2019 was an incredible year for horror. I saw more horror theatrically this year than I have in a long, long time. Some of these were movies I was anticipating right out of the gate, either for the property being adapted or for the filmmakers themselves. Some took a different approach than I expected and others just completely took me by surprise. We got a ton of original films that really leaned into their originality and weirdness, as well as many remakes and sequels that thankfully took a very different approach and proved to be much more refreshing than expected, reinterpreting their respective worlds as all good sequels and remakes should do.
Before I get into the list, though, I should definitely clarify that there is still a ton that I haven’t seen, even a lot of really celebrated stuff that I have yet to get around to. Otherwise, I’m sure so many others would make the cut. And likewise, there’s stuff I really enjoyed that I had to leave off the list as well.
With that in mind, and without further ado, here are the ten horror movies that I loved the most in 2019.
I loved the original and I loved the sequel, it’s a smart and snappy follow-up and the only reason it ranks a little lower is because it largely abandons the horror elements in favor of taking the story in a new direction. Still, it’s a franchise rooted in horror, so it certainly counts. Tree Gelbman is one of the best heroines in horror to come along in a long time and Jessica Rothe’s performance continues to be absolutely dynamite. She doesn’t so much as lose a step between movies.
I could not have been more skeptical of this, largely because I think what Don Mancini’s been doing to keep the original franchise alive this past decade has been great. Neither Curse nor Cult of Chucky were throwaway DTV sequels. Both were carefully constructed and unexpected expansions of the mythology. However, taken on its own, the new Child’s Play is an incredibly impressive remake because it takes an approach we really haven’t seen since the ‘80s, when we were treated to the three best remakes of all time: it takes the concept, strips everything else away, and does something completely different with it.
Both of the remakes on this list do the same thing. It’s not beholden to voodoo just because it’s what fans expect. And it’s a shame there was so much behind-the-scenes stuff going behind Mancini’s back, because this is a love letter to his original idea. This literally almost feels like an adaptation of Mancini’s original Blood Buddy script, before it was rewritten by Tom Holland and evolved into Child’s Play. The focus on the company, the doll’s growing attachment and jealousy toward Andy, attacking people Andy is subconsciously mad at, all of that came from Mancini’s original idea. Also, considering the enormous shoes to fill left by Brad Dourif, casting one of the world’s best voice actors, Mark Hamill, was a great idea.
It Chapter Two
A lot of people had a lot of problems with It Chapter Two and I understand and share many of them. I do think it leans too heavily into comedy and as a result doesn’t let itself get nearly as emotional as it should. There’s a toughness that feels like we shouldn’t be expected to see grown adults get terrified or cry to the film that’s completely at odds with the novel. But the things it does right, it does really right. First and foremost, just like the kids, the adults are perfectly cast. As everyone has already said, Bill Hader steals the show but that’s also honestly because it’s kind of his movie.
The feature’s opening, adapting the murder of Adrian Mellon from the book, has been incredibly divisive. It’s an intense gay bashing scene and the movie doesn’t warn you it’s coming. As others have pointed out, it is based on something that really happened, but I think people gloss over its importance to the book and why it’s there. That event is tied directly into the DNA of It, because it was King’s reasoning for setting this story in Bangor, by telling his story in a town where something like that could happen and life would just move on. And the movie actually makes that opening better by tying it more closely in to the rest of the narrative thanks to Richie’s struggle with his own sexuality. In addition to that, there was so much mythology from the book that was a treat to see on screen, this one really embraced the weirdness of the text and as imperfect as it is, I love it for that.
Going into Us I honestly expected it to be my favorite of the year, right out of the gate. I really didn’t expect any competition just because of how incredible Get Out had been. Us is still, make no mistake, one of the best of the year. But it definitely didn’t top Peele’s previous effort, for me. The thing that really pushes it over the edge is Lupita Nyong’o’s absolutely incredible performance.
The twist at the end is pretty loudly broadcast from the beginning, but that doesn’t do anything to take away from how smartly it changes the story you think you’re watching and how well everything falls into place after the twist is made clear. Even if it gets so exposition-heavy that it feels like a first draft from a great writer, Us is so inventive and incredibly well made.
I am so happy I waited to see this movie before making this list, because it’s not just for sure on it, it’s pretty high up as well. This one is by no means widely beloved—though, mark my words, it will catch on—and even the people who enjoy it say it has no business being called Black Christmas. After all, the only thing it has in common with the original is that it’s about girls getting stalked in a sorority. Having said that, “man turns into fly” is the only thing that David Cronenberg’s The Fly has in common with the original.There are no similar characters between the two and the approach to transformation is completely different. I’m frankly completely down for more remakes that just take the basic concept and do their own thing.Absolutely everything else about the approach is different and that’s regarded as one of the best remakes of all time.
There’s such a smart and layered depiction of women standing together, of the struggle to get anyone to believe them even before the supernatural slasher elements begin to unfold. I know we don’t really need a man’s opinion on this movie, but guys should watch it because, come on, we’ve all seen people exactly like every single guy in this movie. It nails that misogynist professor that every university has at least one of. But what really pushed it over the edge for me was how well it conveys that one “nice guy” who has to feel the need to stand up for men and feels he deserves points for not being a rapist. I really think this would have played so much better in theaters if the trailers hadn’t given so much away, because it would have been amazing to watch it unfold without knowing what to expect.
Alexandre Aja and alligators are both enough to get me into the theater on their own, but Aliexandre Aja doing an alligator movie is above and beyond and I cannot begin to express the absolute joy of seeing this movie with an audience that was totally into it, largely because this movie just has a whole different energy to it when you’re watching it in Florida. Also, this might be semantics for my reptile loving mind, but crocodiles tend to dominate eco-horror movies like this, so it was nice to see alligators in the spotlight as they really don’t have much beyond Alligator and Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive to their credit.
The fact that this movie is also about repairing broken family bonds and pushing one’s self beyond the barriers and limits we put in our own minds only does that much more to make it such a pleasant surprise.
Ready or Not
Samara Waving’s blown me away in just about everything I’ve seen her in, Mayhem and The Babysitter in particular, but man did she just kill it in Ready or Not. I couldn’t possibly love this movie more. It is so fresh, inventive, it is so much absolute fun—and it’s fun at the expense of the ultra rich, so that’s even better.
It would make for an absolutely killer double feature with Knives Out. This is a film with a very specific, singular concept. It’s got a great hook. Yet at the same time there are tons of clever little twists and turns, it manages to always keep you guessing, especially toward the top-notch payoff of its ending.
The only bad thing I can say about Midsommar is that it might be a little too uncomfortable to watch, which is not at all a criticism, as it’s only saying that the movie might do its job a little too well. This is not a film I could revisit often, because this is grief. This is all of it. Every digestible form of sadness and loss we normally see on screen is the tip of the iceberg compared to every corner of pretending you weren’t crying ten seconds ago, forced smiles, all of your friends not wanting to be around you and maybe they didn’t even want to be around you before and feel stuck, tethered to you by their own guilt.
All of that was stuff I did not expect to see reflected on the screen. Most of the horror of Midsommar lies in how bold it is to frankly explore grief from every angle, human sacrificing and bearskin-wearing cult be damned.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Considering that the books meant so much to me growing up, I was really hoping against hope that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark would be good. I had faith of course, not only in Guillermo Del Toro as a producer but in the fact that Andre Ovredal directed Autopsy of Jane Doe, which was my favorite horror film of that year. I was honestly not prepared for how good I actually thought Scary Stories turned out to be. There’s so much incredible makeup FX—granted, a bit too much CGI monster by the end—and just a terrific tone. It’s horrifying in the same way the books were horrifying, it might be aimed at kids but it’s watering nothing down for them. To hear so many teens swearing at the screen was one of the movie going highlights of my year.
More than anything, though, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark literally has my favorite emotional beat of any movie I saw in 2019. Our heroine Stella’s home life is in shambles since her mother left. Her dad’s basically a non-entity. And when she realizes that she’s going to disappear like her friends, she calls her dad not just to say she loves him, but to tell him she would never run away because when she goes missing, she doesn’t want him to think she left him too. It’s such a powerful, selfless moment and I love it so much.
Doctor Sleep was such an impossible thing to pull off. It should not have worked. I had faith in Mike Flanagan that he would somehow pull it off, partly because he’s a massive King fan and partly because he’s probably my favorite working horror director. But he not only made it work, he did it stylishly, emotionally, and somehow, against all odds, did it with his own unique style and voice. This isn’t just an adaptation of a book and it’s not just a sequel to The Shining. It bridges an infamously wide and deep gap between the original book and movie.
This is a sequel to Kubrick’s masterpiece that retains all of the heart of King’s original characters as he constructed them. It’s a movie about moving on and what you need to lose in order to do it, almost a reverse sort of legacy sequel, about the horror that you may retain the worst traits of your parents and the struggle to overcome that. Rebecca Ferguson gives one of the most intensely frightening, alluring and mesmerizing villain performances in years. I absolutely love this movie.