SPOILER ALERT! The following post will disclose a number of critical MOMENTS of the first six months of this epic year so far in the genre.
It has been a wondrous year so far for horror films, with several films likely to go down as classics of the genre. With Get Out proving last year that Oscars are not out of reach, don’t be surprised to see multiple horror movies vie for some golden statuettes next February. And, we still have some big movies to come. Mandy, Suspiria, The Meg, The Predator, and Halloween are all on the horizon. Of course, horror movies aren’t usually generated to create critical buzz, but rather to scare audiences silly. Rather than list the movies, I wanted to get to the scenes within the films that made a difference this year. All of these movies were released this year or are currently in the Festival Circuit. I will try not to completely spoil the moments. I will give you just enough information so that those of you who have seen the films will recognize these moments and nod. (Or shake your heads… or stifle a gag reflex.) I started with ten, but I’m throwing in a bonus… since I couldn’t cut my last one. My rules, I get to break them! So, without further ado, the top ELEVEN horror movie moments of the first half of 2018.
11. The reveal of the chess Queen in The LaPlace’s Demon.
The animated dollhouse in the movie entrances the audience as much as it does the characters in the movie. The ominous figure pops up as half of the group watch in dismay as the little pawns scramble through the dollhouse, with the seemingly unstoppable queen in hot pursuit. Symbolically powerful, and an unforgettable moment within the movie.
10. Grandpa and Grandma arrive in Mom and Dad.
Gonzo crazy! What already was a manic over-the-top Nic Cage showcase gets even more madcap when Brent’s (Cage) parents Mel (Lance Henrickson) and Barbara (Marilyn Dodds Frank) arrive at the Ryan household. The thing is, Brent and Kendall (Selma Blair) have been spending the past few hours trying to roust their children and kill them. So, now’s not the best time for visitors. It’s at that point you realize that it isn’t just child killing that is happening, but progeny killing and the whole Ryan household becomes a Bugs Bunny cartoon, with axes and kitchen knives flashing about. Added points in that looked like everybody involved looked like they were having a ton of fun shooting this sequence.
9. Sara self-cannibalizes in Framed.
Don’t do it! Don’t do it! EWWWWW!!! Nooooo!!!! EWWWW!!! Yeah. That was my reaction to poor Sara (Lidia Casanova) when she is force fed some nasty hallucinogenic drug and compelled through shock and torture to chew on herself. Framed is a gorgeous (and gore-geous) movie but Mac Martinez Jordán was willing to GO THERE with this film. This sequence was without question, very tough to watch. Unforgettable. Sometimes a horror director needs to turn it to 11 to get your attention.
8. The toilet sequence from Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich.
One of the absolute yuckiest, grossest, and in poorest taste sequences of the year, and it was awesome. A loose turd in the bowl. A decapitation. And it gets worse! How? You’ll have to see it for yourself. It has to be seen to be believed. It happens quickly, a little more than a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but it got howls of disgust and cheers of delight all at the same time. Every now and again, you want to see something that will push the boundaries of good taste. Here you have it, folks. If it doesn’t make you puke, it will make you grin. You have been warned!
7. Professor Goodman returns to the tunnel in Ghost Stories.
For the first hour and a half, Ghost Stories is a well-made horror anthology, tied together by a loose thread that follows Professor Goodman (Andy Nyman) as he attempts to debunk some problematic ghostly tales. He is a professional paranormal exposer, and he is confident that he will be able to prove these tales wrong. And the story initially rolls out like a conventional anthology, in sequential order, and you suspect that there will be some sort of a reckoning in store. That reckoning comes in the form of a fourth act: the tunnel story is introduced and when it forces Professor Goodman to face his own past the whole thing comes together beautifully, the interaction between Nyman and Martin Freeman is fabulous, as the veneer begins to get pulled from the story. The movie shifts from feeling like an anthology to something cohesive, and haunting… pun intended. The movie shifts tonally from a campfire spook story, full of jump scares, to a melancholy examination of the mind a helpless man, and it all hinges on that spooky tunnel, in a clever bit of exposition by the writers and directors of the film Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman.
6. The causality loop cabin in The Endless.
This is the brainy center of The Endless. Come for the UFO death cult, stay for the trippy time conundrum. The Endless will play around the edges with what the anomaly is, but when Justin and Aaron reach the cabin with the buddies who are caught in an endless loop of death… they are faced with a decision of whether to return to a miserable existence in the real world, or to be stuck in a vortex that just might drive you mad. It’s a lose-lose proposition, and the Smith brothers, already at odds about what to do are now forced to make a decision. The cabin is also the point where everything begins to make sense, even at the height of weirdness. The supporting players also seem to be really enjoying their rinse and repeat paradox, despite all the dying.
5. Mother Superior demands silence in St. Agatha.
Including a moment from this movie is a bit tricky, as St. Agatha has not yet been released in theaters, and there isn’t a release date set yet for the film on streaming… or even a trailer. What I can tell you is that there is a sequence where in order to ensure that the young sisters are compliant, the Mother Superior (The fabulous Kathryn Hennesy) goes to extreme measures to guarantee silence from one of her chattier charges. A hint, for those who are willing to receive a small spoiler… there will be scissors involved. Viscerally memorable, and one of the most cringe-inducing moments of the year. Darren Lynn Bousman knows how to pace his scares and land them with real impact. There were three or four other powerful individual moments to choose from that were woven into this compelling film, and I really hope that it gets the full theatrical release that it deserves so you can see what all the chatter is about.
4. The reveal of the Jötunn from The Ritual.
The Ritual had a lot going for it. A strong narrative. Good actors with a good script. The opening sequence of the movie is a real shocker and sets up all the relationships in the film. However, even that fantastic opener isn’t what will be the lasting impact of The Ritual. For much of the movie, the evil presence in the woods is felt, but not seen. Many times when you hold back your creature, you may fear what the audience reaction will be. In this case, the reveal of the Norse god-being Jötunnis startling, and a fantastic payoff. This God-beast is one of the most original creations in recent memory… I would say we haven’t seen a beastie this original since the monster from The Host. It also oddly makes sense, and the effects, probably digital, are seamless.
3. The skeletal bear thing torments Lena in Annihilation.
The book was a strange read. Anyone doing this movie adaptation had a real challenge in front of them. Alex Garland was the perfect director to try and adapt this difficult and psychedelic story, but nothing from the book could prepare me for the bizarre and frightening moment that was the bear mutant thing. That was a serious WTF sequence and had the whole audience squirming in their seats. The bear thing has taken the voice of Shepherd, which is one of several unnerving juxtapositions that crop up throughout the movie. For a movie that doesn’t have many traditional scares, there are plenty of nightmare-inducing moments. These visions will stick with you, and perhaps none more unsettling than that bear thing.
2. The nail, in A Quiet Place.
OUCH!!! (Quieter, please.) ouch. (Better)
The best use of foreshadowing in recent movie memory. The pull of the nail is shown, and you knew that was going to come in to play. In an environment where even the slightest peep would draw attention, that damned nail was going to be trouble. In truth, there were several moments in this movie that were candidates. The taking of Beau. The bathtub. The Grain Silo. So many fantastic and indelible moments. This movie will be remembered, and John Krasinski has cemented himself a place in horror lore for his efforts. Also, Emily Blunt SOLD THIS moment big time. The Oscar buzz machine for a best actress Oscar nomination has already begun.
1. Charlie vs. the telephone pole in Hereditary
You’ve seen it, right? Since the whole movie flips on this moment, I’m trusting that you’ve seen this film. Last chance to back out of a spoiler! OK… this moment was a hammer blow. You didn’t see it coming, and you felt just like Peter after this event. Ari Aster let the situation marinate, and the consequences settle in. This came as a huge surprise to many since I believe a lot of people expected Charlie to be the center of all the evil in the story. The trailer and marketing for the movie suggested but masterfully hid the real context for Charlie. This was emotionally traumatizing and completely NOT what you were expecting to happen. I put this moment up there with the shower sequence from Psycho, relative to a shocking event at a moment you least expect it in a horror movie. Part of the beauty (if you can call it that) of this sequence is that it was set up and until you see it a second time you don’t really appreciate it. You see that telephone pole earlier in the movie. It has the rune on it! You know there is something not right with Charlie, but you can’t put your finger on it. It’s a movie with layers upon layers of context, brilliantly executed. There were other candidates from this movie, from the closing sequence with Annie and Steve and the book… to the final frantic pursuit of Peter by Paimon, and even the cluck jump scare in the car with Annie (oddly, that got some of the biggest reactions from the audience). I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Neither was the Shining. Goodfellas isn’t for everybody. But damned if this isn’t a landmark horror film, and the telephone pole is the landmark moment.