Quoth Rent (the musical): 525,600 minutes – how do you measure, measure a year? If you’re a horror fan it’ll be in terms of scares, jumps and the red stuff. And for those, 2018 has been a wild one – with fresh, new talent (Hereditary, Possum, Revenge and my pick of the year were all debuts) and old friends alike (Halloween, The Strangers and Suspiria all came back from the dead). The indie scene has continued to excite, with some fantastic offerings splattered across the calendar alongside a fair number of box office hits, with 4.5 horror films in the 25 highest grossing (the half point is for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom): a real achievement in the age of the superhero. Here I run though the crème de la “scream”, covering my highlights and lowlights of the year. Please note that not all my picks have been on general release yet, though with any luck you should be able to catch them in early 2019. The views expressed here are also just my own, and not that of the wider HorrorCultFilms team. This is important as we’re a close but deeply divided team – some of the others even liked Pyewacket…
Top 10 for 2018
10. What Keeps You Alive. A cabin in the woods style film with a difference. Young, female, couple Jackie and Jules go to the woods to spend some quality time together. But what’s meant to be a relaxing time away twists itself into a frantic chase for survival. The cat and mouse game is well paced, with an often excruciating tension at its core. If there’s any major flaw, it’s that the third act drags – presumably because of its writer/ director’s enthusiasm to make sure his leading ladies have time to throw every last punch they can.
9. Suspiria. This one split the team no end, with one of us placing it among the worst of the year. Personally I loved it. The story is much the same as the Argento original, with a young American ballerina going to Berlin to study dancing. On her first day, one of the students is murdered – the start of a chain of events that leads to her facing off against a secret coven of witches. Perhaps because capturing the essence of the original is a lose-lose game, director Luca Guadagnino ditches its famous dreamscapes in favour of a much darker, nastier approach to the material. As an onscreen nightmare realised it’s among the most harrowing cinematic experiences of the year. It isn’t necessarily better or worse than the original – though the acting and script are both way more natural. It’s just very different. Though I’ll be surprised if its talked about decade from now like its source material has.
8. A Quiet Place. In a movie with almost no dialogue, first-time horror director John Krasinski tells his tale of family drama through visuals. With some clever action scenes, and innovative designs, A Quiet Place is surely one of the freshest, and best, creature features of recent years. Yet what’ll stick with viewers more is the real plot of a family coming to terms with an unspeakable loss. A compassionate, frightening and often unbearably tense movie that rightfully won the plaudits of critics and cinema-goers alike. Yeah, the so-so character arcs are ones you’ll have watched before, likely dozens of times. But seeing them, without hearing them, makes them fun again.
7. Revenge. Of all the subgenres around, the rape-revenge subgenre is the one its hardest to imagine making a comeback in the post #MeToo era. But Coralie Fargeat’s feature debut is a triumph. Pairing up a viscerally thrilling action flick with a social conscience, it offers a way forward for exploitation cinema. The effects are truly grotesque, with the blood which stains the pristine lodge making for a crimson slip-and-slide. But its more than just some nasty kill scenes. As per movies like Mayhem and Felt, the heightened reality gives Revenge an allegorical feel. Jen stands on for every woman that’s ever had to put up with male entitlement. And as the she reclaims her sexuality and, with it, the right to act outside socialised parameters, it’s hard to resist an air punch or ten. The confident body shots, that celebrate her being back in control of her own form, are among the most unexpectedly poignant of the year. I just wish the ending had been a bit more over the top to stick with the revenge fantasy vs revenge flick angle. Regardless, it gives rape culture a much needed kick in the balls.
6. Terrified. Not to be confused with the killer clown epic, Terrifier. This Argentinian supernatural horror is like Insidious with the volume cranked up. The main narrative watches fairly episodically, with a number of domestic scares taking place in the same neighbourhood. Cue a team of very different paranormal investigators going to find out what’s what. Something I found really refreshing about Terrified was how little time it wasted getting to the good bits, without grinding to a halt half an hour in for a couple to argue about what’s real. Each segment contains at least one excellent horror set-piece, with some of the best suspense and jump scares alike of the year – whatever type of terror you’re into, it’s in this film. But more than just the sum of its parts, Terrified is solid fun, and a reminder that not all the best films are made in Europe and America.
5. Summer of 84. Another flashback to the 80’s, from the makers of Turbo Kid. Only this one swaps a post-apocalyptic world for a more familiar all-American white picket fence neighbourhood – where a group of teens go up against a potential murderer (with no help from their parents). Cynical teenager Davey suspects his neighbour has more than a few skeletons to hide, so sets about investigating him under the cover of night with his own Loser’s club. All four of the kids do their, admittedly tried and tested, roles well in what’s essentially Rear Window with knob jokes. The paranoid small-town atmosphere is very effective, ensuring that there are genuine stakes from the start, and there’s both intrigue and fun to watching the puzzle unfold. Still, the both literal and metaphorical coming of age is crushing, meaning that it transcends the sum of its influences to be a genuinely disturbing dose of suburban horror.
4. Possum. Like puppets? What about spiders and mannequins? Assuming you said no to all of them, Possum may be the most uncomfortable movie of 2018. It’s a grimy character study about a puppeteer, named Simon, unable to get rid of his puppet. Of course, as an art-house horror its more than just toy on strings. The puppet also comes to represent an unknown bad thing Simon did in the past along with everything he hates about himself. It’s also scary as hell. Debut writer/ director Matthew Holness (better known as onscreen alterego Garth Marenghi) has an austere script, with the plot being told by some of the most nauseating visuals/ audio of the year. It climaxes in a truly skin-crawling sequence that’ll have you needing a shower, a pint or both. This isn’t the kind of movie you just watch, it’s one you feel.
3. Climax. A disorienting headfuck of a movie. This latest attack on the senses from French bad-boy of cinema Gasper Noe is a visual/ audio tour de force. Climax tells the urban legend of a dance group trying to unwind, before someone spikes the punch with hallucinogens. It’s a tough watch, with a free-form narrative that drifts between people by way of long steady-cam shots that hurtle down corridors, into small rooms and around the dancefloor. A loud, pumping soundtrack of house hits, with a combo of awe-inspiring voguing that gives way to nasty violence. The aptly named sections Heaven and Hell (the latter introduced via a cheeky Gasper Noe wink halfway through) have completely different vibes, but add up to one of the most intense and tragic horrors of the year. Not for everyone, but those who’ve liked Noe’s previous work should love it.
2. Hereditary. If you thought your family were fucked up, watch this film. It’s the most outright scary entry on this list. Hereditary is up there with The Babadook as the best domestic horror of recent years. This stunning debut, by writer/ director Ari Aster is an unconventional, and uncompromising, soon-to-be classic that combines an old fashioned framework with excellent drama. After grandma passes away, a grieving family is haunted by some truly frightening occurrences. The scares are first rate, with some prolonged scenes of dread throughout. Yet where Hereditary is sharpest is in exploring how we inherit more than just genes from our parents, but all sorts of other nasty things – be them coping strategies or curses. Secrets are uncovered and heads will roll.
1. The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot. Don’t judge it by the derpy name. This is yet another debut, and another I can see heading a long, successful career. Writer/ director Robert D. Krzykowski crafts a bonkers but deeply moving monster movie about an extraordinary man with ordinary worries. Now in his senior years, unsung superman Calvin Barr is called out of retirement for one last mission – one so secret it surpasses even the time he killed the fuhrer. The titular conflicts are impressively cinematic, yet the more rewarding parts come from its introspective, almost lyrical, small-scale human drama. There’s just so much pathos in both the protagonist’s romantic past and his understated senior years. This isn’t to say it isn’t funny, as when it needs to be its utterly hilarious. Yet overall its far less a laugh than it is a cry. Really, it’s the most unique and awe-inspiring thing I’ve seen all year – and I’m not just talking about horror.
Toni Collette (Hereditary)
Upgrade (I’m not sure it counts as horror, but is my top action film since Fury Road)
Annihilation (one of the prettiest films of the year and some really intense set-pieces)
Halloween (despite lacking in tension, a welcome return to form for the franchise)
The Strangers: Prey At Night (relentless, crisp presentation and good scares)
Hellraiser Judgement (better entry than everything since part 3)
Worst of the year:
The Nun (holy shit)
Ravers (dull drugs-comedy with zombies)
Pyewacket (an almost aggressively boring supernatural snoozefest)
He’s Out There (clichéd scares and maybe the worst villain I’ve ever seen)
Boar (funny, fast paced and oddly poignant in places)
And finally, to explain why these ones aren’t on the list…
Films I didn’t see, but wanted to
The Witch In the Window
The House That Jack Built
Anna And The Apocalypse
The Clovehitch Killer
Mom and Dad