From blockbuster nightmares to bracing indie horror flicks, it’s been a killer year for silver screen screams. The best horror movies of 2019 included waking pagan nightmares and twisted tales of killer doppelgangers to the jittery return of everyone's favorite dancing clown. In fact, it seems there was a little something for everyone at the movies this year, provided you like being scared.
With that in mind, we rounded up the best of the freaky best. So settle in and prepare to relive the terror. Here are the best horror movies of 2019.
Jordan Peele’s follow-up to his 2017 horror debut may be more critically divisive than Get Out, but no one can argue that it lacks ambition. Peele told Rolling Stone that he wanted to create a “monster mythology,” in keeping with Universal’s classics. He succeeded in this sharp, shocking, politically astute fable, even if the Tethered feel more at home alongside the likes of Clive Barker’s cenobites than the early monsters of the silver screen.
Related: 13 Best Scary TV Shows of 2019
IT: Chapter 2
Splitting King’s doorstop of a novel into two films was probably a very good idea. Even then, the second half of Andy Muschietti’s epic horror blockbuster boasts a monstrous runtime of nearly three hours. This may make it less effective than its predecessor—it’s got a 62% on Rotten Tomatoes versus the first chapter’s 86%. Yet everything that made the first chapter work still packs a punch in IT: Chapter Two, including Bill Skarsgård’s jittery performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown.
Ari Aster’s Hereditary was hailed as one of the scariest movies in a long time—it even incorporated a “heart rate challenge” into its marketing campaign. That led to high expectations for his folk horror follow-up, Midsommar. As with Jordan Peele’s Us, Aster’s sophomore effort proved somewhat more divisive than his debut. Yet it still boasts an 83% at Rotten Tomatoes, where the critics consensus describes it as “ambitious, impressively crafted, and above all unsettling.” We certainly agree.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Proving that teen horror can be just as ghoulish as anything made for adults, the movie adaptation of Alvin Schwartz's anthology series takes the books—and, more importantly, the Stephen Gammell illustrations—that traumatized us all as kids and translates them into a movie to traumatize a whole new generation. A perfect gateway drug for burgeoning horror fans, Scary Stories uses its PG-13 rating to conjure maximum scares without overdoing it on the blood and gore.
Releasing a sequel to nearly forty years later is a bold move, and making it as much an adaptation of King’s book as it is a sequel to Kubrick’s 1980 masterpiece is a delicate balancing act. Yet it seems to have worked out for celebrated director Mike Flanagan, who's making a name for himself as the go-to guy for well-constructed horror and a master at adapting difficult horror texts, following his 2017 take on Stephen King’s novel
Ready or Not
When it comes to crowd-pleasing horror that’s as funny as it is bloody, 2019 offers few greater rides than Ready or Not. With a star-making turn from Samara Weaving and an 88% at Rotten Tomatoes, this satirical skewering of the 1% had crowds cheering, laughing, and wincing in equal measure.
It was a good year for sophomore efforts from celebrated horror auteurs. Fans have been eagerly awaiting Robert Eggers’ return since 2015’s The Witch, and The Lighthouse didn’t disappoint. You have to give credit to someone who uses their critical cachet to make a two-man show shot in black-and-white and employing an old-timey aspect ratio, starring a flatulent Willem Dafoe, a wild-eyed Robert Pattinson, and a bevy of maritime nightmares and tentacled cosmic creatures.
Annabelle Comes Home
At this point, the Conjuring cinematic universe is a genre institution, supplying eager audiences with their annual dose of jump scares and spectral chills. Of course, returning to the well too many times risks exhausting the source. Yet Annabelle Comes Home provides a nice dose of freshness to the ever-expanding realm of Ed and Lorraine Warren with its pivot to Amblin Entertainment-style babysitter horror.
A hit on the festival circuit, the latest film from British director Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio) is “a dizzying vision of the darkness lurking behind superficial obsessions,” according to IndieWire. Strickland has made a name for himself with mesmerizing films couched in haunting and complex audiovisual soundscapes. In Fabric promises to be another notch in that particular belt when it hits stateside release this December.
One thing that often serves a horror movie well is a simple premise. Take Alexandre Aja’s Crawl, in which a bunch of hungry ‘gators menace a flooded house in the midst of a hurricane. It may not be as nuanced as some of the year’s more critically acclaimed shockers, but this “action-packed creature feature” is “a fun throw-back with just enough self-awareness to work,” according to the critics consensus at Rotten Tomatoes, where Crawl enjoys a very respectable 83% rating.
It probably says something about the state of discourse around class when there's not one but two horror movies that cast the wealthy as Satanists. That’s the premise of Chelsea Stardust’s horror-comedy Satanic Panic, from a screenplay by Grady Hendrix (Paperbacks from Hell). As satire goes, it’s not exactly subtle, but it’s full of fun twists and turns and hilarious performances by Rebecca Romjin, Hayley Griffith, and Jerry O’Connell, among others.
Larry Fessenden is a cult horror institution, even if Depraved marks his first feature since 2013’s Beneath. By all accounts, it’s an impressive return to form for Fessenden, who made a name for himself with the working-class vampire film Habit in 1995. Depraved offers a similarly timely take on the Frankenstein story, as a veteran of the war in Iraq jolts a dead body back to life in a Brooklynn loft. The result is a powerfully unsettling update on the classic horror story, blending old-school terror with present-day themes and the horrors of war.
The Mortuary Collection
The anthology film is a horror tradition—from the earliest days with flicks like 1945’s classic Dead of Night to the Amicus anthologies of the 1970s to Creepshow and beyond. Ryan Spindell’s indie concoction The Mortuary Collection is a robust successor to that grand old line, strengthened by an unusually solid framing story anchored by fine performances from Caitlin Custer and Clancy Brown, who's having a blast as a sinister mortician. The Mortuary Collection premiered at Fantastic Fest this September. Here's to hoping for a wider release.
Featured still from "Us" via Monkeypaw Productions