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If you despise slasher films, hate any scene that’ll make you toss your popcorn, and flee spooky previews let alone full-length fright fests, then here’s something really terrifying: Hollywood’s horror industry is coming for you. 

Whether you’ve heard it called a resurgence, a renaissance, or (ugh) scary movies “getting good,” anyone within spitting distance of a box office knows something is up with the horror genre. In the past few years, a storm of scary films with big name stars and high art aspirations has swept over theaters with support from major studios, awards committees, and mainstream audiences. 

From Halloween’s victorious (and lucrative) return to a batch of original nightmares we didn’t know we needed, here’s how 2018 made the elusive, modern-day horror renaissance 100% official.

Looking back on horror history

Let’s set one thing straight right now. Horror did not—I repeat did not—“get good” in 2018. Horror has always been good, but many people are just now getting to the party. (If that’s you, totally cool. Hope you brought chips.) 

In very broad strokes, horror, maybe more than any other genre, has tracked our societal anxieties like a culturally keyed in Freddy Krueger. From George Albert Smith’s 1897 short The X-Ray Fiend, depicting the unsettling abilities of then newly-invented technology, all the way to Jordan Peele’s take on racial tension in 2017’s Get Out, year after year we have seen the horror industry bottle our most prominent fears for cinematic success.

Of course, 2018 audiences think contemporary horror is the best—it’s what they’re living. But more than being topical, 2018’s horror lineup has been special because of the innovative, nuanced approaches we have seen creators take towards universal fears.

2018’s horror lineup in a nutshell

Scary movie creators took a lot of big swings this year, but two major themes stood out: mental health and feminism.

Ari Aster’s Hereditary rightfully tops many outlets’ 2018 horror lists. Starring the incomparable Toni Collette (who is receiving tons of Oscar buzz for her role, by the way), this meditation on trauma captured what it is like for a family to be hijacked by grief. David Bruckner’s The Ritual and Susanne Bier’s Bird Box similarly lament the psychological terror that comes with loss. Notably, The Haunting of Hill House, a series reimagining Shirley Jackson’s novel of the same name, caused a torrent of mental health discussion amongst Netflix streamers—and that’s no surprise considering the conditions in the United States.

On the feminist front, films like CAM and Suspiria went to extremes to reflect on female sexuality and loss of agency, boring in on some central themes of the #MeToo movement. Both films did well with audiences, but no one took back the night quite like Jamie Lee Curtis with her return to the Halloween franchise.

Smashing box office records with a lifetime gross of over $253 million, 2018’s Halloween had old and new fans flocking to see the genre’s most infamous final girl take on Michael Myers one last time. And while the nostalgia was indeed phenomenal fun, the film’s feminist undertones and modern takes on femaleness played no small part in allowing it to take a bite out of audiences.

Hitting on a smattering of less impactful but still ridiculously fun tropes, we had A Quiet Place, Overlord, The Predator, Mandy, The Nun, and Slender Man. Collectively, those six films—a mixture of speciality indies and mainstream releases that make up just a small slice of the overall horror pie—earned a little under a billion dollars at the box office and explored dozens of new, thrilling ways to terrify us.

2019 and beyond

All of that is to say, the horror industry is doing unmistakably well right now. That should be exciting for even the biggest of scaredy cats. 

Horror allows audiences and creators to talk openly about some of the most uncomfortable, shameful, and disquieting parts of the human experience. As more horror enthusiasts emerge from the woodworks and join that conversation, the overall quality of the scary stories we obsess over will likely continue to improve, providing a needed outlet for the culture of tense conflict we currently inhabit.

Looking towards 2019 and 2020, we can already anticipate some major opportunities for success—including sequels to A Quiet Place and It, another installment in the Conjuring franchise, Jordan Peele’s Us, plus remakes of Pet Sematary and Child’s Play

But while we wait for those new things that go bump in the night, I highly encourage horror fans to look into the haunted archives and find scary stories of the past. If nothing else, it’s a way of learning to grapple with our fears—and God knows we have plenty of those—as we head deeper into the unknown cavern of nightmares yet to come.

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