THE BEST OF 2019
2019 is nearly over, people! And with it comes the inevitable best of/worst of lists that always litter the internet in late December. As we don't want to buck the trend, here's our top genre picks of the year on the big - and small - screen.
Us (Director: Jordan Peele)
A family's serene beach vacation turns to chaos when their doppelgängers appear and begin to terrorize them.
After the superlative reaction to “Get Out”, Peele could have probably had his pick of thrillers and dramas, but he opted to stay in the genre… and it was a very good choice. Written and directed by Peele, “Us” was an unabashed horror movie that scored with critics and audiences. From the canny lack of publicity, to the enigmatic first “Rorschach” posters, to the final brilliantly teasing trailers, this was a classy production all the way. Like “Get Out”, it perfectly melds valid social commentary and mature scares with an utterly compelling narrative. The perfect cast headlines Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke from the MCU’s “Black Panther” and takes place in modern America. It ostensibly focuses on the African-American family of the Wilsons who take a (badly timed) vacation to Santa Cruz Beach and encounter evil doppelgangers. But it grows from a creepy “home invasion” concept to something much bigger and more thought-provoking.
Nyong’o picked up a lot of praise for her double role of Adelaide Wilson and “Red”, and it is a commanding (and disturbing) performance to be sure. Unnatural grins and sniggers, running full-pelt with the arms straight at the sides, and deadly skills with scissors. But the rest of the Wilson family (Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex) also give great performances as their “evil” selves, which subtly play on racial/class stereotypes. Because the plot itself is multi-layered and full of innovation, and that’s why it sticks in the memory and continues to encourage lively debates online about certain characters and the mythology created. “Us” could have been another standard “nasty duplicates” story, along the lines of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” or something. But Peele created a completely fresh backstory about “The Tethered”, which admittedly doesn’t make much sense in a “real world” scenario but stirs the imagination with the possibilities and connotations that it holds.
It helps that the concept is greatly expanded beyond the Wilsons (spirited cameo appearances by Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker contribute to that) and becomes larger in scope. The visuals are great; a character backs into a vehicle fire, Wright Joseph’s frightening stare, the creepy rabbits). And the soundtrack is inspired, with a chilling remix of 1995 Luniz song "I Got 5 on It" being used brilliantly and providing atmosphere for the final brawl. The film works as a straightforward horror, with a neat (if guessable) twist at the end. But it also has so much more in terms of layers. You can put a period before and after the “S” in the title for a new perspective, with the open reference to the 1986 U.S. event “Hands Across America“ signifying the “Sunken Place” that America (and other countries) have become in terms of marginalisation and unfair class gaps. Whatever your view, it’s a finely made and very astute genre film that satisfies on many levels, not least of which is a need for original horror. It’ll be interesting to see what affect Peele has on the upcoming “Candyman” remake…
The Perfection (Director: Richard Shepard)
When troubled musical prodigy Charlotte (Allison Williams) seeks out Elizabeth (Logan Browning), the new star pupil of her former school, the encounter sends both musicians down a sinister path with shocking consequences.
Netflix original movies have been hit and miss, although the rate of great (“Cargo” for instance) is getting better than that of bad (“The Cloverfield Paradox”). However, this particularly nasty little number (in a good way) scored major plus points with genre fans on the streaming giant. It’s a little surprising, given most of the reviews and reactions that it hasn’t become more of a cult favourite this year. It ticks the boxes in terms of good performances, offbeat concepts, twisty plots, sick little moments, and genre originality… so maybe it’ll get that eventually. We’ll sing it praises in the meantime. It was directed and co-written by Shepard (best known for the TV shows “Girls”, “30 Rock”, and “Ugly Betty”). And it stars Allison Williams, the “Girls” actor who gave such a great genre debut performance in “Get Out”. The film, which hugely benefits from being seen completely “cold”, follows the tribulations of one-time cellist ingenue Charlotte Willmore (Williams) as she recovers from the death of her mother. She meets up with her old mentor (Steven Weber as Anton) and his new protégé (Logan Browning as Lizzie), but things take a turn for the worst…
As mentioned, avoid as much detail as you can before seeing this undersold little gem, but you’re in for a sick treat that throws several curve-balls at you. At one point it looks like we might be getting a zombie-apocalypse story, before we get several more surprises and a pathway to body-horror and twisted desires kick in for the finale. Perhaps it was the penchant for secrecy and emphasis on classical music that threw some people. Reviews calling it “Black Swan with Cellos” and lumping it in haphazardly with the #MeToo movement, misrepresented the tone and achievement as well. Because despite some lovely imagery and good central performances, you have (perhaps arguably) an exploitation horror soldered and gift-wrapped with a classy gilt-edge.
It’s a film that’s not afraid to resort to bold and disturbing moments, and its characters operate in shades of grey, rather than clear-cut “heroes”. The blood splashes intermittently-but-very-freely, and there’s an undercurrent of debauchery that runs parallel to the parlour music and upper-class academies. Williams gives a superbly fraught performance that makes you hope she returns to horror again shortly. And she’s matched in intensity and intelligence by Browning and Weber. It’s a slick n’ sick film that deserves more attention, climaxing in a final act that brings you a memorable couple of images that are unsettling and beautifully realised. Netflix and Kill-er.
Terminator: Dark Fate (Director: Tim Miller)
An augmented human and Sarah Connor must stop an advanced liquid Terminator, from hunting down a young girl, whose fate is critical to the human race.
Alright, so maybe this wasn’t one of the “best” films in the year in terms of originality or quality. However, it was the best entry in the franchise since “T2” and deserved much more attention at the box office than it finally got. So, for that reason, we’re going to blow the metallic trumpet of this enjoyable action-thriller. It’s beyond understatement to say that expectations were low for this film. “Rise of the Machines” was a bit Meh, despite Armageddon taking place. Future-set “Salvation” was silly, overblown, and a little dull. Intended franchise-restarter “Genisys” was too far up its own time-tunnel to connect with general audiences. So, yet another “reboot” was a stretch too far for many, even with Schwarzenegger and James Cameron (producing & writing). It even ominously gives writing credits to at least 6 people! Be that as it may, this rebooted timeline sees Judgement Day never happen, and two other future-born warriors travel back to 2020 on missions to protect or destroy. The thing is… Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is still taking an active interest in “goddamned time-travelling robots”, and she’s not in a good mood…
As mentioned, this is far from perfect. Some cinematography is murky, and the narrative repeats the past a little too often (another climax in another deserted industrial complex!). It’s also on track to lose the movie studios about $130m, so don’t expect a continuation (or another reboot) anytime soon! So why put this in the “nice” list as opposed to the “naughty” one? It’s mainly because it’s legitimately an enjoyable actioner, that is (almost) a worthy follow-up to T2, containing some nice ideas and some cracking set-pieces. But it’s also because of the lead performances of Mackenzie Davis as cyborg Grace, Natalia Reyes as Dani, and Hamilton as You-Know-Who. There’s delightful zingy chemistry between the three actresses as well as large doses of sarcasm, F-bombs, and natural empathy. From a narrative point of view, unlike “Genisys”, it doesn’t waste time on wordy sci-fi exposition, but just throws the ever-moving events at the story. In one delightful moment, Grace even pulls off a potentially plot-changing action on a mobile phone and explains it with the offbeat comment; “Future shit”.
It’s also nice to see a return to some practical SFX (the truck chase) alongside the standard CGI. The fight scenes are nice n’ meaty with Davis getting appropriately physical against Gabriel Luna as “Rev-9”. The rebooted-future scenario is nicely played out with inventive ideas about time-travel, without shoving it down aggressively in your face. Miller’s snappy direction and the cast make it more enjoyable than the last three movies, as well as the admirable return to R-rated swearing and needless violence. You get the impression that the pro-migrant stance might upset a certain leader of the free world as well… All that aside, there are definite issues with the production, but it is an imaginative and worthy follow-up to a classic and immensely enjoyable, so it’s a shame that it’s had such short shrift from an audience who it seems are just getting bored of constant reboots and recycled ideas.
Doctor Sleep (Director: Mike Flanagan)
Years following the events of "The Shining," a now-adult Dan Torrance must protect a young girl with similar powers from a cult known as The True Knot, who prey on children with powers to remain immortal.
How do you follow one of the most successful and critically-acclaimed horror films of all time? Well, if you’re the author of the novel the film was based on (and didn’t like the film much), you wrote a direct sequel and called it “Doctor Sleep”. And if you’re a current maestro of media horror, then you make a film that is based on both of those sources. So that’s what Mike Flanagan did here, with this Halloween release. As explained in publicity interviews and suchlike, the director wanted to reference Kubrick’s take on “The Shining” as well as both of Stephen King’s novels. To that end, it basically follows the same beats as the novel it’s based on, but visually and audibly echoes Kubrick’s stylings. So, Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) grows to adulthood and is (literally) haunted by demons of the past. But he must put that aside to rescue a young teenager who also has “The Shining” ability and is in danger from a group called “The True Knot”, and their enigmatic leader “Rose the Hat” (Rebecca Ferguson).
Like “Terminator: Dark Fate”, “Doc Sleep” is another worthy follow-up that failed at the box-office and has seemingly kyboshed some planned sequels. And again, this is a shame, because this Flanagan movie is bloody great and truly heartfelt. You do have to accept the fact that this is a “dark fantasy” as opposed to the “moody horror” of the original film, but it still crams in uneasy chills and re-captures the mood of Kubrick in an impressive way. You’ll get shivers up your spine when you hear THAT dirge on the soundtrack, see THAT pattern on the carpet, and notice THAT number on the room. There are also some stunningly realised set-pieces. Rose engages in an astral body flight that is visually haunting. And there’s an extremely dark “murder” sequence that disturbs on a gut-level. Fun-Fact: apparently the young actor was so good in that scene that he genuinely freaked out the adult cast and left them with PTSD.
As much as the atmosphere and visuals are good, it’s the central performances that really sell this experience. McGregor is hugely effective and believable in a surprisingly understated turn as adult Danny. The always reliable Ferguson is brilliant as Rose, a charmingly roguish character until you realise the extent of her selfishness and evil. Also very striking is Kyliegh Curran as Abra Stone, who *slight spoiler alert* would have been the focus of a possible sequel, as the confident and honest teenager with “Shining” powers. Full marks should also be awarded to Flanagan for getting lookalike actors to portray “familiar” characters, rather than go down the CGI-uncanny-valley route. A compelling dark treat that deserved better at the cinema, but it’s possible that it may be worth waiting for Flanagan’s extended cut on home media to get the full effect.
Joker (Director: Todd Phillips) In Gotham City, mentally troubled comedian Arthur Fleck is disregarded and mistreated by society. He then embarks on a downward spiral of revolution and bloody crime. This path brings him face-to-face with his alter-ego: the Joker.
Ok, ok – it's not a pure horror movie, we get that. But it's definitely horror adjacent and if the film wasn't so darn good we wouldn't have considered cheekily slotting it into this list. Truth be told, yours truly isn't the biggest comic book/superhero fan out there so when this project was announced, we were quite apathetic. However the trailers looked intriguingly dark and Joaquim Phoenix just looked so bloody haunted in those promo photos that our interest was piqued. Suffice to say, we're bloody glad we went to see it because it's everything the trailer promised and more. It's not an easy watch by any means but the psyhcological nature of it makes it resonate that bit more after the final credits have rolled. It also doesn't really feel like a comic book movie either – it's more a character study of one man's descent into madness and chaos.
From a visual perspective, it's a thing of grim beauty and Todd Phillips creates a world that feels like some sort of dystopian New York City. The main reason that Joker is such a success however is it's lead. Joaquin Phoenix has delivered some accomplished performances in his life. He's played cowardly despot (Gladiator), lonely bachelor (Her) traumatised hitman (You Were Never Really Here) and country music God (Walk the Line) but this is without a doubt, the best thing he has ever done. Ledger received rave reviews (and rightly so) for his version of the Joker but he played him as more of a calculated nihilist. Phoenix's Joker is a different beast. He's more real. Extremely vulnerable, mentally disturbed and completely chaotic. And his physical transformation is startling too. It all ends in wonderfully madcap and brutal fashion too.
Midsommar (Director: Ari Aster)
A couple travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown's fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult.
If you pair a storyline that sounds something like a Wicker Man sequel to the mind of someone capable of creating a nightmare like Hereditary, you know the result is going to be intriguing if nothing else – and that's precisely what Midsommar is. Viewers expecting the dark foreboding dread that Aster conjured up in his debut feature will find something quite different on offer here. Midsommar is a stark, bright, dreamy, lingering affair that is more psychological drama than anything else. The creeping sense of unease and dread is dialled down a little here but it is punctuated with some moments of graphic violence (Aster loves smooshing people's heads) and a few moments of macabre imagery that stay with you long after the credits. The running time means that the film sags a little in the middle but hey, we're willing to overlook a superfluous ten minutes of padding because, well, it still looks so bloody impressive. It's one of those films that stays with you afterwards too and the process of turning over events and certain scenes in your head in the hours and days afterwards only makes it all the more rewarding.
It may not match up to Hereditary in terms of pure horror, but but the portrayal of breakdown and loss is superbly visualised and Florence Pugh is sensational in the lead role. Yes it's too long and at times, feels a bit too familiar but it's another intriguing,and unsettling feature that firmly establishes Aster as one of the biggest creative talents in horror right now.
One Cut of the Dead (Director: Shin'ichirô Ueda)
Things go badly for a hack director and film crew shooting a low budget zombie movie in an abandoned WWII Japanese facility, when they are attacked by real zombies.
When you think of J-Horror, your mind tends to land on girls crawling out of TV sets and vengeance seeking spirits. However, one film has kind of turned that on it's head. Although One Cut of the Dead actually had it's premiere in Tokyo back in 2017 – western viewers have not been able to see this gem until this year. Turns out, it's worth the wait. Made on a shoe-string budget, the film starts out as one thing but ends up being something completely different.
The first forty minutes or so make for a bloody, brutal, weird and brilliant horror short. The tone then shifts to a touching, insightful and satirical look at indie film-making and family dynamics. It's an odd combination,sure – but there's no denying that it all results in something quite special. It's quite hard to create something that feels fresh and original – especially in the zombie sub genre, but they've managed to do just that. An American remake is in the works but it's got an uphill battle to recreate the sheer energy and verve that this gem has in spades. If there was an award for feel-good horror film of the year, it would be this!
Annabelle Comes Home (Director: Gary Dauberman)
While babysitting the daughter of Ed and Lorraine Warren, a teenager and her friend unknowingly awaken an evil spirit trapped in a doll.
Ever since that sinister doll first graced (if you can use that word) the big screen in The Conjuring, you just had a feeling that she was creepy enough to be the focal point of her own franchise. The first movie was nothing to shout about but David F. Sandberg's follow up, 'Annabelle Creation' was a whole lot better. The third film in the series – 'Annabelle Comes Home' turned out to be a retro blast too.
Although it's very much a Conjureverse movie, it's probably the least heavy and retro of the lot. It's like Goosebumps for grown-ups. That's not to say there aren't scares or any sense of tension – director Gary Dauberman gives us more than a few frights along the way. He also knows how to eek out a decent amount of tension in between and the way he utilises familiar tropes like sweeping fog and dimly lit hallways adds a sense of fun nostalgia too. It's also nicely contained with most of the action taking place inside the Warren House. It feels a bit like on of those haunted house attractions that invariably pop up when we approach the end of October. Set ups and payoffs are all the rage here, whilst the ominous Jo Bisharra scores that we're so used to in these movies are toned down a little. Whilst it's obviously not suitable for kids, there's a kind of innocence and corniness to Annabelle Comes Home that gives it an undeniable charm. The biggest reason why the film works however is down to the three central characters. You wouldn't be alone in making certain assumptions about the personalities and trajectories of one or two of them but Dauberman subverts expectations somewhat and gives us a trio of likeable and more importantly - three dimensional – characters to root for.
It continues the positive trajectory of the franchise and adds another layer to the mythos whilst setting up some potentially cool new spin-offs in the process. All in all, it's a really fun frightfest that proves there's still life in the old doll yet.
Kingdom (Director: Kim Seong-hun)
While strange rumors about their ill king grip a kingdom, the crown prince becomes their only hope against a mysterious plague overtaking the land.
By all accounts, we should be bored crapless by “Walking Dead” shows and films by now. But if the right talent and story is used, it can still thrill and scare as much as any other sub-genre of horror. This “Medieval Dead” opus from South Korea proved that in spades. The story is based on the webcomic series “The Kingdom of the Gods” and sort-of follows some historical accuracy, being set just after the Japanese invasion of Korea (1592-1598) during the Joseon period. The subtitled 6-episode series is directed by award-winning filmmaker Kim Seong-hun and is only the second original Korean show to be directly funded by Netflix, although it reportedly went “seriously over budget”. Doesn’t matter, because you can see where the money and talent went. In a corrupt feudal system and with the country on the edge of rebellion, it’s rumoured that the King has died. This gives hope to the Crown Prince Chang (Ji-Hoon Ju), the bastard son of the King’s concubine, but he realises that he will be assassinated once the manipulative Queen gives birth to a son. As he leaves the safety of the palace, he realises that a huge evil is about to engulf the Korean Kingdom, as the dead return to furious life and start spreading an undead plague to rich and poor alike.
With its brutal political machinations, which are the unwitting source of the zombie plague, this series resembles a Korean “Game of Thrones”, only with more White Walkers instead of bewbs and dragons. However, that’s not downplaying its strength or showing a weakness. The mixture of sword-play, full-on zombie rampages, Martial Arts malarkey, and medieval machinations makes for a hugely absorbing experience that should only be avoided by genre fans with an aversion to subtitles. There’s a lovely character arc to the Crown Prince as he goes from pampered chancer to genuine hero-of-the-people, as he sees the carnage spreading across the country. The support characters (and occasional red-shirts) also provide plenty of colour and interplay, especially with the noble and feisty physician Seo-Bi (Bae Doo-na).
The zombies themselves are a credible scary threat who “hibernate” at certain times, leading to races against time and gruesome scenes of hundreds of the dudes entwined in small spaces. They’re snappy “Train to Busan”-type un-deadites and just unique enough so that their presence, lore, and historical setting holds the attention and stops it from becoming a TWD wannabe. During the 6 episodes, there are some genuinely nail-chewing sequences of tension and some great action scenes, with one taking place in a wheat field as the massed undead converges on our sword-wielding heroes. It all ends on an appropriate cliff-hanger and a surprising revelation regarding the plague itself. It’s well-worth catching-up with and binging on before the second season hits Netflix during 2020.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Series Created by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa)
As her 16th birthday nears, Sabrina must choose between the witch world of her family and the human world of her friends. Based on the Archie comic.
The first season (or was it Part I of Season One? We’re still not sure…) was a lovingly crafted update on the Archie’s comic character, written for fans of the “Riverdale” generation and the dark Lovecraftian comic-book. So, expectations for Season Two (or was it part 2 of Season One? Whatever…) were high, especially after Sabrina went white-haired and witchy, and signed the book of the damned. After the hugely positive reaction to the previous season, this 9-chapter run took the Teenage Witch to the next stage in her development. Still perfectly played by Kiernan Shipka, Sabrina has now signed away her soul to the Dark Lord and must attend the Witch Academy on a full-time basis. This has put a genuine strain on her relationship with mortal Harvey Kinckle (Ross Lynch), and she finds herself drawn to warlock Nick Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood). More importantly, Sabrina is becoming more aware of the dark machinations of Satan in trying to get her to bring about the end-times, and the roles that others have played in her parent’s deaths. It all comes to a head with a literal Dance with the Devil…
To be perfectly blunt, the first couple of chapters felt a little twee and seemed like they were treading water, but then we get the episodes “Lupercalia” and the brilliant “Doctor Cerberus's House of Horror”. From then, it all clicks back into place again and becomes a real joy to binge-watch the remaining chapters move to a genuinely satisfying climax. Revelations are made, unlikely alliances are formed, new relationships are stoked, and the interplay between the characters is as sparky and as witty (and as ridiculously pun-driven) as ever. It becomes apparent that the collected writers and creators are true fans of classic horror as the new chapters channel things like; Amicus horror anthologies, “Trilogy of Terror”, “The Descent”, “Frankenstein” and loads of other references. There’s even a homage to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” with THAT pod-person scream.
It still works admirably, mostly due to the very fine balance between whimsy and gore (mouse gives squeaky evidence in court… and is then graphically fed through a mincer!). It also worked with the lovely scenery-chewing of the established cast like Miranda Otto, Lucy Davis, Michelle Gomez, and Richard Coyle. Not to mention some fun cameos from the like of genre faves; Veronica Cartwright, Ray Wise, William B. Davis, and Alexis Denisof. It’s all great fun and leads to some series-changing events, some nice character developments, and a teasing final line that provides the direction for the next season. Witchy-cool.
A Christmas Carol (Series Directed by Nick Murphy)
A television adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic Christmas tale of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge.
A very recent and last-minute addition to this listing, this BBC miniseries was a truly inspired update with much to admire about it. As such it’s already had sniffy opinion pieces and complaints written about it by media critics and people that like to moan about things generally. Predictable snipes about “wokeness” and “unnecessary swearing” are the top complaints, but they all seem to be missing the point about the word “adaptation” and what good updates should do with the great source material. And comparing it to (the admittedly brilliant-by-accident) “A Muppet Christmas Carol” is hardly a sensible move on anybody’s part. So, showing over three consecutive nights on BBC UK over the seasonal period. It screened on FX in the United States on 19 December 2019 and on BBC One in the United Kingdom on 22 December 2019. It was written by Steven Knight (“Peaky Blinders”, etc.) with Tom Hardy and Ridley Scott among the executive producers.
Unsurprisingly it concentrates on the Christmas Eve where one miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (a wonderful interpretation by Guy Pearce) is visited by the ghostly apparition of his dead business partner, and then 3 ghosts of Christmas. The result being that he will either change for the better or be damned for eternity.
Despite the sniffy reception from some quarters, this was a very fine reworking of the classic story, that took some chances with the content and tone of the original story, and it was all the better for it. Rather than make another close literal adaptation of the tale, it took a more mature route. This allowed for some (historically accurate BTW) imaginative use of F-bombing, uncomfortable revelations from Scrooge’s childhood (which goes some way to explain his behaviour and cold heart), and a reprehensible “experiment” played on Mrs Cratchit which almost puts Scrooge’s soul beyond redemption. But the intelligent way this was scripted and played, negated any bad-taste-for-the-sake-of-it flavour that may have been hard to swallow, and instead it seems natural to the story itself. Even Scrooge himself (*slight spoiler*) doesn’t beg for forgiveness at the end, because he genuinely believes that he’s not worthy of it after being enlightened. He just wants to do good with his remaining time, which seems a more responsible message these days.
It’s quite visually pleasing for a BBC production as well (although FX helped a bit), with the sample shots of wintery London and all period buildings being spot-on. Best of all though is the strong cast. Pearce is a great young-than-usual Scrooge, fiercely intellectual as well as being a miserable scum-bag. His transformation and reluctance to do so is wonderfully embodied by the actor. Andy Serkis makes a fine Ghost of Christmas Past, and Jason Flemying (replacing a sadly ailing Rutger Hauer) makes for an unusually physical Ghost of Christmas Future that is miles away from the clichéd Grim Reaper get-up. If there’s any criticism to be had, it’s that the extra scenes of Marley (Stephen Graham) descending to purgatory seem somewhat unnecessary and take away the mystery. But when you compare that gripe with the visually heart-breaking demise of Tiny Tim (floating beneath an icy pond that has materialised on Scrooge’s ceiling), it sweeps all that away. Ignore the UK/US Scrooged critics; this is a finely realised and worthy reworking of a classic ghost story.
Stranger Things Series 3 (Series Creators: The Duffer Brothers)
When the town's threatened by enemies old and new, Eleven and her friends are reminded that evil never ends; it evolves.
Ah, “Stranger Things”. How much do we love you? When the Duffer Bros (Matt and Ross) dropped this beguiling mixture of nostalgia and retro-horror on Netflix in 2016, could anybody have anticipated its impact?
Whilst Season 2 of “Stranger” felt almost like an expansion or DLC to the first story arc, Season 3 dials things up a notch in several respects, especially when it comes to character development and embracing more brash 80s tropes. It feels like a genuine next chapter for the tale of Eleven and the Hawkins’ residents, and takes time to revel in their lovable idiosyncrasies. Perhaps the best thing that the Duffer Bros have achieved in this story arc is the way in which they have woven several elaborate plot-strands together, and used it as a catalyst to explore each and every member of the cast.
Whilst the 8 episodes ladle on some action-movie elements and comedic ripostes, there’s still some surprisingly gory and gooey moments in there. Not to mention a monster-on-the-loose vibe that is great fun to watch.
The narrative also does the right thing with the much-loved cast, by embracing their growing-pains into the plot as oppose to just throwing horror cliché’s at them constantly and ignoring character development. This is helped by the addition of newbie Robin (Maya Hawke) and promoted-to-the-gang Erica (Priah Ferguson), two characters which could have gone badly wrong, but immediately fit right in.
Sure, it all gets a bit surreal and over the top at the end but If you’re cool with that and just want to hang with the Hawkins’ kids again, for some retro horror vibes and some fun (and maybe a few tears), then this is another bullseye.
American Horror Story: 1984 (Series Creator: Ryan Murphy)
In the summer of 1984, five friends escape Los Angeles to work as counselors at Camp Redwood. As they adjust to their new jobs, they quickly learn that the only thing scarier than campfire tales is the past coming to haunt you.
American Horror Story is a series that tends to divide horror audiences somewhat. It certainly has a following of loyal followers but amongst some quarters it's scoffed at – and even reviled by some. To be fair it has been a bit hit and miss. The first series is still the best but there have been a couple of others that have been rather enjoyable too (We're thinking of Asylum and Hotel in particular). However the fact that a horror series has lasted nearly a decade is something to shout about. And the latest series of the show, 1984, proves that it's still got something to offer...
In a way it seems a little odd that it's taken them this long to deal with the whole slasher thing. After all, it's a hugely popular (and important) part of the genre. Maybe it seemed a bit too backwards thinking and retrograde. Well, if Stranger Things taught us anything it's that people can't get enough of 80's nostalgia and a lot of the fun and energy of 1984 comes from the homage to the decade it is set in. The opening credits are a thing of beauty. The cast also gets a bit of a refresh here too (the same acting roster has been a long held criticism of the show and why it feels stale at times) with Matthew Morrison, Zach Villa and John Carroll Lynch joining the regulars (Roberts, Fern and Billie Lourde).
1984 isn't scary to tell you the truth and in terms of tension it doesn't come close to some of the films it's paying respect to. But that's kind of missing the point. Because the show is really just trying to entertain you in that sly, winking, self-aware way that we've come to expect. Out of all of the AHS series, this feels like the most relaxed and fun. In terms of blood and gore, it doesn't hold back either. Heads are chopped off, people are disembowelled, drowned, baked alive, fed into a wood chipper. There's little to no sense to some of it at times and the finale doesn't really land as well as you'd hope but when it's this enjoyable, who cares?
Marianne (Director: Samuel Bodin)
Emma, a famous and successful French horror writer, is forced to return to her hometown after the woman who haunted her dreams fifteen years ago begins to re-appear.
There have been a couple of European series on Netflix that have garnered a lot of praise over the last year or so. The German sci-fi drama 'Dark' is one that's received universal acclaim and Danish post-apocalyptic thriller 'The Rain' has also fared well with general audiences. Another one, although maybe well less known (and certainly darker in tone) is French horror series 'Marianne'.
If you can imagine a combination of Stephen King (he loves writing about horror authors!) and one of the Conjureverse movies, then you will end up with something resembling Marianne. Firstly, it's a great looking series. It's beautifully shot but there's a real darkness and gloom at the heart of everything. A real sense of oppression. The coastal setting allows for some fantastically eerie vistas of crashing waves and lighthouses and although abandoned schools are always going to be a bit scary, here they are pure nightmare fuel. We also seem to take the standard of acting of these types of shows for granted a little too but Marianne genuinely boasts some really impressive central performances and manages to give us a collection of characters that feel real. Marianne is sold to audiences as a horror (and rightfully so) but like all good horror, the drama is what makes it tick. That's not to say the characters are all likeable mind you. Even the lead is not the most sympathetic character.
The main reason in all works though is down to the horror elements however. Of course, it's all a bit subjective and what scares one person may have no affect on another but this series is not the kind of thing you want to be watching on your own with the lights out. Unless you want a sleepless night – or some unsettling dreams. Influenced by classics like Evil Dead, The Exorcist, and The Omen, director Samuel Bodin has a great sense of what's scary and builds an atmosphere that chokes your senses into submission.