Truth be told, episodic TV horror is killing the game right now, with series like The Terror and the promising new season of American Horror Story: 1984 using an eerie historical lens to petrify today’s audiences. But the big screen has also offered us some horror gems this year, ones that have sliced through the bevy of humdrum superhero films and delivered proper scares with a social consciousness.
As we enter Halloween season, now’s the perfect time to reflect on some of the most unforgettable horror films this year. Some start a much-needed conversation, while others terrify the crap out of us. But they all have one thing in common: thoughtful narratives that reflect where we are in the world today.
Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror
A movie that is inherently movie people talking about other movies may not sound like a must-see right off the bat. But press play on this Shudder original documentary and it will instantly engage you in a fascinating conversation about the way we consume certain themes in horror movies, blackness in storytelling, and the importance of who gets to tell whose story. With interviews and clips from films like Night of the Living Dead and Blacula, director Xavier Burgin—with screenwriters Ashlee Blackwell and Danielle Burrows—reflects on the long and complicated history of horror films and black people.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
A YA horror that hinges on the power great storytelling can have on young minds, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is far smarter than your average silly-kids-making-dumb-mistakes genre film. It tells the story of three reluctant heroes (Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, and Austin Zajur) who struggle to survive an increasingly treacherous series of events that all have one sinister source: a compilation of handwritten tales by a dead woman. Though director André Øvredal packs plenty of jump scares into this adaptation of Alvin Schwartz’s collection of short horror stories, he—along with writers Guillermo del Toro and Dan and Kevin Hageman—also weaves in themes of bullying, ostracization, and grief.
Tigers are Not Afraid
There isn’t anything traditionally scary in writer/director Issa López’s hybrid horror. There are no actual snarling animals or spooky apparitions. Rather, Tigers are Not Afraid is about the heightened dread a small child (Paola Lara) experiences when she’s orphaned, left to fend for herself on the streets of Mexico, and hunted by the rampant cartel. Haunted by memories of her mother, Estrella’s fears run wild as she fights off enemies—both real and imaginary—that threaten to silence her for good. López’s film is at once sensitive and terrifying as it highlights the untapped courage of a young girl in a scary world.
Some say Us is about the duplicitous nature of humanity, while others might consider it a tremendous horror film about a batshit crazy family. I prefer to think of it as a fiery warning about Judgement Day, but no matter how you choose to describe it, one thing remains clear: Writer/director Jordan Peele got us talking. One of the few box office horror films that centers a black nuclear family, Us uses classic hip-hop songs, a Hands Across America throwback, and a haunting Bible verse to thrust the audience into a beach vacation from hell—literally.
One of the most surprising horror films of the year so far, The Perfection goes from zero to 1,000 in a matter of 20 minutes. It’s clear from the first act that there is some, let’s say, tension between Charlotte (Allison Williams) and her former cello instructor, Anton (Steven Weber). When he invites her to meet his new prodigy, Lizzie (Logan Browning), at her exclusive performance, Charlotte is instantly enveloped with a simmering rage that lasts throughout the the film. Severed body parts and a frightening duet can be the only reparations in this wild AF story.
Ready or Not
At a time when entitled people thriving in the one-percent bracket are getting a proper pop culture roasting on screen (see Succession, for example), Ready or Not serves up a satisfying and utterly mad helping of revenge. That’s delivered by a bride (Samara Weaving) who’s just found out on her wedding night that her new husband’s (Mark O’Brien) family is actually a bunch of satanic heathens who target her as their next sacrifice. Why would the groom not tell his wife about them before he married her? Who knows, but Grace (Weaving) is hell bent on torturing this horrifying family right back—all while wearing a shredded, blood-stained wedding gown. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett absolutely skewer the obscenely rich (including the bow and arrow-carrying matriarch, played by Andie MacDowell) in this savage horror.
From Harper's Bazaar U.S.