Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Lights Out (2016)

Genre: Supernatural
Director: David F. Sandberg
Availability: In Theaters

One of the greatest failings of any story is laziness.

In horror movies we rely on the fact that a big part of fear comes from what we don't know - The Big Unknown - it looms over us and the shadow that it casts is wide and dark. The journey that we go on to unearth the How and Why is just as important as the jump scares and the creepy imagery. Granted, this is a horror movie and not a murder mystery, I get that, but there's still an art to gradually unveiling relevant information instead of, oh say, discovering a box full of photos, recordings (that happens to play at the perfect spot when you press play) and confidential case files in literally the first place that you look. It's lazy storytelling and it's unforgivable.

And it wasn't the only instance of such a sin in Lights Out. What was the "experimental treatment" and are we going to talk about the fact that she can "get inside your mind"? No. We're just supposed to take these things at face value and continue to scream at the obscene amount of jump scares?

These glaring issues aside, Lights Out was a more competent horror movie than many. Its concept was unique, the jump scares were effective, and the ending was bold. It will most certainly be touted as one of the best of 2016 by critics, no doubt. I had fun watching it but I fear that it will prove itself to be a forgettable movie. It lacked a memorable journey and its atmosphere was generic. Even the title - Lights Out - I keep wanting to call it Don't Turn Out The Lights, or Lights Off, or That movie about the light switch.

3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Best New Horror on Netflix

To date I've watched roughly 1,040 horror movies. I often struggle with finding a new horror movie to watch that I'm excited about or that even looks halfway decent. I imagine I'm not the only one with this struggle, whether it's because you've seen all of the horror movies ever, or because you think every horror movie that pops up on Netflix looks stupid and you've been burned too many times to keep taking chances. In any case, I've put together a small list of new horror on Netflix (or horror that's new to Netflix) that I think is worth a watch.

Top 10

The Girl in the Photographs (2016)

A fun slasher with a mix of mystery and "art". It'll keep you guessing until all your guesses start to get brutally murdered and then you're left with a killer of an ending.

Hush (2016)

The premise is simple. Killer shows up to girl's remotely located house and plays cat and mouse with her. But there's nothing simple about the execution, which is truly inspired. If you want an intense, straightforward horror movie, look no further.

Kristy (2015)

Another excellent cat and mouse horror movie. There are multiple, very brutal killers and one, terrified girl that they've set their sights on. She has to start getting inventive if she wants to live because no one who will try to help her will live to tell the tale. The ending has a nice little twist as well.

Final Girl (2015)

One of the greatest pleasures of horror movies for me is the moment when the Final Girl stops being the victim and starts kicking some ass. In the case of the movie Final Girl, our FG is never the victim, instead she is raised to kick the asses of the Killers who create the Final Girl. It's a refreshing take on the genre with some awesome fight scenes in the third act.

Curse of Chucky (2013)

Forget the campy Chucky movies we all grew up with - they've got their time and place sure, but it's not when you're craving something scary. Curse of Chucky however is putting some weight behind the franchise with its new polished, scary, and yes, serious take on the infamous killer doll. Surprisingly good.

The Hallow (2015)

The Hallow, not to be confused with The Hollow, which were both released in 2015 and have similar looking covers. One is very good, the other is very not. The Hallow is what happens when you move to a foreign country and don't listen to the locals about staying out of the cursed woods. The creatures are terrifying and the action is intense. You may never go into nature again (it belongs to them).

#Horror (2015)

#Horror isn't for everyone. It's kind of like being in a casino targeted at teenage girls. But I loved how weird it was - I'd never seen anything like it. And teenage girls are terrifying, even when they aren't trying to kill people. It's a pretty surreal watch so strap in for a WTF kind of night.

We Are Still Here (2015)

We Are Still Here is kind of an throwback to the late '70s slow burns paired with an early '80s paranormal creature feature. Everything about this movie feels like it belongs in another time, which makes for a strange and unique movie experience.

They Look Like People (2015)

A creepy slow burn that is surprisingly funny when it's not busy screwing with your mind. I love it when low budget indies score terrific actors and a great script. I take a chance on a lot of crap that I regret, but when it pays off with a gem it really reinvigorates my love of small horror flicks. You are a mountain...

The Invitation (2015)

Perhaps qualified more as a psychological thriller than a horror movie, but I'm still going to throw this one in here because it's really damn good and it ends pretty bloody. Another film that subtly builds the dread, making for an uneasy watch that will keep you wondering what the hell is really going on. The final scene is a brilliant addition to an already solid piece. Good stuff.


No, I didn't forget The Babadook. The Babadook can bite me.

There's a ton more great horror on Netflix worth checking out. Just because you've never heard of it before or the cover looks silly doesn't mean it won't be great. Sometimes you have to take a chance in order to find those hidden gems, so don't be afraid to dig for them!

Frightful watching!


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Neon Demon (2016)

Genre: Psychological
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Availability: Still in Theaters

"Beauty isn't everything. It's the only thing."

And while director Nicolas Winding Refn worked on establishing deeper meanings in the subtext to his gorgeously surreal frames, that sentence could probably be applied to The Neon Demon as well. The movie doesn't work as a statement on Hollywood or Beauty or Female Expectation or Jealousy or Envy or Power or Innocence or Corruption - all themes which are explored and dissected. Instead it works as a powerhouse of beauty. Every scene is a surreal, extraordinary photograph that whispers to you, seducing your senses. The horror movie aspect comes in rivulets. A little here - some blood licking, a cougar in the room, a sexual predator / A little there - a scene with a dead body that will make you OMG. Until the finale of course, that just rides the horror wave to crazy town, while looking posh in heels all the way.

Now that I've told you what it is (and isn't), let me tell you that I absolutely loved it. I'm not above a pointless yet pretty movie that shocks me with its brazen gross out factors. It dazzled me, like a pretty face, I couldn't help but stare and smile and think to myself, I want that. And who knows, maybe that was the point all along.

4 out of 5 stars

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

Genre: Ghosts; Supernatural
Director: James Wan
Availability: Still in Theaters

When I saw The Conjuring in theaters back in 2013 it scared the shit out of me. I sat there with my knees tucked up to my chin, leaning into the side of my best friend, and screaming so loudly at the jump scares that I started to become embarrassed. Three years and multiple viewings later it still scares me silly. But as much as I love The Conjuring I don't want to watch it again under the guise of another name, such as, oh I don't know, The Conjuring 2.

And when I say it's the same movie I exaggerate. It is of course an entirely different movie. They both just happen to share: an old dingy house, young jovial kids, a stressed out but loving mom, spooky things that start to happen to one kid while she's sleeping in bed, then everyone's a target and they all start sleeping in the living room together, then someone gets possessed, the Warrens come along and offer them kindness and neighborly normalcy while sympathizing and being helpful, a kid hides in the wall, they find a creepy spinning toy that plays music, there's pale gangly ghosties with terrible skin and dark eyes, there's the mystery of discovering what actually happened, there's the misleading answer, the evil things follow the Warrens back home, the kids go stay in a different place while the house gets cleaned, everyone is saved by love. If my life shared that many qualities with someone else's life they'd put us on Unsolved Mysteries and we'd be famous.

I guess my expectations were too high in that I wanted like, some new ideas in a new movie.

Griping aside, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are as delightful as ever as the loving, supernaturally inclined husband and wife team. And there's some really great, creepy imagery throughout that has stayed with me. It's not a bad movie, it's actually a good movie, and for many fans it will be just as good as or even better than the first (so say some critics). But I remain disappointed and will pout about it for a little while longer.

2 out of 5 stars

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Witch (2016)

Genre: Witches
Director: Robert Eggers
Availability: Still in theaters

In the past, horror movies seemed marked by the decade they were made. When having a conversation about genre and appeal, many can state that they're drawn to a certain period of time which is reflective of the style of movie they tend to like. The gore and camp of the '80s. The psychological and Gothic horror of the '60s. The science fiction horror of the '50s. The teen screams of the '90s. The story-driven slow burners of the '70s. And it's this latter one that The Witch so harkens back to. Dripping with atmosphere, tension and dread, The Witch is a movie out of time, belonging stylistically in the past and thematically in the present, it is not only a complex piece of cinema for today's horror genre, but an important one.

The Witch never tries to be something its not. Instead its understated in almost every way. A sexuality runs through the veins of it without being salacious. There's a sense of impending doom in almost every scene, every wide angled shot that lords over the family, hovering with menace but never shouting in your face for a cheap jump scare. There is some blood and violence but it feels as necessary and natural as the violence of nature itself. And then there's the hysteria, which is the true terror of The Witch.

In a time where the whisper of witchcraft was enough to hang innocent young women, a family is struggling with loss, isolation, and starvation, and the only thing holding the threads of their humanity together is their fervent beliefs. Their damnation is real because they believe it to be, and so do you, and you fear for them. They pray with power, with urgency, with conviction. And any misstep in their day, in their manner, in their speech, is enough to offend God and shake their entire foundation of existence. And so after tragedy befalls them again, and again, there is a whisper of witchcraft in the form of a child's malicious musings, and it's enough to damn them all.

Stylistically The Witch is brilliant. Wide shots of the forest and of the family in prayer build the importance of both elements, while narrow shots of suffering and suspicion add to the claustrophobia that surrounds them as they are trapped by their own inability to survive. The music here is full of strings and vocal crescendos that was so prevalent in the Italian giallo horror of the '70s. This method of music has a way of filling a scene so completely with dread that it's a relief when the inevitable terrible thing that follows finally happens.

There is a strong theme of female empowerment that seems to supersede its witchcraft origin, and that is of a young girl slowly owning her womanhood and realizing there's a power and freedom that she may seize if only she has the will to. The father, who starts out tall and strong with a ruling fist and a voice like velvety gravel, slowly loses both his authority over his children and the love of his wife. The women here rule. With their grief, with their manipulation, with their disobedience, and finally with the sheer magnitude of their will. Breaking every shackle imposed upon them. Even with the small twin siblings, the boy twin seems as dull as background furniture as the girl twin sends chills up our spines with her taunts and her creepy nursery rhymes. It is only Caleb, the eldest boy, who is strong and good even though he is damned by his nature.

The entire cast here is outstanding. Performances that are so good you feel like you're catching a glimpse of the past, as it happened. The set, as simple as it is, is soaked in despair with mud and failing crops and the dark, looming wood that surrounds them. It is a movie that makes you wonder why genre movies aren't ever (or extremely rarely) nominated for the prestigious awards. It is that good.

Oh God my Lord I now begin. Oh help me and I'll leave my sin.
For I repent and thou shall be. Thru evil I will turn to thee.
Whom ever shall destroy my faith. For I repent and thou shall be.
Oh God my Lord I now begin. Oh help me and I'll leave my sin.
For I repent and thou shall be.
Thru evil I will turn to thee.

bah bah bah

5 out of 5 stars

Cabin Fever (2016)

Genre: Virus
Director: Travis Zariwny
Availability: VOD

Remakes. For good or evil they are as popular as ever. Sometimes we luck out and get a great re-imagining, like Evil Dead or Fright Night. Other times we end up with absolute garbage, like The Omen, or The Fog. And then there's the remakes that just seem completely pointless, they aren't good, they aren't bad, they aren't a new vision, and especially in Cabin Fever's case, they aren't a new voice. They just exist because. Because, Cabin Fever 4: Outbreak, fell through and so a remake was the next best thing.

But they couldn't even be bothered to write a new script, so they used Eli Roth's original script. Seriously. They used the same script. Well, a trimmed down 92 page version of the 134 page original script. Which makes sense because the one thing that made the remake different from the original is that it was lacking any sense of humor. Gone is the bizarre scene at the local store with the weird kid doing karate moves. Roth's original was not only gory and terrifying but it had an odd sense of humor to its characters, "the local color" as you will. There was also a tenderness to the romance angle, a very real sense of fear and doom with the virus angle, and a heart-wrenching feel to the abandonment and killing of friends scenes. The remake is just as gory with some solid young actors filling the spots but the spirit of the original is not there. It feels soulless. A resurrected, walking dead version of a classic, iconic movie.

And what's with The Shining nod at the beginning? (The Shining theme song plays briefly as the camera follows the car from above winding around the side of the mountain.) Maybe if the whole movie was peppered with classic movie fodder it would have made a kind of sense but just the one scene? Ugh, stop it. You're not some meta movie, you're a shameless unoriginal remake that is doing nothing for the genre aside from filling a slot on the metaphorical shelf.

Give me another cheesy Cabin Fever sequel any day of the week. I mean, did you see Patient Zero? That fight scene on the beach at the end... good stuff.

2 out of 5 stars

Hidden (2015)

Genre: Apocalyptic
Director: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer (The Duffer Brothers)
Availability: VOD

The horror movie title "Hidden" is one of those unfortunate choices that may lead to serious confusion when trying to hunt down the right horror movie. Because there's also a 2005 Hidden; a 2009 Hidden; a 20011 Hidden; and now a 2015 Hidden. (Much like there's about 6 horror movies called House.) Any alternative title would've worked here and it always makes me wonder when this happens if the people who made this movie are aware that the horror genre is inundated with their generic title choice already. Do these people watch horror movies or do they just not care? Luckily the title is the worst part of the movie because The Duffer Brothers' Hidden was absolutely terrific.

The majority of the movie takes place in a dark, underground fallout shelter. Its claustrophobic atmosphere and poor visibility adds to the tension that builds around the small family worrying about starvation, dehydration, and being discovered by "the breathers". For much of the movie we're unsure what happened that led this family to take refuge in the shelter, and why after all this time they still feel like they can't leave it. They're terrified of the things that roam the surface hunting them and they struggle to stay quiet, stay calm, and live day to day. Eventually though, as all things in horror movies tend to do, things go south. It's then that we learn about what happened on the surface, who the breathers are, and then... holy shit.  The last ten minutes of the movie I just did not see coming. As a seasoned horror movie aficionado it's hard to pull the wool over eyes that have seen over 1,000 horror movies, so I applaud any movie that takes an unexpected path.

Actress Emily Alyn Lind, who plays the daughter, reminded me so much of a young Dakota Fanning. There's a maturity and intelligence to her girlishness, as well as this beautifully open vulnerability and fear. She was a joy to watch. And Alexander Skarsgård was as tall and as mesmerizing as always.

Let's petition that this movie's title be changed to The Breathers and then all will be well in the world of horror.

4 out of 5 stars

Friday, February 19, 2016

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

Genre: Period Piece, Zombies, Based on a Book
Director: Burr Steers
Availability: In Theaters

This review will surprise no one but me. After all, even though I work in a bookstore and have a sign under Pride and Prejudice and Zombies that reads, "Soon to be a major motion picture! Read it before you see it!" alas, I did not read it before I saw it. I honestly have very little interest in reading a butchering of an author whom I adore. I don't need zombies in my Jane Austin books. Zombies in my Jane Austin movies, however, well that appeals to me greatly. Period piece settings, bad ass women, awesome dresses, zombies, lots of fighting, explosions - what could go wrong?

Well, I suppose if I'd read the book I would have known but, how was I to anticipate that the zombies would. fucking. talk.?

Talking zombies are the worst.

So, you take a classic love story and throw in zombies? I'm down with that. But, you take a classic love story and throw in talking zombies, a class war, and hypersexualized beloved characters? I'm less down with that. I mean, Elizabeth Bennet's heaving breasts were practically a character themselves. (She really did heave quite a lot.) Not to mention the casting of Darcy being off, Elizabeth being absolutely gorgeous yet still being referred to as somewhat plain, the zombie special effects looking obviously CGI, and the fact that they fought each other more than they fought the zombies. There was a little too much P&P and a little too little Z. Frankly, I think the story they wanted to tell here would've worked better with vampires. No one is surprised that vampires can talk. And Darcy already thought he was Blade with that black trench coat that he never took off, not even at his wedding.

What a douche.

While not terribly realistic, I certainly enjoyed the imagery of the movie, it's very sleek with a beautiful cast, sexy outfits, and lots of elegant fighting scenes. It's too bad the plot was so sloppy and the talking zombies - well, they just ruin everything.

2 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Nina Forever (2016)

Genre:  Supernatural, Arthouse
Director: Ben Blaine, Chris Blaine
Availability: VOD

Open your mind really, really big. Your new boyfriend, who you're pretty psyched about, has a dead girlfriend who is resurrected in any bed or place where the two of you have sex. She's super broken and bloody and throws insults and insightful jabs at you, is totally, awkwardly, in your lovemaking bubble, and then disappears just as abruptly as she arrived. But it's okay, really, you'll cope. And somehow your new, fragile relationship will withstand this super fucked up situation because even though you two just met you're already in love.

Wait. That sounded snarky. And maybe it is a little bit but, honestly, Nina Forever is quite good. It's just a hard to relate to kind of good. Not that horror movies are easy to relate to but this one is especially difficult. I think it tries to mask itself as a horror comedy in an effort to somewhat ease the absolute insanity of the plot, but its heart isn't in it and so it can't eliminate the melancholy despair that every person in this film is experiencing, including Nina herself.

"I don't want this."
"Neither do I."

Nina Forever was a horror festival darling and I'd been reading rave reviews about it for over a year before it was publicly available. My expectations were high, my excitement, squeely, and I'm not saying that I was disappointed but it certainly wasn't what I was expecting. It's a rather sexy movie, in the way horror movies can be, covered in blood, visceral, and base. And it's not funny per se, though it tries not to take itself too seriously, how successful it is with that it's hard to say. I suppose if you wanted to take a closer look at the subtext of the movie one could say that Nina is a symbolic figure representing the presence of The Ex that is always looming and intimidating in new relationships. Sometimes The Ex gets in your head and you wonder, did he do this with her? Did she sit here? How am I special? How was she? This invisible force of The Ex can drive a wedge between a new couple. And in Nina's case, quite literally.

Aside from the performances, which were terrific, I'd say the strongest quality this movie has going for it is its imagery. Certain scenes are artistically crafted in such a way that it feels like a photo shoot. Stage - shoot - print. And those scenes are perfection. They will be what carries this movie through time, affectionately revisiting them in my mind like the work of a favorite artist.

Nina... forever.

4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Martyrs (2016)

Genre: Torture, Remake
Director: Kevin Goetz, Michael Goetz
Availability: VOD

In 2009 I read a review for some French horror movie called Martyrs that everyone was freaking out about. The reviewer said, "The only bad thing about Martyrs is that you can only watch it for the first time, once." A few days later, without ever having seen a trailer, I watched it with my best friend. We were quite literally on the edge of our seats. We had to pause the movie twice so that we could catch our breath. My friend started pacing as she watched. We had never seen anything like it. Was it torture porn? Was it some kind of existential art house horror? Was it supernatural? What the hell were we watching? After the movie was over we made plans to show it to our partners. They had the same reaction. It's brutal, sure. It's hard to watch, yes. It's scary, absolutely. But it's also smart. It's layered. The second act is different from the first, the third different from the second. It changes and evolves and endures and becomes something more than itself. Simply, it's a brilliant movie.

So of course America wanted to remake it. And I'm cool with that. There are many remakes that have become some of my favorite horror movies - Dawn of the Dead; The Blob; Evil Dead; Fright Night; Maniac; Texas Chainsaw Massacre (don't judge, Jessica Biel is divine). In the right hands a remake can turn into something wonderful. An homage to the original and yet uniquely its own. But in the wrong hands...

Kevin Goetz: Here’s the thing—The original Martyrs is so brutal, and such an experience on its own; we were not hired to make that experience. I think they took a look at Scenic Route, our first film with Josh Duhamel, and said, “These guys know how to tell a story. We’re gonna take Martyrs’s story that we really like from the original, and we’re gonna give it to these guys to tell a story that is, frankly, watchable compared to the one that’s been banned in several countries, and most people have to walk out of and blah blah blah.” I mean, even I have a hard time watching it.

Huh. That explains SO MUCH. They were hired, and frankly wanted to, make a watered-down version of the original. Something "watchable". Well, I hate to break it to you Goetz but this softcore, whiny drivel of a horror movie is hardly watchable. You destroyed complex, strong characters and made them timid and predictable. You took a unique and layered plot that kept the audience guessing and made it simple, installing common horror movie tropes where there were none before. You minimalized a complicated female friendship, making it seem tenuous. Those hard to watch moments in the original movie weren't there just to make its audience squirm. They had value. How are you to understand and believe what makes this woman a martyr without those significant moments? It's like in a romcom when the two characters meet and after 20 minutes of witty dialog and wackiness, they're in love. A few electrocutions later and hey we've got ourselves a martyr ladies and gentlemen. Hallelujah!

Was I prepared to enjoy the Martyrs remake? Absolutely. But the attitude that went into making this "re-imagining", and the apparent disinterest in creating anything of value just pisses me off. I wasn't expecting the remake to be the same kind of monster as the original, I mean, the French have horror movie skills that are pretty hard to match. But I was hoping that the remake would still challenge its audience in some fantastic, surprising way that didn't involve making it easier to watch. I think the thousands of other horror movies out there have that certain quality covered.

Martyrs 2016 - banned in Dollface's house - oh noooes! Critics say it's unwatchable! "My cat just couldn't handle it's utter predictability. He was like, Meow, and totally left the room."

2 out of 5 stars

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Freddy's Nightmares: No More Mr. Nice Guy (1988)

I was just lamenting the other day that I miss renting my horror on VHS because of all the great trailers that played before the feature film. I used to have a pen and paper handy to write down new titles to check out when I returned the movie to the video store.

Lucky for us Portlanders we still have a few video stores around that offer VHS rentals of the rare movie that hasn't yet been converted to another format - like Freddy's Nightmares: No More Mr. Nice Guy.

Being that I was such a big Freddy fan when I was a kid it's a little surprising that I never watched or even really knew of the Freddy hosted television show about the good people of Springwood and their untimely deaths. But my husband had watched a few episodes on cable when he was a kid so he was eager to revisit the first episode, which also happens to be the origin story of Freddy. Though I suspected it would be pretty terrible I was totally game. I mean, I like terrible. Terrible can be fun.  Freddy's Nightmares: No More Mr. Nice Guy, turns out, not fun, just terrible.

School play kind of terrible. Public Access kind of terrible. The kind of terrible that becomes fascinating when you start to realize that HUNDREDS of people were involved in making and distributing the terribleness and yet it still, somehow, against all odds, made it to television. And. AND! It was directed by Tobe Hooper! I mean, I know that Tobe also directed Eaten Alive and Funhouse (actually a personal favorite though not good) I still have high expectations of him because, well, Texas Chainsaw Massacre was just THAT GOOD. (We won't talk about Poltergeist. You wouldn't like me if we talked about Poltergeist.)

The only positive thing that has come from this experience, aside from the pure visual pleasure of watching anything from 1988 (that hair! those outfits!) is that I can now say that I've seen the first episode of Freddy's Nightmares. Now the only thing left to do is to make some friends who would actually be impressed or even know what the hell I'm talking about.

2 out of 5 Stars

Friday, January 8, 2016

Best Horror Movies of 2015

Unlike last year where the indie horror movie reigned, this year was all about great mainstream horror.  Quite a few of these made it to theaters, starred well-known actors, or at the very least had some strong online buzz. Which in the horror movie business, is pretty much like getting a spot in Entertainment Weekly. We take what we can get.

Part of my research when doing a best of the year post is digging into what others thought were standouts. Most years it's pretty unsurprising and many of their picks inevitably make it onto my list as well. But this year was a little perplexing. The majority of the picks that made it onto lists of other reviewers were movies that I wouldn't even consider horror.

I'm no stranger to seriously considering what makes a movie a horror movie versus a psychological thriller or a black comedy with horror themes. I keep an extensive, updated list of the horror movies I see and there are many times wherein the movie was marketed as horror (The Tall Man) but in fact was not and thus does not make it to my watched list.  The appearance of a vampire does not a horror movie make. Is Sesame Street horror because of The Count? Are Vampire in Brooklyn or Once Bitten horror movies? So what qualifies What We Do in the Shadows as horror? Why is Bone Tomahawk (a movie that I loved, by the way) considered horror when in fact it's only the last half hour of the movie that has anything resembling violence or gore. If we simply qualify a movie as horror because of violence or gore then we'd be calling Fight Club a horror movie. Or every film by Quentin Tarantino. A horror movie isn't HORROR because it has murder or blood or a funny vampire. Horror movies are an exploitation of nightmares. They are wicked intrusions into your mind and soul.  Even when they're a comedy they never lose their horror foundation of gore and scares and desperate scenarios.

Deciding what differentiates psychological thrillers from horror is extremely tricky. Both are meant to scare you but in different ways - thrillers use more realistic situations while horror uses more traditional horror elements such as the supernatural, killers with masks, creatures, extreme violence etc. The main difference between the two genres is plot. Psychological thrillers tend to use twists and misdirection in realistic scenarios to keep the viewer guessing until the big reveal. Horror is more straightforward with a sense of urgency and foreboding.  Of course some movies blur these lines completely, making it very difficult to know the difference and then, really, it's just a personal call.

The movies that made it to many Best of the Year lists that were incorrectly (in my opinion) qualified as horror were:
The Visit - more a psychological thriller
What We Do In The Shadows - just a straight up comedy with vampires
Maggie - a drama with horror themes
Krampus - a slightly more mature version of Goosebumps
Bone Tomahawk - again, not a horror movie - perhaps a drama western with a bloody cherry on top
Crimson Peak - (but there's ghosts!) a Gothic romance with a murderous fairytale heart. "It's not a ghost story, it's a story with ghosts in it." - Edith, Crimson Peak

I suppose I find the distinctions important because when considering what you're going to tout as a genre standout, the first thing you should do, aside from watching it, is to make sure it belongs in the genre.

Other horror movies that made it to the majority of Best of Lists this year were:
Creep - I found it boring and very meh
Spring - Liked it very much but was a little too slow to make it a best for me
We Are Still Here - Pretty good but a little disappointing based on the intensity of the trailer
Deathgasm - Kind of hated it
When Animals Dream - I liked it but it was too slow to make a lasting impact
Pod - Kind of hated it
Goodnight Mommy - There's one scene in the beginning that is a shameless, unexplained moment of misdirection that made an ultimately great movie lose my vote.

Aside from my #1 pick, which was EVERYONE'S #1 pick, my list looks very different any of the other lists out there. So if Krampus scared the hell out of you or Bone Tomahawk was too gory - then you might not want to watch any of these actual horror movies. Because I may like bad horror movies, but at least they're horror movies.

#15.)  Bound to Vengeance

Genre: Revenge
Director: José Manuel Cravioto
Availability: Netflix Streaming

Brutal and surprisingly inventive for your typical rape revenge movie, with an ending that was like a gut punch. It's always something special when an actor can take a repulsive character and make him likable somehow, and that's exactly what Richard Tyson did. I was never rooting for him, but I enjoyed every moment of his screen time.

#14.)  Burying the Ex

Genre: Zombie; Comedy
Director: Joe Dante
Availability: Netflix Streaming

While he's been doing more TV than film these last ten years, Joe Dante (director of Gremlins and The Burbs) proves that he's still got his thumb on the pulse of horror comedy with Burying the Ex. It's gross, it's funny, it's fun and it's twisted. With solid stars like Anton Yelchin (Star Trek and Fright Night remakes), Ashley Greene (Twilight - whatever haters), and Alexandra Daddario (a ton of TV and Texas Chainsaw 3D), Dante creates something of an unusual movie that has a genuine RomCom feel with a solid horror heart. And with all of the classic horror references, and the main stars being horror geeks, well, it was a delightful perfection for that kind of mood.

#13.)  From the Dark

Genre: Vampire
Director: Conor McMahon
Country: Ireland
Availability: Netflix Streaming

Now this, this is a vampire movie. Holy hell, I think I held my breath for the entire film. Cloaked in darkness with moments of blinding light, there is always a trick of shadow, a slight movement just out of the corner of your eye, a gentle rustle of fabric or creaking of floor boards. You never let your guard down but it's no matter, it will be too late, he is always upon you, you are trapped and he can not die. Creepy as hell.

#12.)  Clown

Genre: Creature Feature; Demons
Director: Jon Watts
Availability: Not Available

If you hate clowns, can't stand body horror, and don't want to watch children die, then this movie is not for you. It is seriously screwed up and oh, so good. Since renting this last winter they have taken it off of On Demand and it's currently only on DVD for Regions 2 and 3. Lame. A directorial note of interest: Jon Watts is currently set to direct the new Spider-Man reboot, so, that's a fun resume.

#11.)  Gravy

Genre: Comedy; Slasher; Cannibals
Director: James Roday
Availability: On Demand

We watched this on Halloween and man, what a delight! It's cleverly written, superbly cast (with a quirky guest appearance of Sarah Silverman), and bloody as hell. And once the climactic third act starts to play, it gets to be a knockdown drag out shit show. It was a great year for horror comedies and Gravy is definitely one of the best.

#10.)  A Christmas Horror Story

Genre: Anthology, Christmas
Director: Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan
Availability: On Demand

I'm just as surprised as you are. But after the softcore disappointment of Krampus, I was really craving some hardcore Christmas horror to watch by the ambient light of my Christmas tree, and A Christmas Horror Story delivered. The anthology as a whole is pretty strong, with a random yet highly entertaining guest appearance of William Shatner to add a little Christmas cheer. Not all segments are total winners however, like the one about the high school kids was kind of weak, but it's no matter because the rest of them are pretty fantastic, especially the story of the rabid elves attacking Santa and then Santa and Krampus fighting well... it just doesn't get better than that. A Christmas miracle, indeed.

#9.)  #Horror

Genre: Slasher
Director: Tara Lyn Subkoff
Availability: On Demand

#Horror is one of the strangest and nontraditionally unsettling movies I've ever seen. The straightforward horror aspect of this movie is that it's simply a slasher film. And yet that's the least scary thing about it. The disconcerting elements that are the heart and soul of #Horror is the heavy use of social media. To the point where it's almost a mania. These tweens are positively obsessed with their online lives. Every moment is captured, filtered, twisted, posted, reposted, manipulated, obsessed over, gossiped about, and repeated. These girls are best friends and yet they are so incredibly cruel to each other it's doubtful that any of them would grow up into normal human beings, you know, if most of them weren't murdered by the end of the movie anyways. If you're looking for something a off kilter, this will do ya.

#8.)  Final Girls

Genre: Slasher, Comedy
Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Availability: On Demand

There is no better way to pay homage to the traditional slasher movie than to poke fun at it. You know, lovingly. As any true fan of horror can tell you, sometimes the movies we love, the movies that are the foundation for the genre even, are bad, bad movies. But it's like making fun of your little brother, it's perfectly acceptable until someone else does it. Final Girls is essentially that. In a totally meta way. Chase scenes are in slow motion, sex and drugs are death sentences, flashing your boobs is totally normal, and never say I'll be right back. If there was ever a love letter to the slasher movie, this would be it.

#7.)  Backcountry

Genre: Creature Feature, Nature
Director: Adam MacDonald
Availability: On Demand

Sometimes you don't need a lot of bells and whistles to make for a compelling, and terrifying, movie. Sometimes all you need is the wilderness, a tent, and a bear. And as an avid camper myself, I can tell you it's movies like these that truly scare the shit out of me. Simple, direct, and utterly brutal, Backcountry will make you think twice about that next camping trip.

#6.)  Cooties

Genre: Comedy, Zombies, Infection, Apocalypse
Director: Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion
Availability: On Demand

Historically I haven't been the biggest fan of horror comedy. There are of course exceptions to the rules, but in general I've found most to be too silly to be taken seriously. They lack scares and sufficient gore or shock value. But this past year has been winning me over with some brutal, clever, hilarious, creepy horror comedies. Cooties takes the helm with its no-holds-barred zombie kids and the odd-ball teachers that have to hack and slash their way to freedom. The cast is brimming with great comedic actors and the writers have serious credits under their belts such as multiple Saw movies and Scream Queens. This one is not to miss.

#5.)  The Hive

Genre: Virus, Apocalypse
Director: David Yarovesky
Availability: On Demand

I'm putting this one at #5 but there's a big part of this movie that's #1 in my heart. I seriously loved it. Every aspect of this movie won me over - the music, actors, gore, mystery, story, ending - it's a near perfect horror movie for me. The only reason it's not number one is because, while I fell in love with it, it just didn't scare me (though it's creepy, for sure). And a movie that can scare me goes right to the top of the list. Otherwise, it's a pretty brilliant arthouse horror movie. A treasure.

#4.)  Unfriended

Genre: Supernatural, Ghosts, Bully Revenge
Director: Levan Gabriadze
Availability: On Demand

Here's a movie I had absolutely no interest in. I'm really over Cam movies (aren't we all?) so a movie that takes place entirely through Skype screens (while unique) sounded like unnecessary torture. In fact the only reason I saw this was because the horror movie we were watching at home was so terrible that it drove us to the theater in hopes for a fraction of fun. And wow, Unfriended completely surprised! A new trend in horror right now is bullying revenge. I'm totally serious. So the story seemed fresh and relevant, the method of filming unique, and the tension riveting. The irony of Unfriended is that it probably gained a ton of friends on Facebook.

#3.)  Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Genre: Comedy, Zombies, Virus, Apocalypse
Director: Christopher Landon
Availability: On Demand

This movie won me over in the first opening minutes with a lip sync scene of an Iggy Azalea song. From that moment I was sold. The rest of the film fell into place with spectacular gore, gross out gags, a badass hot chick, horny teenagers, hordes of zombies, Dolly Pardon, undead cats, and a Britney Spears singalong. If none of these things do it for you then, well, you have no soul.

#2.)  Insidious 3

Genre: Supernatural, Demons
Director: Leigh Whannell
Availability: On Demand

Let me qualify this review by stating that I'm not a fan of the Insidious movies. The first one was okay. The second one was pretty terrible. But the idea of a prequel appealed to me and the trailer looked scary as hell so, why not. And holy shit. I must've screamed in the theater a dozen times. I was sitting in a ball clutching my best friend's arm and smiling from ear to ear because I was terrified. Even now, thinking of certain scenes gives me chills. Insidious 3 took everything that was cheesy about the first two movies and got rid of it. Here lies a bare boned, white knuckle horror movie that will make you sleep with the lights on.

#1.)  It Follows

Genre: Supernatural, Creature Feature, Slut Shame
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Availability: On Demand

It Follows is simply magical. It blends a timeless, contemporary, vintage, arthouse, drama, love story, horror movie with an unsubtle subtext of slut shaming, contamination, friendship, and damnation. All while you float in a dreamy, warm, tension-filled dread. And the score is outstanding. Anyone familiar with Goblin and what they did for '70s & '80s Italian horror will appreciate the influence they had on cinema like this. An outstanding accomplishment.  

Here's to more fantastic horror in 2016!

~ Doll