There was so much good horror in 2018 that it was tough to pick just a few highlights. At the same time, the big standouts—the return of both Fangoria and Joe Bob Briggs, Jamie Lee Curtis in a new Halloween movie that was actually good—were so obvious that I’m guessing most of my colleagues making “best of” horror lists can’t avoid including them. I’m no different. Here are just some of my favorite things in the genre this year:
Hereditary: The horror movie of the year. Writer/director Ari Aster’s debut feature feels like the work of an accomplished veteran—totally sure of itself, totally in control, totally terrifying. Even before it becomes the scariest movie of 2018, it’s a compelling family drama about Toni Collette (giving arguably the best performance of any actor this year; if only the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences actually acknowledged genre films) and family dealing with loss and generational trauma. It’s the sort of “slow burn” horror for which I know not everyone has the patience, but the buildup is brilliant and the payoff in the last few minutes is totally and completely worth the wait. There are images (and sounds) in Hereditary that will never be out of my head.
Shudder: I feel like Shudder has made my list every year since its inception, but this year the streaming service really outdid itself. First and foremost, they brought back the great Joe Bob Briggs for a series of marathons (one 24-hour marathon during the summer, then a mini marathon at both Thanksgiving and Christmas) hosted by America’s premier drive-in movie expert. Sure, there were some technical goofs—the first marathon was so popular it crashed the network—but such is the drawing power of Joe Bob.
These special events were so successful that Shudder has now announced Briggs (aka John Bloom) as a regular fixture beginning in 2019. But that’s not all! Shudder also served as the exclusive home to some of the year’s best movies—Mandy and Revenge among them—as well as premiering a number of excellent titles like Terrified, Satan’s Slaves, The Witch in the Window, Sequence Break, Summer of ’84, and Cold Hell, to name just a few. They introduced a talk show, The Core, hosted by Mickey Keating! They’re bringing Creepshow back as an anthology series! In just a short amount of time, Shudder has become horror’s water cooler, going from a “nice to have” to an absolute essential for genre fans.
Mandy: Though it was threatened to be swallowed up by ironic Cheddar Goblin references and “Film Twitter” hype, Mandy remains one of my absolute favorite experiences of the year. That’s right: experiences. It’s more than just a movie. It’s designed to be seen and heard and felt. Panos Cosmatos brought the year’s most singular vision to thrilling life: wild, beautiful, hallucinatory, insane. Nicolas Cage does some of his best work in years as husband of the titular character (a heartbreaking Andrea Riseborough); his bathroom freakout alone is worth the price of admission. Of all the movies I saw in 2018, I know Mandy is the one I’m going to be coming back to the most in my life.
Fangoria: Proof that nothing in horror stays dead. After the horror institution had seemingly been run into the ground by mismanagement at the highest levels, Fangoria rose from the ashes this year with new ownership, a new editorial staff, and a new model: instead of a monthly publication, it’s now four catalogue-size issues each year. Not only was the content of the first issue (dedicated largely to the 40th anniversary of Halloween) stellar, but the magazine’s resurrection was a cause for celebration that brought us horror fans together in a really fun way.
Revenge: With her amazing—and amazingly bloody—first feature film, director Coralie Fargeat has hopefully killed the rape revenge movie dead. Matilda Lutz becomes a movie star as a woman who survives a brutal assault and turns the tables on her attackers, and the way it all plays out is visceral and violent and relentless. By filtering the sub-genre through a female lens, Fargeat turned tropes—and the male gaze—on their heads and out-directed almost every other filmmaker this year. Her next movie can’t come soon enough.
Death Waltz’s Halloween Soundtracks: I have tried really hard not to get too deep into collecting horror soundtracks on vinyl, because I know myself well enough to know that I have the mentality that makes it hard to stop once I get started… and that’s an expensive hobby. But Mondo and Death Waltz took advantage of the 40th anniversary of John Carpenter’s Halloween to reissue and/or repress the scores for the first five films in the franchise on vinyl, and it was too tempting to pass up. The new artwork and records are gorgeous, but it’s revisiting the scores by Carpenter and Alan Howarth that makes this collection one of my favorite things in horror this year. Great music in a great package.
The Ranger: After an impressive career behind the scenes as a producer of some very cool movies (many of which were made through Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix), Jenn Wexler stepped behind the camera this year to make the energetic, super entertaining punk rock slasher, The Ranger. Chloe Levine leads an ensemble of young people hiding out in the woods and running afoul of a psychotic park ranger, played by Jeremy Holm in a really fun and demented performance. Like all the best punk songs, this is all rough edges and raucous spirit, but with a lot on its mind, like the way Wexler interprets the relationship between killer and Final Girl. The movie feels like stuff we love from the ’80s but never fetishizes the ’80s in its aesthetics the way so many other indie horror films do these days. Of all the movies released this year, The Ranger is the one I want to put on at parties… if I ever got invited or went to parties.
Horror Movies on Blu-ray: The embarrassment of riches continued in 2018. Just when I think there’s never been a better time to collect horror and cult films on physical media, along comes this year’s crop of stunning releases: Scream Factory put out Creepshow and Candyman and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and In the Mouth of Madness and the It’s Alive franchise and all of the Critters movies and The Mangler and on and on and on. Arrow put out special editions of The Cat O’ Nine Tails and Deep Red and Killer Klowns from Outer Space and Scalpel. We got remastered Blu-ray releases of Cutting Class and Mausoleum and Murderock and Perversion Story and Trilogy of Terror and The Night Stalker and Night of the Demon and the list just keeps going. Even The Criterion Collection put out a gorgeous 4K master of Night of the Living Dead and a special edition of The Silence of the Lambs. Streaming continues to make physical media more and more obsolete, but not if you’re a horror fan. Things have never been better for us.
The Pool Scene in The Strangers: Prey at Night: I know not everyone loved Johannes Roberts’ sequel to The Strangers (I find it to be pretty underrated myself), but the swimming pool sequence halfway through—an encounter between star Lewis Pullman and several of the Strangers set to Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”—is one of the best scenes in any movie this year.
Eli Roth’s History of Horror: I was a little skeptical of this AMC limited series, especially when I discovered the network seemed to be burying it in a Sunday midnight time slot hours after The Walking Dead. And while the show, which devoted individual installments to sub-genres like “vampires,” “zombies,” and two full episodes to “slashers,” was somewhat rudimentary for longtime horror fans, there were enough carefully chosen clips and impressive talking heads (including Stephen King, Quentin Tarantino, and Rob Zombie) to make this an excellent celebration of horror in a year that celebrated horror a whole lot.
Want to know what other members of the Daily Dead team enjoyed in 2018? Catch up on all of our favorites coverage here.