Well, it’s that time of year again. It’s time for everyone to rank what they believe are the best horror films of 2016. My rankings are very loose, as they could easily flip flop with one another from day to day. There were plenty of other movies that could’ve slid in too, and there are still some 2016 releases that I haven’t gotten a chance to see yet. Anyway, these are the ten I’ve settled on, and as I look through them now in list form, it strikes me how very different they all are from one another. That tells me that there is a lot of variety in horror these days, even if it doesn’t always seem that way on the surface.
10. The Conjuring 2
I was surprised by how much I liked The Conjuring 2
when I saw it in the theater last summer. I like The Conjuring
, but was never as high on it as most seemed to be. I left my viewing of The Conjuring 2
feeling completely satisfied and enamored by how good James Wan still is at creating creepy jump-scare scenes. The movie also had some heart, which helped too. Upon revisiting it in my living room recently, I didn’t get quite as much out of it as that initial theatrical viewing, but it’s still a solid entry in an over-saturated sub-genre.
9. Don’t Breathe
was one of the biggest surprises for me this year. Having seen the trailer a handful of times in the theater and not being an incredibly big fan of Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead
remake, my expectations just weren’t incredibly high. The aforementioned trailer gave me the impression that, like many others, it was basically showing the entire movie, but boy was I wrong. The movie went in some directions that I don’t think anybody who didn’t have it spoiled for them could have possibly seen coming, but that was only part of the reason it made my list. Don’t Breathe
is suspenseful throughout with solid performances, particularly from Stephen Lang as The Blind Man, who was as iconic a villain as any other antagonist in horror this year. It was also directed quite well, and Alvarez has now won me over. I’m looking forward to more from him.
Yeah, yeah. Clown’s
been out there for a long time. I know, but it wasn’t released in the U.S. until this year, so I’m including it. As most killer clown movies have proven, getting this sub-genre right is pretty hard to pull off, but Clown
knows exactly what it is and completely embraces its absurdity, resulting in a delightfully fun movie that feels as though it would have been at home on early 90s video store shelves alongside titles like Man’s Best Friend
, The Dentist
, and The Ice Cream Man
. Is it super scary? No, but as far as I’m concerned it’s pure entertainment.
7. The Greasy Strangler
The Greasy Strangler
could really appear at any spot on this list or not on it at all, depending on the day and the environment in which I’m watching it. If you’ve had the opportunity to see it both with a crowd and at home (alone, or with one or two other people), you likely understand. Fortunately, I was in a crowded theater the first time I saw it, and it was non stop hilarity throughout the movie’s entire duration. It was as if the theater had been filled with nitrous oxide and seemingly everyone had a great time. Playing on a quiet night at home, however, The Greasy Strangler
just doesn’t have the same impact (at least without drugs). That said, the theatrical screening was one of my most memorable movie experiences of the year and a complete blast. The soundtrack is insanely wonderful too. I look forward to breaking this movie out every now and then through the years (unfortunately, I live in an area where theatrical screenings are highly unlikely) and reliving all the glorious bullshit artistry as best as I can.
6. The Neon Demon
Immediately after watching The Neon Demon
the first time in the theater, I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about it, but I knew I felt something good. As I reflected during the drive home, I came to realize that I kind of loved it. Upon a second viewing, this was confirmed. This is one that will be returned to repeatedly throughout the years to come. Of this, I have no doubt. Its commentary is only outshined by its sheer beauty, score, and general bat-shit craziness. With the occasional sprinkle of apparent Argento nods to add just a little more flavor, Nicolas Winding Refn created one of his most memorable films yet. This one was just the right amount of weird with plenty else to latch onto and balance it out.
5. Beyond the Gates
Beyond the Gates
is one of those movies that’s just fun to watch, and while I’ve only seen it once so far at the time of this writing, I can imagine that I’ll be revisiting it more frequently than some of the other movies on this list. It’s not entirely about nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake for me, because while my family did own the Clue VCR Mystery Game
, horror VHS board games were sadly never part of my life. Watching this makes me wish they had been. There are some entertaining gore gags, the characters are enjoyable to be around for the duration of the film, and Barbara Crampton is wonderful as always. I can’t see ever throwing this on and not having a good time.
4. The Invitation
is genius in its delivery of tension, and is masterfully directed. The performances are fantastic, and the score helps keep the tension from ever easing up. Considering how much of this movie is just people hanging around talking at a dinner party, it says a whole lot about how much talent when into making the movie on both sides of the camera. It has emotion, dread, and a great climax and conclusion. It’s an absolutely beautiful film and an original one at that.
3. The Witch
. People love it. People hate it. Personally, I love it. I don’t know what I can say about it that hasn’t already been said (and debated). I think it’s gorgeous. I appreciate the slow-paced dread that it brings to the table. I think the acting is on point. I think its “less is more” approach that is often criticized is an asset. The score is unsettling, and overall, the movie feels authentic. The authenticity (such as the language and depiction of the period in which the movie is set) is one of those “hotly debated” aspects of The Witch
, but in the end, I could give a fuck. It feels authentic enough to me. Writer/director Robert Eggers obviously cared a great deal about the film he was creating, and the passion shows. And yes, Black Phillip rules. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say The Witch
is on par with The Shining
(my favorite movie of all time), it’s obvious that the Kubrick classic was an influence (something Eggers admits himself
), and that influence most likely plays right into my own taste.
2. Trash Fire
I first had the opportunity to see Trash Fire
at the Knoxville Horror Film Festival in October. Its mix of black humor, drama, and horror played very well with the crowd, myself included. It was the first feature to play at the festival, and despite some other fine movies, it was never topped in my opinion. Upon a second viewing at home, it held up entirely, and confirmed to me what I thought when the credits rolled upon my first viewing. This is one of 2016’s best for sure. It’s a return to form for Ricky Bates, who impressed genre fans with Excision
a few years ago, as it’s very much of the same caliber, if not a higher one.
The performances and writing are what shine above all else in this movie, and like the most refreshing movies do, it gave me some things I had never seen before. I just love Trash Fire.
1. Green Room
The number one spot has to go to Green Room, which was a fantastic follow-up to Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin, which is equally great. This guy knows how to take a simple premise and turn the tension up to full blast. Green Room adds some nasty on-screen violence, mixed with great performances for a flick that absolutely lives up to the hype that preceded its release. Saulnier is one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. It’s a tragedy that we lost Anton Yelchin, who turned in a great performance in this movie, but many will experience his work through this film (and others) for years to come, and receive an endless amount of enjoyment from what he contributed to cinema.
Having come out fairly early in the year, Green Room has remained the “one to beat” for me for many months, and I just don’t think anything that I’ve seen has topped it. It’s one of those movies that I immediately wanted to watch again as soon as the credits (and that badass Creedence song) ended.
Note: While I’m not including it as an official entry on the list, I would be remiss to not mention Kubo and the Two Strings, which had what I found to be among the creepiest villains of the year in Kubo’s two aunts. It’s another great release from Laika Entertainment, the stop-motion animation company behind Coraline and Paranorman, and it’s worth putting your eyeballs on.