Making a list like this is always as much about what you leave off as it is about what you include. In this case, there are movies that might have made the list that I haven’t seen yet: Parasite, Daniel Isn’t Real, Doctor Sleep, Crawl, Depraved, the remakes of Child’s Play or Pet Sematary, and so on.
Similarly, there are films that I saw at Panic Fest that got wide release this year but “technically” came out in the past: Tigers Are Not Afraid, One Cut of the Dead, Gags, Starfish. All four of those films would absolutely have been on here if I’d let them, jostling for position somewhere in this mess. But, for the purposes of this list, I excluded them.
So, if your favorite horror movie of the year isn’t on here, just assume that I haven’t seen it yet. Unless it’s Midsommar. I really did snub that one.
10. Happy Death Day 2U
Did I see better movies than this that didn’t make the list? Absolutely. But Happy Death Day makes the cut for doing what I am always on sequels to do: Leaning hard into the first movie’s central conceit while entirely subverting its formula. The result? A sort of light sci-fi heist farce in place of the first film’s jokey time-loop slasher.
9. It Chapter Two
Awkwardly paced, overlong, and earnest to a fault, It Chapter Two is also ambitious and inventive. A follow-up to the also ambitious (and also frustrating) first chapter that takes big swings and sometimes makes big misses, Bill Skarsgard’s jittery take on Pennywise remains one of the great monster performances of the decade, and that scene with the Paul Bunyan statue alone is probably enough to earn a place on this list.
8. The Lighthouse
Beautifully shot, deliriously weird, aggressively gross, filmed in an old-timey aspect ratio; Robert Eggers’ middle finger to the people who complained that The Witch was too boring is one of the oddest movies of the year. So why didn’t it rank higher? Because it left me a little cold, and it’s my list, after all.
7. The Mortuary Collection
I love a good horror anthology film, and it’s been a while since I loved one as much as this. Even the weakest segment has its strong points, but the highlight is the framing story starring Clancy Brown (as the sinister mortician) and Caitlin Custer (as the potential new hire he’s telling stories to), both having a ball.
6. In Fabric
If The Lighthouse is only one of the oddest films of the year, then In Fabric may be the movie that triumphantly beats it out for the title. Beautiful, haunting, mesmerizing; even if I still can’t tell you what the hell was going on most of the time. If the whole thing was as good as the first half, it’d be higher on this list.
5. Satanic Panic
Who would have guessed that we’d get dueling “rich people are literal Satanists” movies in 2019? Of the two, Satanic Panic is a lot less subtle, its comedy broader, but its claws may just be sharper, as well. Besides a universally game cast and an unusually high proportion of women both behind and in front of the camera, Satanic Panic shines thanks to its surprisingly esoteric take on the occult and its delightfully soft “final girl,” played by Hayley Griffith.
4. Ready or Not
Most people writing about Ready or Not will talk about its skewering of the wealthy, its star-making lead turn by Samara Weaving, or just how much damn fun it is. But what snagged me – and what keeps it so high on my list – is the old-fashioned ghost story at the heart of all that postmodern running around.
3. Annabelle Comes Home
I’m the resident apologist for the Conjuring franchise here at Signal Horizon – for all its faults – and Annabelle Comes Home is one of my favorites of the bunch. If last year’s The Nun was the series’ eurohorror installment, then this latest Annabelle is its Amblin Entertainment entry – a “babysitter in peril” film that reaches for sleepover scares while expanding the mythology of the series by letting the eponymous doll loose in the Warrens’ artifact room.
2. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
In this age of rampant nostalgia, Scary Stories gives us our feel-good fix while poisoning it, too. A perfect horror gateway drug that’s also an incisive story about leaving the past behind while speaking truth to power about the crimes that have come before, it makes use of its PG-13 scares to create situations that are existentially horrifying. Plus, those Stephen Gammell-inspired spooks are the creepiest things to hit screens this year.
It always had to be Us. Jordan Peele’s “monster mythology” isn’t the perfect house of cards that Get Out was. It’s messier, denser, wilder, and more ambitious. And I think I may love it even more. A pure horror tale anchored by some of the year’s best performances and burrowing into a multi-layered story about the price we pay for not reaching back to help others up. And, as monster mythologies go, the Tethered are [chef kiss].
Besides his work as Monster Ambassador here at Signal Horizon, Orrin Grey is the author of several books about monsters, ghosts, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters, and a film writer with bylines at Unwinnable and others. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year and he is the author of two collections of essays on vintage horror film.