Don't Believe The Bad Takes: 2018 Has Been A Great Year For Horror Movies

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: don't believe the hype – 2018 did not kill the horror genre. And why do we have to have this conversation every year?)

Blame a man's foolhardy optimism, but part of me believed 2018 would close without an obscene end-of-year horror genre hot take shouted from left field. No such luck, friendo. What a difference mere days make. My eyes still ablaze after being scalded by the HOTTEST of takes: "2018 has not been a good year for horror."

Winchester, The Nun, and Slender Man appear as damning examples. Suspiria isn't "much of a horror film" (at least there's no "It isn't horror either" argument). A Quiet Place evokes "PG-13 thriller" vibes, no horror (I guess the author didn't attend SXSW's quiet-as-a-graveyard premiere). "There was Hereditary." (Hereditary's one-of-two glancing mentions in the not-to-be-named Vou – I mean, "rogue" hit piece). "We didn't even get a decent shark movie this year." Right. A tell-tale sign of horror erosion because every year's catalog is defined by fierce finback filmmaking (Fine – Deep Blue Sea 2 stinks like rancid chum and The Meg is more fun than terrifying).

As horror's 2018 obituary reads, "Here lies our beloved genre. Laid to rest because someone didn't enjoy a few mainstream titles and they think The Haunting Of Hill House suffers from Netflix episode fatigue."

*Smashes keyboard into a million little pieces* [Very Jules Winnfield voice.] Well, allow me to retort.

Frustrations to follow aren't an attack on an individual's horror cinema tastes. My positive review of The Nun understandably fits into the "minority" column of Rotten Tomatoes' 27% – the heart wants what the heart wants. My response is a provoked defense against genre gatekeeping, confusing opinion with fact, and speaking for an entire fan community without being well-versed enough to represent masses who'd wholeheartedly disagree with oblivious statements. 2018 has not killed horror – if anything, it's ensured more poignant and relevant nightmares amplified by 2018's loudest frequencies.

“Remember When Horror Was Good?”

It wasn't long ago. Just yesterday, in fact. Or the day before that. Or even, possibly, the day before that one. Even right now, horror is good. Maybe the article in question's intent meant to suggest mainstream horror stumbled downhill in 2018. It, Get Out, Happy Death Day, Annabelle: Creation and Split were there to balance out The Bye Bye Man, Wish Upon, and Rings in 2017. Maybe mainstream horror hasn't ridden equally as hot with mediocre-to-inexcusable titles such as Insidious: The Last Key (still effectively creepy in doses), Winchester (ghostly architectural stuffiness), Truth Or Dare (SnapChat Filters: The Movie), The First Purge (scattershot on-the-nose political satire/anger), Slender Man (Crunchy Woodland Sound Effects: The Movie), and Unfriended: Dark Web (which went over rather well with audiences).

Hold on. What about Overlord, which released just this weekend? Julius Avery's Nazi experimentation exploitation blockbuster in the vein of Saving Private Ryan meets Re-Animator. What about The Strangers: Prey At Night? Johannes Roberts' stalker sequel that patchworks Carpenter influences with pride throughout frantic second and third acts. Why conveniently dub A Quiet Place – John Krasinski's $300 million franchise in the making – a "thriller" to bolster claims? Why only offer a passing mention to Hereditary – which raked in $13 million opening weekend for an ecstatic A24 – when you could alone teach an entire lecture on Toni Collette's Oscar-worthy motherhood performance?

"Halloween is stale, Suspiria a contemporary dance hellscape but not "dark delight" horror, and The Nun sux." Or, alternatively, Halloween's ability to adapt slasher norms to modern social climates could rejuvenate a dead subgenre. Suspiria's brand of horror eats away at your core with hypnotic bewitchment rooted in genderfied stake-burning (albeit somewhat overworked). The Nun is a harmless B-movie standalone in James Wan's Conjurverse that's less the haunted house audiences were expecting.

I don't know – sounds like a balanced year for mainstream horror to me?

Citing only a handful of horror releases to drive your assertion that "2018 horror is bad" comes off as lazy, careless, and uneducated. Even in mainstream quantities you could reference double-digit scream machines (hopeful, to be fair), and while yes, some features achieved no such success (dislike The Nun, that's fine), others dutifully atone for sinful wastes of screentime. To mention Hereditary in passing is blasphemy, proven by live responses from two seasoned, horror-genre-appreciatin' critics who flanked both my sides during Hereditary's SXSW midnight screening. One couldn't stop inhaling and exhaling like air was thicker than water, the other started making dry-heaving noises because tension had rendered her nerves a sickening gut-checked mess.

But right, "There was Hereditary." Somewhere.

2018 Horror Isn’t Scary!

Once again, let's assume the provocateur writer meant "mainstream" horror. There's no mention of independent titles except for Coralie Fargeat's Revenge. Gareth Edwards' Apostle (not The Apostle) gets called a "mess," meaning the author has a Netflix account, but access to AMC's must-own horror streaming service Shudder surely would have prevented such vocalized silliness as "Where have all the scary movies gone?!" They're available to watch, on demand, this very second.

Any argument that claims no "scary horror" exists in 2018 is rendered clueless by the existence of Satan's Slaves and Terrified alone. I'd throw The Witch In The Window in there, too. The third act of Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum, anyone? The Ritual's creature design work? Moments of Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel had me clutching onto couch pillows. These are just off the top of my head, skimming through my Letterboxd diary, outside of the mainstream. I've gone numb in the fingers promoting Satan's Slaves on this very website – here, or here, here too, oh look also here, which infuriates me to see it not given any credit. A legitimately scary Indonesian heavyweight standing pound-for-pound with titans such as The Conjuring.

Granted, this brings up a whole "horror gatekeeping" argument that belongs nowhere near genre reporting, yet here I am – a bit hypocritically – infuriated over the notion that someone thinks A Quiet Place isn't "horrifying" because it's an effective and harrowing accomplishment. Is my argument not just a flip of the author's logic? Arguably, but as someone who's committed days upon years to champion movies like Satan's Slaves when "popular" horror isn't traumatizing audiences as frequently, reading shallow prestige publication smear campaigns without sound investment triggers an inevitable reaction. You think The Nun is godawful? Slender Man? Watch Ahockalypse, The Open House or The Jurassic Dead, each of them borderline zero star abominations that are still heavily outweighed by even under-the-radar movies mentioned a paragraph above.

You have to earn your rank to post headlines like "2018 horror is bad!" Watching one streaming miniseries and tossing driveby shade reeks of imposter syndrome. Cue the author's sarcastic commentary "I really do see all these movies" after noting Mike Flanagan's previous work (no Absentia mention nor Gerald's Game) like it's some sickness or regrettable imposition.

The Horrors of Family

Horror's evocative ability to drag personal reactions from audiences makes it such a shapeshifting and endlessly compelling genre to discuss. Conversations over "scariest scenes" or "most frightening films" expose personality traits, tell of a viewer's own experiences and check society's temperature based on thematic repetitions. Phobias are not widely shared seat-to-seat, just as fears match intimate wiring. We fight the same fight every year as movies like It and Hereditary are labeled "not horror", as if certain publications demand not to be associated with the genre. With all this said, I'm not here to scream "A QUIET PLACE IS HORROR!" until my lungs explode. Instead, Allow me to highlight how this year's focus on family-driven horror has produced a painfully poignant subgenre tethered to current crises defining our news cycle.

Resonance first illuminated after A Quiet Place. A dystopian survival tale about parental duties, maturing children, literal sacrifice and fighting for the family you love. The inconceivable experience of watching your youngest kin be snatched away by some shrieking alien aggressor. The guilt-ridden aftermath of holding yourself responsible as a sibling. The existential dread of knowing you won't always be around to protect those for whom you'd offer your heart on a platter. No, A Quiet Place isn't indulgent jump-scare generics. It's far meatier and denser with its distribution of horror.

Oh, and it's also decidedly not alone.

Familial frighteners have claimed dominance over 2018. Clans pulled apart from the inside or standing together against outside threats. Hereditary gets another mention, but examples stack high. Satan's Slaves for sure. Pyewacket, which beat Hereditary to market given wall-crawling terrors. Cargo, Martin Freeman's "traverse across Australia before turning into a zombie" baby-saver. Still/Born, a riff off Mesopotamian demon Lamashtu (whose appearances, indeed, strike fear). The Strangers: Prey At Night. Marrowbone. Dead Shack. Halloween. Before I Wake. Ghost Stories. Mom And Dad. Wildling. Some dad-joke heavy, some claustrophobic, some bolstered by destructively heartfelt performances, others defined by knockout gore. Confining horror to haunted house formulas is first and foremost lazy, larger-picture ignorantly undervaluing genre advantages.

Halloween's doesn't derive horror from Michael Myers popping out of closets. What's scarier is how no one listens to Laurie Strode and the willingness of Haddonfield to underestimate a monster while devaluing a victimized woman's words. Before I Wake is a more whimsical horror take that produces its monster, the Canker Man, as a child's snarling manifestation of loss. Cargo tunes into a father's impending demise and the reality that he won't be able to care for his infant daughter once zombified. Horror doesn't need to fit snugly into a walled boxed with trap doors and giveaway walls where jumpy-jolts crouch out of sight. Horror filmmakers, maybe more than ever, have tapped cerebral and salaciously simmering storylines that manipulate genre storytelling through meticulously invasive means. Fewer expectancies, more artful ruination.

Still, without any doubt, horror.

Why Keep Fighting This Fight

Maybe my aggravation is unjustified or proportionally lopsided. Perhaps I shouldn't fall victim to outrage clickbait styles of today's journalistic culture. For the original article author, who no doubt won't read a single word of this piece or even if they did be swayed, consider this mission accomplished. As other social media users pointed out, being critical of such uninteresting and inattentive takes as "2018 horror is bad" coming from a fashion magazine could be considered doppelganger behavior. Someone believes their headline – "Horror 2018: Wasn't This Supposed to be the Golden Age of Horror" – and that writer has a right to express themselves. If you're reacting to a headline and immediately raging without digesting the content that follows, I agree. Read before you judge.

Afterward is when you can start pitching your editors in Caps Lock with messages like "DID YOU READ THIS?! PLZ LET ME ADDRESS."

What bothers me is rhetoric along these lines surfaces every year. What bothers me is my Twitter feed is filled with passionate, knowledgeable, chest-beating horror journalists and enthusiasts who'd pen countless more alluring perspective pieces. What bothers me is that, yes, a fashion publication writing about horror can be easily shrugged off versus if a site like Dread Central – who'd never 'effing do this because genre respect flows through every writer – posted the same content. But you know what? [The publication's] traffic ranking will bring far more eyes than, say, this defense of 2018 horror I'm writing right now. Their reach is extensive, and their broad readership will ingest those same words knowing nothing else. Maybe some of you can shrug that off, and more power to you. I, unfortunately, cannot.

I've invested too much time banging horror's always-under-attack drum to sit by as upturned noses impose willfully unmeritorious decrees. This year's genre health requires no last rights be uttered, a faint pulse beeping in the background. Of the almost 100 new-release horror movies this critic has absorbed in 2018, I'd be happy to offer alternative recommendations. I know horror's alive and well. Most of my friends, followers, and readership know the same. But everyone else? They deserve just as fair an analysis. If that means I get all ranty every now-and-again, so be it. "Bad" my dusty mummified ass.