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My Top 10 Horror Films of 2018

Horror is enjoying a healthy resurgence from literature to virtual reality gaming. To celebrate the genre’s return to the spotlight I thought I’d list my favorite horror films of 2018 just in time for Halloween.

Halloween 2018

I’ll go to bat for this movie despite some gripes hardcore fans have had with some of the decisions. I’ve heard the nitpicking about the high school dance sequence (that lasts all of say five minutes) or the peanut butter sandwich banter between police officers (that takes thirty some seconds of running time). No, those scenes aren’t essential, and yes, I know, one character has a silly twist with b-movie motivations, but I was fine with all of it, and I’m the guy who hates the concept of these de-booted sequels.

Jamie Lee Curtis made this one work for me. I loved her as a hyper vigilante survivor shtick. I liked watching the hunted finally become the hunter. It gave the audience someone to root for.

John Carpenter’s moody synthesizer score was worth the price of admission. In fact, I’m writing with it on right now.

Back of the Box Quote: “The best version of the 3 Halloween 2movies you’re ever going to see.”

Pyewacket

It sucks when your dad dies and your mom makes you move out into the woods in the middle of your Junior year, especially when she shames you for your newfound interest in the occult. Why not summon a demon to get rid of her? Okay, that shadow figure leering at you from its perch on your wall is giving you black-magic-buyer’s-remorse. So now how do you stop this Satanic assassin from completing it’s mission? That’s the plot of Pyewacketa slow burning supernatural thriller with a tense atmosphere and one hell of pay off.

Worth it for The X-Files andThe Walking Dead’s Laurie Holden’s deliciously wicked performance as the mother.

Back of the Box Quote: “In the case of A Well-Told Story Versus Jump Scaresmay I present Exhibit A.”

The Endless

At the risk of being called a self-plagiarist I’m going to quote my previous summary for this movie.

“It’s the story of two brothers visiting the cult they’ve escaped from to find the commune stuck in a sentient pocket dimension hell-bent on claiming them too. A coming of age tale set in a UFO death cult.”

If you’re looking for a cerebral horror experience more in the spirit of The Twilight Zonethan the Sawfilms then look no further.

Back of the Box Quote: The Wicker Manmeets Groundhogs Day.”

Apostle

When a former missionary learns his sister has been abducted by a cult on an island he goes undercover as a devout believer to save her. It isn’t long before the missionary encounters the island’s blood god leading to a series of brutal encounters that end up feeding the deity’s unholy appetite.

From Gareth Evans, the action auteur behind The Raidmovies, comes a folk horror story in the spirit of The Wicker Man, The Wicker Tree, and Jug Face.

AfterThe Guest, and Legionthis is yet another reason why Dan Stevens is becoming one of my favorite actors.

Back of the Box Quote: “The Apostle may look Satanic on the Surface but it’s Lovecraftian at its core.”

A Quiet Place

When the world is overrun with monsters with super hearing one rural family struggles to tiptoe through their daily lives.

When I had heard that A Quiet Placehad almost been retooled into a Cloverfieldsequel I couldn’t help but imagine it taking place during the same alien invasion as 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Back of the Box Quote: “The best version of Cloverfield 3 you’re likely going to see.”

Ghost Stories

A paranormal investigator makes his living debunking hauntings, until an associate challenges him to investigate three cases that have brought him to the brink of madness.

Ghost Storiesis based on a stage play and its clever dialogue and dark humor translates well to film thanks to performances by Andy Nyman and Martin Freeman. The over arching narrative makes this one of the better horror anthologies.

Back of the Box Quote: “Ah the subtle whit of British horror.”

Mandy

When a Manson-esque cult murders the love of his life Nick Cage forges a battleax and chops a red path through a surreal forest landscape.

Mandyhas proven divisive amongst horror fans. This isn’t an instance of if you didn’t like it then you didn’t get it. Odds are you got it and it just left a bad taste in your mouth. The dialogue is sparse. The plot is a razor a thin revenge tale, but the tone and atmosphere elevates the material to something special.

Mandytakes place in a heightened reality where the sun shines purple and there are planets on the horizon. There are spontaneous Heavy Metalinspired animations, a magic whistle that summons a Cenobite biker gang, a throbbing synth wave soundtrack, and neon triangles everywhere.

If you liked the aesthetic of director Panos Cosmatos’s previous film Beyond the Black Rainbow you’ll love this.

Back of the Box Quote: “Heavy metal album cover art: the movie.”

Upgrade

A gang guns down a mechanic and his girlfriend under mysterious circumstances. The mechanic wakes up paralyzed from the neck down. One of the mechanic’s clients offers to install a prototype microchip in the back of his neck so that he might walk again. Soon the mechanic learns the microchip is a sentient A.I. with the know how to help him exact revenge on the gang that wronged him (the same crew that attacked Nick Cage, in MandyEric Draven, in The Crowand John Wick’s dog, or they might as well be).

The first thing I said to a friend after I saw this was. “I just saw the new Venommovie months before it even comes out. It was called Upgradeand it was awesome.”

Upgradeis Venomif you swap the alien symbiote with an artificial intelligence implant with kung-fu skills instead of oily appendages. It even stars a Tom Hardy lookalike in Logan Marshall-Green.

Now I know this sounds like science fiction but it made my horror list for fleeting moments of extreme splatter-punk violence.

Back of the Box Quote: “A better Venommovie than the actual Venommovie.”

Hereditary

Hereditary is the story of a grief stricken mother whose situation only gets worse when she tries channeling her dead loved ones.

At the time of this writing Hereditaryhas an 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a D+ from audiences on CinemaScore. So why is there so much disconnect between critics and moviegoers on this one? I think it has everything to do with A24’s marketing campaign. This isn’t The Conjuring 3, if you go in expecting a jump scare a minute you’re going to be disappointed, and yet Hereditarygets far more terrifying thanThe Conjuringmovies would dare to be as it drags viewers into a pitch-black nihilistic oblivion.

Something happens a half an hour into this movie that had people getting up and walking out of the theater. This is not a crowd pleaser. It’s not a date movie (unless you’re looking to end the relationship). This is the mean spirited feel bad film of the year. It’s not exhilarating. It’s unnerving. It’s not thrilling. It is genuinely upsetting.

So why would I put this so high on my list? Well, it takes A LOT to scare me, me a horror writer, and this film did. I enjoy The Conjuringand Insidiousmovies. I get a few quick jolts in the moment when I watch them, but there are images in the last twenty minutes of Hereditary that will stick with me forever.

You may have heard this film described as a “slow burn” well that slow burn escalates into a bonfire very quickly.

Back of the Box Quote: “Hey Rosemary’s baby. Hold my beer.”

All of The Haunting of Hill House Season 1

To quote my previous article endorsing the show:

The Haunting of Hill House follows the Crain family through multiple timelines, telling a story in the order of its mysteries. The flashbacks take place in the 90s when they spent a summer trying to flip the house. Early on we learn the father drove off with his children in the middle of the night after their mother died under mysterious circumstances. Now the family is fractured, spread throughout the country, and haunted, some literally.

What did you think I was going to give this spot to: The Nun, Truth or Dare, Slenderman?Nope, nope, and double nope. I don’t care that this technically isn’t a movie. It’s a complete story with a beginning middle and end.

The latest season of Stanger Things has been delayed until 2019. I’d argue that The Haunting of Hill House deserves to be 2018’s pop culture phenomenon.

What makes this show so special? Let me count the ways: ghosts hidden in plain sight, an episode shot in 5 choreographed long takes, CNN claiming viewers are fainting and vomiting from fright. The Haunting of Hill House has everything.

Back of the Box Quote: “Come for the scares. Stay for the brilliantly acted heartfelt family drama.”

Honorable mentions:

Summer of 84

A gang of plucky fun-loving tweens investigate a serial killer.

Summer of 84showed up to the nostalgia party in the same dressas Strangers Thingsand It, yet it wears it with flair. The first two acts lull you into a false sense of Spielbergian adventure before things get very dark.

Back of the Box Quote: “A fun upbeat coming of age serial killer thriller.”

Annihilation

A group of all-female scientists investigate the mysterious Area X, a reality-warping dome of energy that has claimed the lives of several teams before them.

Having read the Southern Reach trilogy I can say that Annihilationis an adaptation in concept only. Writer/Director Alex Garland took an abstract bizarro premise and distilled it into an observation on relationships, marriage, and the secrets couples keep.

While it might look like science fiction on the surface the nature of Area X gives way to true Cronenbergian body horror.

Back of the Box Quote: “A film that dares to explore the cosmic horror of relationships.”

The Ritual

Four mates, grieving the untimely death of their friend, take a hike through a haunted forest that turns their grief against them. Cabin filled with occult imagery? Check. Blink and you’ll miss it monster sightings? Check. Over-the-top bombastic finale framed in fire? Check.

Back of the Box Quote: “You don’t truly know your friends until you’re all being stalked by a shape-shifting demi-god.”

Cargo

Giving a child up for adoption is never easy, especially not after you’ve contracted super rabies in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.

Back of the Box Quote: “Martin Freeman stars in The Walking Deadmeets Children of Men.

Gerald’s Game

An older couple tries to spice up their marriage with a little bondage. What’s the worst that could happen? Well, the husband could drop dead from a heart attack, leaving the wife tied up in an isolated lake house with wolves scratching at her door. This is Mike Flangan’s second appearance on this list. This technically came out in 2017, but I just saw it.

This is one of those horror stories that does a lot with a confined space, thanks in no small part to brilliant performances by Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood.

Back of the Box Quote: “How to talk your partner out of experimenting with bondage tonight.”

1922

When a farmer conspires with his son to murder his wife a curse consumes both their lives.

This is a near word for word adaptation of the story from Stephen King’s “Full Dark, No Stars” collection. It’s the perfect rat infested southern gothic ghost story.

Movies I wish I’d Seen this Year

Shamefully I have yet to see The Devil’s Doorway,Unsaneor Revengedespite everything I’ve heard about them.

I also imagine Suspiria, Overlordwould make this list if they were out yet, but alas I must wait. Continue reading My Top 10 Horror Films of 2018

Cue the Psycho Strings

“My favorite jump scares toy with your expectations.”

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Cue the Psycho Strings

In horror movies, jump scares make teenagers lose their popcorn, while veteran viewers hold onto their Milk Duds. Veterans know the rhythms of the genre. They know what it means when the score fades beneath a howling wind. They watch the victim tiptoe through a long uninterrupted shot. They know when to expect a cat to jump out, and when to expect a killer. While teens wince at the simple sight of blood, vets yawn at all the spiritless slaughter. If they’ve seen one hook pop out of someone’s throat, they’ve seen them all.

They’ve been exposed to far too many cheap chills, generic gotchas, and bargain BOO’s. Without good storytelling, panic feels passé, alert seems antiquated, and carnage seems commonplace.

Veteran viewers have been inoculated against these dated daunts. They lean back in their seats, with comfortable dry pants, secure in their immunity. What if there was a new strain of jump scare, one that resembled those creep show clichés, but broke through their resistance? Continue reading Cue the Psycho Strings