2017 was a very, very good year for horror. I say this knowing that I haven’t even seen half of them. There were just too damn many. Still, I’m confident that most of the best ones were considered, and a few hidden gems as well.
And all I can say is thank God for internet streaming, because it’s breathing new life into horror.
These films were chosen based on originality, execution, and whether or not they are likely to leave a lasting impression for years. There is enough going on in these flicks that, I believe, they may benefit from multiple viewings.
10. Sam Was Here
Dir. Christophe Deroo (directing debut)
A mind-bending, atmospheric film about a traveling salesman that is targeted by a mysterious radio DJ that has everyone in a remote western valley convinced that he is a serial killer. The way this film unfolds slowly is fascinating, and the many twists and turns all feel earned. Fans will be pondering the true identity of the strange DJ, Eddy, for years to come.
Dir. Martin Koolhoven (Schnitzel Paradise, Winter in Wartime)
Availability: Amazon (rent only)
Very dark Dutch western horror film about a woman that is being terrorized by a preacher that believes she needs to be punished. The film is told in episodes that actually go backward in time, and if it is to be criticized at all for its writing, it is in the 148 minute runtime. This may be a bit much for some, but it is rarely boring largely due to the almost unrecognizable Guy Pearce in a truly outstanding performance. Dakota Fanning also adds depth to a character that is basically existing in an ongoing nightmare. It may have received mixed reviews in the US, but the film had a much better reception in Europe. I suspect that in years to come, it will be regarded as a classic.
8. Get Out
Dir. Jordan Peele (directing debut)
Availablity: HBO, On Demand
This film about a black man that spends the weekend meeting his white girlfriend’s family stands out for many reasons. Not least among them is the fact that, in a moment of true rarity for horror films, it is up for Golden Globe consideration. It was also submitted as a comedy, creating much controversy, suggesting that its touchy subject matter is more relevant than ever. In terms of actual horror, the film is a bit of a slow-burn, but it has an amazing payoff. It is rare for a horror film to be received well by fans, critics, and the mainstream alike.
7. Gerald’s Game
Dir. Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush)
This is a story about a woman that remains hand-cuffed to her bed for the entire film after her husband suffers a heart attack, and it was considered for years by Stephen King fans to be unfilmable. Granted, it’s not as impressive in this regard as something like Naked Lunch, but its ability to create and maintain an atmosphere of pure dread and terror with such story-based limitations, is something to behold. It takes great care to build unsettling scenes of great terror using only what the mind might logically come up with. The backstory of the protagonist emerges organically and explored expertly by Carla Gugino, adding profound depth to an already-harrowing role.
6. The Devil’s Candy
Dir. Sean Byrne (The Loved Ones)
After first appearing at the Toronto International Film Festival in September of 2015, it finally got its release early this year by IFC Midnight, and has left a mark on the genre. It tells the story of an artist whose obsession to paint puts his family at the risk of a psychopath that targets them because of what voices in his head tell him. Critics have praised it for its performances and for having an inventive story that subverts horror conventions at every turn. The overall moral of this story involves obsession and sacrifice, and it is brilliantly told by a filmmaker that should be on everyone’s radar.
5. A Dark Song
Dir. Liam Gavin (directing debut)
A refreshing new take on the religious horror genre, A Dark Song is less a paranormal film and more of a genuine spiritual experiment that uses the horror genre. In the last two decades, most paranormal movies have been surprisingly non-religious in nature, despite many of them involving the use of a preacher as more of a plot device. This film approaches the subject matter as if it is real, and opening the wrong door and letting the wrong spirit in has everything to do with the spiritual intention of the one opening the door. The spirits do not exist in this film simply for the sake of scaring its audience. There is a point to this film, and that is what makes it special. Not to mention the brilliance of the acting, and how the film never loses its focus.
Dir. Zak Hilditch (These Final Hours)
If this film doesn’t appear on a Top 10 list, it is possible that the person making the list just hasn’t seen it yet. It is a wonderful gothic story about a farmer that is haunted after killing his wife for financial gain. I assure you, there is so much more to this deliciously grotesque tale than that summary, though. It captures the macabre and melancholy spirit of Poe better than any film out this year, and the key ingredient is Thomas Jane’s impeccable performance.
3. The Blackcoat’s Daughter
Dir. Oz Perkins (I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House)
Like The Devil’s Candy, this film also appeared at the Toronto Film Festival a year and a half before its release, appearing on VOD platforms beginning this year. It is technically the debut film of director Oz Perkins (son of Anthony Perkins), owing its release to the success of his second film, I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House, which appeared on Netflix in late 2016. This is one of the best examples of streaming and VOD services saving a masterpiece of horror from the doom of obscurity. It has the tone and feel of movies like The Witch, but it’s story is something to behold and cannot be described. Beginning with two girls at an all-girl school that are forced to stay for winter break when their parents fail to show up to pick them up, a separate story involving another troubled girl traveling back to the same school creates a sense of foreboding mystery that doesn’t let up until the final moments. It is a brilliantly made film about loneliness and loss that will be hard to forget after viewing.
Dir. M. Night Shayamalen (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable)
Availability: On Demand, HBO
After appearing out of nowhere with the beloved film The Visit, Split seems to mark the comeback of director Shayamalan, whose career has been plagued by a series of misfires. The genius of Split is in the execution, and in particular, James McAvoy’s outstanding performance as the villain with multitple personalities. It is so easy to imagine how the premise of this film might have failed in the hands of many other filmmakers, but Shayamalan makes sure that his twists happen organically. Anna Taylor-Joy also deserves praise for her surprisingly affecting take on a tortured soul haunted by an equally terrible past.
It: Chapter One
Dir. Andy Muschieti (Mama)
Availability: Purchase only
Despite every effort made by yours truly to find a better horror film this year, this runaway hit really does rise above the rest. No other film this year seems to capture the ethos of our society, or reflect the tastes of movie-goers. It is often compared to Stranger Things in its look, subject matter, and even cast, and the comparison is appropriate. Both are stories about bullied kids growing up in the eighties, tortured by extra-dimensional beings and saved only by thinking like a kid. The main difference seems to be in what they have to say about adults. In the film, the kids that form the Loser’s Club are seldom helped by the adults in their lives, and in some cases, are actually abused or neglected by them. Although some of the more risque and controversial points in Stephen King’s book were not filmed, it remains one of the most disturbing movies of the year. Its success is due to many things, including its overall production quality, its cast, and especially its marketing. But the thing that will make this a true classic is the way it unmasks all of the sick ways in which the corruption that is prevalent in our society rears its ugly head in very human ways. This is the main reason why this film is not just a really good horror flick that audiences like, but has become a phenomenon.
mother! : controversial home invasion thriller by Aaronofsy. It is an extremely polorizing film, but I would be remiss not to mention it because it is definitely the sort of film you will not stop thinking about.
The Babysitter: nostalgic meta comedy horror film that subverts the babysitter genre by making the babysitter the killer. Very fun flick.
The Girl With All The Gifts: Inventive, fungus-based zombie flick that takes a different turn when kids are infected. Also proves Glenn Close is a badass.
Berlin Syndrome: Very tightly-written, suspenseful survival horror film about an Australian tourist imprisoned in an apartment by a German sociopath. Great performances.
Personal Shopper: Kristen Stewart as an American personal shopper living in Paris while trying to commune with her deceased brother. Fascinating examination of loss.
Raw: French body horror film about a vegetarian girl that develops cannibalistic urges after eating meat during rush week at college. Great character study.
The Void: Cosmic horror film about strange cult figures that surround people at a hospital, eventually opening a portal to a hell dimension. Equal parts The Thing and Hellraiser, the special effects are outstanding, even if the story is uneven.