[Editor's Note: With this past year being another great one across multiple mediums in the horror genre, Bryan Christopher continues Daily Dead's "Favorites of 2019" features by reflecting on his favorite viewing and reading experiences from 2019!]
Doctor Sleep: Oddly enough, my favorite movie of the year was one I didn’t even think I’d bother seeing until about a week before its release. I like both The Shining and Mike Flanagan well enough, but an adaptation of a book I haven’t read that’s also a sequel to a movie that the author hated seemed like a tough tightrope to walk. But an errant viewing of the trailer had me intrigued, and damn if taking a chance didn’t pay off. I get that people have issues with the fan service paid in the return to a certain infamous hotel in the film’s climax, but for me it worked as a natural conclusion to a story that took elements introduced in The Shining and expanded on them without just rehashing or diluting them. I love Ewan McGregor as an adult Danny Torrance overcoming substance abuse and facing his trauma, and Rebecca Ferguson manages to be both alluring and vile as big bad Rose the Hat. But Kyleigh Curran’s Abra is the big surprise of the film, and I can only hope we see more of her in the future. Nothing about the film’s 2 ½ hours seemed superfluous, and I for one am looking forward to the extended director’s cut in February.
Ready or Not: Ready or Not is like eating a good meal at your favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s not fancy and it may not surprise you, but it does give you exactly what you were looking for when you went in. It’s not particularly nuanced in the way it takes the piss out of the idea that merit has anything to do with wealth, but it’s also funny as hell. It’s also bloody as hell, with a lot of great gags throughout that culminate in an ending that literally pops. And of course, at the center of it all is Samara Weaving, who as usual gives a performance that cements her as one of the greats currently working in the genre. I defy you to watch the way she laughs as her in-laws get theirs in the final moments of the film and not be won over.
Knife + Heart: This is one of the most touching, beautiful, and tragic movies I’ve seen in recent memory. Framed as something of a modern giallo film, director Yann Gonzalez brings something special to the giallo structure by really spending time with his characters. This is particularly unique given that the film focuses on a group of people making gay porn, and where other filmmakers might have leaned into caricature, everyone in this film is a fully formed person. This is true all the way down the line, from emotionally toxic director Annie to the oddly endearing fluffer “Mouth of Gold” (I’m not going to define fluffer here, but if you have to look it up, I highly suggest you don’t do so at work). Even the masked killer (complete with black gloves to go with his black dildo knife) has a backstory that evokes sympathy even as he commits increasingly brutal murders. Gonzalez clearly cares about these people, which makes us care about them.
Horror Noire: I can’t imagine too many favorites list won’t include this documentary on the history of Black Americans in the horror genre, both through the lens of being forgotten, tokenized, and caricatured in predominantly white-led films as well as bringing unique perspective and execution to projects where they had more of an integral role. The talent gathered for this film is off the charts, from academics like Ashlee Blackwell, Tananarive Due, and Robin R. Means Coleman (whose book was the inspiration and namesake for the film) to some of the great genre actors/creators like Ernest R. Dickerson, Rachel True, Ken Foree, and Keith David. If nothing else, you need to see this movie to watch Foree and David sing “Monster Mash” together.
VFW: I kind of knew going into a screening of this movie at Salem Horror Fest that I was going to love it, and damn it did not disappoint. Director Joe Begos has put together a funky homage to grindhouse sleaze without hitting you too hard over the head with it. It’s grainy, bloody, and has a great synth soundtrack. But perhaps Begos’ biggest feat here is to collect the best group of genre character actors I’ve seen in... maybe ever. Of course Stephen Lang is great as the curmudgeonly owner of a run-down VFW post fending off a group of drug-addled mutant punks, but his fellow vets make the film truly sing. I mean come on... Fred Williamson, David Patrick Kelly, and George Wendt? Who does that kind of casting? And I’m just going to say this now: William Sadler should just be in everything. He makes everything he’s in better, and VFW is no exception, as he’s so damn likeable (with a healthy splash of obnoxious) in this movie.
Scream, Queen!, My Nightmare on Elm Street: Another film that I caught at Salem Horror Fest reminds us that sometimes we get so wrapped up in talking about a movie as a final product that we ignore what went on behind the scenes. In this case, for a long time much of the discourse around A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge framed the film as something of a punchline, first for being the odd man out in the NOES franchise and then for the homosexual themes that resonate throughout it. But what got lost in the sauce for such a long time was that for lead Mark Patton, a gay actor trying to navigate show business during the AIDS crisis, being unwillingly thrust into the discourse through NOES 2 had long-lasting impacts on his career and his emotional health. It’s a very bittersweet look at Patton’s life before, during, and particularly after the making of NOES 2, and what I like most about it is that whereas before Mark Patton was famous for playing Jesse, now Mark Patton will be famous for being Mark Patton.
Santa Clarita Diet Season 3: This one hurts, as Netflix announced Santa Clarita Diet’s cancellation earlier this year. But thankfully the show goes out on a high note with a third season that gave me plenty of what I love about this comedy that played with the horrors of a zombie plague mixed with the horrors of suburban life. Of everything that’s so great about the show, I’ll probably miss Timothy Olyphant’s manic smile the most. But although the team hadn’t been planning on this being the last season judging by the cliffhanger ending, the final moments still manage to be satisfying as the series’ swan song.
Marianne: This French series from Samuel Bodin focuses on a successful horror author tormented by a malevolent entity revealed to be the inspiration for her work. Much like its titular creature delights in screwing with its heroine, this show absolutely delights in screwing with its audience. I, like most horror fans, have developed a pretty thick skin and few movies legitimately scare me. Some stories might fill me with dread, and some jump scares may get me from time to time, but it’s rare that I’m legitimately frightened when watching horror anymore. Not the case with this show. There’s a scene in an early episode that made me feel like a little kid again, with goosebumps, shaking, and finding myself needing to take a short break to gather my wits. It’s a feeling I haven’t had in a long time, and I have to respect any story that can take me back to that kind of fear.
The Lady From the Black Lagoon: I remember when I found out about Milicent Patrick being the woman who designed the Creature from the Black Lagoon a few years ago, I tried digging a little bit more into her life and didn’t come up with much. I figured that was just due to my being horrible at research, but as it turns out, there truly wasn’t much work devoted to her life. So thank the universe for Mallory O'Meara, who went on an odyssey to find out who Patrick was, how she impacted the world of film, and why the hell she was disregarded for so long in the first place (spoiler: patriarchy is a hell of a drug). In The Lady From the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, O'Meara weaves the story of Patrick’s biography seamlessly with her own tale of tracking down information about the woman beyond the few nuggets that were floating around online at the time: she hunts down source documents from Patrick’s life, spends hours sifting through studio archives, and even tracks down Patrick’s relatives to wring out every ounce of information possible about an important person who was almost lost to history. It’s clearly something O'Meara cares a great deal about, and that passion comes through in every single page of the book.
The Furies: The plot for this Australian import is fairly simple. A group of women are abducted and stranded in a remote location as unwilling participants in a game where they are hunted by a group of grisly mutants, with the last woman standing being the “winner.” It’s nothing Earth-shattering in terms of premise, but it’s executed beautifully. Or should I say horrifically, as it’s a brutally gory movie, from the gnarly makeup design for the various mutants to the gloriously bloody kills. One extended sequence featuring a hatchet is particularly harrowing and may be the best kill gag of 2019.
Knives and Skin: I debated whether or not to include this one in my favorites list, as it’s not strictly horror. But writer/director Jennifer Reeder infuses a sense of eeriness and unease throughout this tale about a town dealing with the fallout of a local high school girl who goes missing. The dialogue in particular is written in such a way that it’s just two or three degrees off how people naturally interact with one another. The result is a tale that gives you a feeling that something just isn’t quite right, mirroring the sense that things just aren’t quite right with the people in this town. It takes some getting used to, but if you can hone in on the film’s frequency, it’s a very satisfying experience made better by some really interesting color palettes and a haunting soundtrack.
Want to know what other members of the Daily Dead team enjoyed in 2019? Visit our online hub to catch up on all of our Favorites of 2019 lists!