I was so excited pooling together my list of the best horror movies of 2017. Pretty quickly the list went upwards of 20 films. 2017 was a remarkable year for horror both critically and at the box office. Andy Muschietti’s IT broke records and finished 6th in yearly box office returns. Jordan Peele captured the zeitgeist of America with his debut film, the instant classic, Get Out. Even M. Night Shyamalan re-emerged as a viable hitmaker with Split, which featured both an acclaimed performance by James McAvoy and a twist ending worthy of watercooler talk. And then there’s Guillermo del Toro, who reimagined 1950s monster movie Creature from the Black Lagoon as a Cold War era romantic drama and created my favorite movie of the year with The Shape of Water. It occurred to me as I was making the list that a Top 10 Horror Movies list would be very similar to my Top 10 Movies of 2017. So rather than listing the obvious choices, I’m going to list some hidden gems and lesser-known horror films that were overshadowed in an awesome year for the genre.
See below for my Not-So-Obvious Top 10 Horror Movies of 2017.
Close Calls: A balls-out crazy B-movie with an awesome ’80s-style poster from director Richard Stringham. It featuring a gorgeous lead, and gleefully over-the-top performances from pretty much everyone in the film.
Little Evil: Forgotten in the onslaught of awesomeness from Netflix this year, Little Evil is a dark comedy version of The Omen starring the best everyman in the game, Adam Scott, as new stepdad to the antichrist.
Super Dark Times: Imagine if Stranger Things was in the ’90s and instead of a demogorgon, one of the boys was psychotic. Super Dark Times had great atmosphere and pretty solid performances especially from Charlie Tahan.
Cult of Chucky: Somehow Don Mancini manages to keep the Chucky franchise fresh and part 7 allows Fiona Dourif (Brad’s daughter) a chance to shine. It also features great practical effects and genuine laugh-out-loud moments.
The Girl with All the Gifts: One of the most original takes on the stale zombie genre in years, in the future young infected kids who may unlock the answer to curing the zombie virus are locked up and experimented on. Breakout performance from Sennia Nanua.
Red Christmas: What could be a generic slasher is given a unique political spin as a family Christmas party is interrupted by the aborted fetus of the mom, grown up and looking for revenge. Creative kills and some clever casting choices made this one really fun.
Prevenge: If 2017 was the year of the woman, Alice Lowe’s cerebral thriller deserves more than a passing look. Debuting on streaming service Shudder early last year, Prevenge focuses on a pregnant woman (Lowe) who is receiving messages to kill from her unborn child. Lowe is a total tour-de-force here.
With that out of the way, here are the Top 10 “Not-So-Obvious” Horror Movies of 2017:
10. A Ghost Story Written & Directed by David Lowery
The answer to “what would a horror movie look like if directed by Terrence Malick?”, A Ghost Story is so simple and despite not saying much in terms of dialogue, speaks volumes. The plot is barely anything. An unnamed married couple (Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck) share a home and quickly he dies in a car crash. His spirit follows her around portrayed as nothing more than a sheet with eye holes cut out. That’s it. I’ll admit it took me time to get into it, and I can 100% see where some viewers will get impatient with the lack of dialogue or really anything much going on. But I found it beautifully filmed, with a terrific score. While there is nothing scary about the film, it was almost hauntingly dreamlike. It is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
9. The Void Written & Directed by Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski
The Void debuted late 2016, but wasn’t released in the U.S. till the Spring of 2017, so I’m counting it. This is a wild and crazy ride and one of the best examples of paying homages to your inspirations in a way that creates something frighteningly new. It is very clear where the filmmakers get their inspiration from. The Void is like all of John Carpenter’s work and all of H.P. Lovecraft’s writing got tossed in a blender and they used the mix to write this film. That said, if you’re gonna borrow from the masters, this is how you do it! Absolutely stunning practical effects, genuinely unsettling imagery, simple yet scary cult leaders, this is just a balls to wall horror experience for 90 minutes. The Void is on Netflix now.
8. Happy Death Day Written by Scott Lobdell, Directed by Christopher Landon
Despite making $55 million at the box office, Happy Death Day was largely ignored on many Top 10 lists I’ve seen and I thought that was disappointing. Here is a movie that laid out exactly what it was in the trailers: Teen Slasher meets Groundhog Day. And for that great premise I thought they did a hell of as job here. Jessica Rothe does a great job in the Bill Murray-esque lead role starting as a character you love to hate and enjoy watching die over and over, but who eventually wins over the audience as she struggles to solve her own murder. The script stays true to the simple idea and our theater was laughing and screaming at all the right moments.
7. Creep 2 Written by Patrick Brice & Mark Duplass, Directed by Patrick Brice
In the discussion of simple and effective thrillers, few can top the work of Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass in the Creep films so far. In my opinion, even better than the 2014 original, Creep 2 covers very similar territory but with an interesting twist. Replacing a male videographer for a female one, Creep 2 makes some brave choices, some uncomfortable at first, but they end up making for a better horror film. Duplass lives up to the title SO much as Aaron and has become a modern horror icon. The real star here was the brave performance of Desiree Akhavan as Sara. Watch along with the original as they’re both on Netflix now.
6. The Night Watchmen Written by Ken Arnold & Dan DeLuca & Jamie Nash, Directed by Mitch Altieri
“Let’s go kill some dead people!” That’s the epic tagline for this horror comedy I first watched at the New York City Horror Film Festival. I was blown away. Imagine Shaun of the Dead, but instead of zombies, it’s vampire clowns! That’s the simple set up for this hilarious horror comedy as macho night watchmen train a new-by at the same time a dead body of a famous clown killed oversees is delivered to their facility. From there all hell breaks loose. What sets this aside from other indie horror comedies is the writing of the characters. They are so likable and fun and you actively root for them throughout. The characters have fun playing up the stereotypes of race and gender roles in genre films as well. For the budget these filmmakers worked with, they maximize it to the fullest with some great action set pieces as well. This is well worth the small investment on Amazon Prime ($3.99 to rent). Support indie horror and check it out.
5. Brawl in Cell Block 99 Written & Directed by S. Craig Zahler
2015’s Bone Tomahawk was one of my favorites that year, so I was ecstatic when S. Craig Zahler’s follow up, Brawl in Cell Block 99 hit Amazon Prime a few weeks back. Few directors working today can compare to Zahler for insane levels of brutality he puts into his films. This is artful grindhouse style of raw bone shattering, bloody brilliance. Vince Vaughn gives a career performance as Bradley (don’t call him Brad) Thomas, a drug runner and soon to be father whose proud code of honor sends him to a jail for a crime gone wrong. He is a model inmate until he’s visited by the always creepy Udo Kier with a message that his pregnant wife is kidnapped and will be killed unless he makes it to the titular cell block and kills a fellow prisoner. Vaughn is just a brute force here: slow, meticulous, and unnerving, but with a heroic sense of virtue. At least four times, I screamed at the TV as the violence escalates to levels of absurdity, but make no mistake, this is a vicious and brutal masterpiece.
4. Raw Written & Directed by Julia Ducournau
If It Follows was a horror movie about the evils of unprotected sex, then perhaps Raw is that for the evils of vegetarianism. A young girl goes off to veterinary college where she is immediately hazed along with other freshmen. One particularly gross stunt involves eating raw meat, an obvious no-no for vegetarian Justine (Garance Marillier). This has unusual side effects as Justine first breaks out into rashes before giving in to a new feverish hunger for meat. Julia Ducournau pushes the boundaries of sexuality and grotesque violence to the extremes, but there is something somehow beautiful to the whole thing, if that makes any sense. Marillier delivers a stunning performance! She is only 19 now, which really hammers home how young she was during filming and she holds nothing back. I can’t wait to see where Ducournau and Marillier go from here! Raw is available on Netflix now.
3. The Babysitter Written by Brian Duffield, Directed by McG
Sometimes I read negative reviews for films and after seeing them I am convinced that it must be something personal against someone involved. There’s little other explanation for the slew of negativity hurled at Netflix original, The Babysitter. This was probably the most straight-up fun horror movie I saw in 2017. And say what you want about McG’s career, but he directs the heck out of this. Judah Lewis is Cole, a kid too old to have a babysitter, but when his babysitter is the gorgeous Samara Weaving, you’re okay being embarrassed. I felt like the young protagonist in the film. Initially you fall in love with Weaving’s Bee and then you are shocked when the truth is revealed… Bee is the leader of a cult trying to use Cole as a sacrifice! The leads to some awesome sequences of Evil Dead-style gore and violence along with hilarious chases and super creative kills. If taken too seriously or played too much for laughs, it wouldn’t have worked, but The Babysitter toes that line perfectly. It’s instantly rewatchable and so much fun. Check it out on Netflix.
2. The Devil’s Candy Written & Directed by Sean Byrne
Sean Byrne is quickly becoming a rising star in horror. The Devil’s Candy has a great soundtrack, haunting imagery and a legitimate scary villain. All that wrapped inside a well-developed family driven story makes this a total winner. An unrecognizable Ethan Embry is Jesse, a painter who along with wife and daughter buy their dream home. The problem is, a la Poltergeist, you gotta wonder why the prices are so low on these gorgeous homes… A man (Pruitt Taylor Vince) shows up wanting to come “home” and soon Jesse is getting dark visions allowing him to paint epically macabre portraits that he doesn’t remember painting. The film takes a bunch of seriously dark turns and is constantly unsettling. Embry, a veteran of teen comedy from the mid to late 90s, delivers an unbelievable performance, and Vince is a steady character actor who can bring the scares with the best of them. The Devil’s Candy is on Netflix now.
And the #1 “not-so-obvious” Horror Movie of 2017…
1. Gerald’s Game Written by Jeff Howard & Mike Flanagan, Directed by Mike Flanagan
In a year where Stephen King had arguably his two biggest stories adapted into big screen films, one successful (IT), and one… let’s not discuss (The Dark Tower)… the best King adaptation fell straight to Netflix and look at that, it’s Mike Flanagan again! The guy just absolutely gets how to build a suspenseful horror movie without adding jump-scares, cliches, and tired genre tropes. He took what many called an “unfilmable book” and turned it into 100 minutes of pulsing pounding, scream-inducing nightmare fuel. The story, as the best ones are, is simple. A couple, Jessie (the breathtaking Carla Gugino) and Gerald (always underrated Bruce Greenwood), head to a secluded house to revive their stale marriage and sex life. 15-minutes later, she’s handcuffed to the bed and he’s dead from a heart attack. We are trapped with Jessie on the bed. Every noise, every movement we are forced to squirm with her. As she starts to hallucinate, we as the audience lose control of reality. And just when you thought the suspense would kill you, there comes… the scene. Trust me… you will know it when you see it. Gerald’s Game is par for the course for Mike Flanagan. It’s another convention-defying masterpiece featuring one of the bravest and best performances I saw all year from Gugino.