Ranking 2019’s Horror Films

It’s been a hell of a year for horror films. Don’t get me wrong, there’s been some great offerings on and off for years (Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria anyone?) but this year has been especially wondrous. The return of filmmakers like Robert Eggers, Ari Aster, and Jordan Peele is a wonderful thing to celebrate but it’s also been a fun ride for remakes as well. Then there are the Stephen King adaptations that are running rampant throughout theatres/streaming services in an attempt to capitalize on the success of It: Chapter One. I’ve had a lot of fun and I know there’s more to come but I wanted to rank what I’ve seen so far. Honestly even the worst offering this year has at least had interesting ideas and themes, so I can’t really be mad at many of these…if any. I got through a whopping 14 horror flicks this year and I’m still trying to track down a few. Not all of us get to multiple festivals and I can’t afford every streaming service so there are some things I just didn’t get to but I will, promise. We’ll talk about those later (you’ll be getting a review of Doctor Sleep next week!) but for now I want to rank those I saw and let you know what I think is worth it!

14. Pet Sematary: I really wanted to love this one but I just wound up fascinated by it. It’s daring to take a perfect novel (with an iconic but imperfect adaptation already on the books) and remix it, trying new things and daring to play with a classic. I love what they went with in some ways and yet it just fell flat in the pacing and finale. Don’t get me wrong, I love when a film slows down for character development, but when it rotates between chill and breakneck things start to get messy. I have a love for it but it’s only mediocre, not a great film like it had the potential to be.

Read my review here.

13. The Dead Don’t Die: This is another film I tried to love. It was high on my list of films to see this year, a Jim Jarmush affair that sported an outstandingly sexy cast (admit it, you get turned on by great casting too), but it just fell nearly flat. Attempting to mix comedy and zombies isn’t a new affair, we’ve seen it many times and it was perfected in this little-known film called Shaun of the Dead. What they accomplished here was, sadly, just to bore me. In a film full of fun performances, silly settings, meta-humor, and a fun visual flair I just felt a complete disconnect. I didn’t fall asleep but I was close.

12. IT – Chapter Two: It pains me to put so many Stephen Kings films so low but here we are. When It – Chapter One dropped two years back it was a sensation, breaking horror-film records and causing such a stir that King himself has become a burgeoning franchise in his own right. Follow-ups can be tough, especially after such a wonderful opening number, but it stung me a bit to see the ball dropped like this. The first one was fun, scary, intense, and painfully real on the part of the child actors. Adult counterparts all fell flat with the exception of Bill Hader and Jim Ransome, and that’s nothing to take lightly. 

Read my review here.

11. Escape Room: Sure, there were way better horror films this year, but this was a stupidly silly premise that I had a ball with. I love escape rooms, but painting them as an extremist survival situation and throwing in Deborah Ann Wolfe made for a much more fun experience than the premise should have been able to sustain. There’s no character work in this one, only thrills and Saw-esque traps and setpieces, but it’s enough to guarantee a good time if you’re looking to kill 90 minutes. Depraved, ridiculous, silly, and totally worth your time, Escape Room should jump to the top of your list for fun party-setting-horror films.

10. Child’s Play: I wanted to love this, but I wound up just enjoying it instead. This was a weirdly successful year with some horror remakes and I think this is an interesting update on a classic franchise that has a lot of less-than-desirable entries. While many would cite Aubrey Plaza as a reason they saw this, I instead was drawn to Mark Hammil. That guy has been doing some quality voice work for decades now, and having him play the iconic deadly doll was too much to pass up. He’s the best part of the film, but a lot of the kills wound up being worth it and the film is a solid entry in a mess of a franchise.

09. In the Tall Grass: Finally, a King film that I found worth watching! Sure, it has pacing and character issues, but what it lacks in those areas it more than makes up for in absolutely stunning visual language and moments that will turn the stomachs of weaker viewers. This isn’t for the faint of heart, but it accomplishes more than I had any idea it could with the way it moves through the plot at a pace that twists your understanding of time and location. Each piece of the puzzle makes for a wonderful next step and I think despite its flaws that this is the best King adaptation of the year. It gets bonus points for the original story being a collaboration between King and his son, Joe Hill, who is an incredible writer.

Read my review here.

08. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Sure, it falls apart during the final sequence, but this is meant to appeal to adults that read the books as kids as well as younger viewers that need a gateway drug to horror. I think this is going to be the hit of so many slumber parties, the safe-but-scary flick that gets rented for such occasions. Some of the visual imagery is downright terrifying (The Pale Lady can go straight to hell, that image is nightmare fuel) and the young performers are charming in their silliness. Enjoyable as an adaptation, but functional as a pseudo-anthology film, I think this is going to play big with the target audiences once it comes available to stream. The fact that it was re-released in theatres for Halloween is a big statement about it’s importance as the new type of teen horror flick.

Read my review here.

07. Crawl: C’mon, it’s a movie about crocodiles trapping a father and daughter in their crawlspace. What’s not to love about that? Rarely do we get a film that feels honest and fun in its portrayal of humanity vs. nature, but when you couple a predator that survived the KT extinction with a hurricane I think you’ve got a recipe for a winner. Alexandre Aja is someone I’ve kept an eye on, with his gross remake of The Hills Have Eyes and the wondrous tongue-in-cheek update on Pirhana 3D, so I was itching to see this when it dropped. This won’t be the best horror movie you’ve seen, but it might be the most fun you can have at the movies this year. It’s an absolute blast and takes survival horror to an area I never would have thought it would go. 

06. Ready or Not: Samara Weaving is so much fun. She rocked my brain in The Babysitter and has come back to cement herself as the new scream queen in town, running rampant through a mansion in a bridal gown and absolutely wrecking the competition. She’s married into a board-game dynasty, and when her wedding night turns into the most dangerous game she has to rely on her wits and her luck to survive. It helps that we also get Adam Brody playing a depressed drunk scion because his presence is always a welcome one in my book. Bloody, messy, kind of sloppy, and so much fun, Ready or Not plays to a crowd of people ready to watch a woman go ape-shit on the super rich and it pays off like a busted slot machine.

05. Happy Death Day 2U: Okay, so this one is more of a sci-fi flick than a horror movie, but it retains that slasher element so I’m counting it. I’ve said it before, but Jessica Rothe is an absolute treasure and a hell of an actress. I’m delighted that she got attached to this franchise and think she needs to be cast in…well…all of the things. Her comedic timing is on-point, her dramatic moments are heartfelt and real, and she’s dazzled me more than almost any other actress in the last few years. The supporting cast ranges from adequately fun to great, but she’s the real star of this film. Writer/director Christopher Landon is no slouch either, having directed one of the only good entries in an existing IP with Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. I urge all of you to seek this and it’s predecessor out because they are so much more fun than you’d think. It’s a shame everyone didn’t go see this in theatres.

Read my review here.

04. Us: I love me some Jordan Peele. Us went different directions than I thought it would, using its plot as a metaphor for the financial structure of the US economy and shining a light on the damage it does to those that live below. Full of wild imagery, a surprisingly wondrous color palette, and nonstop thrills, Peele paints his condemnation of the 1% in broad strokes so that no one could miss it. Horror has always served as a way to talk about the state of our country and our social issues, but Peele is using it solely for that matter to tackle things we couldn’t talk about in any other way. “Social Horror” is not a new genre, but it’s one that feels so in how blatant he is about it and I’m eating it up with a big ol’ cereal spoon.

Read my review here.

03. Rabid: I never would have thought I’d place a remake of a Cronenberg classic this high on my top Horror films of the year list, but here we are. The Soska sisters have cooked up a wonderful cover version of something I hold near and dear. While I enjoy the gore and grotesqueries, it’s the stunning visuals involving the daylight settings and fashion industry that really drew my attention. I was scared this would be a hack-job, but it plays more akin to what Luca Guadagnino did with his version if Suspiria than anything else. Working to make a fun update on a horror classic, these two awesome directors have put together one of my favorite films of the year and did a lot of work to make something new out of something old. Hell, there’s even something borrowed and something blue in this one. What an age we live in. Oh, and it’ll play well to anyone that loved The Neon Demon because you can see its visuals and themes all over this film. 

Read my review here.

02. The Lighthouse: Listen, this one isn’t going to be for everyone. The Twilight crowd is going to be torn on seeing their sparkly boy doused in blood and mud while slow-dancing with Willem Dafoe but thems the breaks. It’s a bottled up story told in a boxed up visual setting and it just works on every single level. There’s not an instance of this film that isn’t wonderful, from the colors to the performances to the weird-ass imagery, and I wanted to go back in and see it again the instant I walked out. Mark Korven also stewed up and incredible score for this film that wound up being even better than his last film with director Robert Eggers, and I couldn’t get enough of it. This is disgusting and yet you can’t tear your eyes away from the mud-soaked imagery. Hell, the two dance and sing and drink liquor made of…well, let’s not dwell on what it’s made of. Just trust me, it’s a near-perfect movie.

Read my review here.

  1. Midsommar: I agonized over whether this would go above The Lighthouse but in the end it just had to. Ari Aster has cemented himself as a master of horrific imagery and a tonal titan here, building on the relationship rhetoric he put together in Hereditary to move beyond family interplay and discuss relationships specifically. His work on this stuck with me for weeks. Hell, it’s still kicking around my brain, and it might wind up being my favorite film of the year. I’m a horror-hound, that’s not something that anyone doesn’t know, but this is so much more than that. Taking a drawn-out breakup and putting it on display, mixing it with hallucinogens and a setting outside of the couple’s comfort zone, can make for some uncomfortable viewing and it’s perfect in every way. The film felt personal to me, something I saw and felt nothing but love for even as it devastated me. It’s out on blu-ray and you need to watch it NOW.

Read my review here.

That’s my horror list! A proper top ten will be coming out in January, but until that time this’ll have to satisfy. I hope I’ve drawn your attention to some things you missed this year and I hope you hunt down everything you can! What about you? What’s your favorite horror movie of the year? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you!

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