One of my favorite podcasts, Horror Movie Podcast, released their annual “Best of the Year” episode this week, an annual unveiling which I have eagerly anticipated since I first stumbled upon the program three years ago.
If you like horror movies at all and you’re not listening to this show you are messing up. I really enjoy it. The hosts are fun, personable, knowledgeable and they really do live up to the show’s slogan of being “dead serious about horror movies.”
This year, I especially enjoyed Episode 150 and 151, a two-parter about religion and cults in scary movies, and also Episode 146, all about Lucio Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy. The epic coverage of the new “Halloween” movie was awesome, too (Episode 159), but it’s the “Best of the Year” lists that I look forward to most. Each host compiles their own list, and also a fourth list based on the input of listeners.
Now, I’m not usually a big fan of Top 10 lists (and they tend to proliferate at about the same time as talk of another thing I can’t stand: New Year’s resolutions )because I find the format restrictive and often arbitrary – clickbait of the worst kind. But these guys do such a great job, and carefully explain their individual processes and reasoning behind each selection and its ranking, that I began to reconsider. Also, it was such a freaking great year for horror movies that I just had to add my own voice to the chorus of celebrants.
So, for those who care – and aren’t sick of talking about it yet – here are my 10 favorite horror movies of 2018.
Honorable mention: The Nun
Swing and a miss – oh, but what a miss!
The latest in “The Conjuring” universe had so much going for it that I was physically pained by the parts that didn’t work. I loved the atmosphere and the acting, the general story and effects, too. But this is one of those times I feel one more go round at the writer’s table would have made all the difference. I mean, honestly, the critical turn in the climactic showdown was – SPOILER ALERT – a ridiculous trick cribbed from “Demon Knight,” the ’95 “Tales from the Crypt” film starring Billy Zane? Are you kidding me, (screenwriter) Gary Dauberman? Earn the paycheck, man.
Still, it’s hard to hate. These movies, though I don’t care for the straightedge superhero overtones (the Warrens were not Jesus’ own spiritual SWAT team, people), are the cinematic equivalent of a spook show ride at a carnival. You strap in, turn off your brain, and jump on cue. I had a good time.
10. Ghost Stories
I’d watch Martin Freeman eat breakfast, and he’s as wonderful as usual in a supporting turn in this surprisingly creepy English anthology. Though it’s technically listed as a 2017 movie, I’m fairly certain this didn’t get true widespread distribution until 2018, so I’m counting it.
I thought Andy Nyman – who I loved in “Black Death,” one of my favorite horror movies of 2010, for sure – was perfectly believable as the king sceptic Professor Phillip Goodman. Alex Lawther also was incredibly unsettling in this one. Some didn’t like the ending, but I thought it was in keeping with the tone and style of the movie as a whole. The first 10 minutes or so is a masterclass in stage-setting: We know all we need to about the protagonist, his motivations and desires, and thus it makes sense when he’s going way too far, past the point where any reasonable person would get the hell out of there later on, a point so many horror films fail to establish.
I’d watch Martin Freeman eat breakfast. Did I already mention that?
This one is also listed as technically a 2017 movie, but it hit Netflix in 2018 so, again, I’m counting it.
It’s a beautiful, powerful and wholly original film. If you had told me last year that a zombie movie would be in a list of my 2018 faves, I would have mocked you mercilessly. Too overdone, I thought. What’s left to say? I thought.
I was wrong.
This is a great movie, and one I think even non-horror fans can get behind if they give it a chance. I was seriously empathizing with Freeman’s character throughout, and the novel additions to the “infected” scenario were genius.
Also, I really loved the inclusion of so many Aboriginal actors. They added real gravitas to the story. Expect big things from Simone Landers.
Intriguing and creepy, with a star-making lead performance by Madeline Brewer. I legitimately had no idea what to expect and was surprised several times throughout. A really great intimate (see what I did there?) horror film with a hell of a hook.
7. Bird Box
Wonderful source material (read the book if you have not), wonderful characters played by wonderful actors and gripping cinematography. It’s a bit long, I think, and could have done with a harsher edit, especially in the last 15 minutes or so, but otherwise a flawless film. Big shoutout to – SPOILER ALERT – Tom Hollander, that guy is so creepy in this one. Loved it.
I love me some good folk horror and this is some of the best in a while. I’d pair it on a double feature bill with 2011’s “Kill List.” Dan Stevens’ going undercover inside a remote agricultural sect to find his missing sister is a brilliant setup – I love that it’s a period piece, too – that pays off perfectly. Though the final moments left me momentarily shaking my head, I don’t mind a bit of ambiguity in my finale if the ride is worth taking – and this one definitely is.
5. A Quiet Place
Nothing I can say here that hasn’t bee said. Yes, it’s a bit too “Screenwriter 101” story-wise, and yes, it’s got a bit too much of that filter-heavy Rust Belt poverty porn vibe cinematically, but these gripes are minuscule in comparison to everything that’s good about this movie. And while I do question why not a single government scientist or, you know, any adult anywhere on the planet, could have possibly missed stumbling upon what is ultimately revealed to be perhaps mankind’s greatest hope of fighting these (admittedly awesome looking) creatures, I’ll allow it because the whole thing is captivating and sincere.
Bonus points for being one of the greatest theater-going experiences of my life: utter silence throughout, and it was crowded in there. I think some people were literally holding their breath.
Another fantastic theater experience here, and a movie I was all but certain I’d hate, Halloween came around and gobsmacked me into remembering what it was like to be a little kid watching a scary movie. It’s fun, thrilling, creepy – everything a great horror movie should be. JLC is perfection, as usual. Some found cause to complain about certain twists, and some purists will of course hate everything not made by JC himself, but this movie made happier than I thought possible. Retcon away, filmmakers, but only if you do as well as these guys did.
3. The Ritual
Another book I loved that became a film I love. In fact, I think I might actually prefer the movie, it’s that good. Featuring stellar performances and locations, amazing cinematography and the hands-down the coolest creature I’ve seen on screen in years, this movie came along early in the year and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
In terms of strictly being the movie on this list I’ve already rewatched the most, “The Ritual” is my favorite of the year.
Again, not much new I can add to the discourse here. Believe the hype. This is sincere dread on screen – hopeless horror of a simultaneously immediate and existential variety. I’m not sure enjoy is the right word, but I was affected. Also, while certain stylistic influences are obvious, “Hereditary” looks like nothing else. It’s an outlier, a game-changer. And while I’m not sure I’d go so far as to agree it’s “this generation’s ‘The Exorcist,’” it is an important cultural moment I was glad to be alive for.
1. Satan’s Slaves
Man, have you seen this movie? Wow! Though again technically released in 2017, in Indonesia at least, it’s now streaming now on Shudder and you should check it out right now. “Satan’s Slaves” came out of nowhere and honestly got under my skin. The less said about the plot the better, so I’ll just echo the common rundown: a cash-strapped, hapless family is haunted after the death of their once-famous mother, who dies after being bedridden for three years from a strange and debilitating illness. I had low expectations going in and I was positively blown away. Everything about this movie works, there isn’t a frame or a beat I would change.
I had a few notable misses this year, movies I just didn’t get to in time to include them here. I especially regret not seeing the new Suspiria, Overlord, Terrified and Incident In A Ghostland, as I’ve heard nothing but great things about them all. I’m definitely going to seek them out soon.
Huh, I guess I do have a New Year’s resolution after all.
Thanks, as always, for reading!