was such a smart choice to bring back Jamie Lee Curtis, give us a totally new incarnation of an older Laurie Strode that was also able to comment on how trauma can come to define a victim’s entire life, even after decades. There are some wonderful references to the entire franchise, even if only the original is kept in continuity, and it’s an excellent return to form for Michael Myers. He’s truly the boogeyman again, and it’s so good to have him back. The almost one-take sequence is probably the most breathtaking cinematic moment, but the entire third act showdown between Laurie and the Shape is everything a fan could possibly want as well. I saw this again only a few weeks ago in the dollar theater and certain moments still got cheers. I’m so, so grateful that Halloween got to see such a return to form for its 40th anniversary.