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2019 was another stellar year for horror hits and box office gold. But here are 50 smaller, must watch indie genre gems you may have missed.

As another year gets underway, we celebrate the best genre gems of 2019 with our BIGGEST LIST EVER!

If there was ever any doubt that we are experiencing another golden age of horror, we were blessed with a wealth of genre riches in 2019 — so many that this list highlights nearly twice as many films as our Best of 2018 list. While there were several blockbuster horror hits and highly buzzed about studio releases, we’ll be celebrating the many exceptional indie films that may have flown under your radar. Whatever your personal tastes, there’s bound to be plenty here for you to fall in love with, as submitted by our writers from their personal Best of 2019 lists.

PART ONE (FILMS 1-10)

The Lighthouse, One Cut of the Dead, The Nightingale, Parasite, Knife + Heart, Luz, Bliss, Little Monsters, Mermaid Down, Starfish 

1. The Lighthouse (Dir. Robert Eggers)

The Lighthouse (2019), starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, directed by Robert Eggers, and written by Robert and Max Eggers, is an intense, thought provoking, and beautifully done film that’s not only one of the best movies of 2019, but of the decade. Set on an isolated rock somewhere off the coasts of New England, The Lighthouse focuses on two men (Robert Pattinson & Willem Dafoe) are wickies, lighthouse keepers who maintained the lights over long stints of time.

Eggers has cemented his position as a true auteur of horror, a genuine rarity on its own, and his dedicated team of professionals bring us a film filled with madness and terror. It may be a little different than what some are used to, but believe me when I say The Lighthouse offers a lot to everyone interested in horror. The film will leave you shaken by grotesque imagery, haunted by the howl of the foghorn, and questioning everything our protagonists have to say…

(Recommended by Thomas McKean)

2. One Cut of the Dead (Dir. Shinichirou Ueda)

One Cut of the Dead is a series of short stories, all connecting into one compelling narrative. Although each section is short, everything ties together beautifully while bringing plenty of explosive violence and tension. As a fan of both Japanese horror movies and independent films, I enjoyed everything about this movie. I especially loved how inventive the plot was. In the midst of filming a zombie movie, cast and crew find themselves being attacked by actual zombies. Of course, when the first zombie appears, the person who sees it assumes it’s just another person in costume. However, it’s not long before he discovers how wrong he was. There is no way to tell who’s a zombie and who is an actor in the film. It is an absolutely brilliant way of starting a movie, and it only gets more interesting from there.

With a great storyline, a highly creative approach to storytelling, believable characters, and a quick and incredibly fun spiral into chaos, One Cut of the Dead (currently streaming on Shudder) is easily one of the year’s most surprising and satisfying watches. It’s a must watch if you enjoy foreign zombie films. On top of that, it’s a treat to rewatch to see how effectively each piece of the story fits together to create an interweaving narrative.

(Recommended by Lisa Fedel)

3. The Nightingale (Dir. Jennifer Kent)

Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, The Nightingale is set in 1825 and follows Clare (Aisling Franciosi), a young Irish convict, who is chasing a British officer (Sam Claflin) through the Tasmanian wilderness, with the help on an Aboriginal tracker, Billy (Baykali Ganambarr). Like Kent’s first feature film, The Babadook (2014), this film is also about trauma, but is much less forgiving in its depiction of violence. It’s not an easy film to watch – some festival goers walked out of screenings due to multiple scenes of violent rape.

Kent shines a cold, stark light on the real-life violence during this period in colonial Australia, taking time and care to give an authentic depiction of this time. Despite all the violence in the movie, it’s never once glorified; even Clare’s acts of revenge are unforgiving and difficult to watch.

Aisling Franciosi is magnetic as Clare. You can’t help but root for her even though she is flawed and isn’t the rage-filled badass character we often see in revenge films. Unlike her tormentor, Hawkins (Claflin), Clare is emotionally destroyed after every act of violence she endure or commits herself, but it’s this trait that makes her so remarkable as a character.

The Nightingale is not the easiest movie to sit through, but it’s somehow a rewarding experience and is not one to be missed.

(Recommended by Nightmare Maven)

4. Parasite (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)

It’s refreshing that one of this year’s most talked about — and beloved — films is from South Korea. Foreign films often get delegated to their own category when we talk about movies here in the U.S., as if they don’t conform to the same genres or standards. Parasite is the latest from Bong Joon-ho, a director who has given us a number of successful crossover films, including Snowpiercer and Okja. But while his newest film clearly has universal appeal, Bong Joon-ho insists that it’s a movie specific to his home country.

The plot follows the Park family, who struggle financially and live in a half-underground apartment. Their son, Park Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun), gets a job tutoring for the well-off Kim family, which gives the Park family not only an idea, but also a way in. I don’t want to say too much, since this is a film that is easily spoiled and best seen with little knowledge. What I will say is that it’s surprising both in plot and in categorization. There are tense and horrific moments in Parasite, but it isn’t really a horror film in the traditional sense. It would likely be better classified as a darkly comedic thriller. Either way, there’s plenty for horror fans to love, and we felt compelled to include it in this list. Trust us when we tell you the hype you’ve been seeing and hearing for months is real: Parasite is one of the best movies of 2019.

(Recommended by Jackie Ruth)

5. Knife + Heart (Dir. Yann Gonzalez)

The modern gialli resurgence, or renaissance, if you will, can be most notably traced back to 2009 with Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s film Amer, followed by their equally impressive The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013). Several other filmmakers would follow suit with varying degrees of success. Which brings us to 2019, with more excellent but sadly unsung additions to the modern gialli collection, including Yann Gonzalez’s Knife + Heart.

Set in Paris in the Summer of 1979, Anne, played by French pop star and former Mrs. Johnny Depp Vanessa Paradis, is a director of cheap gay porn films. While dealing with a breakup with her lover, who happens to be her editor, her actors begin to be brutally murdered by a masked killer. Ultimately a successful giallo is intrinsic upon providing stylish and lurid kills accompanied by a memorable score, which this film fully achieves. Shot in beautiful 35mm with M83’s magnificent score as well as some wonderfully dreamy flashbacks. But while the knife provides plenty of blood, it is in fact the film’s heart that leaves the biggest mark. The all gay cast of characters, homo-eroticism, love affair, and underlying theme of bigotry is both incredibly refreshing and poignant. All the while, the actual porn scenes themselves are very over the top and comedic, which lends some welcomed levity to the otherwise dark tone. The ensemble cast displays great chemistry and are very likable — adding to the true heart and charm of the film.

With clear nods to Argento, Martino, De Palma, and perhaps even a dash of John Waters, this is one of my favorite foreign films of the year — and it hasn’t garnered nearly enough praise or attention. I’d also . be remiss if I failed to mention it features the best death by a dildo of the year! For you physical format collectors, there is a beautiful Blu-ray edition released by Altered Innocence.

(Recommended by Thomas Muehlbauer)

6. Luz (Dir. Tilman Singer)

Tilman Singer’s demonic-possession film, Luz, appears to have struck a spooky chord with everyone who’s seen it. From its eerie, hypnotic opening sequence to its hallucinatory, frightening climax, the film is limited-budget “art house” done right. Shot on 16mm with an unsettling score and bleak set-pieces, the movie wants to frighten its audience with strange scenes of surreal imagery and weird, sometimes profane dialogue.

The plot involves an injured cab-driver named Luz who wanders into a near-empty German police station and begins an interrogation session with two detectives. Meanwhile, in a separate narrative that quickly merges with the one above, a seductive woman named Nora engages a handsome doctor in a bar before relaying to him the story of a girl, Luz,  she once knew at a Catholic boarding school. Once Nora and the doctor connect with Luz in the police station, the film takes on a theatrical, bizarre sheen. Audiences learn more about the demonic entity that wants to reunite with Luz and about her backstory at the boarding school. Luz reenacts certain events from the past, but Singer chooses to include sound effects from those experiences in real time. By the time Luz reaches the end, audiences have gone on a jarring, experimental, and symbolic journey, one that concludes back in the lobby of the police station just how it began.

Most interesting about Luz is the way it spins the familiar demonic-possession theme on its head. The film requires some patience on the part of the viewer in order to arrange all of its pieces, but this nontraditional approach is part of the movie’s bizarre appeal. 2019 was an exciting year for experimental horror, with Luz right at the top of the list of films not afraid to push narrative boundaries and force their audiences to think.

(Recommended by Josh Hancock)

7. Bliss (Dir. Joe Begos)

Bliss is a cutting-edge, rock and roll nightmare that brings the classic vampire tale to a new generation. Directed by Joe Begos, Bliss gives its audience a taste of the Los Angeles nightlife through the eyes of struggling artist Dezzy Donahue (Dora Madison) as she fights a new kind of drug addiction – the thirst for blood. With neon-soaked, visceral cinematography from Mike Testin, Bliss is a feast for the senses that will leave audiences hungry for more blood, sex, and rock and roll.

Dora Madison is a force of nature, leaving everything on the table with fearless abandon. The sleazy counterculture vibes blend in a cool mixture of sexy and savage and punctuate the downward spiral that is a true descent into utter madness. The haunting message of the price people will pay for their art radiates out of Begos’ talented cast and crew who provide the hypnotic setting that dares audiences to try and look away.

Fans of psychedelic horror, Fulci, and Noé will fall in love with Bliss, which is a trip all its own that will ferociously attack the senses of even the most sober patron.

(Recommended by Jack Wilhelmi)

8. Little Monsters (Dir. Abe Forsythe)

Dave (Alexander England) is a man-child whose recent breakup forces him to move back in with his sister and her young son, Felix. While picking up his nephew from school, he meets Felix’s beautiful kindergarten teacher, Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o), and offers to help chaperone an upcoming field trip at a local petting zoo. Unfortunately, an army base nearby has been doing some experimenting, and before long there’s a zombie outbreak next door to the zoo! Dave and Miss Caroline convince the kids it’s all part of a game while fending off monstrous mutants and looking for a way for all of them to escape unharmed. Between the zombies, the soldiers, and a dissipated kids’ entertainer (Josh Gad), will the class get out alive?

We are not giving Lupita Nyong’o enough awards. She is luminously charming in LITTLE MONSTERS, and her bright blend of winning enthusiasm and fierce protectiveness carry us along as if we were just another doting child in her charge. As a zombie horror comedy, the film invites comparison to Shaun of the Dead. While the Edgar Wright classic is smarter, LITTLE MONSTERS has a bit more heart. Miss Caroline is entirely selfless, putting the well-being of her class ahead of everything as the world comes apart around her.

There are definite laughs to be had, particularly with Gad’s drunken Teddy McGiggles. But unlike many other, bleaker zombie comedies, LITTLE MONSTERS gives us a reason to think beyond ourselves — and a future worth fighting for.

(Recommended by Alli Hartley)

9. Mermaid Down (Dir. Jeffrey Grellman)

If you’re a fan of fantasy-infused horror, you won’t want to miss the viscerally stunning Mermaid Down. A literal fish out of water tale, the film follows a mermaid who is ripped from the ocean and locked away in a sanitarium. Unable to speak, she struggles to find a means to communicate with those around her and expose her captor for the monster he is.

Along the way, she bonds with the other women in the hospital — among them a ghost with secrets of her own — and this is where the story’s true magic lies. These women are the heart of the story and they discover their strength when they band together to save each other.

Mermaid Down blends horror and fantasy seamlessly but the human element is never overshadowed by the otherworldly nature of the story. It’s a truly moving and beautiful film that will stay with you long after it’s over.

(Recommended by Joy Robinson)

10. Starfish (Dir. A.T. White)

Starfish is an intensely emotional film that focuses on small moments to indicate larger themes such as grief, loss, and friendship. As Aubrey wanders her recently deceased friend’s apartment, we see her looking at the common things her friend owned, taking a shower in her bathroom, laying on her couch, and even sleeping in her bed. Virginia Gardner as Aubrey shines in these moments, she gives a sincere and heartfelt performance that had me feeling the pain she was experiencing. It’s an intimate movie, one that feels like a secret just between the viewer and the story.

This is why I view Starfish not merely as a film but an experience that washes over the viewer. Mixed into the bereavement are recently unleashed monsters in the outside world that threaten all of humanity. Although jarringly different, these two story lines work remarkably well together as the monsters are smartly underplayed and Aubrey’s relationship with her deceased friend connects to the apocalyptic happenings in surprising and touching ways.

Beautifully shot and acted, Starfish wonderfully strums the heartstrings while apocalyptic monsters roam around the world. Writer and director Al White has captured a unique, deeply poignant film that will resonate with anyone who has had a broken heart, and one well worth experiencing.

(Recommended by Jason McFiggins)

PART TWO (FILMS 11-20)

I Trapped the Devil, Knives and Skin, Daniel Isn’t Real, Satanic Panic, Villains, Depraved, Lords of Chaos, The Perfection, The Shed, Hagazussa
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11. I Trapped The Devil (Dir. Josh Lobo)

AJ Bowen stars in I Trapped the Devil, written and directed by Josh Lobo. This is a simple story of an unhinged man who believes he has Satan trapped and locked up in his basement. This film doesn’t rely on any flashy sets, special effects, or gore to create interest. It doesn’t need it. The suspense, dread, and fear that builds over the course of the movie mounts to a thrilling conclusion as you finally find out what’s down there, and you may be shocked! It’s a slow-burning film, but the payoff is worth every second you wait.

Matt (Bowen) goes to visit his brother Steve (Scott Poythress), and brings along his wife Karen (Susan Theresa Burke.) They soon learn that Steve isn’t himself, and he’s gone completely paranoid with stories of killers on the loose and people watching him. He’s also seeing visions of his dead wife, so he’s not the most sane man in the room. When he confides in his brother that he has Satan trapped downstairs in the basement, it’s difficult for Matt to believe. However, a man yells from below and asks Karen and Matt for help.

As the movie progresses, Matt and Karen toy with their uncertainty. The suspense is incredible, and I honestly had no idea how it would play out. I think the strength of these actors made this movie. These three performers carried this entire film with poise and grace, with believable performances, lifelike, realistic characters, and just the right amount of darkness to make me really believe that Steve had gone off the deep end. But is Satan really in the basement? Watch I Trapped the Devil and find out. You won’t be disappointed!

(Recommended by Christi Bandy)

12. Knives and Skin (Dir. Jennifer Reeder)

Why is Knives and Skin my top pick for best of 2019? Jennifer Reeder’s Lynchian-esque tale of a missing high school girl that shakes up her small town had me at the get-go. It’s weird, it’s funny, it’s very real in all of its absurdity.  One student sells her mother’s worn panties to members of the faculty, and the mother of the missing Carolyn Harper starts to unravel while fruitlessly searching for her daughter. From the crazy parents, budding lesbianism, and domestic violence to the disappearance of a classmate, Knives and Skin deals with some very real issues.

When I asked the filmmaker about her choice of bold neon lighting, she said she wanted the film to feel like it was hovering above reality — so that the audience may think they’re entering a world they know. But this wormhole is not a world that we know, not entirely. It’s dreamy and dark, and I loved every fucking minute of it. Jennifer Reeder has captured small town life knee-deep in crisis, and given the characters outlets to express themselves. The film is punctuated by hauntingly beautiful choral renditions of beloved 80s tunes, such as Our Lips Are Sealed and Girls Just Want to Have Fun, that are used to allow the audience to think about what’s going on in the plot, while taking stock in who the characters are.

After screening at Fantastic Fest 2019, Fantasia Festival 2019 and 2019’s Tribeca Film Festival (among others), Knives and Skin was released on December 6, 2019, to streaming platforms and in select theaters. I urge you to watch this immediately, and ask yourself, “Have you seen Carolyn Harper?”

(Recommended by Tiffany Blem)

13. Daniel Isn’t Real (Dir. Adam Egypt Mortimer)

Imaginary friends aren’t just for childhood anymore. Director Adam Egypt Mortimer delves deeply into the world of mental illness and trauma, with the beautifully crafted psychological thriller Daniel Isn’t Real. Superb acting, vivid cinematography and an imaginative script bring us a rare and wonderful thing: an almost perfect film.

Daniel Isn’t Real is stunning, and the acting is as good as it gets. The vulnerable sad Luke, the cocky, jealous Daniel and Luke’s delicate and psychotic mother Claire were all so believable that nothing ever took me out of the film. The subject of mental illness was handled carefully and thoughtfully and not used for gratuitous reasons. I also adored Cassie. She is a true heroine for me, and I loved her spirit, strength and ability to see the best side of Luke, even when things went terribly wrong. The film is a supernatural and psychological thriller in many ways, but do not doubt that it is a true horror film, too. It navigates back and forth between the genres in a way I’ve never seen before.

Hell is an actual place in Daniel Isn’t Real and the big finale was a revelation. It is heartbreaking when we realize Daniel’s true motives. It was so interesting to try to differentiate what was real and what was a hallucination. Daniel was so much more than an imaginary friend, and not in a good way. I was blown away by the ending, and I admit I cried a little. This film is a thrilling, unsettling and ambiguous nightmare that I immediately watched a second time just to see the details I might have missed.

(Recommended by Vicki Woods)

14. Satanic Panic (Dir. Chelsea Stardust)

Things can’t seem to get any worse for delivery girl Samantha ‘Sam’ Craft (Hayley Griffith) after her first shift as a pizza delivery driver. But when she pursues a tip following her last delivery, she gets more than she expected. The wealthy but far from generous customers happen to be high society Satanists — and they are in need of a virgin sacrifice.

There are plenty of comedy-horrors being released at the moment. But very few have the energy and originality of this wickedly fun tongue-in-cheek horror film from director Chelsea Stardust (written by Grady Hendrix and Ted Geoghegan). It is an energetic thrill ride, and you are never sure what is going to happen next as it continues to throw in over-the-top bloody carnage set against some brilliant physical comedy.

Hayley Griffith is excellent as Samantha, the innocent victim who is forced to fight back if she wants to survive the night. She proves to be perfectly cast — not only as the heroic final girl, but also as a great source of laughs due to her impeccable comedic timing. With that being said, the film also boasts a strong supporting cast. Rebecca Romijn, Arden Myrin and Jerry O’Connell all seemed to be having a blast with their riotous, well-written characters. If you’re looking for a bloody and laugh out loud horror comedy that really delivers, be sure to order up Satanic Panic on demand.

(Recommended by Philip Rogers)

15. Villains (Dir. Dan Berk, Robert Olsen)

I’ve spent a good portion of 2019 extolling the brilliance that is writer and director duo Dan Berk and Robert Olsen’s Villains. No best of indie horror list would be complete without this utterly mad and surprisingly heartfelt confection. Viewers with a sweet tooth for dark humor, amazing acting, and uniquely imaginative writing will be absolutely in love with this film that follows Mickey and Jules, two lovers turned robbers on the run, who get more than they bargain for when breaking into a seemingly normal suburban home after running out of gas.

Villains is one of those rare films that doesn’t have a performance that could be consider bad or weak in it. All of the actors are having the time of their lives with their characters, and it makes the film all the more enjoyable to watch. Maika Monroe, Bill Skarsgård, Jeffrey Donovan, and Kyra Sedgewick are all simply glorious and boldly embody each of their oddball characters. The performances speak to their innate versatility and talent. That paired with Berk and Olsen’s surefooted direction and how unafraid they are to go to unabashedly weird and uncomfortable places.

Villains is obviously made with lots of love and devotion from its cast and crew and deserves your attention. I’m excited for more people to fall in love with this criminally (pun intended) underrated film.

(Recommended by Jamie Alvey)

16. Depraved (Dir. Larry Fessenden)

Frankenstein is one of the oldest and most enduring of the classic horror monsters and one of the very few to have a successful modern adaptation. The most versatile, Dracula and the Vampires, have not only made their way to modern times, they’ve also made their way to the future. Numerous films like An American Werewolf in London, Tom Cruise’s The Mummy, Guillermo Del Toro’s Shape of Water and Leigh Whannel’s upcoming Invisible Man film have taken all the universal monsters from their old dusty castle environment and into a modern world with a modern story. But Frankenstein has been stuck in the past. That is until 2019 with Larry Fessenden’s Depraved which puts the beast directly into the modern world, with modern science and modern pharmacology.

The film is absolutely beautiful in the way that it pays homage to not only James Whale’s original 1931 classic but also to the 1935 sequel Bride of Frankenstein.

The original had the line “In the name of God? Now I know how it feels to be God!” and Depraved does a great deal to explore the battle between God and Satan for the soul of man. Henry, the former military doctor suffering from PTSD and his girlfriend wants to teach the Monster, Adam, how to be human and feel love. All the while, Henry’s greedy business partner, Polidori, seeks only to prove that human beings are depraved by nature, taking the monster to a strip club and getting him high. The story is about Frankenstein’s monster. The subtext on the other hand is the complex battle between good and evil waging against the souls of men. It’s absolutely beautiful and as subtle as can be.

Depraved is not only one of the best indie horror films of the year, but is also one of the best horror films in general. Absolutely more eyes need to be on this one.

(Recommended by Bud Fugate)

17. Lords of Chaos (Dir. Jonas Åkerlund)

Lords of Chaos begins with a disclaimer, and it’s probably the most accurate of its kind ever put in front of a historical / biographical film: “Based on truth.. lies.. and what actually happened.”  Somewhere between those words, inside the frames of the movie, and on the other side of a backwards cognitive dimension, you’re seeing the deformed beast that is cinematic truth.

Euronymous-era Mayhem was an enigmatic band. Even legends about the band have grown to be their own legends. Something critics of the movie seem to miss is that this is a movie, not a music video or a documentary. The only honest material you can see about the “true” Mayhem is raw concert footage from the era this movie focuses on. Lords of Chaos touches on all the big rumors black metal maniacs know so well. The suicide, the brain stew, the obsession with dead animals, the church burnings, and the brutal murder, just to name a few. Yet on top of it all, there is a coating of gleeful teenage metal rebellion, and that is what makes it such an enjoyable experience. Rory Culkin plays Euronymous as a carnival barking, party-all-night headbanging, immature button-pusher. But his love of metal and commitment to what Mayhem stands for make it difficult to do anything but adore him.

The overall theme of this movie isn’t murder and mayhem (pun intended). It’s the isolation teens feel from themselves and others — desperately searching for identities and doing anything to belong. Mayhem and the black metal “Inner Circle” provided that sense of belonging, and Euronymous took that even further by being the proud and unapologetic pied piper. Varg changes himself to be accepted, and in the end it sours him and he tragically destroys as much of it as he could.

Unfortunately, though very entertaining and satisfying, Lords of Chaos demystifies and humanizes the band and their sound. Because Euronymous-era Mayhem seriously is one of the most disturbing, haunting, and unnatural metal bands you will ever hear.

(Recommended by Jamie Marino)

18. The Perfection (Dir. Richard Shepard)

2019 has been an incredible year for horror films produced at mainstream studios as well as independently produced horror films. When the quantity of quality films is high in any given year, some films deserving of attention and praise can get lost among so many releases. That, I fear, is what happened to Netflix’s The Perfection from director and co-writer Richard Shepard.

Starring Allison Williams and Logan Browning as musical progeny, The Perfection is an atypical revenge story that is laid out much like an orchestral piece. The first act is the quiet, dramatic introduction to our leads. When they meet, their common backgrounds in training and musical talent bring them together professionally and romantically.  At this point, we enter the second act, where the film changes tone dramatically from a drama to a hallucinogenic body horror story. Because of the talents of Williams and Browning, the tone shift, though jarring to watch, is accomplished seamlessly and believably.

As the movie comes to its third and final act, it takes the audience on a journey bordering on an exploitation experience. One shocking twist is followed by a stomach-churning act, leaving the viewer’s head spinning.

The beauty of The Perfection is what also makes it a troubling watch. It’s not a movie interested in simple revenge. Shepard delves into issues of obsession, abuse, exploitation of children, and the cost of seeking and taking revenge on one’s abuser. There are no easy answers in The Perfection. Unlike so many revenge movies, there’s no victory in the act of revenge, only the feeling that there can be no winners — only the continuation of loss and pain.

The Perfection is one of the best horror films of 2019 and is a film that is waiting for horror fans to catch on to its disturbing and, yes, beautiful story. It’s currently streaming exclusively on Netflix.

(Recommended by Patrick Krause)

19. The Shed (Dir. Frank Sabatella)

It’s easy to dissect a film post viewing and attribute its story to a message that suits your beliefs or disdain. To say Halloween (1978) was a story about feminism conveniently fits, especially in today’s landscape of enlightenment (as it should), but it doesn’t necessarily change whether the filmmakers were actively attempting to advance the Women’s movement. In the case of The Shed, the latest film from Writer/Director Frank Sabatella (Blood Night, 2009) and Producer Peter Block (Saw franchise) we can say with certainty these filmmakers were consciously telling a poignant story about a real-life issue.

Cleverly told with one of the oldest monsters of folklore, The Shed sees woeful high schooler Stan discover a Vampire now resides inside his tool shed. It’s refreshing to see characters that avoid stale archetypes like nerd or helpless virgin yet stay defined enough to relate and comprehend. Stan and his best friend Dommer, sick of being bullied by sleeveless tough guy Marble, disagree over the shed’s neck chomping resident. Stan sees it as a dangerous burden while Dommer views it as a weapon, poised to use it to remove his oppressors.

Removing divisive steel from the equation and replacing it with a supernatural element makes the pill easier to swallow, but Sabatella does not shy from the implication; he openly addresses it and hopes it keeps the conversation going. Blood and guts are fun, but meaningful story telling stays with us, and I believe The Shed checks the right boxes. Paced well, with affable actors who exceed any expectation you could have from a low budget flick, it’s clear every dollar spent on the production has made it to the screen.

The Shed is available now on VOD and Blu-ray. Click HERE to read our Editor-in-Chief’s review of The Shed and HERE to see our interview with Director Frank Sabatella.

(Recommended by Bobby Lisse)

20. Hagazussa (Dir. Lukas Feigelfeld)

Gorgeous, enigmatic, hallucinogenic, and decidedly far from the beaten path, Hagazussa: The Heathen’s Curse is a spellbinding adventure for arthouse fans — though it may alienate fans of more mainstay horror. Austrian filmmaker Lukas Feigelfeld delivers an arresting and unsettling psychological/folk/revenge horror film that blends sumptuous visuals with a slow-burning descent into psychotropic insanity.

In a remote Alpine village in the 15th century, a woman and her daughter live a sparse and isolated existence, shunned by their community for suspicion of witchcraft. When the mother dies from a gruesome plague-like disease, her young daughter Albrun is left orphaned and alone. Years later, a grown Albrun continues to live out the same sad existence, alone with her infant daughter. Things start to look up when she meets a local woman named Swinda who offers much needed companionship. However, Swinda’s intentions are far more sinister than Albrun realizes, and a tragic turn of events results in horrific consequences.

With its ravishing beauty and feminist folk horror themes, the film has inevitably drawn comparisons to 2015’s The Witch. And like Robert Eggers’ critically acclaimed debut, Hagazussa confidently heralds the arrival of a new visionary voice in independent filmmaking.

Feigelfeld’s own debut, which remarkably happens to be his film school graduation project, may not be mainstream fare. But it’s a near perfect recipe for well-deserved cult status.

(Recommended by The Angry Princess)

PART THREE (FILMS 21-30)

I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday, She Never Died, Level 16, Rattlesnake, Nightmare Cinema, Girl on the Third Floor, The Head Hunter, Haunt, 10/31 Part 2, Piercing
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21. I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday (Dir. Mike Lombardo)

What does Christmas look like after the world has ended? Writer-Director Mike Lombardo explores familial love and sacrifice in his bleak and heart-wrenching horror film, I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday. Executive produced by renowned horror author, Brian Keene, the story follows a mother (Hope Bikle) and her young son (Reeve Blazi) as they try to survive in a bomb shelter after the apocalypse.

What sets this film apart is its sincere emotion and top-notch performances. Rich in emotion and heart, this is an indie horror find with substance. I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday is a unique and meaningful addition to Christmas horror canon. But it’s more than worth a watch even after the presents are all unwrapped and the halls are all undecked. It’s a film that’s a gift at any time of year.

Watch it now on major VOD platforms, including Amazon Prime and Vimeo.

(Recommended by Sam Kolesnik)

22. She Never Died (Dir. Audrey Cummings)

She Never Died captures the dark noir feeling of He Never Died all while creating a world with even more bite than the original. Lacey (Olunike Adeliyi, Working Moms) is a mysterious immortal who might be just as big a monster as those she goes after. Lacey is a much darker character than Jack (Henry Rollins, Feast) from the first film, and her behavior is almost feral in nature making it hard to distinguish who the true monsters are this time. Adeliyi brings a unique roughness to the screen that draws the viewer in only to get swept away by the brutality of the film.

She Never Died takes another step further and lays the groundwork for a more intricate movie universe, hinting at an apocalyptic level showdown. It’s a phenomenal sequel that surpasses the original, while still giving it its much due praise. The amazing atmospheric work and the creation of an even darker story and character push this film into the running for best indie film of 2019.

Fans of gritty horror movies like 28 Days Later and The Girl With All the Gifts won’t want to miss She Never Died with its dark storytelling and savage effects.

(Recommended by Dylan Russ)

23. Level 16 (Dir. Danishka Esterhazy)

Danishka Esterhazy’s Level 16 rises to the top of 2019’s must see indie horror films with its vivid originality and strong message. The plot follows a class of young girls that inhabit a prison-like boarding school where all the girls are taught lessons in purity and obedience in hopes of one day finding a family that will adopt and love them. However, not all is as it seems, and the controlling members of the staff hide horrid intentions which are gradually revealed thanks to the resistance of two girls.

What impressed me most was the symbolism and metaphors within the plot. With the overarching exploration of the film revolving around the unfair and degrading value placed on women for their appearance and youth, there were also gestures to the degradation of women in everyday society and the power of rebellion. The characters were distinct, empowering and badass in their attempt to free themselves from their deadly captors. The primary lead, Vivian, especially was wonderfully developed as a character. She begins the narrative with a desperation to please her captives and be as ‘pure’ as possible, but she ends as a free-thinking and independent woman.

The suspense is steadily built as we are progressively horrified and shocked by the slow-burning revelation of the truth behind the girl’s existence. The ending, in particular, is what made the film, the climax being incredibly tense before the girls take back their freedom and their worth. But with such important messages, empowering characters and a strong story-line, the film is so much more than its riveting suspense and mystery.

(Recommended by Claire Smith)

24. Rattlesnake (Dir. Zak Hilditch)

Not everyone will agree, but Rattlesnake struck a nerve with me. It was eerie and excellently acted — a straightforward thriller with supernatural events that kept things tense and entertaining.

The movie focuses on a mom, Katrina Ridgeway, and her daughter Clara (played by Carmen Ejogo and Apollonia Pratt). While driving from Arizona to Oklahoma, their car blows a tire. While Katrina fixes the damage, Clara is playing in the neighboring desert when a rattlesnake bites her. Katrina’s cell phone’s battery dies, which forces her to seek help at a lonely trailer. A mysterious woman helps her, but the woman vanishes, whispering a strange request. Clara makes an amazing recovery, but soon apparitions haunt and tell Katrina that she must repay the miracle, and the cost is high. The film focuses on dealing with the abominable act she must perform, or her daughter will pay. I found the buildup perfectly creepy, and the anxiety it induced made for a nerve-wracking finish.

Director Zak Hilditch, who directed another Netflix-produced film, 1922, did an excellent job. Ejogo carried the movie with her amazing acting, effectively illuminating the emotional aspect of her character. The classic look of the film draws comparisons to such films as Ssss, an old indie classic.

This is a splendid Saturday afternoon horror flick, and I loved it. Those pursuing a ghost/demon fest will be unhappy, but the slow, deliberate pace and creepy atmosphere of Rattlesnake made it a standout for me.

(Recommended by Tavera del Toro)

25. Nightmare Cinema (Dir. Mick Garris et al.)

This year, horror vet Mick Garris gifted us with his project Nightmare Cinema, a horror anthology centered around an empty theater, a mysterious projectionist (Mickey Rourke), and the fears and anxieties of the individuals who dare to enter. As passersbys are lured into the theater, they find themselves front and center to their own personal film; a horrific projection of what they fear the most. These separate visions on screen brew up a fun blend of recycled horror film tropes the recruited directors of this anthology manipulate uniquely to conjure each nightmare.

With the intent to showcase horror filmmakers from around the world, Mick Garris gathered filmmakers from Japan, Cuba, the UK, and the US which, in the final product, included films by Joe Dante (Mirare), David Slade (This Way To Egress), Ryuhei Kitamura (Mashit), Alejandro Brugues (The Thing in The Woods), and Mick Garris himself (Dead).

This anthology is a great platform for presenting each filmmaker’s unique style while catering to the nostalgia of the fans of classic horror anthologies such as Masters of Horror, Creepshow, and Tales from the Crypt. Horror fans are sure to get a kick out of the potluck of fun, gory segments in Nightmare Cinema and is worth noting as a project to have put on your Shudder watchlist.

(Recommended by Adela Karmen)

26. Girl on the Third Floor (Dir. Travis Stevens)

Have you ever been so excited for a film but at the same time so scared that you may be let down, that it could possibly not live up to your hopes and expectations? This was me with Girl On the Third Floor, the first feature from indie horror producer extraordinaire, Travis Stevens. After founding Snowfort Pictures in 2010 and helping bring some of the best films to us fans (Starry Eyes, We Are Still Here, 68 Kill), Stevens finally sat his ass down in the director’s chair for GOTTF.

I was so far from let down with this incredibly unique tale of a haunted house in the suburbs of Chicago, that it’s now sitting here on this list.

A mighty renovation job is taken on single-handedly by Don Koch (Phil Brooks a.k.a. C.M. Punk) as his pregnant wife, Liz (Trieste Kelly Dunn) lovingly checks in via video chats. But as the days progress in the mysterious Victorian fixer-upper, so do the unexplained substances spewing from damn near every orifice of this new homestead of theirs. Warnings are offered to the soon-to-be family man from colorful locals, but Don ignores these, and the house begins to consume him and all his flaws, offering a bit of horrifically laced social commentary along the way.

Impressive practical effects and a surreal conclusion round out this uncommonly thoughtful tale of haunted places and people.

(Recommended by Danni Darko)

27. The Head Hunter (Dir. Jordan Downey)

Writer and director Jordan Downey’s (Critters: Bounty Hunter, ThanksKilling) The Head Hunter is a bleak and gripping dark fantasy epic on a shoestring budget of a mere $30K. Telling the tale of a monster hunter Viking, known only as Father (Christopher Rygh) attempting to avenge his slain daughter by beheading the elusive creature that killed her. The film’s premise is as simple as one could be, and yet it is Downey’s pristine attention to detail and visual storytelling that amplifies its simplicity into something remarkable.

From its opening shot, the gorgeous volatility of The Head Hunter’s world is apparent. It is a cold, cruel, and unforgiving place for the film’s singular protagonist to inhabit. For as inherently dangerous as Father’s world is, Downey ensures the viewer will spend much of the time marveling at its mesmerizing scenic shots of the sprawling forests and mountain ranges that make up this dark fantasy world.

But don’t let its idyllic countryside shots fool you, The Head Hunter’s scale couldn’t be smaller. Unfolding over only a handful of environments and events, it shines in establishing the hellish creatures that inhabit the land through smart visual storytelling. Pristine environmental storytelling ensures little time is wasted in establishing its world and the protagonist’s motivations without needless exposition. I was frequently surprised by creative decisions that The Head Hunter was capable of employing on such a small budget.

Ultimately it is these smart choices that make it one of the most remarkable horror films of the year.

(Recommended by Jay Krieger)

28. Haunt (Dir. Scott Beck, Bryan Woods)

Haunt goes with Halloween-like department store masks and antisocial murderers. Co-writers and directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods take the plywood anxiety of homegrown haunted houses – what if some of this blood isn’t corn syrup – and boil it down to its most primal, paralyzing essence – wait, is that my blood?

Anyone with a working knowledge (and skepticism) of extreme haunts should already know the rules, but not when they’re suddenly, violently broken.

Unlike the pop-goes-the-drama-student rhythm of most houses, Haunt is deliberate. Quiet when you’re desperate for something to go bump in the night, then loud just when you’ve accepted the quiet. The best Laff-in-the-Dark thrills since Tobe Hooper’s trip to The Funhouse.

(Recommended by Jeremy Herbert)

29. 10/31 Part 2 (Dir. Various, Anthology)

Every year is a journey to find the best indie horror films that deserve support amongst a crowded field of filmmakers vying for attention, often with tiny budgets and zero marketing dollars. This year, my pick for the best in truly independent genre filmmaking goes to 10/31 Part 2.

This anthology of Halloween Horror is hosted by the beautiful Malvolia, the Queen of Screams. Segments range from slasher on slasher rage to an Apache-cursed hatchet sequel. There’s truly a story for everyone in this feature.

Tons of rising directors tackled the film’s segments, demonstrating tremendous skill and talent — like they were already the new Masters of Horror.  From Drew Maverick (Pool Party Massacre), Max Groah (Bong of the Living Dead) and Brett DeJager (Bonejangles), you’d be hard pressed to find a better team behind the camera. As a result, every second of 10/31 Part 2 is top notch. 

Check it out as soon as possible, because I suspect these talented filmmakers won’t be so indie for long, with each of them poised for major breakout success.

(Recommended by Richard Tanner)

30. Piercing (Dir. Nicolas Pesce )

Piercing is a story about psychological hang-ups, control, and sadomasochism — and a little about love. I’m not sure anyone viewing from the outside could understand the complicated relationship of this unlikely couple. But as a voyeur looking in through a metaphorical peephole, I was completely fascinated. This extraordinary and stunning film is one of my all-time favorites from 2019!

Husband and father, Reed (Christopher Abbott), is looking for a change. He plans a fake business trip, so he can do something very, very bad. His pantomime of the crime, in the bathroom mirror the night before he leaves, was amazing. Reed has everything planned out perfectly, until the eccentric prostitute Jackie (Mia Wasikowska) walks in and owns the place. Two sick, imperfect and damaged souls have found one another. Let the violence begin!

Director Nicolas Pesce created a beautiful love letter to Italian Giallo films. The colors and aesthetics in this film are gorgeous. Sexuality practical oozed from the walls. The cat and mouse game being played was so entertaining to watch. Yet this is a horror film, and it takes that disturbing turn quickly. The music was wonderfully diverse, and the soundtrack had a very Tarantino-like feel.

What ultimately makes this film work though, is the acting. Abbott and Wasikowska are so perfectly matched. Their chemistry was impeccable. I loved every dark and comically creepy moment they were on screen. Piercing is a unique, bloody and imaginative film. There is nothing to really compare it to…and that right there is incredible.

(Recommended by Vicki Woods)

PART FOUR (FILMS 31-40)

Culture Shock, The Black String, Hell House 3, Tigers Are Not Afraid, Wounds, St. Agatha, One Must Fall, Close Calls, Book of Monsters, Pledge
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31. Into the Dark: Culture Shock (Dir. Gigi Saul Guerrero)

The team-up between Hulu and Blumhouse to create the holiday horror series Into the Dark has given us some pretty good features. This year’s Culture Shock, made for the Fourth of July/Independence Day, might be the most impactful of the series so far. It was directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero, who also wrote it with Efrén Hernández and James Benson.

Martha Higareda stars as Marisol, a pregnant Mexican woman who is trying to cross the border into the U.S. in the hopes of a better life for herself and her child. Guerrero doesn’t shy away from showing the horrors that accompany a trip like Marisol’s — even those who seem like they should be on her side may be dangerous, and that’s not even taking into account the U.S. border patrol or the harshness that nature can present. So when Marisol ends up in a seemingly utopian American neighborhood (with Barbara Crampton as her caretaker), you can tell something is up. But what?

Culture Shock does a great job of making you feel Marisol’s insecurity and discomfort, which only increases as more is revealed; the third act is likely to throw you for a loop. And, of course, the messages at the center of it all about immigration, quality of life and humanity are powerful. This kind of film is what makes horror so great — consider watching it next Independence Day.

(Recommended by Jackie Ruth)

32. The Black String (Dir. Brian Hanson)

Jonathan (Frankie Muniz) feels trapped in his hometown working night shifts at the local convenience store and longs for excitement. A blind date with a mysterious woman looks to be an opportunity he needs, but he finds his life turned upside down when he is stricken by illness and nightmarish visions. Paranoid and desperate, he tries to track down the seductress who started it all. As things start to get worse, his friends and family start to believe he’s losing his mind. But Jonathan is convinced he’s the target of something far more sinister.

The Black String is an intelligent, thought-provoking psychological thriller and an impressive debut for co-writers and producers Brian Hanson and Richard Handley (with Brian also taking directorial duties). Built around a brilliantly tense script, the film is filled with so many twists that it leaves you constantly questioning what is really happening.

The production looks impressive for an independent film, and impressive special effects help create a dreamlike feel to the events — drawing you further into the nightmarish rabbit hole.

The most surprising element to the film is the inclusion of Frankie Muniz, who is best known for portraying Malcolm in the tv series Malcolm in the Middle. Frankie is outstanding as Jonathan, delivering a dark emotional depth to the character and an intensity that becomes the driving force behind the film. I was engaged with his performance from start to finish, as his character gradually descended into madness.

(Recommended by Philip Rogers)

33. Hell House III: Lake of Fire (Dir. Stephen Cognetti)

In the eagerly awaited follow-up to Hell House LLC 2: The Abaddon Hotel, we finally get the wrap-up to this effective found footage trilogy. This film picks up about a year after we left the hotel, and it’s definitely just as creepy as the previous installments. Created by Stephen Cognetti, Hell House 3 finally gives us answers to the lingering questions we’ve had throughout the first two installments. And yes, you’ll see the creepy clown that gave me nightmares in earlier films and still haunts my dreams to this day. (Why the clown? WHY THE CLOWN?!) The ominous piano music gave me goosebumps and was stuck in my head for weeks after viewing this film twice.

Meet Russell Wynn, a sleazy, money-hungry millionaire who buys the hotel instead of letting it get torn down like every hotel with a demon portal inside should be. Wynn stages his live show inside the Abaddon. The show is called Insomnia, and guests walk through and watch the actors perform. Sounds interesting, but the spirits who dwell in the Abaddon may not be so welcoming to the cast and crew, and they’ll be happy to let these guys know they don’t want them around.

I loved being back at the Abaddon! There’s plenty of scares, backstory, and fun flashes of freaky stuff that make you go back and watch again to make sure you didn’t miss anything. The Hell House series has rejuvenated the found footage genre, and this last installment is a great way to say goodbye to the poor souls that will never check out of the Abaddon.

(Recommended by Christi Bandy)

34. Tigers Are Not Afraid (Dir. Issa Lopez)

Issa Lopez blends magical realism with horror in a truly incredible way that easily ranks as one of the best and most emotional horror films of 2019.

A group of children, orphaned by the brutal drug wars in Mexico, are given three wishes that turn innocent childhood desires into nightmares. Both whimsical and creepy, this film pulls the audience through a spectrum of emotions and makes them question whether or not the scariest thing the orphans face is what’s real or what’s fictional.

A film you’ll find, for very good reason, on a very large number of “best of” lists for the year, the exceptional Tigers Are Not Afraid is currently streaming on Shudder and absolutely demands your attention.

(Recommended by B. DeCesare)

35. Wounds (Dir. Babak Anvari)

Starring Armie Hammer and Dakota Johnson, Wounds is a psychological thriller that will crawl under your skin and haunt you long after the credits roll.

After a New Orleans bartender (Hammer) discovers a strange message on a cell phone that was left behind at his work, he starts being messaged and stalked by unknown individuals who claim he has been “chosen.” His girlfriend (Johnson) starts to be sucked into the same, strange hallucinations about cockroaches, corpses, severed heads, and other delightful little body horrors. The climax is a sprint to the finish that traverses relentlessly at breakneck speed, leaving the audiences guessing until the last, gut-churning frame.

Hammer and Johnson play off one another beautifully, driving home the perils of a broken relationship as the two get sucked into a shared nightmare that digs deep into the dark crevices of the human psyche. Fans of psychological thrillers and body horror will find lots to love about Wounds.

(Recommended by Jack Wilhelmi)

36. St. Agatha (Dir. Darren Lynn Bousman)

St. Agatha is a period piece set in 1957 when women didn’t have a lot of options, especially unwed and pregnant women like Mary (Sabrina Kern). While checking out a local soup kitchen, she is offered a safe and discreet place to have her baby. But one look at the creepy gothic house, surrounded in fog (and bear traps), with the evil Mother Superior (Carolyn Hennesy) in charge, and we know Mary is in more trouble than ever.

St. Agatha was emotionally intense and genuinely terrifying. The nightmarish story is beautifully shot, with a washed out look that lends a vintage feel. Sometimes silence is something missing in horror films. Here it was used perfectly to keep the tension peaking throughout. The acting was fantastic. Director Darren Lynn Bousman is also known for doing some phenomenal immersive theater in the LA area and brought along his troupe of actors to help take this on.

We deeply feel Mary’s situation. She is at first desperate, then guilty because her behavior effects the other girls in very negative ways. Then we see a change where we have hope and feel her becoming someone who could make it out alive. The nuns at this horrible house were diabolical in their cruelty.

St. Agatha is a chilling and relentless nail-biter, with a jaw-dropping ending and scenes that will make even the most hard-core horror fans gasp.

(Recommended by Vicki Woods)

37. One Must Fall (Dir. Antonio Pantoja)

With his first feature, Antonio Pantoja created one hell of an entertaining love letter to the genre. One Must Fall, which premiered at HorrorHound in Cincinnati, Ohio, in March, has since made a triumphant run along the festival circuit. Earning fan praise and awards, Antonio and his cast and crew threw their hearts into this slasher/comedy, helping showcase what independent horror filmmaking can achieve.

Best friends Alton (Andrew Yackel) and Sarah (Julie Streble) have to pay bills. After getting fired from their office job and desperate to make ends meet, they make the choice to take on a temporary gig. But it’s not just any temp job. It is crime scene cleanup, and it just so happens to be within the midst of a serial killer’s rampage.

What ensues is a satisfying blend of humor and horror set in the 80s, with enough gore to satiate some of the most blood-thirsty of fans. Filled with cheer-worthy kills and commendable performances, I had a seriously good time with this one, folks.

Kudos to this Louisville, Kentucky-based indie horror success.

(Recommended by Danni Darko)

38. Close Calls (Dir. Richard Stringham)

Close Calls is loaded with striking visuals and moody lighting. The film is colorful yet muted, surreal and lived in, featuring a slightly grainy, dream like atmosphere. It’s a nice technique that blurs what’s real, what is possibly imagined, and what is feared. Star Jordan Phipps is absolutely stunning and has an undeniably strong screen presence. Phipps creates a carefree, relaxed attitude as Morgan, a young woman left to take care of her mentally ill grandmother while her father goes out for the night. Phipps gives a sensational performance that both displays her troubled character and elicits sympathy from the viewer, a tricky feat for any actress, and she nails it.

The film as a whole takes its time and allows the story to unfold. There’s a compelling four scene sequence in the middle of the film between Morgan and a self proclaimed friend of her father’s with questionable intent (Greg Fallon), that takes over 20 minutes to play out. The dangerously playful back and forth between Phipps and Fallon make this sequence a hold-your-breath, riveting highlight of the film.

Close Calls moves like a shark, and writer/director Richard Stringham has crafted a nightmarish, Gothic ghost story in suburbia filled with quirky and outrageous characters, unforeseen plot twists, and a deadly mystery at its center. There’s no other film this year quite like it, prepare for the trip.

(Recommended by Jason McFiggins)

39. Book of Monsters (Dir. Stewart Sparke)

Book of Monsters is the stuff of video store rental legend, those movies you took a chance on because it sounded decent and the cover was awesome. Then you would stay up past midnight on a Saturday because you watched it twice, and rented it again the next week.

The film begins on a dark and stormy night in an attic as the camera closes in on an old book, a solid mood setter that will get your horror senses tingling. The story takes place on Sophie’s 18th birthday. All is going well until, you know, the monsters crash the party! What follows is a ridiculously fun, blood spattered, teen comedy/monster movie mashup.

The performances are great, and the practical effect creatures and monsters look impressive and menacing. A lot of care went into the design and execution of these monsters. And it shows as, again, you’ll feel your horror senses tingling. The three female leads are spot on, they play well off each other with numerous funny and touching moments resulting from their chemistry. I would love to see them all again in a sequel.

From the makeup to the music and everything in between, Book of Monsters is all around awesome and one of my favorite films of the year. I urge people to seek this out and give it a watch. It’ll take you back to your video store rental days when you found that hidden gem.

(Recommended by Jason McFiggins)

40. Pledge (Dir. Daniel Robbins) 

A sharp, well-written, and action-packed film that may have slipped under the radar for some viewers in 2019, Daniel Robbins’ fraternity-haze horror Pledge is an outstanding genre film worth tracking down. The film features relatable, believable heroes, all of whom audiences will want to see succeed and have their revenge against their tormentors. Equally impressive are the frat-boy villains, who imbue the film with sardonic humor, menace, and a brutality that will not go unpunished.

Pledge is pure blood-drenched entertainment through and through, and without question one of my top action-horror picks for the year.

Rush week at a university brings our good guys — David, Justin, and Ethan — to confront some important moral choices in their lives. Do they sacrifice their own ideals and interests in order to join some popular fraternity, or do they return to their dorm rooms alone for another wasted night of X-Box marathons, cheap booze, and meaningless conversation? Although our young protagonists are all “nerdy” in fairly generic ways, their characters remain unique, each with their own quirks and mannerisms, strengths and weaknesses. They are also really good friends, a theme that underlies the film as David, Justin, and Ethan are seduced into a rowdy frat with disastrous, violent consequences.

The boys must face their darkest fears and physical challenges in order to survive, and what might first appear as harmless hazing suddenly turns deadly and barbaric. Meanwhile, the boorish, sadistic frat leaders are colorful and cruel, and it’s exciting for audiences to watch these sickos unleash torture upon our heroes before ultimately having their own grueling punishments turned on themselves.

From beginning to end, Pledge is a satisfying thriller, filled with characters we care about, action sequences that are energetic and crisply shot, and a climax that is as cathartic as it is bloody.

(Recommended by Josh Hancock)

PART FIVE (FILMS 41-50)

Rabid, Charlie Says, In The Tall Grass, In Fabric, Anna and the Apocalypse, The Curse of Buckout Road, Darlin’, Tone Deaf, Riot Girls, Climax
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41. Rabid (Dir. Jen and Sylvia Soska)

The Soska Sisters absolute kill it with this remake of Cronenberg’s classic body horror flick. This one got a lot of press leading up to its release, as the Sister’s were banned from Twitter for sharing images from the film’s most gory and graphic scenes. While the gore is present, the film is far from the bloodbath that you would expect from the graphic press images of the film.

Differing slightly from the original, the film follows a young woman working in the fashion industry who is horrifically injured in a scooter accident and becomes distraught with her new life and hideous appearance.  Desperate for relief, she accepts an invite from an experimental medical institute that promises to restore her once lost beauty. While Cronenberg’s version jumps right into the fray with a motorcycle crash and surgery, the Soskas do a fantastic job of giving some more backstory and character information that really helps the remake excel beyond expectations.

The ability to provide story to fill in the details that Cronenberg left blank is what makes this film better, in this writer’s opinion, than the original. Not only do you discover more about the leadcharacter, but you also learn more about the mythos of the doctors and their “Cult of the New Flesh” — as well we more about that mysterious armpit tentacle.

I will skip the spoiler and just let you know that this one takes an unexpected Lovecraftian turn in the final act that had me screaming in disbelief.

(Recommended by Bud Fugate)

42. Charlie Says (Dir. Mary Harron)

We’ve seen multiple movies about Charles Manson, but you’ve never seen one like this. Matt Smith brings the iconic killer to life in this unique film told from the perspectives of Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins, and Leslie Van Houten: Charlie’s “girls.” Directed by Mary Harron (American Psycho), this movie really stunned me. You’re seeing the story through the eyes of Karlene Faith, a grad student/human rights activist (Merrit Weaver, who is fabulous in this role) who comes to the prison to talk to the girls about taking responsibility for their crimes. Turns out, they are victims too; of emotional and mental abuse at Manson’s hands. Horrified, Faith listens to their stories and we see flashbacks of the events leading up to their imprisonment.

This movie contains star-making performances from the girls, including Sosie Bacon (yes, Kevin’s daughter) who plays Krenwinkel, Hannah Murray, who plays Van Houten, and Marianne Rendon as Atkins. It’s a heartbreaking, fascinating story of a grown man who took in young, impressionable women and brainwashed them into believing every word he said. They were naïve and looking for acceptance, and they found it in Manson.

I’m just as interested in the Manson story as most of us, and I know this film took some liberties. But it was extremely engaging, and you really get a feel for what these girls went through and how they became involved in some of the most infamous killings ever. I felt a little sorry for them, which is a testament to the strong performances in this movie. It’s a movie that will definitely tear at your emotions as you struggle to understand why these loving young women would take part in such brutalities. It really made me think, and I found myself trying to empathize with Charlie’s girls.

It’s not like the other Manson movies; get the female perspective from this strong story directed by genre favorite Harron.

(Recommended by Christi Bandy)

43. In The Tall Grass (Dir. Vincenzo Natali)

Netflix’s In The Tall Grass is another Stephen King story turned movie, this time written with his son Joe Hill. But this film hasn’t grabbed the same kind of headlines as some of his other recent cinematic adaptations. It surprisingly flew under the radar. But the simple storyline works well to create a compelling and emotional film.

The title tells you the film’s location, as the story centers on a brother and sister trapped in a field of tall grass. That is the stuff of nightmares. Yes, I know this isn’t the only King tale to feature a field of nightmares, but this one has a much different plot than that other popular story (Children of the Corn). This field is a puzzle of time shifts and rapid teleportation, allowing the story to unravel through various points of time. Although it can be a little confusing, this makes for a very intriguing storyline. There are moments when I felt an agoraphobic sense of panic when the fiendish field took over the landscape.

Director, Vincenzo Natali does an excellent job getting the viewer to connect with the characters on an emotional level. I love how the film makes the characters face a myriad of stressful and terrifying scenarios that have no solutions. A mysterious force that controls the grassy field distorts all time frames, and every choice they make ends with a time loop. Prepare for a mean little film, one which I adored.

(Recommended by Tavera del Toro)

44. In Fabric (Dir. Peter Strickland)

A mind-bending mix of Giallo and Terry Gilliam, In Fabric is a dark folktale in a department store. Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) is a lonely divorcee tempted by an unusual blood-red dress for an upcoming date. But this store isn’t just any old department store. In a blend of haute couture and the arcane, the salespeople speak in premonitions and travel in dumbwaiters, their movements fluid and ritualistic. The early-eighties shopping crowd is entranced, but what will it cost them? And as for the dress, with its mysterious inscription and evil intent, what befalls poor Sheila, who went to the sales and made a devil’s bargain?

When it comes to surrealist cinema, Peter Strickland is one of the most exciting writer-directors working right now. His films often evoke the lush sensuality of an Argento film, and are bleakly funny when compared to the dry practicality of a British single mum. But in In Fabric, Italian surrealism is contrasted hilariously against a truly English bureaucratic dystopia, bringing us shades of Brazil by-way-of Suspiria.

Visually stunning and pitch-perfect, the pastiche of In Fabric creates something that is truly original.

(Recommended by Alli Hartley)

45. Anna and the Apocalypse (Dir. John McPhail)

Have you ever heard about a movie and just known that it was going to be a new favorite? That’s how I felt about Anna and the Apocalypse. This British zombie comedy shares some DNA with Shaun of the Dead, while adding its own twists, including a teenage cast of characters, a Christmastime setting and toe-tapping musical numbers.

As you might expect, our protagonist is Anna (Ella Hunt), who wakes up one morning to a zombie apocalypse. She has to band together with some schoolmates to survive and get back to their families and friends, who are trapped in the high school. A musical zombie comedy may sound silly, and it often is, but this film has so much more heart than you’d expect going into it. The cast is incredibly talented. They’re able to pull off singing and dancing, broad jokes and some heartbreaking emotional moments — all during the end of the world! And don’t forget that the zombies can bring some definite tension and gore.

If this isn’t currently part of your Christmas (or anytime) movie lineup, it should be. What other movie could possibly blend all of those genres and pull it off so well? It may be a surprising underdog, but hopefully it will become a cult classic.

Note: While this film was technically released in 2018 with a limited theatrical run, it didn’t get widespread distribution (VOD, streaming, DVD/Blu-ray) until 2019. So we’re counting it! Because now there’s no excuse not to see this film. 

(Recommended by Jackie Ruth)

46. The Curse of Buckout Road (Dir. Matthew Currie Holmes)

The directorial debut of actor/musician turned filmmaker Matthew Currie HolmesThe Curse of Buckout Road was inspired by the real life haunted stretch of road located in New York State. In the film, a college class project on modern mythology turns deadly when a trio of students and an on-leave soldier discovers a series of horrific urban legends surrounding Buckout Road may actually be true. The deeper they dig into the road’s dark history, the more dangerous their quest becomes.

I had an absolute blast with this well-paced and engaging film that’s part dramatic psychological thriller, part supernatural mystery, and part satisfying throwback to 80s grindhouse horror. Currie Holmes does a great job balancing the tonal shifts as the film moves effortlessly from humor, to drama, to creeping suspense. His expertise behind the camera ensures this small indie film actually looks like a much bigger budget affair. And his talented cast helps sell every beat of this supernatural love letter to the midnight movies of the 1980s.

What The Curse of Buckout Road lacks in gore and excessive scares, it makes up for in well-developed characters and intelligent storytelling — building suspense and keeping you invested.

(Recommended by The Angry Princess)

47. Darlin’ (Dir. Pollyanna McIntosh )

Darlin

Pollyanna McIntosh (The Woman, The Walking Dead) takes the director’s seat in her debut, Darlin’. A long-time collaborator with horror indie icon Lucky McKee, Darlin’ is meant as the third installment of McKee and Jack Ketchum’s vicious duo, Offspring and The Woman.

Though it belongs sequentially, it takes a backseat as a standalone that follows Darlin’ (Lauryn Canny) as she re-adapts to civilization after spending years with The Woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) and adopting her feral, independent lifestyle in the wilderness. As Darlin’ comes into her own and stakes autonomy over her own body, she is subjected to the monstrosity of mankind that often comes disguised as kindness.

Equal parts tender coming-of-age tale, dark comedy, and gorefest, Darlin is a beautiful tale of self-discovery and independence with deep roots into many of society’s wrongs that bleed into modern scandals and the #MeToo movement. McIntosh’s directorial debut is a winner, and fans of the previous two installments shouldn’t skip on this bold, feminist horror flick.

(Recommended by Jack Wilhelmi)

48. Tone-Deaf (Dir. Richard Bates, Jr)

Tone-Deaf, is a funny and satirical thriller with a timely message. Two generations crash into each other with terrifying results in this home invasion horror film that is also a darkly comedic critique of the bizarre cultural and political climates in the United States. A deadly case of dementia, and one generation against the other, leads to an insane fight for survival for everyone involved.

I really liked this film, but I don’t think it got the love it deserves by audiences and critics alike. Robert Patrick was amazing, demented and insane. His performance was the highlight for me. Not a film for the squeamish; Harvey’s rampage involves multiple victims. There are blood and guts galore! The practical special effects were spectacular.

One of the things I like best about this film is when they break the fourth wall. Rarely done, because it doesn’t usually work, in this case it’s perfect. Harvey has some serious issues with young people. And when he turns his gaze into the camera and goes on a rant — about politics, millennials, his young tenant Olive, and the things he wants to do to her and all young people — it’s hilarious.

Tone-Deaf is a ruthless and blood-soaked tutorial on the cultural divide between the generations. This film made me laugh more than most movies do, and I adore that I learned something about the generation gap, too.

(Recommended by Vicki Woods)

49. Riot Girls (Dir. Jovanka Vuckovic)

After enthusiastically lending EIC services to Rue Morgue Magazine, earning a Gemini Award for her visual effects work and helping produce and direct the most successful release ever for genre powerhouse Magnolia Films, the all female led horror anthology XX, Jovanka finally got a chance to sink her claws into a feature.

Riot Girls dives in after a strangely specific apocalyptic event which targets the adults in Potter’s Bluff, leaving two rival factions of teens; the tyrannical Titans led by Jeremy (Munro Chambers) on the West Side and the punks on the East Side. The two collide though when Eastsider, Jack (Alexandre Bourgeois), gets taken prisoner after getting caught trying to steal from the Titans. His sister Nat (Madison Iseman) and her constant companion Scratch (Paloma Kwiatkowski), along with newcomer Sony (Ajay Friese), then begin to make the dangerous trek to the West Side to rescue him.

Infusing comic book style storytelling with cars, punk music, jock assholes and uncommon heroes who are ridiculously easy to root for, Riot Girls was the indisputable winner of the lighter-hearted genre movie going experience I craved — all while poking a stick at classism, sexism and morality.

(Recommended by Danni Darko)

50. Climax (Dir. Gaspar Noé)

It’s virtually impossible to watch a Gaspar Noé film and not be forever changed by it. The notorious French filmmaker revels in the kind of visceral, boundary-pushing films that at once captivate and repulse. His latest film is a dizzying and hypnotic affair — a visually explosive drug metaphor that takes its characters (and the audience with it) on an intoxicating and maddening journey from heaven to hell over the course of one night.

It’s the late 90s, and a group of young, beautiful dancers are throwing a party in a remote lodge doubling as a dank rehearsal space. The cast of 20 is comprised of professional dancers recruited by Noé in auditions. What follows is an abundance of spectacularly choreographed dance sequences, nonstop 90s EDM, and highly charged sexual energy. However, when someone mysteriously spikes the punch with LSD, madness quickly takes hold — and the giddy debauchery turns into a psychotropic nightmare.

It certainly won’t be for everyone. But the sensual and sadistic Climax, with its orgy of visual and audio excess, left one of the biggest impressions on me by far among 2019’s best.

(Recommended by The Angry Princess)

3 Comments

3 Records

  1. Avatar
    on January 6, 2020 at 6:03 pm
    Mike wrote:

    This is totally stunning. Thank you so much for putting together such a wonderful list, I’m stoked to see some of my favourites on here, Riot Girls, Mermaid Down, The Head Hunter and Climax in particular. But I’m even happier that a bunch of movies I haven’t yet seen are now must see films for me. This right here is why Morbidly Beautiful is quite simply the best there is. Thank you!

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    on January 8, 2020 at 8:00 am
    Dylan Russ wrote:

    Adding about all of these to my must watch list now

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    on February 6, 2020 at 8:09 am
    Faegan wrote:

    Thank you so much for putting together this website. I’m an avid horror fan that was struggling to find a reliable place for reviews. This website has saved me a lot of time and stress, and has led me to some great films.

    Reply

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