The best 2018 horror movies you haven't seen

You don't need us to tell you that there's too much out there to watch these days. Every week, new releases are sent out to jockey for the attention of movie fans, getting only the briefest window to make an impression on the public before being relegated to the Redbox (or the seventh page of streaming search results.)

Choking in a sea of choice, we gravitate toward whatever advertises itself to us most effectively. We miss movies we would like, and even the ones we know about and intend to watch can go neglected for months, or years, as we struggle to keep up with the next new thing. This can even be true if your focus is on a single genre, as horror enthusiasts have been reminded in the midst of a recent glut of high-quality movies.

Months before Halloween, 2018 had already delivered a number of standout horror movies, many of them flying under the radar of most moviegoers — so we've collected our favorites in this list, making it easier than ever to find some gold in this ever-growing content heap. 

There are a lot of different kinds of horror movies on this list, the umbrella of "horror" being wide enough to cover topics both comedic and dreadful — which is part of what makes the genre so fun. Though these movies are all unique, they do share one thing in common. For one reason or another, all of them were overlooked; for a wide variety of reasons, they're all worth a second glance. 

Annihilation

Beautiful, awesome, restrained, and challenging, Annihilation is the best film of 2018 that — odds are — you haven't seen. 

The movie focuses on the aftermath of a meteor strike that has given rise to an inexplicable phenomenon, the impact enveloping a wide area of wilderness in an ever-expanding shimmer that no human being has yet been able to leave alive. When five female investigators enter the boundary of the shimmer for their attempt at pinning down what's going on, they enter a disorienting pocket world that appears to be slowly remixing itself. Within the confines of the shimmer, they discover biological and geological matter fused into impossible hybrids, and watch as living things combine with one another in gorgeous, disturbing, and ultimately dangerous ways. 

It's a horror premise that creeps up on you, with the implication of the story being nothing less than the meaningless doom of the world. But as much as Annihilation is a story about apocalypse, it's also a deeply personal story about its explorers, all of whom embarked on their mission with detailed motivations that all get quietly, effectively explored. 

The second film from Ex Machina director Alex Garland, Annihilation is a masterfully creepy movie that stays with viewers long after they watch it, which makes it such a shame that — for a number of unfortunate reasons that have nothing to do with the movie's quality — nobody did.

The Strangers: Prey at Night

The Strangers proved a surprise hit when it invaded theaters in 2008, making its production budget back nine times over by the time the final box office returns were tallied. But curiously, despite a sequel sounding like a shoo-in, it took a decade for a follow-up to be realized. Unsurprisingly, enthusiasm for the property had faded in the time between releases, and the sequel landed in theaters with a much more muted splash.

Despite the quieter response to the sequel from audiences and critics, fans of the original Strangers shouldn't ignore this second go-around, which is just as strong a movie — if not better — than the original. 

The Strangers movies are notorious for egregiously stretching the term "based on true events" in their marketing, being inspired by little more than the idea of home invasion. As it turns out, though, that idea is still pretty effective. Moving the action from a couple's home to an empty trailer park, Prey at Night effectively builds on the original's premise of pointless, random violence. It can't be reasoned with, it can't be argued with — it can only be fled.

The sequel gains points over the original for the target family's tendency to fight back, making the game of cat-and-mouse much more of a level playing field than it was in the almost totally nihilistic original. In a lot of ways, the protagonists' tendency to fight back makes this go-around a more rewarding watch.

Terrifier

Sometimes a horror fan wants something intellectual and challenging, and sometimes they just want to watch innocent people get murdered in insane ways by a clown

A spinoff of the 2013 horror anthology All Hallows' Eve, Terrifier puts a feature spotlight on the killer Art the Clown, a sadistic, one-note character who exists only to torment others. Trashy, exploitative, and mean-spirited, Terrifier is the sort of movie that's meant to be discovered on a beat-up VHS tape, with the tracking all warped and the picture all fuzzy — except instead of being pumped out into dollar theaters in the '80s, it was somehow released in 2018. They quite sincerely don't make them like this anymore. 

Terrifier commits to its trashiness from every angle, the rare grindhouse homage that actually fits in with the crowd it's emulating. It's simplistic, low-budget, and sometimes dubiously acted — which is not to say that it's a bad movie, because it isn't. While it's certainly not for everybody, the movie has notched a solid 80 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning slasher fans should feel confident giving this punchy, predatory thrill ride a late-night spin.

The Endless

Indie filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead have spent their careers putting together a respectable catalog of genre-bending films, and their 2018 movie The Endless just might be their best. 

Casting themselves in the lead roles, the writer-directors tell a story of two brothers who as young men fled a suicidal UFO cult, returning later in adulthood to reevaluate the way of life they left behind. They discover that there may indeed be magic at the heart of this hippie collective — but if it's real, what does the magical force protecting the group want in return? 

Made for very little money, The Endless is the kind of indie movie where you only notice the low budget because you're impressed. With artful use of CGI, careful framing, and a wise use of resources, The Endless comes off as a much larger production than it would in less-capable hands. It's also thoroughly engrossing, bringing viewers into a strange and lived-in world that shouldn't feel as realistic as it does. With beautiful cinematography and a gorgeous California location, it's among the prettiest movies on this list, with a sensed-but-not-seen horror at the heart of the story keeping things tense through the whole runtime. 

A pseudo-sequel to the duo's debut film ResolutionThe Endless tells a heady story about time, choice, and free will while never straying too far from a driving sense of dread. Jump scare fans need not apply — this is horror by way of H.P. Lovecraft, with a story that sticks with you.

Hellraiser: Judgment

Hellraiser stopped being a respectable film series something like 20 years and five movies ago, so it's no surprise that there wasn't much fan goodwill around to greet the series' tenth installment. But against all expectations, the filmmakers behind 2018's Hellraiser: Judgment actually went out and made themselves a real movie. 

Anything would look good coming after the completely abysmal Hellraiser: Revelations, which was the first movie in the series to be bad enough that Pinhead actor Doug Bradley didn't want anything to do with it. But while the second movie also features a non-Bradley Pinhead performer, there's a lot going on here that warrants a closer look. 

Written and directed by Gary J. Tunnicliffe, Hellraiser: Judgment was designed to work with or without the Hellraiser brand attached, featuring a strong central premise that doesn't rely on nine movies' worth of franchise history. 

The plot of the movie is simple, examining the dead and damned as their sins are tallied and they head off to eternal torment. But what elevates the simple premise is the care given to the set pieces, which are surreal and sickening. A lot of thought went into designing the freaky machinations of this netherworld between here and Hell, and the result is far, far more compelling than it has any right to be. It's not a great movie, but it is a legitimately good one — and for the Hellraiser franchise at this point, that's a miracle.

Pyewacket

What if you made a nasty wish in a fit of rage only to find you couldn't take it back? What if you had to watch, full of dread, as the consequences from a bad decision you already regret kicked in all around you, feeling powerless to stop it all the while? 

Written and directed by Adam MacDonald, Pyewacket tells the story of a teenage girl who naively wishes death upon her mother, summoning a witch to do the deed in a half-baked woodsy ritual. After her moment of frustration has passed, the girl has to watch as her curse becomes terrifyingly real, and the consequences close in around her like a collapsing cave. 

Pyewacket is a movie from the slow burn school of horror, favoring mood over scary moments and a sense of dread over jump scares. Elevated by strong performances from its mother and daughter leads, the movie sports a concept relatable to anyone who's ever been a teenager — especially a teenager who's made a big mistake or two. 

A metaphor for the chaotic emotions of adolescence, the movie wrenches your heart out as it drives toward its inevitable conclusion. While some horror movies scare you by showing you a monster, Pyewacket gets its scares by reminding you of the depths of monstrosity that exist inside yourself.

Truth or Dare

Horror movies are a very special genre, because they don't need to be good in order to be good. You know what we're saying? 

Truth or Dare (full title Blumhouse's Truth or Dare, lest we neglect to mention the Oscar-nominated producer responsible for this) was a springtime-release horror movie that got ravaged by critics on its arrival at the box office, with professional reviewers happily pointing moviegoers toward A Quiet Place instead. 

It was a reaction which totally made sense — if you want interesting characters, strong performances, and atmosphere to spare, there are plenty of quality horror movies that provide that. But if you want to just get good and drunk and holler at a movie with your friends, Truth or Dare's for you.

Upon its release, Truth or Dare scared up a respectable showing at the box office, but the reviews were in the gutter, with the derivative movie notching only 15 percent on Rotten Tomatoes by the time 104 reviews were in. But all the negative reviews shared one quality — they all took this movie a little bit more seriously than was warranted. 

All the common critiques are true — this movie does rip off It Follows, and it is ineffective as horror. It's bad in the same way most of the Friday the 13th movies are bad. But the Friday the 13th movies are all pretty fun to watch, their flaws included, and the same certainly goes for Truth or Dare.

Unsane

Stephen Soderbergh is stunting. Filmed in quick and dirty fashion with an iPhone's onboard camera, Unsane is the story of a supposedly well-adjusted woman who becomes involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility, discovering on her arrival that her stalker is on staff. 

The movie is much more than just a technical show-off piece for Soderbergh, a expert movie craftsman who doesn't need gimmicks to be interesting. Rather than being done for the sake of doing it, the iPhone conceit actually enhances the movie, with the camera's limitations helping to amplify the sense of being trapped in a small space. 

A loopy, claustrophobia-inducing thriller, Unsane is Soderbergh in Side Effects mode, taking a campy or simplistic concept and elevating it via technical mastery. And it is masterful what Soderbergh does here, acting as his own cinematographer to make a movie that looks as good in theaters as it would on the device that filmed it. Netting south of $8 million in box office returns in its first month of release, it's a movie that many slept on, but it's still a ride worth taking for fans of psychological horror of the "it could happen to you" variety. If you missed out on it in theaters, use the opportunity to take the project full circle by watching it on your iPhone. We're sure the director would appreciate that. 

Wildling

Wildling isn't just an underappreciated horror movie — this unsung character study is one of the best movies of 2018. The story of a young woman raised in captivity who enters the real world as a teenager, it's a feral child story that takes its premise very literally.

Directed by Fritz Böhm and written by Böhm and Florian Eder, Wilding is a supernatural horror movie that brings out its fantastical elements slowly, drawing you into its world of believable characters well before it reveals what it really is. It's a movie that tests your allegiances as a viewer, with your sympathies constantly shifting as the circumstances change. To boil it down to its core concept, it's a movie of adolescent self-discovery with a particularly wild twist. 

The elevator pitch is to say it's about a young woman discovering she's a werewolf, but to reduce it to that premise robs the movie of its many subtleties. The movie covers entirely different territory than its similar-in-subject Ginger Snaps, mining the same metaphorical material with dramatic and affecting results.

Also to recommend it is a very good performance by its lead, Bel Powley, as well as producer Liv Tyler, making an understated turn as an inscrutable police officer. The movie speeds up quite dramatically in its third act, by then fully shifting from a horror movie version of Room into what is basically Predator — but it's an appropriate transformation, given the subject matter, resulting in a movie that would work for lots of different viewers.

Tilt

Described by many as being along the lines of "the first horror movie of the Donald Trump era," Tilt is a movie that feels all too easy to skip. Politics? No thank you — we're trying to watch fake suffering, not the dang news. But Tilt is much more than its hooky selling point, telling a story of a man trying to make sense of the world, failing, and then falling apart. 

Tilt follows a documentary filmmaker as he tries to put together a movie about the United States' "golden age," falling down a rabbit hole as his pregnant wife indulges him. The creative process drives him more than a little crazy. Rather than being for politics nerds, Tilt is a movie for anyone who's ever tried and failed to create something, feeling driven to madness by the process.

The movie has flaws, the worst being that despite a length of 100 minutes, it somehow feels too long. The Trump stuff that made it buzzworthy will date it, but the story of a man who feels like the secret to all life is right on the tip of his tongue will stay relevant long after the current events the movie revels in pass into the realm of kitsch.

Look past its most obvious touches — the Donald Trump masks, convenient graffiti, and pointed archival clips — and you'll find a story that rises above its trappings to be about something much bigger, and much scarier, than a mere political moment.

Lowlife

It's not often that you get to call a movie "unhinged" and really mean it, but Ryan Prows' remarkable directorial debut Lowlife more than fits the bill. A violent, genre-bending almost-farce that straddles the border between horror, high comedy, and human drama, Lowlife is admirable for being both audaciously plotted and technically slick. 

Set in the scummy underbelly of Los Angeles, Lowlife focuses on a number of small-time criminals whose stories all converge around an organ-harvesting plot gone wrong. Tarantino-esque in tone and structure, the movie feels like a nightmare inspired by Pulp Fiction — but unlike a lot of ripoffs of that classic, this one stands on its own. 

The movie is stylish at every turn, with distinctive characters that are larger than life, but nothing comes across as being done just for the sake of being cool. If this movie were all style, it'd be insufferable. Instead, every insane character feels like they have a beating heart, from the shotgun-toting recovering addict, the legendary luchador El Monstruo and even the white boy ex-con with a gigantic swastika on his face. 

The script, presented in nonlinear fashion, is expertly tuned to keep the movie moving. For a screenplay with five credited writers, that's nothing short of a miracle. The end result is intense, hilarious, and gross, with effective moments of pure horror reminding you of the human stakes at the center of the story. Despite feeling like it shouldn't work at all, Lowlife is one of the year's best and most savage thrill rides.

Like Me

Like Me is a love-it-or-hate-it experience — and if you fall into the latter camp, you're gonna hate it bad. Overstylized, abrasive, and obscene, Like Me is as far from subtle as a pistol in your face. It's also very intentional, so if you're picking up what the movie's putting down, you're in for an intense character study unlike any other.

Directed by Robert Mockler in his feature debut, Like Me tells the story of a teenage girl who goes on a livestreamed crime spree, becoming addicted to the attention as she goes further and further off the rails. It sounds like a can't-miss concept for something brutal and dirty, like a found footage sort of film. But it's not that kind of movie at all — instead, it's an ambitiously stylized trip through bizarrely beautiful set pieces, bathed in color and noise. 

The movie follows the girl, Kiya, as she terrorizes people, seduces and kidnaps an older man, and fascinates other commentators on the internet. Some find her fascinating, and others pathetic — but everyone's watching. For Kiya, that's more important than anything else.

According to the 24 reviews counted toward its Rotten Tomatoes score, Like Me was well-liked — but with $12,000 in box office returns from a release in four theaters nationwide, it's certainly under-seen. Even for skeptics, it's worth a look on streaming — if it's not for you, you'll know it fast. But if it does work for you, it's hard to come up with another movie quite like it.

Marrowbone

Marrowbone  is a quiet, self-assured mood piece of a horror movie. It's a story that doesn't rush itself, making it exactly the kind of horror film that one-star Redbox reviews would characterize as boring. It's not a movie that has scares that jump out at you — rather, it hooks you with its characters and their plight, with clear real-world stakes working in tandem with a more mysterious, supernatural threat to generate a pervasive sense of dread. 

Set in the northeastern United States in 1969, Marrowbone introduces a mother and her four children who have fled across the Atlantic to escape the unspecified abuses of the family patriarch. After the mother dies, the children must maintain the illusion of a healthy family in order to avoid being made wards of the state. As they work to gain the title to their house, they also must contend with a supernatural threat that seems to lurk within the walls, threatening to tear their family apart from the inside out. 

The directorial debut of The Orphanage writer Sergio G. Sánchez, Marrowbone is a movie that rewards rewatching, from a filmmaker who is self-assured at every turn. The movie received middling reviews from critics, taking late-game turns in its plotting that viewers may resist. But the twists in the story are elegantly laid out — nothing in the narrative is cheating. It's a remarkably well-designed movie, accomplishing everything it sets out to do with patience and measured reserve.

Mom and Dad

Written and directed by Brian Taylor, one half of the Neveldine/Taylor directing duo that brought the world the Crank movies, Mom and Dad is a look at the most out-of-hand family squabble you've ever seen. It's as though they took a mundane argument between parents and their children, added Nicolas Cage, and… well, made a Crank movie out of it. 

Simple and brutal, Mom and Dad is a cathartic and chaotic horror-comedy, with all the best Nicolas Cage weirdness you could ask for — up to and including an enraged performance of the Hokey Pokey that involves a sledgehammer

Simultaneously premiering in theaters and on VOD in the January dumping ground, Mom and Dad came and left without leaving much of a cultural imprint. But that hardly feels like the fault of the movie, at least not where craft is concerned. 

What probably kept this one from getting too wide of a release is the concept, with parents violently descending on schools to murder their children. It's helicopter parenting with a gatling gun attached, which is obviously not every filmgoer's favorite flavor — but if you're reading this list, you're probably well within the target audience.

Family Blood

Let's start with the cons, because Family Blood has more than a few. For one, it commits the classic B-movie sin of stuffing 45 minutes of plot into 90 minutes of movie, and its premise occasionally stretches the limits of its budget. As for the story — an allegory for addiction explored through the lens of vampirism — that's nothing too trailblazing either. But despite these faults, the movie has much more going on than its generally poor reviews would have you believe. 

Deserving of the highest praise is actor James Ransone, who makes the movie light up with his dark performance anytime he's on the screen. Playing the role of a neighborly vampire who worms his way into the home of a vulnerable single mother, Ransone exudes a collected menace, and wrenches witty moments out of an otherwise pedestrian script. 

Even though it takes forever to get going (and doesn't go anywhere too surprising), Family Blood revs its way up to an increasingly tense second half, in which a family on the edge rapidly unravels — and blood gets everywhere

Overall, Family Blood is a trashy B-movie you want to interact with, shouting down characters' dumb decisions and rooting them on to victory. It's a misfire for Blumhouse, but not a disaster — it's just silly, simple, and sometimes stupid. In grand B-movie tradition, it also makes it a lot of fun, a horror flick to watch exclusively with good friends and some beer.

Downrange

There's something about a movie set in a single location that can make for riveting viewing. In locking down a story to one setting, the audience is allowed to get familiar with the rules of an environment. If the protagonists are trapped, the viewer becomes actively engaged in trying to puzzle a way out with them — if there even is one. 

For a recent example of stark, tense, single-location moviemaking, look no further than the brutal Downrange, a Shudder exclusive from director Ryûhei Kitamura, who also co-wrote the screenplay. 

Kitamura sets the scene within the first few seconds, and spends the next 90 minutes steadily ratcheting up tension — and a body count. 

On a road trip down an isolated backroad on a hot summer day, the tire of an SUV explodes. As the young passengers set about changing the tire, they're attacked by an unseen sniper, who picks off a few victims effortlessly before leaving the rest to huddle behind cover, trying to figure out how to survive.

Like all good horror movies, it's a situation you can imagine yourself in, however outlandish it may seem. But Downrange is more than just a good concept — it's good filmmaking, with quality gore effects giving every bullet a real impact. That it devolves into campy territory by the end is inevitable, keeping the movie entertaining all the way through. It's truly impressive what a little movie magic can wring out of a boring stretch of road.

Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum

Based on the local folklore surrounding a real-life creepy location, Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum is a Korean horror movie that wears its found footage influences proudly on its sleeve. Easily among the scariest movies on this list, the concept here is a classic one. Forget complex mythologies — Gonjiam is about spending the night in a haunted house. 

Gonjiam follows a group of filmmakers on a live horror webcast who try to break a viewership record with an action-packed episode set in a notorious hospital. At first, the program appears to be an exercise in exaggeration and blatant fakery, with the production putting the proverbial thumb on the scales at every turn to keep attracting viewers. But the hospital lives up to its reputation as the signs of a haunting become a lot more convincing over the course of the night. 

Even though they start off faking things, the characters of Gonjiam are charming and likable, serving as perfect surrogates for the audience. Watching their struggle, their fear feeds into your own, as they suffer through suspenseful sequences of unbearable tension. 

Few other horror movies capture the sense of paralyzing dread that comes from knowing something terrible is in the room with you. If you're looking for pure, terrifying, white-knuckle horror, it doesn't get much better than this.

Veronica

As a rule, you should never believe hype that claims a film is the "scariest movie ever" — in Veronica's case, it's not even the scariest movie on this list. But this story of a young teen girl's possession and slow corruption is a well-crafted descent into madness, anchored by one strong character and her otherworldly struggle with evil. 

Some horror movies supply the audience with a disposable cast of characters as fodder for an evil villain, making them loathsome or annoying people you kind of want to see die. Others take the opposite approach, introducing you to characters that you grow to like and root for. Veronica is the latter. 

Veronica introduces the title character as a caretaker for her younger siblings. Mature, capable, and kind, the viewer can't help but feel for her as something sinister begins to wake up around her. She resists the evil, capably defending her siblings from harm like a true heroine — which makes the movie's bleak ending such a gut punch, as you realize that her point of view might not have been so reliable after all.

The completely overblown hype for Veronica naturally led to a bit of a backlash among viewers, tanking the movie's audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. But take the movie on its own terms, and you'll get one of the more well-done, thought-provoking possession narratives to see release in years. 

Revenge

Revenge doesn't start off looking like a horror movie. Oversaturated, brightly lit, and set in a sunny environment that makes you sweat just looking at it, one starts off wondering just how bad things could possibly get. Stylish and sexy with booze and drugs galore, the movie almost gives one a sense of FOMO — until things take a sudden turn toward the really, really bad.

Left for dead in an isolated location, a young woman is forced to hang on to her life as the criminals who disposed of her try to finish her off for good. Over the course of the movie, she goes from a carefree hedonist who only lives for life's pleasures into a vengeful destroyer. The circumstances of her near-death experience are so brutal and unfair that the audience goes fully on her side with quickness; You've never wanted to see the bad guys get what's coming to them as badly as you do here. A vicious, adrenaline-pumping look at savagery and survival, Revenge is not a particularly comfortable watch — but good horror rarely is. 

Given a small release, Revenge hardly made a mark at the box office, which isn't too much of a surprise for a movie that's basically 127 Hours meets I Spit on Your Grave. If you've got the guts to watch it, it's a trip well worth your time.

The Night Eats the World

There aren't many horror subgenres as well-worn and run down as the zombie movie. It's been done and redone so many times, it's hard for creators to come up with any kind of an original take — making it that much more impressive when someone does come up with a decent twist, and executes it well.

The Night Eats the World (known in its native French as La nuit a dévoré le monde) carves out a unique space in the genre by laser-focusing on one survivor of a mysterious zombie plague. Trapped in a building by himself for a period of months, the protagonist is played capably by Anders Danielsen Lie, who spends most of the movie with no one to talk to but himself. The film unfolds like a cross between Cast Away and 28 Days Later, following the hero as he solves problems, deals with boredom, and sort of loses his mind.

Since its international release, reviews for The Night Eats the World have generally been split, with some calling it nothing less than a new classic, and others finding it dull and unstimulating. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, with the movie going on a little bit longer than its premise can support. But it remains a thought-provoking, low-budget entry in the zombie genre, and an impressive show from its lead, who carries the entire movie with almost no help.

The Cured

This Irish twist on the zombie subgenre focuses on the world after the apocalypse, with society having returned to relative normalcy following a years-long stretch of cannibalism-inducing plague.

The Cured opens with Ireland having created a reliable vaccine for the violent disease, with many who have been infected now being reintegrated into society. The problem is, every survivor is able to remember the horrific acts they committed under the influence of the disease with startling clarity, and many are haunted by their involuntary acts of murder and manslaughter. Others who were never infected still harbor distrust for the cured, making for a skeptical and traumatized populace.

It's an interesting backdrop against which to set a horror movie, and with most of the carnage in the rear view by the time the movie begins, The Cured mostly unfolds as a quiet drama. But despite the existence of a cure, there remain a significant number of infected people who are resistant to it, keeping the threat of a zombie attack in the back of each character's mind. 

Starring Ellen Page, Sam Keeley, and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, The Cured is a satisfying and quiet genre movie with strong performances and a surprisingly compelling central concept. The movie keeps what little violence it has for its third act, by which point the characters have become so compelling that the scarce moments of horror have real impact.

Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich

What exactly are you supposed to expect from a movie about Nazi puppets who come to life to deal death and destruction to the world? Well… probably this. At least, this is the best-case scenario. 

The 12th movie in the long-running Puppet Master franchise, The Littlest Reich does audiences the kindness of completely rebooting the series' convoluted story, making it a perfect entry point for newcomers. It's also, after years of barely-watchable sequels, a whole lot of fun, and a high point for the property. For what feels like a first for the series, The Littlest Reich takes the Puppet Master premise about as seriously as it deserves to be taken, offering up a genuinely humorous "humans vs. toys" adventure that knows when to deliver clever thrills and good kills.

Even for those who have never seen a Puppet Master movie, The Littlest Reich has a lot to offer, feeling like an unhinged love letter to the greatest excesses of horror violence. Its kill scenes are mini-masterworks of puppetry and practical effects, with nary a moment of CGI blood splatter. It's gross, anarchic, and mean, altogether accomplishing the feat of pushing a long-running D-tier franchise in exciting new directions. Best of all, it never feels too campy or tonally inappropriate. The result is an outrageous breath of fresh air — how many 12th movies in a series can honestly say they accomplished that?

Down a Dark Hall

Okay — a lot of caveats to this one, because this movie ain't for everybody. But if you're in the target audience — which is to say, proto-gothic 12-year-olds who like witchy young adult novels — then stop your horror movie search right here. We've got just the thing for you.

Based on a vintage YA book by author Lois Duncan, Down a Dark Hall tells the story of a young woman who is sent away to a mysterious boarding school for talented teens, at which she appears to be one of the only students. Under the watchful eye of a creepy Uma Thurman (giving a knowingly theatrical performance), the students begin to uncover a sinister secret about the school that may threaten their very lives.

Upon its release, Down a Dark Hall earned middling reviews from most publications, dinged as overly familiar and less than scary. Both critiques are true — again, this movie is not for everyone — but that doesn't mean that this is a bad movie. Adults looking for serious scares should stay far away, but the movie does a lot right by its target audience. If you're a horror fan parent looking to get your kid into the genre, this one might be worth checking out; approached with an open mind, you might have a decent time with it as well. As easy as Down a Dark Hall looks to dismiss, it's really quite fun. 

Summer of 84

It's hard to watch Summer of 84 without dwelling on its obvious influences. On one hand, there's the '80s movies it refers to most overtly, from E.T. to The Burbs to the original It miniseries. On the other, you have the '80s nostalgia that was crystallized most clearly by Netflix's Stranger Things. The combined elements make Summer of 84 a horror movie hangout pastiche that sports something recognizable in every scene.

The plot centers on a group of kids on bikes with a lot of free time working to solve the mystery of some missing neighborhood children. As their investigation proceeds, they begin to suspect a somewhat awkward neighbor of the crimes, with their suspicions being heavily complicated by the fact that the man is also a local police officer. Is he a killer, or just a creep? Are the kids' imaginations leading them down a wrong path, or into the arms of an active killer?

While no one who's seen a movie in the last 40 years would characterize Summer of 84 as being all that original, it's a modestly diverting good time, with a cast of capable kid performers. The movie's only sin is that it feels like less than the sum of its parts, never synthesizing its influences into something wholly new. But while it could be better, it's also not half bad. Either way, what else are you going to do before Stranger Things 3?

Mandy

Surreal, contemplative, and completely crazy, Mandy is designed to divide. How's this for a blender pitch: Take the tone of personal apocalypse from True Detective season one and cross it with Crank. Add a dash of Metalocalypse, then soak in a cauldron of existential dread. The bizarre nightmare of a vengeance story you're picturing is probably pretty close. 

Mandy stars Nicolas Cage as a laconic logger living with his girlfriend, Mandy, in a mythical-feeling version of 1983 America. The film initially devotes itself to exploring their isolated, woodsy domestic life, with special focus on Mandy, played hauntingly by Andrea Riseborough. 

The resulting first half is a slow and steady exercise in drawing the audience towards Mandy, portraying her as a lovable, fully-realized person. That groundwork pays off violently at the movie's midpoint, when the couple faces a horrifying home invasion. The encounter has devastating costs, setting up a final act of righteous vengeance, insane violence, and apocalyptic horror, all presented in a hypnotic, atmospheric, starkly-lit package.

Mandy is the second film from writer-director Panos Cosmatos, whose previous film, Beyond the Black Rainbow, is a similarly challenging, slow-moving trip. While both movies evoke the heady feeling of smoking a bale of marijuana and thinking about death, only Mandy does so with character and humor — most of which is capably provided by Cage in a self-aware performance. Slow-moving and hyper-stylized, Mandy's definitely not for everyone — but if you can get on its heightened level, it's a uniquely rewarding watch.