This year has been tremendous for horror, from massive box office wins to surprise creative successes. 2017 has also brought a surprising number of returning horror icons, some reviving long-dormant franchises while others sought to answer criticisms on more recent entries. The resurgence of horror icons looks to continue into 2018, too, with new appearances by icons like the Predator and the Boogeyman himself, Michael Myers.
With the year winding to a close, let’s rank the returning horror icons and their films of 2017:
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise has had a rather uneven run, especially when it comes to continuity. Yet when Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury were tapped to helm an origin story, the minds behind 2007’s modern classic Inside, it was enough to give fans hope that this was going to be something special. Or at the very least extremely tense and gory. I suppose on that front it succeeds in its revelry for violence, but it also somehow manages to be pretty dull, at least for the long stretch of the running time. The beginning and the end of Leatherface’s origin story are the most interesting, but somehow the character is relegated to a supporting role in his own film during the sagging middle. That’s because, inexplicably, the narrative wants to play a “guess which messed up kid is actually going to be Leatherface” type of game. Bustillo and Maury wholly deliver on what they were hired to do, in terms of gruesome sequences, but I can’t help but wonder what Leatherface’s origin story would be like had they gotten to write the script as well.
6. Alien: Covenant
The lack of xenomorphs in Prometheus was a common complaint, among many other flaws, so Ridley Scott continued with the plot threads he was most interested in while giving fans what we thought we wanted; a lot more xenomorph (and neomorph) action. The trailers looked fantastic, giving glimpses of back bursting aliens and Katherine Waterston as a potential new character on par with Ripley. What we got, though, were two different movies crammed into one. One film continued the themes of creation that Scott began exploring in Prometheus, which proved to be the most interesting aspect of the film largely thanks to Michael Fassbender’s performances as androids Walter and David. The other film, though, was a rehash of previous Alien films involving an ill-fated crew that, for the most part, didn’t even get proper introductions before being dispatched by new iterations of the xenomorph. On a visual level, Covenant is fantastic. The gore was top notch, as was anything related to Fassbender’s David playing god with the xenomorphs. The introduction to neomorphs and back bursting aliens was fantastic. Anything related to the Covenant crew, however, added a lot of dead weight. I cared about the crews of the USCSS Nostromo and USS Sulaco. I didn’t even know who most of the crew was in Covenant, even when they were dying.
Reviving the Saw franchise after seven years of lying dormant brought a ton of excitement for the potential; if the studio is bringing the series back after its conclusion, there must be a compelling reason, right? Eh, not so much. Our own Trace reviewed it, stating, “Jigsaw is a competently made film, but it does feel a bit passionless.” It summed up the overall mixed reception to Jigsaw’s return. While imperfect, I felt like Jigsaw succeeded in its goal. I can’t say that it reinvented the wheel, nor did it offer much in the way of the series’ trademark twists, but boy did it entertain. I had a blast with Jigsaw. The kills were inventive, and the victims didn’t grate on me like they have in the past few installments. Best of all? No Mark Hoffman! That was a character that had long overstayed his welcome, so I was happy with a fresh batch of players in the Jigsaw’s twisted games. It’s always a welcome sight to see Billy the Puppet on the big screen, too, even if the latest entry didn’t reinvent the wheel.
4. Victor Crowley
One of the things that I love about Adam Green’s Hatchet trilogy, aside from the retro slasher vibe and glorious gore, is that overall it feels like one big story instead of three films in a franchise. Each one escalates the battle between Marybeth Dunstan and Victor Crowley in proper measure, from the tourists of the first film to the search and recovery team of the third film. The trilogy was given a proper send off, but that didn’t lessen the fans’ desire for more. Adam Green pulled a fast one, though, when he revealed a sneaky sequel in lieu of the original Hatchet set to screen on its 10th year anniversary. Set 10 years after the events of the first film and following survivor Andrew (played by series mainstay Parry Shen), Victor Crowley is mistakenly resurrected to begin his terror anew. Which is all you need to know going in. Except of course, everything you loved about the franchise isn’t diminished in any way. All of the gore and humor you could want, with some well-earned fan surprises in the mix. That’s a tough accomplishment, if you ask me.
3. Annabelle: Creation
This modern, recent addition to the horror icons stole our horror loving hearts with her chilling introduction in James Wan’s The Conjuring. So much so that she got her own spinoff in 2014, though it didn’t hold a candle to her previous film appearance. It performed well at the box office, and audiences were receptive enough to her standalone film that it warranted a sequel. Or rather, a prequel. New Line Cinema and James Wan tapped David F. Sandberg to helm the film after his work on Lights Out, and the result was something much more at home in The Conjuring universe. Sandberg drew inspiration not only from Wan’s work, but classics like The Haunting or the score of The Shining to craft a creepy prequel that nails its scares. Sandberg softened Annabelle’s look, attempting to make her look more like something a child would actually play with. I can’t say he was entirely successful, because she was still pretty terrifying. Not only did Annabelle’s second standalone appearance work well on her own merit, the film also nicely sets up the upcoming spinoff The Nun, boosting Annabelle: Creation’s ranking.
2. Cult of Chucky
After the comedic tone of Seed of Chucky, the series went back to its straight horror roots with Curse of Chucky. It worked. Between the new look for Brad Dourif’s serial killing doll Chucky, new characters, and toning down the comedy to let scares take the spotlight, Don Mancini re-ignited the franchise in the best possible way. Which made the direct follow up to Curse of Chucky highly anticipated. Leave it to Mancini to continue the battle between Nica (played by the fantastic Fiona Dourif) and Chucky in the most unexpected of ways. Those expecting something more in the vein of Curse of Chucky might be disappointed, but long-time fans found themselves with a sequel offering huge ideas and memorably iconic moments. Cult of Chucky earns high marks for its bold new direction and originality, bringing Alex Vincent and Jennifer Tilly back into the fold, and the utterly fantastic scene featuring three Chucky dolls. The war between good versus evil seemed impossibly uneven by the time the credits rolled, so huge thank you to Mancini for that pleasant surprise during the end credit scene.
It says a lot about Stephen King’s source material as well as Tim Curry’s performance in the 1990 made for television adaptation that Pennywise became such an instant icon that resonated with fans. Curry’s version of the coulrophobic inducing entity that terrorized the Losers Club was so iconic that fans were instantly apprehensive of anyone else stepping into the role. Instead of using Curry’s performance as a guide, though, Bill Skarsgard and the creators behind the new adaptation smartly took it in a completely different direction. New look, new personality and mannerisms, but same terrifying evil at its core. Thanks to Skarsgard’s performance as Pennywise the dancing clown, both versions of the character stand out on their own. That weird eye thing that Pennywise does in the movie, making him even more unsettling? That’s all Skarsgard, utilizing his lazy eye to enhance the strangeness of Pennywise. Even cooler is that Skarsgard’s version has instilled a fear of clowns in a whole new generation. Andy Muschietti’s IT works for so many reasons, but in terms of returning horror icons Pennywise stole the year.