Ghastly Grinning's Halfway to Halloween List

Here we are the halfway point of 2018, Grinners. It feels like only yesterday that we were ringing in the bells for the New Year, but here we are in June, reflecting on the months that have been and the movies they’ve brought. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate and discuss the fright fare that’s graced our screens so far, so we decided to round up our eclectic team to select their favorite releases.

What you’ll find here is a varied compilation of movies -- from acclaimed, divisive, mainstream, indie, and more. However, each response is delivered with passion and there is something here to suit all manner of preferences when it comes to ghastly cinema. The end of the year is still six months away, but the first half has been strong for our beloved genre. We can’t wait to see what the future has in store.

The Ritual

The Ritual is a film that I had zero knowledge of going in. I just remember that it definitely wasn’t the film Temple that had Simon Barrett’s name attached to it and also featured a group of men in the middle of the woods. But I barely knew the plot, maybe saw a trailer, but was mostly attracted to how gorgeously it was filmed. The sweeping shots of the forest line, the mist between the trees, and how just how lush everything was. The Ritual is the film I wish we had gotten with the recent reboot of Blair Witch. A truly haunting folk horror story that deals in otherworldly evils by the likes we so rarely get to see because they can be so hard to do right. A concept so high and out there that’s grounded in a story of loss and guilt that’s sold superbly by Rafe Spall. But most of all, the film does what so few do with concepts this high: it pays off in spades. - Jacob Trussell

The Ranger

Sometimes you just want a film that gives zero fucks. A punk rock slasher that makes you wonder if you were that bad in high school, while also making you very happy to not be a teenager anymore because they can just be the absolute worst. Lucky for us, the cabin in the woods where our hapless punk-rockers-on-the-run-from-the-law wind up is in the jurisdiction of The Ranger, played with blissful conviction by Jeremy Holm. He spouts one liners like a Smokey the Bear that was “pushed too far”, and serves mountainside judgement. The Ranger is the type of counterbalance that you want in an homage to 80’s slasher films: wherein the killer is likeable enough that you can heartily cheer for him when he kills these extremely mean-spirited teens, while also still reminding you of how utterly despicable he is as our final girl Chelsea (Chloe Levine) makes her last stand. When this film finally drops wide, the horror community is going to embrace it immediately because they’ll recognize it for what it earnestly is: horror fans making films for horror fans. - Jacob Trussell

Ghost Stories

An omnibus ode to Amicus that also happens to be one of the best stage-to-screen adaptations of this century, Ghost Stories should be treated as such: like you’re being told spooky stories around a fire or in a sitting room by lamplight. Each story is distinct, unique, and succinct and works beautifully for lovers of EC Comics and the season of Halloween. While I believe a polarizing ending may be holding up audiences from fully embracing Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dysons love letter to the spooky, I can foresee this having a second life on home video with Scream Factory’s upcoming Blu-ray release, especially around October where the title alone, Ghost Stories, will sell casual viewers. - Jacob Trussell

The Strangers: Prey at Night

Almost 10 years after it initially was announced -- which was just months after the original film -- the sequel to Bryan Bertino´s The Strangers finally came out. And with reports through the years that was going back and forward about the film being in and out of production, I honestly never thought the day would come, but the day DID come and, in my opinion, it was well worth the wait. The Strangers: Prey at Night is a more entertaining film and not the bleak piece of nihilism that its predecessor was. Even though the first film made you feel that it dove deeper into the characters, making you connect and sympathize with them, the advantage that Prey at Night has -- and this might sound weird -- is that it slightly lacks in that department which makes for an easier and more fun film to watch because you don’t care AS much for the characters -- which is just what I needed when I saw it. Don´t get me wrong; we are NOT watching the Griswold´s trying to make their way to Walley World, but a family dealing with some heavy issues which leads them on a road trip to hell. But the more glossy look, the 80s music soundtrack and the aforementioned lack of deeper character development makes this more of a fun and fast paced thrill ride than the anxiety-ridden downer that The Strangers was. Plus it has one of my favorite scenes of year, which takes place in a pool, set to the tune of Bonnie Tyler's “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and it is just perfection! The Strangers is a better film, no doubt, but Prey at Night will definitely be the one of those two films I’ll rewatch more often. Do not sleep on this one, y’all! - Dick Waychester

Downrange

In an age where gun massacres happen randomly and frequently, Downrange is a horror movie about modern times. But it’s also a fun one, albeit in a mean-spirited way. The latest from the always entertaining Ryuhei Kitamura follows a group of stranded teenagers in the middle of nowhere as they try to survive a sniper’s onslaught of bullets. That’s the basic premise, but Kitamura keeps the bare bones story interesting by delivering some truly intense and bloody moments. The characters are also likeable, which makes their plight an unpleasant one to experience. All in all, this is basic thrills delivered with gusto. - Kieran Fisher

Cold Hell

While Revenge has rightfully gained all the plaudits for being the ultimate genre catharsis of the #MeToo era, Cold Hell is a movie that provides a similar satisfaction. Here, we follow a Turkish immigrant living in Germany who finds herself pursued by a racist and misogynistic serial killer. Unfortunately for the killer, though, he doesn’t expect his latest target to be the ass-kicking machine that she is. Like Revenge, it’s an action-packed genre offering that isn’t prepared to let women be victimized without bloody consequences for the perpetrators. Throw in MMA and one of the most exhilarating car chases in recent memory, and what you have is one big “FUCK YEAH” of a movie. - Kieran Fisher

Revenge

Revenge has a simple title and a familiar plot, yet the movie itself is anything but simple or familiar. A rape-revenge movie unlike any we have seen as of late, Revenge is a brutal and often shocking tale about a young woman fighting alone in a desert landscape against her attackers and betrayers. On a visual level, the movie is a stunning work of art to behold - a feast of bold colors and scenery, and expertly executed camera shots. The movie is most successful, however, on a moral level, where director Coralie Fargeat aggressively makes the viewer face the toxic and harmful attitudes that have plagued our society for far too long. Revenge is not just a great movie, it is an important movie that everyone should see, and from it hopefully learn something. - Michele Eggen

Hereditary

As I think about the year in horror so far, it is without hesitation that I rank Ari Aster’s debut film Hereditary at the top of my list. I was fortunate enough to attend a press screening of the film back in January and it immediately found a place at the top of my favorite films of the year, even with the promise of 11 more months of films to come. I knew that no matter what else 2018 would bring, nothing would compare to the feelings of utter dread and complete terror I felt leaving that press screening. As the film’s theatrical release crept closer, I was anxious and excited not only to see the film again myself, but for the rest of the horror community and for everyone I know to see it as well. Hereditary hit theatres last weekend and I’m happy to report, six months after my first viewing, the film is still amongst my favorites of the year. Not only is Hereditary extremely effective horror (for a multitude of reasons), it’s just a damn good film. What’s more, it’s director Ari Aster’s debut feature, which is an astounding feat. Hereditary is beautiful, heart-wrenching, truly horrifying, and it sucks you into its dark, twisted story from the opening moments. It’s not just another horror film, but a deep look into loss, grief, and how those things affect a family trying to cope. GO SEE THIS FILM - while it’s still in theatres, and go in knowing as little of the plot as possible - it’ll be worth it, I promise you. - Megan Casady
 

The Endless  

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead did it again. With such a minimal filmography, it’s so exciting to see these two men create three stunning films. The Endless is the latest addition to their lineup and it is absolutely mind-boggling. Two brothers return to a cult that they were once apart of after receiving a cryptic message through a video tape. What they find out is that things haven’t really changed and something else outworldly is happening there. Trying to come to peace with leaving the cult, they’re quickly trying to be sucked back in. Rest assured that once you see this, you will not be forgetting it for awhile. Psychologically fascinating while Benson and Moorhead create their own little universe between this and Resolution. To say that whatever these two create next will be exciting is an understatement. - Rachael Hauschild

Mohawk

This is Ted Geoghegan’s follow-up to his directorial debut We Are Still Here. It is a story about a love triangle dealing with the vengeful actions of American soldiers during the War of 1812. The triangle of passion involves a Mohawk tribe woman (Kaniehtiio Horn), a tribe man (Justin Rain), and a British soldier (Eamon Farren). Fed up with seeing their people murdered, one of the three lovers decides it would be best to torch the base camp of the Americans. Without knowledge, a few men escaped the conflagration and are now set out for revenge. What is fabulous about this film is the representation. Kaniehtiio Horn is an actual Mohawk and it’s fascinating to see her fiery and fierce personality come ablaze in her role. Geoghegan has created a great revenge flick that is so worth checking out. - Rachael Hauschild

Insidious: The Last Key

It’s almost crazy to think that the original Insidious dropped into the horror spectrum just two years shy of a decade ago. With it, Blumhouse cemented themselves in the genre and James Wan continued down the path towards the inevitable destination of “master.” With it’s fourth  entry, Insidious continued to keep things fresh with its shuffled timeline, giving the audience backstory on the stories ever present thread line Elise Rainier, and bringing us deeper into “The Further” than ever before. Written by Leigh Whannell and directed by The Taking of Deborah Logan’s Adam Robitel, the two are able to craft another terrifying entry in one of the current eras most beloved and interesting franchises. Credit must be given to Whannell for continuing to shove an elderly woman into the role of protagonist and hero and even further applause must be given to Lin Shaye, who is absolutely commanding in her role. Elise has become a stalwart hero in horror, and Shaye will likely go down in history alongside legends such as Price, Cushing and Lee. The Last Key raked in over 150 million dollars, which proves that people aren’t just hungry for most haunted house pictures, but for more Lin Shaye. - Ryan Larson

Sequence Break

Not a lot of things are as exciting as finding a horror movie that you know is destined to become a cult classic, that hidden gem that you’ll be able to show to new viewers down the road. One thing that is, though, is seeing someone you admire who has been a name in the genre for a long time and finding out they directed the darn thing. Sequence Break, starring Chase Williamson and directed by horror favorite Graham Skipper, broke onto the scene this year with a micro budget but a big heart.The movie is daring, pulling bits and pieces from Lynch and Cronenberg, but ultimately able to craft something completely unique. Skipper is able to deftly mash up genres that realistically have no right being pieced together: romance, body horror and bitcore. It’s a stunning debut, exciting at every level, and one that’s not to be missed. - Ryan Larson

Upgrade

From the moment I saw the trailer for Upgrade I knew that I wanted to go on opening night. As a worse-case scenario it looked like a vibrant, exciting action film with fun fight scenes and the kind of cyberpunk aesthetic I like so much. Add in the writing and directing skill of Leigh Whannell and you just know that you're in for an insane ride. Upgrade is so much more than the trailers give away. The world they've built is sci-fi, sure, but it's only a single notch away from where we currently are; there are robotic surgical implants much like what we already are using in 2018, self-propelled and directed cars, fully automated houses (like Alexa on steroids) and junkies hooked to IVs so that they can stay in virtual reality games to avoid the bleak reality of the outside world. Our hero, Grey, has a story that reads very similar to Eric Draven from The Crow or Frank Castle from Punisher; a salt-of-the-earth mechanic and his tech-savvy wife are out running errands when they are ambushed and brutally attacked by unknowns. His wife is killed in front of him while Grey is left a quadriplegic, cops who have no leads on the murderers, and no motive for why this was done to him. Actor Logan Marshall-Green absolutely enthralls as Grey; the scenes of him directly following the attack is one of the most heart wrenching performance I've seen this year, and you truly feel the helpless frustration and self-loathing of him as he realizes that he's trapped in a hell where he is alive but not living. One of his customers, an eccentric technology mogul named Eron, approaches him about an experimental and top-secret procedure involving a new AI chip implant named STEM; the chip would bridge the nerves in his spine and allow him to walk and function again, but he couldn't tell anyone about the operation due to it not being approved for human trial yet. Grey agrees and the surgery is gone; almost immediately he realizes there's much more to STEM than even its creator realized. "Upgrade" is slick and stylish; Whannell is most often found in the writer's room, and though his directorial debut was with Insidious 3, he really shines here in a unique and beautiful way. The fight scene choreography is worthy of films like Gareth Evan's The Raid: Redemption or Joe Lynch's Everly, but the contrast of Marshall-Green's grieving and lost Grey versus the technologically-enhanced and influenced STEM/Grey character proves that Whannell can truly guide an actor through treacherous waters that could go very wrong in a moment's misdirect. Betty Gabriel shines as dedicated homicide detective Cortez, and Benedict Hardie is fantastic as the slimy, relentless villain Fisk. The film's cool score, clever use of futuristic sci-fi body horror, and psychological twists (signature of any Leigh Whannell joint; this man's brain is more full of trapdoors and blind alleys/red herrings than a brilliant labyrinth) keep it from being stale or cliche. Easily one of my favorite films of the year, full of adrenaline; there is nothing 'slow burn' about this film and once the second act takes off, buckle your seat belt and hold on to something because Upgrade isn't going to let up for a second until that credit crawl. - Amanda Rebholz

A Quiet Place

John Krasinski enters the horror game as a powerful new voice in A Quiet Place, which earned its critical acclaim with good reason. The film follows a family attempting to survive completely in silence in a rural post-apocalyptic environment after monsters who hunt based only on sound appear on Earth. A Quiet Place is a compelling horror movie because it deeply explores what bonds and connects a family while remaining tense and frightening. Krasinski, better known as sarcastic Jim Halpert on the U.S. version of The Office, co-wrote, directed, and starred in this family-centered dramatic horror piece, and his wife is played by his real-life spouse and co-parent Emily Blunt, which only serves the film better. We deeply sense their connection, and the film makes you feel for each family member, so you are affected by their love and loss. It’s an emotional exploration of what it means to be a family, especially in an uncertain world. The addition of complexities such as the mother’s pregnancy and the daughter’s deafness feel smart and purposeful, and it doesn’t hurt that the creatures are seriously scary -- a sort of terrifying mix of the monsters in Alien and Tremors. I’d also add that, for a clumsy person such as myself, this premise might be the scariest thing anyone will realistically cook up for me this year. Masked killers? Genetic horror problems? Sure, I hear ya, but continuously putting your own life at risk because of your inability to hold onto inanimate objects? I relate. - Mary Morris