It seems every year rebirths the age-old debate of how terrible horror has become and how the genre is in dire straits. We’re failing. We see very few truly great flicks released each year. Expected blockbusters flounder. Yada, yada, yada.
The truth is horror is as alive as it has ever been, and 2016 is another (we’ve had a few great years as of late) year to produce a string of noteworthy films. So many, in fact, that we’re able to assemble a staggering list of suggestions, every last one of which was released – officially – in the US in 2016.
That sounds pretty outlandish, doesn’t it?
Well, it’s true. And we’ve got the subjective (of course) proof!
Clowntown isn’t high-brow filmmaking, but it is a ton of fun, extremely creepy and very, very relevant. We all know 2016 has been the year of the strange clown outbreak; loser’s popping up in public places staring aimlessly, hoping to scare a spineless passerby. But, some of these clown incidents have been admittedly frightening (my own daughter attends high school that received death threats just weeks ago, which scared the hell out of me, but got the young lady a few free ditch days), and Tom Nagel’s Clowntown is a film that really capitalizes on that strange reality. It isn’t masterfully written and it isn’t tremendously inventive in regards to cinematic technique, but it really is a blast of a flick that has some creepy looking clowns and some imposing sequences. It’s solid entertainment that calls for more than a single viewing.
Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla
This dramatic horror piece has been making noise in all sorts of international markets for a small handful of years now. In 2016 it came to the US and proved it was well worth the lengthy wait. The movie, like so many this year, is a slow burn picture that chronicles the mental descent of an ice cream man. But it’s more than that. It’s a lot more than that. The flick forces us to really look at every emotion we can possibly experience as human beings, and then it takes the most extreme depravities of the mind and squeezes until they pop inside our feeble imaginations. The finale is unforgettable and the story of Warren Thompson eventually becomes so powerful it’s truly unforgettable.
Fede Alvarez had us all mystified with the way he handled his remake of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. It was a thing of beauty, but could Alvarez follow up such a great picture with yet another great picture? Yes. He sure as hell can, and he proved that this year with the profoundly taut chiller, Don’t Breathe. What begins as a simple heist gone wrong flick rapidly morphs into something else entirely and it’s legitimately gripping from the first minute to the last. Fede Alvarez and Jane Levy could very well end up being today’s John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis. We’ll see what round three between the two produces.
I’ll admit I wasn’t as impressed by Lights Out as I’d hoped I’d be. But, that said, I’m not much of a jump scare fan, and Lights Out is one massive jump scare after another, the terror barreling toward a solid, well-assembled crescendo that certainly gets the attention. David F. Sandberg turns in a very sound feature length debut and proves he’s a star on the rise. Lights Out may not have been exactly the film I’d hoped for, but the praise the film has received among a great many fans is – in my humble opinion – very justified.
The Conjuring 2
We all loved The Conjuring, and despite a pretty clear synopsis reveal and a lot of early indicators, many of us were a little bit surprised to learn that it really kind of boiled down to an exorcism flick. But damn if it wasn’t a creepy, clean flick with a great cast. So, the announcement of The Conjuring 2 quickly followed. No one was surprised, but again, everyone wondered if James Wan could possibly replicate the chills of the first film. Surprisingly, he did an excellent job of giving us a film that felt connected to the preexisting franchise flick, yet very far from directly related to the first. That’s a successful production… it also happens to be quite eerie on a number of occasions.
My head is still spinning on my shoulders after Baskin. You want the truth of the film? It is bat shit crazy. But it’s also freaky as all hell, and while there’s a sense of ambiguity that courses throughout the entire storyline, I’m pretty sure it’s about a group of gritty cops who happen to stumble upon a gateway to Hell. If that’s not what the movie is about, it’s pretty close, and it really doesn’t matter. This one is all about visual flare and extremely graphic content. You’ll see some shit in this film that will absolutely stun you, and that’s a good thing.
Disgusting, weird, bug/infestation type of flicks have always been of the sort to climb under my skin. But the problem is half the time they’re so hokey you really can’t connect with the possibility of something so repulsive actually occurring. Bite is a little bit different, and you can totally begin to imagine what happens to poor Casey starting to happen to your own girl… and that’s a wonderfully bad thought. The movie is just plain nasty, and while there are a few issues I take with the story’s details, ultimately, the movie proves to be far better than one might anticipate.
Edge of Winter
I love psychological horror. This is the kind of shit I live for. Watching a man completely lose control of himself and his emotions as a direct result of the threat of losing his children makes me tick inside. Seriously, it fucks with my head in a pretty scary way. That’s why I can’t begin to praise Edge of Winter enough. Joel Kinnaman is an intense dude. Like, in every movie he makes, he’s an intense dude. When you’ve got a guy who sells intensity as well as Kinnaman does, and you put him in a role in which his mental fortitude will not only be tested, it will be snapped in half, the character left with essentially nothing after losing the only two things he cares for in the world, you know something special is en route. Edge of Winter delivers that something special, ten-fold.
This may be the – technically speaking – cheapest film on this list, but it’s a winner. It’s just flat out creepy and takes strange concepts and works to contort and distort them as much as possible. For us, as viewers, it’s a strange but enjoyable thing to behold. For character, Jimmy, it’s an intense and potentially fatal trek through an endless hallucinatory experience… that seems to have a lot in common with “Gilligan’s Island.” Yeah, just try to let that idea soak in for a few.
The Funhouse Massacre
I’m a big fan of really good B-movies. The Funhouse Massacre is a low budget B-movie, but it knows it, it acknowledges it, and it has a lot of fun with the slight wiggle room that comes affixed with the budget. It’s just a blast of a movie with some serious insanity in store for viewers, and it’s always great to see Robert Englund in a movie like this. He was born to be in these ludicrous films and it always seems to pay off for the man. This one just so happens to be the very clear best since 2014’s The Last Showing.
Okay, this movie may have actually cost less to assemble than even Flytrap. And if you take a glance at the synopsis, or even just contemplate the idea behind the film, you might leap to assume a movie that unfolds on an Uber trip is bound to be a dud, but holy shit, this is an ambitious picture that does a tremendous job of reminding us that human nature can be a terrifying thing, and the last place you want to find yourself is in a car with the man whose wife you’re banging. That’s another ugly thought to let sink in…
Diego Cohen’s quiet little foreign film about obsession caught me off guard. It caught me way off guard. Things start slow for an infatuated doctor, but the speed of insanity can take off in the blink of an eye, and in this case, it really does. Honeymoon could’ve easily been a super creepy “less is more” kind of movie, but Cohen didn’t seem all too interested in the whole less part, which makes for a pretty fucking brutal viewing experience.
Nocturne is exactly the kind of movie you expect to be generic, traveling every familiar trope known to man and pummeling clichés until they legitimately die. But, something interesting happens about midway through the flick and suddenly any idea of dismissing the picture becomes a cast away absurdity. I’m not certain crowds will unanimously love this film about a séance gone wrong (can a séance go right?), but I’m pretty confident that new viewers are going to be caught with their zipper down when this one rolls.
The Mind’s Eye
Easily one of my favorite films of the year, Joe Begos’ The Mind’s Eye is pretty much everything we loved about over-the-top but super spirited 80s movies. Some might even call this one a love song for the 80s (I did once, while in a drunken stupor; I read it later), and that’s a good thing. What it means is you’re going to get a story that has passion invested in it, some awesome practical special effects, a couple bat-shit crazy personalities… and it’s all about telekinesis. Yes, it is indeed as awesome as it sounds.
The Ones Below
If you enjoyed the somewhat forgotten but truly creepy 1990 piece, Pacific Heights, you’re going to love The Ones Below because it’s an awful lot like Pacific Heights, with The Governor, or David Morrissey, as some others may know him. It’s a very subtle picture, but it’s also unbelievably disconcerting and somehow Morrissey is actually more intense in this little indie film than he ever was on “The Walking Dead,” and he cut Hershel’s head off, for fuck’s sake. That’s saying something, huge.
I actually suffer from a mild case of agoraphobia, which makes life a fucking nightmare… every single time I have to leave the house. It’s a bitch of an issue to deal with, and that’s part of the reason I was drawn to Adam Schindler’s Intruders. But Intruders is a bit more intricate than one might expect from a film about an agoraphobic, and there are a few little twists that prove rather rewarding. This is another one that may not work for some, but more than not should get a kick out of this aspiring effort. Keep your eyes open for an impressive performance from Rory Culkin, who’s quickly becoming something of a genre staple.
I was surprised to hear some initial disdain for this film upon arrival. It is, in a sense, everything that fans have been asking for from the found footage subgenre. It’s an idea we haven’t really seen utilized in the past, it has some damn impressive creature designs and the CGI is about a thousand times cleaner than I’d expected. JeruZalem is arguably the finest found footage flick we received this year, and when you’ve got a marquee title like Blair Witch in that discussion, that’s a statement and a half.
Here’s another recently released immensely successful anthology, and it’s successful because of how wildly different it is. There isn’t much of anything common about this film, and like Holidays, another recently released (but not nearly as well-received) anthology, each segment seems to offer up a weird and radically different tale than the prior. Southbound has a pretty common denominator holding the film together, but these pics are all over the place in the best kind of way.
Once upon a time I had high expectations for a little film called Man’s Best Friend. Then Man’s Best Friend, despite its awkward vintage charm, turned out to kind of suck. Wasting $10 bucks at the movies when you’re 13 years old just isn’t good fun. I’ve thus held a grudge against killer dog films since, and up until this year I was entirely certain I would never see an impressive picture of this nature. Then along came Nick Robertson’s The Pack early this year and changed my mind. It only took 23 years, but my opinion of killer dog movies has finally made a little shift. Robertson’s flick is tense, it’s realistic, it’s grimy and it’s a blast to watch. The movie has gone largely unnoticed since hitting American outlets in February, but it’s surprisingly well-done.
I’m not going to keep going on this movie anymore. We’ve all heard and read the praise for the movie, and I’ve got to say it’s pretty justified. The accents can be a bit challenging from time to time, but we all know why The Witch has been recognized as one of the year’s best.
The Wave isn’t typical horror, and I can understand if you don’t consider it horror, at all. But I’ve always had a tendency to bunch disaster films in with horror films. They work for a lot of the same reasons, and they can be pretty damn intense. Roar Uthaug, who gave us the insanely good slasher, Cold Prey, and will soon look to rekindle interest in the Tomb Raider franchise, puts together an aesthetically perfect piece of art. The movie looks sublime and the threat is constant. Again, not average horror fare, but it fits comfortably in that realm.
Ava’s Possessions… wow, what an insane flick. It’s kind of like a possession flick on LSD with a hint of meth thrown in for sustained kicks. And I’m being absolutely serious.
10 Cloverfield Lane
A rare thing these days, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a brilliant sequel/extension of Cloverfield. It’s remarkably different than its predecessor, but it’s a superb picture that really brings a great idea to life. I’m not certain John Goodman has ever failed to impress at anything in life (I’m sure the man’s toilet even admires him), but damn does he shine in this film. He’s a lunatic… or is he? Maybe he’s a heroic bastard who deserves an award for his good deeds. And then again, maybe he doesn’t. This one brings legitimate mystery back to the genre and I loved it.
Holy crap, is this a nutty slasher! It’s inventive, it’s got all the makings of a future successful franchise and it’s stuffed full of really, really cool practical effects and disgusting props. The characters are colorful and diverse, the big twist and ultimate origin story is wicked inventive. Even the acting is seamless. This one just arrived and it did so at the perfect time; while not a Halloween themed movie, The Windmill is perfect Halloween viewing.
I adored Hush. Of all the home invasion movies out there, this is one of the best. There’s a strange dynamic generated when you take your victim of a home invasion/creepy stalker session, and make her deaf. Boy does that change things in a great way. Mike Flanagan knows how to make a super eerie pic and Hush most definitely proves that point. It’s one of the best of the last decade, let alone this year.
Green Room broke my heart, and I’m going to tell you why. Of all the performers out there, I’ve got a very, very small handful of favorites. Included in those favorites are Bill Murray, Clint Eastwood, Clu Gulager, Daniel Day-Lewis and Anton Yelchin, the man I expected to carry a lofty torch for decades to come. I didn’t have the chance to check out Green Room until after Yelchin passed in a horrific and strange accident, but seeing him on screen, struggling to survive the assault of a horde of furious and paranoid Nazis just wrenched at my heart in a terrible way. The movie itself is great and surprisingly graphic, but man, it just breaks my heart seeing the man in peril knowing he went out in the most unexpected and strangely perilous situation imaginable.
The Neon Demon
The Neon Demon pretty much epitomizes the term ‘slow burn.’ In fact, it’s so slow it threatens to lose the viewer a time or two. But ultimately, the big bang, the grand finale, is so damn shocking and saddening that it really clings to your psyche. I thought about the film quite a bit after watching it (and seriously, was Keanu Reeves not effing brilliant in a very disturbing way?!), and the image of the eyeball (I don’t want to say anything else) is just… mind blowing. Watch it, wait through the nurtured moments and expect some horrific shit to wrap the film. The payoff really is huge.
The Purge: Election Year
The Purge franchise is kind of like a series of glorified B-movies with some shine. And what’s very interesting is that the franchise has arguably gotten better as the story progresses. I loathed the first film and couldn’t begin to believe that Ethan Hawke would take on a role in which he was going to make the least logical decisions every single time he was faced with danger. That son-of-a-bitch wouldn’t have lasted seven seconds into the Purge making those kinds of calls. That just rubbed me the wrong way. But then Anarchy rolled around and things went in a completely different, and much larger direction. Then Election Year kept that trend alive. It’s a wild ride with plenty of questionable moments, but The Purge: Election Year was most definitely one thing: entertaining as hell.
I Am Not a Serial Killer
When I think of this flick, I can’t help but to bunch it in with that small niche group of movies that houses flicks like The Snowtown Murders. It’s horror, and it’s not horror. But it really works well, and things get progressively creepier as the film trucks along. We don’t get the chance to see Christopher Lloyd all that much anymore, so any time he does surface it’s a good thing. When he surfaces in a role like Crowley, the man he plays in I Am Not a Serial Killer, it feels insanely special. Lloyd slays and he’s got a great character here to bring to life. Still underrated, I Am Not a Serial Killer is worthy of huge praise.
Rob Zombie is, in my honest opinion, becoming a better filmmaker with each new project he tackles. Maybe that’s me just settling in and accepting his propensity to showcase white trash figures in chaotic scenes, and maybe it’s the fact that he really is improving as a filmmaker. 31 hits some pretty over-the-top moments, but overall, it’s insanity in a good way with some wild characters that could likely only crawl from the mind of Zombie. I loved the look of Lords of Salem, but I love the look of 31 for entirely different reasons. Either way, 31 made for a good time and I applaud Zombie for giving us another memorable offering.
Anya Taylor-Joy really proved that she has some distance running in her career designs. The Witch wasn’t a simple one-hit wonder for this young lady, and Morgan is proof of that. Without getting too deep into detail I can tell you that the film has an interesting, almost espionage kind of feel with a very merciless and horrific little twist. And it’s all centered round our titular character, played by the aforementioned Taylor-Joy. Morgan’s a sleeper!
Blair Witch is a fun film. It’s impressive that Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett were able to craft a film that successfully acts as an actual sequel to the first film, released nearly 20 years ago. It was also good to see this crafty duo ramp everything up to appeal to the 2016 crowd, as a film shot in the fashion that the original was shot, released in today’s landscape, simply would not float with viewers. Viewers need it all fast and furious now and Wingard gives the audience just that. The problem with the film – dreadful marketing plan aside – is that it really isn’t all that different from a whole lot of other found footage movies we’ve seen at this point. There’s definitely a nice payoff here, but I can also understand the underwhelming response to the film. This is solid work, but it’s far from Wingard and Barrett’s best.
Under the Shadow
Djinn flicks are an interesting lot. They seem to hold all the potential to be amazing, yet rarely do they impress to any memorable degree. But Under the Shadow actually approaches the content in a fairly unique way, and dropping a mother and daughter in the center of the danger zone makes for some very compelling moments. I’d love to see this flick get the shine it deserves, but it’s received very little media attention, so that seems like an unfortunate long call.
To be completely honest, I’m still not even certain if I really loved Phantasm: Ravager because it’s a badass movie, or if I enjoyed it so much because I’m an uber Phantasm nerd, and I’ll jump at any chance to see Reggie Bannister on screen. I just think the guy is radical. So, take my Ravager recommendation with a grain of salt, but also remember that this is the last time we’ll ever see Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Angus Scrimm and Kathy Lester together in a new project again. Sadly, it’s all over. Maybe the viewing experience will mean just a bit more to you with that in mind.
Jack Goes Home
I’ve already dropped some praise in Rory Culkin’s direction, but he’s worthy of more because Jack Goes Home far surpassed my personal expectations. To be completely honest, I’m not a huge fan of Thomas Dekker’s acting. I think he’s a wooden performer who doesn’t often shine in productions. That probably sounds harsh, and I’m not out to bash the man. But, I think it’s important to make that note because Dekker writes and directs this film, and I actually think he may be a better filmmaker than actor. Either way, Dekker’s still pretty much a kid, and he’s got all kinds of time to continue evolving as a professional. I just hope he spends some more time behind the camera because Jack Goes Home is a pretty atmospheric and creepy flick!