Zombies, aliens, creepy cults, and the return of The Shape—when I look back at 2018, it’s hard to believe that everything I watched, read, and experienced happened within a 12-month span instead of a 12-year span. In a decade that has been a golden age for horror, 2018 was the best year yet, and I have no doubt that years from now, people will look back at this past calendar year as one of the most fruitful and influential for the horror genre. But that will be decades down the line, and while we’re all still here, comfortably snuggled between horror’s successes of 2018 and the alluring potential of everything to come in 2019, I’d like to take a few moments out of your day to reflect on some of my fondest experiences from what has been a historical high for the genre we all know and love.
The Ritual: This is the scariest movie set in the woods that I’ve seen since The Blair Witch Project. Is it more like two different movies with two different plots? Yes, but there’s a painfully poignant emotional thread running through it all, as Rafe Spall is pitch-perfect as Luke, a man grieving for his fallen friend… and his own youthfulness. Director David Bruckner and production designer Adrian Curelea bring Luke’s haunted past to life onscreen in vivid fashion, as tree roots and leaves bleed into floor tiles and fluorescent lights in the dark, dreamlike depths of the forest (all that’s missing is Freddy Krueger’s claws scraping against tree bark). Through his approach to filming the movie’s uber-creepy monster, Bruckner makes the woods scary as hell, and I can only wonder what his Friday the 13th movie would have looked like...
Unsane: I bought a ticket to this film mainly to see how Steven Soderbergh filmed it with an iPhone, but I got so much more out of it than just crafty filmmaking techniques (although the movie being filmed on an iPhone definitely enhances the story, making the movie's mental institution a claustrophobic and confrontational place). As impressive as it is that Soderbergh and his crew made Unsane on a mobile device, the movie’s characters immerse you in the world in front of the camera, as any good ensemble will do.
It didn’t take long for me to become fully engrossed in the mind-bending story of Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy), her potential stalker (Joshua Leonard), and the disturbing time Sawyer spends against her will in a mental institution. You may be able to see where this story is going before it gets there, but the cast is so damn good that you won’t care. Soderbergh and company really go for the R rating, too, making this a much more harrowing viewing experience than expected. I saw this back in March, but it’s stuck with me longer than other movies I’ve seen later in the year, thanks in part to great supporting performances by Jay Pharoah and Juno Temple, and Soderbergh’s ability to continue being one of the most versatile storytellers of his generation.
Overlord: Growing up, I spent hours watching my uncle play Wolfenstein on the computer at my grandparents’ house (the same home where I was introduced to the terrifying fog of Silent Hill, the Graboids of Tremors, and Chucky's creepy cackle). While Overlord isn’t part of the Wolfenstein franchise, it easily could be. World War II setting? Check. Creepy castle? Check. Nazi scientists conducting body-mutating experiments? Double check.
Everything I adore about Wolfenstein is in Overlord, and Bad Robot and company really go for the jugular in this R-rated romp, not shying away from getting gory when the story demands it. The biggest reason Overlord works, though, is because it captures the horrors of war before the horrors of its undead experiments even enter the picture. Wyatt Russell brings the gritty goods as Ford, and I have to imagine that his dad (who also made a splash this year as Santa Claus in The Christmas Chronicles) is proud.
Hereditary: Yes, as you may have expected, Ari Aster’s first feature film is nestled safe and sound on this list, but it’s also one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. Not necessarily scary in the “I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat” scary, but the even more unsettling “my psyche is forever haunted by what I saw” scary.
Although Hereditary goes full-on rollercoaster drop into Horror Land in the third act, it’s the family drama and terrible tragedy in the movie’s earlier segments that spooked me the most. Watching Annie’s family argue at the dinner table and brood around their shadowy home, I felt like I was watching something I shouldn’t be seeing—a fly on the wall when I wanted to be anywhere else. But that uncomfortable tension is necessary to ground Aster’s ambitious story in an all-too-real domestic world, and I give it high marks on that front alone. On the acting side, Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, and Milly Shapiro certainly deserve all of the praise and then some, but to me, the film’s secret weapon is Gabriel Byrne, who plays the role of worn-out family peacekeeper to perfection. It’s a heartbreaking performance in a heartbreaking movie.
Jamie Lee Curtis’ Performance in Halloween: I need to watch the new Halloween at least one more time to come to terms with how I feel about its story, but one thing I’m already certain of is that Jamie Lee Curtis deserves an Oscar nomination for her performance (alongside Toni Collette for Hereditary, of course).
If you missed it, Heather Wixson wrote a fantastic piece that examines Curtis’ performance, and there are so many nuances and subtle aspects of Curtis’ delivery to admire. Is Curtis playing a badass? Yes, but she’s also incredibly vulnerable and flawed, making her more relatable and likable, even when she’s making controversial choices. I’ve been a big fan of how Curtis has played Laurie Strode throughout the Halloween franchise (and yes, that includes Halloween: H20 and Halloween: Resurrection), and that streak continues with her dynamic, heartbreaking performance in the new Halloween. Long live Laurie.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (and Riverdale): If you think about it, the Harry Potter movies have some horror movie blood in their DNA. A lot of creepy stuff happens in Hogwarts, and I’ve wondered what an all-out horror movie in that universe would look like. Well, thanks to Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, I don’t have to wait any longer. Substitute Hogwarts with the Academy of Unseen Arts, and Harry Potter with Sabrina Spellman and expelliarmus!—you have a Hogwarts horror movie (or in this case, series).
All Harry Potter comparisons aside, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina stands tall on its own two feet (or hooves, if you consider it from the Dark Lord’s point of view), and I’m so glad that Netflix has given Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa the keys to adapt his comic book series of the same name (featuring his own macabre twist on the classic Archie Comics character).
I also have to thank Chilling Adventures of Sabrina for getting me to finally watch The CW’s Riverdale (also developed by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa), which is as addictive to horror fans as a strong dose of jingle jangle. Set in a shared universe that has already briefly crossed over (with a full-on crossover seemingly inevitable), Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Riverdale are brimming with horror tributes made by horror fans in the writers' room and behind the camera. What's most impressive, though, is how both of these shows manage to tell their own stories while honoring the horror genre’s past, resulting in a unique modern-vintage style that's all their own.
Colony Season 3: Why do all good things have to come to an end? That’s the question I was asking myself after the devastating news that USA Network would not be moving forward with a third season of Colony. It’s a shame, since the third season of the series was the best one yet in a show that was already top-notch from its very first episode.
You could call Colony a sci-fi series, but that was really only one side of its multi-faceted story. As much as it was a series about extraterrestrials invading Earth and dividing them into collaborators and resistors, Colony was about a family straining to understand and love each other as the world crumbled around them under the weight of anger, distrust, and the fear of “the other.” Every episode, Josh Holloway and Sarah Wayne Callies proved why they’re two of the most reliable actors working in TV, and Peter Jacobson deserves an award for making Alan Snyder much more complex, heartbreaking, and human than he was at first glance. Like many fans of many series that ended on cliffhangers over the years, I'm left wondering what will happen next. Somehow, some way, perhaps one day we'll find out...
Preacher Season 3: Was this my favorite season of AMC's Preacher? No. That title still goes to the bonkers second season that featured one of my favorite fight scenes of all-time. But even so, Preacher continues to be the most fearless and eclectic TV series I’ve ever seen. While executive producers Sam Catlin, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg continue to deviate from Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s cult comic book series, they do so in intriguing ways, and the further the series goes, the more they also interweave familiar elements from the game-changing source material.
The main setting for this season was Angelville, and it was anything but heavenly for Jesse Custer, as Betty Buckley’s menacing portrayal of Gran’ma made Jesse’s time back home seem like Hell on Earth (sometimes quite literally, especially when a familiar horned figure paid a visit). The stage is now set for the most epic showdowns to come on the series, so here’s hoping we get more adventures with Jesse, Tulip, and their vampire friend Cassidy.
Terror is Our Business: Dana Roberts’ Casebook of Horrors: I was already a lifelong fan of Joe R. Lansdale when I picked up a copy of this book, but I hadn’t read any stories by his daughter, Kasey Lansdale. After turning the final page in this collection of short stories, I can safely say that I’m a fan of both. Focused primarily on Dana Roberts, investigator of what she calls the “supernormal” (rather than the supernatural), Terror is Our Business features some of the most unique and entertaining horror tales I’ve ever read, all slathered with that spicy Lansdale humor.
Kasey shares her father’s gift for storytelling, and her collaborations with Joe in this collection (most of which feature Dana with her humorous assistant, Jana) prove that Kasey has a lot of skill when it comes to creating compelling characters and memorable—sometimes truly haunting—adventures. The most spooky of all six stories in this collection? To me, it’s Joe’s “The Case of the Stalking Shadow,” which is my new favorite cosmic horror story.
You May Now Kill the Bride: R.L. Stine may be best known for Goosebumps, but he holds a special place in my heart for his Fear Street books, those stories that seemed so forbidden to me as a kid with their slasher covers and murder mystery plots. Growing up, I collected them anyway, gathering them up at garage sales through seemingly endless summers, storing them on a special shelf until I was ready to make the transition from Goosebumps to Fear Street. When the time came, I wasn’t disappointed, instantly becoming a lifelong Fear Street fan.
While the series has made numerous returns after its initial run over the years, I was most excited by the Return to Fear Street series, which kicked off this past summer with You May Now Kill the Bride. I was sold with just one look at the retro cover art by Justin Erickson (and designed by Jenna Stempel-Lobell), but the story within the gorgeous artwork was just as entrancing.
Diving headfirst into the tragic history and present-day turmoil of the Fear family, You May Now Kill the Bride features Stine at his most versatile and edgy yet (in the YA realm, that is—he’s definitely gone full-on R-rated in the past with Superstitious and Red Rain). Switching between the 1920s and the modern-day, the first entry in Return to Fear Street features a melting pot of some classic horror story elements, and to say that there are a few sharp left turns is an understatement. While readers may not be along for the ride on all of these nerve-jangling twists (further elaboration would only spoil the surprises), I had a blast following Stine’s prose through one of his wildest and boldest stories to date. I always feel like a kid again when I read anything by Stine, and I look forward to experiencing that feeling again and again on many return trips to Shadyside.
Fear The Walking Dead: Survival: While there’s plenty to enjoy on the vibrantly lit main strip in Las Vegas, my family and I always make it a point to visit Fremont Street at least one night during our stay in the desert oasis. The outdoor bands, overhead zip-liners, and dazzling lights all blend together into one carnival-esque cornucopia of entertainment. This year, the living dead joined the Fremont Street fun at Fear The Walking Dead: Survival, an immersive experience based on the AMC series of (mostly) the same name. Being a big fan of Fear The Walking Dead, I was admittedly already psyched to take part in any Vegas event bearing its name, but even as its own entity, FTWD: Survival is a total blast.
Equal parts escape room, immersive experience, and virtual reality video game, FTWD: Survival places you smack-dab in the center of a quarantine run by a group of increasingly stressed-out soldiers. Amidst distant screams and blood-spattered concrete, you’re screened for viruses, placed in cages, and forced to fight your way out of your would-be sanctuary when all hell breaks loose—with an appetite. Suffice to say that wiggling my way through body bags, evading the living dead through puzzle-solving, and fighting off the infected with firearms in the experience’s virtual reality stage is a Vegas experience that I’ll always treasure—and I think the same goes for my mom, dad, sister, and brother-in-law, who all made it to the end.
Dance of the Dead Anniversary Screenings: If you had told 2008 Derek that 10 years later, he would get the chance to host anniversary screenings of Gregg Bishop's Dance of the Dead, he would have said you were hotboxing the garage. For those who haven’t heard me ranting and raving over the past few years, Dance of the Dead is a very special movie to me—one of my all-time favorites. It’s Breakfast Club meets Dawn of the Dead (2004) with a punk rock attitude, and I’ve loved it dearly ever since my sister and I watched it as a blind rental from the Blockbuster down the street over a decade ago.
This year I was blessed with the opportunity to host two anniversary screenings for Dance of the Dead—one in Atlanta, not far from where the film was made, and one in Los Angeles, where many of the cast and crew now reside. One blood-stained tuxedo and a whole lot of memories later, I can look back fondly at those screenings and feel like I helped give Dance of the Dead the celebration it deserves. Watching the cast and crew reunite—some of them for the first time since the movie was made—are moments I’ll always keep close to my zombie-loving heart. And none of it would have been possible without writer Joe Ballarini, director Gregg Bishop, Rachel Belofsky and her amazing Screamfest team, and, of course, Daily Dead!
Flashback Weekend: The great thing about horror conventions is that even if you can recite the lineup and programming schedule by heart, you never know exactly what is going to happen (especially with five Jason Voorhees actors in the room). With that in mind, the one thing I did know going into Flashback Weekend Chicago was that it was going to be an epic time, one that would unite fellow Daily Dead and Corpse Club team members, including my first time meeting Scott Drebit and his wife, Michelle, in person.
The weekend was indeed one for the books. Heather Wixson hosted panels and autographed copies of her book, Monster Squad: Celebrating the Artists Behind Cinema's Most Memorable Creatures, a live episode of Corpse Club was recorded, Patrick Bromley and other F This Movie! friends JB and Adam Riske, joined us for convention floor adventures, and Scott and I even convinced a local singer to do an acoustic cover of Loverboy’s “Working for the Weekend.” There were also great times to be had with Daily Dead Editor-in-Chief Jonathan, his wife Christy, and brother Jordan, all of whom I've gotten to know and hang out with many times over the last several years—something I'm very grateful for. As Agent Cooper would say, it was a “damn fine” weekend (the kind that you would scrapbook if you’re so inclined), and one that I'll look back at fondly for the rest of my days.
Want to know what other members of the Daily Dead team enjoyed in 2018? Catch up on all of our favorites coverage here.