Normally at this time of year, I reflect on all the books I’ve read and subject you all to my favourites and those worthy of note. It’s a very narcissistic display that many adopt as the year draws to an end. But this year is different because for most of 2022 I didn’t read any books. What?! An author that has read no books! Burn him at the stake. I hear you cry. I could try to articulate my reasoning for not cracking the spine in 2022, but it’d mostly bore you, as well as lead me down a dark road punctuated with moments of frustration toward the industry, and repulsion toward blatant sycophantic behaviour. And it’s Christmas when all said and done! A time to be merry and bright, not crestfallen and disillusioned. So, roast your chestnuts on an open fire, let Jack Frost nip at your nose, and settle down for my list of favourite horror movies of the year (in no particular order)!
Titane. The first in two movies by Julia Ducournau that made the list, Titane may be a difficult needle to thread for the horror junkies out there, but this French tale of girl meets car, girl fucks car, girl kills random people before adopting a different gender, only then to be caught out because gestating in her womb is a baby hybrid car (not electric from what I can tell), blends body horror with scenes of oil lactating nipples, stretch marks that reveal chrome beneath the skin, and some pretty screwed up kills. Titane establishes Ducournau to be a tour de force in contemporary cinema with an unsurpassed imagination.
Speak No Evil. Never have I felt so vindicated after watching a movie as I did after watching Speak No Evil. For many years, I have actively shied away from social conventions when holidaying, in particular ingratiating myself with other couples and families. This is partly because it takes up a lot of energy to appear engaged in a stranger’s life, but more importantly, they could be like the family in this Danish horror thriller by Christian Tafdrup. Speak No Evil scores high on the list for making me feel uncomfortable, sickened, and scared by the actions of the characters involved, emotions I only feel when visiting IKEA. I swear, if this movie doesn’t change your attitude toward meeting new people and visiting the Netherlands, then you deserve to be stoned to death. Joking. But seriously, it will change you.
Satan’s Slaves. You watch enough horror movies and you become sensitised to the tricks directors pull. The poorly framed shot can easily announce a demonic face. The drop in score pre-empts the jump scare. Filmmakers the world over lean on that box of tricks used in cinema for decades. But now and then you get a director that doesn’t create new ways to scare, but perfects them. Joko Anwar is that director. Satan’s Slaves (not Santa’s Slaves, which would be a very cool movie for this time of year), tells the story of an impoverished family besieged by supernatural entitles that like nothing more than to dilate your rectum. The scares are frequent and lingering; the story laced with emotion, and the characters all likeable. Imagine Poltergeist, but instead of an American housing estate built on an Indian burial ground, you have a dilapidated house on the fringe of an Indonesian cemetery where the dead get restless at night. Not to be watched after an enormous meal, lest you want to soil your pants.
Wounded Fawn. The honey luring me to this movie was Josh Ruben. Having loved Scare Me and Werewolves Within, I wanted to see how Ruben could handle a lead role not designed to make you laugh and scream in equal measure. I needn’t have worried. Playing the part of an art-aficionado psychopath seemed to come a little too easily to Ruben, and in truth, weirdly suited his face. But the actual strength of this movie comes from its direction. Travis Stevens picks up from the very cool Jacob’s Wife by skewering heavily stylised retro horror through the heart of early Cronenberg paranoia and the fever dream imagery of Ken Russell. This won’t be for everyone, but it has enough red flags for women going on a first date that it could fall into the category of educational horror.
Pearl. The prequel to Ti West’s X, Pearl succeeds in its aesthetics more than its exploitation counterpart because of its complete abandonment of convention. More Rogers and Hammerstien than Texas Chainsaw, Pearl sees Mia Goth reprise her titular love-hungry killer some fifty years prior to X. An origin story, we see Goth evolve from all-American-girl-next-door-farmhand to bat-shit-crazy-horny-teen with aplomb. X and Pearl, though spawned by the same hands, are day and night, literally. There’s not one scene I recall in Pearl that didn’t take place during the day, whereas X’s kills mostly took place at night. Extra kudos to West and Goth too for providing an end sequence more uncomfortable to watch than Kanye West’s Twitter feed.
Raw. This is the second Julia Ducournau movie I watched this year. Predating Titane, but equally fucked up, Raw is a coming-of-age movie that sees Garance Marillier, a staunch vegan, slowly discover that her lineage has a dark past where cannibalism is the staple diet. If John Hughes had this script in the 1980s, Molly Ringwald would be the lead, spending her evenings dreaming of the beefy guy in her class while Psychedelic Furs plays in the background. Instead, Ducournau allows Marillier to strip away the beef from the guy in her class while Euro trance music blares in the distance. Tender as a filet mignon in parts, and as tough as the gristle found in a doner kebab, Ducournau proves she can grill her audience as well as SpongeBob grills a Crabby Patty, and however you feel following the end credits, the taste will linger in your mouth. Did I overcook the beef analogies? Maybe.
Super Dark Times. Billed as Stand By Me meets Donnie Darko, Super Dark Times tells the story of a group of friends that accidentally becomes embroiled in murder. With a haircut that wouldn’t look out of place on either member of the Arctic Monkeys, Owen Campbell shines as the shy, tender moral anchor to the friend dynamic, while Charlie Tahan does his best impersonation of a psychotic Martha Plimpton. Though it falls in the coming-of-age genre, and the horror is less gratuitous than many in this list, director Kevin Phillips subtle but beautiful handling of the characters would make most seasoned directors blush with envy. The Stand By Me comparison is fitting, but you’ll find that Super Dark Times is less about the uniting of friends, and more in driving a sword through their guts, so maybe a subtitle of Don’t Stand By Me is more apt.
What Josiah Saw is a slow burn, and I don’t mean that negatively. Movies that set their stall out early enough by presenting scenes paced appropriate to the setting, era, and subject are more appealing than beginning a movie that promises one thing, and delivers something else. I’m looking at you, Zack Snyder, and your Army of the Dead. Vincent Grashaw flexes his directional muscles in this family drama where the sins of past decades haunt an old farmhouse inhabited by a son, played compassionately by Scott Haze, and his overbearing zealot father, Robert Patrick. A company wishing to buy the family land forces two estranged siblings back to the fold (Nick Stahl and Kelli Garner) to try and persuade their kin to sell up. Consider this a triptych of dark stories wrapped within an even darker story that plays out with the eeriness of a bow drawn over a violin. This is one movie I suggest you watch knowing very little about, and stick it out to the very end because that slow burn truly pays off. I’ll be watching anything Grashaw directs in the future because he holds the beating bruised heart of drama in his hand, and when he squeezes, the horror pours out like a river.
Glorious. Having been an avid listener to the Fangoria endorsed horror Podcast, Colors of the Dark, I expected big things from co-host Dr. Rebekah McKendry’s cosmic horror. Elric Kane and the good doctor unquestionably know their guts from their garters, and if anyone was surely capable of offering up the horror goods, it’d be one of them. The conviction that one character can carry a whole movie on their shoulders (see Moon, Locke, Zulo, and even Cast Away) really pays off for McKendry. Glorious tells the story of Wes, played by Ryan Kwanten, who finds himself in a remote rest stop following a recent breakup. In one scene where Wes’s character uses the stall, I thought McKendry missed an excellent opportunity to name this movie Gory Hole, but in true understated fashion, she refused to offer the audience such superficial thrills and cheap scares, and instead opted to make the predictable unpredictable, and pull together a vision of horror the likes of those crafted by Lovecraft on the page and Stanley Kubrick on screen. The slick screenwriting talent of Joshua Hull bolsters the narrative backbone with such panache that even J. K. Simmons can pageant his acting skills without ever appearing in one shot. So, if you like your horror weird and wonderful with splatstick humour and enough blood to dissolve a urinal cake, then spend a penny on Glorious. It’s worth it.
Bonus movie mention goes to Barbarian. Director Zach Cregger flays the flesh from this embracing chiller by keeping the cast to a minimum and winding the tension tighter than a noose around the neck. Georgina Campbell plays Tess Marshall, a woman who has rented an Airbnb in Detroit before a big interview the next day, but unbeknownst to her, Keith, played by Bill Skarsgård, has already rented the property. Sounds like the beginnings of a romance, right? Sure, swap out the two principal actors for, say, Zack Efron and Lily Collins, and you’ve got a saccharine little romcom where love prevails against all odds. But Barbarian isn’t about love. Least not in the way you think. You can read my full review of this movie over at Malevolent Dark.
There you go. Ten (okay, eleven) of my favourite horrors movies this year. If you want more movie-based shenanigans from yours truly, please check out my podcast, Session 10, where Boff Island and I rip through horror movies from each decade, beginning with the 1970s. May I also take this opportunity to wish you all a wickedly wonderful Christmas and a devilish New Year. Let’s give them Hell in 2023!