Before I begin, I want to specify some things about this particular top 10 horror movie list.
One: You are not going to see some of your favorites on here. Though I thoroughly enjoyed A Quiet Place, Hereditary, and Halloween (2018), I’m pretty sure that every other horror blog and website will be ranking those three movies somewhere in their top ten, with Hereditary and A Quiet Place being number one and two respectively. It’s not that I disagree. I do agree. Those were spectacular movies, but I wanted my list to highlight movies that were phenomenal, but maybe didn’t get as much universal love or even recognition as the ones mentioned above.
Two: When I say horror movie, I might not be talking about what you’re used to. Most people view horror, suspense, and thrillers as separate genres all to their own, but I think of them differently. In my opinion, thrillers and suspense are just types of horror movies. They were birthed by horror. They’re the beautiful, shiny daughters that won prom queens and beauty pageants and when the camera panned to the audience to see the unkept, slightly deranged looking woman clapping madly for them, everyone said, “That’s your mother?” Yes, friend. That is their mother. Their beautiful, hideous, gory, brilliant mother.
3. Some of the movie pages for these films may say that they are 2017 movies but they were all released in 2018.
Now without further adieu, this is my top ten list of under-appreciated/under-marketed/ just not talked about enough horror-ish movies of 2018.
10. Good Manners (As Boas Maneiras)
I wrote about this movie earlier this year. I could tell it was going to be different, odd, potentially brilliant and most likely heartbreaking just from the trailer alone. What I wasn’t ready for was a story about motherhood, loss, and sacrifice. I used to think that werewolf movies were always getting the shit end of the stick. With the horrible Wolf Man remake and the fact that werewolves so often have to share their limelight with the cooler, sexier vampires, I very rarely felt satisfied with recent werewolf movies. Good Manners made me realize something though. Yes, there are probably more grade-A vampire movies out there whereas our moonlight monsters usually end up in B-movie territory, but when a werewolf movie gets it right, it gets it right.
When werewolf movies are done well, they are superbly nuanced and layered. Ginger Snaps explored themes of female puberty, sexuality, and sisterhood all while giving us a magnificently original take on the lycan myth. In a similar fashion, Good Manners doesn’t so much focus on the werewolf in the room but uses it as a backdrop against which we see a lonely and isolated woman become a loving and protective mother to something that most would argue we need to be protected against. Also, it has the cutest baby werewolf I have ever seen. I’m always on the fence about wanting kids but if it was guaranteed that I’d have were-baby that precious, it’d be a strong yes.
Reasons it makes the list: Beautifully shot, werewolf, women of color are in it, there’s music and it makes sense (playing with genre/form), and it’s a tear jerker.
Cons: It does feel like quite a long movie and it lags in some places, but it’s all worth it in my opinion.
9.What Keeps You Alive
I heard about What Keeps You Alive around the same time that I heard about Good Manners, but somehow this movie seemed to get even less buzz than the South American film. What Keeps You Alive centers around Jules (played by Brittany Allen) who, while on vacation with her wife Jackie, learns that her spouse is not who she appears to be. What should be romantic weekend alone turns to a deadly fight for survival.
I think one of the brilliant parts of this film is its atmosphere. You feel the isolation. You see how beautiful yet dangerous the setting is much like Jules’ wife turns out to be. The performance that Brittany Allen and Hannah Emily Anderson give are applause-worthy. You’re practically on the edge of your seat the entire film and the antagonist doesn’t hold back with the lengths she’s willing to go to get what she wants.
Reasons it makes the list: Female villain. Great acting and directing. An original take on a classic concept.
Cons: I saw the “twist” coming from the beginning. but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will.
A few months ago, if you would have told me I would have a rape/revenge movie on this list, I would have told you to stop smoking meth, but that was before I saw Revenge. I usually hate this particular subgenre of horror movies. I saw Last House on the Left once and never again. And I refuse to watch I Spit on Your Grave, and though I did see M.F.A last year, there were scenes that were just a bit too graphic for me to ever watch it again. I don’t have that problem with Revenge.
Though Revenge is working in a genre that is often exploitive and gruesome to female protagonists, the movie zeros in on the good aspects of revenge films: the final act. The attack of our main character is thankfully not focused on and drawn out like so many other movies of this genre. Instead, more time is devoted to Jen’s rebirth and well, revenge. My favorite part of this movie is definitely the last ten minutes which culminates in a bloody, dizzying chase. The tension in this scene is enough to claw at your own skin (in a good way) and the pay off is just immaculate.
Reasons it makes the list: Amazing color scheme/pallet/cinematography. A new less exploitive take on rape/revenge movies. Female screenwriter. Those last ten minutes!
Cons: Well, unfortunately, to get to the revenge part you still must go through that catalyzing event which is never easy to witness. Also, there are some places where you need to suspend disbelief quite a bit, but once you do, you’re in for a rollercoaster.
Now, you may be saying, “Jessica, I thought you said you weren’t focusing on movies that got wide releases.” You are right. I did say that. But though Annihilation did get a wide release and more marketing than most of the other movies on this list combined, I still feel like this was one of the most under-appreciated wide release movies of the year.
Annihilation was good. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. People who didn’t get the ending or were put off by the slow start are either impatient, bad audience members, or both. Slow starts aren’t a problem as long as there is a payoff and Annihilation gives us a grand one. The ending was strange yes, but do you honestly want to see the same predictable garbage over and over again? Don’t you want to think a bit?
Unfortunately, in today’s day and age, the answer to that last question is usually “no” and I’m sure the woman led cast rubbed sci-fi and horror dude-bros the wrong way. But didn’t you see the horror in all that beauty and vice versa? Didn’t you see the humorous terror in that dance? Didn’t you see that fucking BEAR???
Reasons it makes the list: Another beautiful film on this list. Female-led cast. THAT BEAR THOUGH.
Cons: slow start and that one actor dude that I hate that was in Ex Machina (personal though).
Of all the movies on this list, this one got the least amount of hype which should be a punishable crime. A pair of teen girls, one of whom is a sociopath, plot a murder that goes awry? How did Thoroughbreds slip under the radar? Witty, thoughtful, funny, and a haunting ending that leaves you questioning what you thought you knew about the characters.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love movies in which teen girls do bad things. Kidnapping, stalking, murder, the list goes on and on but if a teen girl is doing it, I’m instantly intrigued. Bate’s Motel star Olivia Cooke gives a chilling yet enjoyable performance as Amanda, the horse killing sociopath of the pair, while new scream queen of Split and The Witch fame, Anya Taylor-Joy stars as Lily, the straight-laced popular one in the duo.
At first, it seems like the girls don’t have anything in common, but as the movie progresses, they develop a strange and fascinating relationship. This movie is probably the least “horror” one on the list as it isn’t scary at all, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some unsettling moments. One particular scene near the end where Amanda falls asleep is…well, I still think about it all these months later.
Reasons it makes the list: Teen girl (wannabe) killers! Amanda Cooke’s performance. That ending.
Cons: If you like in your face bloody horror, this isn’t for you. If you like a good thriller with some great acting, then take a watch.
5. May the Devil Take You
The first five movies on my list varied quite a bit on the “scare meter,” but I promise, all of my top five have an element of fright to them. Especially number five. May the Devil Take You is quite honestly the scariest movie on this list. Or maybe it just was for me. This movie has everything that makes me afraid to turn my light off at night: a pale white-faced demon with sharp teeth, under the bed scares, voodoo doll torture, and an evil presence that was after you for something you didn’t do.
The movie tells the story of Alfie, a young woman estranged from her father and step-siblings. After Alfie’s father suffers a gruesome death, she and her siblings retreat to the father’s villa to uncover what happened to him. The only problem is that the evil that took their father is coming for them too.
Reasons it makes the list: OD Scary. Great graphics/visuals. Solid story-line. Cool final girl.
Cons: Scary as hell. Don’t watch alone in the dark (or do).
Technically Verónica is a 2017 movie but it was distributed in the U.S via Netflix in 2018 so I’m counting it. Also, it’s too good to leave off. I’m not easily scared, but in the right conditions, with the right atmosphere, the right monsters, the right darkly lit hallway, I’ll watch a horror movie from under the covers and that’s exactly what Verónica did to me.
I don’t want to reduce Verónica down to just a possession movie because it is so much more than that. It plays with style and has unique directorial choices that result in an original take on a plot that might seem familiar. It is also loosely based off a true story. The movie itself is about a girl who tries to contact her deceased father via Ouija board with disastrous results.
I won’t talk too much more about the plot because I think it’s best to go into movies as blind as possible and that is especially true with this movie. What I will say is that Verónica has as much heart as is does horror. You feel for the main character and her family. The stakes are high and the scares are terrifying.
Reasons it makes the list: Scary AF. Great plot. Heartbreaking. That hallway scene!
Cons: It should have ended thirty seconds or so before it did.
I only heard about Cam because another horror blog I follow (shout out Gayly Dreadful) tweeted about it and sang its praises. That’s the thing about Netflix originals unless you’re paying attention to the new releases page or people are talking about it, you might miss a really awesome film. That almost happened to me with Cam.
Alice Ackerman (love the last name btw – shout out Attack on Titan fans) is a cam girl with devoted followers and a pretty strong fan base. Alice, or Lola as she is called on her site, is determined to climb the cam girl rankings until she reaches number one. The problem arises when, just as it looks as though her dream is within reach, someone steals her online profile and locks her out of it. More disturbing than that, there is someone who looks exactly like her masquerading as Lola and keeping the site going. Alice must find out who it is that’s stealing her identity and what they want before it’s too late.
If you’ve ever had your identity stolen, you know the violation and confusion that elicits in a person. Just this past week, someone took my picture and was trying to catfish people into giving them I-Tunes credits. It’s a horrible feeling to see your likeness being used by someone else. There’s a loss of control, a theft of safety. You worry about what this person is saying or doing behind the guise of you. It was sickening, and I only experienced it for one night and with one picture. Imagine someone stealing your movements, your voice, your mannerisms, your body. Cam takes us on that journey and it’s a horrifying one.
Reasons it makes the list: Realistic and original portrayal of sex work. Not male gaze-ey despite the content. Awesome visuals. Scary AF. Those last ten minutes!
Cons: If you like neat box endings, this might not be for you.
2. The Strangers: Prey at Night
Man, have I been waiting to write about this movie. I saw it way after its original release date, so I felt odd writing a review so late in the game, but for a very long time, this was my favorite horror movie of 2018.
The Strangers was a home invasion movie that I had no interest in watching because home invasions are just not my thing. It’s not like my aversion to rape/revenge movies where they disturb my spirit and I’m ethically against them, I just don’t care for home invasion films. They stir nothing in me. Its sequel, The Strangers: Prey at Night, however, is not a home invasion. It’s a slasher. An amazing slasher. The best I’m seen in a long while.
On a trip to take their daughter to a boarding school because of behavioral issues, a family runs into masked killers: Doll Face, Pin-Up, and The Man in the Mask. Chaos ensues.
Once again, I don’t want to give too much away because I really want you to watch this movie. It has a slow start, yes, but once the fun starts it doesn’t stop. In fact, much like a few other movies on this list the last ten minutes or so are so amazing that I had to re-watch just that a few times. Also, the soundtrack is freaking awesome. I thought that Urban Legend used the song Total Eclipse of the Heart perfectly, but this movie put it to shame.
Reasons it makes the list: Pretty good final girl. Soundtrack. Meaningful and original kills. Actually, pretty frightening. A perfect shot of a truck on fire. THAT POOL SCENE THOUGH.
Cons: I guess the slow start, but I just call that setup. Be patient.
1. Assassination Nation
As I alluded to before, The Stranger: Prey at Night was my original number one—until I saw Assassination Nation. Of all the marketing crimes done to movies on this list, this is the most grievous one. This movie should have done just as well as A Quiet Place. Yes, I said that. The reasons it didn’t do as well, the reasons you question me making that claim, are steeped in elitism, this notion of high art horror vs everything else, and this societies aversion and distaste for everything that involves young girls or things that young girls like.
Assassination Nation is perfect. It’s arty, it’s gritty, it’s inclusive, it’s scarily applicable to what’s going on today.
Four teenage girls are living pretty ordinary lives in Salem Massachusetts when one day a hacker releases half the towns cloud storages. Suddenly everything, private messages, porn search histories, nudes, sex tapes, secrets, everything is just one click away. In a series of fucked up events, the girls become public enemies one through four and it all culminates in a Purge-like third act that is nothing short of remarkable.
It’s taking everything in me not to spoil the shit out this movie and tell you all of its brilliance. Just watch it. It’s number one for a reason.
Reasons to watch: Teen girls are a-killin’. Awesome directing. LGBTQIAA inclusive. It keeps you on your toes.
Cons: This breaks my heart to write but my only qualm with this movie was the only black friend of the bunch. While it seemed like at least two of the other girls got pretty good and fleshed out character arcs, Em (played by singer Abbra) felt pushed to the side and there just to be the onscreen racial contribution to diversity.
A Word About POC In Horror This Past Year
That last con brings me to my final thought on all the horror movies of 2018. Yes, I think this was a great year for horror. I was thoroughly impressed in the range and quality of the movies released this year, but it is evident that horror still has an issue with diversity. I can count on one hand the number of characters of color on this list in non-foreign movies. American horror has to do better. We can’t just leave it all up to Jordan Peele.
The Clovehitch Killer
Reason it Didn’t Make the Cut: As much as I loved the storyline and acting, there wasn’t anything original in terms of plot or visuals. I liked the movie but when I compared it to the ones on the list, it came up short.
Reason it Didn’t Make the Cut: This movie was so close. In fact, I debated whether or not to switch out Annihilation or Revenge for this one. In the end, though, Revenge was doing something original for the subgenre as I talked about above and it was visually stunning. And as for Annihilation, man that bear counts for a lot.
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