Best Horror Films

The Devil’s Candy is slightly more sincere than its predecessor, but its familiar evocation of heavy-metal devil worship is delivered with a wink. The Hellman family — husband Jesse (Ethan Embry), wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby), and daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) — move into a new home that just happens to be where troubled Ray Smilie (Pruitt Taylor Vince) brutally murdered his mother. And Ray hasn’t gone far: Hiding out at a motel nearby, he’s still serving the Devil, and he has his eye on Zooey. While there aren’t many twists and turns to the plot, Byrne’s distinctive style and his actors’ strong performances elevate the story. That a film about a Devil-worshipping killer still feels this fresh makes The Devil’s Candy all the more impressive.

A Cure for Wellness

With a two-and-a-half-hour run-time, A Cure for Wellness could be criticized for its indulgence, and there are certainly moments throughout when director Gore Verbinski might have exhibited some restraint. But part of what makes the film work is its sprawling nature, and the slow dread that builds along the way to its shocking reveals. Dane DeHaan stars as Lockhart, a young executive tasked with bringing home his company’s CEO, Roland Pembroke (Harry Groener), from a mysterious wellness spa in the Alps. After an accident renders Lockhart a patient, he becomes increasingly suspicious of the center and its head doctor, Heinrich Volmer (Jason Isaacs). There’s never any question that something is seriously amiss here, but like the best paranoid horror, A Cure for Wellness is deliberate in the way it teases out answers. And when it does veer into absurdity, DeHaan and Isaacs are so committed that they make it work.

Cult of Chucky

Picking up four years after 2013’s Curse of ChuckyCult of Chucky sees Nica (Fiona Dourif) now confined to a mental institution where she struggles to convince her doctors and fellow patients that it really was an evil doll who murdered her entire family. It’s tough to say with a straight face, and Cult of Chucky wisely injects a little bit of humor back into the Child’s Playfranchise after the more straightforward horror of Curse. Over the course of nearly 30 years, Chucky’s creator Don Mancini has navigated the series from horror to comedy and back again — without ever resorting to an ill-advised reboot. The latest sequels are lower-budget than the theatrical releases that came before them, but they showcase Chucky’s endurance (he’s still voiced by the inimitable Brad Dourif) and Mancini’s ability to continue surprising his audience. The rewarding reappearance of Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) makes the case for this kind of drawn-out storytelling, rare in slasher movies.

Split

When M. Night Shyamalan made The Visit in 2015, he managed to win back the naysayers who had all but written him off. The unexpectedly frightening (and very funny) film reestablished Shyamalan as a horror filmmaker to watch, and Split follows through on that promise. It also smartly delivers surprises without resting too heavily on a big twist, the trademark of Shyamalan’s early work. (Split’s only real “holy shit” moment is the final scene that — spoiler alert — reveals it to be a standalone sequel to Unbreakable, but that has little bearing on the film as a whole.) James McAvoy gives a batshit but consistently dynamic performance as a kidnapper with 23 distinctive split personalities; by playing it straight, he manages to move deftly from terrifying to sympathetic. And Anya Taylor-Joy, a standout in The Witch, is compelling as Casey, a troubled girl trying to escape before the emergence of her captor’s 24th personality, an inhuman creature he calls the Beast.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter

Despite the occasional burst of graphic violence, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a gorgeous film. This is writer-director Oz Perkins’ debut feature (although his ghost story I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House was released first) and it reflects an impressive confidence and attention to detail. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is actually two seemingly unconnected stories. In one, Rose (Lucy Boynton) and Kat (Kiernan Shipka) are the only students left at their Catholic boarding school over winter break as a demonic presence begins to manifest. In the other, Joan (Emma Roberts) is a hitchhiker on the run from a violent past. It doesn’t take long to figure out how the two halves of the film come together, but The Blackcoat’s Daughter is more concerned with its themes of loss and grief than with its plot. That’s not a mark against it — the style and mood here are so effective they end up telling the real story.

Prevenge

Alice Lowe was very pregnant while filming Prevenge, which might qualify this as method acting — although let’s hope she wasn’t also slaughtering people at the behest of her surprisingly chatty fetus. Lowe plays Ruth, a pregnant woman on a murder spree to avenge the death of the baby’s father in a climbing accident. It’s an over-the-top premise made sillier by the fact that the voice in Ruth’s head — that of her bloodthirsty fetus — sounds vaguely cartoonish. But Prevenge leans into the absurdity of its central conceit, and Lowe succeeds in making her antihero seem almost rational even as she becomes increasingly unhinged. In 2012’s Sightseers, which she cowrote and starred in, Lowe proved that she knew how to blend horror and dark comedy without taking away from either. Prevenge is equally adept at that balancing act, with the laughs building alongside the rising body count.

Raw

Raw is a coming-of-age film in which a young woman’s sexual awakening and challenging adjustment to her first year of college coincide with her developing a taste for human meat. Maybe the cannibalism is a metaphor, but that doesn’t take away from the visceral depictions of flesh-eating that proved too much for some of Raw’s early audiences. Ironically, Justine (Garance Marillier) is a vegetarian until she’s forced to eat raw rabbit kidneys in a hazing ritual at her new veterinarian school. Soon after, she’s craving more fresh meat — until, in an unlikely series of events, she finds herself gnawing on her sister’s finger. Yes, Raw is gross, but it’s also surprisingly sensitive in its treatment of Justine’s fear and confusion, and her complicated relationships with her sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf), and her roommate, Adrien (Rabah Naït Oufella). Flesh-eating aside, the film has a lot to offer — as long as you can stomach it.

Killing Ground

If you think the baby will escape from Killing Ground unharmed, you probably haven’t been paying much attention to new Australian horror. These films — Wolf Creek remains the best known — are relentlessly brutal and, more often than not, unbearably bleak: Even for seasoned horror fans, they can be difficult to endure, and Killing Ground is, indeed, a challenge to get through. That doesn’t mean it’s not a thrilling, compellingly watchable film — it just means you may never want to watch it again. The set-up is relatively straightforward, as Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) pitch their tent on a secluded beach for a romantic weekend away. To say that things go awry would be something of an understatement. What makes Killing Ground so impressive is how much it does with a plot that, at least initially, feels so familiar. The violence is shocking, yes, but so is Damien Power’s ability to repeatedly subvert audience expectations.

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