in Top Ten

We’re finally at the finish line! The Big 10! The Best of the Best! The oh-my-god-i’m-so-tired-of-doing-these-lists-please-make-it-stop! Are these the best? For now. I didn’t get a chance to revisit as many horror films as I’d hoped. Or even watch other horror movies I’ve heard are great but haven’t seen. There’s so damn many.

Again the order of these films was based on no metric. I went by my gut. One observation is we’re getting into a lot of horror movies I’ve already written about on this blog. If I can’t shut up about these movies I must like ‘em. So without further ado…

10. Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil (2011)

I once watched this with a big group of college kids. I was a college kid too, just so you know this story isn’t creepy. I remember I had the power of the pick and no one else had seen or even heard of this movie. Lucky for me, it slayed. That’s what I like. You don’t have to be a die-hard horror fan to appreciate all the riffs on the genre in Eli Craig’s Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil. This movie is more than guts and gags. It’s a buddy comedy about characters so often villainized in horror. This is a film that subverts expectations and has a blast.

In Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil we get a dimwitted gang of teenagers constantly misreading their situation. They fear they are being stalked by a pair of murderous rednecks when that couldn’t be further than the truth. Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are on vacation at their summer cabin and are drawn into a horror movie scenario purely through a series of misunderstandings.

The writing is sharp and made better by Tudyk and Labine. So much so that I’m sad their Abbott and Costello dynamic hasn’t blossomed into a sequel or other horror movies starring the two. So many horror comedies are cynical, so I appreciate how earnest these characters are. One thing I know for sure, college kids love it.

9. WNUF Halloween Special (2013)

The first time I ever saw a clip from this movie I thought it was real. WNUF Halloween Special is one of the most convincing, detailed, and unusual mockumentaries I’ve ever seen. I don’t know how to categorize this film or how it happened. I don’t even know if this qualifies as a film. What I do know is WNUF was the baby of Baltimore-based indie filmmaker Chris LaMartina, who along with a collective of local filmmakers made the fake news broadcast (commercials included) that is WNUF Halloween Special, and watching it has quickly become a personal Halloween tradition.

The film presents itself as an off-air recording of a 1987 Halloween special. A pair of anchors go through the daily events while corresponding with reporter Frank Stewart (Paul Fahrenkopf) as he investigates a supposed haunted house—think Geraldo Rivera investigating Al Capone’s vault. The film also includes numerous commercial breaks with advertisements for stores, products, and other shows/movies on the network.

What makes all of this engaging is how authentic it feels. Not only has the film been degraded to look like an old VHS tape, but every character, costume, and graphic is also done with a perfect retro flare. I can’t think of a single frame that looks out of place. How this was all coordinated and put together astounds me.

I will admit the film isn’t really a horror film until the last 10-15 minutes but the whole thing oozes Halloween. There are commercials for a monster hotline, a costume store, even a commercial where a dentist tells you to trade in your candy for money. This is as festive as festive gets.

WNUF Halloween Special isn’t for everybody. I could imagine someone watching this and not laugh once. The jokes are subtle. Like all good mockumentaries, no one in the movie knows they’re in a comedy, so they play it 100% straight. But if you can to meet this movie on its level then who knows, maybe it’ll be your next Halloween tradition.

8. It (2017)

2017 will always be my “Year of IT”. I watched the original miniseries, I spent six months listening to the 44-hour audiobook version of the book (read by Steven Webber who is the greatest actor in the world) and listened to multiple Stephen King podcasts to get hyped for what could have easily been a misfire. Yet Andy Muschietti’s It did not disappoint. The film sits at a comfortable 86% on Rotten Tomatoes and made an astounding $701.8 million. Which makes It one of the most successful horror movies of all time.

Audiences had a lot of fun with It but I feel I have to address the most common criticism of the film. “That’s not very scary”—said like that kid from Jurassic Park. Maybe It is heavier on the jump scares than it is on a lasting sense of dread. My response is “Who says a horror movie can’t just be fun?. To me It is a coming-of-age action blockbuster that just happens to have creepy shit. It’s like a haunted house at a fair with lepers, ghouls, and a Flute Lady. Then there’s Pennywise.

Bill Skarsgård chews up every scene (and multiple children) as Neibolt street’s favorite clown prince. He cackles and dances. He holds your attention. As does all of the cast. It’s rare that a mainstream film (especially a horror film) assembles such a talented cast of kids that we care about.

You can complain all you want about It: Chapter Two. There is a lot in that film that doesn’t work but I believe this is the best Part One we could have asked for. Especially when you’re dealing with a tome of a novel written by a crazy person (I love you, Stephen King). The kids are likable, the monsters are fun, and the New Kids on the Block references leave me with a big smile on my face. Ya know, like how clowns smile.

7. Trollhunter (2010)

Who says found footage has to look cheap? Not me. I’ve always believed that found footage isn’t so much a cheap workaround to making a feature as it is a different way to tell a story. Like making a movie in black in white or whatever Spy Kids 3-D is supposed to be.

I think of movies like Chronicle and Cloverfield. Both contain spectacular effects and yet we see those effects through shaky handheld cameras. What makes it special is that the consumer-grade camera aesthetic of those films makes them feel real. The camera (as opposed to a character) becomes our surrogate. We become part of the story. All this can be said for Trollhunter one of the most immersive and impressive found footage movies I’ve seen.

Written and directed by Andre Øvredal,Trollhunter is about a group of Norwegian college students who set out to make a documentary about a suspected bear poacher named Hans (Otto Jespersen). They track down Hans and after following him to the wilderness discover his secret. He is a troll hunter. The documentary then shifts into learning about the techniques Hans uses and the mythology of trolls. One of my favorite freaky fun facts is that as trolls get older they grow more heads. Gross.

I love giant monsters movies but rarely do we get much variety in that genre. Aliens, dinosaurs, maybe an angry robot, but Trolls? That’s unique. Øvredal and his effects team have a lot of fun designing these giant creatures and even with a limited CGI budget are always clever about how they shoot the creatures.

Trollhunter is like getting a new genre of monster-movie composed in an intimate and exciting way. It’s no surprise that Øvredal is now making his mark in America with films like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and his upcoming adaptation of Stephen King’s The Long Walk. He’s a force to be reckoned with. Let’s just hope he doesn’t grow another head.

6. Us (2019)

I watched Us for the third time two weeks ago and was still impressed. Do you know that scene where the doppelgänger family shows up in the Wilson family’s driveway? It still scares the shit out of me. I know what’s going to happen and yet every time I see those four motionless figures in the driveway I want to cover my eyes and die. That’s the sign of a true auteur. They can take a trope like mysterious strangers standing outside your home and make it feel new. Nothing about Us feels recycled.

What impresses me is the amount of instantly iconic imagery writer/director Jordan Peele gives us. Those red jumpsuits with the gold scissors, the white rabbits wandering empty halls. That enough would make the film memorable but there’s more. Us is rich with metaphors about class and societal structure. On top of all that it’s a genuinely thrilling viewing experience. I can already tell this is one of those “I gotta watch this every year” kind of movies.

5. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

What We Do in the Shadows gets a lot of props for its humor but not so much for its horror. No, it’s not scary but all the work that must have gone into the production design and the history and mythology of vampires. That’s the mark of true horror fans. There’s a lot of eye candy. Every time I notice a new detail or a new joke. It’s comforting. Like a big bowl of basgetti.

4. Train to Busan (2016)

The 2010s made me hate zombies. What was once a niche exploded with The Walking Dead. We got silly zombie movies like Warm Bodies. We got the dumb action zombie movies like World War Z. They even made Pride and Prejudice and Zombies into a movie. After a while, I started to feel like there was nothing left to explore with zombies. Everything had been done. Then I saw Train to Busan.

What separates Train to Busan from all these other movies is character. It’s a movie driven by relatable interactions and honest relationships. It’s set in a location we rarely see in horror movies (South Korea and a train) and you know what? It’s even a tearjerker. At its core this is a movie about a shitty dad trying to repair his relationship with his daughter. The zombies are just the icing on the cake. But damn, it’s some sugary icing. Those zombies are flying in every which way. It’s crazy. Maybe the film’s upcoming sequel Peninsula will be on my “Top 50 Horror Movies of the 2020s”?

3. It Follows (2014)

Last month I was walking my dog along a wooded trail. At one point, I noticed a man with grey hair walking behind me. I picked up the pace and left the trail walking up some wooden steps. The grey-haired man went that way too. Everywhere I walked he walked. Eventually, we parted ways at an intersection. I know he wasn’t actually following me, so why was it so unsettling? One, because no matter how much faster I went or which way I went he was there and two, because I couldn’t imagine what would happen if he caught up with me. This is why It Follows is so scary. It’s the fear of never being safe. The fear of constantly looking over your shoulder. The fear of the unknown.

The concept of It Follows is one of the best ideas for a horror movie I’ve ever seen. Not just that a murderous figure—a ghost?—takes on different forms and follows you until it catches you but the fact that there are rules. The curse is sexually transmitted and if the individual you pass it on to dies the curse reverts back to you. It’s the kind of hook that instantly engages an audience. “What would I do to stop it? Where would I go?” But there is no stopping it. That’s what makes it so damn scary.

Indie writer/director David Robert Mitchell tells the story of Jay (Maika Monroe), an Oakland University (that’s in Michigan) student who after having sex becomes infected with the “curse”. Along with her sister and close friends, Jay tries to escape and put an end to the curse once and for all. Shot in the decaying neighborhoods of Detroit, It Follows is a stark and thought-provoking thriller that feels completely in a league of its own. I’m seeing a trend with a lot of movies in this top ten. It’s hard to compare them to anything. It Follows might be the most unique of them all.

2. Hereditary (2018)

It’s fun that in an earlier I post I wrote about Happy Death Day being my first MoviePass movie because Hereditary was my last. Sad, but man, what a note to go out on. It was a rainy weekday morning in a mostly empty theater and I knew about the hype. Something I’ve learned is one of the worst things a critic or fan can tell you about a new horror movie is “It’s the best horror movie since The Exorcist.” There’s no better way to poison expectations than with insurmountable praise.

Immediately I found myself in that mostly empty theater dissecting the film, telling myself why it was overrated. My first go through on Hereditary was positive but also plagued by nitpicking. It wasn’t until I let the movie sit and stew with me that I came around. Which wasn’t hard because this isn’t the kind of film experience you’re soon to forget.

Ari Aster’s journey as a filmmaker began at four-years-old when he had his first visceral reaction to what else but the movie Dick Tracy. In a scene where a character fired a Tommy gun, Aster ran from his seat, and then an additional six blocks through the streets of New York. A filmmaker is born. Aster spent his teenage years living in New Mexico, renting every horror movie he could while also becoming a huge Ingmar Bergman fan. Here’s what Aster had to say about Persona in an interview with Criterion:

“I love all of Bergman’s films, but his later period has had the biggest impact on me, starting with Persona. The film marked the advent of a new period for him; I know that he wrote it when he was in the hospital and thought he was going to die. It adopts a dream logic in a really forward-thinking way, and like Altman’s Three Women, is an example of a proto-Lynchian dream movie. I was thinking about that when we were making Hereditary, how it gradually adopts a nightmare logic.”

Aster and fellow horror auteur Robert Eggers once spent a whole episode of A24’s podcast talking about Bergman. Dude likes his Bergman. Aster attended the College of Santa Fe, studying film, and then after that was accepted in the AFI Conservatory. There he directed some pretty fucked up short films. In particular The Strange Thing About the Johnsons. You can watch that one on Vimeo and though it isn’t technically horror, you’ll feel just as disturbed by it. Trust me.

Aster’s debut Hereditary doesn’t sound like much on paper. A family is haunted after the death of their grandmother. What makes it special is all of Aster’s influences. It’s his love for old school VHS horror, his love for Bergman, his finely tuned skills he honed at AFI. It’s those extra touches. The way he frames the camera, the details he hides in the frame, the choice of music. God, that music. Colin Stetson is now the soundtrack to my nightmares.

On top of everything, Hereditary is a film about grief and mourning. We can all relate to that. Not to mention Toni Collette pours herself into herrole. Again another actress robbed of an Oscar. That’s the real horror story.

1. Get Out (2017)

I like to think the 2010s was the era of the horror auteur. Peele, Eggers, Aster among many others made their stylish and thought-provoking debuts that could just as easily play in a multiplex or arthouse theater. Companies like A24 started making experimental films like The Lighthouse and Midsommar more accessible than ever with wide releases. While Blumhouse pushed forward the idea that its high concepts, not high budgets that put people in seats. More than ever contemporary issues and questions are being tackled in horror films. Race, Sex, Abuse, are being addressed without feeling exploitative. You can thank the artists for that and no artist made a bigger impact on the world of horror in the last decade than Jordan Peele.

This isn’t surprising for anyone who reads this blog. This is not only my favorite horror movie of the 2010s I ranked it as my favorite movie of the 2010s period. I don’t have much else to add from that post I wrote back in February. What I will say is not only do I love this story, its characters, its immensely disturbing ideas (like the Sunken Place), I love that its given audiences the desire for more social horror films.

I’m not sure if this year’s The Invisible Man, which explores abuse, would have happened without Get Out. Or that we’d be getting more social horror films from black artists like the upcoming Antebellum or Candyman remake. Get Out is the kind of horror movie that reshapes the industry and this case for the better. I’m so excited about what lies ahead for the genre. Check back in ten years and we’ll do this whole scary thing all over again. Happy Haunting.