It’s officially a franchise: After ranking the best horror movies of 2017 and 2018, we’re going for the trilogy. Like any beloved franchise, continued success will require a careful mix of fan service and fresh ideas, no easy task for an internet article. Yes, it’s early in the year, but this list kicks off with a few titles before expanding throughout the year as more great horror films arrive in theaters and on demand.
Which means that you should check this space often, and if you saw something good that I missed, or you want to yell at me respectfully for including a documentary on the list, find me on Twitter @scottEweinberg. Recommended Video ENTERTAINMENT
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17. The Prodigy
Release date: February 8
Cast: Jackson Robert Scott, Taylor Schilling, Colm Feore
Director: Nicholas McCarthy (At the Devil’s Door)
Why it’s good: There’s always room for another “killer kid” flick if you ask me, and while this one borrows quite a bit from both The Omen and Child’s Play (yes, really), it also earns a lot of credit for being well-crafted, consistently creepy, and unexpectedly, well, dark. Plus that lead kid (Scott) is pretty damn great.
Where to watch it: VOD Blumhouse
Release date: April 14
Cast: Jason Woods, Jessica Allain, Mykelti Williamson
Director: Dallas Jackson
Why it’s good: If you have an affection for the classic slasher flicks of years past (particularly the 1980 Canadian favorite Prom Night), here’s a low-key but enjoyable homage that’s packed with all the tragic pranks, hooded killers, red herrings, and (mostly) deserving victims you’d expect. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, plot-wise, but there are enough interesting performances and plot contortions to keep things interesting until the late-arriving mayhem hits the screen. Plus it’s set in South Central Los Angeles, which is pretty unique for a slasher flick.
Where to watch it: Netflix
15. The Field Guide to Evil
Release date: March 29
Cast: Birgit Minichmayr, Marlene Hauser, Niharika Singh
Director: Several, including Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (Goodnight Mommy)
Why it’s good: Indie horror fans have no shortage of anthology flicks to choose from these days, and here’s another decent effort to add to the list. Like virtually every multi-story horror film ever made, The Field Guide to Evil is a decidedly mixed bag — the offerings here range from quietly fascinating to atmospheric yet dull — but it does have the distinction of being a truly international affair; the segments found within represent myths, legends, and fears from nations like Austria, Hungary, India, Greece, Turkey, Poland, and the United States.
Where to watch it: VOD Sony Pictures
14. Escape Room
Release date: January 4
Cast: Taylor Russell, Tyler Labine, Logan Miller
Director: Adam Robitel (Insidious: The Last Key)
Why it’s good: A bunch of strangers awaken inside of a booby-trapped maze. You know the drill by now. Take a dash of Hostel, a splash of Cube, and a good portion of Saw and you’re pretty much up to speed on what Escape Room has to offer — and yet, despite its relatively familiar set-up (and PG-13 rating), there’s still a decent amount of clever twists, chills, kills, and (of course) escapes to be found here.
Where to watch it: VOD Lionsgate
Release date: April 12
Cast: David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Daniel Dae Kim
Director: Neil Marshall (The Descent)
Why it’s good: While most of the critics (and the opening weekend audience) made their opinions immediately clear on the new movie version of Hellboy — and the reactions were not kind — I found myself having a fairly decent time with this R-rated adaptation — despite some obvious glitches in the areas of clunky editing and inconsistent special effects quality. Guillermo del Toro’s awesome Hellboy movies are lush and deeply imaginative pieces of dark fantasy. This new version seems content to plunk Hellboy and his eclectic mess of horror tropes into sort of a wise-assed Bond movie structure, and for the most part it works as amiably insane monster madness. Well, it did for me, anyway.
Where to watch it: Theaters Universal Pictures
Release date: January 18
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, James McAvoy, Bruce Willis
Director: M. Night Shyamalan (Unbreakable)
Why it’s good: While it’s safe to say that this bizarre third entry in a strange “anti-superhero” trilogy goes to some highly unexpected (and perhaps even unpopular) places, there’s always something to be said for audacity and unpredictability, both of which M. Night Shyamalan exhibits here with no apologies. I’m not sure I even like this movie all that much — despite a few great moments — but I respect its boldness.
Where to watch it: VOD
11. Pet Sematary
Release date: April 5
Cast: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimitz, John Lithgow
Director: Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer (Starry Eyes)
Why it’s good: There’s not much here that fans of the Stephen King novel (and Mary Lambert’s 1989 adaptation) haven’t seen before, but this one avoids the “stinky remake” curse because it does manage to throw in a few new twists we didn’t see coming, plus the cast is great and the titular “sematary” is brought to life (relatively speaking) in very creepy fashion. Fair warning that this is definitely a downbeat horror story, but hey, so is the source material.
Where to watch it: Theaters Doppelgänger
10. Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse
Release date: April 19
Cast: Aleksandra Cwen, Claudia Martini, Tanja Petrovsky
Director: Lukas Fiegelfeld
Why it’s good: If you’re down with a damn good piece of slow-burn arthouse horror cinema, this German import is an accomplished debut indeed. It’s basically about a shunned woman who lives on the edge of the forest, and how she’s mistreated by the locals (just like her mother was when she was young) but something deep in the forest promises to help her break this cycle of abuse. And break it she does.
Where to watch it: Theaters and VOD Vertical Entertainment
9. The Head Hunter
Release date: April 5
Cast: Christopher Rygh, Cora Kaufman
Director: Jordan Downey (ThanksKilling)
Why it’s good: A lone warrior in an unnamed ancient land does battle with all sorts of monstrous foes, until one day he gets a chance to avenge the death of his only child. This darkly beautiful and powerfully atmospheric import is light on plot but heavy on mood, plus it’s pretty short and to the point, and the ending is pretty damn solid.
Where to watch it: VOD DirecTV Cinema
8. The Hole in the Ground
Release date: February 26
Cast: Seána Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, Simone Kirby
Director: Lee Cronin (Minutes Past Midnight)
Why it’s good: A struggling single mom must contend with a new home, an ominous neighbor, a strange kid, and a gigantic freaking sinkhole in the woods behind her house. I’m usually a sucker for low-key Irish horror flicks, and while this one takes a little while to warm up, it turns out to be a quietly satisfying chiller when all is said and done.
Where to watch it: VOD Universal Pictures
7. Happy Death Day 2U
Release date: February 13
Cast: Jessica Rothe, Phi Vu, Israel Broussard
Director: Christopher Landon (Happy Death Day)
Why it’s good: We horror fans will speak up, and not happily, when a new sequel turns out to be little more than an unthoughtful copy of the previous film. So let’s give some credit to a horror sequel that not only heads off in some unexpected directions, but some pretty weird ones, too. Those who loved the first film’s “slasher Groundhog Day” set-up will find more to enjoy here, but to its credit, HDD2U also dives headfirst into the science-fiction pond — plus it’s even funnier than the first flick.
Where to watch it: VOD on April 30 Uncork’d Entertainment
Release date: January 1
Cast: Lora Burke, Jack Foley, Bill Oberst Jr.
Director: Justin McConnell (Galaxy of Horrors)
Why it’s good: A monstrous shapeshifter runs through a whole series of unfortunate victims on a quest to find a mysterious woman. Yes, the monster is the main character, which is fascinating by itself, but this clever indie horror flick also treads into some surprisingly deep, touching, and thought-provoking waters. It’s also super gory, which is a plus.
Where to watch it: VOD Netflix
5. The Perfection
Release date: May 26
Cast: Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Steven Weber
Director: Richard Shepard (The Matador)
Why it’s good: You know those wonderfully, willfully trashy thrillers about wealthy, gorgeous, talented people who end up doing simply terrible things to one another? This movie, which screened at Fantastic Fest in 2018, is exactly like that. It starts out like a war of wills between two world-class musicians… and then it quickly spins out of control in all sorts of dark and amusing ways. To say much more would ruin the dark surprises, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this movie will become a trending topic for at least one night. It’s that insane.
Where to watch it: Netflix
4. Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror
Release date: February 9
Cast: Keith David, Tony Todd, Loretta Devine
Director: Xavier Burgin
Why it’s good: This one is cheating a bit, because it’s not a horror movie, but a fantastic documentary about the impact, influence, and artistry of black filmmakers within the horror realm. Since this is a space for horror fans, though, and this is a film horror fans should watch, I’m including it. It’s often said that the best way to educate an audience is to entertain them at the same time; Horror Noire skimps on neither the education nor the entertainment. There’s so much that’s worth covering, Shudder could probably turn this into a longer series… and may have already considered it.
Where to watch it: Shudder Netflix
3. Velvet Buzzsaw
Release date: January 31
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette
Director: Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler)
Why it’s good: The upper-crust Los Angeles art scene gets a firm punch in the mouth from this smart, weird, funny, and occasionally rather scary combination of social satire, jet-black farce, and smartly constructed horror. On the surface, Velvet Buzzsaw is about a collection of seemingly haunted paintings, but it’s also a scathing indictment of how art is exploited at every turn. The entire cast is great, but it’s Gyllenhaal’s colorful portrayal of a smug art critic that keeps the forward momentum going.
Where to watch it: Netflix Universal
Release date: March 22
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss
Director: Jordan Peele (Get Out)
Why it’s good: What starts out like a potentially familiar “home invasion” thriller quickly evolves into a twisted, freaky mind-game in which impressively disturbing new ideas hide behind every other corner. On the surface, Us is about a mysterious family of horrific “doppelgängers,” but dig just a little deeper and you’ll find all sorts of fascinating themes and ideas. Plus, while the entire cast is aces, Lupita is simply amazing. Expect her to bring a nomination to the horror fiends early next year.
Where to watch it: In theaters Shudder
1. Tigers Are Not Afraid
Release date: 2019 TBA
Cast: Paola Lara, Juan Ramon Lopez, Ianis Guerrero
Director: Issa Lopez
Why it’s good: We’ve all seen some harrowing films about brutal drug cartels and the horrific impact they have on their native lands, but I cannot recall one that tells the story from the perspective of five homeless children, nor one with such a fascinating and poignant usage of dark fantasy and horror themes. Reminiscent of Guillermo del Toro’s early films (particularly The Devil’s Backbone, a stone-cold masterpiece), this is a brilliant, dark fable that has something essential to say about real-world tragedy, but it does so in such a wonderfully honest, powerful, and endlessly creative fashion. You simply won’t find a much better genre film this year.
Where to watch it: Shudder (later this year)