‘It’ Has Been A Banner Year For R-Rated Horror Movies

Despite only having been released four days ago, It is already the fifth highest-grossing R-rated horror movie of all-time. Andres Muschietti’s big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s classic creepy clown novel, which took in an incredible $123.4 million over the weekend, immediately topped Paranormal Activity, Interview with the Vampire, and Scream, among literally thousands of other titles, and should best The Conjuring ($137.4 million), The Blair Witch Project ($140.5 million), Get Out ($175.4 million), and maybe even The Exorcist ($232.9 million) before the end of its box office run.

It‘s success is the result of a confluence of events — post-Stranger Things ’80s nostalgia; a hunger for a mid-budget, crowd-pleasing horror movie; a clever marketing campaign; King’s endorsement — that came together perfectly, and it’s also a really good movie. But it’s not even the best R-rated horror film of 2017.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a knock on It. It is everything supposedly wrong with Hollywood — an unoriginal idea, reliance on nostalgia, an obvious setup to a sequel (or Chapter Two) — done mostly right. The set pieces are well staged, the child actors are unanimously not annoying (that is the greatest compliment you can pay a child actor), and Bill Skarsgård’s performance is memorably extravagant without drifting into camp. It‘s not particularly scary, but the terror is clever, and director Muschietti and cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung (who worked on 2016’s gorgeous The Handmaiden) have a keen eye for showing familiar frights in new ways. The opening scene with Pennywise the Clown in the sewer, in particular, is one for the ages.

For all those reasons, and for the Anthrax-set “rock fight” scene, It is the fourth R-rated horror movie released in 2017 that horror fans will still be talking about in 2027. The others: Get Out, It Comes at Night, and Raw.

The first, Jordan Peele’s confident, electrifying directorial debut after cutting his teeth with Keegan-Michael Key on Key & Peele, only gets better with every viewing. Believe me: I wasn’t a huge fan the first time I saw Get Out; I thought it wasn’t scary enough to be a horror movie, or funny enough to be a comedy. It tried, I initially thought, to be too much of both, and suffered for it. But after my third viewing, and a lot of outside reading on visual clues I didn’t have the context to pick up, I began to appreciate its cagey wit and sunken horror. The rumbling Oscar buzz, especially for the screenplay, is not unwarranted.

It Comes at Night is either intense anti-horror, or a boring movie where nothing happens and nothing is explained, depending on who you ask. I’m in the former camp. Trey Edward Shults’ follow-up to his undervalued directorial debut, Krisha, was mismarketed, and it’s true, nothing happens. But that’s also what makes it so unsettling. Viewers are required to fill in the blanks. Shults even admitted there is no “It” — he just thought the title sounded cool. But he’s remarkably adapt at creating an uneasy atmosphere out of silence. It Comes at Night is the feeling of camping in the woods, and there’s a rustle in the distance. Nine times out of ten, it’s wind, but what about the other time?

Then there’s Julia DuCournau’s Raw. I’m an avid user of Letterboxd, the Film Twitter stomping ground where obsessives rank and rate every movie they’ve seen on a zero- to five-star system. Raw is my only five-star movie of 2017. If you’re looking for an erotic French cannibal movie, where the main character writhes in front of a mirror to “I like to bang the dead” and later sucks the blood out of an admirer during intercourse, then Raw is what you’re looking for. It’s one of those movies where if it clicks, like it did for me, you’ll want to tell everyone see it, but might not, because “cannibalism is actually an extended metaphor for burgeoning sexuality” is a tough recommendation. But here I am recommending it: please see Raw. It’s beautifully gross.

Those are the headliners, but there have been other below-the-line titles worth checking out, too. The Girl with All the Gifts is a unique spin on zombies with a star-making performance from Sennia Nanua. The wicked The Lure, along with The Cabin In the Woods and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, exposes mermaids for the terrifying sins-against-nature they are. Prevenge is “body horror” taken to a darkly funny extreme. And while The Devil’s Candy and Hounds of Love are technically “Unrated,” they’re the hardest of R’s.

Of course, it hasn’t been a perfect year for R-rated horror: Alien: Covenant killed the Alien franchise once and for all (hopefully); A Cure for Wellness was almost so bad, it’s good, but it was mostly bad; and Annabelle: Creation and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter were mediocre entires in long-running series.

But those duds aren’t enough to take away from the accomplishments of It, Get Out, It Comes at Night, and Raw. (And if you want to stretch the definition of horror to include existential and post-modern ghosts, then A Ghost Story and Personal Shopper belong in the top tier, too.) 2017 has been a horrifying year, and while that’s bad in real life, it’s been great in the movie theater.