This might not have felt like an epic year for horror as it unfolded, but looking back at 2019 in its entirety reveals a cornucopia of incredible genre offerings. If you disagree, chances are you didn’t venture far off the beaten path; in this day and age, you simply must look beyond the major studio, big-budget releases to find the best of the best.
For example, the three Stephen King adaptations of 2019 (Pet Sematary, IT: Chapter Two, and Doctor Sleep) were all really good—but none made my personal Top 10 list. Other fantastic mainstream creepers that deserve an honorable mention but didn’t make my final cut include Brightburn, Us, and The Prodigy.
The majority of films that made my Top 10 list can be categorized as “indies”, and four of them were directed by women. Before we dive in, other 2019 horror flicks that I believe deserve an honorable mention include The Hole in the Ground, Ma, Nightmare Cinema, St. Agatha, Tigers Are Not Afraid, One Cut of the Dead, Wrinkles the Clown, Parasite, The Perfection, In the Tall Grass, and Lords of Chaos. (No, I’m not forgetting Ready or Not; I seem to be the only horror critic on the planet who found that one pretty dull!)
Now, in no particular order, I’m pleased to reveal my picks for the Top 10 Horror Movies of 2019!
Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made (Directed by David Amito and Michael Laicini)
A nasty, Satanic, multi-media creeper wrapped in an urban legend, I was required to sign a waiver before watching Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made (one that absolved the filmmakers and the venue of liability should I drop dead following my viewing). The irony is that Antrum succeeds even without its “mockumentary” bookends exploring the movie’s insidious (fictional) history and subliminal invocations. In fact, viewing Antrum alone could make for a much more effective and disturbing experience, as it truly feels like watching an actual abomination unfolding. Thematically, it’s a brilliant study of art’s ability to manipulate our sense of reality. This film will burrow under your skin—and fester! Take the risk and give Antrum a spin ASAP.
Daniel Isn’t Real (Directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer)
The title of this movie is a lie; whether he’s imaginary, a symptom of psychosis, or something supernatural, Daniel is definitely real—and Daniel Isn’t Real is one of the best horror offerings of 2019. It’s a brilliant and thoughtful examination of mental illness and its stigmas, as well as a scorching indictment of toxic masculinity. And it’s more than just a psychological descent; Daniel Isn’t Real is a visual feast, sporting incredible, hallucinatory special effects that kept me rapt. Daniel Isn’t Real might not sound particularly original on paper, but it far exceeded my expectations. In fact, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this film since I first experienced it.
This Is Our House (Directed by Omri Dorani)
I’ve got to tip my hat to colleague Jerry Smith for insisting I check out this indie sleeper before finalizing my Top 10 list. While some films classified as “slow burn” are equal parts suspense and dread, others are so intense, they leave your entire body statuesque with tension as your heart twists internally. A cast of three in a single location in a film without elaborate special effects delivers as much terror as any entry in The Conjuring franchise. This is Our House includes one of the most unnerving scenes ever committed to film—one that unfolds in complete darkness. When you see/hear this scene for yourself, you’ll experience the purest essence of horror.
The Head Hunter (Directed by Jordan Downey)
“Actions speak louder than words” is an adage that applies to filmmaking as well as life in general, and The Head Hunter is proof. It’s a horror fantasy that unfolds with hardly a handful of syllables uttered. Yet it succeeds at elaborate worldbuilding without distracting or unnecessary expositions. It’s a world of unfathomable horrors, heartache, and rage. While epic and packed with gripping special effects, The Head Hunter is a story of personal vengeance that will resonate with viewers on a primal level.
Culture Shock (Directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero)
While Hulu/Blumhouse’s monthly anthology series Into the Dark had peaks and valleys, one entry will be celebrated and studied for years to come: Culture Shock. Not since Jordan Peel popularized social horror with 2017’s Get Out has a film so fearlessly explored the hypocrisy of “The American Dream” in a manner both urgent and harrowing. Born in Mexico and trained as a filmmaker in Canada, Gigi Saul Guerrero represents the future of horror. Running a gamut from gritty survival horror to medical sci-fi, Culture Shock is a story of desperation and perseverance with the power to reframe your perception of America’s immigration debate.
Midsommar (Directed by Ari Aster)
I had to watch Midsommar twice (no small feat for a film of this length) just to make certain it really did deserve a Top 10 spot. Like many, I’m a huge fan of Ari Aster’s first film, Hereditary, but Midsommar is a beast of a different color and, therefore, it took me longer to process. Once calibrated, I couldn’t help but be blown away by the film’s irreverence for convention. Midsommar is a horror movie drenched in sunlight and adorned in pastels, presenting a world (and a scenario) as mesmerizing as it is terrifying. The cinematography is hallucinatory, creating a pervasive and palpable sense of dread throughout. In a year of brilliant innovations and brave filmmaking, Midsommar is a standout. Drink the tea and take a trip you’ll never forget.
Crawl (Directed by Alexandre Aja)
Crawl hits hard fast and never truly lets up. With break-neck pacing, lack of unnecessary exposition, and impressive effects, Crawl is both a creature feature and an example of eco-horror of the highest caliber. There’s not a ton of subtext to plumb; just nonstop, pulse-pounding thrills likely to leave viewers drenched in sweat and adrenaline. From start to finish, Crawl is an urgent and entertaining romp that will leave you gasping.
Satanic Panic (Directed by Chelsea Stardust)
Like Crawl, Satanic Panic is a film that can be thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. Genuine comedy and intriguing characters will have you hooked even before the first hints of demonology emerge. In addition to being a thrilling romp, Satanic Panic is steeped in social commentary, certain to inspire many conversations about the literal possession of female bodies (not to mention the entrenchment of classism). Madcap antics and satanic subversions culminate in a graphic climax certain to be remembered as one 2019’s best.
Rabid (Directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska)
In order for a remake to be considered a success, it must accomplish two things: 1) Pay appropriate homage to the source material, and 2) Add something new and original to the story. By these measures, Jen and Sylvia Soska have set the bar for horror movie remakes with their adaptation of David Cronenberg’s Rabid (originally released in 1977). The “Twisted Twins” display a thorough understanding of Cronenberg’s style, signatures, and delivery while infusing their vision with an extensive backstory and timely issues relating to transhumanism and the weaponization of beauty. Sporting amazing practical effects likely to make your guts churn, Rabid is brutal and often difficult to endure. But it’s messaging is beyond important and the story is gripping from the first to final frames. Fearless, creative, and uncompromising, Rabid is a film fans of David Cronenberg, body horror, and soulful storytelling will cherish.
Darlin’ (Directed by Pollyanna McIntosh)
Darlin’ is a sequel to 2011’s The Woman by Lucky McKee (based on the novel by Jack Ketchum); it’s directed by that film’s star, Pollyanna McIntosh (the titular “woman”), who also wrote the screenplay. There’s something outstandingly appropriate about the continuation of this story being helmed by a woman; an acknowledgment that even the most “woke” male perspective can’t understand or adequately explain certain primal aspects of femininity. While often as grueling as its predecessor, Darlin’ is more teen-centric horror; there’s also a hefty dose of black comedy that makes Darlin’ a multi-faceted experience. Do yourself a favor, though, and refamiliarize yourself with The Woman before giving Darlin’ a spin. While it can stand alone, knowing the backstory will increase your enjoyment of the film exponentially.
Did your favorite horror movies of 2019 make the list? What were your favorite horror movies of 2019? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! You can also carry on the convo with me personally on Twitter @josh_millican.