Lists, lists, lists! So many lists! Here are my top 13 horror films of 2019 in no particular order, plus a couple docs thrown in for good measure. For all our year-end lists click here.
2019 was a solid year for horror with a decent number of mainstream titles achieving commercial and critical success- something I always like to see. I strongly believe genre cinema is where all the creativity and risk lies these days and I hope 2020 will continue the trend of introducing fresh ideas in the medium.
Bliss (Joe Begos)
Grimy, gross, and oozing with style, this 16mm nightmare features a fantastic performance from Dora Madison an evokes strong memories of The Addiction, which is certainly not a bad thing.
One Cut of the Dead (Shinichiro Ueda)
Just when I thought the zombie comedy was reduced to nothing more than a shambling corpse, Shin’ichirô Ueda comes along and breathes new life into the stale genre with this meta horror-comedy that is chock full of fun, surprises, and plenty of gore. This was one of the most surprising films of the year for me, and I highly recommend going into it completely cold.
Midsommar (Ari Aster)
Ari Aster’s twisted tale of a crumbling relationship may be heavily inspired by The Wicker Man, but he certainly puts his own folkloric spin on it, resulting in one of the most memorable and cringe-inducing horror titles of the year.
Us (Jordan Peele)
Jordan Peele followed up 2017’s incredible Get Out with another incredible, well-executed, horror romp that easily straddles the line between comedy and horror, always knowing when to lighten things up without cheapening the terror.
Ready or Not (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett)
A trend for me this year was certainly underestimating horror movies, and Ready or Not was another one I didn’t have super high expectations for that sort of blew me away. Propelled by Samara Weaving’s tremendous performance, this comedic horror story involving a homicidal family hunting a new bride through a giant mansion resulted in some of the most fun moments I had at the cinema this year.
Crawl (Alexandre Aja)
It’s been quite a while since there’s been a creature feature I’ve enjoyed more than Crawl, a contained thriller about a father and daughter trapped in a basement full of giant alligators. It had everything I wanted and more and was an absolute blast from start to finish.
Doctor Sleep (Mike Flanagan)
I saw this on the merits of director Mike Flanagan alone, and I was not disappointed with this sequel to The Shining. While it may not live up to Kubrick’s original film, it’s not necessarily trying to, rather crafting a faithful and chilling adaptation of the Stephen King novel. I think we all need for Flanagan in our lives.
Piercing (Nicolas Pesce)
Adapted from the Ryu Murakami novel, Nicolas Pesce’s modern giallo is a salaciously satisfying thriller that is both unsettling and manages to constantly keep viewers on their toes. Mia Wasikowska is incredible.
Haunt (Scott Beck, Bryan Woods)
Scott Beck and Bryan Woods wrote Haunt simultaneously with A Quiet Place as sort of a counterpoint to the subdued horror of that great monster movie. A loud, in your face slasher that’s creepy, intriguing, and bloody as all hell. The characters were not wretched and it worked better as an escape room horror story than the movie called Escape Room.
The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers)
Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe absolutely crush it in Robert Eggers’ follow up to The Witch, a grimy black and white tale about two lighthouse keepers going mad. The cinematography was some of the best I’ve seen this year and I freakin’ loved the decision to make it 1.19:1 aspect ratio.
Knife + Heart (Yann Gonzalez)
I’ve noted a billion times that the giallo film is one of my all-time favorite sub genres of horror, and Yann Gonzalez absolutely nailed the aesthetic in this sleazy story about a gay porn producer in Paris in the late seventies who discovers a killer is murdering those around her.
Braid (Mitzi Peirone)
I loved the over stylized visuals of this film and although it was overwhelming at times, this bonkers story was something I don’t think I’ll be forgetting for quite a while.
Tigers Are Not Afraid (Issa López)
I almost forgot to include this on the list because I saw it so long ago, but it finally, thankfully got a U.S. release this year thanks to Shudder. This beautiful and tragic Mexican film tells a story of a violent drug war through the perspective of a group of children who are caught in the middle of it. The wonderful visuals are accompanied by a stark fantasy that’s both frightening and at times wondrous. I absolutely can’t wait to see what Issa Lopez has in store for us next.
As a bonus, here are two horror-related documentaries I highly recommend checking out if you’re in the mood for some movies about movies!
Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (Xavier Burgin)
I love docs about movies and if they happen to be horror movies I’m even more on board. Although the content doesn’t shed much new light for horror aficionados, this remains an insightful and entertaining look at the history of black representation in horror cinema.
In Search of Darkness (David A. Weiner)
I’m not sure if this was released in 2019 or planned for 2020, but In Search of Darkness is an absolutely massive 4+ hour deep dive into horror films of the eighties. With plenty of iconic names being interviewed, this is a must-see for all those who wish to celebrate the best decade in horror.