Another year has come and gone, and it was another great one for horror. Theatrical horror, indie horror, physical media, streaming, books, TV—there was so much good stuff I couldn’t even get to all of it, though I gave it my best effort. Here are some of my favorites of 2019 in no particular order.
Shudder: In just a few short years, Shudder has become the single most essential must-have for every horror fan. Their library grows more expansive and impressive every week, their curation of beloved favorites, smaller and lesser-known indies, and horror from around the globe impeccable. This year alone they featured the likes of Tigers Are Not Afraid, the Tom Savini documentary Smoke and Mirrors, One Cut of the Dead, Belzebuth, The Furies, Get My Gun, Hagazussa, Knife + Heart, The Ranger, the documentary Horror Noire, The Head Hunter, and so, so many more. A number of my favorite horror films of this and recent years can be found on the service, and there are countless other discoveries still waiting for me there. They’ve also got Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In and his holiday specials, plus this year debuted the original anthology horror series Creepshow. They really do just keep getting better every year. I can’t imagine being a fan of the genre and not having Shudder. It’s the best.
Chelsea Stardust Double Feature: All That We Destroy and Satanic Panic: Director Chelsea Stardust had a huge year: her first feature, a small and thoughtful science fiction horror film called All That We Destroy, premiered in May as part of Hulu’s Into the Dark series and proved to be the best installment of that series’ first season. Just a few months later, Stardust’s follow-up feature Satanic Panic came out in limited release and on VOD. The movie, about a pizza delivery employee (Hayley Griffith) who accidentally wanders into a satanic ritual in the suburbs, is the year’s best horror comedy: gory, goofy, and great. It’s the kind of film where you can tell everyone involved is having the time of their lives and it couldn’t be more different from Stardust’s previous effort, demonstrating her range and versatility. Of all the new voices in horror in 2019, hers is one of the most promising and exciting.
Close Calls: The debut feature from writer/director Richard Stringham played festivals back in 2017, but I don’t think got a real release (on VOD and Blu-ray) until this past year, making it eligible for this list. At least, I think. Mostly I just hope to turn people on to its beautiful weirdness, the tale of a troubled young woman (Jordan Phipps, who spends pretty much the entirety of the film in her underwear) grounded and stuck at home caring for a sick grandmother while having to fend off various dangers, from sexual predators to obscene phone calls to a wicked would-be stepmother. It’s pure exploitation, but with something real on its mind. There’s the vibe of an early ’80s slasher, but with the photography and flavor of the films of great Italians like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. I’m still not sure I understand all of it (the movie goes to some unexpected places), but I’m so caught up in the aesthetic and in how the movie feels to be too distracted by narrative questions. It’s one of my favorite indie discoveries of the year, and if I can get more people to see it, I will feel like I’ve done my job.
Midsommar: Writer/director Ari Aster’s follow-up to Hereditary (my favorite horror movie of last year) is a divisive one, with many of its critics saying that every plot beat is telegraphed or that characters’ fates don’t always match their actions. Okay. These things didn’t bother me for various reasons. Instead, I was drawn into the hypnotic daylight horror of it all, by Florence Pugh’s wounded performance as a woman who finds strength in an unlikely place, by the increasing dread, by the nightmarish imagery. Midsommar cements Aster as a real-deal master of horror, and I hope he continues to work in the genre for a long, long time.
IT Chapter Two: No, it’s not as strong and cohesive a movie as the first installment. Yes, the narrative is a little unwieldy and the de-aging effects are distracting. Yes, that needle drop is super weird. But so few big, expensive studio horror films have the courage to be as big or as weird as this one. The fact that Chapter Two runs into some of the same pitfalls as the second half of the 1990 miniseries suggests that this material is harder to adapt than the stuff with the kids, but there’s too much good here for the film to be written off. Bill Hader’s performance (as grown up Richie Tozier) alone, coupled with some incredible set pieces and well-earned emotional beats make this one of my favorite horror films of the year. I know I’m in the minority on this one.
Doctor Sleep: In a year with a lot of good horror movies, this might just be the horror movie of the year. Mike Flanagan continues to amaze with this adaptation of Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining, about a grown-up Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) befriending a young girl (Kyliegh Curran) with powers similar to his own and doing battle with a kind of energy vampire known as Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). Flanagan’s film works as adaptation, as its own thing, and as part of his growing canon of horror films about how we heal from the scars of our pasts. Most impressively, it’s a respectful and effective sequel to one of the best-loved horror movies ever made—a seemingly impossible task. Flanagan worked miracles with this one.
Scream Factory: I know I include them on every one of these lists, but they continue to do great work year after year. Just consider some of what they put out this year: three Universal Horror Collection box sets, The Fly Collection, Vampires, The Prophecy, Big Trouble in Little China, a color-corrected edition of John Badham’s Dracula, The Omen Collection, Night of the Creeps, a bunch of Hammer horror films, Vice Squad (in its long-awaited Blu-ray debut), and perhaps best of all: Chuck Russell’s 1988 remake of The Blob. Though previously available on Blu-ray in limited form from Twilight Time, Scream Factory’s edition is so jam-packed with bonus features and commentaries (including one from Joe Lynch, one of my favorite contemporary filmmakers and the world’s number-one Blob fan) that it would take days to get through everything. It might just be the best horror release of the year, though all of its major competition also comes from Scream Factory. Just when I think they’re going to run out of titles to release, they continue to surprise me.
The Furies: This Australian effort is the year’s best slasher movie, one of the purest entries that subgenre has seen in some time while still managing to have something to say not just about slasher movies, but about class and opportunity as well. Here’s what I originally wrote in my review when the film had its Shudder premiere: “The Furies understands that the way to horror fans’ hearts is to offer something new inside of something familiar. A few turns in the third act and some of the movie’s more science fiction aspects don’t land as well as the rest of it, but it’s all so clever and skillfully executed that it’s hard for me to care that it’s imperfect. A gory blast from start to finish, The Furies is just the shot in the arm that the slasher subgenre needs to become relevant again, and as someone who adores slasher movies, it’s a revival that can’t come soon enough.” I still stand behind those words.
Sheri Moon Zombie in 3 From Hell: A great performance from an actor too often dismissed. Sheri Moon Zombie’s best performance to date is in this year's 3 From Hell, writer/director Rob Zombie's long-awaited follow-up to 2005's The Devil's Rejects. Reprising her role as Baby Firefly (the character she played in both Rejects and House of 1000 Corpses), Sheri Moon manages to be both the scariest part of the film and its unexpected soul. She's the only returning character to take her role in a new direction, and unquestionably the most entertaining and unpredictable aspect of the entire film. She's so good, in fact, that 3 From Hell winds up being Baby's movie. She has a character arc when no one else does. She's simultaneously horrifying and sympathetic when no one else is. The movie is uneven and pretty flawed, but Sheri Moon Zombie's performance is something special.
Shock Waves: Daily Dead has its own weekly podcast, so let’s remove personal bias and leave that show out of it (it’s called Corpse Club and you should listen). Shock Waves continues to be my favorite weekly podcast, with hosts Elric Kane, Rebekah McKendry, Rob Galluzzo, and Ryan Turek discussing the latest in horror, doing deep dives into new discoveries, and conducting consistently compelling interviews with a wide array of names across the genre. The show remains loose and conversational, always informative and always bursting with love and positivity for our favorite genre. It’s like hanging out with friends and fellow horror fans who are smarter than you and also have their own successful podcast.
Additional Favorites: Other favorites deserving recognition: The Perfection; the Destroy the Brain podcast (formerly We Need to Talk About Horror); Vinegar Syndrome, Severin, Synapse, and Scorpion Releasing; Wounds; “The Thing in the Woods” in Nightmare Cinema; Arrow Video’s American Horror Project Vol. 2; Chicago’s Cinepocalypse Film Festival; The Movie Crypt with Adam Green and Joe Lynch; Horror Noire; Crawl; Samara Weaving in Ready or Not; The Girl on the Third Floor.
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!