Despite horror’s thematic binding to society’s most current fears – this a year of parental devastation and horrors inside family units – my twenty favorite genre titles from 2018 still revel in variety: arachnid puppets, Nazi experiments, zombie musicals alike. Such morbid creativity would stick out like a sore severed thumb any other year, but today? You could drown out aforementioned absurdity with Nicolas Cage’s descent into occult revenge madness alone.
As I said, it’s been a wild year for horror – a damn fine one at that.
My ranking comes after killing many darlings, given my final tally of 118 seen horror films this year. Dig deeper, past these listed twenty, and you’ll still find plenty of gold worth mining. The following treasures just shine a little brighter and demand more attention. Feature debuts, streaming darlings, mainstream nightmares, all the works. It’s time for another end of year horror countdown, paying homage to the scariest and most accomplished macabre craftsmanship 2018 has to offer.
In Part I, we’ll scroll through picks 20-11, and you can dive in below.
Australian duo Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke’s Cargo schools The Walking Dead on how to efficiently blend dramatized apocalyptic storytelling with overwhelming zombie dread. Martin Freeman must navigate scorched bushlands with his toddler daughter in tow, hoping to reach rumored safety before fully succumbing to his zombie transformation. Vivid cinematography scales lush woodlands and scenic mountain ranges while Freeman’s journey navigates expected obstacles – tribal natives, demented trappers, perilous terrain – with heightened danger. It’s a strong exemplification of what a solid year 2018 was for family based horror, available on Netflix to watch this very instant.
19) The Ritual
Netflix Originals make an early splash on my ranking, with David Bruckner’s The Ritual earning its top-twenty placement. Four men honor their deceased friend’s wish for a “mancation” hike through Northern Sweden, unaware of the cursed lands they traverse. They’re hunted, psychologically haunted by the darkest thoughts tucked away in their minds, and eventually encounter a massive woodland demon.
It’s not exactly the sharpest Act I, but Act II’s warping of reality and Act III’s all-out creature attack thrust the film into overdrive. Russell EFX also goes all-out on their “Moder” design – the name of The Ritual’s beastly aggressor – which explains why Act III is such a treat. It’s justification alone for celebratory end-of-year praise.
Matthew Holness – best known for Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace – smashes together ventriloquism and repressed despicableness in his debut Possum. Sean Harris stars as a disgraced children’s puppeteer trying to cast away his latest creation, “Possum.” The gangly frame of an exaggerated spider form, the head of a baby doll. Harris carries scene after scene as he manically tries to burn, drown, and be rid of “Possum,” but the film is at its best when “Possum” gains full mobility. It’s not exactly a creature feature – more of a fascinating character study that features tremendously unsettling puppetry – to no fault of the film. Credit Harris with one of 2018’s great genre performances.
17) Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum
South Korea’s Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum kicks in as derivative and formulaic as any found footage effort, but with patience comes one of 2018’s scariest third act turns. Based on the actual Gonjiam Asylum – one of the most haunted places in the world – YouTube paranormal investigators “Horror Times” record their experience inside the structure trying to gain access to Room 402. At first, it’s peppy Korean video personalities drinking beer and swimming for fun – but once true horrors take hold, director Jeong Beom-sik proves that found footage isn’t always a cheap gimmick.
16) May The Devil Take You
Timo Tjahjanto’s 2018 masterpiece is The Night Comes For Us – and that’s the title everyone is talking about – but Netflix also nabbed exclusive rights to his Sam Raimi possession riff May The Devil Take You.
An estranged father dooms his family when they must pay for a pact he made with the devil, cycling through all the Evil Dead inspired craziness you can imagine. Expect bloody bits, demonic family members, voodoo decapitations, haunted house tricks – and so much intensified horror fun. Tjahjanto knows darkness and bathes in sinister sanguine tones, and May The Devil Take You is a full realization of both tendencies.
15) What Keeps You Alive
Colin Minihan plays with more toys than expected in What Keeps You Alive. Hannah Emily Anderson and Brittany Allen star as lovers who retreat to the former’s family cabin for some romantic canoodling. In reality, Anderson plans to murder Allen. What unfolds is an LGBT fight for survival as Allen’s “innocent” victim strengthens her defenses while Anderson goes tactical serial killer in one of my favorite female horror performances of the year. It’s impenetrably tense, fiercely acted, and exploding with brutal powder-keg thrills. This is far from “just another” cat-and-mouse chase.