15.) Hole in the Ground
I'm not one for kid-driven horror movies. The kids are whiny and the parents are dismissive. They're generally in the "Fresh Start" subgenre which might be the most tired trope of all. But The Hole in the Ground was a solidly freaky flick with super moody atmosphere, genuine jump scares, and really unsettling imagery. The kid's "kidness" is understated and the mom is a believer right away which means we waste no time getting to the meat of the story. And the ending. Well, it's balls-out crazy and is the extra something that makes it stand apart from its dullard counterparts.
It's no secret that I'm a sucker for a fun teen scream. And Polaroid is like Final Destination meets Shutter. A perfect mashup of the scary and the ridiculous. There are some pretty intense kills and some clever deduction by our main characters when it comes to trying to best the badie. Polaroid isn't going to win any awards but it's a damn good time which honestly, is all that I want in my horror movie.
I'm just as surprised as you are that US is so far down on my list of favorites of the year. I know that I really, really liked it. It's freaky and bloody and it gives a good chase. Maybe the ending loosened its grip on me. I need to watch it a few more times to really get a solid hold on everything that went down in that last half hour. But it's a great movie and one hell of a thrill ride.
The Pledge came out of nowhere for me. It presents as your standard secret society with sinister intentions movie and then hits it out of the park as a gruesome tale of endurance and survival. This isn't exactly torture porn but it skirts the line pretty closely and will only be enjoyed by viewers who can withstand some uncomfortable violence.
You've been here before. Trapped in a haunted house as you begin to realize that the scares are real and your friends are dying one by one. No one behind the masks are here to help you. They're here to watch you suffer. And suffer you do. Haunt takes this popular trope and puts its own spin on it, making it freshly terrifying and wonderfully gruesome.
10.) 47 Meters Down: Uncaged
Now here's a movie I had absolutely no interest in watching until it was playing on the screen in front of me and I was riveted. Like any great creature feature it has the fearsome, unstoppable beast, but it also has the suffocating claustrophobia of movies like The Descent and The Cave, and yet it's a non-stop adrenaline rush like any great action movie. Also, it ticks all my boxes: beautiful teens on a road trip to a secluded off-the-grid location to explore some underwater ancient ruins overrun with (also ancient) sharks and then John Corbett. I mean, that alone will do me.
9.) Ready or Not
After her bewitching performances in The Babysitter and Mayhem, I will watch Samara Weaving in damn near anything, let alone in a movie where she runs around a mansion in a a torn wedding dress and yellow converse shoes playing the deadliest hide and seek game in history. The humor was unexpected and well placed as was the gore. And of the course the ending, where we finally discover if the curse is real or rumor, is wonderfully priceless. Weaving's warbley scream still haunts me in the dead of night.
There aren't enough great creature features in this world so when a movie like Sweetheart catches me by surprise I'm absolutely delighted. This is a straightforward survival movie about a woman who washes ashore a small island after a boating accident and soon discovers she's not alone. The title of this movie is a brilliant play on the condescending and belittling nickname our main character is given, despite the fact that she's a complete badass. The creature itself is an awesome creation of old and new ideas, giving birth to something powerful and terrifying.
7.) The Furies
A handful of women wake up in the middle of the woods only to realize they're being hunted by terrifying masked men. Sounds basic enough. But the execution, that's where the horrible beauty of it all is rooted. This is a bloody, toothless, torn lip scream of a movie. It's a disemboweled, ax in the face kind of romp. But wow, is it well done. Some of the long shots in this movie are gruesomely gorgeous.
6.) The Wind
Much like The Witch, The Wind has that unsettling middle-of-nowhere quiet dread of isolation and illusion. The acting is superb and even in the most simple of scenes there's something just off center enough to feel wrong and strange. I'm loving the reinvigorated interest in prairie horror and look forward to what this sub-genre will offer in the coming years.
5.) Escape Room
As much as I love a low budget indie horror gem, I also love a big budget shiny mainstream horror movie, and Escape Room is just that. What promises to be the first in a potential franchise, this Escape Room succeeded where so many of its predecessors failed. Compelling characters fill a state-of-the-art maze of escape rooms, besting the system by working together to solve impossible puzzles. The deaths aren't all that creative but they still make an impact on the audience as the rooms get harder and more dangerous. I'm not sure I care about the big bad mastermind but I'll reserve judgement for the next installment slated for release later this year.
4.) Annabelle Comes Home
Well, it's no secret that I love The Conjuring world and all its constitutes. Not every movie is a great one but the beauty of the franchise is that they're all quite different from one another but maintain a similar tone. The new Annabelle movie is essentially a haunted house teen scream set in the '60s. It's fun and scary and gives us a wonderful insight into Judy Warren, an important character in The Conjuring world but before now, not a very fleshed out one. Unlike its predecessors this Annabelle movie doesn't seem to expand upon the Annabelle lore, and instead it's more like a day in the life of The Warren house and all of the dangers that could befall them.
3.) IT Chapter 2
I really liked IT Chapter 1, I thought it was scary and fun, but I didn't love it. Something about watching kids carry a horror movie makes it feel like a horror movie for kids. I know it's not necessarily true, but that's what it feels like. So when I went to see Chapter 2 (now starring adults!) it just felt EPIC. Like, impossibly layered and scary and nuanced and terrifying and emotional and ... wow. I look forward to watching both back to back and revisiting my thoughts on both as a whole.
Full disclosure, Crawl was my number one pick of 2019 until recently, so it feels a little weird knocking it down to #2 but here we are. Crawl - extreme weather, alligators (a lot of alligators), a fearless heroine, a family dog, and a lot of edge-of-your-seat tension. It's simple, it's brilliant, it's perfection.
1.) One Cut of the Dead
I'm not going to link a trailer to this one and if you're interested in really experiencing this movie "for the first time" you'll skip the trailer and/or synopsis and just press play. I've known that One Cut was getting hype since it was released on Shutter back in the summer but it didn't interest me too much. It wasn't until it started landing on everyone's Best of 2019 lists that I decided to just watch it already. And holy crap. At first you're like, what the shit am I watching? And then about thirty minutes in you're like, this is awesome and then... well. This movie is brilliant and I loved every moment of it. Just watch it.
The year was a good one for horror and there's a lot that I liked that of course didn't make the Best Of list, such is the nature of THE LIST. Every year when I compile my list I begin by extensively researching other Best Of horror lists from that year. There's a lot of movies that pass by unnoticed, or films I forgot about. And I usually try to binge some key titles before making my final list decisions. These other Best Horror lists tend to come from the same sources every year and so I trust them somewhat, as reviewers who actually watch horror movies, the big and the little, the hyped and the unknown. You've got the expected sources like Bloody Disgusting, Rue Morgue, Horror Freak News. But then you have the unexpected, like Vulture, Thrilllist, Bizarre, Esquire, Paste, and The Wire. A lot of these lists look the same. This year on the top of most everyone's list was Doctor Sleep, The Lighthouse, Parasite, Midsommar, US, Tigers Are Not Afraid, It 2, Ready or Not, One Cut, and then the rest varies widely. Below is the list of other movies that turned up on those lists. Some I've seen and didn't love enough for my Best Of, some I have yet to see. So now when you're bemoaning the fact that you've seen all of the good horror movies out there and there's nothing on, chisel away at this beauty...
All That We Destroy
Body at Brighton Rock
Daniel Isn't Real
Girl on the Third Floor
Happy Death Day 2
Horror Noire: History of Black Horror
I Trapped the Devil
Knife & Heart
Knives and Skin
Lords of Chaos
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
The Banana Splits Movie
The Head Hunter
We Summon the Darkness