2019 was a pretty good year for horror. We got three sophomore outings from horror directors whose debut films were amazing. And this was the year Shudder rose to prominence. So what were my favorite horror films this year? Buckle up!
11. The Dead Don’t Die
A zombie horror comedy starring Adam Driver and Bill Murray? Even though I hadn’t seen any of director Jim Jarmusch’s other films, I was on board with this one. And it was fun. Very weird. Very meta. But fun. I think my favorite bit was Tilda Swinton leaning fully into her weirdness.
10. Daniel Isn’t Real
Come for Patrick Schwarzenegger channeling Patrick Bateman. Stay for some of the best body horror since Cronenberg, cosmic horror and some pretty terrific commentary on both toxic masculinity and living with the reality of mental illness. This film flew in under the radar, and I was glad I picked it up before the end of the year.
9. The Lighthouse
We’d be forgiven for imagining director Robert Egger made his follow-up to The VVitch specifically at the people who thought that New England folk tale was impenetrable. This new film is in black and white, presented in nearly-square 1.19:1 aspect ratio and what little dialog there is is nearly incomprehensible 19th century New England sailor slang. But, much like The VVitch, the strangeness creates a claustrophobic atmosphere and heightens the sense of dislocation I felt as a viewer. There’s a lot to chew on in this movie. And a lot of farts.
I just happened to see a horror director on Twitter raving about this little flick. It’s a great, small-scale movie. Think Castaway, but with a monster (and no Tom Hanks… bonus!). Seriously, the lead, Kiercy Clemons, has to carry this film nearly on her own. And she is stellar. This movie kept me guessing and had a lot of great scares.
7. Black Christmas
The original Black Christmas (1974) is one of my all-time favorite horror films, and it already got a really awful remake in 2006, so I was understandably skeptical about another remake. But this film did a masterful job of reimagining the core conceit of the original film for a 2019 audience. It’s not likely to be a new classic, but there aren’t that many great Christmas horror films, so this one more than earns its spot in our annual Christmas movie rewatch.
6. One Cut of the Dead
The less said about this film the better. It’s amazing, but very easy to spoil. Suffice to say: it’s about a filmmaker who’s shooting a zombie film. Then real zombies attack. Trust me: watch this one. You’ll love it. Even if you’re not a zombie person.
5. Satanic Panic
This is the first film from horror legends Fangoria and boy is it fun. It has less to do with the Devil than it does class warfare. And for those squeamish about movies involving the demonic, fear not! The message of this movie is: Demons are bad! Don’t trust them!
Jordan Peele wowed everyone with Get Out, and when the first trailer for his follow-up debuted, it promised to be just as creepy. Where Get Out was about race, Us is about class. It’s scarier than Get Out, but also less cohesive. The acting is absolutely stellar – especially watching all the actors play their own tethers. And the twist at the end is terrific fun that begs for an immediate rewatch.
3. Tigers Are Not Afraid
Mexican director Issa Lopez offers a heartbreaking story about kids trying to survive under the reality of drug cartels. It has an urban, almost post-apocalyptic quality to it. Reading this film against the nostalgia of Stranger Things adds a layer of horror not present in the text of the film. The kids are relatable, the villains are scary and there’s just enough magical realism to accentuate the real horrors the film illustrates.
Ari Aster’s debut film, Hereditary, was my favorite film of last year. I was nervous about his second film, Midsommar, but I needn’t have worried. In some ways, it’s the polar opposite of his first film: where Hereditary was dark and claustrophobic, Midsommar is bright and open. Nothing is implied; everything is shown. On the other hand, both films are meditations on surviving grief, and that theme drives Midsommar to its shocking and inevitable conclusion.
1. Ready or Not
A horror movie about hide-and-seek sounds a little silly… until you add in a heavy dose of humor and sprinkle in some class warfare (a theme for 2019 if there ever was one). Lead Samara Weaving is stellar, and she really makes this movie (the supporting cast is uniformly terrific as well). Not a lot of surprises in this movie, but wow was it tons of fun and thematically rich.
Honorable mention goes to the CREEPSHOW revival on Shudder. A really solid six episode first season, full of B-movie creep-outs and laughs.