2017 was an exceptional year for horror, by any reasonable person’s standards. Hell, it was so good even Jigsaw didn’t end up sucking all that much. The low point, arguably, was Annabelle: Creation, which nobody cared about anyway, or maybe Rings, which came and went so quickly it barely made a ripple. Considering what dross we’ve had to put up with in previous years, even those two movies weren’t that bad.
The year was so stuffed with quality offerings that even creating a Top 10 list is a daunting task. Clearly, movies will be left off whether by choice or otherwise. For example, The Devil’s Candy, a smart, brooding, scary and emotionally charged horror movie that deservedly sits atop many a discerning critic’s list this year, was one I caught at a film festival in 2016. It will be missing here but that doesn’t make it any less great. Likewise, the fantastic Autopsy Of Jane Doe (in fact, I put both on my list last year).
Likewise Split, Personal Shopper, Hounds Of Love, It Comes At Night, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, Victor Crowley, Prevenge and Sequence Break were all accomplished, impressive horror movies I caught in 2017. Each deserves a watch and consideration from fans of this most diverse and exciting genre. But without, hyperbole about honourable mentions and Top 50 countdowns that go on forever, these are my picks for the ten best horror flicks of 2017.
The bastard child of HP Lovecraft and John Carpenter, this mind-bending sci-fi creature feature/body horror movie (that convoluted description doesn’t even really do it justice) boasted an attention-grabbing poster and box art, meaning that when it bypassed theaters in the UK, I nabbed it on DVD without a second thought. A near-perfect blend of old-school practical effects and modern scares, The Void is pure, skin-crawling madness. Double bill with Graham Skipper’s acclaimed directorial debut Sequence Break (another of the year’s best releases) for maximum body horror weirdness.
Happy Death Day
It’s been a helluva long time since we’ve been gifted a decent slasher movie, which made 2017 even more special because we got three. Alongside Victor Crowley and Tragedy Girls (see below), Happy Death Day was a nice surprise in a sub-genre many assumed dead. With its big reveal switcheroo a possible nod to slasher classics like Cheerleader Camp, Happy Death Day managed to utilise a killer premise, game cast (most notably Final Girl many times over Tree, played by talented newcomer Jessica Rothe) and just the right combination of laughs and scares (no mean feat). In any other year, this would be #1 on most people’s Best Of lists. In years to come, it’ll surely gain more prominence as it’s rediscovered on home video and delights many a slumber party.
Better Watch Out
The only thing more unlikely than a good slasher movie this year would have been a decent Christmas horror movie. But, hot on the heels of last year’s Krampus and A Christmas Horror Story came Better Watch Out, an inspired, topical take on the classic yuletide home invasion movie that, if you haven’t spoiled it for yourself yet, needs to be seen before the decorations come down for another year. Actually, scratch that, this one can be enjoyed in summer too, it’s just that bloody good. Don’t read anything further, just see it (and don’t be put off that those annoying kids from The Visit feature).
After years of toiling away in The Movie Crypt alongside longtime buddy, and fellow filmmaker, Adam Green, fan favourite Joe Lynch finally delivered his magnum opus with Mayhem. Unfortunately known in certain quarters as the other one next to the ghastly Belko Experiment, the “worksploitation” (as Lynch put it) flick sees Samara Weaving and Steven Yeun take on an entire office block loaded with infected employees, with as bloody and hilarious consequences as that description allows. More than just being a really good time, though, Mayhem showcased Lynch’s skills as a filmmaker, marking him out as one to seriously watch in the coming years following a few setbacks earlier in his career.
2017 might have given us more adolescent, angsty boys than we could count but it was still defiantly the year of the woman and this was never more evident than in Tragedy Girls. Tyler MacIntyre’s brutal take-down of high school kids and their obsession with social media is one of the freshest and funniest slasher movies in yonks, bubblegum bright and with two brilliant performances at its core from Brianna Hildebrand and Alexandra Shipp, whose instantly believable best friendship powers the whole thing. Every detail is spot on, from the teen speak to Josh Hutcherson’s hilarious cameo as a bad boy who rides a motorbike (even better than his Disaster Artist role).
Super Dark Times
Although it flew under the radar for most of the year, Twitter lit up with the news that the highly-anticipated Super Dark Times had hit Netflix on both sides of the ocean just in time for the New Year comedown — and with good reason. Although the feature debut from cinematographer Kevin Phillipps is set in the nineties, it feels especially timely now, given how violent and filled with rage our lives (and particularly our young men) have become. A bit like IT’‘s older, nastier cousin, Super Dark Times is a coolly calculating, icily paced tale of friendships gone awry in a small town set against the backdrop of an ever encroaching winter that doesn’t let its characters, or its audience, off the hook. Will stay with you for weeks to come.
Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass’s 2014 found footage movie Creep was a surprise hit with a real sting in its tail. Duplass’s charmingly kooky serial killer lures an unsuspecting young filmmaker to his death as we watch helpless on the other side of the screen. A follow-up was hungered for, but the sense that the same magic couldn’t be replicated hung heavily over Creep 2. Thankfully, by flipping the script on Duplass’s now struggling killer and giving him a cohort in the form of Desiree Akhavan’s take-no-shit YouTuber (who has her own agenda to boot), the film manages to sidestep the typical sequel pitfalls, delivering a nuanced and endlessly, well, creepy take on obsession and the nature of creativity that Aronofsky couldn’t manage without literally hitting Jennifer Lawrence (and us) over the head with it.
Although Tragedy Girls was proudly female-fronted, Raw put women front and centre both behind and in front of the camera as French filmmaker Julia Ducournau (who also wrote the script) explored burgeoning female sexuality in an isolated veterinary school against the backdrop of cannibalism. As shy, timid freshman Justine, Garance Marillier is a revelation and Ducournau trains her camera on her open face throughout, whether it’s dancing solo in a mirror while practising the art of seduction or chowing down on her sister’s severed finger. The satirical edge is razor sharp, particularly in the film’s final gut-punch moment. More than that, though, Raw sells the pain of growing up and trying to figure out your identity, something all of us can relate to with or without the cannibalism angle.
Jordan Peele’s esteemed, and truly terrifying horror-satire Get Out is rightfully gaining Oscar buzz, even if the backlash against it being labelled a “comedy” was swift (Peele himself responded on Twitter by labelling it a documentary), and it seems like there couldn’t possibly have been a better year in which to unleash it on the public than our first under President Cheeto. Aside from forcing audiences to face up to long-held prejudices, Peele’s directorial debut is a fierce, and frequently very frightening real-world tale that’s so potent it’s maddening he wasn’t given the opportunity to tell it before. Get Out also boasts one of the weirdest Caleb Landry Jones performances of the year, and that’s really saying something. An all-timer in the making.
The biggest surprise about the big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s celebrated doorstop of a novel was that it was actually good. There will be those who argue that IT falls victim to the perils of modern horror such as telegraphing its scares from a mile away (nope) but genre fans, in particular, embraced with open arms this smart, big budget blockbuster with a cast of fresh-faced newcomers and a brand-new take on Pennywise that echoes Heath Ledger’s celebrated Joker. The mood is dark, the clouds constantly looming overhead even when the sun shines, while the humour (see: gazebos) is well-judged and not overdone, but what really sets IT apart is the group of kids at its centre. From Stranger Things Finn Wolfhard to scene-stealer Jack Dylan Grazer, there isn’t a dud in the bunch. Elsewhere, the cinematography, from frequent Park Chan-Wook collaborator Chung-hoon Chung is breathtaking, the scares, from that very first dismemberment onward, come hard and fast and the overarching story draws you in and holds you close throughout. While we wait impatiently for the second part in 2019, IT deserves many a re-watch.