Saturday, April 14, 2018

Rotten Tomatoes Lists the Best Horror Movies

Rotten Tomatoes, the movie review aggregate site you either love or hate, compiled it's list of the 100 Best Reviewed Horror Films. This is based on what they call an "Adjusted Score" on eligible titles which stipulates at least 40 reviews and the number of reviews skewing the list (using some statistics thing called a Bayesian formula). Some of these are my favorite films of all times (#2, 17, 18, 23, 34, 41, 45, 58, 73, 90) and others I'm surprised to see on this list (#32, 44-really?, 51, 71), and some I'd never heard of (#72, 84, 93, 94). Anyhoo, my spring/summer project is to watch the remaining 23 films (marked in dead skin blue) on this list that I haven't seen.

1 Get Out (2017)
2 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
3 Psycho (1960)
4 Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror (1922)
5 King Kong (1933)
6 Repulsion (1965)
7 The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
8 The Babadook (2014)
9 Rosemary's Baby (1968)
10 Frankenstein (1931)
11 It Follows (2015)
12 Let the Right One In (2008)
13 Aliens (1986)
14 Freaks (1932)
15 Night of the Living Dead (1968)
16 Eyes Without a Face (1962)
17 Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
18 Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)
19 The Witch (2016)
20 The Birds (1963)
21 Gojira (1956)
22 The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
23 The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
24 Don't Look Now (1973)
25 The Vanishing (1988)
26 The Innocents (1961)
27 A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
28 Drag Me to Hell (2009)
29 The Evil Dead (1981)
30 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
31 Carrie (1976)
32 The Loved Ones (2012)
33 Young Frankenstein (1974)
34 Halloween (1978)
35 Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979)
36 Room 237 (2013)
37 Re-Animator (1985)
38 Train to Busan (2016)
39 A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
40 The Host (2007)
41 Shaun of the Dead (2004)
42 Dracula (1931)
43 Zombieland (2009)
44 It Comes At Night (2017)
45 What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
46 Suspiria (1977)
47 Eraserhead (1977)
48 The Fly (1986)
49 Dawn of the Dead (1979)
50 Phantom Of The Opera (1925)
51 We Are Still Here (2015)
52 Don't Breathe (2016)
53 The Wicker Man (1973)
54 Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
55 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
56 Frankenweenie (2012)
57 The Blair Witch Project (1999)
58 The Shining (1980)
59 The Exorcist (1973)
60 An American Werewolf in London (1981)
61 The Conjuring (2013)
62 The Dead Zone (1983)
63 Misery (1990)
64 Let Me In (2010)
65 Cronos (1994)
66 Gerald's Game (2017)
67 Bone Tomahawk (2015)
68 The Orphanage (2007)
69 28 Days Later (2003)
70 Near Dark (1987)
71 Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
72 Russian Ark (2002)
73 Poltergeist (1982)
74 Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut (2004)
75 The Devil's Candy (2017)
76 Chronicle (2012)
77 Goodnight Mommy (2015)
78 The Descent (2006)
79 The Omen (1976)
80 Slither (2006)
81 Ginger Snaps (2001)
82 This Is the End (2013)
83 Altered States (1980)
84 A Field in England (2014)
85 Spring (2015)
86 The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
87 Gremlins (1984)
88 Backcountry (2015)
89 Paranormal Activity (2009)
90 The Thing (1982)
91 We Are What We Are (2013)
92 The House of the Devil (2009)
93 Save the Green Planet (2004)
94 Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary (2003)
95 Dressed to Kill (1980)
96 The Others (2001)
97 The Conjuring 2 (2016)
98 Santa Sangre (1989)
99 Willow Creek (2014)
100 Split (2017)

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Quite the Quiet Place

John Krasinski's directorial debut A Quiet Place is truly terrifying, tense and terrific. It's a creature feature that makes the genre feel fresh again, not by its plot contrivance (be quiet or be killed) but by the solid nearly wordless script, a cast that includes the ever-versatile Emily Blunt and the astounding work of Millicent Simmonds as her deaf daughter, and the pitch perfect direction that builds dread, releases havoc and reloads. There are no cheap startle scares. And it's also a smart, staying just ahead of the audience, and then a surprisingly moving film. The world we are dropped into has no clear explication and yet feels full realized, completed with lush swooping hills of the family's otherwise idyllic farm. The most mesmerizing thing about watching this film in a packed theater is how silent and attentive the audience was – no candy wrappers, no cell phones. I've never seen anything like it. This will likely be the year's best horror film and a must-see for movie lovers of all walks.






ADDENDUM: By now most horror fans have heard the news that A Quiet Place is breaking box office records with a huge $50 million opening weekend. And it's holding a steady at 95% on the Rotten Tomato aggregate. So naturally, Film School Rejects reports that the screenwriters are hopeful for a sequel and have some great ideas of where to take the story. Please note there are spoilers, so don't read the article if you haven't seen the film!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Yes, But Is It "Prestige Horror"?

The horror genre is back in a big way and with the recent attention and wins of The Shape of Water and Get Out, there's no doubt prestige horror will be making a huge comeback in the year(s) to come. But what is prestige horror? Basically, it's a serious, dramatic film with a high pedigree that dips into genre themes, such as the supernatural, unnatural monsters, or serial killers. These movies are usually not blockbusters (like The Conjuring or IT) but tend to be indies or lower budget films that get quite a bit of love on the festival circuit and lots of praise from critics (although their marketing campaigns are usually very misleading). Below is my litmus test to determine whether a horror movie is a prestige horror film.


Friday, March 16, 2018

Department 56 Adds to "Nightmare" Village

Department 56's has added a few pieces to their Nightmare Before Christmas line (available June 25). So far this series has replicated what's been available through Disney and Bradford Exchange although with much better detail, larger size, and much better quality. This year we get Lock, Shock & Barrel's Treehouse, the Town Square Fountain, and Zero's doghouse. I hope they keep going and give us some more odd buildings like the round monster building, the witch hat buildings, the cat building, the octopus tower, or maybe even the spiral hill.

Town Square Fountain, #6001202, $40

Lock, Shock & Barrel Treehouse, #6001201, $130

Zero And His Dog House, #6001203, $20


Elsewhere, Department 56's Halloween Village series adds another interesting witch building (Emeralda's Shoe Shop) and a few less inspired buildings that don't scream out to me. I'm not sure what happened since Enesco bought the company but it feels like Halloween has veered towards the dull and stodgy (and enough with the train cars!). Perhaps they've realigned to their target demo (which skews older based on the the village organizations I've met with) and they want to be inoffensive as possible? 

Esmeralda's Shoe Shop, #6000660, $115

The Bone Grinder Mill, #6000663, $140

The Black Cat Flat, #6000661, $160


Last Laugh Asylum, #6000659, $155

Monster Mash Party House, #6000659, $160

But all is not lost when I saw two accessories: Tree of Terror and Row of Skulls. Both of these are actually pretty scary and maybe even disturbing. I wish they would bring this kind of sinister feel to a couple buildings. Where is black and sinister gothic mansion/monster house like the one from Stephen King's IT? Department 56, please create a focus group with a few of us younger village collectors and let us be your Halloween consultants!

Row of Skulls Curved, #6001747, $18.50

Tree of Terror, #6001754, $30


All photos in this post are from Department56.com.



Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Happy National (Pet A) Spider Day!


March 14 is National Save a Spider day and it's a perfect day to start eradicating some of that arachnophobia. Spiders save us from being overrun by other bugs such as mosquitoes, flies, ants, and aphids. Spiders only bite humans in self-defense and while all have venom, few are dangerous. Scientists are studying the use of some spiders' venoms as a more natural pesticide, as well as treatments for Alzheimer's disease, strokes, and other diseases. So go out and pet a spider! Actually, on second thought, don't. They may interpret your love pat as an attack.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

"Valdemar Legacy" Conjures Up Lovecraft

Some films fly by without a blip, especially if they are foreign horror films. While browsing on Amazon Prime Video I came across La Herencia Valdemar (The Valdemar Legacy). This gothic yarn from Spain was released waaaaay back in 2010 and never really got a U.S. release, other than being unceremoniously dumped onto Amazon. It's remotely inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft and while not a great film, is definitely an interesting trip into Necronomicon territory.

The movie starts as a modern day haunted house film and then abruptly shifts to the 19th century when the rise of spiritualism led to many charlatans. The elegant melodrama revolves around a childless couple who run an orphanage outside a remote village. The husband gains an interest in the occult and soon the couple is holding seances (for guests like Bram Stoker and Lizzie Borden!) as a means to finance their selfless work. But things take a dark turn. The plot circles back to modern day but ends on a cliffhanger because – TWIST - there's a second movie!

Unfortunately neither Amazon or any other streaming service (or DVD seller) has La Sombra Prohibida (The Forbidden Shadow). Thankfully, the interwebs easily revealed a (legal?) source to stream (not download) the entire movie. Part 2 picks up right where we left off with the heroine way back from the first 10 minutes of the first film. A bunch of often nonsensical chaos ensues (including a cameo from Howard Phillips himself!) and its Lovecraftian themes emerge clearly. Part 2 is not as successful as the moderately successful first movie, but it does bring the entire story to a resounding close.

While Valdermar I & II don't feature the best effects or production values, especially the action heavy second part, I admire the ambitious storytelling, grand cosmic themes, and the many strong performances that draw you into the tangled plot. Few films swing for the fences like this and I'm surprised there isn't a cult following for this saga. Perhaps there is in Spain? Here in America, mainstream audiences hate subtitled films, even though some of the best horror films are coming from abroad. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft may be disappointed that this isn't an adaptation of any specific stories but nonetheless, this is an entertaining supernatural saga that's worth checking out.


Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Shape of Oscar

A creature feature, horror comedy and family film about skeletons won Oscars!!! Congratulations to Best Picture THE SHAPE OF WATER, with Guillermo del Toro, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay GET OUT, and Best Animated Film, COCO. It's so rare when genre films get serious recognition and today we celebrate!

Poster artwork by James Jean

Thursday, February 22, 2018

SyFy's Channel Zero Scores 10s Across the Board

I'm not sure where my head was in October 2016, but my eyeballs completely missed SyFy's horror anthology show called Channel Zero. With thousands of streaming options on top of pay cable, it's easy to miss great shows. I'm so happy I stumbled across this show after seeing previews for the third season which started earlier this month.

Each season is based on a popular story from the Creepy Pasta site that I can't seem to shut up about. Season 1: Candle Cove, is full of dread, taut tension, and bizarre visuals that I can't seem to shake even now. At six episodes, the show is easily bingeable over the weekend, and probably better watched this way. The story and plot systematically unfold with almost no exposition. Characters jump right into the weirdness in the first episode, and immediately we're introduced to a creepy puppet tv show that only kids can see – and it's influencing them to do terrible things! It's surreal nature means that the show follows no real "horror rules" making the proceedings quite tense. You just don't know what to expect (like all that damn tooth horror). The production is lean but well filmed and the effects modest, but the fine actors really stand out and make this a stellar show (Paul Schneider and Fiona Shaw looking at you).

Comparisons to American Horror Story are inevitable but I don't think they're in the same league. AHS is brash, pulpy, gory, glam trash held together by a top notch cast and an extensive marketing budget. Channel Zero is just so damn better. The stories, characters, and the direction all work together to create a true sense of horror that AHS lost after it's second season. Perhaps I've overlooked SyFy for horror/weirdness but that's two great series (along with Happy!) I'm retroactively gagging about.

Don't believe me? The first two seasons (Season 1: Candle CoveSeason 2: No-End House) are available to stream in their entirety through March 21 on SyFy.com, and the SyFy app. And watch the new cycle, Season 3: Butcher's Block, Wednesdays at 10/9C. I'm looking forward to Season 3 although I might wait to binge on it all at once (not what the network likes to hear but it's the truth). I recommend that you do so as well.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Unusual Decor for Your Halloween Village

It's only February and I'm already thinking about my Halloween village. I was at Petsmart looking for stuff my black cat demands, and walked through the fish section. I stumbled across this awesome aquarium decor and thought some of these pieces would be interesting accents for my village. I ended up choosing the octopus because the scale was perfect for the ghost ship I already own. The pieces are expensive because they are non-toxic and stand up to being submerged in water (but still less expensive that usual Department 56 pieces). I really loved the many rock formations and gnarled tree limbs too. Some of the plants are even blacklight reactive if you wanted to have a really surreal effect. Check them out at Petsmart.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Be My Scary Valentine

For those who love the bloody horror of love but didn't make it to Hellmark store, here are some ecards to share! Tip: send immediately.









Monday, February 5, 2018

TurboTax Horror Ads Are the Best

It's tax season and like many Americans I am terrified. TurboTax is here to save the day and assure us there's nothing to be afraid of. Their new campaign features a series of horror ads that start creepy but end cute. SEE–Taxes aren't so scary! Brava/Bravo to the Wieden + Kennedy, the Portland-based agency behind these fun ads.

"The Noise in the Attic"


"The Dark"


"The Thing in the Woods"


"The Thing Under the Bed"


"Closet"

"Chupacabra"



Saturday, February 3, 2018

"Happy!" Is the Cure for Winter Doldrums

We can talk about HAPPY! all day but let's make one thing clear: this twisted, crazy show deserves some serious love. It's based on a 2012 four-issue comic book that combines elements of crime, comedy, drama, with some very divergent things. I know I know. The premise sounds ridiculous: a former cop on the verge of suicide is befriended by – an imaginary friend! – an animated unicorn who needs help rescuing an adorable young girl. The girl was abducted by a deranged and frightening Santa Claus who seems to be collecting kids for some nefarious reason. From there things get very twisted with a sadistic torture specialist, a mob family, an odd kids TV show personality, really big bugs, and mom who dives head first into the absurd to find her missing daughter.

Christopher Meloni as Nick Sax is at his most grimiest and unhinged as a pill-popping, boozing, general lowlife and he is hysterical. However, the star of the show is Happy, blue unicorn with a dazzling pink horn. Voiced by Patton Oswalt, his disarming and charming naivety is quickly challenged by the real life on the streets of New York. Being partnered with Nick to solve this crime erodes his innocence (and ours).

As for the production, the camera work is dazzling. The characters, plot and writing are fantastic, and for those out there who like gore, there is plenty of splattered brain meat to go around. Be warned that this is a boundary pushing show with plenty of mucky, offensive, filthy unpleasantness. Yet it's remarkably watchable, absolutely fun to watch, and shocking to see this quality on SYFY.


The season ended on Wednesday but all eight episodes are available OnDemand from SYFY. The best gift of all is that SYFY has renewed it for a Season2!



Friday, February 2, 2018

"Winchester" is a Worthwhile Visit

I lived in San Jose, California for five years and when I drove to the grocery store I would see the Winchester Mystery House. This infamous house with its history of ghosts and madness stood just a few blocks from my house! I've been on the tours many times, walking the weird corridors, dark rooms, and even the cold basement – and love taking visitors there, especially for the candlelit tours in complete darkness. Naturally when I heard there was a movie starring Helen Mirren, I was positively giddy.

Thankfully, WINCHESTER did not completely disappoint me. It melded the house's historical elements (as told by the docent's carefully crafted scripts) with an (another?) original story that conjures up some pretty solid scares. The first act gets straight to the point with ghosts but panders to the audience with one too many jump scares. Once the movie settles into the second act, it shifts gears and slows to build the greater mysteries. Then the third act amps up the action but stumbles a bit instead of hitting us with both barrels. Much like the house itself, the posturing is classic and ornate but yields few terrifying surprises, and at the very center is a message that seems to contradict itself in the last few moments (the remedy for violence is more violence). Regardless, I still found it eerily entertaining, beautifully realized with a rich, jeweled atmosphere, and substantial without being pretentious.

Truth be told, I would have preferred a more sophisticated take on the Winchester house but realize there's an intended audience here. At the center of this movie is Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester who commands every second of screen time (even though we don't dig deeper into her psyche). Jason Clarke does a marvelous job of holding his own as the drug-addled doctor sent to assess Sarah's mental health. Both add needed gravitas to the film and show how good actors can elevate simple material. I could have easily watched Helen talk about windows treatments and her choice of doorknobs for another half-hour.

For those unfamiliar with the charm and perplexing history of the Winchester house, the movie may be an appetizing morsel but not thoroughly satisfying (which may lead to more people visiting the house). I also wonder if it will even resonate with viewers who don't have an emotional attachment to the house like I do. Still, one of the strangest things about the house (and even the movie!) is that once inside its walls, you don't want to leave.








by Daniel Danger


Thursday, February 1, 2018

Bentley Little is the "Best Outright Horror Novelist"

You may not know American horror writer Bentley Little by name but his work is on par, if not even better, than many of his contemporaries in the genre. He has written 27 novels, most recently The Handyman, published in October 2017, and unlike some gothic, suspense or thriller writers, he is best categorized as the "Best Outright Horror Novelist" (according to Stephen King on EW.com). This is a pretty bold declaration in the literary world that perhaps doesn't give true horror its due.


Without any movie or tv show adaptations, or really any hoopla surrounding Little, his works were completely unknown to me until Audible recommended The Haunted. The haunted house story is riveting with terrifying visuals and the tormented family in the middle react reasonably and smartly and unlike their movie counterparts (sure lets follow that weird moan into the dark attic where the one hanging light bulb is not working).

Next, I devoured The Influence which is a deep dive into a surreal nightmare where reversals of fortune and nature is remixed by some giant unseen force. It's lurid and horrifying in that Clive Barker way, but more epic in tone like King's work.

In The Handyman, a man must come to face the truth about that friendly man down the street. It's emotionally resonant work about loss and revenge intermixed with an unexpected supernatural angle. This is one of his most cinematic works with broad visuals – you can almost see the sweeping camera work! 


Little gets right to the point in his books and there is little flowery prose or excessive exposition to prolong what horror readers want: terror, mayhem and monsters! They are not plot heavy and usually written in a straight-forward fashion without much use of gimmicky plot devices (flash backs, flash forwards, red herrings, holdbacks). He tells his stories with confidence and allows his fully realized characters to stand on two feet. The settings are so common that you hardly notice that the horror has creeped in and the atmosphere of dread permeates every page. It's the kind of tense horror that is unpredictable, wildly surreal, and often really dark. It's like those quiet nightmares you dare not even acknowledge in the light of day. This all makes for a terrifying, fun and entertaining read.

The next time you need a palate cleanser after reading one of King's mercilessly long tomes, consider Bentley Little. He is definitely a hidden gem that will please horror readers and deserves a wider audience.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Blood Moon 2018


Did you catch the Blood Moon this morning? It wasn't just a blood moon, but also a Super Moon (when the moon is closest to the Earth), and a Blue Moon (second full moon in one month). The lunar eclipse is caused when the shadow of Earth falls across the moon and the resulting scattered light looks red (just like a sunset).

I can only imagine our ancient ancestors looking up at the night sky in terror as the moon changed to a bloody color. Obviously it was a sign from the gods of impending doom. Even today, people like ministers John Hagee and Mark Blitz declared the tetrad of lunar eclipses that occurred between April 2014 and September 2015 (coinciding with the Jewish holidays mind you) was a sign of the beginning of the apocalypse according to the Bible, Book of Joel Acts 2:20 and Revelation 6:12. Thankfully they wrote books and guides to help you through the end of days.

No doubt this celestial event was quite impressive, especially living in California where we have the best seat in the house. If anything it demonstrates that the heavens continue to operate like clockwork, with nothing amiss. I'd be more frightened if these events suddenly happened off kilter, which would signal a great imbalance.

So next on the doomsday calendar is the "Super Bowl asteroid". This a smaller asteroid less than 1 mile wide but still classified as a PHA (potentially hazardous asteroid) since it passes Earth at a scant 2.6 million mile distance (very small distance in space terms) every 16 years.

Although more immediately impressive is the "Halloween asteroid" which looks like a skull in certain angles that will make a return visit in mid-November. This one is passing at a much more comfortable 300 million miles away.

Credit: J. A. PeƱas/SINC

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Best Horror Movies of 2017

The horror renaissance continued in 2017 with no shortage of scary films, including many non-traditional horror films. Horror seems to be evolving past the genre tropes into new and interesting forms, like the continued rise of "prestige horror". It's a wild age of exploration as filmmakers no longer shackled to profit-centric theatrical runs explore puzzling themes, hybrid genres, and challenging reinterpretations of horror. Video on Demand (VOD) and streaming sites (like Netflix) have broadened that playing field making distribution is easier to find. It's about time! Here are some of my favorites.

1. IT   supernatural, monsters, coming-of-age, period piece
With a mix of nostalgia and a creepy clown, this Stephen King adaptation turned out to be the best and truest to the source material. It's a heartfelt kid centric tale with some genuinely shocking scenes (when was the last time you saw a child be killed on screen?). It might be overly long, but I enjoyed every minute of it (19 more minutes will be added to the Director's Cut coming later this year).

2. mother!   arthouse, surreal, prestige
Darren Aronofsky's polarizing film has been hailed as utter trash and a masterpiece. Having seen it completely uninitiated, I was pulled into a madman's journey through an existential nightmare. It stayed with me for days as I went through the interpretation process. It's like nothing I've seen and guarantee that only a handful a readers will admire this horror (yes it is) film.

3. A Ghost Story  ghosts, indie, prestige
This hipster's horror film became an obsessive wonder. So obscure and juvenile (a man in a sheet, really?) yet it weaves a resonant story of loss, loneliness and the cosmic search for answers. With so little dialogue viewers are forced to piece the story together. And even after the ending pops like a balloon out of the existence, it lingers on and on. If you watch it, please try to get past the pie scene, which is a very long mistake no matter how you slice on it. 

4. Get Out  psychological, thriller, mystery, prestige
As race relations continue to spiral in Trump's America, this film boldly took on the topic in an original and sobering way. I felt true palpable anger at the end and Daniel Kaluuya's Oscar-worthy performance was the anchor. It's a refined horror film raised well above its station that boldly declares genre fare as formidable cinema. (4 Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Original Screenplay) 

5. A Dark Song   drama, demonic, foreign
Ireland is a country of many stories and this one has both darkness and spectacle. A distraught mother is seeking vengeance for the murder of her son by any means necessary, which includes 8-month ritual to invoke otherworldly beings. It's a slog to get through, much like her day-to-day tasks, and makes one wonder why black magic is so much work. Then the horrors start including a some understated but effective imagery (is that a man smoking in the chair?). The ending is completely unexpected and strikes some deep, emotional chords. 

6. The Void    supernatural, Lovecraftian, surreal
It's been a while since there was some batshit crazy, 80s-inspired, Lovecraftian fever dream. This is the one we've been waiting for. Between the monsters, the masked ceremonial men, and whatever the hell is going on in the basement, this movie was non-stop adrenalin rush. It's completely undecipherable, features practical effects(!) and wears its B-movie contrivances proudly. Just buckle up and enjoy the ride.

7. Personal Shopper    ghosts, drama, mystery, prestige
Yes, it's rather irksome that the director said this is a horror film for people who do not watch horror films (you and I need not apply). Yet its curious, cold tone and a calmly unhinged Kristen Stewart who searches for signs from her dead brother is engrossing and peculiar. Her existential crisis is compounded by mysterious texts that leads to an undercurrent mystery happening just off screen. The experience is mesmerizing and baffling.  

8. The Shape of Water    horror romance, period piece
Guillermo del Toro's lush film is a romance/fable with quintessential horror trappings, like a creature from the black lagoon tank. It's stunningly beautiful, filmed in cool greens and blues and features steampunk-adjacent set design. Unlike his last romance/horror hybrid (Crimson Peak) this one is neither bleak nor cynical and features an incredibly strong cast (Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon). This is the best (only?) date night movie on my list. (13 Oscar Nominations! Best Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Costume Design, Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Music Score, Original Screenplay, Production Design)

9. Super Dark Times    drama, crime, coming-of-age
The beautiful cinematography of this 80s set coming of age tale seems like a reimagined Stand By Me. High school friends on the verge of becoming men face an unthinkable accident that leads towards a downward spiral. It makes you question whether bad act makes a person evil, or just taps into something that was already there.


10. The Babysitter   quirky, comedy, slasher
This Netflix original film packs a lot of fun into its brief running time with some idiotic characters (including a buff dude who can't seem to find a shirt), a gleefully absurd tone, and some really gory (and funny) kills. It makes a few missteps in the middle but more than makes up for it in the end. This  wins for best popcorn movie of the year.

11. Annabelle: Creation    supernatural, hauntings, period piece
Somehow period-piece prequels are better than their predecessors. This sequel to the lackluster Annabelle is ten times the movie, scarier, and a more worthy entry to The Conjuring universe. It's a mainstream R-rated horror movie which is mostly unheard of nowadays and definitely worth a traditional, spooky time.

12. Gerald's Game    drama, thriller, survival 
It's been a great year for Stephen King and finally we have some great adaptations of his work. This one also stays very true to the book and tells a surprisingly topical and poignant story. Director Mike Flanagan has captured an empathetic tone without being exploitive even as a woman is handcuffed to a bed, ultimately revealing the dominance and oppression women face from an early age. It is heartbreaking and empowering.

13. The Devil's Candy    demonic, hauntings, madman
The devil comes a knockin' in this heavy metal tinged creepfest that features a father and artist on the brink. The tone is pitch black and the Ethan Embry radiates anguish and torment, and easily his best performance to date. It's a jarring and haunting film that makes you question the delicate balance between passion and evil.  It's also the rare movie with a final guy (rather than girl). 

14. The Girl With All The Gifts    zombie, post-apocalyptic, foreign 
The zombie genre has been beaten to death yet this film manages a fresh take. At its heart is the young actress Sennia Nanua who gives a deft performance as a new breed of creature and manages to upstage even Glenn Close in a crazy eyes mode. The tone is less bleak than usual for this type of film and the end made we question whether a zombie apocalypse might be a good thing.

15. Raw    drama, cannibal, coming-of-age, foreign
A French tale is equally stomach turning and utterly fascinating. Garance Marillier is fearless as a young, tepid woman entering college whose inner beast is unleashed after a rather innocuous hazing ritual.  Be warned that this an extreme film. 



Honorable Mentions


Split
    thriller, abduction, madman
M. Night Shyamalan is having a moment. I won't call it a comeback but he might have decided to stop making sucky movies. This one is bolstered by James McAvoy's hypnotic performance as a man controlled by over 20 personalities – some of them psycho. The tension builds steadily as we wonder if the kidnapped victims will outsmart him. The final twist might leave some hoping for a different resolution/connection but it doesn't erase an otherwise good film. 

Better Watch Out    yuletide, home invasion, dark humor
Yes, another babysitter movie but this one is set during Christmas! The clever script upends the proceedings and ultimately leads us down a dark, implausible road that has you yelling at the screen. So yes, it's also a good, ole fun time.

Happy Death Day   teen, slasher, comedy
I was less than enthusiastic when Blumhouse churned out another a teen slasher flick albeit with a Groundhog Day makeover (where a character relives the same day over and over). The result in surprisingly entertaining due completely to the graceful performance of Jessica Rothe who moves from bitchy to scared to funny in the blink of an eye. This elevates the seemingly generic material with gravitas, cleverness, and genuine humor. She is definitely one to watch!

Prevenge    dark humor, slasher, foreign
Pregnancy apparently can be murder. Literally. Alice Lowe writes, directs and stars in this darkly humorous story of baby fetus talking future mommy into killing everyone associated with baby daddy's death. It's sadistic, hilarious and even poignant as a commentary on the madness that accompanies the miracle of birth.

The Blackcoat's Daughter    demonic, drama, coming of age 
A sinister force seems to befall two girls left alone during winter break. The mood is pensive, bleak as winter, and the tension slowly ratchets up as horrible secrets are revealed. It's a great structure that comes full circle, and ultimately revealing the pain and loneliness of adolescence.

Dave Made A Maze    comedy, surreal, adventure
This odd duck flick has friends trapped in a cardboard maze filled with boobytraps, where you might get your head cut off and bleed paper strings. It surreal, thoroughly unexplained, and utterly original.

1922    drama, crime, mystery, period piece
Another Stephen King adaptation. Really? Yes, and this one stars an unrecognizable Thomas Jane (from 2007's The Mist) as a simple farmer who conspires to kill his wife and then has to live with it. The story unfolds slowly and in fully descriptive King fashion that makes you wonder whether everyday occurrences are perhaps more otherworldly.

The Lure    surreal, musical, period piece, foreign
Stop me if you've heard this one. Two mermaids walk into a bar, start singing and then maybe eat a few people. This Polish film, complete with full blown musical dance numbers, dares to go into 80s and tell an amorphous tale of love gone wrong. It's bizarre, colorful, and irresistible.


Best Family Film

Coco    animated, day of the dead, coming-of-age
After an agonizing wait, we finally got Pixar's incredible ode to dia de los muertos, the Mexican holiday honoring the dead. While this is not horror film, skeletons and crossing over into the land of the dead certainly might sound like horror to young children and their parents. The film is beautiful, colorful and the core carries a deeply resonate message about family and the passion of being an artist (whether that's music or shoe making). (2 Oscar nominations: Best Animated Feature, Best Song)



A note about release dates: Some of these films were released prior to 2017 but received limited runs, festival debuts awaiting distribution, or international release only and not readily available until 2017 so they were included here. Just in case you fact check release dates on IMDB.com, the reference guide for all things cinema. 

Love movie posters like I do? Check out the oddly titled site, IMP Awards for a complete resource of ALL movie posters. It's a great reference site for those who like movie art!