Look, I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn when I say that 2017 was a garbage year for a lot of people, but it’s important to note that periods of turmoil often produce meaningful horror movies. For what it’s worth, it looks like 2017 has done just that, with a myriad of terrific movies from a variety of sources. So, without further ado, here are some of my horror highlights from the last 12 months:
IT: I’m going to get this one out of the way early, not because I didn’t love it, but because I’m sure it’s on a lot of people’s lists, and you’ve already heard a ton about it. The huge hype over IT actually kept me from watching it at first, as I have that rare disease that repels me from things that a bunch of people enjoy. Fortunately, I caved and went to check it out, and this movie is pure horror, using the premise of a monster that feeds on fear to introduce a Whitman’s Sampler of the things that make us afraid to turn off the lights when we go to bed. And while everyone talks up the whole ensemble, I’d like to give a special shout out to Jack Dylan Grazer, who plays Eddie with a lot more personality than was afforded the character in the miniseries.
Get Out: Jordan Peele’s Get Out is another fantastic movie that I’m sure will be on a lot of “Best Of” lists for 2017. There are much better writers out there who will provide an in-depth analysis on Peele’s commentary on our problematic relationship with race in the film, so I will simply say this: I saw Get Out twice in theaters, and each viewing was a different, but fully satisfying experience. Peele is not only a master at creating suspense, but he’s also able to tell a story so layered and intricate that it doesn’t depend on its twist to entertain an audience.
Salem Horror Fest: In all my years of horror fandom, I’d never actually been to a film festival until this year, but I count myself lucky to have gotten my start with the Salem Horror Fest. Spanning several weeks from September to October, this festival features horror movies that investigate fears with a distinct American flavor. The weekend I made the trip seemed to have been curated specifically for me.
In addition to seeing the first-ever live show of Faculty of Horror, I also got to check out “Women with Guts,” an evening of movies that included a viewing of Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood. Admittedly, this is a movie that only a select few horror fans truly appreciate (alas, it tends to go over the heads of weirdos from Calgary whose names rhyme with Spott Drebutt). But I was thrilled to see it on the big screen, plus I even got to sit down with final girl Lar Park Lincoln for a quick chat. As if that weren’t enough, I got a very pleasant surprise in the form of seeing perhaps my favorite movie of the year in the form of...
Tragedy Girls: I love it when a movie takes me by surprise. Admittedly, I went into this film more as an appetizer for the aforementioned New Blood viewing, but very soon I knew Tragedy Girls was something special. High School bloggers/serial killers McKayla and Sadie are the most charming pair of sociopaths you’ll ever meet, and the script from Chris Lee Hill and Tyler MacIntyre is infused with so much fun by stars Alexandra Shipp and Brianna Hildebrand that you’ll be rooting for these two ladies even while they’re committing some truly horrific deeds. What’s more, they revel in the gore, which gives the film a very interesting aesthetic, where high school glam meets splatterpunk.
Raw: Writer/director Julia Ducournau gives us another movie where the core element is the relationship between two women, this time in the form of sisters Justine and Alexia. Younger sibling Victoria has started her first year at the veterinary school where Justine has been studying for some time. Victoria, however, is starting to get some cravings that glaringly conflict with her vegetarianism, and Justine is there to help her navigate these cravings, for better or worse. Where Tragedy Girls plays its central relationship for laughs, Raw is more about the things you feel in your gut: hunger, lust, and rage (not necessarily in that order). In different hands (read: male), this movie could have been a very different movie, but Ducournau avoids sleaze without having to pull any punches.
The Devil’s Candy: I’ve always loved Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” but hearing it blasted over the end credits of The Devil’s Candy perfectly encapsulates the satisfying nature of this flick. Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, and Kiara Glasco play the world’s most likeable family, which made me all the more invested as they try to navigate the dangers of homeownership when said home may or may not be possessed by Satan. Writer/director Sean Byrne plays well with the internal nature of evil, reminding us that evil often isn’t some corporeal monster, but rather the conflict within ourselves.
Ash vs Evil Dead Season 2: I realize season 2 of this extension of the Evil Dead universe came out in 2016, but it was just released on Netflix late this year, so I’m counting it. The show continues the adventures of Ash Williams and company as they try to clean up the mess caused by a truce made with demon mother Ruby, whose offspring have rebelled against her and called out to dear old daddy, Baal. The show continues to deliver gory, slapstick-y fun with Bruce Campbell continuing to wear Ash Williams like a pair of old, comfortable shoes, while the series continues to build on a hell of a Scooby Gang in the form of Ray Santiago’s goofy but heroic Pablo, Dana DeLorenzo’s smartass Kelly, and Lucy Lawless’ contrite but still badass demon Ruby. And if nothing else, I get to say that I now know what it looks like for a man to have his head shoved fully up a corpse’s ass.
The Girl With All the Gifts: The first half hour or so of this movie fooled me into thinking that it was doing things I’d already seen in films like 28 Days Later, with humanity trying to save itself in the face of a zombie(esque) apocalypse. About halfway through, however, I realized The Girl With All the Gifts is less about the fight for humanity’s survival than it is a contemplation on whether or not humanity’s status quo is worth surviving. Tack on to that amazing performances by Sennia Nanua and Paddy Considine, and it’s a movie experience that stuck in my mind for days after watching it.
The Shape of Water: The Shape of Water snuck in just under the wire before the New Year as I got in a last-minute trip to the movies thanks to some word of mouth by respected resources, including our very own Heather Wixson. Leave it to Guillermo del Toro to make a movie that includes gore, espionage, and interspecies sex yet somehow manages to turn it into a feel-good fairy tale. Del Toro has always been a master at creating interesting creatures, but what sets The Shape of Water apart is that the story doesn’t rely on the creature. He adds layers of nuance and complexity to roles that could have just been fairy tale archetypes to give us the fullest tale of his career. And it should be mentioned that, as is always the case with del Toro’s films, the movie looks beautiful.
Want to know what other members of the Daily Dead team enjoyed in 2017? Catch up on all of our favorites coverage here.