Wow... I normally wait a couple of days to collect my notes and thoughts before I dive in, but I have to go back to work tomorrow and I've got quite a bit on my plate besides that, so there's no time like the present!
By and large I found the horror output of 2019 (and I'm still keeping it in the realm of theatrical releases while acknowledging that there's a lot of noteworthy direct-to-streaming material I have yet to cover) outstanding. Such a great variety of films that excelled for so many different reasons... the bad news is that it makes it difficult as hell to pick a "winner," but the good news is that there were so few stinkers. Okay, I skipped ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP so I can't speak to that one yet. But let's have the traditional breakdown where I defy the typical "best for last" logic and start with...
While GLASS received a significant fan/critic backlash after the roundly-applauded SPLIT, I found it a worthy and convention-defiant conclusion to the saga M. Night Shyamalan started way back when with UNBREAKABLE (which I happened to like better than THE SIXTH SENSE, so there).
GRETA was a boilerplate "nice lady is bonkers stalker" tale on paper, but Neil Jordan's direction and a terrific villainous turn from Isabelle Huppert made it work quite nicely.
I had no idea what CLIMAX was when I walked into the theatre... I just knew it was advertised as "horror" and I'd never heard of it. Instead of teaching actors to dance, Gaspar Noe had amazing street dancers go through a nasty, drugged-out night of pure "yes, we WILL go there" hell in a movie that put me through the wringer.
THE INTRUDER was another formula film that paid off simply because Dennis Quaid was so gloriously nuts in it. He must have remembered how badly COLD CREEK MANOR did with a nearly identical story much earlier and decided he'd never let that happen again...
Another knockout performance that more than saved a questionable premise was delivered by Octavia Spencer in MA.
The CHILD'S PLAY remake took fine advantage of updated technology for a disturbingly believable reboot. And while it's not the same without Brad Dourif, you could do a hell of a lot worse than a veteran voice artist such as Mark Hamill...
Speaking of killer dolls? ANNABELLE COMES HOME succeeded by NOT being a killer doll movie. It was a straightforward and scary haunting and easily the best of the non-Wan CONJURING spinoffs to date.
MIDSOMMAR eclipsed the Nicolas Cage embarrassment and THE WICKER TREE alike as the WICKER MAN variant that darn well COULD in another Ari Aster exercise in palpable, traumatic grief and transformation.
CRAWL never pretended to be anything more than an intense, chomp-em-up MONSTER movie and was all the better for it.
SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK kept things moving with a terrific array of imaginative creatures even as it refused to let its young protagonists off the hook... I, for one, look forward to another installment.
READY OR NOT seemed to play all of its cards in the trailer, but the lethal "hide and seek" thriller kept a few explosive aces up its sleeve after all. Great fun.
Cheating a bit here because this didn't play theatrically, but I got a HUGE kick out of THE BANANA SPLITS MOVIE...
And we can play the "is it a horror movie" game all we want, but I say JOKER qualifies. And the performance of Joaquin Phoenix, combined with a scorching (and relevant) update of TAXI DRIVER and (especially) THE KING OF COMEDY had me riveted.
Speaking of going bat-nuts? Whatever was in THE LIGHTHOUSE had Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson doing just that... sometimes I wondered what the hell was going on, but not once did I lose interest.
PARASITE took its time getting around to qualifying for this list, but this Korean class comedy never flags en route to going horror-show. Whatever you call it, it's one of the year's best films (and I'm the guy who thought THE HOST was hugely over-rated).
But do I HAVE to pick a single winner? I'm going to do something I did before and acknowledge a "best original horror film" and a "best adapted horror film." Jordan Peele's US was once again controversial to fans after GET OUT... people seemed to either love it or hate it, but more people loved it and I can certainly see why... the "mirror people" were some of the most frightening apparitions ever to lash out at unsuspecting protagonists, and their backstory certainly went into fresh territory and surprises for this ever-so-familiar genre. AND it rewards multiple viewings.
Then there's DOCTOR SLEEP, which tackled the unenviable task of adapting Stephen King's sequel to THE SHINING to the screen while simultaneously acknowledging that "everyone" who wants to see a SHINING sequel will expect a continuation of the controversial (but utterly indelible) Stanley Kubrick film. Michael Flanagan managed to pull it off against all odds... but after two disappointing Stephen King projects in a row in 2019, almost nobody bothered to see it. And that's a shame. So if I MUST flip a coin, I'm going to give it to DOCTOR SLEEP because I think "everybody" has already seen US.
THE MIDDLE GROUND
ESCAPE ROOM was an enjoyable enough "gimmick" survival thriller... of course it's like SAW without the gore and it suffers from "sequel-itis" rather than offering a satisfying ending.
THE PRODIGY was ultimately a wearily predictable "evil child" entry but it was bolstered by some fine performances.
HELLBOY crammed too much into the reboot so as to guarantee sequels (like VAN HELSING) but it was fun while it lasted.
I wanted to like BRIGHTBURN a lot more... it had potential, but the "evil Superman" tale had so little substance that the trailer resorted to giving away pretty much everything.
THE DEAD DON'T DIE kept me amused with its cast and some of its jokes before... um... that's IT?
The blind sharks of 47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED were okay but no match for the CRAWL crocs.
I thought for sure that COUNTDOWN would be a stinker a la TRUTH OR DARE and SLENDER MAN, and it's still a routine "haunted app" show, but it redeemed itself somewhat with a number of amusing character turns.
IT: CHAPTER TWO couldn't sustain the momentum of the awesome first installment... it was far too long and episodic to pull that off. Yet it needs to be seen and it DOES contain some great individual shocks.
Many people absolutely loathed Rob Zombie's 3 FROM HELL and branded it the worst of this (or maybe any) year. I caught it at a Fathom screening and knew it was no DEVIL'S REJECTS and that it was completely unnecessary... still, it didn't bore me and it DID have the Lucha Mafia.
Not much to see here. The remake of PET SEMATARY crashed and burned beyond repair once somebody decided they could improve on Stephen King's ending. But it really wasn't that bad up till then, and Church was a standout feline performer.
THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA was a thoroughly uninspired CONJURING universe rehash that did nothing with the new mythology available to it. But it was still a bit better than THE NUN.
No, they saved the prize stinker for dead last, and if you think my rundown of the third film calling itself BLACK CHRISTMAS was in any way influenced by an anti-feminist attitude, you either don't know me very well or (far more likely) you just didn't see this slop-job for yourself.
As for the rest? Superhero franchises gave us the okay CAPTAIN MARVEL, the terrific AVENGERS: ENDGAME and the enjoyable SPIDERMAN: FAR FROM HOME. Then there was the dismal DARK PHOENIX. As for SHAZAM? Glad you enjoyed it, but it wasn't my cup of tea... Captain Marvel wasn't supposed to have Billy Batson's juvenile brain... the "S" in Shazam stood for the wisdom of Solomon, right?
In other franchise news? I personally loved GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS as a "real" Godzilla movie and all-out monster mash. HOBBS & SHAW was a hilarious offshoot of the FAST AND FURIOUS deal, TERMINATOR: DARK FATE was an effective "alternate timeline" thriller (let's face it, GENISYS blew the storyline to atoms, fun as it was) and I thought THE RISE OF SKYWALKER was a perfectly acceptable finale to the story George Lucas started a long time ago... nor do I believe that's the last we'll see of STAR WARS.
Edit: Oh, good grief... I forgot that I finally got on the JOHN WICK bandwagon and saw the first two films on Blu-Ray and PARABELLUM on the big screen within days of each other. WOW.
Comedies: I found STAN & OLLIE delightful. HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U was a fun 80s retro comedy, but it forfeited its place above because it had absolutely no business billing itself as anything like a HORROR movie. NO MANCHES FRIDA 2 was a pleasant enough follow-up to the Mexican high school comedy (which was actually a remake of a German film). And then there was THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE... one of the strangest but most peculiarly entertaining films of the year. Still, I have to hand it to KNIVES OUT, which exceeded my every expectation based on the trailer... this was truly as perfect a comedy-thriller as I've ever enjoyed.
Arthouse stuff: I really liked and appreciated the documentary HAIL SATAN? but had mixed feelings about the youth-in-warfare drama MONOS. But while the daring JOJO RABBIT could have gone anywhere with its "Hitler as an imaginary friend" hook, it still had what it took to hit you below the belt even as it disarmed you with laughter in another of the year's very best. I saw THE IRISHMAN on the big screen without a bathroom break and not once did my attention flag... this was a epic valediction to the mob movie as we know it. And I cheated by watching DOLEMITE IS MY NAME on Netflix, but the rumors are true--it's one of Eddie Murphy's best performances and a captivating take on the mythology of Rudy Ray Moore.
Unclassifiable: The gaping-jawed reviews saw to it that I had to catch SERENITY before it escaped, and watching a traditional "noir" thriller turn into a nutty virtual reality deal didn't disappoint in the least. Far more sober was AD ASTRA, the sort of cerebral science fiction most folks don't have the patience for, but which I found most rewarding. YESTERDAY was in a gentle fantasy class by itself and a genuine delight. A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD surprised and exceeded expectations where one was expecting a simple "Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers" biopic. And of course? ONCE UPON A TIME... IN HOLLYWOOD certainly earned the right to be one of the most talked-about films of the year... the sheer love of its subject matter and its wish-fulfillment fantasy resulted in one of the very best in the QT lineup.
Action, etc: COLD PURSUIT was an excellent remake of IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE by the same director but with an even better sense of absurdist humor. I enjoyed ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL for the fun and spectacle of it all. FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY offered another terrific turn by Florence Pugh in the "based on a true story" Cinderella tale set in the WWE. THE WEDDING GUEST could have been a terrific international thriller but it utterly petered out and failed to entertain. EL CHICANO failed to live up to the potential of a m asked Mexican vigilante "superhero." I have no idea what the latest reboot of SHAFT was hoping to accomplish, but despite having its moments it had the sloppiest script of the year (well, second-sloppiest now that I've seen BLACK CHRISTMAS). Luc Besson went to the "lethal female agent" well one too many times with the disappointing ANNA. And while RAMBO: LAST BLOOD may have delivered the gore and violence in the end, it was even more gratuitous and pointless than 3 FROM HELL when it comes down to it. Thank goodness they saved FORD V FERRARI for the end of the year--it's a terrific racing drama that works equally well on and off the track (even if they did play a bit with the facts).
Okay, I think that covers everything. Meet you back here in a year!
Horrornews is a discussion forum for true horror fans to discuss the more obscure areas of the horror/cult/exploitation film genre as well as current theatrical horror.
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