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Joel's Top Ten Horror Films of 2019

Written by Joel Harley

I will not lie – I spent most of the time writing this wondering whether I could justify including Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on the list, on the basis of its last twenty minutes alone. Alas, common sense won out, and what we have here is a list of my nine favourite horror films of the year (plus one genre-bending superhero film), with no sign of Charlie Manson or his hippy clan. There are still some hippies though. And a musical.

small-coverBuy from Amazon UK Hellboy

Yes, really. Neil Marshall's reboot of the beloved Mike Mignola comic book series was worlds away from Guillermo Del Toro's vision of the character – feeling in some respects like a lost early noughties' action film. It even has Milla Jovovich in it, as the film's villain. Critically panned as it may have been, this lover of all things horror-and-comic-books adored Marshall's take on the books; gory, ridiculous and extremely metal. Given its reception, we're unlikely to see either Marshall or Harbour return to the franchise, but at least we'll always have this unholy little one-shot to return to again and again.

small-coverBuy from Amazon UK Doctor Sleep

In another stellar year for Stephen King adaptations, Mike Flanagan faced the unenviable task of making a sequel to The Shining, regarded by many as one of the greatest horror films of all time. Thankfully, the director already had a blueprint in the form of King's own Doctor Sleep a rare sequel written by King himself. Rather than going straight back to the Overlook, King and Flanagan take the long road, following an all-growed-up Danny Torrance in his battle against, um, psychic vampires. And, surprisingly, it's this element of the story which is the strongest – featuring a terrifying villain in Rebecca Ferguson's Rose the Hat, and some of the most disturbing scenes of child murder this side of It Chapter Two.

small-cover The Barge People

This year's FrightFest was the year of gory, gloopy retro style horror. And the best of the bunch was Charlie Steeds' The Barge People, set on the rural canals of Great Britain. Essentially The Hills Have Eyes with a canal boat instead of an RV, it delivers some of the most grotesque creature effects and horrifying gore seen in a horror film last year.

small-coverBuy from Amazon UK Crawl

A woman and her estranged father in a submerged basement versus an army of bloodthirsty alligators. What more do you need? Alright then – Alexandre Aja's Crawlis an old-school creature feature packed with great action, heaps of tension and atmosphere. His alligator attacks are brutal and exciting, and Kaya Scodelario is a revelation as the determined but very unfortunate athlete Hayley.

small-coverBuy from Amazon UK Us

Jordan Peele's follow-up to his smash hit and modern classic Get Out is an entirely different beast. Part brutal home invasion movie, part bleak doppelganger horror, it lacks the clarity and structure of its predecessor, but makes up for it with sheer inventiveness. As is to be expected by now, Lupita Nyong'o is tremendous in her dual roles as the film's heroine and antagonist, delivering one of the scariest horror villains of the year. Its twist is disappointingly predictable, but doesn't detract from the overall storytelling masterclass at play here.

small-coverBuy from Amazon UK Ready or Not

Rich people, huh? Not content with them being weird and rude to her in their silly old mansion, bride Grace (an incredible Samara Weaving) has to contend with her in-laws trying to murder her on her very wedding day. When a game of hide and seek turns into a Satanic ritual, Grace finds herself on the run from her husband's extended family – butler and all. The action is thrilling, the violence gnarly and the writing scathing. That ending made me laugh harder than anything else I'd seen in a horror film all year. Pair this one with Rian Johnson's Knives Out for a double-bill of ridiculous rich people getting their comeuppance.

small-coverBuy from Amazon UK Anna and the Apocalypse

Zombie film. Romantic comedy (ish). Christmas movie. Musical. The Scottish effort Anna and the Apocalypse is a lot of things, and excels at them all. When the sleepy Scottish town of Little Haven is thrown into chaos by a zombie apocalypse, schoolgirl Anna faces a desperate race to find and save her friends and family before it's too late. The action is well-done, the story heart-rending (I cried), the songs terrific. And Paul Kaye steals the show.

small-coverBuy from Amazon UK Darlin'

Offspring and The Woman star Polyanna McIntosh steps behind the camera for the latest entry into Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee's cannibal trilogy. McIntosh is still as present and intimidating as ever as The Woman, but the bulk of the story this time goes to the eponymous Darlin', 'rescued' from her maneating mother and taken into the care of the Catholic Church. This heartfelt, surprisingly funny (The Woman plus Car equals Comedy Gold, who would have known?) genre film is the best entry into the series yet, taking the characters in new directions while staying true to the dark heart of Ketchum and McKee's original stories.

small-coverBuy from Amazon UK It Chapter Two

The difficult second chapter. This sequel to the smash-hit Itfaced the mammoth task of adapting the adult side of King's tome. With all of the fun Stranger Things stuff out of the way, Muschietti's sequel struggles to maintain the momentum, often repeating scares and many of the first film's beats. And yet, I somehow loved this lumpier, more awkward chapter even more than I did its predecessor; it's darker, meaner and altogether nastier, taking no prisoners in the great Pennywise rematch. Bill Hader and James Ransone steal the show as Richie and Eddie, bringing a whole new dimension to the characters. Complaints that the film is too long and overstuffed be damned – I could have spent at least another three hours with these losers.

small-coverBuy from Amazon UK Midsommar

Ari Aster's follow-up to his Hereditaryis an entirely different beast. A horror film set almost entirely in broad daylight on a creepy hippy commune, it tells the tale of a toxic relationship on its last legs. More than that, it's about grief and loss, and... suicide rituals and pagan sex and old people jumping off cliffs to splatter all over the rocks below. It's the modern take on The Wicker Man that nobody has been able to pull off until now. For even more trippy delights and bad boyfriend-ing, go for the extended edition which ensures that your Midsommar experience lasts even longer.

About The Author
Joel Harley
Staff Reviewer - UK
Haribo fiend, Nicolas Cage scholar and frequently functioning alcoholic. These are just some of the words which can be used to describe Joel Harley. The rest, he uses to write film criticism for Horror DNA and a variety of websites and magazines. Sometimes he manages to do so without swearing.
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