With only a few days left in 2016, I guess there’s no time like now to reminisce and talk about the ten films that gave me a modicum of chills over the last 12 months. This past year has been quite successful for the horror genre in terms of box office grosses, with more than a few releases bringing back some very healthy returns on low budgets. Mind you, these films weren’t all critical successes, but good box office always trumps bad reviews. Why else would there be so many sequels to so many lousy movies?
Before I get to the final ten, I have to mention a few films that really got me fired up this year. And as I watch a ton of films, I’m gonna be fair and mention a couple that aren’t horror films because I think they deserve mention. Right off of the bat, I’m gonna give a hearty shout of “EXCELSIOR” to three superhero films that were all entertaining as anything I’ve ever seen in a theater. Deadpool was released early this year to near unanimous praise, and record setting box offices returns, and deservedly so. It was action packed, profane, bloody, and laugh out loud funny to boot. Captain America: Civil War is probably my favorite superhero movie to date, it’s just an astoundingly entertaining film and the good people at Marvel films managed to include both The Black Panther AND Spider-Man into this shindig. I smiled for days after seeing this, and if you know me then you know I rarely smile. The Marvel superhero trifecta was completed with Doctor Strange, an amazing to watch (especially in IMAX 3D) film with some incredible Inception-esque effects, and a great lead performance from Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular Master of the Mystic Arts.
Hemming closer to the genre now, I have to mention Green Room, which was tense as hell, with some of the most wince inducing scenes of violence I’ve witnessed in a film this year. She Who Must Burn didn’t get a ton of notice this year, and that’s a shame because it’s another great film from writer/director Larry Kent that’ll make you think about its central theme long after you’ve seen it. While I’m not too much of a fan of his work, writer/director Mike Flanagan made two films that made me want to reassess his earlier films, one that made my final top ten list, and one called Hush, that turned out to be a fairly engrossing film that takes a fairly well worn trope and gives it new life. I Am Not A Serial Killer might’ve made my final ten if it was a bit shorter, but don’t let its length dissuade you from watching it at least once. It’s a great movie with an interesting twist on the standard serial killer films you’re used to watching.
10 – Found Footage 3D. Written and Directed by Steven DeGennaro.
If you’re a regular reader of Horrornews.net, then you probably know that I despise all films in the found footage sub genre I find them to be trite, boring, and far too easy to make – hence the plethora of them we’ve been flooded with ever since the success of The Blair Witch Project back in 1999. Adding 3D to the mix wasn’t all that enticing to me either. But I gotta say that this one wasn’t the total waste of time that I was expecting it to be. a good script, Good performances, some decent jump scares (especially one late in the film), and decent 3D FX made this one rather enjoyable. Did it change my mind regarding the quality of found footage films in general? Hell no, I still hate them with a passion unbridled. But I’m big enough to acknowledge a winner when I see it, found footage or not.
09 – The Autopsy Of Jane Doe – Written by Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing. Directed by Andre Ovredal.
Director Ovredal’s last feature film was the well received Trollhunters back in 2010. So it’s been awhile between features for him but it turns out the wait was worth it because this is probably the scariest film I’ve seen this year, at least in spots anyway. This story of a father/son pair of morticians performing an autopsy on a female body found under strange circumstances begins in a fairly mundane, police procedural manner before it gets into some seriously creepy territory. At times it was unbearably tense and unforgiving, which is exactly what I’m looking for in a good horror movie. It falters some during its final third because of some excessive exposition, but it doesn’t make the proceedings any less tense, not for me anyways.
08 – The Similars (Los Parecidos). Written and Directed by Issac Ezban.
The year is 1968, and there are some strange things are taking place in a remote bus station in Mexico. Writer/Director Issac Ezban wears his love for all things Twilight Zone on his sleeve, and this film is the wonderfully satisfying result of his adoration for Rod Serling’s classic television series. It’s just about impossible to speak too much about it without revealing some of its secrets, but some of them will toss you for a loop. Great makeup FX, wonderful set design and some very convincing performances turn what starts out as a TZ ripoff into one of the best conceived and strange films of the year.
07 – Lights Out. Written by Eric Heisserer and David F. Sanberg. Directed by David F. Sanberg.
A good friend of mine refers to this one as “Jump Scare: The Movie“, and while that description is pretty accurate, there’s a lot more than jump scares in this one to recommend it. Based on his short film of the same name, Sanberg takes a one note premise, and expands on it exponentially. By giving the premise an unexpectedly good backstory, he makes the film far more accessible to people who might not have gone to see this one otherwise. The jump scares pretty much work for the most part, although they do become tiresome as the film gets closer to its end. Very good performances from Teresa Palmer and Maria Bello, and a suitably creepy beastie behind all of the carnage helps the film take off a hell of a lot better than anyone had any right to expect.
06 – Don’t Breathe. Written by Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues. Directed by Fede Alvarez.
It took awhile for Alvarez to craft a follow up to his well intentioned, but soulless Evil Dead remake of 2013, but this film hit the spot for millions of horror film enthusiasts with it’s tense atmosphere and terrific performances. Three young Detroit thieves decide to break into the home of a blind war veteran with the belief that there’s a massive fortune waiting there for them to plunder. Unfortunately the blind man is nowhere near as helpless as they initially believe, and the tables turn on them once he locks them into his home, and turns out the lights. Although it’s more suspense than horror in my estimation, it has its share of frightfully effective jump scares, and a great lead performance from Stephen Lang as the blind vet defending his booby trap filled home from intruders. This one also features one of the grossest scenes I’ve seen this year (and there’s no blood in this scene either)!
05 – Quija: Origin Of Evil – Written by Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard – Directed by Mike Flanagan.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a fan of Mike Flanagan and his films, but I’ll tell you what, between this one and Hush, he’s starting to make a convert out of me. A sequel to a film that was nearly universally hated, but a financial success nevertheless, it tells the story of a young girl who becomes possessed by the spirit accidentally summoned while playing with a Quija board. Flanagan’s best move was to set this in the late 60’s, making this film an immediately interesting and visually compelling horror film. Annalise Basso and Lulu Wilson make a pair of believable sisters, and Elizabeth Reaser as their mom is also quite believable as well. This one also features ET’s Henry Thomas as a priest, and a seriously scary and unexpected final image that lifted me twelve inches off of my seat.
04- Night Of Something Strange – Written by Jonathan Straiton, Mean Gene and Ron Bonk – Directed by Jonathan Straiton.
Perhaps the only film I’ve ever seen that seems calculated to offend everyone who sees it, and if that isn’t reason enough to watch it – then I don’t know what is. A night janitor in a medical facility takes “advantage” of a corpse that just happens to be infected with an extremely viral (& still active) venereal disease that makes its victims extremely violent and horny. Very very horny. Add a car full of goofy kids on Spring Break into the mix, and you get the most unrepentantly violent and offensive film of the last decade. But the twist is that it’s also hilariously violent and offensive as well. Tons of practical FX and KY jelly make for some really disgusting visuals that’ll make you smile wide if you’re a fan of that kind of thing. The winner of the “Best Film” award at this years NYC Horror Film Festival, this low budget marvel is an assault on the senses (in the most positive way of course) that’ll make you wanna evert your gaze while you’re laughing out loud.
03- The Conjuring 2 – Written by Cary & Chad Hayes, James Wan & David Leslie Johnson – Directed by James Wan.
Perhaps the most well constructed horror film of the year, and while it’s not quite as scary as its predecessor, it certainly hits the mark far more than it misses. Based on the true exploits of the Warrens (A married pair of paranormal investigators), this one is almost akin to a lesson on how to make an effective horror film. James Wan has proven himself to be a true master of the genre with this one, and his direction is so spot on this film could be shown to fledgling filmmakers to show them how it’s supposed to be done. Some titanic scares await you here, and while it gets bogged down a bit in the middle, it regains most of its speed as it races towards its thrilling finale. This one is a great horrific roller coaster ride.
02- Train To Busan – Written and Directed by Sang-ho Yeon.
A father and his young daughter are caught on the titular train in South Korea while a virus that turns people into ravenous zombies runs rampant across the country – and eventually onto the train they’re travelling on. This one successfully weaves tropes from disaster films and zombie films together into a masterful melange of action and horror. What makes this film stand out among other zombie films is the amount of characterization given to all of its main players. There are some great performances to be found here, especially from young Soo-an Kim as Soo-an. She’s so believable here that I seriously began to wonder what the director did to motivate her in some of her more emotional scenes. The zombie action is suitably frenetic, and while it’s not as gruesome as you might want, it’s still very effective and creepy. There was a great deal of buzz behind this one, and I’m usually disappointed when that happens, but Train To Busan delivers on everything that it promised.
01- The Monster – Written and Directed by Bryan Bertino.
I was caught completely unawares by this film. I expected some sort of sordid drama with a mother and daughter who were at each others throat for 90 minutes. But what I got was the emotional and horrific journey of a mother and her daughter who are at some serious odds with each other, and end up fighting for their lives against a monster – an actual monster! Unfathomably dumped onto VOD a few weeks ago, I don’t understand why this film didn’t get some kind of limited theatrical release to garner some award recognition. Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine as the mother/daughter duo are so good in this film that I truly believe they warrant some award buzz at the very least. Raw, brutal, ugly & emotional, The Monster grabbed me by the collar and didn’t let go for the entirety of its 91 minute running time. The actual monster itself is also something unique and frightening, and the battle the two women face while trying to defend themselves from it is almost as harrowing as the battle they face when they square off against each other. A truly emotional film with a great payoff, it’s a truly unexpected masterpiece that deserves so much better than it’s received so far. Don’t miss it!