Phew. If you’re reading this, it means we survived 2017. It was touch and go there for a while, but we made it, hobbling over the finish line, battered and bruised from a year of political woes, nuclear worries, Hollywood upheaval and whatever other personal miseries the past 365 days might have inflicted upon us individually. It’s been a hard one, and it shows no sign of getting easier anytime soon.
As ever, we can take some solace in the pleasures of the silver screen. And, for that, 2017 was a very good one indeed. Sure, it had its notable misfires (2017 marks the first year I won’t be putting a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie on a Top 10 list, and, for me, Justice League was 31 years of comic book fandom flushed down the pan), but by and large, it was one of the strongest years we’ve had in a very long time… to the extent where I genuinely struggled in compiling this list.
Honourable mentions: John Wick 2 (not horror), Logan, The Evil Within (a year in which I saw so many good movies I couldn’t justify wasting a space on ironic pleasures) and Twin Peaks: The Return (not a movie, but the best of anything I saw this year). The most honourable mention goes to Get Out – the horror film of the year, but simply not one of my favourite horror films this year.
What remains and what follows, then, is my own personal Top 10 favourite horror films released this year.
Oh, mother! Where do we begin? Wherever it falls on the genre spectrum, one can’t deny that cinema’s most horrifying, harrowing and terrifying moments of the year come part and parcel with the majestically pretentious Mother! As marital discord and sinister house guests give way to biblical-scale violence and apocalyptic destruction, Mother! tramples all over the rest of the big horror releases in terms of sheer scope, scale and cruelty. Those with social anxiety will be left shivering.
Better Watch Out
Say hello to your newest Christmas viewing tradition. After taking the festival circuit by storm earlier in the year, the festive release of this (sort of) home invasion thriller has only improved its stock. Crack open the egg nog, turn up the Christmas lights, avoid all spoilers and treat yourself to the best Christmas horror film in years. Best go in knowing as little as possible though – no peeking!
After a string of shockingly terrible flops, M. Night Shyamalan achieved unlikely redemption in his fun found footage feature The Visit. The comeback continues with this dark and nasty thriller, featuring incredible performances from The Witch’s Anna Taylor Joy and several iterations of James McAvoy. It’s almost a shame when we reach the big twist, which threatens to overshadow Shyamalan’s best film since, um, Unbreakable.
The non-Alien film which out Alien’d Alien in a year which we actually had an Alien film. Astronauts on a scientific mission orbiting Earth find themselves fighting for their lives when a Martian organism gets a taste for human flesh. A stark, no-pretensions work of sci-fi horror with a high-calibre cast firing on all cylinders (even Ryan Reynolds, who the film finally manages to shut up), this is one of the most underrated films of the year.
The cat now out of the bag, this Indie sequel wisely avoids doing the same thing all over again, and cannily toys with audience expectations by having its found footage killer come clean from the start. Peachfuzz returns, but he’s gifted an able adversary in the latest documentarian to enter his den. While it lacks the originality of its predecessor, Mark Duplass relishes the extra layers brought to his weird serial killer. Brilliantly unpredictable, it had me on the edge of my seat throughout.
The French cannibalism movie in which the cannibalism is the least troubling element. Studying for her fresher year at vet school, young veggie Justine begins to question all of her culinary inclinations when she develops a taste for raw, bleeding flesh. Scenes of Justine nibbling on human meat are predictably grotesque, but it’s her chowing down on human hair which will leave you gagging.
Brawl in Cell Block 99
No, this one isn’t technically horror at all, but S. Craig Zahler’s bloody prison beat ‘em up brings the grindhouse vibe to a story which does for prisons what Bone Tomahawk did for Westerns. Vince Vaughn is a revelation as the incarcerated Bradley, putting his 6ft frame and thuggish physique to good use. Bad comedy’s loss is genre cinema’s gain, as Vaughn is reborn in one of the most surprising performances this year. ‘Brawl’ is a bit of an understatement though.
Just as estate agent Hussein is completely oblivious to the fact that there’s a vengeful contortionist hiding in his home, so audiences might have missed this one. More fool (or lucky) them, as Freehold is one of the most disturbing films of the year, its sinister hook only managing to stir in a little pitch black comedy to alleviate some of the stomach-churning shocks. Body horror of the most surprising kind.
Yes, I liked it, and yes, it’s number two on this list. Ridley Scott follows up his divisive Prometheus with something almost as Marmite flavoured. The Alien is back, but this is still Michael Fassbender’s David movie. While the threads left dangling at the end of Prometheus don’t exactly lead where one might have expected (or wanted) them to, Scott is still thinking heady thoughts - and Covenant tackles David’s increasing Frankenstein complex so effectively that the Xenomorphs are barely even necessary. Fassbender fingering his own flute is the most erotic thing I’ve seen this year. Should that not float your boat, Danny McBride quietly steals the show.
In a year of Stephen King adaptations (Gerald’s Game and 1922 both nearly made the cut… The Dark Tower didn’t), his most hotly anticipated emerges in first place, re-adapting Pennywise the Dancing Clown for modern audiences. Stranger Things may have happened, but this one has more than just simple nostalgia up its sleeve: which is more than we can say for poor Georgie, whose sleeve is left emptily flapping in the most upsetting manner possible. Funny, scary, cinematic and with not a stupid rubber spider in sight, this is the film which finally did justice to my favourite novel of all time. Or half of it, anyway. Bring on Part 2.
Haribo fiend, Nicolas Cage scholar and frequently functioning alcoholic. These are just some of the words which can be used to describe Joel Harley. The rest, he uses to write film criticism for HorrorTalk and a variety of websites and magazines. Sometimes he manages to do so without swearing.