Time to recap another year in horror? Seriously? Already?
With well over 100 reviews completed in 2017, I still had some catch-up to do in these last few weeks — taking in about a dozen or so films which I missed out on during the year.
As in past years, while summing up my thoughts on the best of the best as far as horror feature films – I don’t only take into account my original scoring. I also think about how the film has affected me in the long run. Has it lingered in my memory – even after months since I last experienced it? If it sticks with you, that says a great deal, I think.
However, nothing on this list garnered anything lower than a 4-star rating from me. This being said, some films which were originally ranked higher – might be eclipsed by something originally ranked slightly lower. That’s just how I play the game, folks when examining all of the good stuff in 2017.
It’s about staying power.
So – without further ado, here is my list of horror films; my:
Top FIFTEEN of 2017
#15 REPLACE (Klug review)
This is an art-house piece mixed up with some good old-fashioned body horror, a la David Cronenberg. Horror icon Barbara Crampton appears in the film as Dr. Crober – a woman trying to assist young Kira (Rebecca Forsythe – daughter of William) with Kira’s strange skin disease. Kira’s skin is continually peeling, and she is ready to go to any lengths to get better. Beautifully shot, the film is half seemingly vaseline-covered-lenses-artsy while the other half makes it feel like a piece has been lifted straight out of Westworld. It’s certainly a fun mash-up, and while so many films which try to accomplish too much simply don’t work, Replace is a refreshing example of how it can. But even with gorgeous sets and delicious cinematography, the film is about one central idea… vanity. How far would you go to stay fresh and young and new? Kira’s journey is fascinating, and helped along by the brave and uninhibited work of Forsythe. Aided by a supporting performance from Lucie Aron (as Kira’s friend Sophia) and the always-stellar work from genre legend Crampton – Replace really becomes a stunning showcase for three powerful performers… talk about girl power! But the concept of vanity doesn’t discriminate against any one sex, making the core idea in Replace resonant – all while keeping our eyes dazzled by just plain great film-making. Replace is certainly something you won’t want to miss.
#14 ANNABELLE: CREATION (Klug review)
Better than its precursor (this entry is actually a prequel), and in my opinion – probably the best film in The Conjuring universe thus far – Annabelle: Creation is a solidly-acted, jump scare a second, character driven piece with a lovely and heartfelt young girl friendship at the film’s center. Six orphaned girls have lost their orphanage, and have been given the chance to take up residence with a grieving couple (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto) who have recently lost their only child. The man of the house is a doll-maker (hmmm, I wonder how that will come into play?) and as soon as the girls – along with Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) arrive, bad things begin to happen. That central friendship mentioned above, is between Linda (LuLu Wilson) and Janice (Talitha Bateman), who dream of finding a forever home with one another. And aside from all of the horror goodies in the film, you’ll most appreciate the work of these two skilled young actresses. With a number of standout sequences (the staircase scene being the most memorable) – there is absolutely no shortage of dread, suspense and terribly effective “boo” moments. I credit much of that to director David Sandberg, whose feature film debut, Lights Out was on my Top 15 list last year. He is an expert as creating tension and delivering the scares. In other words, he is damn good at manipulating an audience. Don’t let the fact that this is a studio release fool you. It’s effective, smart horror film-making, with plenty of character depth — something you might not expect.
#13 VIDAR THE VAMPIRE (Klug review)
I saw this one twice on the festival circuit this year (once at Filmquest and once at Screamfest), and it was even better on the second viewing. Here’s the lowdown: Now in his early 30s, Vidar (co-writer/co-director Thomas Aske Berg) has finally gotten out of his boring farm life and into the big city. Thing is, it has come at a price. He’s now a bloody-thirsty vampire with plenty of debilitating neuroses (in fact, he’s in therapy when the film begins). His best friend is Jesus (played by Brigt Skrettingland) – who also happens to be the vampire that originally turned Vidar. The film is bizarre, hysterically funny, sometimes grotesque (think tampons), all of the time blasphemous, visually delightful (there’s some Ken Russell-esque images here) and despite the subject matter – it has a lovely sentimental and beating heart. You see… aside from getting laid, Vidar also really wants to find love. Berg and Skrettingland deliver wonderful performances, have a great chemistry and the characters’ first meeting in Vidar’s barn – is completely absurd, deliriously creepy and absolutely inspired. Out of Norway – Vidar the Vampire is a little known must-see.
#12 GERALD’S GAME (HFN review)
Of all the flicks I saw this year, Gerald’s Game proved to me that the impossible is possible. One of my favorite Stephen King books ever, I never believed that it could be made into an engaging film. From director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Absentia), this is the story of Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) as they engage in some sexy-time in their remote cabin during the off-season. Jessie is handcuffed to the bed for the titular game – and then Gerald has a heart attack. And that’s the set-up folks. This all happens within the first 15 minutes of the film’s run-time. With stunning lead performances from both Gugino and Greenwood, an intelligent way to make the intricacies of the book come to life, as well as what I would consider the most grotesque and gag-inducing gore moment of the year – there’s so much to recommend about Gerald’s Game. And Henry Thomas shows up in a supporting role as Jessie’s father – and his creepy performance is light years away from our beloved Elliott in E.T. While the ending of the book (which I love) is pretty much intact in the film version (the film is overall surprisingly loyal to the book) – it didn’t translate as well as I’d hoped. However, I’d go out on a limb and say this is one of the best King adaptations in a very long time.
#11 A DARK SONG (HFN review)
So you say you like intimate, intense, two-character slow burns? Well, I wouldn’t call that my true calling as far as an alluring draw to any film – until I discovered A Dark Song. Released earlier this year, it was a film I happened to miss (I wasn’t assigned the review on this one) – but knew it would require a viewing to properly educate myself, come the end of the year list. Simple concept, told with as much detail, unease and intrigue as any one filmmaker could muster. Grieving woman Sophia (Catherine Walker) rents a house in the countryside, asking for “utmost privacy” from the realtor. She enlists the help of an educated occultist expert named Joseph Solomon (Sightseers’ Steve Oram). He has his own baggage and his own needs, when they take it upon themselves to conjure up some demons to get what they want (whatever that is – no spoilers here). They’ll be essentially trapped inside this house for what could be months – in order to achieve their goals. This is a character piece and an actor’s dream. Both performers find so many multiple levels with which to play. And the script (from writer/director Liam Gavin) will simply delight with character histories and nuance (my soft-spot). The isolation and cabin fever will quickly take over (for the characters as well as the audience). Despite the fact that this is a most recent screening in my year’s education, I don’t doubt that it’ll linger in my memory banks. It’s powerful, original and quite creepy – a film which is scary because of the lengths grieving people will go to – to try and find closure and relief.
Top TEN of 2017
#10 GET OUT
A critical and box office darling – Jordan Peele’s Get Out was the first big horror release to kind of put 2017 on the map as far as becoming a banner-year triumph for the horror film industry. Now a nominee for Best Picture of the Year at the Golden Globes (let’s not downplay the significance of such an honor) – the film is frightening, disturbing and laced with humor– all while opening up a sparkling conversation on race. I found the piece to be reminiscent of any number of Ira Levin-based films, like The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby (seriously, Get Out is a marvel with paranoia) and the uncertainty of the film’s situation is all the more amazing with the lead performance from Daniel Kaluuya. If you’ve not seen it, just wait for the teacup sequence and the flood of tears flowing from this actor’s eyes – wow. And speaking of that teacup – the sound design in Get Out is truly to die for. It’s a visual stunner, a strongly-performed ensemble piece and has a most wonderful final reveal (not what I was expecting). With the strength of this film’s box office performance, as well as that of Andy Muschietti’s IT, I hope the studios will take notice, and give the horror genre an extra leg up in the coming years. Get Out is an instant classic.
#9 PERSONAL SHOPPER (Klug review)
Maureen (Kristen Stewart) is a personal shopper for a famous (and famously bitchy) model. Living in Paris, Maureen can’t leave the city behind, as she’s not yet made peace with the recent death of her twin brother. She’s also waiting on a message from said brother – from the afterlife… if there is one (the two siblings are mediums). The film makes great use of Paris as a backdrop – but not by cashing in on the cliché appearance of the city as a place of light and love. It all feels very workday and basic as Maureen jets through the Paris neighborhoods on her scooter. The film’s beautifully shot with oodles of uncertainty – about what Maureen will do with her life, as well as what might be around every corner. At the film’s center is a tremendously engaging performance from Stewart (certainly the biggest reason to offer up such a recommendation as placing the film on this list). There are unanswered questions by the film’s completion – and therefore, you’ll be thinking about the film long after. I was reminded of the work of the great Brian DePalma – in mood and anticipation (not necessarily in technique – there are no split screens here for instance). Of the many memorable moments, nothing will stick with you like the “text messages” sequence in Maureen’s apartment – breathless and inspired. I wasn’t sure what to expect of this film, but it’s well worth your time and certainly worthy of placement in this best of the year list.
#8 MIDNIGHTERS (Klug review)
It’s not often that you’ll find an actual example of a film which critics might readily call “Hitchcockian”, but Midnighters (screened at this year’s LA Film Festival) is a good example of a piece which deserves such praise. This is edge-of-your-seat film-making, with a terrific ensemble of superb actors (headed by Starry Eyes’ Alex Essoe). The film is a mystery through and through, as Lindsey (Essoe) and her husband Jeff (Dylan McTee) drunkenly crash their car into a man on the road, following a raucous New Year’s Eve celebration. They take the man back to their vast mansion, which is under renovation – and things go quickly downhill from there. Mysteries are notoriously difficult to structure in a way which won’t disappoint potential audiences, but Midnighters (at least from my perspective) is near perfect in set-up and subsequent reveals and constant loyalty reversals – of which there are many. The pacing in Midnighters never falters — it’s actually quite breathless once things really start to cook. As far as technical aspects, the film has great production values all around. And with director Julius Ramsay (of The Walking Dead and Battlestar Galactica) steering and manipulating, you’re in for a jerky and wild ride. “Hitchcockian”? Sure. I’ll end by saying this about good crime thriller/mysteries, “they don’t make ‘em like this anymore.”
#7 THE SHAPE OF WATER (Klug review)
Guillermo del Toro’s latest combines horror and fantasy with musical numbers, Cold War intrigue and an unusual love story. A mute woman named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works in top-secret government facility – when they bring in a strange aquatic bi-ped creature (del Toro regular Doug Jones). A connection is made and that’s when the clock starts to tick for this newfound love. The Shape of Water is a lot of wonderful things, but the richness in performance from this talented ensemble (including Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon and Richard Jenkins), is truly worth the price of admission. Nominated for 7 Golden Globes (the highest number for this year’s Globe awards), the film is inspirational in story as well as in the artisan work of the set designs, costuming and every other technical aspect you could think to name. The film is also magical in its depiction of characters being “the other” or on “the outside”. Love defies all odds – and despite all of the glorious make-up, performances and remarkable production design work – this message is what you’ll take away from The Shape of Water. An easy addition to my end of the year list.
#6 TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (Klug review)
Probably the most emotional film on the list – Tigers Are Not Afraid is an absolute tear-jerker, wrapped up in a supernatural thriller, set against the backdrop of several Mexican children, orphaned by the on-going drug war. So “light” is not something I’d use to describe the film. The film won multiple awards at this year’s Screamfest (where I screened it), and deservedly so. With a cast of mostly young (and mostly inexperienced) actors, it’s a marvel to see what writer/director Issa Lopez is able to pull from them. The story follows pre-teen Estrella (Paola Lara) following the disappearance (death?) of her mother and her mother’s otherworldly reappearance in their home. She takes up with a group of orphaned children, headed by El Shine (Juan Ramon Lopez). They are in a constant turf battle with older children/teenagers of rival gangs. And with encroaching violence – offset by the children’s imaginations (this is a fairy tale at its heart) – you’ll be taken on an emotional roller-coaster for sure. Stunningly shot, with some truly amazing set design – Tigers Are Not Afraid borrows some of its atmosphere from the work of Guillermo del Toro. Like IT (also on this list), one of the film’s strongest suits is the loyalty these children have to one another. Their bonds of friendship will tug at your heartstrings, and nothing will move you quite like the youngest member of the gang; Morrito – and his stuffed toy tiger.
Top FIVE of 2017
#5 RAW (HFN review)
I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to Raw. I wanted to see it for my end of year education (I missed several worthy horror flicks throughout the year) – but knowing the subject matter, I wasn’t overly-enthused. Zombie-munching? Sure, I can handle that. But “real” cannibalism? Not my bag. While there are some absolutely stomach-turning moments in the film – a lot of them had nothing to do with the central idea of cannibalism. That being said, Raw is a powerhouse, and once the film was over, I knew it would rank highly on this year’s list. And here we are in the #5 position. Not too shabby. A French import, Raw follows the first week of veterinarian college for young vegetarian Justine (an amazing performance from Garrance Marillier), where her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is already a student. The film takes place over what is essentially “hell-week” as the incoming students are hazed by their senior classmates. It’s during this stressful week that Justine discovers the eating of meat – leading to a sparked curiosity and eventually, a ravenous hunger for human flesh. The film is as smart as a whip – making the main character and her family vegetarians and then placing her in a school to study animals. I mean, c’mon – that’s brilliant. And once you see how things play out, this irony makes an even bigger impression. An abrupt and jarring (but perfect) ending, will leave you reeling. The two lead performances from Marillier and Rumpf are nothing short of miraculous. And if I’m talking about how films will stick with you – Raw will no doubt do so (even though it’s the most recent viewing on this list) – like so much caked-on blood. Devastating, nauseating and remarkable.
#4 THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER (Klug review)
I saw this Oz Perkins’ directed flick early on in the year. And whenever anyone asked me over the past many months; what I recommended – somehow, this would consistently come up. The thing is, it’s a masterful piece of film-making, with a serious fumble in the last few minutes. It almost redeems itself with the final moment before the credits – but this little chunk of just plain awful – practically ruined what could have been a perfect film experience. On the good side, it’s got loads of atmosphere, a delicious slow burn and strong performances from a recognizable cast (which includes Emma Roberts, James Remar, Lauren Holly and Kiernan Shipka). Here’s the set-up: Two teenaged girls are left behind at their creaky old (and mysterious) private school over winter/holiday break. And I won’t say much more. Lauren Holly delivers an epic monologue while having a conversation with Emma Roberts – and it’s hypnotic. So despite the big misstep mentioned above – I can’t recommend this film enough. Bottom line – I saw The Blackcoat’s Daughter in March at a press screening, and I’m still thinking about it.
#3 THE ENDLESS (Klug review)
A sequel to the little-known 2014 gem Resolution – The Endless takes place in the same universe as Resolution – or some other such similar universe (that’s sort of a clue). I saw this film early on in 2017, and I knew it would end the year in a coveted high position on this list – and now, welcome to the top 3! Written and directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (who also co-star as two brothers) – The Endless is as impressive as an indie film can ever hope to get. It’s dripping with atmosphere, ingenuity and my favorite of all things – devastating unease (you really will have no idea where this film is going). The aforementioned two brothers (Aaron and Justin are the character names as well) return to a cult from which they escaped several years ago. They’re looking for answers or closure or re-acceptance. But what they discover, is that those cult idea and ideals they left behind, might not be as whack-job as they once thought. The Endless is, at its heart, a tale of brotherly love and loyalty, against some sort of otherworldly (read: Lovecraftian) force. It’s not a requirement to screen Resolution first (it follows other characters), but it’ll certainly make an already rich experience with The Endless, all the more memorable and satisfying. The film has done incredibly well on the festival circuit this year (including appearances as AFI Fest, Tribeca and Sitges). It may seem that my vague description of the film and its contents is something of a cop-out, but truly – this is a film you want to just experience. It’s unforgettable and a definite must-see.
#2 THE LAPLACE’S DEMON (Klug review)
I saw The Laplace’s Demon at the 17th Annual Screamfest, this last October. I went in knowing absolutely nothing, and I walked out a die-hard and lifelong fan of this intricately and expertly structured thriller. An honest-to-goodness edge of your seat mystery (think Agatha Christie), I’m still thinking about this flick two months later. A group of co-workers are brought to a remote island mansion to meet an elusive hermit scientist, who happens to be an expert on the idea of “free will”. The set-up is that a scale model of the mansion within the sprawling home, is inhabited by chess pieces representing the various characters. Thing is, the pieces move in real time with the movements of their human counterparts. I was so enamored by some of the film’s jaw-dropping revelations, that I found myself practically applauding at this avalanche of never-ending, shining moments. A must-see… and yes, I called it a “masterpiece” in the full review, so there’s that. Simply, the film is mind-blowing.
Best HORROR Film of 2017!
#1 IT (Klug review)
A critical darling and now the biggest box office winner ever for a horror flick, IT was an absolute blast. While there is some genuine horror, what sets this film on such a high pedestal for me – are the well-drawn, three-dimensional characters and the depiction of ultimate loyalty and friendship (apparently a recurring theme in my chosen films this year). Performances from this young cast are electric. And I still stand by my claim that Bill Skarsgard is worthy of a supporting actor Oscar nomination. Sadly, I don’t see that happening, but the opening sequence with Georgie – that’s the stuff of legend in both film-making and in Skarsgard’s performance in the scene. Add in some amazing effects, delightful scares and wonderful production values and this film will be ushered into horror film history as one of best King adaptations, if not the best of the horror genre in general. While there have been many other great horror flicks this year (it’s been a good year, hasn’t it?) I don’t think there was anything which fired on all cylinders for me, in such a complete way – as IT did. While I hinted in my full review that there was one child performer who didn’t quite nail his performance, I’ll continue to keep that a mystery. But in all of the many intricate and moving parts of this film, that tiny misstep is all there is with which to take exception. I loved this film. And from the moment I saw it, I knew it would end up in this coveted #1 spot on my list. And now with the book in hand (my husband has already read it), I’m ready to dive into King’s prose on this particular subject matter. But the lingering question is: Do I wait to read the book until the second film (obviously already green-lit) has been released, or do I sink into it now? I’ve never read the book. In other words, do I float with everyone else?
TEN HONORABLE MENTIONS (in alphabetical order): Cut Shoot Kill (Klug review), Dead Shack (Klug review), The Devil’s Candy (HFN review), Dig Two Graves (Klug review), Double Date (Klug review), Happy Death Day (Klug review), Mercy Christmas (Klug review), Mother!, Never Here (Klug review), Prevenge (Klug review)
Don’t agree? Love these choices, but would switch up the order? Sound off in the comments section! Thanks for reading! Now let’s get ready for the horror flicks of 2018!