Welcome, fiends! So, this year I started this list with 93 titles before narrowing it down to my “Top 19 of 2019”. As always – the disclaimer: While I know that the title is “Top 19 Horror Films…”, keep in mind that these are just my favorites so I’m sure that you’ll disagree with some of my choices as well as some of my intentional omissions. That said, there are still a bunch of films that were highly recommended to me that I have not yet had the chance to watch like Doctor Sleep, Koko-Di Koko-Da, Little Monsters and Knives Out.
Oh yeah, the order of the below films is alphabetical, not ranked. I will give my “Top 3”, in order, in a collaborative article with the rest of the HNN staff this month so stand by for that article! Here we go:
Written and directed by Joe Begos (Almost Human), Bliss is a film that blurs the line between drug abuse and…vampirism? Dezzy, played by Dora Madison (Friday Night Lights, Dexter), is a starving artist who is looking for inspiration; the kind that you can find in hard drugs – but the drugs also bring about a certain blood-lust. Also, yay for George Wendt in the cast!
Braid comes from the mind of Mitzi Peirone…and I’m scared of her. Madeline Brewer (Hustler, Cam), Imogen Waterhouse (Nocturnal Animals) and Sarah Hay (Black Swan) play childhood best friends in this insane, head-trip of a film. Two of them owe tons of money to a drug dealer so they devise a plan to break into a safe at the mansion of the third one who is bat-shit crazy. Wow.
I went into this film thinking two things. One – this is gonna suck. Two – DC Comics is gonna sue somebody. Neither happened! Written by Brian and Mark Gunn and directed by David Yarovesky, Brightburn had no damned right being this entertaining or this gory. My only complaint was I was left wanting more action out of Brandon Breyer (aka Evil Superman-kid) but I’m sure we’ll get it in a sequel that ruins everything.
And another movie that had no business being as entertaining as it was! I went into this expecting some Sharknado nonsense and while I didn’t quite end up with Jaws, I was definitely happy with the result. Written by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen and directed by Alexandre Aja, Crawl is an effective tension builder and jump-scare marathon full of giant crocs (not the shoes – but that would be scary as shit too).
Daniel Isn’t Real
Based on the 2009 novel ‘In This Way I Was Saved’ by Brian DeLeeuw (who also penned the screenplay along with director Adam Egypt Mortimer), Daniel is a tale about a boy named Luke who witnesses a mass shooting one day and meets a new friend named Daniel on the same day. Daniel is everything and every way that Luke wants to be, but Daniel eventually goes away after he convinces Luke to drug his mom to near overdose. As you may guess from the title…spoiler alert…Daniel isn’t real.
Indie horror king Larry Fessenden wrote and directed this modern take on the Frankenstein tale about a PTSD-suffering army medic named Henry who spends his days in his Brooklyn laboratory creating a “man” named Adam out of borrowed body parts (Adam…see what he did there?). This may be Fessesnden’s best film to date and also includes great makeup FX by Brian Spears and Peter Gerner who are up for a Fangoria Chainsaw Award for their work. Bravo.
Kind of a surprise for me how much I enjoyed this. What I thought was going to be all jump-scares and mind-numbingly transparent story turned out to be anything but. Starring Charlie Shotwell (The Nightingale) in the lead role with the always amazing Lili Taylor, what we think is a classic good vs. evil tale featuring a sick boy and his parents turns out to be something far more sinister.
This one is a hoot. Written and directed by Rob Grant and starring a cast of just three people (not including the narrator Brett Gelman – Murray from Stranger Things). Three friends who don’t appear to really enjoy each other set sail on what was supposed to be a quick boat ride until things take a major turn for the worse. Check this one out.
What-the-fuck. This nasty little number was written by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, the duo, who wrote A Quiet Place, and came out close enough to Halloween to hit everyone’s radar. This film doesn’t break any new ground, but it doesn’t have to – it’s a scary movie that does what it set out to do: scare and entertain; and it does both of those well.
Just when you thought you’ve seen it all in possession movies! I made the mistake of first watching Luz while I was tired; it was late at night and my brain was having a hard time following what was going on, so I had to re-watch with fresh eyes (and brain) the following morning and I’m glad that I did. Luz is not a “simple” film, and first-time feature film maker Tilman Singer shows no sympathy for those who don’t pay attention – peel your eyes open and take in this beautiful movie; you won’t regret it.
Ari Aster first opened everyone’s eyes with last year’s Hereditary and now his sophomore effort, Midsommar, has everyone saying he’s a genius – and rightly so. While some were turned off by the film’s long run-time of two and a half hours, others ran out to see the additional twenty-three minutes in the director’s cut. While I’ve yet to see the longer version, the one I did see is incredible and worthy of any “best of” list.
One Cut of the Dead
I received a screener of One Cut of the Dead early this year and vividly remember watching it on my desktop computer in my home office – the emotions that this film evoked were incredible. PLEASE do not let anyone spoil this for you as it contains mucho surprises that all come together to pay off so well in the end. Tons of heart in this film.
Ready or Not
What a trip! This one really came out of left field and knocked my socks off. Ready or Not had its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival in July and then got a limited theatrical release in August. I really wish this got more love in the theaters because it would have been a blast to see this with a crowd. It was great to see Andie MacDowell play a “bad guy” and a terrific performance by Samara Weaving in the lead role.
The Cleaning Lady
Thankfully, this was recommended to me by our pal Jay Kay otherwise it may have slipped under my radar. Kind of Single White Female-ish but much darker. Good performances all around but the performance by Rachel Alig as Shelly was fantastic.
The Dead Center
I got to see Billy Senese’s The Dead Center at What The Fest? In New York City this year and it was the belle of the ball for me. When a dead guy shows up bagged and tagged in a morgue and then promptly removes himself from his bodybag to stumble into another room to take a nap…things are gonna get weird.
Umm…when did Cedric Diggory/Edward Cullen become a great actor? Did I miss something? I mean, we all knew that Willem Dafoe was crazy-brilliant but Robert Pattinson? Granted, I haven’t seen him in anything other than what I already mentioned but his performance as Ephraim really blew me away. The Lighthouse is cold and dark and damned awesome – give it a whirl.
Following up her triumphant full-length film debut in 2014’s The Babadook, Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent does not disappoint with her second film. Starring Aisling Franciosi (Game of Thrones) as Clare, an Irish indentured servant hell-bent on revenge, The Nightingale is a rugged and disturbing period piece that takes place in 1825 Tasmania. If you questioned Jennifer Kent’s chops after The Babadook, let The Nightingale be a lesson to you.
Tigers Are Not Afraid
Drug wars and magic. Mexico is a dangerous place and writer/director Issa Lopez is not afraid to cast a spotlight on the effect that it has on the children of the country. This film has been talked up by Guillermo del Toro for quite some time and it’s easy to see why he loves it; Lopez’s passion and creativity shines through the darkness of the subject matter.
Written by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, Villains is a crafty little film about a pair of hapless criminals (Bill Skarsgård and Maika Monroe) who successfully knock over a gas station only to run out of gas during their getaway (facepalm). They then break into a nearby house to maybe siphon some gas but are discovered by the returning homeowners (Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgwick) and things quickly go downhill – think People Under the Stairs. We get no real backstory on the characters, but it’s not needed to make this an effective and highly enjoyable film.
Well, that does it for my “Top 19 of 2019”. All told, it was a good year for horror films (3 from Hell and the Pet Sematary remake aside); Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was surprisingly good as was the Child’s Play remake and both deserve a mention here. I’m definitely looking forward to a scary 2020 and don’t forget to check back to see which of this list of 19 makes my top 3.
Stay gory my friends!