Hereditary. Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House. A Quiet Place. Nuff said.
Jennifer BissetFormer Senior Editor / Culture
Jennifer Bisset was a senior editor for CNET. She covered film and TV news and reviews. The movie that inspired her to want a career in film is Lost in Translation. She won Best New Journalist in 2019 at the Australian IT Journalism Awards.
ExpertiseFilm and TVCredentials
Best New Journalist 2019 Australian IT Journalism Awards
The year faced a scary challenge: live up to 2017, a record-breaking one for horror films. Hit movie Get Out, a twisted social commentary on racism, became one of the handful of horror movies nominated for a best picture Oscar, losing only to another fantasy-horror offering, The Shape of Water.
Last year wasn't just a big one for horror. According to The New York Times, it was the biggest in horror's box office history. Key word: It. The Stephen King adaptation raked in $327 million in the US alone. A sequel, completing the story, is in the works.
While 2018's numbers aren't quite as smashing, horror fans still enjoyed quality frights. Genre pieces like Hereditary and A Quiet Place continued to push filmmaking and intellectual boundaries, and 10-episode slow-burns like The Haunting of Hill House seared themselves into viewers' brains.
And there was a zombie musical. Yep. The undead sing and dance like the rest of us.
Here are the horror standouts of 2018.
A Quiet Place: Sensory-related horror
John Krasinski's A Quiet Place earned a spot in the subgenre of sensory-related horror. Make a sound and you're likely to get offed by fast-as-lightning monsters with enhanced hearing who attack at the slightest cough.
Actor-director Krasinski -- you may remember him as Jim from The Office-- found a formula for mainstream success with A Quiet Place. He withheld showing the creatures until the movie's halfway mark, distracting audiences with a compelling family drama. With Oscar-worthy sound design, careful world-building and equally incredible performances -- Emily Blunt has to deal with the agony of giving birth in a bathtub in complete silence -- A Quiet Place was the year's biggest horror movie, pulling in $188 million at the US box office.
The Haunting of Hill House: What TV horror can do
Slow-burn Netflix series aren't always successful (Season 2 of 13 Reasons Why, we're looking at you). The Haunting of Hill House, however, worked on almost every level.
A ghost story spread over 10 episodes, Haunting of Hill House relies on jump scares and creepy kids -- the staples of horror. But the extra length of a TV series adds a psychological layer. The bleakness lingers long after you've switched off your television.
There are moments you'll never forget. And they tie together seamlessly.
One of the children, Shirley, has a kitten. It dies, but for a moment she thinks it's come back to life. That hope is dashed by a black beetle that suddenly burrows out from the dead kitten's mouth. That was the source of the movement, not a heartbeat.
It's a pivotal moment in Shirley's life, which leads to her future job in a mortuary -- the showy setting where characters walk down corridors that seamlessly take them back to the house that haunts them. There, they literally step back to the source of the trauma that binds them.
With movie-level filmmaking and the small screen's freedom of time, The Haunting of Hill House is the perfect example of how horror and fleshed-out characters can scare you far more than ghosts suddenly appearing in bedrooms.
Hereditary: Pushing boundaries
Writer-director Ari Aster has made a name for himself pushing taboo boundaries (in one of his early short films a son sexually harasses his dad). In Hereditary, the focus is on family -- a theme we're seeing across horror in 2018 -- but instead of bringing the Graham family together, this supernatural horror film exposes their unspeakable thoughts and destroyed lives.
Sixteen-year-old Peter must deal with accidentally killing his little sister. His mother, Annie, is dealing with the death of her mother, who tormented her as a child. She wishes her own son had never been born, and says so to his face. Talk about scary.
Needless to say, there's a bit of family baggage amid the gore and seances. With a brilliantly deranged performance from Toni Collette, Hereditary is a modern horror classic, up there with Get Out and A Quiet Place.
Anna and the Apocalypse: And a whole lot more
Anna and the Apocalypse, an original product of genre-mashing, combines La La Land and Shaun of the Dead. It also rises to the level of those classic films, not only building comedy and clever characters, but threading those characters' personal troubles into catchy songs. It's the zombie musical we never knew we needed.
Overlord, a slightly different take on zombies, combines war with the undead. It joins Netflix's Upgrade and Apostle, graphic body-violating horror and period horror pieces respectively, in the swath of well-made and unique horror subgenres of 2018. They're rounded out with Mandy, a psychedelic horror film that follows Nicolas Cage in a violent revenge story with a distinct '80s-tinged style.
Alex Garland's Annihilation, both a horror movie and a clever think-piece about mutating landscapes and creatures, scored well with critics. But it may also have been too smart for its own good. Its high concepts of self-destruction were challenging for audiences during its cinema run and it barely earned back its budget. Starring four women in a disaster zone that plays with time, Annihilation is now another Netflix horror gem.
One franchise wrapped up this year, while others continued to expand.
Halloween brought Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode back to the modern era, ignoring all previous sequels and wrapping up the character's journey with masked killer Michael Myers. The Nun is the fifth movie in The Conjuring Universe -- now you know that exists -- and Insidious: The Last Key is the fourth in the series, with another installment already on the way.
Arthouse, with its experimental films, isn't for everyone, but it shouldn't be forgotten for its unique takes on horror. Suspiria, Luca Guadagnino's reinterpretation of Dario Argento's 1977 film, is about a dance academy run by witches. It features a ballerina contortionist, and body horror ensues on whole new levels.
What terrors will 2019 bring? I can't wait to find out.
Weird horror films and TV shows you may have overlooked