2018 was another great year for horror. Last year saw two excellent horror films, Get Out and The Shape of Water, earn Best Picture nominations and whether you give a damn about the Oscars or not, it certainly put a spotlight on the genre. It likely played a role in established filmmakers like Luca Guadagnino and David Gordon Green agreeing to direct high profile remakes of horror classics (to mixed results). A high tide lifts all boats, and the horror world might soon flood from rolling in hit after hit. It seemed like a great year to me.
I’ve divided my list into “Hits” and films that flew “Under the Radar,” based on whether or not they were first available in theaters or streaming/VOD.
Hits (in order of release)
Revenge ends with the best visual metaphor for America I’ve ever seen. A heavily armed woman and a heavily armed man chase each other through an ouroboros of blood to the sounds of a home shopping network. According to Tananarive Due, the power of stories comes from giving audiences new frameworks to understand their world. I’ll never see a sham wow the same way again. Besides that, Revenge is badass, delivering some of the years cringiest gore.
Sorry to Bother You
Horror fans will recognize Lakeith Stanfield from last year’s phenomenal Get Out, where he played the hollowed out Andre, starring as Cassius Green in Boots Riley’s directorial debut. He’s excellent in both roles (and Donald Glover’s Atlanta) as is the rest of the star-studded cast. It’s more satire and scifi than horror, but the way it portrays the future of work might be the scariest thing I’ve seen in a theater this century.
There’s nothing quite as tedious as the “it’s not really horror debate” that accompanies slower paced films. Hereditary gave the audience an hour of grief, the real kind you feel deep in your gut, before it really went full-force into the supernatural. It’s the same formula that horror greats Don’t Look Now and Possession used, updated and damn does it work.
It’s fair to say that much of the film world had turned on Nicholas Cage because of histrionic acting and for gobbling up a role in 90% of the movies filmed for a decade. Along came Panos Cosmatos, who understood that Cage’s acting wasn’t the problem. It was that he was turned up to an 11 while everything around him was flatlining around 7. The solution was Mandy, a film with a third act worthy of Cage’s talents.
Halloween would’ve made my list if only for the moment when Michael Myers reached his hand over the bathroom stall and dropped the teeth of the men he’d already killed onto the floor. David Gordon Green’s series redefining entry was different than other slashers because all of his characters were working toward something, and when they died, the audience felt something other than an adrenaline filled “hell yeah.” He also steered the series away from the nonsense of sex being punished by immediate, violent death.
Under the Radar (in order of release)
I raved about Natasha Kermani’s Imitation Girl for months after reviewing it in March. It’s the story of an alien shapeshifter that’s taken the form of an adult film star, with the two mirroring one another. It’s an exciting film from a young director and one of the first films from Dread Central Presents, an exciting new film label.
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead are rising stars in the world of horror, and their third feature, The Endless, shows audiences why. The film is scary and cerebral. Two brothers visit a cult they escaped decades ago. Will they find their way out again?
Vidar the Vampire
Perfect for this holiday season, Vidar the Vampire features a vampire who calls himself Jesus, rose from the dead, turns water into wine to pick up chicks, and turns dudes into vampires by making them suck his dick. It’s a jet black comedy that skewers Christianity on its razor-sharp fangs.
Satan’s Slaves might be the scariest film on this list. It’s about four children who’re trapped in a haunted house. Their mother dies early on and their father is out trying to get money to turn the phone back on when everything goes to hell, and director-writer Joko Anwar keeps his characters there for nearly all of the movie’s 110 minute runtime.
Netflix has snagged some great horror movies this year, and Apostle is the best on that I’ve seen. Legion’s Dan Stevens goes to the island where his sister has joined a cult. The story focuses on his quest to get her back, but what works so well is the brutality Gareth Evans (who also directed The Raid and The Raid 2) imbues into each moment. And did I mention the hand-cranked skull drill? Because there’s a hand-cranked skull drill, so what are you sitting here for?