Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time: Top 10 Horror Films of 2017

January 4, 2018 | Posted by Joseph Lee
IT Pennywise Stephen King Horror Films Warner Bros IT Chapter Two

So let’s talk about 2017.

2017 was an interesting year in the world of horror. This year we had two remakes of popular 1990s films, four Stephen King adaptations, more soulless Hollywood garbage just meant to make a buck, and Netflix stepping up with their acquisitons of interesting horror projects. Long dead franchises staggered into the box office with new sequels, other franchises got a surprising amount of new life.

We also lost the father of the modern zombie film and the world is lesser for it.

So it was a varied year, but was it a good year? I think overall it was. A horror film is getting serious “Best Picture” consideration at the Academy Awards, another one set box office records and the independent scene still has quite a few quality offerings.

But before I look at the best, as always I need to look at the worst. It’s a lot of that “soulless Hollywood garbage” I mentioned. Here’s the Three Worst Horror Films of 2017!

#3: Dementia 13

The original Dementia 13, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is considered a cult classic. However, I never cared for it, and there are other films from that same time period that I enjoyed a lot more. So a remake could, in theory, improve upon the source material. Instead, it presents a movie with the most unlikable people in a film you will see all year snipe at each other before they’re killed off in relatively tame fashion one by one. It has plot threads that go nowhere, horrendous acting and some laughably bad CGI ghosts. Perhaps if a studio attempted to put some serious effort into this, I could see it being better. But Universal threw it out on home video with only minimal effort and it shows.

#2: Rings

Sometimes certain franchises should just stay buried. While there was a good idea somewhere in this in order to make The Ring relevant to modern times, it’s swallowed up in a nearly nonsensical clunker that wastes its cast and changes the Samara Morgan mythology in profoundly stupid ways. The film’s advertising promoted the ending, and it’s the ending that ruins it, coming across as unintentionally hilarious more than anything bone-chilling or entertaining. The Ring is dead and it should have been left on the dusty old video store shelf it was found on.

#1: The Bye Bye Man

A stupid premise, a stupid poster, a stupid trailer, is it any wonder why this film ended up being frustratingly stupid? The Bye Bye Man is the very definition of a January dump movie, as it was intended simply to pick up some stray early-January dollars in a wide-open month in order to salvage the production costs. If you ever wanted proof that Hollywood is a business first and foremost, you need to look at this, which is as paint-by-numbers of a product as you get it. It’s not scary, the villain is lazy and there was just no effort from anyone involved to make this anything more than a cash grab. I ranked this over the other two films as the worst because of how cynically made it appears to be, releasing the bare minimum to appeal to the people only wanting a ninety-minute diversion and nothing else. It’s absolutely not worth your time. As a better review than mine said, “Don’t think it. Don’t say it. Don’t see 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 2017!

#10: The Devil’s Candy

Director: Sean Byrne

Cast: Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Kiara Glasco, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Craig Nigh, Marco Perella

Story: A struggling painter is possessed by satanic forces after he and his young family move into their dream home in rural Texas, in this creepy haunted-house tale.

There’s always a negative stigma attached to being typecast, but in some cases it works. Take Pruitt Taylor Vince, who I was first introduced to when he played a psychopath in Identity. Here he is again fourteen years later, playing another crazy killer. This time he’s hearing the voice of the Devil, which urges him to kill children. Only it might not be psychosis, because painter/rocker dad Ethan Embry’s also hearing it and it’s causing him to draw some really nasty stuff.

The best thing about this movie, unlike way too many horror films lately, is that it starts out by building up the family and making them likable. The dad and the daughter are totally metalheads which is how they bond. That increases the suspense with what comes later as you’re rooting for them to get away. There were points were I was sure it was going to end one way and it didn’t, so kudos to the writers for that.

Anytime anything awesome happens, to let you know how metal it is, you’ll hear a note or two on a guitar. It knows exactly what it’s doing, and reminded me a lot of Deathgasm in that regard, only this one is not at all the same type of movie. While I wouldn’t call The Devil’s Candy outright scary, it does have some dark and disturbing material, it’s heavy on the suspense and it’s positively dripping with atmosphere.It’s also a brisk 80 minutes so I could definitely see myself checking it out again.

#9: Cult of Chucky

Director: Don Mancini

Cast: Brad Dourif, Fiona Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, Alex Vincent, Grace Lynn Kung, Summer H. Howell, Michael Therriault, Elisabeth Rosen, Adam Hurtig

Story: Confined to an asylum for the criminally insane for the past four years, Nica Pierce is erroneously convinced that she, not Chucky, murdered her entire family. But when her psychiatrist introduces a new therapeutic “tool” to facilitate his patients’ group sessions — an all-too-familiar “Good Guy” doll with an innocently smiling face — a string of grisly deaths begins to plague the asylum, and Nica starts to wonder if maybe she isn’t crazy after all. Andy Barclay, Chucky’s now-grown-up nemesis from the original Child’s Play, races to Nica’s aid. But to save her he’ll have to get past Tiffany, Chucky’s long-ago bride, who will do anything, no matter how deadly or depraved, to help her beloved devil doll.

2013’s Curse of Chucky was a bit of a return to form for the Child’s Play franchise after veering off into the realm of parody. It brought back Chucky as a threat to the main characters. Chucky has never been scary to anyone but kids, really, but at least the other films before Bride took him seriously enough that he was a threat to the heroes. Curse gave that back and Cult decided to keep it, while also incorporating a little bit of the insanity that made Bride and parts of Seed a lot of fun.

If Curse was the film that brought back Chucky, then Cult is the love letter to the franchise and the fans. It feels like it was made for us, with so many easter eggs and nods, as well as Brad and Fiona Dourif trying to out-crazy each other in the climax. Chucky fans will absolutely adore this, especially with the new additions to the mythos that completely change the game yet again. Mancini is continuously rewriting the rules in his own franchise and while that may frustrate some, it manages to deliver a darkly funny, nasty, violent and overall entertaining sequel in a series that probably has no business having the same continuity as it did in the 80s.

#8: Prevenge

Director: Alice Lowe

Cast: Alice Lowe, Jo Hartley, Gemma Whelan, Kate Dickie, Kayvan Novak, Tom Davis, Dan Renton Skinner, Mike Wozniak, Tom Meeten

Story: Widow Ruth is seven months pregnant when, believing herself to be guided by her unborn baby, she embarks on a homicidal rampage, dispatching anyone who stands in her way.

Even if this movie turned out to be poor, a lot of credit should be given to writer/director/star Alice Lowe for putting this slasher film together while she was nearing the end of her pregnancy. That’s right folks, the baby bump she’s sporting in his footage is real. Luckily the film is actually quite good, with a dark sense of humor and a genuinely likable lead doing some incredibly dispicable things. Ruth is not someone you should like. She’s murdering people for the perceived wrongs they did to her. And yet, she’s easy to like anyway thanks to her sense of humor and the fact that she may be controlled by her unborn child.

In addition to some absurd moments and a wicked streak when it comes to its jokes, Prevenge also has a solid character arc for Ruth, which stands out in a year with other horror films being blatantly nihilistic, full of awful people doing awful things. I’m not saying that can’t work, but it’s getting a little old when every independent filmmaker decides to contribute to the genre with the same formula. In the case of Prevenge, Ruth is someone the audience grows to care about but from the moment she kills her first victim you just know it’s going to end badly for everyone. Alice Lowe gives one hell of a performance here both on and off the camera, and the fact that she was able to work through a full-blown pregnancy only adds to that.

#7: The Babysitter

Director: McG

Cast: Samara Weaving, Judah Lewis, Hana Mae Lee, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Andrew Bachelor, Emily Alyn Lind, Leslie Bibb, Ken Marino

Story: The events of one evening take an unexpected turn for the worst for a young boy trying to spy on his babysitter.

It’s difficult, but not impossible, to think of a film that came out in 2017 that I had more fun with than The Babysitter. It’s partially because this film was such a surprise and partially because it’s the kind of over-the-top, violent horror comedy I needed this year. This is what I meant by Netflix expanding into the horror genre and doing a great job of it. Bright may not have panned out but at least we have this delightfully insane movie in exchange.

It’s one of those movies where I don’t want to even give away what happens and recommend that you go into it completely blind. No trailer, no plot synopsis, nothing. Trust me on this, it’ll be a lot better that way. The cast does really well, and the chemistry between the babysitter and the kid makes it seem like they’re actually really good friends, which helps things tremendously. McG gets a lot of hate as a “bad director” but he manages to deliver the goods here. Perhaps he’s finally found his comfort zone.

The jokes are almost always on point, especially if you’re into dark comedy like I am. Beyond that it’s hard to really get into why I liked it because again, I don’t want to spoil anything. I would say don’t even watch the trailer. But hey, The Babysitter is a great horror-comedy that you should watch immediately. I feel like this is going to fly under the radar and it shouldn’t. If you’ve got Netflix, give it a shot.

#6: Hounds of Love

Director: Ben Young

Cast: Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry, Susie Porter, Damian De Montemas, Harrison Gilbertson, Fletcher Humphrys

Story: Vicki Maloney is randomly abducted from a suburban street by a disturbed couple. As she observes the dynamic between her captors she quickly realises she must drive a wedge between them if she is to survive.

And now we go from a really fun movie to a movie that’s not fun. At all. There is no joy to be had in the 108 minutes of Hounds of Love, but that’s by design. This is a dark, dreary effort that would normally rank up there with those nihilistic movies I hate if not for a lead that’s actually intelligent and strong. She has to be, because the couple in this movie are absolutely reprehensible, slimy scumbags that you instantly loathe once you see them. That’s probably because the moment you see them they’re picking up teenage cheerleaders from the side of the road to take them to their sex/murder dungeon.

Hounds of Love is one of those movies that gives the viewer an unclean feeling, but unlike other movies of this type, there’s very little graphic violence shown on screen. Everything that’s done to Vicki, for example, happens offscreen and we only see the build up to it. To me, that’s more effective. It lets the viewers imagination run wild with what disturbing things they could be doing, instead of showing it for shock value or doing a tame version that deflates the tension they built. And yes, this movie has a ton of tension. There is an agonizingly long (in a good way) bit in the climax where a hope spot is drawn out for a long period of time before its conclusion. And it could have ended either way.

#5: The Void

Director: Steven Kostanski, Jeremy Gillespie

Cast: Aaron Poole, Kenneth Welsh, Daniel Fathers, Kathleen Munroe, Ellen Wong

Story: Shortly after delivering a patient to an understaffed hospital, a police officer experiences strange and violent occurrences seemingly linked to a group of mysterious hooded figures.

Do you like 80s John Carpenter movies with loads of practical special effects? To be more specific, do you like Prince of Darkness and The Thing Well, this is the movie for you! Combining the practical gore and creature effects of the latter with the cosmic horror of the former, The Void is a nasty and gory horror film that unapologetically messes with your mind. It’s a Lovecraft homage mixed with some Carpenter love, but still manages to be its own thing without slavishly sticking to what made those things work.

There’s a bit of confusion when it comes to what happens in the story, particularly at the end, but this is an effects-driven movie and so you’re less likely to care. The creatures look terrific and prove that practical effects can still work, even if bigger budget films refuse to use them. In addition to that it has a solid cast and a haunting, brooding atmosphere, setting the stage for the chaos that’s to come. Hell, the ending even pays tribute to Lucio Fulci! This movie is something that fans of a particular style and era of filmmaking are going to love.

#4: Creep 2

Director: Patrick Brice

Cast: Mark Duplass, Desiree Akhavan

Story: A video artist looking for work drives to a remote house in the forest to meet a man claiming to be a serial killer. But after agreeing to spend the day with him, she soon realizes that she made a deadly mistake.

I’m sure eventually the forumla and Mark Duplass’ character will grow old in the Creep movies, but it hasn’t yet. Not only that, but I may be one of the only people who feel like the sequel is way better than the first, by virtue of having a much smarter lead character to play off of Duplass’ “Aaron”. The protagonist in the first film was dumber than a sack of hammers. I loved the original Creep for how unsettling the whole thing was and the surprise turn of Mark Duplass as a psycho.

Creep 2 fixes whatever problems I had without sacrificing its tone. The lead makes dumb decisions, but they’re calculated. The suspense is front and center now that we know exactly who Duplass’ character is. The cat’s out of the bag for us, so it’s just a matter of when the other shoe is gonna drop for the heroine. And other cliche phrases. Like the original, this is a short sit at 80 minutes. It’s on Netflix now, so again, check it out. Honestly, the right editing could make both films into one longer movie and it’d be seamless.

#3: Get Out

Director: Jordan Peele

Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root

Story: It’s time for a young African-American to meet with his white girlfriend’s parents for a weekend in their secluded estate in the woods, but before long, the friendly and polite ambience will give way to a nightmare.

So it’s weird how Get Out is getting some backlash now, because I recall nearly everyone loving it when it was initially released. Of course that could be due to political ramifications, which I’m not going to get into because I’d rather get into the level of suspense and dread that Peele manages to invoke with his premise. Get Out is an updated take on The Stepford Wives that has African-Americans being sought for their physical attributes by old rich assholes that don’t want to die.

But man, the suspense and mystery to what’s going on in the first half is great from a director that’s never ventured into horror before. Obviously there’s something wrong going on, but you’re never quite sure what or who’s involved until the moment when the car keys are brought up. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. That moment when the story really gets going is almost deflating and yet one that had to happen to move the story forward. It also had a lot of tension building up to it, with a payoff befitting the build.

Get Out is getting a lot of love primarily for the direction, which is surprisingly great and the acting, which definitely works for the purposes of the story. It’s an interesting feeling to have a major Hollywood film build up a character as a well-meaning, likable person and have him thrown into an impossible situation with seemingly nothing but horrific outcomes. And it’s even scary when you consider the thought of being trapped in “The Sunken Place” while someone else pilots your body until its discarded like trash? That’s horrific. I hope this one gets a Best Picture nomination and proves that horror can still be relevant and thought-provoking, perhaps leading the way for more better-quality mainstream films.

#2: Gerald’s Game

Director: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Carel Struycken, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel

Story: While trying to spice up their marriage in their remote lake house, Jessie must fight to survive when her husband dies unexpectedly, leaving her handcuffed to their bed frame.

As it normally happens when I make these end-of-the-year lists, I had a tough time deciding betwene my #1 and #2 (you’ve probably figured out the top choice already). I went back and forth on which to make my top choice and ultimately this one settled for #2 over what was basically nitpicking. That said, Gerald’s Game is a fantastic adaptation of a book that I didn’t think was capable of being adapted. It’s suspenseful, it’s disturbing and it has an incredibly nasty conclusion that could only come from the mind of Stephen King.

I would also have to add that this may be the best-acted horror film of the year, with both Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood giving tremendous performances in what is basically a two-person show. Other films tried this format this year but weren’t nearly as successful. As I said before, it’s Mike Flanagan’s best film so far (which says a lot considering his filmography) and certainly one of the best Stephen King adaptations since The Mist. However…

#1: IT

Director: Andy Muschietti

Cast: Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Nicholas Hamilton, Jake Sim, Owen Teague, Jackson Robert Scott

Story: A group of bullied kids band together when a shapeshifting monster, taking the appearance of a clown, begins hunting children.

The best Stephen King adaptation of the year, and in my opinion, the best horror movie of the year, could only belong to one movie. This was IT‘s year, folks. Barring a colossal disaster on the screen I think there was a good chance I was going to enjoy it, but I don’t think even I was prepared for how much I ended up loving this movie. This is the adaptation I’ve been waiting for since I first read the book when I was thirteen or so. Muschietti isn’t a slave to the material that King wrote, instead pulling from the themes and tones to really tell the story instead of getting every little detail but not having as much life to it.

This is the definitive adaptation of the story. I grew up loving the miniseries but come on, Tim Curry was only intermittently scary. He was great as Pennywise, but there’s a level of menace that he never quite captured. With an R-rating, Bill Skarsgard is able to really cut loose with what he’s given (which admittedly isn’t as much as it should be) and make the role his own. Every time he gets to be himself, he owns the screen. Hopefully that promised director’s cut gives us more Pennywise.

I did a full review of this movie when it came out and since then I’ve read some negative things online. I’m not going to sit here and disagree with them (okay, maybe the guy who wanted the movie to be a slasher film with children) but I am going to say that I unabashedly love this movie. It’s great to see one of my favorite books (which is about 95% great, and we won’t speak of that other “WTF” 5%) finally done justice on the big screen, even if this only half of the story.

I saw the film twice in theaters and pre-ordered the blu-ray immediately when I got home. I love IT and as much as I thought something might beat it, nothing ever did. The acting, the story, the characters, all of it drew me and left me with a smile on my face. There’s even some great chilling moments, what with the subtle events in the library or Pennywise using Geogie’s corpse as a puppet. At the end of the day, horror is like any other genre, it’s meant to entertain. This did, and there’s no other choice that I could have went with for #1.

Ending Notes:

That’s it for me. Leave some comments here, on my Twitter or my Facebook.


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