In terms of box office numbers, 2017 has been a landmark year for horror. Starting off in January, a wasteland for theatrical releases, M. Night Shyamalan’s Split raked in over $100 million in domestic grosses by February. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out charmed both audiences and critics alike, earning a massive profit and award nominations. Blumhouse further proved their knack for low budget horror with October’s release of Happy Death Day recently passing the $100 million mark worldwide on a $5 million production budget. Annabelle: Creation also made a strong showing in theaters. Yet, none of these films hold a candle to the juggernaut of the R-rated It, shattering records and raking in impressive numbers.
All of this to say that while sales have been declining in the film industry, horror seems to be as strong as ever, keeping the flame burning brightly at the box office. But it’s not just the box office where horror continues to prove its mettle. There’s been a wave of excellent genre films quietly released onto VOD and streaming services throughout the year.
If you’re looking to catch up on great horror from 2017 that you might have missed, these are the ten best that should be watched immediately…
Better Watch Out
Released in limited theaters and VOD on October 6th, before arriving on Blu-ray December 5th, this yuletide terror gives a darkly refreshing twist on the home-invasion sub-genre. For Ashley (The Visit’s Olivia DeJonge), a night of babysitting in the quiet suburbs turns dangerous when intruders break in and terrorize her and Luke (Levi Miller), the twelve-year-old boy she’s babysitting. That’s all you need to know going in. Don’t read anything else about this movie. Trust me. It’s intense, suspenseful, extremely demented, and DeJonge and Miller deliver incredible performances. Better Watch Out will not only become a holiday classic for horror fans, but it will also make you seek out director Chris Peckover’s other work.
After premiering at this year’s SXSW Film Festival in March, co-writer/director Tyler MacIntyre’s comedic spin on the slasher film became a huge crowd favorite during the festival run before slipping into limited release in October. Starring Brianna Hildebrand (The Exorcist TV series, Deadpool) and Alexandra Shipp (X-Men: Apocalypse) as two social media obsessed teens with an ambition to achieve modern horror legend fame, Tragedy Girls brings equal parts biting wit and a delightfully large, violent body count. MacIntyre does a great job playing with the tropes of slashers while taking it in twisted, new directions, making this one destined for cult classic status. A lighthearted horror comedy that succeeds at its goal to entertain makes this a rare gem amidst the current trend of super serious genre films.
Without any fanfare, Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia’s latest dropped onto Netflix this September. Unlike his previous film, the fun horror-comedy Witching & Bitching, The Bar is an uncomfortable watch. What begins as a sort of quirky comedy, in which a group of people become trapped inside a Madrid café thanks to a sniper gunning down anyone who dares step outside, becomes a psychological thriller that coils tighter and tighter as it casts an unflinching eye on the darkness of humanity. Not only can the characters be brutal, but there are serious moments of gross squeamishness that I’ll leave for you to discover for yourselves. If you’re a fan of Iglesia’s work, or just want something particularly dark, this one shouldn’t be overlooked.
Writer/Director Michael O’Shea’s horror drama reads like a modern telling of George A. Romero’s Martin, in that it revolves around a young man that believes himself to be a vampire. Young Milo is obsessed with vampires, and studies vampire movies religiously. Living in a housing project with no parental figure save for a mostly absent older brother in New York City, the narrative keeps it mostly ambiguous as to whether Milo uses vampirism as escapism or if he really is a member of the blood-sucking undead. Everything changes when he meets Sophie, though, setting Milo on a confrontational collision path with his relationship to vampires. It’s eerily quiet, and dramatically paced. It’s also as uncomfortable as it is heartbreaking. The Transfiguration quietly made its way to Netflix this year.
The Girl with All the Gifts
Based on a novel of the same name by M.R. Carey, this post-apocalyptic zombie film made its way onto digital during the first quarter of 2017, and still remains largely unnoticed. While it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, it does a lot of things well; centering the plot around Melanie, one of a group of hybrid zombie children after a fungal outbreak decimated most of the population, and her bond with her human teacher, Helen, gives an emotional core that endears the audience. Sennia Nanua is amazing as Melanie, but Glenn Close as the ice cold scientist Caroline Caldwell isn’t to be missed. If you’re a fan of The Last of Us video games, or just a fan of unique zombie films, this one is for you.
Boys in the Trees
More dark fantasy with horror elements than outright horror, Nicholas Verso’s coming-of-age, ‘90s set tale is a modern Halloween classic deserving of more love. Set on Halloween in 1997, two estranged skater friends take a haunting, surreal journey through their fears, dreams, and their memories as they walk home. Tales of werewolves, evil spirits, and death himself against a super catchy ‘90s soundtrack and the stunning cinematography by Marden Dean makes this worth watching; but it’s the devastating friendship between teens Corey and Jonah that will give you the feels. The best part of all is that Boys in the Trees is hiding in plain sight on Netflix.
Joachim Trier’s supernatural thriller, released in limited theaters earlier in November, was Norway’s official submission for the Oscar Foreign Language race, which is every bit indicative of how good the film really is. Sharing similarities with Carrie, the plot sees sheltered Thelma going away from home for the first time for college, only to discover she has strange powers as she falls in love for the first time. Trier asks thought-provoking questions on morality while parceling out the mystery of Thelma’s childhood, all while making you really feel for her struggle with self-discovery. Beautifully shot with a haunting score, Thelma deserves a spot in the Oscar race.
One of 2016’s surprise hits was the Korean zombie feature Train to Busan, by writer/director Yeon Sang-ho. So perhaps it’s no surprise that one of 2017’s best is the animated prequel by the same director, Seoul Station. Yeon Sang-ho plays with social commentary on Seoul’s homeless population at the train station, which is ground zero for the zombie outbreak. The animated feature follows a runaway, her boyfriend, and her father as they all struggle to reunite amidst the chaos of the outbreak. The director lulls the viewer with well-worn tropes before delivering the emotional gut punch viewers have come to expect with Train to Busan. Who knew one of horror’s best in 2017 would be animated? Yeon Sang-ho, of course. You can catch this one on Shudder.
What if the original Hans Christian Andersen version of The Little Mermaid, in its bloody glory, was set in the 1980s in a Polish cabaret? Oh yeah, and it’s a musical. That’s the concept behind Agnieszka Smoczynska’s stunning film featuring mermaid sisters Golden and Silver, who come ashore and wind up getting adopted by a local nightclub band. One seeks love and the other seeks to devour human flesh. Smoczynska’s narrative isn’t always the most coherent, but it’s so visually arresting that it makes up for that. Besides, pointy-toothed flesh eating mermaids who always sing catchy disco songs is a thing you didn’t know you needed to see. But you do. Even Criterion thinks so, as The Lure was released as part of the Criterion Collection in October.
Hounds of Love
Writer/Director Ben Young makes one doozy of a debut feature with his fictional story loosely based on multiple true crimes. Set in the 1980s in Perth, Australia, John and Evelyn White are one demented couple with a penchant of luring then kidnapping teen girls so they can be viciously assaulted and tortured before John disposes of their bodies in the woods. Their latest victim, Vicki, must drive a wedge between the couple if she has any hope to survive. By no means is this an easy watch, as the subject matter is harrowing and intense, but that’s also precisely why it’s a must-see. Young also frames his feature through both women’s perspectives, as both women are polarizing victims of John’s abuse. Stephen Curry is downright frightening as John, but it’s Emma Booth’s portrayal of the broken Evelyn that makes this as gripping as it is. Released in May, and still awaiting a Blu ray release, Hounds of Love delivers the year’s most uncomfortable, breathtaking and nail-biting, yet rewarding watch.