It was a banner year for Horror Themed Films!
2017 will go down as a landmark year for Horror Movies. The critical and financial success of the big three films Get Out, The Shape of Water, and It will cement this year as one to remember. Full disclosure, in starting this website, and our podcast, I found myself binging lots of horror movies recently, so I’m at risk of elevating movies I have recently seen. However, I would propose that since I have seen many of these films very recently, I can compare them fairly favorably. Also, I have yet to see some of the more acclaimed films Split, and The Blackcoat’s Daughter… so once I see them, I may adjust my standings. And I have not yet seen It Comes at Night, which Mike has reviewed on this site. I also plan on finding the inner strength to watch We are the Flesh, which purports to be a very difficult watch, but a powerful film. The calendar ready to flip to February, I figured I had to get out my year-end list out before January ended… so no waiting for me to watch those films… here goes!
Clearly, the biggest surprise for me was It Stains the Sands Red, which I did not see coming. I also would very much like to have included Mayhem, which just missed the mark. I would say that I was most disappointed by Alien Covenant, as the trailers suggested a much more coherent plot, and with Ridley Scott coming off of the masterful The Martian, I assumed he was back in full stride. Nope!
I have reviews of all the films listed below, so check them out if you want to know more. (Click on the title for more in-depth reviews)
- Get Out:
This may be the ultimate gateway horror movie. I have had multiple people come up to me, admit that they don’t like scary movies, but they really want to see Get Out. It’s an important movie and the Oscar nomination has cemented that feeling. Jordan Peele masterfully handles race appropriation themes, slavery, interracial dating, and subtle discrimination, without being ham-fisted or preachy, all in a hugely entertaining horror package. Come for the social commentary, stay for the mad scientist!
- The Shape Of Water:
I gave Get Out a nod here because it has more pure horror roots to it. But, I have to include Shape of Water in this list, since it carries horror themes that date back to Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Hunchback of Notre Dame: The sympathetic monster. The movie really features two monsters: one a fairly benign amphibian man, and one a seething bully in Michael Shannon’s Colonel Strickland. Fabulous storytelling, set design, music, and acting help set this film as Guillermo’s high bar. I expect this to win Best Director and should get good Vegas odds at Best Picture as well.
Another stretch of the “Horror or not?” question. Admittedly, this is a kaiju movie, which in some cases, clearly are horror movies (Cloverfield) and in some cases, not (Son of Godzilla). However, I’m going to cheat a little and include Colossal, since I enjoyed it so much, and want to pimp its production a little. Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis have wonderful story arcs that trend in opposite directions, and where these story arcs intersect, there be monsters. A fun tale of addiction, guilt, trust, in a stompy monster package.
The third of this year’s big three horror films, this one may prove to be the most important, because it did two things exceedingly well: It spun a fantastic story that drew legions of non-horror movie fans to the cinema, and as a result made a metric slop-ton of money. A legitimately scary movie that had people buzzing both before and after its release, It proved to Hollywood that a well made R-rated horror movie can make lots of money if you cast it correctly and tell a good story.
- It Stains the Sands Red
My biggest surprise of the year. I had never heard of it before I saw it on the shelf of my local video rental store (yes, we still have a good one in Portland), and came away happily thrilled with this little one-on-one zombie chase. The symbiotic relationship between the mindless zombie and the fleeing victim was wholly unique and really enjoyable to see unfold. This movie is such an underdog that it doesn’t have any box office numbers! I’m not sure if it even had a theater release… but given the gorgeous HD panorama shots of the Nevada desert, it would have been a great movie to see on the big screen. This may go down as one of my all-time sleeper films.
- Gerald’s Game
Stephen King’s second film adaptation to land on the Scariest Things list this year. This feels like a stage drama, with the truly horrifying prospect that you can imagine yourself stuck in. Or, rather, if you’re into a bit of the ol’ BDSM. Not that I am. OK. (ahem) Let’s just say the movie taps into a primal fear of being stuck, with the horrible prospect of being trapped and starving to death. Or worse yet slowly dying and getting eaten by the local pet population. Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood are excellent in the lead roles.
- The Girl with All the Gifts
This film is best if you go in with a little information going in as possible… so this review is going to be spoiler free. I can tell you that the curious dystopian beginning will morph into a good horror movie that you will find at once very familiar (almost to the point of cliche) and yet the direction and editing are executed so well that it feels like a fresh take. The third act, though problematic for me, is also an interesting way to wrap up this story. Young Sennia Nanua’s performance will earn her many juicy roles to come, as her transformational performance was full of wistful charm, spark, and feral wrath. Her portrayal of the central figure, Melanie, alone is worth the price of admission
- A Dark Song
An intricate and brooding take on occult rituals, this story involves a woman looking to connect with her deceased child, and hiring a reluctant and cranky occultist to help her make contact. A Dark Song invests you in a very long dark ceremony, and has you wondering, with the protagonist… is this ritual really working? Is this occultist just a charlatain? Gloomy, somber, and devoid of jump scares, this film is an exercise in creating and sustaining a mood. It pushes our protagonist through grief, rage, and rapture in a very convincing manner. Not for those who want a high body count bloody horror movie, but for those who like a slow burn haunt of a film, this would be for you.
The premise is irresistible! A young vegan woman enrolling in vet school is forced to eat a rabbit’s kidney in a new-student hazing ritual, and wouldn’t you know it, she begins to get cannibalistic cravings. Believe it or not, this story gets woven into a very sympathetic story, and is not done for laughs though you could say it is done for yucks… when it decides to go gross it is wincingly convincing. Another indy horror film that relies on dread rather than jump scares to get its points across and is all the more convincing for it.
- Happy Death Day
This movie does go for jump scares… repeatedly… and the movie is a lot of fun because of it. Happy Death Day is probably the most conventional of the films on my top 10 list, but it is a helluva lot of fun. The Groundhog’s Day repetition makes sense, and like it’s source material, Happy Death Day has you watching and listening for all the tiny variations in each repeated fateful day. Jessica Rothe’s performance is a visual textbook of facial expressions and her journey through each repeated passage builds upon her last one.
So, there you have it! My ten favorites from 2017! I do hope that 2018 will be just as memorable. And to commemorate the list, let’s watch a kaiju dance!