This was an unbelievable year for horror. The genre saw significant contributions from both mainstream and independent studios, and it was an absolute blast to watch it unfold. That said, it was almost too much good stuff—or at least it felt like it once I had to write this list.
Starting with a list of films that saw wide release in 2017 I narrowed it down to the ones I saw, cut that to the ones I enjoyed, and then whittled away until I had only 13. It was brutal.
What follows is a list of my favorite genre films of the year, from the stomach churning and difficult to the comedic and floaty. While I tried my best to order this, you could probably swap any movie with one above or below it and I’d still stand by it.
I only regret that I couldn’t fit more on this list, and highly recommend you look to the articles of my fellow writers for more suggestions.
13. Alien: Covenant
Let me be clear, the plot runs on bad choices and the movie answers questions about the Alien franchise’s universe that I didn’t want answered. And yet I enjoyed it. It’s a mixed bag, I’ll admit that—a cool kill balanced out by bad CG later, that sort of thing. But what Covenant did that surprised me was that it thoughtfully laid out its themes (humanity, legacy, creation, etc) and explored them not to the point of exhaustion but enough to start conversations on your way out of the theater and in the following days.
12. Dave Made a Maze
This is far from traditional horror, but it is a movie that has stuck with me. It’s a story about a less tangible dread, about fear of failure and unfulfilled creative potential. And while that all worked really well for me, what actually sold me on this film was the design. Everything from the sets to the gore to (in one case) the makeup are as detailed as they are whimsical. It’s honestly a sight to behold.
11. Happy Death Day
Happy Death Day is horror-lite, Slashers 101, a murdercycle with training wheels. And none of that is a bad thing. While the punches are pulled to maintain the PG-13 rating, Happy Death Day had me entertained from start to finish. It was a fast-paced movie that knew what it was and neither overstayed its welcome nor overextended itself. Is there a darker, bloodier version of this murder filled Groundhog Day that they could have made? Absolutely. But I like this one more than enough.
10. I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore
As far as vigilante based power-fantasies go, this is up there with Batman. Ruth wants for one simple thing “for people to not be assholes.” And when the world doesn’t comply she goes on a misanthropic adventure to right some wrongs. It was a really great viewing experience–relatable, cathartic and one that I highly recommend people check out.
Similar to I Don’t Feel at Home…this is another movie that deals in pure frustration and catharsis. Mayhem is a tightly orchestrated bloodbath that points a finger at injustice in the workplace and in the financial world. The commentary isn’t particularly deep, but it also is very much not the point of the movie. It’s a joyride of chaos, the printer scene from Office Space but with power tools and a body count.
8. The Babysitter
I was genuinely surprised to see this on Netflix. It easily could have been a theatrical release. Samara Weaving (who also featured in Mayhem) plays a babysitter with a dark secret. It’s an over the top affair with kitschy characters, elaborate deaths, and dramatic slow-motion. It’s not without its flaws, but The Babysitter was a bloody, goofy movie that I couldn’t get enough of.
7. Tragedy Girls
Usually I’m cautious about movies that are described as “x meets y” or “z but with a twist.” Tragedy Girls was given all kinds of labels like that. Heathers for the Instagram era, that sort of thing. I still can’t quite put my finger on it, but something in this movie just really clicked with me and I was completely captured by these two teenage girls pursuing fame through blogging coverage of their own small-town murder spree.
I’m only mostly certain this one got its wide release in 2017, but I had to make sure I included it on my end of the year list. Capture Kill Release is a minimal cast indie found footage film about a young couple who decided they’d like to see what it’s like to kill someone. Jennifer Fraser’s performance is deeply unsettling, and the whole movie unfolds with a clear confidence and vision of what it wants to be. It’s not one I saw a lot of people talking about, but I am a very big fan.
I don’t think I’d have ever guessed that a French coming-of-age cannibal film would be one of my favorites for any given year, but Raw is really something special. It’s a surreal, dark drama that pushes viscera into an otherwise relatable story about going away to college. While the gore is tamer than you’d expect, it’s still rather brutal at points. And yet it was such enthralling storytelling that I could not look away from even the worst parts.
All I can say is that you need to go in blind. The first film, Creep took me completely by surprise and instantly became one of my favorite found footage films of all time. Creep 2 is a commendable sequel that builds on the original while establishing its own tone and drama. I wish I could say more, but I can’t. If you haven’t seen Creep or Creep 2 you absolutely should, but make sure you go in as blind as possible.
I was sitting in a packed, makeshift theater on Mount Hood at the Overlook Film Festival when I—and everyone else in the room—was told that I’d be watching the world premiere of It Comes at Night. This movie blew me away, and I couldn’t have been happier with it. It’s palpably tense throughout, framed with some remarkable visuals and astounding lighting. It Comes at Night had me literally holding my breath and on the edge of my seat. While some felt it was misleadingly named and marketed, I was thrilled with this movie, and strongly believe more people should see it.
Even as I was walking into the theater I didn’t know what to expect. I’d seen the original miniseries and a few trailers, but I really didn’t know how (or if) it would all pull together. Suffice it to say that I was totally floored by this one. It’s a film more nostalgic for childhood than a specific era, and hits on all the right notes about fear and friendship and family. I was happy to walk away feeling like I’d just seen a movie as meaningful as it was dark and gruesome.
There isn’t much I can say that hasn’t already been said about this movie. Jordan Peele brings his love of horror and eye for comedy to deliver one of the best (if not the best) social commentaries I’ve ever seen. It’s a tense, subversive, and uncomfortable experience in all the right ways. The performances were superb, the cinematography appropriately dramatic, and themes crushingly resonant. It is truly a must watch for horror fans and non-fans alike.