In any given year, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of straight-to-DVD horror movies released, with only a small handful of films actually worth seeing. The genre’s tropes have grown old and audiences are generally less afraid of things that go bump at night. That said, in recent years, films from James Wan’s Conjuring franchise and smart indie horrors like Get Out have managed to breathe new life into the genre. Halloween seems like the perfect time to catch up on the year’s best horror films…
12. Berlin Syndrome
Released: May 26
Cast: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt
Director: Cate Shortland
In Berlin Syndrome, horror heroine Teresa Palmer stars as a tourist who gets taken prisoner after a one-night stand. While that might sound like a familiar plot device, it’s the untypical handling of a familiar situation that makes the film stand out from its peers. Taking place almost entirely inside the four walls of an old apartment, Cate Shortland has made a terrifying film about the psychological toll of abuse. Adapted from the book of the same name, it is an unbearably tense and claustrophobic look at the trauma Palmer’s character endures at the hands of her kidnapper. In less capable hands it might have steered towards mediocrity but, thankfully, Berlin Syndrome delivers.
13. Gerald’s Game
Released: September 29
Cast: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas
Director: Mike Flanagan
Horror fans can’t seem to get enough Stephen King adaptations this year. Many fans will argue that Gerald’s Game ranks among his most underrated novels. And, for a long time, it was considered unadaptable. However, that didn’t stop director Mike Flanaganm, who reportedly carried around a copy of Gerald’s Game to meetings because it was something he dreamed of adapting for years. The Netflix Original film takes place almost entirely in memory and inner monologue, with its lead handcuffed to a bed for almost the entire running time. How does he get 103 minutes of thrills from such a static setting? Simple: great acting from Carla Gugino, smart dialogue, and loads of suspense.
11. Annabelle: Creation
Released: August 18
Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Samara Lee, Miranda Otto
Director: David F. Sandberg
The fourth film in the Conjuring franchise, Annabelle: Creation is probably this year’s biggest surprise – that’s mostly because the original film was such a disaster. In this origin story for the creepy porcelain doll, Lights Out‘s David Sandberg manages to improve and fix all the previous film’s wrongs. Although the film features a lot of familiar horror movie tropes, including the creepy orphanage setting, pitch dark corners, ghosts, demons, floating objects, Catholic priests and a helpless protagonist, Annabelle: Creation is genuinely scary and incredibly fun.
Released: Oct 20
Cast: Thomas Jane, Molly Parker, Dylan Schmid
Director: Zak Hilditch
Thomas Jane is almost unrecognisable as Wilfred James, 1922‘s unreliable narrator. The year’s third Stephen King adaptation, also a Netflix Original film, follows a farmer plagued by guilt after murdering his wife. Unlike many of the other films on this list, it’s short on scares and traditional horror tropes. However, it burrows its way under your skin and becomes immensely unsettling. It’s a deep exploration of what guilt does to a man.
09. Happy Death Day
Released: Oct 12
Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine
Director: Christopher Landon
The idea of turning Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day into a Scream-like horror film probably doesn’t sit well with most people. However, targeted towards young adults, Happy Death Day, which is co-produced by horror king Jason Blum, maintains modest tension and humour throughout, delivering an entertaining PG-13 slasher. The likability of this film totally relies on your ability to enjoy it as sheer entertainment.
08. Alien: Covenant
Released: May 19
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup
Director: Ridley Scott
Fans of the Alien franchise will experience a huge sense of relief as a chestburster explodes from a human torso in Ridley Scott’s highly-anticipated Alien: Covenant, a sequel to the 2012 film Prometheus, the second instalment in the prequel series and the sixth instalment overall in the Alien franchise. Truth be told, the third instalment directed by Scott, a dazzling film that questions creation and destruction, is a welcomed return to its horror roots. The intriguing next chapter in the sci-fi franchise, which plays out a little like a greatest-hits package, is genuinely haunting. Unfortunately, Covenant seems to be one of those films you either love or hate. As someone who has seen it five times already, it’s pretty obvious that I fall into the former group.
Released:: March 15
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella
Director: Julia Ducournau
The repulsive and shocking Raw caused quite a stir at TIFF last year when word got out that a few moviegoers fainted during a screening of the cannibal film. Those expecting something along the lines of Cannibal Holocaust, however, will be disappointed. Instead, Raw is a strange coming-of-age story. As far as horror movies go, it might not cause you to lose too much sleep but it will definitely force you to look away during some of the more violent scenes.
06. The Girl With The Gifts
Released:: February 24
Cast: Sennia Nanua, Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close, Paddy Considine
Director: Colm McCarthy
With the zombie genre cemented by The Walking Dead and 28 Days Later, there isn’t a lot of unscavenged territory left to explore. The Girl with All the Gifts attempts to bring freshness to the decaying subject matter. However, those who’ve played Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us will find themselves in a familiar world. There are a number of missed opportunities in the film, but nothing that can’t be overlooked. For some, the film will be saved from mediocrity by Nanua. For others, The Girl with All the Gifts will feel fresh and emotive. What truly sets it apart from other films in the genre is its great performances, even from the young cast. It’s a horror movie that certainly tugs at the heartstrings.
Released: Jan 20
Cast: James McAvoy
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
It’s no secret that M. Night Shyamalan’s career has fallen on hard times. Synonymous with ‘the twist’ ending, it seemed like the Sixth Sense director had written himself into a dark corner – trapped with no hope of return. Until The Visit proved otherwise. In his new psycho-thriller, Split, which features a brilliant performance from James McAvoy as a man with 23 personalities, Night may have finally found a return to glory.
Released: Sept 15
Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård
Director: Andy Muschietti
Those who have a fear of clowns, beware! The reboot of Stephen King’s IT, based on King’s 1986 supernatural horror novel, is just as haunting as the book and miniseries it spawned from. Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise is as equally creepy as Tim Curry’s version of the clown who lures the children of Derry into the sewers. IT reintroduces fun and comedy back into the genre and delivers one of the year’s most fun movies. With $371M worldwide already (earning R5,118,107 across 67 South African cinemas), it seems that IT is looking to be a monster hit for the studios involved.
03. A Dark Song
Released: April 28
Cast: Catherine Walker, Steve Oram, Susan Loughnane
Director: Liam Gavin
You’ve probably never seen a horror film like A Dark Song. It follows a bereaved mother (Catherine Walker) and an occultist (Steve Oram) who retreat to an isolated house to practice black-magic rituals in order to bring back the dead. Although it is incredibly subtle in its approach, the film builds into something truly revolutionary for the genre. It’s genuinely scary and poignant as it deals with deeper issues, such as death, loss, life, hope and fear. If you are looking to watch something truly thought-provoking and unsettling, A Dark Song should probably be on the top of your list.
02. It Comes At Night
Released: April 29, Overlook Film Fest
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Riley Keough, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo
Director: Trey Edward Shults
It Comes At Night is an intense post-apocalyptic story thriller about trust and mistrust. A man has managed to carve out a peaceful living space for his family, only for their lives to be thrown into chaos by a young family who stumbles upon their hideout. Edgerton gives another masterly minimalist performance and really carries most of the low-budget supernatural film. The fear is palpable. The score is unnerving. And, most of all, the film genuinely evokes terror.
01. Get Out
Released: February 24
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford
Director: Jordan Peele
With a 99% Rotten Tomatoes score, Jordan Peele’s psychological indie-horror is easily one of the most celebrated films of the year. And rightfully so. Get Out is intelligent, surprising, unpretentious and strong. Not just content with being scary, it’s satirical commentary on racism, slavery, perception and politics. Most of all, it’s really well directed. As far as horror movies go, Get Out is the cream of the crop.