Sunday, December 17, 2017

Top 30 Horror Films of 2017

Welcome once again to the Blood Brothers’ annual tradition of dropping our list for best horror films of 2017! Last year we expanded the list to include 30 films and the response from our readers was very positive to include that many, so this year we will continue to cover 30 films. 2017 was a year with quite a bit of remarkably effective and impressive horror films, both from the mainstream development routes and the independent sectors, so making this list was a lot harder than expected. There were films that ably reimagined classics and powered a nostalgic box office explosion, there were films that punched out sociopolitical messages, and there were plenty of surprises to be had – including some of the wealth of underground films that were being released as direct to streaming services via Netflix and Shudder. There was a landscape of daring fringe horror and love letters to the tropes of classics too. It was a diverse year and that will make our readers’ comments and messages even more interesting as the list makes its rounds online.

As always, this film uses the United States of America release dates for its films so there might be a few films that were released previously in other territories that will make the list (including one of our top releases that finally found distribution.) So keep that in mind as you read through if you feel the list is including some older films.

Also, comments, messages, and emails are more than welcome from our readers! Blood Brothers has always been dedicated to spreading the good word of the cult cinema landscape and starting discussion about the quality of this often overlooked artform in cinema, so whether you feel we are right, wrong, or ill informed we want to hear from you. Let us know what films we missed, what films we gave too much praise, or what films we should be giving more credit to than they are worth. Intelligent discussion is always welcome here.

So without further ado, here is our picks for Top 30 Horror Films of 2017!

30. It Comes at Night [dir. Trey Edward Shults]

Truthfully, It Comes at Night is well executed on the surface for a film. It's beautifully shot in a minimalist way with its lighting and sets and the performances are subtle, strong, and effective. Yet, throughout the entire film it still For a film that uses a sense of dread and slices of paranoia at its core, it never applicably crafts that in its audience. Even when it's using its dream sequences to drive home the scary imagery (images used extensively in its marketing to grab the horror community when the film VERY loosely fringes on the genre) there was never that sense of distrust that needed to be there for the emotional bursts and existential dread to pay off. It's a film that feels too calculated in its execution to truly dredge the themes and tones it is telling us that it's digging into. That's a huge problem for me as a viewer. It was engaging, but not engrossing. For a film like this to truly soar, it needed to cross that line. It Comes at Night does not. A good film that just needed a little oomph to be great.

29. Life [dir. Daniel Espinosa]

Initial trailers did not have me sold on Life, however, after seeing Alien: Covenant I felt like it couldn't be a worse Alien film than that...
..and I was right. Life is certainly an Alien meets Gravity kind of flick, but it's one that actually works and works in some surprisingly impressive ways. It simplifies its story by remaining with our small cast for a majority of the film, it makes likable characters that we want to see succeed, it uses its space and setting for great tension, and Espinoza works in some great visuals and pacing to keep it moving. Not only that, but the film is not afraid to go dark when it needs to, shying away from its mainstream appeal at times, without drifting into exploitation. This is not a horror film to redefine the genre nor is it a film that is likely to make a lot of top lists for the year despite its strong execution. Life is a film that works beyond expectations though and will remain a film that meanders into being a cult cinema classic down the road. Aka, my favorite kind of film.

28. XX [dirs. Jovanka Vuckovic, Karyn Kusama, St. Vincent, Roxanne Benjamin]

Since its release, XX has been a very divisive film for the horror community. There’s a lot of hate out there for it. For me, if XX had been able to come up with some kind of slick reason for these stories to be together in one film this could have been one of the best horror anthologies out there. Each segment is entertaining for its own reason, they opt for a diverse set of topics and approaches, and the quality of execution is worthy of having them in an anthology. While the intro and threaded animation is good, it doesn’t quite lift the series of short films like other anthologies find a way to make work. The rest, however, is pretty impressive and gets a solid recommendation for horror fans.
Here's to hoping that XX starts a new franchise dedicated to its themes. I’ll be there for every entry.

27. Death Note [dir. Adam Winsgard]

For the record, I have never seen the anime, never read the manga, and I have seen the original live action film versions maybe once or twice about ten years ago. However, I loved Adam Wingard's Death Note. Once again, it’s a controversial pick for the list considering the general disdain it has received from horror fans, but I did very much enjoy it. It's assuredly its own spin on the material, taking the concepts and characters, breaking them down, and building them back up into a reinterpretation of the material that works. The way that the film manipulates both Light and Mia to reflect the power (and powerless) issues of American youth is fascinating while visual choices by Wingard embrace the horror elements of the core story without fully falling into them - like keeping Ryuk in the shadows with his beady glowing eyes. Not to mention, Stanfield soars as L in this adaption.
Critics can balk all they want. It worked for me and it worked pretty damn effectively. Here's to hoping Netflix franchises this. I'm wholly on board to see where they can go with this.

26. Here Alone [dir. Rod Blackhurst]

In the realm of zombie flicks, Here Alone certainly carves itself a nice place as a meticulously paced and subtle approach to the genre. However, it doesn't quite reach the truly emotional resonance that some like-minded films hit and it never embraces the more entertaining and thrill seeking moments that other zombie movies use to capture their audience. It's more akin to a character study, where the apocalypse is a substitute for the loss of one's "world" than it is about the loss of the world and in that aspect, it's enticing and well executed. Most casual zombie fans may find it too slow and boring, but for those looking for something slightly more unique and deeper out of their zombie flick then it comes highly recommended.

25. Lake Bodom [dir. Taneli Mustonen]

The hype machine that I had tapped into was all about Lake Bodom since I first saw the trailer for the film well over a year ago. It looked like a sharp, fresh feeling slasher and seeing as I already was well aware of the local Finnish legend it was pulling from (thanks to be a huge fan of the band Children of Bodom) I was ready to dive right in. Thankfully, after some time waiting in North American distribution purgatory, Lake Bodom finally got a US release via Shudder. While the film is not necessarily one that is going to hitting truly unique marks for horror fans in originality, Lake Bodom is a pretty effective and fun slasher, bending tropes and modernizing the long repetitive genre with a modernity that fans will definitely enjoy. It’s not quite the immediate classic that I was hoping, but it satiates the cravings for a slick slasher that I wanted from it.

24. Better Watch Out [dir. Chris Peckover]

I had read previously that this was a pretty intense dark comedy, but I really had no idea that it was going to go to some of the strange places it does. However, Better Watch Out is only better for it. For all of its timely pop culture references, meta-concept stabs at Christmas films, and classic slasher/home invasion tropes, it’s the dark comedy and spins on it that allow Better Watch Out to effectively work. There are plenty of twists to be had and the characters are fun and oddly relatable even when it’s obviously being a satire on the tropes. Also, no spoilers, but stay through the first portion of credits.

23. 1922 [dir. Zak Hilditch]

While the new version of It provides the jump scares, humor, and epic plotting of the usual Stephen King novel and Gerald's Game provides a thematic heavy look into stylized nuance of Stephen King's work, 1922 provides a third facet: the stripped back uneasiness of character and thought. Not a traditional horror film in almost any way, 1922 is a bleak and unnerving drama (with some supernatural horror elements that provide parallels more than scares) where a brilliant performance by Tom Jane anchors the film and its concept. This is a film where the plot, style, and hook come second to the Jane powered narrative that grinds a robust and layered character study. At times it can seemingly drag on as director Hilditch embeds serious detailing into the film to engross the audience in the world of Jane's simple and proud farmer, but this is not a film meant to be entertaining. This is a film where the narrative comes first and if that requires the time and effort of its audience to endure its sense of building dread or symbolic rat visions then so be it.
Honestly, it's quite refreshing. 1922 comes highly recommended.

22. Cult of Chucky [dir. Don Mancini]

Not to give too much more away in Cult of Chucky, but it’s a film that finds the perfect balance between the series’ meta-concepts and the more serious throwback slasher elements that made Curse of Chucky such a delight. All of the pieces of the film match this balance too. The gimmicky, but effective performances, the stylish, but still gruesome kill sequences, and the slasher structured, but twisted spin on the script all make this entry one of the best of series and one of the best of the year. Fans are going to love how it connects to the rest, but it adds just enough new twists and spins to make sure that it could very well be the first chapter in a brand new era for the franchise. What more could one ask for from the seventh film of Child’s Play? It’s a brilliant play on a classic and it deserves the praise and recommendations it has received.

21. The Void [dirs. Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski]

Once again, Kostanski and Gillespie are able to blend their love letter to cult cinema of a specific era into a rightfully effective modern film. The Void contains enough awesome homages and style that even the thinner scripting and characters seem to be part of the intent and not necessarily a detriment to the film. It’s a bit tongue in cheek for some as it piles on some outrageous moments and slightly over-the-top dialogue, but the ultimate goal of the film as an atmospheric Lovecraftian gut punch works making The Void perhaps one of the best films from the directors. It’s not a film for everyone, but it comes highly recommended for those who are fans of 80s films like Re-AnimatorThe ThingThe Beyond, or Hellraiser.

20. The Love Witch [dir. Anna Biller]

Truthfully, it wasn’t until some fellow horror critics started recommended The Love Witch to me that it jumped onto my viewing queue. The initial trailer didn’t quite hit me like I thought it would, seeming to be more gimmick than anything else. However, The Love Witch has received some substantial praise from critics and fans alike. While the film is one that uses its style to overcome some of its issues with silly plot devices or character traits (essentially using its 60s style and creative approach to acting and visuals as a stylistic choice overall), the film does dig a lot deeper than expected. After the first act settles in and the styles and approach are established, the film does an admirably clever job in throwing in a lot of subtext about love, sex, and the roles that gender plays in relationships that give the film a modern feminist spin. By the end, The Love Witch is less about being a gimmicky horror thriller throwback and more about the artistic choices of cinema meant to spin the style on its head rather than use it as a crutch.

19. Hounds of Love [dir. Ben Young]

Vicious and manipulative, Hounds of Love is the kind of film that is hard to "enjoy" in the classical cinema sense. It's not meant to be enjoyed as much as experienced. The story of a young girl abducted in the suburbs of an Australian city is not necessarily a new one (abduction films are their own genre) but the manner that director Ben Young handles the material is artistic and densely effective. Part of the film's strength relies in how it injects an underlying thematic tension and message about women, in a film that on the surface looks like it may be the exact opposite. Still, in its layering, Hounds of Love does allow the audience to interpret its reasons for existing on its own grounds and that's impressive. It's a hard watch, but impressive nonetheless.

18. Happy Death Day [dir. Christopher B. Landon]

If you would have told me that a PG-13 slasher-lite version of Groundhog's Day featuring a college sorority girl would be one of the bigger horror surprises of the year even six months ago, I would have told you to go screw off. But, it is 2017 and that means anything can happen. So here we are with Happy Death Day, a surprisingly clever, energetic meta-spin on the teen focused slasher that no one asked for, but we all deserved. It's a weirdly perfect balance of the college self-discovery comedy flick and slasher that comes at its audience in unexpected ways. It's quite funny, throws down effective spins on the slasher tropes, knows what its strengths are, and still manages to deliver quite the entertaining film. It features a lot of fun performances and is anchored by a strong lead, but the dynamics of the "relive one day" make for some fun commentary about the redundancy of the slasher genre. If anything, Happy Death Day deserves some credit for executing its concept impressively even if the balance of humor and horror doesn't tickle your fancy.

17. The Lure [dir. Agnieszka Smoczynska]

I knew going into The Lure that it was going to be strange. It is a Polish period film about the 80s that features man-eating mermaids trying to fit in on land by becoming adult entertainment dancers and singers that blends comedy, drama, musical, and horror together. That's weird. However, I had no idea what I was in store for and The Lure is not only weird, but it's almost exquisitely weird in an artful and well-intentioned manner that goes above and beyond its genre influences. No wonder Criterion Collection decided to pick this one up for release. On the surface it can be a bit hard to swallow for your casual cinema goer as it features some very dark humor, off beat musical numbers, horrific moments of gore, and a lot of nudity, but underneath it all it attempts to tell a fresh and invigorated story that blends fantasy fairy tale elements with genre flair and dynamic artistic merit. At times, it's a little difficult to keep up with as it leaps around with very confident and spry narrative shifts, but I think with repeated viewings my score for this will only increase. The Lure is weird, but it's weird in all the best ways.

16. The Girl with All the Gifts [dir. Colm McCarthy]

The Girl with All the Gifts is one of those films that uses the tropes of its genre, in this case the zombie film, and does just enough of a twist and pull with them that it feels fresh and effective. I mean, really, it's just a sort of spin on the Day of the Dead premise with hints of 28 Days Later, but the execution is effective, it has shocking dramatic heft with its protagonists, and the third act echoes some clever moments that jiggle the narrative quite nicely. The way that the first act builds its characters, seemingly in a non-zombie movie kind of manner, is worthy enough to earn it a spot on this list. Easily one of the better and more unique zombie films I've seen in quite some time (perhaps since Pontypool) and definitely worth the watch for horror fans.

15. Personal Shopper [dir. Olivier Assayas]

I never thought that Kristen Stewart could not only anchor a film, but let it soar. Yet, Personal Shopper, a sort of horror tinged psychological thriller, allows her to do both and it's very, very impressive. The film is very slow burn as it uses the character study approach to fuel the narrative more than the supernatural elements or the vague progressions it does throw at the audience. In a way, it's a film for those looking for a more artistic cinematic experience rather than the usual spooks and scares of the genre it fringes. Personal Shopper handles the task with ease and finesse which shows the talents of its cast and director/writer. It’s meticulously crafted and uses its horror elements loosely, but man I was engaged and engrossed with what it had to offer. Personal Shopper is not for everyone, but for those willing to go shopping, it's a high-quality treat.

14. It (2017) [dir. Andy Muschietti]

It defies its own odds both as a massive box office success and as an impressively executed horror film. It overcomes the stigma of being a remake (or re-imagining, reboot, reload, etc.), it overcomes the potential pitfalls of a kid lead film, it navigates the landscape of the massive Stephen King novel it's based on, and trying to take an R-rated concept and selling it to a more mainstream audience. And it does it with style. It's perfectly paced, the changes made all add to the cinematic quality of the film for a modern audience, the performances are top notch (Bill Skarsgard owns it as Pennywise the clown), and the scares blend the classic jump scares of the usual mainstream horror with unnerving atmosphere and fantastic world building elements that balance realism with the supernatural. It is what modern mainstream horror could and should look like.

Bravo. I'm insanely impressed.

13. Split [dir. M. Night Shyamalan]

The M. Night Shyamalan story is going to be one for the books. At one point in his early career he was being called the next Steven Spielberg, but those diehard fans and endless amounts of praise started to waver with the ending of The Village, came into question with Lady in the Water, and were extinguished by The Happening. Since then, he’s almost been a blight on his own movies as his twist heavy writing and direction was called heavily into question by critics and fans and even saw his name mysteriously disappear on all marketing for After Earth. However, 2015 saw him go back to his roots with the comedic horror film The Visit and it indicated that perhaps his career wasn’t completely dead. By the time the credits had ended on his latest feature Split, I felt like perhaps he will be a phoenix rising from the ashes. This is because Split, for all of its gimmicks, is a remarkably effective thriller, fringing on horror and yet remaining impressively thoughtful at how it approaches its sensitive subject matter. It’s a film that delivers on its promises, going beyond that with strong characters and fantastic narrative, and establishes Shyamalan as a director who still has the touch to sucker punch his audience like he was known to do in his early career. Split is a rebirth.

12. The Devil’s Candy [dir. Sean Byrne]

HOLY HELL. I might be biased about my love for the film as a metalhead, but The Devil's Candy came out of nowhere to slap me in the face as one of the biggest surprises in horror for 2017. Whether it’s the wickedly quick pacing of the film that never overstays its welcome, the impeccable use of its metal soundtrack and score as a cornerstone of its atmosphere and tone, or the great subtle performances from the cast, The Devil's Candy nails it on every level. A huge surprise and big highlight of the year in horror thus far.

11. A Dark Song [dir. Liam Gavin]

Unnerving, disturbing, vague, and slow burning, A Dark Song is an impressive blend of dynamic character study and the usual ritualistic supernatural film that uses subtle detailing and dense atmosphere to keep the audience engaged rather than big jump scares or other cheap tactics. It leaves the audience guessing to where it's going until the final 15 minutes or so where it leaps up to another level in some unexpected places. Keep your mind open and let the slow burn approach drag you in and then it's easy to see why this film has garnered such impressive reviews from critics and fans alike.

10. Brimstone [dir. Martin Koolhoven]

For those looking for a truly horrific and intense cinema experience, look no further than Brimstone. It’s impressively executed from its production values to its artistic narrative to its balance of genre elements and it features some of the best performances of the year from the entirety of its cast. In a movie landscape where genre films double down on their tropes to make things easier to consume, Brimstone is dramatically fresh and aggressive in how it approaches all of its labels, adding in enough commentary, character work, and shocking twists to make it one of the best films of the year. It’s not for everyone with its abrasive elements, but for those willing to be taken to hell and back for a movie viewing experience then this is a must see, must own, must praise kind of film.

09. Memoir of a Murderer [dir. Won Shin-Yeon]

Impressively executed as a thriller, Memoir of a Murderer is like I Saw the Devil mixed with hints of Memento and it's a film that will keep you rocking in your seat for two hours. The use of an untrustworthy narrator is set to some intense moments here, powered by some insanely impressive performances, and it’s not often that a film can make its audience cheer for a serial killer of questionable moral values. Yet that’s just what Memoir of a Murderer does. It’s paced perfectly and the sucker punches of its narrative shifting in the third act is apt to leave the audience feeling both hollow and hopeful.

08. Raw [dir. Julia Ducournau]

The fascinating thing about Raw is that with all of its exploitative content (cannibalism, gore, sexuality) that it never treats itself like an exploitation film. It uses those elements to simply convey some of the themes of its story in heavy handed ways. Themes about feminism, familial influence, coming-of-age youth pieces, communication, and the strange stresses that can break down someone new to college all are seemingly fitted into a plot about a young woman who succumbs to cannibalistic urges, more or less. It's artfully done and Raw is the kind of horror film that will resonate much longer than many of its peers thanks to its layered and robust writing/execution that allows for lengthy cinephile analysis. In many ways, the film is much akin to early Cronenberg, albeit without the rough edges and fiesty 'be all, end all' energy, and for that I give it much praise. My one issue with the film is that in all of its artful approaches, vague build, and mysterious motivations for characters, the film does haphazardly feel like it does not have an end game in mind. That the interpretation of its events IS the purpose of the story. For some, this is a great thing. For me, it felt like it would occasionally feel unfocused. It's a small issue, but one that has stuck with me since finishing it. Nonetheless, for horror fans and cinephiles, this is definitely a gem of the year and one worth seeing.

07. A Cure for Wellness [dir. Gore Verbinski]

In the end, while I whole-heartedly enjoyed and was enthralled with my viewing experience of A Cure for Wellness, it’s easy to see why it was a box office bomb in the US. It’s a challenging film that uses its lengthy run time and subtle build for maximum atmosphere versus pure entertainment, and yet does not hesitate to embrace its Italian genre throwback elements to craft an aggressive and abrasive third act that spins the entire thing on its head. The execution is what carries it though as it features some stupendous performances from its cast, an enigmatic score, and a truly unique visual palette that’s half Mario Bava and half Proya’s Dark City. It’s not a film for everyone and may not even be for most horror fans looking for cheap scares, but it’s an experience that needed to happen to challenge the main Hollywood horror status quo.

06. Creep 2 [dir. Patrick Brice]

It's hard to know what to expect from Creep 2 when the first film told its story so well, relying on the surprise of its narrative to be the key in grabbing its audience. Yet, Creep 2 matches that same intense intention. Despite knowing how the first film ended, this one maintains that same sense of complete unease and unsure intention that made the first film work so well. Once again, the film is anchored by a phenomenal performance from Duplass, who goes even further into dramatic moments than the first as the story requires it (whether they are true to his character is still debatable, but that's half of the fun of the character) and the use of a more developed "camera" operator as a character makes for a stronger connection. Fans of the first are definitely going to love what Creep 2 brings to the table in recreating the same tone, but advancing the story in new and often unpredictable ways. It's exactly what a sequel to Creep would want to be and its executed damn near flawlessly...again.
Bring on Creep 3 if it’s as creative and well done as this one.

05. Get Out [dir. Jordan Peele]

Even with the hype, it's hard to deny that Peele has a strong eye/sense/vision for impeccable use of tension and atmosphere. Even when the film is layering in a nice subtle dark humor or going for the immediate chemistry of its lead characters, Get Out is able to continually build this sense of dread and oddity that only continually grows heavier from the onset. The sociopolitical message of the film is a welcome depth that gives the film a Twilight Zone type tone – fitting since Peele is going to be attached to the upcoming Twilight Zone reboot in some form.  It's masterfully crafted and easily makes some of the more B-horror concepts of its plot feel effective, shocking, and impactful. The balance is damn near perfect while the narrative and characters strike important notes that will last well beyond just this year.

04. The Blackcoat’s Daughter [dir. Oz Perkins]

Oz Perkins is setting out to establish and conquer a niche corner of the horror spectrum. I was a massive fan of his previous (debut) film, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, and I was looking forward to see where he would go with his sophomore effort The Blackcoat’s Daughter. His first film was certainly divisive for those who watched it and while this one will most likely divide viewers again with its atmospheric and vague approach to plot, he improves on the style of his debut with a more complex narrative and even creepier unnerving tone that makes this film one of the best horror films of the year. This is a film that relies solely on execution to sell its concept and the execution is so effective that it didn’t need the plot, characters, or anything else to do the work for it. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is one of those statement films that earns its merits in that manner.

03. Gerald’s Game [dir. Mike Flanagan]

In the attempt of being honest, I went into Gerald’s Game decently blind to the whole concept. I knew it was based on a Stephen King story, but beyond that the story and concept were not all that relevant to me. I knew that Netflix had given modern horror auteur director Mike Flanagan the reigns to the film (perhaps the one reason that I was truly excited to see it), but that was it. So when the film aptly came up and assaulted me with its sharp messages in its character study structure and fluidly crafted a film that blended dire realism with nightmarish blurred realities, it was a shock to the system. Not only is Gerald’s Game one of the best Netflix original films released by the increasingly fantastic original content from the streaming giant, it’s one of the best films of the year…period. It’s executed with the finesse of a craftsman at the height of his artistic talent and put together with the intelligence and fearlessness to not let its more ambitious portions stop it from going where it needs to. It’s a psychological horror film of the highest degree and it further proves the power of its creative foundations. Gerald’s Game is not a game at all. It’s a statement.

02. mother! [dir. Darren Aronofsky]

mother! is the kind of film that was obviously going to rub more mainstream audiences the wrong way. So the fact that it got an 'F' on Cinemascore is pretty obvious after watching the film. That being said, it's a film that's daring, provocative, artistic, and quite horrifying at times. It's a film that's layered to the point where it's plot is quite obscured by the narrative and requires a lot of thoughtful teasing of those layers for interpretation of its approach and message. It's for that reason that this film deserves praise for its ambitious, artistic, and cinematic slant. Whether a viewer agrees with how the director and cast approach it or the interpreted messages that they decipher from its increasingly vague and shocking spiral is almost beside the point to the respect it should garner for pushing itself down a path not often chosen by film makers. With its mixed critical reception and disgusted audience reaction, it's a safe bet that mother! goes down in the history books as a film of inspired daring that will garner a very large and devoted cult audience in a few years. For this writer, it’s the perfect example of the fluidity and strength of a film that barely fringes on horror to be able to secure a spot on this list.

01. Creepy [dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa]

After finally getting a US release this year, it is a pleasure to announce that Creepy is just as effective in its horror as some of the director's previous leaps into the genre. Although I have to admit, the best way to go into the film is to not know anything about the plotting or characters as it really spins a fantastic sense of mystery and atmosphere to absorb its audience into its disturbing and shocking neo noir tale. The film tends to be a bit of a slow burn, clocking in at over two hours, but it's fantastically engaging from the opening scene to its nail biting finale. It features a handful of brilliant performances from its cast, the director takes engaging atmosphere to the next level, and its brilliantly shot to keep the audience with one foot in the dark at pretty much any given time. A tactic that's way too effective for the results. In the end, Creepy is a must-see piece of horrifying cinema that's worth far more than the US release would indicate of it.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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