Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Best Horror Movies of 2016

For as shitty a year as it was in 2016, both worldly and personally, it was a pretty damn fine year for horror movies. Below are my top ten favorites, as well as a slew of honorable mentions.

10.) The Shallows

Genre: Creature Feature
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Country: USA

The ol' trapped in the water with a shark movie, after all these years, after all the bigger boat jokes, it's still a terrifying concept. Ignoring boring comparisons to Open Water and The Reef, I'm just going to plow ahead and say that The Shallows just might be the best shark movie in years. The CGI is impressive, the performances by both Blake Lively and Steven Seagull are outstanding, and the tension is edge of your seat material. I could have done without some of the body horror but hey, gross outs are gross, and gross is part of the genre so I get it. The ending is a little too Hollywood for my tastes but still manages to be impressively bad-ass so I forgive it.

9.) Lake Nowhere

Genre: Slasher; Supernatural
Director:  Christopher Phelps, Maxim Van Scoy
Country: USA

For the last fifteen or so years there's been a slew of contemporary movie throwbacks to the golden age of VHS and late-night horror. Ti West's 2005 The Roost is the earliest one I can think of, and still one of the best, followed by the near-perfect House of the Devil in 2009. There have been many who have tried their hand at this niche subgenre, some to moderate success, but Lake Nowhere is the first in ages to be original in content and authentic in feel. The likability of the characters, the impressive kill scenes, the artistic camerawork, and the unique ending, quickly put this one in my top ten. And for the impatient movie watcher that I am, the 50 minute running length was the blood-soaked cherry on top.

8.) Satanic 

Genre: Supernatural
Director:  Jeffrey G. Hunt
Country: USA

There is a small part of me that feels silly for putting Satanic in my top ten. But try as I might, it just couldn't be usurped. Maybe it's the work of the devil. A little more sense was made for my love for Satanic when looking it up on IMDB and discovering that it was written by Anthony Jaswinski - the writer of The Shallows and Kristy, two recent favorites! (Kristy was on my honorable mentions list this year but according to IMDB it was a 2015 release.) Satanic won me over right from the start with a group of four characters who are obsessed with real murder cases and supernatural stories. I have a soft spot for the horror movie that is somewhat a love letter to horror itself, so I was an easy mark. But Satanic's real strength is its unpredictability. The movie is just this path of random, weird shit that keeps happening until it ultimately leads us to the final act, and it's there that all bets are off. The script is great and the actors are top notch, all in all the most unexpected movie of the year for me.

7.) Under The Shadow

Genre: Supernatural
Director: Babak Anvari
Country: Iranian

Under the Shadow is a truly impressive movie on so many levels. It's a fantastic character study, a terrifying observation of war, a harrowing glance at a woman's life in Iran in the 1980's, and also a pretty scary horror movie about a Djinn. Themes of oppression, abandonment, desperation and the sometimes negative impacts of archaic beliefs, makes this a complex, gratifying movie experience.

6.) Neon Demon

Genre: Psycological; Slasher
Director:  Nicolas Winding Refn
Country: USA

The Neon Demon, you either love it or you hate it. I think the majority will fall into the latter two camps but for me, it was a beautiful, dream-like movie. It walks this fine line of being artistic and being a caricature of itself, with an obscene amount of self-reflection that either makes it pompous or adds to its surreal brilliance. I think it's all of these strange qualities that won me over as I was completely captivated and ultimately horrified once things started to go off the rails. And while Elle Fanning was the star, Jena Malone gave a chilling, unforgettable performance.

5.) The Monster

Genre: Creature Feature
Director:  Bryan Bertino
Country: USA

The thought that occurred to me while watching The Monster was, "this is like what if The Babadook was actually good".  (oh no she didn't!) Both share the theme of "the creature" representing some kind of fracture in the character's lives, of which they must defeat in order to redeem themselves. The Monster is a little more straightforward than The Babadook's bells and whistles, but it's a more powerful representation of that theme, with a more devastating conclusion. I'm a big fan of Zoe Kazan so it was a thrill to get to see her in such a dark role, and her supporting cast mate, Ella Ballentine, played a difficult part brilliantly.

4.) Green Room

Genre: Slasher
Director:  Jeremy Saulnier
Country: USA

I had known about Green Room for a long time before its release but hadn't ever watched a trailer, so I was pleasantly surprised at how brutal it ended up being, how violent and bleak and utterly unforgiving. It was one hell of a thrill ride and I was glad that such hype turned out to be for such a straight up horror movie. So many theatrical releases these days are for horror movies that end up being supernatural thrillers more than anything. And if not for the Star Trek stars in it, it may have remained relatively unknown to the masses. Patrick Stewart, of course, made waves with such a dark role but honestly his character was completely underwhelming. It was Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots, once again sharing the horror movie stage that was the most fun, (they played sweethearts in the Fright Night remake), and his death shortly after this movie's release was all the more sad because of it.

3.) Blair Witch

Genre: Supernatural
Director:   Adam Wingard

Country: USA

Yes, we're all tired of the shaky cam movies, and we know it's not real found footage, you fooled us once, shame on you. But I'll be damned if occasionally one comes along, seemingly out of the blue, and just blows me away (like 2014's Willow Creek). Such was the case for Blair Witch. Shot and initially promoted under the fake title, The Woods, it was already gaining buzz by its scary teaser trailer. When news hit that the creepy The Woods movie was actually a Blair Witch direct sequel, most people lost their shit. Me? I was disappointed. I may be the only person on the planet who actually didn't like 1999's The Blair Witch. The camera work made me want to vomit and the constant bickering and crying of the characters made me wish the witch would just kill them already. So I had my reservations when trudging to the theater to watch another found footage witch movie. And then, holy shit. I haven't felt so uneasy during a movie since I saw Event Horizon in theater by myself. I was crazy scared with my legs tucked beneath me so nothing could grab me from under the seat. I kept thinking, why am I here? I just want to go home to where it's safe and well lit. You know that saying, "crawl out of my skin"? I have never truly understood that phrase until I watched Blair Witch. Just. Awesome.

2.) The Witch

Genre: Supernatural
Director:  Robert Eggers
Country: USA / UK

Speaking of witches... oh my god The Witch. A tension-drenched, weighty slog through a harsh, unforgiving terrain of superstition, dread, and isolation. I saw it twice in the theater and it was even better the second time. Everything about this film is perfection. It's too bad that the Oscars are so prejudice against horror movies because The Witch would sweep - Best Actor, Best Costumes, Best Musical Score, Best Original Screenplay, Best Evil Goat.

And it would have been my number one movie of the year if not for the recently released...

1.) Train to Busan

Genre: Zombies
Director:  Sang-ho Yeon
Country: South Korean

Zombies! I love zombies. Oh, how I love the zombies. Slow zombies, fast zombies, zom-coms, undead zombies, virus zombies, animal zombies, not in love with the talking zombies (Dead Snow) but I'll take 'em. And since The Walking Dead continues to be such a huge success, zombies remain more popular than ever. Which means we have a gluttony of about a dozen zombie movies a year - with one of them actually being, maybe, somewhat good!? Well, sliding into a late December 2016 VOD release, Train to Busan gets that honor of being the one good zombie movie of the year. Lucky for us, that it just so happens to be an EXCELLENT one. It's got great character development, a Korean Jon Favreau, inventive zombie action, thrilling train sequences, and realistic makeup and gore. And the ending is just perfect. Go South Korea!


Best Worst Movie: Beyond the Gates

Honorable Mentions
The Invitation
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Nina Forever
The Boy
Jack Goes Home
Don't Breathe
Lights Out

Biggest Disappointments
Martyrs remake
Cabin Fever remake
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Flight 7500
The Other Side of the Door
The Conjuring 2
The Darkness
The Disappointment Room


Here's to another year of horror movies! Don't forget to watch them - in the dark.


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