This past year was simply too good for horror fans.
I wasn’t sure where to even start making a list of favorites for 2017. Theatrical horror killed it like never before, the indie scene remains vital and strong, horror TV is bigger than ever, and cult and boutique video labels continue putting out gorgeous Blu-rays of gem after gem. There’s really too much to include here. Movies like Get Out, The Shape of Water, and Raw are absolutely among my favorites of the year, but because I’ve talked about them elsewhere and they’ve previously been covered by my brilliant colleagues here at Daily Dead, I’ll try to focus on some other picks instead.
Here, in no real order, are some of my favorites in horror for 2017:
Stephen King: 2017 was one of the best years to be a Stephen King fan I can remember in my lifetime, and I say this as someone who has been a Constant Reader since middle school. In addition to Sleeping Beauties, a new novel that King co-wrote with his son Owen, there was the TV series adaption of Mr. Mercedes, starring a perfectly-cast Brendan Gleeson as retired detective Bill Hodges, the hero of three of King’s most recent novels.
Netflix gave us two stellar feature film adaptations of King’s work. First, there was 1922 (from the story in Full Dark, No Stars), starring an unrecognizably emaciated Thomas Jane as a man who enlists his son into helping with a murder and then experiences a long, slow, rot of the soul in its wake. Screenwriter and director Zak Hilditch fully embraces the impossibly grim and bleak worldview present in King’s story, making for a movie that can be unpleasant but which is beautifully made and leans into the “horror” side of being a horror movie.
Perhaps even more notable is Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Gerald’s Game, starring Carla Gugino as a wife handcuffed to a bed after her husband (Bruce Greenwood) suddenly passes during a sexual encounter. The novel seemed impossible to adapt: it’s set almost entirely in one room with a single character who can’t move and deals with some fairly ugly violence and sexuality. Flanagan, one of the most talented and exciting voices working in horror today, overcomes nearly every obstacle in adapting the material and creates a tense, sad, horrifying (the hand!), and ultimately inspiring film anchored by a career-best performance from Carla Gugino and fantastic support from Bruce Greenwood. Gerald’s Game is a great psychological thriller, a movie that is genuinely scary, and a powerful story about dealing with abuse. That it’s not the best King adaption in a decade is a total shock.
Alas, that title belongs to IT, director Andy Muschetti’s adaptation of what is probably my favorite King book (and which was adapted once before in a very popular TV miniseries in 1990). The new IT is really just “Chapter One,” as it deals only with the childhood stuff that makes up half of the story. Everything about the movie works, from the casting of the kids to their beautiful relationships to Bill Skarsgård's turn as Pennywise (filling the large clown shoes of previous Pennywise Tim Curry) to the feeling of nostalgia that permeates the proceedings, though never in a way that’s cheap or cynical. The movie became a legitimate phenomenon, breaking records for R-rated horror at the box office and becoming one of the highest-grossing movies of the year. It’s scary, it’s fun, it’s exploding with heart and all the things that we horror fans love about the genre. It isn’t just my favorite horror movie of the year, but my favorite movie of the year in any genre, period.
Suspiria 4K Restoration on Blu-ray: I mean, of course it’s on this list. Synapse has released not just the best Blu-ray of the year, but one of the best restorations I’ve ever seen of one of the best horror movies ever made. I had the opportunity to see their 4K restoration of the movie on the big screen earlier this year and it was one of the best theatrical experiences I had in 2017, but the fact that I can now watch this perfect presentation of this perfect movie again and again at home is life-changing. The extra features Synapse has included are terrific and the inclusion of a soundtrack is a nice touch (because now I can officially retire my old Anchor Bay DVD), but it’s the pristine image and audio that will be bringing me back to this disc once a month for the rest of my life.
A Dark Song: Writer/director Liam Gavin’s debut feature is a beautiful, heartbreaking, and ambitious mediation on grief. Catherine Walker is stunning as a woman who hires a man (Steve Oram) to perform a ritual that will put her back in touch with a lost loved one. I don’t want to say more about the movie than that, because watching the way the film unfolds and goes to places few other filmmakers would ever dare go is one of its greatest joys. I love the performances, I love the way the film focuses on just these two characters as their relationship continues to evolve, I love how seriously Gavin approaches the occult. I love pretty much everything about this movie.
Shock Waves: Every year since I started writing these “best of” lists here at Daily Dead, I’ve included Shock Waves (formerly Killer POV), my favorite podcast on the internet. It’s weirder to call it the best horror podcast out there now that we have our own Corpse Club podcast on Daily Dead, but I also think the two shows are different enough that I can still totally adore Shock Waves while being proud of Corpse Club. Hosted by Rob Galluzzo, Rebekah McKendry, Elric Kane, and Ryan Turek, Shock Waves is my favorite horror hangout: a show devoted to talking about horror movies from a place of both affection and informed opinion. The conversations are loose and entertaining and enthusiastic, always making me want to watch more movies (or revisit some I love) and letting me get to know the filmmakers who appear as guests a little better. As a result, it makes me like their work better, too. Shock Waves helps me to be a better horror fan.
Victor Crowley: I don’t know that I would call Victor Crowley the best movie in the Hatchet franchise—I want to see it a couple more times and live with it longer first—but it is the most ambitious and technically accomplished in a series that helped bring the fun of old-school slasher splatter back to the horror genre. But the story behind Victor Crowley is so cool and so inspiring that I couldn’t not put it on this list: writer/director Adam Green worked on the film in secret over two years on the advice of the late, great George Romero (to whom the movie is dedicated, alongside Wes Craven) and then revealed it to an unsuspecting L.A. audience attending what they thought was a 10th anniversary screening of Hatchet, the movie that started it all.
Green took the movie on tour all over the country (including a stop in Chicago, which is where I saw it!), traveling from city to city, talking to audiences, posing for pictures, and demonstrating to all of us that while many of the greats may be passing on, there is a new generation of filmmakers who will bust their asses to keep that connection with the fans. Victor Crowley is a reminder that sequels and icons are woven into the fabric of horror movies since their inception and should be celebrated. This one celebrates them. Thanks, Adam Green.
The Paul Naschy Collection Volumes 1 and 2: Scream Factory put out not one but two collections of films from Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy, who starred in (as well as sometimes wrote and directed) dozens of crazy horror movies over the course of his 40-year career. While there isn’t much rhyme or reason to the films collected in these two volumes, they do provide a good sampling of all the different kinds of movies Naschy made: titles like Horror Rises from the Tomb, Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, A Dragonfly for Each Corpse, Night of the Werewolf, and The Werewolf and the Yeti should offer some insight into just how varied and wild Naschy’s filmography was. While they’re best known for delivering excellent editions of many of our favorite horror movies of the ’80s and ’90s, I love that Scream Factory sometimes uses the power of their label to shine a spotlight on a cult figure like Naschy, who may not be known to quite so wide an audience, but whose contributions to the genre are no less substantial.
Psychopaths: The latest film from Mickey Keating didn’t get as much traction as I hoped it would when it was quietly released in the final weeks of 2017. That’s a shame, as his fifth feature is his craziest, slickest, most entertaining work to date. Tracking a single night in which a series of killers—among them Ashley Bell, Angela Trimbur, and Sam Zimmerman hidden under a mask—act upon their sickest impulses and commit horrible acts of savagery, Psychopaths is a sprawling, psychedelic, and often darkly comic look at madness and random violence. It may not always make complete sense, but the movie cops to that, too. Keating continues to grow into himself as a filmmaker, finding his voice and honing his craft. Psychopaths showcases the best of both. I didn’t see another movie like this one all year.
George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn Blu-ray Box Set: It was hard losing George Romero in 2017, but at the very least he leaves behind a fierce spirit of independence and a legendary body of work we can celebrate forever. Arrow Video helps us celebrate with their release of three lesser-known Romero titles, at least two of which had never before been released in high def: There’s Always Vanilla, Season of the Witch, and The Crazies. While I might not personally include any of the three titles on my list of favorite Romero films, every one of them is worth seeing as a way of deepening one’s appreciation and understanding of one of the greatest genre filmmakers of all time. The films all get excellent new transfers (a new 2K scan for Vanilla, and 4K scans for the other two) and a nice collection of bonus features, the high point of which is an hour-long conversation between Romero and director Guillermo del Toro. There will always be a void left by Romero, but being able to fill in a few of the holes in his filmography helps us to better appreciate what a thoughtful, progressive, singular talent he was. I miss you, George.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter: It’s nice to finally be able to include this on a best-of list because the movie finally saw the light of day outside of the festival circuit in 2017. Writer/director Oz Perkins’ debut feature is slow-burn horror at its best: a coming-of-age tragedy about Satanism and the destruction of the American family. That it took so long to get an official release and had already been seen by so many horror fans and journalists (under its original title February) diminished its impact—instead of being properly blown away by it in 2017, too many of us were simply breathing a sigh of relief—but The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a movie with lasting power. In just a few years, it’s going to be talked about and appreciated the same way The House of the Devil is. Just wait.
Shudder: What began just a few years ago as a “streaming service for horror fans” has become an absolute necessity for anyone who’s serious about the genre. While the catalogue of favorites, deep cuts, and curiosities continues to expand every week, the folks curating at Shudder have branched out and begun programming exclusives like Ken Russell’s The Devils as well as acquiring festival favorites only available on their service—movies like Prevenge, Lake Bodom, and Found Footage 3D. They’ve even launched some original programming in 2017, such as the very entertaining horror-themed “talk” show The Core, hosted by Mickey Keating. Netflix and Hulu are great and all, but Shudder has become the one streaming service I can’t live without.
The Devil’s Honey on Blu-ray: This was the year that Severin Films released a gorgeous Blu-ray of a Lucio Fulci movie that I a) had never seen, b) had never heard of, and c) totally loved. Made after a long break in directing when the Maestro caught ill with hepatitis, The Devil’s Honey could be called Fulci’s “erotic thriller,” but that might suggest there’s something erotic about a woman being brought to orgasm by a man playing saxophone directly into her genital region. Yes, that’s a thing that happens in the first 10 minutes of The Devil’s Honey, because this is a movie that does not disappoint. If you can stick with it through that initial lunacy—and if you’re sitting down to watch a Fulci movie, something tells me you can—the movie actually becomes a really interesting psychological drama about grief and sexuality in a way that feels different than almost anything else the director made. It immediately jumped near the top of my list of favorite Fulci films.
Mayhem: Not exactly a horror movie, the latest feature from Joe Lynch certainly uses the visual language of a zombie outbreak movie, combines it with Romero’s The Crazies and some excellent satire about modern-day corporate politics, lack of responsibility, and cutthroat capitalism. It’s also super entertaining. Steven Yeun makes a successful leap from his miserable exit on The Walking Dead to being a great leading man, and Samara Weaving gives one of my favorite breakout performances of the year (she had several of them in 2017; this one is the best). As a massive fan of Joe Lynch, this feels like the most Joe Lynch movie to date: it has the technical precision of Everly, the celebratory hunger of Wrong Turn 2, and the anarchic sense of humor you’ll recognize if you’ve been following Joe Lynch as long as I have. For the rest of my life, this is the movie I plan to put on any time I have a bad day at work.
Other Stuff I Loved This Year:
Movies I Still Need to See:
Want to know what other members of the Daily Dead team enjoyed in 2017? Catch up on all of our favorites coverage here.