2017 was the year the horror film dug its claws deep into the mainstream with financial smashes such as Annabelle: Creation, It and Get Out proving that the public thirst for all things nasty was alive and well.
It will also be remembered as a year of great polarisation within the genre, both in terms of violent fluctuations in perceptions of quality and indeed what actually qualifies as a horror movie.
This strong divergence of opinion was exacerbated by studio mismarketing and stirred up further by a shit-storm of ostentatious bravado from some exceptionally challenging filmmakers, many examples of which appear in the list below.
Most importantly, the horror class of 2017 showed that not only was it harbouring some of the most fervent talents in the industry, but it was also the genre most likely to succeed in channelling the profound dissolution of the modern era.
With that said, here are the most fearless, controversial, edgy and entertaining horror films i witnessed during 2017.
15. GET OUT
Horror, Satire, Thriller Jordan Peele
Just because you’re invited, doesn’t mean you’re welcome
A young mixed race couple set in motion a “meet the parents” initiative that sees them enveloped in a Stepford Wives smog of liberal racism.
Smart and concise this blistering social satire set the bar for 2017 in terms of originality and financial clout. Both funny and terrifying by turns, Get Out is a stunning directorial calling card from Peele that bodes extremely well for his forthcoming Twilight Zone project.
14. GERALD’S GAME
Horror, Drama, Thriller Mike Flanagan
Some games you play, some you survive
Dissolusioned and damaged Jessie finds herself somewhat indisposed after a sex game goes spectacularly south. She must now battle against cruelly stacked odds and her own inner demons in a gruelling and gruesome test of resilience.
Orchestrated by the twisted mind of Steven King this unflinching shocker from Netflix is surprisingly candid in its warts and all character studies. Superb performances and sure-handed direction from the constantly improving Mike Flanagan make for a gripping experience that deals with uncomfortable issues with consummate maturity.
The brutal climax showcases the most disfiguring King sequence since Annie Wilkes shelved her sledgehammer.
Extreme Horror, Satire, Drama Flying Lotus
The grossest movie ever made
Debut director Steven Ellison has crafted the most confrontational piece of progressive cinema since the eyeball slicing Un Chien Andalou. He also solicited the help of a specialist in “mutant bukkake” through social media.
Kuso is Japanese for excrement and features funk royalty George Clinton sheltering a ‘toddler-sized’ cockroach inside his anal canal.
At its premiere, the sensitive Sundance crowds were sent scrambling for the exits thanks to graphic depictions of furuncle fornication (do yourselves a big favour and do not look that up), the attempted cultivation of a disembodied head through the application of human fertiliser and concrete induced dental trauma.
Mr Ellison has another persona – the gifted musician Flying Lotus, and as you would expect the soundtrack is beyond exemplary, featuring Aphex Twin, Kamasi Washington and Thundercat.
Be warned…..this film is a single-mindedly gaudy non-stop grind show of hypnogogic head-fuckery.
12. DEAD SHACK
Horror, Splatter, Zombie Comedy Peter Ricq
When the blood goes black there’s no going back
A group of plucky teens must save their drunken stoner parents from a flesh-hungry menace in a cinder black cabin in the woods comedy.
This brisk blast of old-school horror goodness revels in its own quick-witted script that positively sparkles with quotable one-liners. With a palpable and sympathetic cast dynamic and Amblin slanted sentiments mixed with outrageous splattery carnage, it’s not a million miles away from being the nastier cousin of Stranger Things.
Dead Shack was an audience favourite at many festivals during 2017 and is living-dead proof that horror films can be fun and fiery.
Environmental Horror, Adventure, History Sasha Louis Vukovic
Some things live stronger alone
It’s the summer of 1929 and an eclectic group of bright young things assemble on the frontier of North America to begin a 2-month expedition into the remote woodlands.
It doesn’t take long for our posse of Ivy League botanists to grasp they are locked in the crosshairs of a ruthlessly annihilatory ecosystem.
They must pool their precocious intellects, and merge their diverse skill sets if they are to survive a terrifying anemophilous attack that would have left Darwin soiling his naturally selected draws.
Replacing the usual cliched gaggle of moronic forest fodder with a party of educationally privileged hipsters is an intrepid move. Dropping them into a cell phone cleansed, period piece survivalist horror is even riskier. Nevertheless, the rewards are bountiful in this subtly cerebral low-fi science fiction forged gem.
10. WE ARE THE FLESH
Arthouse Horror, Fantasy, Drama Emiliano Rocha Minter
An otherworldly dimension of carnal desire and excess
A brother and sister take a break from the anxiety of the apocalypse and hide out in the morally impoverished hell-hutch of Mariano the solitary danger pervert.
The vulnerable siblings are soon press-ganged into the construction of an epic troglodytic womb-den before being systematically crowbarred into the cannibal car of the incest express.
We Are The Flesh is practically bursting at the squalid seams with the juicy paraphernalia of art-house nihilism. Packed to the green gills with interbreeding, necrophilia, lesbian sexual assault, graphic human slaughter, menstruation humiliation and heat-cam recorded hardcore debauchery – there is absolutely no snowflake space built into the film’s scant running time.
Be warned, this flick is relentlessly challenging as it takes absurdist philosopher Albert Camus’ concept of “the nakedness of man faced with the absurd” to its most extreme conclusion.
9. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER
Horror, Drama, Mystery Yorgos Lanthimos
Can I have your MP3 player when you are dead?
A fatherless teen wreaks vengeful havoc when he worms his way into the idyllic, yet stiflingly sterile lives of a troubled surgeon and his pristine family.
From its startling opening sequence, with images of genuine heart surgery, to its stoically bleak conclusion, this uncompromisingly avant-garde slow burner refuses to bow to the conventions of the modern horror film.
It’s unique central premise, narrative obscurity and laboratory condition performances will not suit all tastes, but the film never fails to provoke thought and discussion.
Essentially, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is the Greek tragedy Hitchcock never made.
8. THE NIGHT OF THE VIRGIN
Horror, Fantasy, Comedy Roberto San Sebastián
You will never forget your first time
It’s new years eve and uber-nerd Nico is hell-bent on losing his overripe cherry. After suffering rejection from women drunk enough to vomit on his shoes, his desperation propels him towards the slavering chops of Medea the charismatic cougar.
Once inside her lugubrious apartment, Nico turns a blind eye to the decaying decor, Asian black magic paraphernalia and the syrupy butcher’s shop slot drain in the bathroom. Even the teaming congregation of cockroaches fails to dampen his misplaced ardour.
It is, of course, not long before he accidentally wank triggers a domino effect of psycho-sexual skullduggery that will leave his dreams of carnal excitement, and one of his orifices, in horrifically painful tatters.
Watching The Night of the Virgin is like waking from a particularly bruising Rohypnol rape and finding oneself imprisoned within the sweating walls of a Machiavellian funhouse curated by Georges Méliès.
The final traumatic third spurts into life like the cinematic version of a Jackson Pollock painting, splatted into existence with blood, sperm and tears of pain.
The Night of the Virgin is definitely one of the most lurid horrors to emerge from Spain since Luis Buñuel last sliced an eyeball, and despite the freak show framework it hangs upon, it’s also the most scandalously entertaining European horror film in ages.
7. THE BAR
Horror, Comedy, Survival Thriller Álex de la Iglesia
Ordering Coffee Can Cost Your Life
A central Madrid coffee bar becomes an insane battleground of durability as panic, paranoia and prejudice run riot in this epic survivalist farce.
Iglesia expands his ever more bat-shit oeuvre with another thoroughly entertaining crowd-pleaser packed full of energetic mayhem and superbly timed running gags. The social commentary hits the mark with laser-sighted precision as the madness escalates and things literally turn to shit.
The script is sharp enough to maintain momentum in the face of an increasingly rickety narrative as its fresh and edgy agenda barrels wildly off the tracks towards an inspired pay-off.
6. IT COMES AT NIGHT
Horror, Mystery, Thriller Trey Edward Shults
Imagine the end of the world….. Now imagine something worse
A small family is holed up in a dilapidated house during the fallout of an unspecified calamity. When a young couple and child enters their fragile hermetic bubble, survival instincts and parental protection ignite and enable a microcosm of the outside chaos to ensue.
No other horror film attracted more audience derision versus critical acclaim during 2017 than this beautifully made chiller. Viewers felt cheated by a beguiling promotional campaign and found it easy to round on the films very title in their fury at the pacing and tone of the film.
Indeed, many questioned its fundamental status as a horror movie at all despite its blatant genre trappings. A quite ludicrous accusation that is a matter of intention if nothing else.
A comedy flick may not hit your particular funny bone but that does not stop it from being a comedy however much it failed in its objective. Similarly, if a horror film fails to prick your individual sensitivities it does not become automatically banished from the genre.
The lessons to be learned here are ones of transparent studio marketing and the self-management of expectation.
Ironically, It Comes at Night is actually one of the most purist horror films of the year as much ensconced in the genre as The Shining and Night of the Living Dead.
5. THE TRANSFIGURATION
Horror, Drama, Vampirism Michael O’Shea
A chilling portrait of violence
14-year-old Milo experiences a devastating childhood trauma that triggers a malicious preoccupation with vampiric lore. But, is he really transfiguring into a bona fide bloodsucker or is it a fiercely elaborate coping mechanism?
As his empathy levels reach critical mass, so his apathy towards social taboos and moral equity grows and Milo embarks upon a desperate path of detached self-destruction
This movie dips more than a flirtatious toe in derivative waters in terms of its obvious influences, such as the sociopolitical ruminations of Romero’s Martin (1978) and the grimy killing spree mechanics of McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Kiler (1986). But the core themes remain warmly ancestral rather than coldly plagiaristic.
The Transfiguration is an edgy narrative parable that prods you insolently in the guts to remind you just how thrilling and hypnotic credible independent horror films can be.
Horror, Psycho-sexual Melodrama Carlos Algara & Alejandro Martinez-Beltran
We all hide things, even from ourselves
A reclusive psychiatrist resurrects her career when she meets the enigmatic and troublesome Veronica. As the tensions escalate she soon begins to regret poking around in the dank crevices of her twisted mind.
This visionary black & White thriller is a master class in cinematic misdirection. The immaculate acting, pristine cinematography and volatile script forge a timeless sexual psychodrama crowned with a searingly creative, jaw-dropping final reel.
3. BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99
Grindhouse, Crime, Drama S. Craig Zahler
South of ok…….North of cancer
Bradley Thomas is a drug running proud daddy to be with the pain threshold of a honey badger. When he ends up in prison he finds himself on the wrong end of a shocking ultimatum that forces him to fully embrace his penchant for unbridled mega-violence.
This stunning follow up to the impressive Bone Tomahawk gate crashes this horror list by way of disgracefully lurid acts of brutality and the most utterly repulsive Maguffin ever committed to film.
Vince Vaughn is truly electric in the lead role as this instant cult classic head locks the viewer and forces them onto a rollercoaster of vengeance.
A bloody blast of eminently rewatchable cinematic adrenaline that marks Zahler as the number one genre director working today.
Horror, Drama, Thriller Bartosz M. Kowalski
A small Polish school forms the backdrop to an appaling chain of events that dredge the barrel of inherent evil.
Far, far better made than it has any right to be the subject matter of this ultra-realist drama will antagonise and revolt even the most hardcore horror junkie.
If you think cinema has lost its power to shock……think again. The end game of Playground will leave you shattered.
Horror, Drama, Mystery Darren Aronofsky
Seeing is believing
Jennifer Lawrence’s titular mother! lives in relative seclusion with a dusky blocked writer played by Javier Bardem. One unexpected chime of their doorbell later and in slithers an enigmatic doctor – hatched with relish by the unshakeable Ed Harris. Soon his invasively spiteful wife rocks up in the lustrous form of screen legend Michelle Pfeiffer and so begins an exhaustive invasion of personal space, replete with paralysingly awkward displays of public affection, that threatens to infect every recess of their abode.
Daring director Darren Aronofsky returns to his 16mm roots with a polarising fable of broken affinity, fractured trust, and abominable desecrations.
Initially a chamber piece on the thermodynamics of relationship power struggles, things intensify so ferociously that it mushrooms before your ever-widening eyes into one of the most relevant horror films of the decade.