*Says Mike, who, to be fair, missed a lot of stuff this year.
It only makes sense that my list is two weeks two late. 2017 was an incredible year for cinema as a whole, and a standout year for horror films specifically, and I feel like I sat on the sidelines for almost all of it. A new job with extended responsibilities and the beginning of grad school meant less time to watch movies and little time to write about them. Maybe it was the fact that the daily news made it feel like we are all living through a real life horror show but after nine years writing about horror movies, I pretty much kept to the sidelines for all of 2017.
Bellyaching aside, 2017 was an incredible year for horror cinema. There’s a few titles that we’re going to talk about, study, dissect and cherish in the decades to come. Studios stopped fearing an R rating, and reaped box office bonanzas as a result. There were a lot of great films that just missed the cut (sorry, Happy Death Day, Mayhem & Gerald’s Game), or that I still need to see (I see you there in my queue It Comes At Night and Thelma) or have only played the festival circuit and therefore don’t qualify (I have nothing but love for you The Endless). Without further ado, here’s my semi-in order list of the top ten horror films of 2017.
mother! To this day I’m not 100% clear on what I watched. Is it a parable about the nature of the artist and his muse? Maybe. Is it some esoteric riff on the Book of Genesis and the Creation myth? It could be that too. What I do know is I have nothing but respect for Darren Aronofsky for taking all the goodwill he earned from The Wrestler and Black Swan, setting it onto the middle of the floor and then lighting the whole thing on fire.
THE DEVIL’S CANDY IFC Midnight has been on an impressive run these past two years, and the metal-and-satan fueled follow up from The Loved One’s Sean Byrne just may well be their best effort to date. Ethan Embry continues to impress with his genre work, this time as a heavy metal loving artist that comes under the influence of the Devilish allure of his families new home. The film is highlighted by the wonderful father an daughter dynamic between Embry and the young Kiara Glasco. While there’s a supernatural undercurrent that runs throughout the film, the true lurking horror comes from the three hundred pound hulking brute of a killer in the form of Pruitt Taylor Vince. There’s something very Lenny in Of Mice & Men in Vince’s performance, and while Byrne tones down the gore quotient from his debut film, it only serves to punctuate the moments of violence with that much more emphasis.
TRAGEDY GIRLS This film shouldn’t work for me. A high school horror comedy about two budding serial killers desperate for social media attention is something I should be aged out of. The teen-speak dialog alone-or the approximation of what director and co-writer Tyler MacIntyre believes teen girls talk like-should send me running for the hills. Yet Tragedy Girls possesses such warmth between the two besties Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) that by the third act I couldn’t help but root for the two of them to come out on top. The film contains sharp satire on the narcissistic pitfalls of social media, and also manages to subvert the tired dude rallying cry of “Bros before Hos” by putting sisters ahead of misters. It manages some fantastic death sequences and pulls off a genuinely shocking finale. This had a very limited theatrical run over the fall, and I can’t express enough how quickly you should check it out once it arrives on VOD next month.
HOUNDS OF LOVE This Australian import is the best movie that I never, ever, ever want to watch again. It may be the grimiest, dirtiest, working at a ground level, in your face shocker since Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer. Ben young draws heavily from the real life story of David & Catherine Birnie, an Australian couple that kidnapped, sexually tormented and murdered young women in their home. There is pain and agony on almost every single frame of this film as the couple engages in a cat and mouse game with Vicki, the teenage girl that they’ve chosen as their latest victim. It’s a tough watch, but for fans that love challenging psychological horror films, you can’y do much better than this.
SUPER DARK TIMES One of four “coming of age” horror tales on this year’s list, Super Dark Times plops itself into the Clinto-era, pre-internet days where just because we weren’t reading about a mass school shooting every other week, it didn’t mean the kids were all right. It explores the stupid, dangerous shit young men can get up to when left with nothing but too much time on their hands and no one to check in on them. It explores just how fragile the bonds of a lifetime friendship can be in the face of a tragic accident. While it’s not strictly a horror movie, there’s a palpable undercurrent of dread and nausea that permeates the last hour of Super Dark Times that culminates in a clusterfuck of a climax. It also contains one hell of a performance from Charlie Tahan as Josh the budding sociopath and nervous ball of fear, regret, and rage that is the co-lead of the story. Tahan channels the twitchy energy of Henry Rollins from his Black Flag days. It feels like every line mouth is uttered by an alien being that’s impersonating what it thinks a human talks like.
RAW This tale of cannibalism marked a return to the graphic, visceral horror that arose from France during the early to mid-2000s. Rather than just rely on gore and shock value, Raw expertly tells the story of a young woman out on her own for the first time, weaves in themes of sisterhood and looks gorgeous as hell. While I always get a chuckle out of tales from theaters where audience members passed out from shock at the contents on screen, Raw manages a number of edge of the seat moments where those with a weaker stomach will find themselves compelled to turn away from the screen.
BETTER WATCH OUT Hot damn I love this movie. Any film that kicks of with an eight year old girl screaming butt fucker at the top of her lungs immediately goes up a half star in my book. Levi Miller is pitch perfect as a smug, entitled little creep that won’t take no for an answer when it comes to trying to get in his babysitter’s pants, and my god does he have a face that looks ripe for punching. It’s best to avoid trailers and reviews on this one and go in cold, but the description of “Home Alone as a horror story” is spot on. The Christmas horror catalog has yet another entry ripe for seasonal viewing.
IT From the moment “IT” was announced, fans wondered how the updated story of The Loser’s Club could set itself apart from the iconic performance of Tim Curry’s Pennywise from the 1991 TV adaptation. It turns out that Bill Skaarsgard was more than up to the task of putting his own spin on the killer clown from outer space, and the child actors did the heavy lifting of bringing Stephen King’s band of misfits to life on the big screen. There’s a reason why IT was a $300 million smash that tore through the box office. It provided the rarest treat horror fans get nowadays in the form of a joyous thrill ride that just happened to contain haunted houses, werewolves flash rotting lepers and murderous clowns. IT was so successful that mainstream critics couldn’t ignore it, and twisted themselves into knots trying to convince everyone why a film where a five year old, boy has his arm chewed of fin the opening real before being dragged to his death in the sewers wasn’t really a horror movie. Part two and 2019 can’t get here fast enough.
GET OUT Jordan Peele’s unapologetic examination of what it is like to be black in America is THE film that we’re going to talk about and study for decades to come. In his debut genre effort, comedian Jordan Peele delivers one of the flat-out best horror movies of the decade. GET OUT serves up a brilliant piece of art. Peele alternates the mood from chilling and hysterical with ease while lacing his work with nods to classic genre efforts. At its core, GET OUT offers a devastating examination of how white america is stealing the soul of black citizens.
THE SHAPE OF WATER It almost feels like a cheat to call this a horror movie. At its core, it’s another wonderful fairy tale done by the master Guillermo del Toro. If you try and tell me that I’m going to see a more lush, wonderful and fully realized world than the one Del Tor creates here, I will call you a liar and kick you hard in the shins. As with Pan’s Labyrinth, del Tor does a superb job of creating a truly awful monster in human form, this time in the guise of Michael Shannon’s smug and cruel government agent. The beauty of the film lies in the family created by Elisa (Sally Hawkins), Giles (Richard Jenkins), Zelda (Octavia Spenser) & yes, The Fish Man (Doug Jones). This cast of misfits that fly under the radar of the world at large create their own tight knot, loving clan and it’s simply a joy to watch their relationships unfold on screen. Oh, and if the wonderful folks at Mondo could get on printing a poster of the film’s final shot before credits, we’d all appreciate it.