Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time: Top 10 Horror Films of 2018

January 9, 2019 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Mandy A Bloody Good Time Horror Films 2018

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

Yes, I’m back. I can’t say for how long. I guess as long as I feel I have more to say about the horror genre.

I feel like I should explain why I’ve been gone from this column for six months or so. I know some of you don’t care and just want to get to the picks you’ll agree or disagree with, but I figure those people have already skipped this intro. I’ve been asked on Twitter where I was, and why haven’t I been doing ABGT, and I feel for those people, I should explain.

2018 was not a good year for me. I won’t get into specific details, but I will say that I originally only planned to take a month, at most, off from ABGT. I had an opportunity and was preparing to move to another city, only for everything to fall apart at the last minute. My decision to stay gone was that this incident, on top of a lot of other things, brought back some lingering mental health issues in a big way and I had to cut out a lot of stressors and try to get my life back on track.

ABGT is actually a lot of work on a weekly basis, and I don’t get paid for it. I do this for fun, because I love talking about the genre and I like talking to fellow fans. Sometimes I can throw up a quick list, but sometimes I really put thought into my topics and either rewatch movies (usually when ranking a franchise) or read up on the history of films to make sure I’m not talking out of my ass. So I just had to take a break to focus on my job and my health.

I’m not okay, still, but I’m trying. I’m getting help and I think I’m at least in a place where I can give my opinions about horror movies online again. I thank those who left kind words on Twitter and those who actually give a damn about what I have to say. You can’t begin to know how much such a simple thing like, “I miss ABGT” on random news article I’ve written helped out during some dark times.

So, enough about me, let’s talk about the year of horror that was 2018.

I’ve said multiple times that horror is an escape. We use the genre’s fake horrors to distract us from the horrors of the real world. I don’t know if it’s just the pervasiveness of the news or if this year was genuinely more awful than others, but it certainly felt that way. There was so much violence and hatred in the world that I don’t see how anyone can keep hearing about it and not go crazy. So having something to distract us from that is good. So during this year, I consumed a lot of horror. Not just in film, but on television. This year gave us more Channel Zero, the return of Joe Bob Briggs and the excellent Netflix show The Haunting of Hill House. You could argue, and I wouldn’t put up too much of a fight, that horror TV was the biggest it’s ever been this year.

And while I plan to do something about horror TV at a later time, this is all about movies. And there’s no better way to escape than watching the return of the slasher film, fun genre mashups and dumb sci-fi/action/horror movies that got needlessly hated. I don’t know if 2018 was a great year for the genre, but the genre was the perfect antidote for 2018. It was a year where people remembered that horror could be fun as well as scary or emotionally draining. So I’d like to think that this year’s list best represents that concept. Horror can be just as much of a fun escape as it can be a window to what happens in real life.

But of course, before we get to the best, I have to tell you about the Three Worst Horror Films of 2018

#3: Slender Man

There’s a good movie out there waiting to be made from the Slender Man mythos. This wasn’t it. Horror really benefitted this year in that even the usual suspects that would bring us bad films were bad in a dull way. Like, Children of the Corn: Runaway would be a given on any other year, but it was just boring instead of actively bad like this is. Slender Man barely uses elements of the creepypasta it’s based on, instead choosing to craft its own story and shoehorn the character in. On top of that, we’ve got some truly stupid character decisions and a ruleset for a character that changes depending on the situation. It was an obvious cheap cash-in attempt and most people saw right through it. If you want a good attempt at adapting creepypasta, watch the first four seasons of Syfy’s Channel Zero.

#2: Day of the Dead: Bloodline

I don’t like to call out bad acting. Because at the end of the day, someone thought they acted well enough to be in the movie and that’s better than what I’m doing. But I have to give special mention to Day of the Dead: Bloodline, another needless retelling of the third film in George A. Romero’s Dead series. While this isn’t nearly as awful as the 2008 version, it’s bad in its own way. In addition to yet again, some absurdly stupid characters, it also has some really bad acting. It gets better as the film progresses but it makes it a chore to sit through. This movie also deserves some special condemnation for their take on Bub, in that the zombie no longer eats our heroine because he wants to rape her. I’m not even joking. He was psychotic and obsessed with her in life, so he won’t eat her or bite her in death. It’s not as bad as the character’s reason being his dietary choices (like it was in the 2008 film) but it’s still awful. A bold new reimagining!

#1: Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare

I was promised a movie that was so bad, it’s good when I saw this film’s trailer. Instead I was subjected to a film with a flimsy premise, annoying characters and an ending that tells you never to think of other people, ever. It’s a failure at everything it tries to be. It’s not scary, suspenseful, funny (even in an unintentional way) or interesting. Blumhouse can do better than this, and the fact that they’re just as likely to put out a movie like this as a movie like BlackkKlansman in the same year is mind-boggling. They need some quality control at that studio yesterday. I already reviewed this earlier this year, so I’m tired of talking about it.

Now we have all the negativity out of our systems, it’s time to get to to the top ten. As always, I don’t do Honorable Mentions. If a movie you liked didn’t make it, there’s a chance it just barely missed the cut.

Let’s get to the Top Ten Horror Films of 2018!

#10: Halloween

Director: David Gordon Green

Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, James Jude Courtney, Haluk Bilginer

Story: Laurie Strode confronts her long-time foe Michael Myers, the masked figure who has haunted her since she narrowly escaped his killing spree on Halloween night four decades ago.

This film had a lot of hype going in. It had been forty years since the original, called by some (including myself) the greatest horror film ever made. It had been almost a decade since the last time Michael Myers had ever been on screen. In addition to that, it was retconning the series yet again, ignoring the sequels and bringing back Jamie Lee Curtis for a final showdown with the Shape. So Halloween had a lot to live up to from genre enthusiasts.

For the most part, Halloween manages to live up to its promise. It tries its very best to make Myers an imposing force again, going as far as to murder children, murder at random and defy his own age in order to offer up some brutal kills. In other words, they try really hard to make him a force of nature again. The movie also presents a Laurie Strode haunted by the events of that Halloween in 1978. Curtis plays it different than she did a similar version of the character twenty years prior and while they seem to forget her PTSD as the movie rushes toward a climax, when it’s there she does an admirable job.

The only reason this movie doesn’t rank higher is the baffling creative choice near the end, involving Michael’s doctor and a stupid twist. I haven’t read a review yet that was in favor of that change, as it served no purpose and only derails the story until the Shape gets things back on track. Even with that, Halloween is still one of the best sequels of the series and a good follow-up to the original. Let’s hope the next sequel is even better.

#9: Apostle

Director: Gareth Evans

Cast: Dan Stevens, Lucy Boynton, Mark Lewis Jones, Bill Milner, Kristine Froseth, Paul Higgins, Michael Sheen

Story: In 1905, a drifter on a dangerous mission to rescue his kidnapped sister tangles with a sinister religious cult on an isolated island.

Netflix had a breakout hit with Bird Box this year, but Apostle is the movie you should be watching. I have no idea if Gareth Evans had The Wicker Man in mind when he wrote and directed this period horror film, but it certainly felt like an homage to that. Dan Stevens plays a former priest who invades a religious cult to find his sister, who is being held hostage in a blackmail attempt. He soon learns that the god the cult worships is real, but it’s not exactly what anyone thinks it is.

Period films in the genre like this, or more recently, The Witch, really take advantage of the time period to evoke mood and atmosphere in a way you just can’t do with the trappings of modern life. Not better, just different. In this case it’s a turn of the century cult that punishes heretics in one of the most painful ways you could imagine. It turns out that a religion created by criminals isn’t exactly the best for the people involved. It’s a movie that you could say, “it can’t happen in 2018” but there’s been plenty of recent examples of people killing for their beliefs.

Apostle‘s mood and atmosphere is also helped by a terrific lead performance from Dan Stevens, who continues to be great in anything he’s in. The movie isn’t perfect, it does run a little long and there’s a subplot that goes nowhere, but there are some creepy Silent Hill-esque monsters, a nasty gore scene and a level of intensity that you’re not going to get out of something like Slender Man. Apostle is a movie you should definitely set some time aside to watch.

#8: Pyewacket

Director: Adam MacDonald

Cast: Laurie Holden, Nicole Munoz, Chloe Rose, Eric Osborne, James McGowan, Bianca Melchior

Story: A frustrated, angst-ridden teenage girl awakens something in the woods when she naively performs an occult ritual to evoke a witch to kill her mother.

We’ve all said some things as angsty teens we should never say as an adult, particularly to loved ones. This is a movie about a teen that takes that a step too far and may have summoned an evil force that fully intends to make her mother dead. This is a movie that was compared to The Babadook, but I’ve seen both and I think it’s mostly different. I think the only real similarity is that you don’t see the titular demon until the very end, and even then you’re unsure if it was ever real at all.

This is essentially a two-person story, with Munoz and Holden playing well off of each other as a combative mother and daughter trying to get by in the wake of the father’s death. The script is quite brilliant in the way it makes Holden’s character as unlikable as possible prior to Munos invoking the spell, an attempt to make the audience complicit in wanting her mother dead. Then, once the spell is invoked, Holden’s character starts acting like a normal person again, likable and trying to recover after grief gave her a few bad moments. The daughter realizes she made a terrible mistake.

A smart script and an even smarter decision to not show its hand with the demon until the last moment make Pyewacket a sleeper favorite for me. Too many horror movies these days prefer to have their demons all over the screen, yelling right in the viewer’s face. This instead forces the viewer to question the monster’s existance before giving them a shaky answer and a brutally shocking finale. Thumbs all the way up.

#7: The Ritual

Director: David Bruckner

Cast: Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton

Story: A group of college friends reunite for a trip to the forest, but encounter a menacing presence in the woods that’s stalking them.

I love love loved The Ritual. The fact that it’s only #7 on this list should say more about the six that come after it than this film, because it’s wonderful. The story is really simple. A group of friends go on a hiking trip to honor someone that passed away. They take a detour through the woods and stumble upon a mysterious cabin, which contains runes and a shrine to an ancient god. From there, they find themselves stalked by something monstrous and fighting their own insanity.

This movie’s premise lives and dies on its cast’s ability to sell what’s going on, because like Pyewacket, it does the smart move and keeps that thing that’s stalking our leads in the shadows. It’s a film that evokes the best parts of The Blair Witch Project, while being its own unique thing. And with the evil following them remaining unseen, we rely on the cast to really sell it as something to be feared. It’s hard to pick out a standout as all four play their roles well.

Things lead up to a particularly insane finish, where we get the answers we want and a finale that’s not particularly satisfying but definitely definitive. The Ritual is just dripping with atmosphere and creepy moments that I don’t want to spoil here. It’s on Netflix right now, so go watch it.

#6: Annihilation

Director: Alex Garland

Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac

Story: A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition into a mysterious zone where the laws of nature don’t apply.

I went back and forth over whether to even add Annihilation to this list because I was worried it skewed too much into the sci-fi part than the horror part. But there’s body horror aplenty and that screaming bear monster was nightmare-inducing enough that yes, I say Annihilation is a horror film. So let’s get into why it’s a great horror film and ignore all the genre purists who may try to say otherwise. If you want to fight about what is or isn’t a horror film, go bother the people that have Upgrade on their lists.

This is a movie that mixes a lot of different genres into a mishmash that either works or doesn’t depending on how accepting you are of the premise. There’s this mysterious area affected by the “shimmer”, which changes things that enter it on a molecular level. This results in some strange creatures wandering around, like an alligator/shark hybrid, a man with intestines that move like snakes or a mutated bear that screams like a human. That bear, by the way, is responsible for one of the most horrifying film moments of the year, easily.

This may lean too heavily into sci-fi, but it’s visually stunning, thought-provoking and even a little sad. But the body horror sticks out, because there’s a lot of it. Just imagine the realization that your cells are turning you into something no longer human, and you have no control over it? It’s like a mix of 2001, Videodrome and The Thing. Perhaps not as good as those, but definitely a stand out film in its own right. If it sounds like I’m struggling to describe it, that’s because it’s a movie you really need to see for yourself.

#5: Revenge

Director: Coralie Fargeat

Cast: Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchède

Story: The story sees three wealthy, middle-aged CEOs – all married family men – get together for their annual hunting game in a desert canyon. It’s a way for them to let off steam and affirm their manhood with guns. But this time, one of them has come along with his young mistress, who quickly arouses the interest of the two others. Things get out of hand and she is left for dead in the middle of this arid hell. However, the young woman is very much alive, and the hunting game turns into a ruthless manhunt.

This may be a first for ABGT, in that an actress from one of the films that made my worst list last year makes my best list this year. That would be Matilda Lutz, who was in last year’s Rings in a forgettable role but absolutely shines in Revenge. I actually did not think I would like this movie when I first saw it. After all, if you’ve seen one rape and revenge film, you’ve seen them all, right? After all, even the supposed best of the genre (or at least the most well-known), I Spit On Your Grave, is trash. The movies have a very strict formula and hardly ever deviate from that to deliver anything more than cheap thrills.

Except that’s not the case with Revenge, because I found myself blown away by it. This movie is stylish. This movie is surprisingly colorful (something that horror used to be, before everyone decided to mute the color). This movie is also really, really good. I’m sure there are dozens of thinkpieces on the internet about how this movie turns the male gaze around on the villain at the end, and it does so beautifully. But beyond that, it’s just amazing that such a amazingly-shot, gleefully violent and smarter-than-the-rest horror film like this took a common exploitation subgenre and subverted it while still being immensely entertaining. I want to watch this movie again, and that’s more than I can say for the glut of the movies it was inspired by.

#4: Summer of ’84

Director: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell

Cast: Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Tiera Skovbye, Rich Sommer

Story: After suspecting that their police officer neighbor is a serial killer, a group of teenage friends spend their summer spying on him and gathering evidence, but as they get closer to discovering the truth, things get dangerous.

As someone who was only alive for four years of the 80s, I’m a little sick of 80s nostalgia. Maybe this is how people felt during the actual 80s with all the 50s and 60s throwbacks. I’m more than a little ready to get nostalgic for the 90s, is what I’m saying. Anyway, Summer of ’84 is another one of those movies that swear that the 80s were the best decade, with the filmmakers reminiscing about their childhoods. So how does it manage to overcome the trappings of a tired nostalgia trip to deliver one of the most chilling horror films of the year?

I think the thing that really pulls this thing together is the mystery. Yes, the bond between the kids is great, but that would have been required to even be a good film. Instead we have one of them, Davey, suspecting his neighbor of being a serial killer. So they spend the summer on an “adventure” of trying to discover if they’re right, and the movie leans so hard into Mackey that you begin to wonder, along with the kids themselves, if he really is the killer. After all, we all know what red herrings are at this point. A wise movie character once said, if you watch Prom Night, you’d save time on these sorts of things.

I won’t give away what actually happens, but I will say that this movie kept me guessing until the very end. Every time I thought one thing would happen, something else did. It was a nice little roller coaster that thrilled me, particularly in the final act. And I must say, that ending stuck with me for several days after. This was the last movie I watched before I put this list together, and I’m glad of that fact because the movie sort of made me need a break from horror. A lot of movies in this genre offer escape, but Summer of ’84 is almost too real.

#3: A Quiet Place

Director: John Krasinski

Cast: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe

Story: In a post-apocalyptic world, a family is forced to live in silence while hiding from monsters with ultra-sensitive hearing.

This one is getting some backlash online but damn, I saw this in the theater and I never saw an audience so manipulated by a film. These days, you’ve got people on their phones at the theater, having not-so-subtle conversations and just generally being quiet. With this, you’ve got a movie where the characters have to be absolutely quiet or they’ll die, and somehow that turned into the audience also being silent. I don’t think anyone in the crowd thought they were going to die, but there’s something about making a movie where everyone has to tread lightly and whisper forcing an audience to shut up long enough to follow what’s going on.

Of course this movie is so much more than its gimmick, and I think the reason the audience remained quiet is that they were emotionally invested. Krasinski and Blunt are married in real life, so that clears up half the work in making them a believable couple we want to see survive. When you’re emotionally connected to a character, that increases the suspense as you care about what happens to that character. It’s also why so many people were upset to watch their favorite heroes turn to dust in Avengers: Infinity War. They spent multiple films and a decade following them (some even longer, if they read comics). A Quiet Place understands that with a loving family unit of genuinely good people who already suffered tremendous tragedy.

The gimmick was meant to bring you into the theater and yes, it made everyone shut up, but it also amplified the scares. While this movie is a little jump-scare reliant, those scares are earned and effective. I’ve never been against jump scares, I’m just against the cheap ones. This creates an atmosphere of suspense in where every single noise means the monsters are coming, so naturally if a noise is made the audience is squirming due to tension. This is horror done effectively and is definitely a film you should have seen by now.

#2: Mandy

Director: Panos Cosmatos

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Bill Duke, Richard Brake, Ned Dennehy

Story: The enchanted lives of a couple in a secluded forest are brutally shattered by a nightmarish hippie cult and their demon-biker henchmen, propelling a man into a spiraling, surreal rampage of vengeance.

I’m going to spoil something here, but Mandy had me the moment we got to see a crazy Nic Cage light his cigarette off of a flaming decapitated head. I also think that’s the perfect image to explain to you both how insane this movie is and how awesome it is. Mandy is the exact kind of horror film I needed this year. It’s weird, it’s surreal, it’s crazy, it’s violent and it’s colorful. More importantly, it’s fun. It’s the kind of bonkers Nic Cage performance that Mom and Dad promised but failed to deliver.

It’s another revenge movie, yes, but the horror comes from what happens to the titular Mandy, right in front of Cage’s eyes, that makes him go on this roaring rampage of revenge. From there we see him tear apart various demon bikers and cult members, sometimes under the influence of hallucinogens (the second revenge-themed movie on this list with a drug trip), sometimes while listening to their inane ramblings. If you can get through the admittedly slow and weird first third, you’re rewarded with a entertaining bloodbath for the rest.

Mandy is the kind of movie that doesn’t come around very often. It’s one of those movies that fully embraces how crazy it is and asks you to come along, and it does so in a way that isn’t off-putting or poorly-executed like all those B-movies that hit the video market after Grindhouse. It’s a tremendous watch and one that’s going to be watched multiple times in the years to come.

#1: Hereditary

Director: Ari Aster

Cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd

Story: After the family matriarch passes away, a grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences, and begin to unravel dark secrets.

Come on, I wrote an entire column this past summer declaring it one of the best of the decade. That’s not a viewpoint that’s going to suddenly change because I saw more movies. Hereditary is just an amazing film and one that I absolutely love. Hereditary to me, is a masterclass in suspense and is also genuinely scary. I realize scares are subjective, but this one got me. Multiple times in fact.

As I said, this movie stuck with me days later and even though I own the movie, I’ve yet to revisit it. I don’t think it’s that scary, but it is a movie that you have to be in a certain mood for, because it’s emotionally exhausting. It’s uncomfortable, it’s disturbing, it’s crazy, it’s depressing, it’s dark, and it’s bleak. It’s all of those things and more. It’s a movie that makes you think and a movie that you don’t want to think about. It’s an uncompromising look at grief that uses horror to show just how raw grief can leave us.

It’s true, this movie won’t resonate with everyone. Not every great movie does. There are people today claiming that the all-time greats are overrated and not scary, so it’s going to have its backlash as anything with praise will. But it’s a great film that does what a horror film is supposed to do. It gets under the viewer’s skin and leaves them a little uneasy after it’s all over. It had an entire theater jumping over a cluck sound, which is like what A Quiet Place did turned up to 11.

I am unashamed in my love of Hereditary and will go down defending it as a modern-day classic. And the fact that Toni Collette isn’t the woman to beat during awards season is insane to me.

That’s it for this year’s list. Will I keep doing A Bloody Good Time? Yes. Am I going to do it weekly? No. I’ll do it whenever I feel like I have something to say. I have too much going on in my personal life to devote time to a weekly column, but horror is an ever-changing genre and I love it. I love talking about it, I love my fellow fans and I love dissecting what makes it tick. So yeah, I’ll keep doing ABGT every so often, when an idea strikes me or a huge movie has everyone talking. So I’m not going away and neither is this. It’s just going to be more limited than it used to be.

I thank everyone for following me with this column as I’ve been writing it for going on 12 years now. Whether you’ve been here for all 12, came in somewhere in the middle or are just here because one of the movies led you here from Google, thank you. I’ll see you soon.