by Hope Madden and George Wolf
One of our favorite parts of the trauma of accepting that half the year is behind us is our therapy of celebrating so much great horror cinema! Did you forget these treasures? Already?! Well, here are (in alphabetical order) the ten best horror flicks so far this year.
The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster
An awful lot of people have reimagined Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in an awful lot of ways. What makes writer/director Bomani J. Story’s take, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster, so effective is that it tackles a lot in very little time and handles all of it heartbreakingly well.
To say that Story situates Shelley’s tale in the context of drug violence would be to sell his film short. He’s moved the story from European castles and laboratories to the projects, where Vicaria’s (Laya DeLeon Hayes, stunning) mother fell victim to a drive-by shooting, her brother was shot to death on a drug deal gone wrong, and her father deals with his grief by using. But drugs are just part of the larger problem, the almost escapable, systemic and cyclical nature of violence and poverty.
Story’s chosen genre may feel slight, even campy, but the tropes belie some densely packed ideas, and there’s a current of empathy running through the film that not only separates this from other Frankenstein tales, but deepens the film’s genuine sense of tragedy.
Several friends from college (including Jay Pharaoh, Yvonne Orji, Sinqua Walls, Antoinette Robertson, and the film’s co-writer Dewayne Perkins) are reuniting at a remote cabin for a Juneteenth celebration. It isn’t long before they discover a talking blackface at the center of a board game called The Blackening (“probably runs on racism!”) and fall into a sadistic killer’s plan to pick them off one by one.
The game will test their knowledge of Black history and culture, and demand they sacrifice the friend they deem “the Blackest.” It’s a clever device that Perkins, co-writer Tracy Oliver and director Tim Story use to skewer both well-known horror tropes and well-worn identity politicking.
The old joke about Black people being the first to die in horror films is pretty well-worn, too, but don’t let that poster tagline convince you that the film has nothing new to say. The less “Blacker” these characters seem, the greater chance they have of surviving. That’s some fertile ground for social commentary, and what began as a viral comedy sketch lands on the screen as a refreshing new angle for a horror comedy.
Evil Dead Rise
Deadites hit the big city in Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise, the latest instalment in the old Sam Raimi demon possession franchise. As was true with its predecessors, blood will rain, viscera will spew, chainsaws will bite, and the dead will most definitely rise.
We open, as usual, on a cabin. Despite the top-notch title sequence, though, this episode will not be a cabin-in-the-woods horror. Cronin, who’s credited with the script as well, takes the Necronomicon and all its secrets into an urban high rise to see what hell he can raise.
Cronin uses disorienting angels and shots throughout the film to beautifully bewildering effect. A fisheye-of-death through a peephole is just one of the film’s many horrifying highlights.
Huesera: The Bone Woman
Michelle Garza Cervera’s maternal nightmare is bright and decisive, pulling in common genre tropes only long enough to grant entrance to the territory of a central metaphor before casting them aside for something sinister, honest and honestly terrifying.
While it toes certain familiar ground – the gaslighting of Rosemary’s Baby, for instance – what sets Huesera apart from other maternal horror is its deliberate untidiness. Cervera refuses to embrace the good mother/bad mother dichotomy and disregards the common cinematic journey of convincing a woman that all she really wants is to be a mom.
Huesera’s metaphor is brave and timely. Brave not only because of its LGBTQ themes but because of its motherhood themes. It’s a melancholy and necessary look at what you give up, what you kill.
Brandon Cronenberg + Mia Goth + Alexander Skarsgård … for a very specific set of people, the sum there is hell yes.
Riding our favorite wave in horror – that rich people are unspeakably diabolical – writer/director Cronenberg takes us on a strange journey through privilege, debauchery, entitlement, boredom, narcissism, psychotropic drugs and more in his trippy new flick, Infinity Pool.
Cronenberg’s ultimate concept is clearly, wildly his own, but moments sometimes call to mind ideas from last year’s Speak No Evil, as well as Society, Kill List, Hour of the Wolf, and A Serbian Film (no, not that part). Still, the film never feels borrowed. Uncomfortable, yes. Borrowed? No.
Kurtis David Harder’s approach to influencer horror leans Neo-noir thriller as the cold and calculating CW (Cassandra Naud – outstanding) spins a dangerous web for an unsuspecting social butterfly.
Harder and cinematographer David Schuurman create an absolutely gorgeous pot for boiling this mystery. From atop deserted island beaches to below crystal clear waters and inside lavish vacation homes, Harder’s nimble camera and visual aesthetics reinforce the notion that pretty pictures don’t always tell the whole story.
With sharp dialogue, skillful plotting and simmering dread, Influencer is plenty worthy of that “Like” button.
Equal parts Assault on Precinct 13 and The Shining by way of Charles Manson, Anthony DiBlasi’s Malum is a quick, mean, mad look into the abyss.
DiBlasi is reimagining his own 2014 flick Last Shift, although it feels more like a riff on Carpenter’s 1976 Precinct 13 than anything. Regardless, what the filmmaker does is confine the audience along with our hero in a diabolical funhouse.
Malum gets nuts, exactly as it should. Though it never feels genuinely unique, it manages to avoid feeling derivative because of DiBlasi’s commitment to the grisly madness afoot. The result is a solid, blood soaked bit of genre entertainment fully worthy of your 92 minutes.
Hilarious. Gerard Johnstone – whose 2014 horror gem Housebound is a must see – displays a sly instinct for humor in a film that understands what’s creepy about dolls and toxic relationships.
Allison Williams is solid as the workaholic who just wasn’t cut out to be a parent. That would be fine, except her orphaned niece could really use a parent, not an AI caregiver whose rushed-to-production programming and unseemly backstory make her dangerous in, let’s be honest, a pretty fun way.
You remember that trailer. We could have used more dancing, but when M3GAN plays “Toy Soldiers” on the piano, we were already hooked.
They totally made a movie with a very saucy Nic Cage as Dracula. And a saucy Nic Cage is the best Nic Cage.
There’s at least one bloody toe in waters that send up rom-coms, satirize narcissistic relationships and homage a classic horror character while it’s also modernizing the themes that built him.
But experiencing Count Nicula alone is worth it. Plus, Nicholas Hoult is perfect as the put-upon sad boy with access to anti-hero superpowers and Awkwafina can wring plenty of humor from simply telling a guy named Kyle to F-off.
Renfield might be bloodier than you expect, but it’s just as much fun as you’re hoping for. Call it bloody good fun.
There’s probably some version of this nightmare in your past. You were just a kid, separated from your parents and trying in vain to reach them or call out for help, or maybe just escape.
Remember how scared you were? Director Kyle Edward Ball and cinematographer Jamie McRae do, and they twist that knife again and again for 100 minutes of dark, disorienting dread.
Cinematography and sound design are intertwined in an analog, cathode-ray aesthetic that recalls vintage, grainy VHS. Two children whisper to each other (“Where do you think Dad is? I don’t know.”) as they wander from room to room, with Ball’s camera never allowing you one second of relief.