2016 was a bit of an atypical year for my horror viewing habit because, although I did watch plenty of genre films, most came from the ’80s. I rarely go to see horror movies in theaters because, frankly, I just can’t deal with audiences these days. The last few attempts I made were plagued by teenage girls on their cellphones, constant chatter, endless shrieking for even the tamest moments of terror – I’m done, and since the window from theater to home video is continually shrinking, there isn’t much drive for me to chance it. Besides, nearly everything interesting is still happening on VOD.
All of that being said, I managed to watch a few dozen new films and out of all those could only come up with four each that were worthy of being called “Best” or “Worst”:
Shin Godzilla – After a twelve-year absence, the Big G has returned with a serious vengeance. Hideaki Anno’s film may be the most divisive entry in the series, introducing a new origin for Godzilla as well as many new abilities. As someone who has been a G fan since the mid-80s, I was completely enthralled by the fresh take on well-worn material. The picture is unexpectedly hilarious, too, brimming with satire that is pointedly aimed at the Japanese bureaucratic response to Fukushima. Once those early moments of humor subside, what remains is a fast-paced race to protect a nation under siege by an unstoppable force of nature. What Shin Godzilla lacks in personality, he makes up for with a real sense of terror and the most explosive atomic breath ever seen. The cinematography is gorgeous, the score is an absolute masterpiece, and the ending shot is perhaps the most chilling of any film this year.
The Witch – This is horror done right. Robert Eggers’ olden tale of a woodland witch breeding paranoia and mistrust among a once-tight knit family is a potent picture. There are savage moments strew throughout the deliciously desaturated photography; I may never look at a mortar & pestle the same way again. The cast does some amazing work, especially Harvey Scrimshaw as the family’s eldest boy, but the real star of the show here is the most metal goat ever committed to film, Black Phillip.
The Neon Demon – The horror elements in Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest don’t become apparent until the third act, but man, once that reveal is made, suddenly all expectations are subverted and the film becomes an entirely different beast. Refn is very much a “love him or hate him” filmmaker – I don’t see how anyone can simply be indifferent to his work – and the merits of this film are no less debated than those of his last masterpiece, Only God Forgives (2013). On the surface The Neon Demon seems awfully superficial and lacking in any deep characterization or substance – and that is entirely the point. As usual, and as the title suggests, this is a bright, shiny film that is beautifully shot and perfectly scored, a duty once again handled by Cliff Martinez.
Hush – In terms of pure, earned tension, no other film tops this one. Mike Flanagan is a director I’ve been keeping an eye on since Oculus (2013) and his follow-up picture just shot him onto my Must Watch Every Film He Does list. A mute woman who lives in a small house in the woods is preyed upon by a sadistic masked killer. The entire film takes place at one location. This guy doesn’t just want to kill his intended victim, though; he plans to play a lengthy game of cat & mouse to draw out her misery. Our heroine is no idiot, making every right decision viewers want to see, but the killer is no dummy, too, and the interplay between the two of them is matter-of-fact and chilling.
For the record, my favorite non-horror film of the year is Shane Black’s The Nice Guys, which was criminally overlooked and completely rejected by audiences.
Ghostbusters – Sony and this film’s supporters can cry foul from atop the highest peak, claiming that anyone who hates this movie is a “ghostbro” or a misogynist or a racist or whatever other buzz term SJWs are spouting these days; but the simple fact remains that Paul Feig made a film with a strong feminist agenda, and it backfired spectacularly. Who the fuck cares if it’s headlined by women? Women have been proving for decades they can lead a film – as long as you have the right women (same goes for the guys). This remake committed the worst cinema sins of all: It’s forgettable and unfunny. And the moments of fan service that so desperately tried to tie it to the superior 1984 original felt beyond contrived. When Leslie “THE JOKE IS THAT I ALWAYS YELL THINGS” Jones is the standout among your cast, you know you fucked up.
31 – Rob Zombie may not be a good filmmaker, but at the very least he’s usually more interesting than this. When no studio would give him the money to finance this picture, he turned to his fans to cough up the dough. What they got was a white trash remake of The Running Man (1987) with Malcolm McDowell in a powdered wig subbing in for Richard Dawson, interchangeable clowns replacing the likes of Subzero and Buzzsaw, and cinematography that looks like someone handed Michael J. Fox a camera and strapped him to a rodeo bull. This is a boring, repetitive, ugly movie that has no replay value… unless maybe you are all about that Juggalo life.
The Shallows – Once again an animal steals the show, and I don’t mean the mammoth shark. The honors this time around go to Steven Seagull, who manages to upstage a bikini-clad Blake Lively. Let that sink in for a moment. This movie was just dumb, and I’m usually a sucker for dumb shark movies. Between the bad writing, overuse of slow-mo, lazy voiceover play-by-play, and cloying family crap, it still felt long at a mere 80-something minutes. And what was the deal with keeping the name of the beach so secret for the entire film, only to never actually reveal the name? Also, that shark was, what, 25-30 feet? It bit a man in half! Yet, when it attacks Blake, she gets off with a minor gash. That leg should’ve been gone.
Phantasm: Ravager – It pains me to be putting this one down at the bottom, but there was exactly one redeeming aspect to this film, and that was seeing Angus Scrimm on screen one last time. This final entry does nothing to advance the series mythology; if anything, it adds a dozen new questions without giving any real answers. Here’s one question I have: How could Don Coscarelli put his baby in the hands of anyone other than himself? The director, David Hartman, is best known for cartoons. This is his first live-action feature ever – and you hand him the keys to this legendary franchise? Watch it, and see for yourself why that was the worst idea ever.
- Anthony Arrigo’s Best and Worst of 2016
- Matt Boiselle’s Best and Worst of 2016
- April Marie’s Best and Worst of 2016
- David Gelmini’s Best and Worst of 2016
- Mr. Dark’s Best and Worst of 2016
- Foywonder’s Best and Worst of 2016
- Ted Hentschke’s Best and Worst of 2016
- Gareth Jones’ Best and Worst of 2016
- Matt Molgaard’s Best and Worst of 2016
- Debi Moore’s Best and Worst of 2016
- Matt Serafini’s Best and Worst of 2016
- Uncle Creepy’s Best and Worst of 2016
- Kevin D. Clark’s Best and Worst of 2016 – Comics Style