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A Bloody Good Time: Top 10 Horror Films of 2019

November 13, 2020 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Us A Bloody Good Time 2019 Horror

It’s another edition of the column I used to do weekly but now only do when inspiration strikes me. I’m your unreliable host into the world of horror.

So last year I somehow skipped the end of the year list, breaking a tradition I had going since 2007. I felt really bad about that, but my movie watching had dropped off and I never felt like I had seen enough to justify doing the list at the time. Now, with being quarantined and only going out for groceries or therapy, seemed like a good time to catch up.

Having more time to reflect on the year than usual, 2019 was strange, man. You had some legitimately good films with horror themes, some really fun popcorn movies and then…mostly middle of the road remakes and sequels. I wouldn’t even call the bad movies truly terrible, as they were mostly boring. At least with years past, I felt things about The Bye Bye Man or The Devil Inside, even if those were negative things.

And as I always do, let’s look at those stinkers. Movies that were more proof of Hollywood’s love of cash and general hatred of effort. Three Worst Horror Films of 2019

#3: The Curse of La Llorona

The “universe” that sprung out of The Conjuring is a weird one. On one hand, the two movies in the Conjuring series are genuinely great horror films that hold up even now. On the other, you have crap like Annabelle and The Nun. The latter in particular being very egregious about ripping off better movies like Demon Knight. But The Curse of La Llorona is an odd one stuck in the middle. It never feels like the titular ghost is a threat to anyone but the lead’s kids. Yes, that’s an easy way to build drama but in horror, you want your monster to be something the viewer feels, even for a moment, could threaten them in some way. Unless your kid just happens to stumble upon this ghost, it doesn’t. It’s not like, say, The Ring, where the curse is localized to one person but the very nature of it means you could be next and not know it. It wasn’t as blatantly stupid as Annabelle but never once approached scary, not even by the cheap ploy of implementing danger to kids. Not only that, but it never seemed to get out of first gear.

#2: The Gallows: Act 2

Long time readers of ABGT and my stuff in general will know that I have no love whatsoever for The Gallows. So I approached the sequel with incredibly low expectations and outside of some decent acting from the lead, it couldn’t even meet them. The sequel is not as bad as the original, but that’s damning with faint praise. It feels like nothing is happening, even when spooky things are happening. There’s little effort to make “Charlie” a threat other than trying for the tricks in Paranormal Activity movies without also including the suspense that made those movies work. The script is incredibly basic, the scares are nonexistent and while it abandons the found footage style, that style was the only thing the movie had to set it apart. I’m willing to bet money there’s a large chunk of you that didn’t even know this movie came out last year.

#1: Countdown

I think there’s a good idea in Countdown. And I think, had that idea been utilized for something like The Twilight Zone or Shudder’s Creepshow series, it could be turned into something fun. Countdown is about a mysterious phone app that tells you when you will die. One Missed Call for the iPhone generation. The problem is the app is doing the killing. Now while this could be some cool techno-thriller, it turns out a demon has attached itself to software and eventually we’re in the middle of the most basic, paint-by-numbers horror movie I can remember seeing. Countdown is #1 because unlike the other two movies, it wastes its originality to be like every other movie of its kind. We’ve officially hit a period of time where I’m sick of ghost and demon movies. Filmmakers are trying new things with zombies again, ghost and demons are the new lazy horror movie concepts now.

You’ve waited nearly two years for this list, so I’m just going to get right into it. Or maybe you weren’t waiting, but I’m doing it anyway. 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. As a new concept this time, and for all future lists like this, I’ll be mentioning where it’s available for streaming, if it is.

Let’s get to the Top Ten Horror Films of 2019!

#10: Little Monsters

Director: Abe Forsythe

Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Alexander England, Kat Stewart, Diesel La Torraca, Josh Gad

Story: A washed-up musician teams up with a teacher and a kids show personality to protect young children from a sudden outbreak of zombies.

Available on: Hulu

This is what I mean about zombie movies trying new things. Zombie comedies aren’t new, nor are movies where children are in danger from zombies. I mean, I saw them eat a kid on The Walking Dead. And Little Monsters is not as gory as you’d expect, but it is, quite frankly, the most feel-good zombie movie I think I’ve ever seen. That is a strange idea, and one that could only really work with a comedy. The closest movie that approaches this in tone is probably Fido from 2006. So if you enjoyed that, you’ll probably enjoy this.

The movie’s premise sounds simple, but it’s more than that. Not only is the teacher and the musician (an uncle to one of the kids) trying to protect their lives from zombies, but she also makes very clear that she will not have them traumatized. So you get her telling her students that the zombies are actors and they’re all playing a game of tag. She sings songs with a ukulele to calm them. She runs out and beheads zombies with a shovel to secure their medicine. That kind of thing.

The kids remain blissfully unaware that they are in danger and I think that’s what really sells the story. It’s wholesome, light-hearted and fun. Don’t that to mean you should take your kids to see this though, as Josh Gad swears like a sailor in a very un-Olaf way. But if you’ve ever wanted to simultaneously fear for a child’s life, laugh at him going “pew pew” while he runs past zombies and cheering him on to get away, this movie has that. I will likely be watching this again when I need a pick-me-up.

#9: Rabid

Director: Jen and Sylvia Soska

Cast: Laura Vandervoort, Ben Hollingsworth, Ted Atherton, Hanneke Talbot, Mackenzie Gray, Stephen McHattie, Phil Brooks

Story: The quiet Rose works in women’s fashion clothing, hoping to be a designer. A traffic accident damages her face. She gets experimental stem cell treatment, leaving her stronger and prettier than ever – but there’s a side effect.

Available on: All digital rental platforms

I loved American Mary as much as the next guy, and thought the Soska Sisters were a delight when I met them, but even I raised my eyebrow when they said they were going to remake Cronenberg. I’m not a huge fan of David Cronenberg’s early work, but Rabid is one that has held up for me on repeat viewings. So there was a healthy amount of skepticism about a remake, and that skepticism was erased by the time the movie was over.

One thing that I like a good remake to do is to distance itself from the original while also tipping its hat to it. If you stray too much you’re the Prom Night remake. If you go the opposite way, you’re Psycho. Either way you’re pointless. Rabid takes the general ideas from Cronenberg’s film and modernizes them, choosing to lampoon the fashion industry while they do it.

I would even go as far as to say the Soskas made a movie that surpasses the original. It’s a nastier movie and the acting is greatly improved. Marilyn Chambers did well enough given her limited experience, but Laura Vandervoort does a much better job. It sacrifices the original’s political commentary, sure, but it ups the ante with the gore, has a much faster pace and its ending is delightfully insane.

#8: Us

Director: Jordan Peele

Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop

Story: A family’s serene beach vacation turns to chaos when their doppelgängers appear and begin to terrorize them.

Available on: HBO Max

Shut up, I don’t have a crush on Lupita Nyong’o, you do! The fact that she’s the first actor to make two movies in one year on one of these lists means nothing!


I should make a full disclosure and say I knew that Us was going to be at least a movie I liked when it made a pretty fun reference to CHUD. But Us is an original and honestly fun story from Peele that leaned hard into his love for the strange and unusual. Get Out has been almost unanimously praised (except for the small backlash that that anything unanimously praised will inevitably get), but Us feels like it flew under the radar.

That’s a shame because the cast does very well managing to play not only normal people, but their deranged dopplegangers as well. Nyong’o carries the bulk of the movie in her dual roles, especially since her doppleganger is the only one that can really talk. But let’s not forget that Elisabeth Moss was as close to terrifying as this movie got with Dahlia. Us is also a movie that isn’t shy of social commentary (all fiction is political in some way, get over it) but arguably isn’t as forward about it as Get Out.

The way the film ends opens the door for a possible sequel, but I’d rather wait and see what Peele is going to do next in the genre. And no, Candyman doesn’t count. That’s Nia DaCosta’s movie.

#7: Ready or Not

Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell

Story: A bride’s wedding night takes a sinister turn when her eccentric new in-laws force her to take part in a terrifying game.

Available on: HBO Max

Where the hell did this movie come from? I remember hearing nothing about Ready or Not, then it became a sudden smash hit and everyone was talking about how great it was. Naturally I had to see it for myself and yeah, it’s pretty great. Samara Weaving can pretty much do no wrong at this point, between The Babysitter, Mayhem and now this. I mean she did cameo in The Babysitter: Killer Queen, but she was also the best part of that movie.

Ready or Not is a demented slasher with a lot of dark comedy, involving a Satanic ritual that’s tied into a game of hide and seek. I say slasher even though it doesn’t fit the standard formula, as it’s the final girl doing all of the slashing. Either way, the body count is pretty high, especially when we get to the very end (no spoilers but I haven’t laughed that hard at that much gore since Braindead.) If you’re the kind of person who thinks death in a movie can be funny, even when it’s violent, you will love this.

I’m not sure why Weaving isn’t a bigger star, maybe it’s because she looks so much like Margot Robbie. Either way, she carries this thing and was the perfect choice to be the protagonist. At a certain point her character doesn’t so much choose to survive as becomes completely fed up with this crazy family and I was right there with her. Plus, it’s a movie where former America’s sweetheart Andie McDowell curses like a sailor and tries to murder someone. How can you not love that?

#6: The Lighthouse

Director: Robert Eggers

Cast: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson

Story: Two lighthouse keepers try to maintain their sanity whilst living on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.

Available on: Amazon Prime Video

In an effort to be completely honest with this thing, when I first saw The Lighthouse, I didn’t like it. But I think that’s because I was expecting something as dark and off-putting as The Witch and didn’t expect what the movie ended up being. Now after giving it a second chance, I’ve realized it’s a very, very dark comedy and I absolutely love it. Two men have a volatile, semi-homoerotic relationship while watching a lighthouse and supernatural things may or may not be happening. It doesn’t sound like horror, but then going insane probably doesn’t unless you’re the one doing it.

That’s basically what this is, at least for me. It’s a story of two men, or possibly one, depending on your interpretation, losing their minds while stranded on a small island. They yell at each other, drink copious amounts of alcohol (and later turpentine), get in fights and are just general miserable towards each other the whole time. It’s hilarious. It’s also can be unnerving and confusing at times. It’s really hard to pin down exactly what The Lighthouse is and that’s both why I was turned off initially and why I love it now.

This is the movie I would point to for anyone thinking that Pattinson can’t act because he played a sparkly vampire nearly a decade ago. There are others, but this one definitely shows off a range. If you’re holding your ground against Willem Dafoe while he chews every single piece of scenery he can find, I think you’ll do okay playing Batman.

#5: Crawl

Director: Alexandre Aja

Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Morfydd Clark, Ross Anderson

Story: A young woman, while attempting to save her father during a category 5 hurricane, finds herself trapped in a flooding house and must fight for her life against alligators.

Available on: Amazon Prime Video, Hulu

Alexandre Aja has had a somewhat polarizing career in horror, at least as far as I’m concerned. He did the great Hills Have Eyes remake and Haute Tension, but he also did Mirrors and Piranha 3D. I think Crawl is probably his best film, and considering how much I love Tension, that’s not praise I make lightly.

This movie is just good suspense. It’s such a simple premise, too. A category five hurricane unleashes a group of alligators into a populated area, and they begin to pick off anyone who dares enter the flooded area. As it turns out, a woman has to save her father from their flooded basement after a couple of the reptiles get inside. What follows is an absolutely intense game of cat-and-mouse that kept me guessing as the movie continued. 2019 may be the year of the woman in terms of the horror genre, as Kaya Scodelario gives just as a committed performance as Nyong’o or Weaving, battling mostly CGI alligators.

I’m also very glad that I didn’t watch the trailer, as several big moments are given away in it. This movie is definitely one that you’re going to want to see knowing very little about it. I’d call this the best movie about killer alligators ever made, but that would be insulting it as it has zero competition. So instead I’ll just say it’s a really fun, really thrilling watch and you should see it.

#4: Doctor Sleep

Director: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Emily Alyn Lind, Henry Thomas

Story: Years following the events of The Shining, a now-adult Dan Torrance must protect a young girl with similar powers from a cult known as The True Knot, who prey on children with powers to remain immortal.

Available On: HBO Max

Doctor Sleep, the novel, isn’t so much a sequel to The Shining as it is a story that happens to be set after that movie involving one of the characters. Mike Flanagan’s film is very much a sequel, especially as it tries to marry the novel and the film by Stanley Kubrick into one. A true adaptation, for example, wouldn’t have The Overlook because The Overlook burned down. But since more people know the Kubrick film than have read the book, you have to include those elements. It’s a thin tightrope to walk, but I think Doctor Sleep manages to do so adeptly.

I will say that the Director’s Cut is a superior film, but the theatrical version is by no means a slouch. It still features a well-told story with some spooky moments, including one particularly disturbing one as The True Knot feeds on a child. It’s scarier than any of the times Pennywise ate a kid in either of the IT movies, and he literally bites a girl’s face in the second one.

Rebecca Ferguson is also really good, continuing the trend I mentioned earlier. Actually the entire cast is good. Ewan McGregor does some of his best work in years here and Kyliegh Curran is another example why kid actors are much better now than they were back in the day. Plus you have Flanagan’s signature directing style, which also manages to incorporate some of Kubrick’s style as an homage. Doctor Sleep is both a movie with no identity of its own and an amalgamation of identities, and yet none of that really weighs it down.

#3: One Cut of the Dead

Director: Shin’ichirô Ueda

Cast: Takayuki Hamatsu, Mao, Harumi Shuhama, Yuzuki Akiyama, Kazuaki Nagaya, Manabu Hosoi

Story: Things go badly for a hack director and film crew shooting a low budget zombie movie in an abandoned WWII Japanese facility, when they are attacked by real zombies.

Available on: Shudder

This is going to be a difficult one to talk about. Not because I don’t have enough love for it, but because you have to go in knowing absolutely nothing about the movie or it won’t work on a first-time viewing. If you come into it late, the entire experience is ruined. All you need to know is what the synopsis says above. A film crew are making a zombie movie, they are attacked by real zombies. It’s all done in one take, hence the title. There, now go watch it.

Okay I’ll do a little more. One Cut of the Dead is a hilarious delight, and another example of what I mean about people doing new and interesting things with zombie movies. Before Train to Busan, it had been years since I even enjoyed a zombie movie, this year there are two on my list. All I ask is for some creativity and it seems people are finally seeing that stories can be told within the genre that aren’t just Night of the Living Dead retreads.

But it’s a really fun watch and I’m actually interested in giving it another viewing or two so I can look for foreshadowing and things I missed the first time around.

#2: Tigers Are Not Afraid

Director: Issa Lopez

Cast: Paola Lara, Juan Ramón López, Ianis Guerrero, Rodrigo Cortés, Tenoch Huerta

Story: A dark fairy tale about a gang of five children trying to survive the horrific violence of the cartels and the ghosts created every day by the drug war.

Available on: Shudder

This is a film that if you were to argue it isn’t horror, I could see your argument. I strongly disagree, but I could see it. While it does have supernatural elements and the events in the film are certainly horrific, it’s not a horror film in the same way any other movie on this list is. It’s more of a fantasy film similar to Pan’s Labyrinth. A supernatural tale is occurring with a real, incredibly dark backdrop. Are the fantasy elements real? Or are they the child’s way to escape what is honestly a really terrible life? It’s never made clear and like Pan’s, that’s for the best.

I should go ahead and point out that in the world established by Tigers, bad things can and do happen to anyone. I should also point out that the cast of this film is primarily a group of homeless children, living on their own in the middle of a city overrun by the cartels. As such, it’s a very dark and haunting movie, even without the supernatural elements. These kids should not be in this world and yet real kids are in this situation and worse every day.

Some of my favorite moments of the entire film are when it gets a chance to breathe and you get to see the kids be kids. I stress this because otherwise, you’re likely to forget just how young they are because their performances are mature beyond their years. They discuss murder and trafficking of their loved ones, then in another scene they’ll be dancing and you’ll think, “oh yeah, these are children.” The heartwarming moments and relationships offset the brutal reality these kids live in, and the ghostly supernatural moments are likewise a relief. Given the choice between the two, I’d go with the ghosts too.

I cannot recommend this movie enough, and I think the only reason it’s not #1 is because my #1 pick is more of a traditional horror film.

#1: Midsommar

Director: Ari Aster

Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren as Pelle, Will Poulter, Ellora Torchia, Archie Madekwe

Story: A couple travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown’s fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult.

Available on: Amazon Prime Video

I think it’s time everyone accepted that if Ari Aster puts out a horror movie, it’s gonna wind up on one of my lists. Here he presents another first in my 13 years of doing this: he’s the first director to get the #1 slot two years in a row. Before that, the only director to even get two consecutive years was Mike Flanagan (with Hush in 2016 and Gerald’s Game in 2018). I thought long and hard about this because I know Aster’s films have received some backlash, but I also decided I don’t care about backlash. We live in a world where all-time classics have a vocal minority (that will get offended that you call them a vocal minority) shaking their heads and saying derisive things.

Midsommar is a bunch of different things, but I think it’s horror in the truest sense of the word. In between all the trappings of a movie about a crazy cult (with a ton of homage to The Wicker Man), it also features a bleak and realistic look at a relationship that’s falling apart. There’s also a very accurate portrayal of how isolating mental illness can be. In some ways, this movie is harder to watch than Hereditary, and that movie is focused on grief and features the death of a child.

I should also add that like other horror films this year, Florence Pugh is another amazing female performance. Say what you will about Aster, but he knows how to get the right actresses to star in his films and get the right performance out of them. The film also has a pretty accurate view of cult indoctrination, as Pugh’s character is at first terrified of them but by the end, well, you’ll have to see it for yourself.

Arthouse horror like this isn’t for everyone. But horror is a multifaceted genre with something for everybody. If this isn’t your kind of thing, that’s fine. But a bleak horror movie with a fantastic lead performance, nasty gore and some haunting visuals is definitely mine. My only real complaint is that the director’s cut is impossible to get if you didn’t get the initial run that A24 was selling. If you haven’t seen it, ignore my review or really any review and see for yourself.

That’s it for 2019. I will be back in either the last week of December or the first week of January for my 2020 picks. If you’ve got any recommendations for that, leave them in the comments.