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10 Best Horror Movies of 2017

From French cannibals to Aussie serial killers, ‘Split’ to ‘Get Out’ – our picks for the year’s scariest shockers and beyond-great genre films

Could any horror film of the past 12 months compete, scare-wise, with the terrors that lurked outside your front door, or that greeted you daily in your news feeds and TweetDecks? In terms of nightmares, 2017 often felt like a waking one, complete with an endless supply of monsters and predators, and no sign that you’d be waking up from it any time soon. It was the year when you could buy a ticket to the long-awaited film adaptation of Stephen King’s It and watch a psychotic clown threaten to snatch all that was dear to its helpless victims – and then turn on CNN and see reports on a real-life version of the exact same thing. 

But if you think of horror as being a release valve – the place where we exorcise our collective fears and anxieties – 2017 was the year that we needed scary movies the most. And by the love of all that’s unholy, the genre more than delivered: You could get horror films in a variety of flavors, from the socially relevant (Get Out, a runaway critical and popular success) to sensationally escapist and/or campy, from better-than-average franchise extenders (Annabelle: Creation, the latest in the ever-expanding Conjuring-verse) to slasher-hall-of-fame entries for Jigsaw, Leatherface, etc. Ghost stories, gorefests, slow-burning dread and jump-scare jolts, serial killers and supernatural soul-stealers, legendary auteurs up their old tricks and first-time filmmakers who pushed things in incredible new directions – there was a smorgasbord of fright to be had.

The year gave us disappointments too, of course – the devil help you if you were anticipating Universal’s “Dark Universe” movies being a bounty of thrills and chills instead of D.O.A. from the get-go, and the less said about The Bye-Bye Man (or Rings, or A Cure for Wellness, or …), the better. But it also delivered a handful of films that would easily make our all-time canon. Here are our picks for the 10 best horror movies of 2017.  

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‘It Comes at Night’

Some sort of apocalypse has dropped – don’t worry yourself about the who, what or why, just know that it’s enough to keep a rugged survivalist (Joel Edgerton, edgier than usual) burning contaminated corpses and bolting the doors after dusk, lest something come slouching inside. The man just wants to protect his wife (Carmen Ejogo) and teenage son (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a goal that becomes that much harder when another patriarch (Christopher Abbott) and his family enters their orbit. Trust is earned. And then that trust is broken. Having already stunned filmgoers with his domestic-nightmare of a debut Krisha last year, writer-director Trey Edward Shults tries his hand at the things-that-go-bump-in-the-psyche genre and proves he can sustain slow-burning dread with next to nothing. There are no monsters here, unless you count the green-eyed types that doth mock and the ones that lurk inside the hearts of all men. DF

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‘Split’

Those of who saw The Visit (2015) had the curious sensation of thinking that maybe, just maybe, M. Night Shyamalan still had some creative gas in his tank; his follow-up proves that the filmmaker is now fully in comeback mode. Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) is one of trio of young women who are abducted by a stranger (James McAvoy) in a parking lot. They soon find out that they’re actually being held captive by a number of abductors – they all just happen to share the same body. And did we mention that one of the villain’s multiple personalities, the ones all the others are scared shitless of, is called “the Beast” for a reason? Shyamalan’s nailbiter is so well-put together that not even a headslapping coda, which attempts to retcon the whole thing as a small piece of a bigger puzzle, can ruin it. And we’re officially nominating Taylor-Joy for the Final Girl Hall of Fame. DF

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‘The Blackcoat’s Daughter’

As the son of Psycho star Anthony Perkins, writer-director Oz Perkins must be biologically predisposed to horror, and this supernatural chiller gets downright Hitchcockian at times. There are some seriously creepy goings-on at a ritzy private girls’ school, where two students – played by Lucy Boynton and Kiernan Shipka — are stranded together, waiting for parents who never arrive. Emma Roberts co-stars in a parallel storyline, which connects to the rest of the film in ways that eventually become terrifyingly clear. Hints at Satanic misadventures aside, this film mostly turns a pulpy premise into a poetic mediation on how kids can be literally haunted by the mistakes they make growing up. NM

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‘Killing Ground’

There are two backwoods locals, the kind with a taste for hunting, too much testosterone and a tendency to take what they want. There are two sets of campers, both of whom oddly seem to be occupying the same riverside site. And there’s one Tasmanian director, Damien Power, who’s clearly boned up on his vintage, violent horror flicks from the golden age of grindhouses and isn’t afraid to push things into the red. At first, the scrambled chronology seems like a gratuitous gimmick; then you realize that the film is using an out-of-order timeline to coil its nightmarish narrative around you before tightening itself like a noose. For those who mourn the fact that no one makes movies like Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left any more, we have some good news for you. DF

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‘Hounds of Love’

Anyone familiar with the “Moorhouse Murders” – in which a couple in Perth kidnapped, raped and murdered four women in the mid-1980s – will recognize the similarities in Ben Young’s fictional riff on the true-crime case. There’s knowing about such things, however, and feeling like you’ve been dropped right into the middle of such an ordeal from the victim’s perspective, which is exactly what this harrowing serial-killer movie feels like. We joked (sort of) that PTSD counselors should be on hand when this movie played a film festival earlier in 2017; months later, we still find ourselves spontaneously trembling every time we hear the Moody Blues’ “Knights in White Satin,” which soundtracks a teenager (Ashleigh Cummings) falling into the duo’s trap. The filmmaking chops suggest someone with an impeccable eye is behind the camera. The pitiless brutality on display also hints that ice water runs in their veins. DF

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‘Get Out’

It was the inescapable horror movie of 2017 – both a pitch-perfect throwback to writer-director Jordan Peele’s beloved Seventies “social thrillers” and a right-now racial state-of-the-nation address that touched a raw nerve. A lesser filmmaker might have reduced the story of an African-American photographer (Daniel Kaluuya, giving great cry-face) going to meet his white girlfriend’s liberal parents – and having the strange feeling that something is very wrong – to little more than a collection of socially conscious jump scares. Instead, Peele turned Get Out into something unique: A straight-up scary movie that laced its satirical jabs with genuine menace, weaponized a gleeful sense of tweaking “woke” folks and gave form to all the free-floating communal dread of the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” era. Released right after a racist President was sworn in to office and still playing in theaters when white supremacists marched in Southern streets, this hit horror film became instantly emblematic of our warped moment. We all live in the Sunken Place now. DF

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‘Raw’

Many folks walked in to French director Julia Ducournau’s extraordinary, extreme debut expecting to test their mettle. (The movie that caused fainting at festival screenings! Mon dieu!) A little under two hours later, they exited the building having seen a genuine Grand Guignol masterpiece. Following the story of a college freshman (Garance Marillier) who slowly finds herself developing a taste for some off-the-menu delicacies, this gnarly look at a cannibal’s coming-of-age flips the script on notions of empowerment even as it turns stomaches. In terms of next-gen horror filmmaking, this shock to the system serves as an introduction to a major new talent (that shot of our heroine chomping into her arm en flagrante delicto is gorgeous and haunting and sick as fuck). In terms of using genre to tackle the female-body politic, Raw is one hell of an art-horror dirty bomb, smuggling in transgressive notions about control and womanhood under the cover of fake–Type-O splatter. Bon appetit. DF

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