First off, I just want to say this has been one crazy year for the Speak-Reeves family, after moving across the damned country to settle back in my hometown of Bettendorf. I can’t say it’s all gone according to plan—in fact, almost nothing has happened like we planned it—but we’re settling in OK and figuring things out. Reznor is doing very well academically, though moving to a new town/school is the LAST thing a fourteen-year-old wants to do. We’re all more than a little homesick, even now. Michelle’s been hard at work—like, fingers-to-the-bone style—and Speak Art Studio is growing because of it. I think 2020 will be a good one for our family.
Also, this next year should see the release of at least one, or maybe two new books by the end of 2020. In February, I will launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund the editing, cover design, and marketing of my new novel The Last House. I’ll be posting more about that after the new year! And I continue to work through the draft of the third Bettendorf Tales novel.
My Favorite Horror 2019
2019 was another good year for horror—not as stellar as 2018, but it sure had some great moments. Three of the young auteurs had new offerings this past year, all of whom further pushed the boundaries of the genre. Though I can’t say any of their sophomore efforts quite rose to the level of their debut films, they remained well worth seeing and two of them made my list. So, without further ado, here are my ten favorite horror movies of 2019. A lot of these films are on the Shudder streaming service, so if you don’t have it, I highly recommend subscribing.
This list is not my idea of the “best” horror movies of the year, just my personal favorites set into some kind of order only because I enjoy that kind of thing. Several other films could have made it here, but these were ultimately the ones I settled on.
Several films could have made it here, including Midsommar and Ready or Not, both of which I loved, but I had to once again go with the Bettendorf Boys, Scott Beck and Brian Woods, who wrote and directed this movie. It’s a classic slasher set in a backwoods Halloween haunt, where things are not as they seem. Once Haunt gets moving, it’s a lot of fun and darned scary. On Shudder or for rent on most streaming services.
I loved Get Out, Jordan Peele’s first film, and like many movie nerds I was excited for his followup. Us did not disappoint. A doppelganger tale with some social commentary thrown in, it’s above all a first rate horror story in the vein of Twilight Zone. Not all of it works perfectly, but there’s plenty of tension and skillful storytelling to counterbalance the flaws. On HBO or for rent on most streaming services.
Crawl is an effective aquatic horror that somehow maintains just the right amount of campy charm while also building an absorbing story along the way. Nothing here is earth shattering; the estranged father/daughter backstory is hardly groundbreaking, and the CGI is passable though not great, but it’s done so earnestly and with such care for the craft, you can’t help but love it. For rent on most streaming services.
7. Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse
Hagazussa is one film I do NOT recommend for everyone; in fact, I only include it on this list because it’s one of those films I couldn’t stop thinking about for days after I watched it. First, it’s the definition of slow burn—maybe to the extreme. I could have done with about 20 minutes clipped here and there, but once you get into the third act, you’ll almost forget about how long it took to get there. Second, the third act is disturbing—Hagazussa goes to a place most horror films do not dare. This one is ONLY for the patient and those who are not at all squeamish. I warned you. On Shudder or for rental on most streaming services.
6. Knife + Heart
Another that may not be for everyone. Knife + Heart is a French slasher set in the world of 80s gay porn—a strange and exhilarating homage to Brian De Palma and giallo movies. The performances are great, the violence is appropriately bloody given its influences, and the soundtrack is fantastic! On Shudder or for rent on most streaming services.
5. The Head Hunter
Medieval horror isn’t something you see every day—or ever. At 75 minutes, The Head Hunter plays like a good “short story,” to quote Reznor after the film was over. With hardly any dialogue, and shot on a shoestring budget, this baby somehow looks fantastic. It checks a lot of boxes for me. On Shudder.
4. One Cut of the Dead
Stick with this one, trust me. The first 36 minutes had me wondering what I’d gotten myself into. It seemed like a bad horror comedy, which was intentionally the case. The rest of the film just gets better and better, and by the third act, you’ll be smiling as you realize why the first 36 minutes were so odd. An excellent film about the struggle of making movies. On Shudder.
3. Doctor Sleep
I went into Doctor Sleep with no small measure of hesitation, given my ambivalence toward the book it’s based on, and my reverence for the Kubrick film before it, but I was pleasantly shocked by just how much I wound up loving it. The first two acts were spectacular with a group truly evil bad guys—as revealed in one scene so disturbing, I’m amazed they kept it in the movie. The third act taking us into the Overlook Hotel itself was nostalgic and well conceived, though not quite has great as what came before it. Still, Doctor Sleep is a loving blend of the book and the 1980 classic movie. For rent on most streaming services.
2. The Lighthouse
Robert Eggers’ first film, The Witch, is possibly my favorite film of the last decade—of any genre. So, when The Lighthouse came out, I was there on Halloween night with popcorn in hand. This is a bizarre tale of two men losing their minds on a wind-ripped, rain-soaked, Northeastern island. It’s another slow burn and the payoff may not be what you’re expecting, but I promise you’ll be thinking about it for weeks after seeing it. For rent on most streaming services.
1. Tigers are not Afraid
From Mexico, a view of life we rarely get to see in movies. This thing somehow is dirty, beautiful, heartbreaking, and scary, all at the same time. It’s a brutal fairy tale for our time, told poetically, with artistry and masterful filmmaking. Tigers Are Not Afraid is one of the best movies of the year, regardless of genre. On Shudder and for rent on most streaming services.
Other horror films I loved this year include Ready or Not, Midsommar, In the Tall Grass, A Hole in the Ground, and The Perfection. With such a busy year, I’m sure I haven’t seen everything, so if I missed something you loved, let me know in the comments!
I’ll be back next week with my favorite horror movies of the past decade!!