10 Best Horror Movies of 2018 – Rolling Stone
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10 Best Horror Movies of 2018

From giallo and slasher-classic redos to the most disturbing grief-fuelled ghost story we’ve ever seen — these were the films that scared the daylights out of us this year

rolling stone best horror

Clockwise from left: 'Hereditary,' 'A Quiet Place,' 'Halloween' and 'Upgrade,' all entries in Rolling Stone's 10 Best Horror Movies of 2018.

Grief-stricken ghost stories, giallo and slasher flick redos, retro (and not so retro) cabin-in-the-woods riffs, rape-revenge movies, non–rape-revenge movies, worst-case-tech scenarios, aliens run amuck — 2018 gave us a grab-bag of horror stories that offered a break from the IRL terrors blasting from your Twitter feed. You could see old friends (welcome back, Laurie Strode, we missed you!), meet new auteurs, lose your cool after some choice jump scares or watch others lose their heads. (No, like, really lose their heads.) There were big blockbusters and midnight-madness cult curios. And, when all else failed, you could simply rewatch a grinning, bloodied Nicolas Cage taking on biker demons, and feel genuinely sorry that it was such an unfair match for the demons.

These were the 10 horror movies that spooked us, unnerved us, thrilled us, chilled us, wrecked us and revived our hopes for the genre. The word “elevated” will not be once, except for just now, so ok, maybe it will be used once. But that’s it. The favorites in this highly personal list — the only type of movie that’s more subjective than comedy, in terms of reactions, is horror — all fall somewhere between gonzo-giddy to gag-reflex-testing. But they all reminded us of the power of making things go bump in the night, making you afraid of the dark and making you question your notions of reality.

[Long pause]

Boo!

Hereditary, 2018
1

‘Hereditary’

Whether you think this is “the scariest film since The Exorcist,” or “the best horror film in a decade,” Ari Aster’s debut feature is one remarkably self-assured, genuinely disturbing take on family dynamics. It knows exactly when and how to jump headfirst into insanity. Its mix of grief, grotesquerie and ghost-story dread feels nigh unbeatable. Toni Collette’s performance as an artist dealing with loss(es) is a clinic in how to play someone slowly losing their mind; Alex Wolff’s portrayal as her son, equally heading off the rails, matches her step for step. Everything from the cinematography to the score suggests a bad dream you can’t wake up from. It requires several viewings at least, so you can see how impressively the film is planting clues at what’s really going on the whole time. And then there’s the climax, which references numerous supernatural horror-movie ancestors without once seeming like it’s ripping them off. A new master has blown into town. Hail Paimon.

Annihilation, 2018
2

‘Annihilation’

Something has landed on Earth, and it’s starting to terraform within a permeable dome — “the shimmer” — surrounding its ground-zero point of contact. And because she lost her military husband (or did she?) when he entered this danger zone, Natalie Portman joins a recon unit to see what, exactly, is happening inside this rapidly evolving ecosphere. Writer-director Alex Garland (Ex Machina) turns this adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel into a slab of cerebral sci-fi. But it’s as much a horror movie as anything else on this list — just ask anyone who sat through that blood-curdling scene involving a “screaming” mutant bear. And even when the movie goes full cosmic head-trip at the end, there’s a close-up of Portman, caught between a door and … something, that we’d consider instantly creepfest canon-worthy. (Go to the 55-second mark here.) It was gone from theaters a few weeks after its release in February. No matter. We’ll be talking about this one for years to come.

Halloween, 2018
3

‘Halloween’

Do not underestimate the power of that pale, bleached-out mask. David Gordon Green’s sequel/reboot/franchise rejuvenation returns to the scene of the crime 40 years later, giving Michael Myers numerous sharp objects to play with and setting him loose once more on the quaint suburbs of Haddonfield, Illinois. Only someone’s waiting for him this time. The thrill of seeing Jamie Lee Curtis, all wild white hair and sinew, turn Laurie Strode from victim to an angel of vengeance would be reason enough to have show up — her performance gives the film an unexpected depth. (Ditto that parting shot of a sorority of final girls.) But Green has not forgotten the primal thrill of John Carpenter’s original, or the fact that a Halloween movie is required to scare the living shit out of you. It’s a perfect transfusion of fresh blood and spilled Caro syrup for the series.

Ritual, 2018
4

‘The Ritual’

It went straight from the festival circuit to streaming on Netflix this past February, so this may be one that sailed past genre fans’ radars — but David Bruckner’s tale of a gents’ hiking trip gone awry is not one you want to let slip by. It’s a great reminder of some key horror-movie life lessons: Never plan a trek through the Norwegian woods without consulting your guidebook about whether there are any ancient religious devotees or centuries-old deities in the region. Never take a shortcut through a dark, secluded forest. (Have they never read any Brothers Grimm fairy tales?) And never, ever spend the night in an “abandoned” house with a headless stick figure that demands you worship it while you sleep. (Did they never see The Blair Witch Project?) An expert study in maintaining dread, utilizing suggestive terror and knowing exactly when to unleash the beast.

Upgrade, 2018
5

‘Upgrade’

Or: When Black Mirror met body horror. Leigh Whannell’s hi-fi, lowbrow gem from the House of Blum is exactly the sort of sick, satisfying Grand Guignol genre flick you want smuggled in to theaters or your Netflix queue. After Logan Marshall-Green’s everyman loses his wife and the use of his limbs after being ambushed by gangsters, he’s gifted with a tech innovation that’s implanted in the back of his head. It allows him to regain control of his body. Except, heh heh, funny story: This artificial-intelligence addition to his brain also has an attack mode. Think Robocop meets Hal 9000, with a bit of old-fashioned gore thrown in for good measure. That title works on several levels.

A Quiet Place, 2018
6

‘A Quiet Place’

In space, no one can hear you scream — and in actor-director John Krasinski’s post-apocalyptic parental nightmare, no one had better hear you scream, or else. The premise is pure high-concept ingenuity: Extraterrestrials with supersensitive ears hunt down the surviving members of the human race via sound. Stay silent, stay alive. For someone who claims he’s not a horror-film fan, Krasinski certainly knows how to use the conventions for maximum shock and awe; the scene in which Emily Blunt is trying to avoid a predator after stepping on a nail (and going into labor!) suggests he’s boned up on his Hitchcock 101. Even when this domestic take on Alien turns into a last-act riff on Aliens, it still delivers the scares. A surprise hit, and deservedly so.

Revenge, 2018
7

‘Revenge’

You could definitely see Coralie Fargeat’s nasty little nugget of a debut slotting nicely into the middle section of a vintage Forty-Deuce triple feature, sandwiched between the Russ Meyer-sterpiece Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45; the latter is practically a spirit animal to this French take on the subgenre known as the “rape revenge” movie. A businessman (Kevin Janssens) takes his mistress (Matilda Lutz) along for an out-of-the-way guy’s weekend for some extra alone time. Then his buddies show up early, the woman is assaulted and the trio of dudes leave her for dead in the desert. Except this heroine is not planning on going gently into the night, because she’s got some apex-predator douchebags to hunt first. If Oscars were handed out for filming blood-soaked marble floors, this movie would have mantles filled with awards. Every age gets the I Spit on Your Grave it needs, and we now have ours.

Mandy, 2018
8

‘Mandy’

Manson-like death cults! Chainsaw duels with giant hippies! Demon bikers on loan from a low-budget remake of Hellraiser! Panos Cosmatos’s bona fide neo-cult film spends its first half as a museum exhibit dedicated to its dozens of vintage exploitation influences, from Seventies head-trip flicks to underground pulp ephemera. Then Nicolas Cage kicks off the film’s batshit second half by morphing into a blood-splattered hero hellbent on payback, and suddenly, all bets are off. No other movie this year provided such an acid-tinged sense of hell on earth, or gave us anything close to the delirium of the star’s rage-in-a-Cage performance. This is what your horror on drugs looks like.

Suspiria, 2018
9

‘Suspiria’

The most divisive title on this list, and one of the more interesting horror remakes in a still-in-progress decade that’s had no shortage of them. Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino trades the breezy summer shores of Italy for the dead-of-winter drab of Berlin ’77 for his extended riff on Dario Agento’s masterpiece, which retains the premise — dance academy, fish-outta-water ingenue, coven of witches — and adds/changes a number of other factors. But it retains the original’s sense of everything feverishly falling apart around its heroine (Dakota Johnson) and lets Tilda Swinton inject an imperial sense of evil into the mix. The scene of a human body being bent in ways it’s not meant to be bent continues to haunt us; ditto the climax, which bathes everything in red and lets chaos reign. Rarely has such a beautifully overbaked movie been so underrated.

What Keeps You Alive, 2018
10

‘What Keeps You Alive’

It was sold to festivalgoers and genre fans as “the lesbian slasher film” — but that’s selling writer-director Colin Minihan’s intriguing take on the cabin-in-the-woods movie a little short. Two women, Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) and Jules (Brittany Allen), decide to celebrate their one-year anniversary in the former’s family lake house. Some old acquaintances bring up an incident involving a drowning that happened years ago, which suggests there are some buried secrets amidst the pastoral scenery. Which there are … only not exactly ones that you’d expect. Cue cat-and-mouse games, a necessity for suspending disbelief and a brutal sense that love means never having to say you’re sorry, especially if someone plans on cutting out your tongue.

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