It’s already 2020 so the time for “End Of The Year” lists may have already passed (here’s mine), but I wanted to take a second to mention a few recent horror/horror-adjacent movies I watched in 2019 that you might have missed. I’m focusing on some less-talked about movies here, so you’re not gonna see things like Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, Midsommar or Us on this list. Don’t get me wrong, those movies are great. They just don’t really need me giving them a visibility boost. Your mileage may vary with these, especially since some of them haven’t seen much buzz due to uhhh “poor critical acclaim,” but whatever! Here are 13 recent movies you might have never heard of, glazed over, need an excuse to watch, or just forgot about that I enjoyed. Maybe you will too!
Disclaimer: this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list because I too haven’t seen a few of the 2019 horror movies on my list (such as Little Monsters, Girl On The Third Floor, Depraved, Lux, etc.)
Regan (Colin Ford) is an rich, clean-cut, DCOM-looking all-around Good White Boy with loving parents and an excellent life. His homelife is so idyllic, he takes it upon himself to kill off his peers’ much shittier, worse parents while making it look like an accident (all for a fee, of course). I’m normally not one for the Sociopath White Teen / Dexter-Lite type stories, but I love good Young Adult Fiction, and Extracurricular Activities plays out like a sardonic, tongue-in-cheek YA novel I would have devoured in a single sitting as a middle or high schooler. It’s a “dark” comedy with a cast of cartoon characters and a sense of nihilism that, once again, feels very appropriate for an edgy YA novel. Look, sometimes it’s fun to watch a teen wreak havoc in an extremely wealthy neighborhood while running circles around the cops. Don’t think too hard about it!
I can’t really explain the appeal of a conventional slasher (People With Knives Kill Scared Knifeless People) and I’ll never fault anyone for not being into ’em, but wowee I do love a Good Slasher. Haunt is a Good Slasher. Went in expecting a standard Teen Halloween Horror Movie (which I mean, I’m known to enjoy) only to find something more similar in spirit to The Strangers (2008) than something like Insert Contemporary Teen Slasher Here (20XX). Maybe my favorite thing about the movie is something it doesn’t do. The kills in Haunt are short, efficient, and brutal. It doesn’t linger, and it doesn’t need to, because at the core of the movie is the simple idea that sometimes the scariest thing is just being in the line-of-sight of someone you know is malevolent. The movie would have worked even if the kills were all completely off-camera. It’s tense, it’s engaging, the ending is uncharacteristically satisfying for a slasher, and I only had to squint my eyes out of fear [REDACTED] times.
Life is tough for a kid in a small town with a shitty home-life. Finding out that there’s a [REDACTED] stuck in your shed doesn’t make things any better either. The Shed is a simple premise that’s solidly executed. It’s got charm, style, a likable protagonist, and feels like an extended episode of Tales From The Crypt or a Creepshow segment. All around solid horror movie. I wish more indie horror went down as smooth as this one did. That’s it, that’s all I have to say!
Tigers Are Not Afraid
There’s a good chance you’ve heard of this highly anticipated debut from Issa López, maybe even from Guillermo del Toro raving about it on Twitter. “So why is it on your ‘Movies You Might Have Missed’ list then?” I dunno, maybe you still missed it!! Quit being a cop. Anyway, Tigers Are Not Afraid plays like a brutal fairy tale with horror and magical realism interlaced throughout. We follow a recently orphaned young girl named Estrella (Paola Lara) who joins a band of orphans as they flee from the gang that killed their families. They’re not completely on their own though. Estrella is armed with three wishes, gifted to her by her former teacher. It’s ambitious and creative and doesn’t pull its punches. I’m very curious to see what López comes up with next.
It really sucks when your boat capsizes and you end up stranded on a tropical island that happens to be the hunting grounds for a uh, for a Something. No one knows that better than our protagonist, Jenn (Kiersey Clemmons). Like the movie itself, Jenn has a lot on her mind. She’s focused on the task at hand though: not dying. The result? A very solid, tropical 82 minute survival thriller that deftly leaves most of the mystery, horror elements, and character drama lurking below the surface. What can I say, I love Oceanic Horror and I love a Sun Soaked Thriller. The movie is also impressively, deceptively deep. One of the most memorable moments is the title drop. It’s extremely quick and comes out of nowhere, but is a wrenching slap in the face that dramatically changed how I watched the rest of the movie. I’ve seen Sweetheart recommendations make the rounds on Twitter and the like, but it feels like it quietly slipped onto Netflix without many people noticing! Definitely check it out. The cherry on top: it happens to have one of the most stylish, striking monster reveals I’ve seen.
It’s 19th century and Americans, including Lizzy (Caitlin Gerard) and her husband Isaac, are going west. It’s a premise that brings to mind a lot of quaint American Frontier stories like The Little House On The Prairie. Many of those stories, however, manage to conveniently forget about the violence, discrimination, and blood associated with “manifest destiny” and the push westward. But worry not, The Wind has that on its mind and more. The picturesque life out on the prairie never even gets a foot in the door, since the first shot of the movie is of Lizzy absolutely drenched in blood while the wind howls around her. It’s got the feel of a slow burn, atmospheric horror movie but it comes in hot and keeps things churning til the very end.
An aside: Thinking about The Wind inevitably brings The Witch and Hagazussa to mind. They’re all style-heavy period pieces that feature and isolated young woman in a new, precarious situation while something dreadful deliberately encroaches upon them. I have no problem saying that The Wind is the strongest and most interesting of the three. It also happens to be the only one of the aforementioned movies to be written and directed by women, which probably factors into why it’s also the only one that doesn’t have Weird Things To Say About Women. Of course, that’s just my take. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.
Nekrotronic tells you everything you need to know in the first few minutes: demons are real, some humans have been fighting them for all of history, and now in modern times, demons have found a way to possess people through T H E I N T E R N E T ! ! Thankfully, the movie eschews any “ok, boomer,” takes. Instead, it takes us on a silly romp as our protagonist discovers he’s The Most Powerful Ghost Hunter or whatever. Full disclosure: I only watched this movie because I saw the thumbnail on Shudder and had a feeling that the protagonist would be cute and not only was I RIGHT (and rewarded with a gratuitous shirtless scene in like the first 5 minutes), I also had some fun watching it. Found out later that the director Kiah Roache-Turner also did the zombie movie Wyrmwood, which is similarly cartoonish action flick. Look, it’s a loud, schlocky action/horror/comedy “”B-movie” chock full of exposition and splatter. Sometimes that is in fact my idea of a good time.
The Banana Splits Movie
This is a movie where a fuzzy orange animatronic from a live action Hanna Barbera show that ran in the late 60s swoops out of a tree to grab an unsuspecting teenager only for said teen’s mom to judo throw it off a metal catwalk moments later. It’s not that deep: you’re either down to clown or you’re not!! The Banana Splits Movie is an openly fun, irreverent slasher built around a solid emotional core and endearing protagonists. The movie works so well because it’s utterly self-indulgent in the ridiculousness of its premise but takes itself just seriously enough to keep you from laughing at it. The best kind of homage or parody 1.) works as a standalone solid entry in its genre, and 2.) stems from a sincere love of said genre. In that respect, The Banana Splits knocks it out of the park, leaving a ton of [indie] horror that try to earn the same level of affection with VHS filters and 80s soundtracks in the dust. If we have to keep resurrecting old franchises and characters, we might as well turn them into charming horror movies.
You may not have caught the latest film from director Babak Anvari because it hasn’t received as much acclaim as his previous film Under The Shadow (a movie akin to The Babadook that thoroughly recommend), but I like it! Spooky things start happening after Will (Armie Hammer), a scruffy bartender in New Orleans with some issues to work out, picks up a phone some teens left behind at his bar. The Spooky Things are never really clarified or explored, which is often how I like it. Instead, the focus in Wounds is an encroaching sense of dread. My proclivity toward stylish, quiet, grimy, “mumblegore”-esque movies aside, I appreciate the ambition here as well. Anvar’s sights here are actually set on possessive, toxic, mundane American masculinity, and that’s horror I can get behind (see also: 2018’s Tilt). Will’s life seems to take a turn for the worse when he picks up a call from [DATA EXPUNGED] on this lost phone, but by the end it’s clear that the call was coming from inside the house. So to speak!
Head Count (2018)
Sure, the horror in this movie is a little shoehorned in (our protagonist hits up a creepypasta site, reads some cursed text out loud, and their group just happens to meet the entity’s very specific requirements), and I’m not a fan of the ending for spoiler-y reasons I mention here (tl;dr it goes the route of many other horror movies and abandons the neat, creative stuff it does for a conventional ending and “stinger”), but I ultimately still enjoyed this one. Full disclosure though, I absolutely love doppelgänger stories. And what we’ve got here is a doppelgänger story that aims to unnerve and induce paranoia rather than outright scare. All and all, it’s a solid one shot story that’ll leave you wishing it had some more meat to it but is enough to satisfy your 2AM horror fix.
Jules (Maika Monroe!) and Mickey (Bill Skarsgård!) are two bumbling (but effective?) criminals just one score away from living out their dreams of moving to Florida and selling sea shells by the sea shore. Unfortunately for them, the house they decide to rob happens to have a child chained up in the basement. It happens. Villains is a horror/comedy home invasion gone wrong that is truly a delight. The whole cast in general is wildly charismatic (was surprised to see Kyra “The Closer” Sedgewick here, as an antagonist even), but your experience might hinge on whether or not our two leads win you over with their frantic charm and chemistry. When they do, the movie truly soars on their manic energy. Their relationship is the sincere emotional core that grounds the movie’s various eccentricities while giving the story actual stakes. It reminded me a bit of The Final Girls, one of my favorite movies of all time, in that way.
One Cut Of The Dead
So this movie has shown up on quite a few End Of The Year lists, including some non-horror specific ones. I’d be remiss not to include it though, because 1.) it still feels criminally underwatched and 2.) it absolutely rules and is one of my favorite 2019 movies in general. If you don’t know anything about it, good! Just, go watch it. It’s one of those movies that benefits from knowing as little as possible (and a little bit of patience.) I’ll say this though: it’s a sincere, loving look at the trials and tribulations and joy and magic of making art that’s masquerading as Another Indie Found Footage Zombie Movie. It made me want to get out there and make a movie.
Knife + Heart
It’s extremely wild that this homage to Italian giallo films about a slasher targeting members of the queer community in 1970s Paris shows the most compassion and tenderness toward queers than any other movie I’ve seen. And this is a movie where someone is murdered with a retractable dildo knife in the first five minutes. Yes, obviously, it’s a horny gay slasher; we follow Anne (Vanessa Paradis), a gay pornography director with some issues to work out, as she realizes a killer is targeting some of her actors. But there’s so much more to this film! Part of me resents how a lot of the buzz is about the movie’s explicit sexuality as opposed to its deep empathy/humanity. One of the many things it does is take an extremely common, homophobic horror movie trope and successfully reclaim the tragedy of it. I want to say so much! It’s full of vibrant, living queer characters! It’s got a gorgeous, pervasive dreamy atmosphere! It made me tear up twice! I could keep going but I’ll save it for a separate post. Easily both my favorite horror movie of 2019 and one of my new all-time favorites.
And that’s that! Please don’t cancel me if you’ve heard of or seen all these movies before. Thanks for reading.