Movie Machine

The Best Horror Movies of 2017

happy death day
Happy Death Day | Universal Pictures
Happy Death Day | Universal Pictures
Don't forget to also check out our running lists of The Best Movies of 2017 and The Best Documentaries of 2017.

I like most horror movies. Hell, I like most movies that are only tangentially horror movies. (I'm looking at you, Resident Evil and Underworld sequels.) But there's a big difference between a goofy 92-minute distraction and a legitimately impressive horror film. I don't think I'll ever revisit Underworld 5 again -- or even discuss it all that much -- but when it comes to the finest genre films, it's never too early to start shining a light on the really good stuff.

With that in mind, here's my idea of the best horror films of 2017... so far. We'll be updating the piece on a regular basis (just like our bigger Best of 2017 list) and highlighting the best of the best. Good news for horror fans: The year is already off to a pretty damn good start with more coming soon (and if you need more horror recommendations, read our new list: The Best Horror Movies of 2018).

cult of chucky
Lionsgate

30. Cult of Chucky

Released: October 3
Cast: Fiona Dourif, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif
Director: Don Mancini (Seed of Chucky)
Why it's great: Everyone's favorite homicidal toy make a surprisingly decent comeback a few years ago with Curse of Chucky, and while this sixth sequel to the 1980s classic Child's Play struggles a bit in the back half, it's still a sadistic enough romp. This time around Chucky is swinging sharp objects around a hospital for the emotionally challenged -- and yes things do get ugly.
Where to watch it: Stream on Netflix; rent on iTunes, Amazon, and YouTube

house on willow street
IFC Midnight

29. House on Willow Street

Released: March 24
Cast: Sharni Vinson, Carlyn Burchell, Steven John Ward
Director: Alastair Orr (Indigenous)
Why it's great: A few moments in this tale of a kidnapping gone horribly -- and I do mean horribly -- awry are truly inspired horror. As usual Sharni Vinson (You're Next) makes for a highly capable horror anti-hero, and it's her performance, plus a handful of clever twists, that keep this crime-thriller-turned-carnage-fest, about a group of ill-fated criminals bickering over what to do with the (plainly and perhaps supernaturally evil) young woman they've abducted, cooking.
Where to watch it: Stream on Netflix; Rent on Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu (watch the trailer)

the void
D Films

28. The Void

Released: April 7
Cast: Aaron Poole, Ellen Wong, Art Hindle
Director: Jeremy Gillespie & Steve Kostanski (Father's Day)
Why it's great: It's like someone threw Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, and John Carpenter into a blender, then splattered the results all over the hallways of a creepy, deserted hospital. Gillespie and Kostanski know their way around satirical genre material (check out Manborg, Father's Day, and The Editor) but this flick earns unexpected points for (mostly) eschewing the humor in favor of suspense, tension, dread, carnage, monsters, tentacles, and more carnage.
Where to watch it: Stream on Netflix; rent on Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu (watch the trailer)

annabelle creation
Warner Bros. Pictures

27. Annabelle: Creation

Released: August 11
Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto
Director: David F. Sandberg (Lights Out)
Why It’s Great: It’s always nice when a sequel -- or in this case a prequel -- turns out to be some kind of an improvement over its franchise predecessor (it also happened last year with Ouija: Origin of Evil), and such is clearly the case with this quiet, creepy tale of a demented dollmaker, a creepy mansion, and a whole bunch of inquisitive little orphans. Let’s just leave it at that.
Where to watch it: Coming to VOD on October 24 (watch the trailer)

a cure for wellness
20th Century Fox

26. A Cure for Wellness

Released: February 17
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Celia Imrie
Director: Gore Verbinski (The Ring)
Why it's great: Detractors of A Cure for Wellness, a pulpy horror-mystery about a water-based therapy center with diabolical intentions, may point to the overly familiar plot (which feels a whole lot like Shutter Island) or the almost mercilessly overlong middle. But there's little denying that there's a lot of grim, juicy, creepy goodness to be found in this tale of an isolated sanitarium, a snotty go-getter, and a disgusting old secret. The remarkable look, offbeat style, eerie tone, and gorgeous cinematography are still powerfully impressive.
Where to watch it: Rent on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

better watch out
Well Go USA

25. Better Watch Out

Released: October 6
Cast: Olivia De Jonge, Virginia Madsen, Patrick Warburton
Director: Chris Peckover (Undocumented)
Why it's great: A kid with a crush and his no-nonsense babysitter do battle with a gang of home invaders -- only there are more than a few dark surprises to be found in this energetic Christmas-themed horror tale with a sense of humor. To say much more would spoil some nice surprises, but suffice to say that a strong cast, a firm grasp of energetic mayhem, and a twisted sense of humor make this one stand out amongst countless other yuletide terror tales.
Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu

sweet virginia
IFC Films

24. Sweet Virginia

Released: November 17
Cast: Christopher Abbott, Jon Bernthal, Imogen Poots, Rosemarie Dewitt
Director: Jamie M. Dagg (River)
Why it's great: This rough and unpredictable thriller centers on a former rodeo star who runs a motel, unknowingly befriends a ruthless murderer, and gets embroiled in all sorts of unpleasant neo-noir nastiness. It starts as a "simple" murder for hire, but when the client's money dries up, the assassin starts to get a little, well, creative. The cast is aces across the board (especially the prickly anti-chemistry between Abbott and Bernthal), the screenplay is laden with tough talk and twists, and the tale is told with an impressively intense "slow burn" approach that should send shivers up your spine like more traditional horror fare.
Where to watch it: Rent on iTunes, Vudu, Amazon

alien covenant
20th Century Fox

23. Alien: Covenant

Released: May 19
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride
Director: Ridley Scott (Alien)
Why it's great: It's a bit more horror-oriented than its predecessor, Prometheus, and that's really all it takes to keep me happy. Yes, the characters do stupid things and, yes, it's basically the same old aliens-chase-humans concept we've all seen a dozen times by now, but Alien: Covenant is also beautifully shot, legitimately compelling, and laden with all sorts of crazy alien attacks. It's highly unlikely that this franchise will ever again approach the awesomeness of Alien and Aliens, but this one does make for a capably entertaining sci-fi-horror mash-up.
Where to watch it: Rent on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

it comes at night
A24

22. It Comes at Night

Released: June 9
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Director: Trey Edward Shults (Krisha)
Why it's great: While this slow-burn horror story is not for all tastes, those who approach the movie's viral ickiness with an open mind will walk away somewhat impressed. While this sobering tale of one family's isolated post-apocalyptic survival is most assuredly a "talky" terror tale, and one that often feels a bit like a stage adaptation, it's also knee-deep in tension, discomfort, and nine different flavors of existential dread. Give it a shot on one night when you're feeling especially upbeat.
Where to watch it: Rent on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

happy hunting movie
Vertical Entertainment

21. Happy Hunting

Released: September 22
Cast: Martin Dingle Wall, Gary Sturm, Ken Lally
Director: Joe Dietsch & Louie Gibson
Why It’s Great: You could throw a virtual rock through Amazon, iTunes, and Netflix and hit a half-dozen indie thrillers that riff on “The Most Dangerous Game" blueprint i.e. human beings hunting other human beings for sport. Many of these are tiresome at best. Happy Hunting is a darkly pleasant exception to the rule. Fast-paced, well-cast, and more than a little clever than many of its ilk, this is one of those little buried genre treasures you hope to stumble across late at night.
Where to watch it: Rent on iTunes, Amazon, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

happy death day
Universal Pictures

20. Happy Death Day

Released: October 13
Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine
Director: Christopher Landon (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse)
Why it's great: Sure, it's basically just Groundhog Day combined with a slasher movie, but the twist makes for a lot of clever fun. The movie focuses on a college girl who is forced to suffer through her final day alive -- over and over -- until she can figure out what the hell is going on. The "temporal loop" concept is always fun -- let's not forget the awesome Edge of Tomorrow -- but Happy Death Day earns bonus points for a very strong lead performance by Jessica Rothe, a brisk pace, and a likable supporting cast.
Where to watch it: In theaters

Saban Films
Saban Films

19. The Girl with All the Gifts

Released: February 24
Cast: Sennia Nanua, Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close, Paddy Considine
Director: Colm McCarthy (Outcast)
Why it's great: If you're fed up with "young adult dystopia," and equally over the zombie movie, The Girl with All the Gifts is good news. The movie combines both genres into one tasty combo plate that's unexpected at every turn. It's about a group of survivors who accompany a young zombie/human hybrid into the wilderness after their facility is invaded. A weird one, but it's also really quite good.
Where to watch it: Stream on Amazon Prime (watch the trailer)

the blackcoat's daughter
A24

18. The Blackcoat's Daughter

Released: March 31
Cast: Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton
Director: Oz Perkins (I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House)
Why it's great: Two young women are left behind at school during break... and all sorts of hell breaks loose. Both figuratively and literally. This cool, stylish thriller goes off in some strange directions (and even offers a seemingly unrelated subplot about a mysterious hitchhiker) but it all pays off in the end, thanks in large part to the three leads and Mr. Perkins' artful approach to what could have been just another occult-based gore-fest.
Where to watch it: Streaming on Amazon Prime (watch the trailer)

Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

17. Life

Released: March 24
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada
Director: Daniel Espinosa (Safe House)
Why it's great: It's always fun to watch people get shot deep into outer space only to come up against a horrific and unstoppable force. Always! This "monster in outer space" movie doesn't win points for originality, but we get a space station filled with six surprisingly interesting characters, one remarkably tenacious new life form, and a whole bunch of bone-crunching biological nastiness. Combine that with a nice pace, a cool score, and a nifty gut-punch of an ending, and you're looking at a flick that is bound to become a cult favorite like its distant cousin, Event Horizon.
Where to watch it: Rent on iTunes, Amazon, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

creep 2
The Orchard

16. Creep 2

Released: October 24
Cast: Mark Duplass, Desiree Akhavan
Director: Patrick Brice (The Overnight)
Why it's great: The first Creep proved to be a quietly compelling and calmly creepy story about a man who unwittingly befriends a real... well, creep. Unfortunately for online documentary filmmaker Sarah (Akhavan), the creep is back, as she'll soon find out, in various odd and unsettling ways. But what happens when the creep's potential victim refuses to be, well, creeped out? Akhavan seems to be a perfect foil for Mark Duplass' quietly unhinged lunatic, and together they cook up an oddly satisfying sequel to a satisfyingly odd predecessor.
Where to watch it: Rent on iTunes

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

15. Split

Released: January 20
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Betty Buckley
Director: M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense)
Why it's great: It takes some real skill to turn a tired "girls trapped in a basement" premise into something novel, or even slightly compelling. Leave it to the suddenly resurgent M. Night Shyamalan to find some new angles on a story that's been told about 50 (awful) times since Hostel and Saw hit the scene. Much of the credit goes to Shyamalan's contorted screenplay and leading lady Anya Taylor-Joy, but James McAvoy's consistently unpredictable take on the "split personality" persona is a keystone performance. Throw in some well-earned scares and a handful of weird twists you won't see coming, and you're looking at Shyamalan's best movie in years.
Where to watch it: Rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, and VOD (watch the trailer)

thelma movie 2017
SF Studios Norway

14. Thelma

Released: November 10
Cast: Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelson
Director: Joachim Trier (Louder Than Bombs)
Why it's great: A sheltered young woman tries to acclimate to life away at school, but slowly comes to realize that she holds a mysterious -- and very dangerous -- power within herself. Poor, unassuming Thelma suffers from seizures, visions, and creepy nightmares, to say nothing of her schoolwork, homesickness, and the stress that comes with a new romantic partner. But this is not your typical "psycho girl" character study, thanks in large part to a striking visual style, a fantastic lead performance, and a gradual delivery of very freaky moments. 
Where to watch it: In theaters.

1922 stephen king netflix
Netflix

13. 1922

Released: October 20
Cast: Thomas Jane, Molly Parker
Director: Zak Hilditch (These Final Hours)
Why it's great: Thomas Jane's stunningly impressive performance anchors a stark, icy, bittersweet adaptation of Stephen King's novella (itself a rendition of Poe's The Telltale Heart). Jane plays a miserable farmer who murders his wife in order to steal her land, but of course this horrible deed kick-starts a domino effect that destroys the man's life in very unexpected ways.
Where to watch it: Stream on Netflix

tragedy girls
Gunpowder & Sky

12. Tragedy Girls

Released: October 20
Cast: Brianna Hildebrand, Alexandria Shipp, Josh Hutcherson
Director: Tyler McIntyre (Patchwork)
Why it's great: A pair of aspiring psychopaths do all they can to promote their own distinct brand of bloody mayhem -- while still trying to deal with the normal anxieties of everyday high school life. If you like Heathers, Mean Girls, and/or The Final Girls, prepare to fall in love with Tragedy Girls.
Where to watch it: In limited theaters

mother!
Paramount Pictures

11. mother!

Released: September 15
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris
Director: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)
Why It’s Great: I’m not sure it's even “great,” but mother! sure is a big fat chunk of Bible-themed, paranoia-laced psychological weirdness about a young woman beset by all sorts of irritants and invaders. This one gets the the bottom spot as a placeholder, simply for the sheer audacity of the movie, and I reserve the right to bump this up later after a second visit with the flick. Yes, it’s that weird.
Where to watch it: In theaters (watch the trailer)

super dark time
the orchard

10. Super Dark Times

Released: September 29
Cast: Owen Campbell, Charlie Tahan, Max Talisman
Director: Kevin Phillips
Why it's great: Astute film fans may sense a little DNA from Mean Creek, Bully, and/or Stand By Me in this excellent indie thriller about three teenaged boys who react (very) poorly to a horrific fatal accident -- but there's also a lot of insight, intelligence, and originality to be found here as well.
Where to watch it: Rent on iTunes, Amazon, and YouTube

hounds of love
Factor 30 Films

9. Hounds of Love

Released: May 12
Cast: Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry
Director: Ben Young
Why it's great: A young woman is abducted by a monstrous husband & wife -- who have clearly killed before -- and does all she can to stay alive (or escape) by generating suspicions between her two captors. Loosely based on actual events, this stark Australian import may sound wildly familiar to those who appreciate crime fiction, but this film manages to hook you early and suck you in like quicksand, thanks in large part to some great actors, but also because of Mr. Young's gradual, persistent escalation of tension.
Where to watch it: Stream on Hulu; rent via Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu (watch the trailer)

The Devil's Candy
IFC Midnight

8. The Devil's Candy

Released: March 17
Cast: Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Kiara Glasco
Director: Sean Byrne (The Loved Ones)
Why it's great: In The Devil's Candy, a pleasant family moves into a Texas farmhouse only to butt heads (repeatedly) with the home's former owner. It doesn't take long for the lean, mean stalker movie to erupt with terror. Is The Devil's Candy a haunted-house story, a psycho-dad story, or an occult horror story? Sort of all three, and the eerie ambiguity makes it so interesting. With tension that percolates for 60 straight minutes, this movie boasts a great Ethan Embry performance, a few well-crafted scares, and some ass-kickin' heavy-metal tunes.
Where to watch it: Stream on Netflix; rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, and VOD (watch the trailer)

a dark song
IFC Midnight

7. A Dark Song

Released: April 28
Cast: Catherine Walker, Steve Oram, Susan Loughnane
Director: Liam Gavin
Why it's great: We've all seen 1,000 horror movies in which a small group of people venture into an isolated domicile only to eventually butt heads with something horrific -- but you probably haven't seen one quite like this. It's about a grieving mother and a weird occultist who hole up in a freaky house (for a year!) and try to... well, convince angels to let her speak with her dead son. This simple and impressively novel concept is explored in ways that will appeal to theologists and genre fans in equal measure. And don't let anyone spoil the ending for you!
Where to watch it: Stream on Netflix; rent via Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu (watch the trailer)

prevenge
Shudder

6. Prevenge

Released: March 24
Cast: Alice Lowe, Kate Dickie, Gemma Whelan
Director: Alice Lowe
Why it's great: Not every slasher flick stars a 7ft dude in a mask. Alice Lowe, star of the sadistic comedy Sightseers, makes her directorial debut with this dark and amusing movie. Prevenge follows a very pregnant and (very) unhinged woman who appears to be on a murder spree. It doesn't take long for the viewer to realize that there's a maternal method to her madness. Prevenge adds a unique shade to the horror-comedy spectrum.
Where to watch it: Stream on Shudder (or via Amazon Prime Video) (watch the trailer)

Focus World
Focus World

5. Raw

Released: March 10
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella
Director: Julia Ducournau
Why it's great: A virginal vegetarian ventures to veterinary school, gets caught up in some truly strange hazing rituals, and quickly comes to reject her meat-shunning ways. Eventually, ground beef and chicken cutlets don't cut it, and there's some… cannibalism to speak of. Call Raw a brazen coming-of-age story, a twisted horror movie, a clever indictment of conformity, or one of the darkest college comedies ever made, but this freaky French import is nothing short of fascinating.
Where to watch it: Stream on Netflix, rent on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

gerald's game
Netflix

4. Gerald’s Game

Released: September 29
Cast: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas
Director: Mike Flanagan (Oculus)
Why It’s Great: I’ve always believed that Gerald’s Game ranked among Stephen King’s most underrated novels, and I also figured the book was more or less “unadaptable.” So imagine my satisfaction when this movie turned out to be one of the year’s best genre films. Carla Gugino delivers some of her best work ever as a woman who has been handcuffed to a bed inside of an isolated cabin -- and you simply won’t believe the horrors this poor widow has to contend with.
Where to watch it: Stream on Netflix (watch the trailer)

the shape of water
Fox Searchlight

3. The Shape of Water

Released: December 1
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon
Director: Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth)
Why it's great: Like most of genre master Guillermo del Toro's films, The Shape of Water is a horror adjacent drama that deals with fears of the unknown, ominous chambers, intricate laboratories, and generally eerie locales, and the horrible things human beings often do in the name of "humanity."  On the surface “monster movie” is about a lonely young woman who strikes up an unlikely relationship with a mysterious sea creature -- much to the chagrin of the devious government agents in charge of its captivity. I opted to include this film in the list because while it's definitely a distant cousin to scare-first horror movies, genre fans will (once again) appreciate the way del Toro treats his cryptozoological wonders.
Where to watch it: In theaters

it chapter 1 2017
Warner Bros. Pictures

2. It: Chapter One

Released: September 8
Cast: Bill Skarsgard, Jaedan Lieberher, Sophia Lillis
Director: Andy Muschietti (Mama)
Why It’s Great: Two brilliant Stephen King adaptations in one year? That’s noteworthy all by itself. But this film is sort of special because it’s based on one of the master’s biggest, toughest, and most popular novels, and it somehow turned out to be one of the creepiest, classiest, and most well-received King movies in years. I guess clowns are just that scary. And kudos to all these kid actors. Not a sour apple in the bunch.
Where to watch it: In theaters (watch the trailer)

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

1. Get Out

Released: February 24
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford
Director: Jordan Peele
Why it's great:Get Out tackles all sorts of uncomfortable social issues, and does so in a playfully freaky, and frequently insightful, fashion. The movie's all about a young black guy who heads off with his white girlfriend to meet her oh-so-progressive family, and realizes that something is very wrong with the racial divide in this sleepy little town. Mr. Peele employs suspense and tension throughout most of the movie -- with some comedy on the side, of course -- and then lowers the hammer with a finale that's demented fun. Like the best horror flicks, Get Out borrows a little from movie history while forging ahead with a unique perspective. This movie will entertain and make you think.
Where to watch it: Rent on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

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Scott Weinberg is a film writer and critic who has written for outlets such as Playboy, FEARnet, and Nerdist. He tweets @scotteweinberg but ignores mean people.