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Josh Millican’s Best Horror Movies of 2018

It’s been one hell of a year for me personally. I’ve gone from being an occasional contributor at Dread Central to the site’s Assistant Editor, immersing myself in the daily flurry of activities involved in bringing you all the best combination of daily news, engaging editorials, and intriguing exclusives that our readers have come to expect over the years. As a life-long horror fan with a genuine love for writing and engaging with other genre fans, I’m living the dream.

2018 was also one hell of a year for horror movies. While I don’t think anyone will look back at 2017 as a red-letter year for horror movies, 2018 may go down in history as the moment the genre landscape exploded wide opened. From extraordinary offerings by first-timers and up-and-comers to straight-to-streaming movies that seemed to arrive out of nowhere, 2018 delivered some absolute game-changers likely to influence the entire cinematic landscape moving forward.

In addition to my personal Top 10 horror movies from 2018 listed below, the following all deserve recognition for making this such an extraordinary year for the genre: The Ranger, The Nun, Halloween, Suspiria, Annihilation, Assassination Nation, Overlord, Boarding School, Apostle, Hell Fest, and Hellraiser: Judgement.

Hereditary

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I’m lucky to have gotten a chance to see Hereditary totally blind. When I saw Ari Aster’s debut feature film at 2018’s SXSW Film Festival in Austin, TX last March, I had no idea what I was sitting down for. All I knew was that the film had created something of a stir in Park City, UT where it enjoyed its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival weeks earlier. I say I was lucky, not simply because I got to experience Hereditary months before the populous at large, but because I didn’t have any preconceived notions about the film based on the tidal wave of buzz that followed.

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I’m one of those critics who declared Hereditary was the scariest movie I’d ever seen, the most terrifying film since The Exorcist, and instantly canonical. If my enthusiasm set expectations that couldn’t possibly be matched, I do apologize. Still, 2018 is over, and Hereditary is still at the top of my list. And I’m not just talking about this Top 10 list; I believe, objectively, that Hereditary is the best horror movies of 2018, the best horror movie of the 21st Century so far, and something that (I predict) both fans and academics will be dissecting for years. Hail Paimon!



You Might Be the Killer

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You Might Be the Killer falls into the same category of meta-horror as films like Scream and The Cabin in the Woods. It’s also just as entertaining as these other films; yes, its definitely cheesier than Scream but this doesn’t work against it. You Might Be the Killer won’t surprise you by reinventing the wheel, per se, but it will keep you engaged and entertained from start to finish.

You Might Be the Killer stars Fran Kranz (who played affable stoner Marty in The Cabin in the Woods) as Sam and Alyson Hannigan (Willow from TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as his BFF Chuck. The majority of the film plays out in flashbacks over a series of phone calls. When camp councilor Sam finds himself stalked by a mask-wearing maniac with seemingly supernatural abilities, it’s up to horror expert Chuck to break the bad news to him: “You might be the killer!” Here’s a movie that genre fans can enjoy with their scaredy-cat compadres. Yes, there are moments of intense gore, but the film always remains funnier than gory.



Summer of 84

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Comparisons to Stranger Things and Super Dark Times are unavoidable; Summer of 84 is steeped in the same syrupy-sweet nostalgia as the former with the ominous overtones of the later. In my opinion, Summer of 84 is a completely unique animal and while there are similarities to other recent genre offerings, it’s important to remember that Stranger Things didn’t invent the 1980s, just like Super Dark Times wasn’t the first film to explore the potentially fatal dangers of adolescence.

Yes, Summer of 84 echoes elements of Disturbia/Rear Window but in this case, the thematic comparisons are more appropriate. Along with David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, these films pull back curtains in the houses that sit at the end of perfectly manicured lawns, revealing a darkness that manifests behind closed doors. Suburbia, with the value it places on privacy and artificial neighborly protocols make the perfect hunting ground for a particularly nasty breed of human monster. It chugs along at a decent pace, but the final act of Summer of 84 is a real pulse-pounder. Ultimately, nostalgia is merely a veneer for a truly harrowing coming of age experience that’s unlike anything you’ve seen before.



Cam

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Cam was one of my personal favorite horror movies that screened at this year’s Fantastic Fest. Obviously, a film called Cam that looks into the lives of online sex workers feels salacious, and there’s absolutely a voyeuristic element to it. Cam was penned by Isa Mazzei who drew from her real-life experiences as a cam girl, meaning this actually is an accurate window into this mysterious and taboo occupation. But Cam is more than condoned voyeurism or an invitation to the other side of the looking-glass; it’s a compelling and unnerving techno-horror that’s hard to shake, leaving viewers profoundly affected.

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As Alice/Lola, Madeline Brewer gives us a hero we haven’t seen before: A sex worker we can root for; a human being nearly lost behind an online persona that (literally) takes on a life of its own. I won’t claim to understand exactly what’s going on in Cam, but in this case, it hardly matters. Like the supremely enigmatic Donnie Darko, there’s satisfaction just knowing that something much larger, potentially cosmic, has played out before our eyes. Cam is a film that will inspire conversations and debates; multiple interpretations will demand repeat viewings. And Cam is worthy of our attention, not just as one of 2018’s best, but as an example of bold and innovative storytelling.



Incident in a Ghostland

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It’s unfortunate that half of my recap for Incident in a Ghostland must go to acknowledging an unfortunate and unnecessary on-set accident. But like Barry Bond’s “record-breaking” homerun baseball, Pascal Laugier’s sophomore feature film must bare an asterisk. Actress Taylor Hickson suffered severe facial lacerations after she shattered a window at Laugier’s direction. This suggests the atmosphere was potentially toxic and, at best, the set was unsafe. Hickson has sued the producers of Incident in a Ghostland and, honestly, she deserves ample restitution. No one deserves to work in a dangerous environment and the young actress has been left with permeant, significant facial scars (although her beauty shines through).

That said, Incident in a Ghostland is exactly what you’d expect from the twisted mastermind of 2008’s Martyrs: Brutal, gut-churning, and yet somehow beautiful on an almost spiritual level. Is it problematic? To be certain! But it’s also a metaphor for how art, specifically writing, can offer an escape from a litany of life’s indignities, a portal away from pain and into limitless alternate worlds. As a writer, that message really resonated with me. But in all honesty, unless you can tolerate the more extreme ends of the horror spectrum, you aren’t likely to connect with Incident in a Ghostland as profoundly as I did.



Mandy

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In an alternate version of 1983 in a region known as the Shadow Mountains, Red Miller (Nicholas Cage) lost the love of his life: A gentle artist named Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). She didn’t leave, she was taken away under unimaginable circumstances; kidnapped by a sex-cult, drugged, terrorized, and eventually burned alive. Psychologically shattered, Red goes on an unhinged quest for revenge that will see him cross paths with demonic bikers, chainsaw-wielding assassins, a real-life tiger, and a Cheddar Goblin. Calling Mandy a surreal fever-dream is a bit of an understatement, though it does follow a cohesive, logical narrative.

Part of the reason I enjoyed Mandy so much is because I had already endured writer/director Panos Cosmatos’ first feature film, Beyond the Black Rainbow. I say “endured” because, while the two films could conceivably take place in a shared universe, Mandy is a whiplash-inducing roller coaster compared to the meandering slog that is Rainbow. Even so, Mandy struck a chord with the majority of horror fans in 2018, succeeding even when other arthouse offerings failed to resonate. Whatever the case, Cage and Cosmatos make a great team, and I’d love to see them collaborate again in the future.



A Quiet Place

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Who could have imagined that John Krasinski, the actor best known for playing hapless Jim Halpert on The Office, would emerge as 2018’s rising star in horror following the tremendous success of A Quiet Place? It was the first truly exciting (and profitable) big studio genre offering of the year, making a killing at the box office. The story of a family attempting to maintain a sense of normalcy several months after an alien invasion that’s decimated the planet’s population, the film had heart and soul along with thrills and chills (and really cool looking monsters).

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In addition to directing, Krasinski co-wrote A Quiet Place and stars in the film alongside his real-life wife Emily Blunt. The duo was well-supported by Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe who play their children. The concept of aliens attacking anything they hear was a novel concept for exploration, an excellent way to create suspense, and amazingly effective at getting even ruckus theaters crowds to hold their breaths. Krasinski is currently hard at work on A Quiet Place 2, though whether or not we’ll be reteaming with the Abbott family remains to be seen. Though the script is still being fine-tuned, the sequel already has a May 2020 release date.



Upgrade

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The only ones who will complain that Upgrade doesn’t qualify as horror will be the same ones offended that Halloween didn’t make my Top 10. But, honestly, those who insist that only slashers are actually horror movies are almost regarded as evolutionary throwbacks at this point (cinematic Neanderthals). Not only do I (obviously) consider Upgrade a horror movie but I consider it one of the best horror movies of 2018.

Yes, Upgrade can be subcategorized as body horror, techno-horror, and procedural horror, but at the same time, it’s more than just a horror movie. It’s a good movie, period. It’s visually stimulating, action-packed, break-neck paced, and intelligent, with laugh out loud moments of comic relief and groan-inducing violence. While many horror movies become tests of endurance, Upgrade is a vastly entertaining romp from beginning to end with never a dull moment or extraneous exaggeration. It’s lean, mean machinery functioning perfectly.



Terrified (aka Aterrados)

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Along with Mandy, Terrified was a horror movie that seemingly came out of nowhere in 2018 and shocked the hell out of us in the best possible way. As a foreign language film from Argentina and a Shudder exclusive, Terrified remains undiscovered to less devoted horror fans and those who focus their attention exclusively on major studio, Hollywood offerings. Still, those of us who have experienced Terrified were almost unanimously gobsmacked. It’s a supernatural horror of the highest caliber, something on par with classics like Poltergeist and modern heavyweights like The Conjuring.

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Those who aren’t willing to invest in Shudder will eventually see an American remake of Terrified, one produced by Guillermo del Toro with the original’s writer/director Demián Rugna on board to helm the project. The film is still in pre-production, but the buzz generated by Terrified means all parties involved are anxious to put the remake on the fast-track. No matter what, no one should pass up the opportunity to see Terrified if the opportunity presents itself. It’s a seriously intense, relentlessly harrowing experience that will put even jaded horror aficionados on edge. Don’t sleep on Terrified!



Ghost Stories

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I saw Ghost Stories when it premiered at the SXSW Film Festival last March and honestly expected it to be hugely popular in 2018. Instead, it’s probably most accurate to describe it as the best horror movie you probably didn’t see this year. The film didn’t get a theatrical release (though it deserved one) perhaps explaining why it didn’t hit more horror fan’s radars. Still, Ghost Stories didn’t even receive the kind of promotion limited and streaming releases like Mandy received, which is a damn shame in my opinion. The good news, however, is that Ghost Stories is available on VOD, so one of 2018’s best horror movies is literally at your fingertips.

It sounds like a familiar premise: A paranormal debunker is asked to solve a trio of especially unnerving cases that may finally offer definitive proof of the supernatural. It plays out almost like an anthology, but Ghost Stories is also character study; Professor Goodman’s personal quest becomes a universal search for truth, tapping into our primal fears of death and the unknown. Ghost Stories is a smart movie, a nuanced film that becomes more compelling the deeper you dive into the subtexts. Check out Ghost Stories at your earliest possible convince; you’ll wonder why you hadn’t seen it sooner.


Did your favorite horror movies from 2018 make the list? Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!

Written by Josh Millican

Josh Millican is the Editor in Chief at Dread Central.

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