As a bonafide horror supergeek, 2016 was a phenomenal year. Aside from a collection of great films, horror has dominated TV and pop culture as well, with hit shows like The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, Scream Queens and Black Mirror. While horror fans are usually passionate about their genre, sometimes to a fault, a shocking thing happened this year. More than a few mainstream horror films received critical acclaim. Plus, between the countless streaming services out there, horror films are now more readily accessible than ever before. I was also privileged to attend two horror film festivals in New York, FEARnyc and the New York City Horror Film Festival, where I took in countless new independent feature-length and short horror films.
So, without further ado, I present my list of the Top 10 Horror Movies of 2016 (and some honorable mentions) below.
*Caveat* – While it is my dream job, I am not a full-time film critic and thus did not see every horror movie out there this year. So consider this list a work in progress.
10 Cloverfield Lane – I loved the claustrophobic nature of this film, and John Goodman was surprisingly great, but the final ten minutes spoiled it for me, and kept it out of my Top 10.
They Look Like People – Perry Blackshear’s haunting indie horror about a man who may or may not be going insane, who is very convincing whilst preparing for an upcoming war of humans versus creatures. Check this one out on Netflix.
The Invitation – Another great little flick you can find on Netflix, a man gets invited to his ex-wife’s house party, but he begins to feel there’s more to this party than is let on. Much like 10 Cloverfield Lane, I liked the claustrophobic feel of the film, but was let down just a bit in the final act.
The Witch – Robert Eggers unique film is more about setting and pacing than in-your-face horror. Unfortunately, a terrible movie theater experience ruined my enjoyment of the film, and thus keeps it out of my top 10, so I definitely need a second, more secluded viewing.
The Conjuring 2 – Horror’s biggest box office triumph of 2016, James Wan has this down to science at this point, and I thought Conjuring 2 was better than the original.
Lost Creek – A bare bones budget indie horror film that made its New York premiere at FEARnyc, Colin Adams-Toomey and Dan John Witherall gave me the best feeling of nostalgia, watching this empathic ghost story about a boy and his friends confronting the demons of their small town. The whole tone and feel are very 80s, and the child performances are fantastic!
Don’t Breathe – I desperately wanted to love Fede Alvarez’s follow up to his splat-tastic remake of Evil Dead, but the combination of a high expectations and a terrible trailer that spoiled a major reveal kept it just shy of my Top 10.
I also want to give some honorable mentions to some of the killer short films I got to see this year including Cotton by Casey Rose Daniel, A Knock at the Door by Katrina Rennells and Wendie Weldon, Immure by Conscian Morgan, and John the Carpenter by Matt Braunsdorf.
#10 – The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Maybe the best performance ever given by a corpse, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is yet another, one location thriller featuring a great cast of veterans; in this case Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch. They play father and son coroners who get a late-night call from the sheriff about a body recovered from a gruesome crime scene. Except this body exhibits some particularly baffling wounds and markings, and soon we find out who or what Jane Doe really is. Great script by Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing and directed with flair by Andre Ovredal (Trollhunter), this is one that should be sought out. And wow, what a great acting job by that corpse (Olwen Catherine Kelly). Available now on Amazon Video.
#9 – Night of Something Strange
When I saw Night of Something Strange at the NYCHFF the reaction from the theater was just awesome. Co-written and directed by Jonathan Straiton, Night of Something Strange is disgusting, gross out, and absolutely hilarious. It features the very best horror movie poster of the year, one that belongs on the walls of a 1980s video store. This movie has it all; corpse rape, an STD virus that turns people to zombies, horny teenagers in hotels, and some of the most jaw dropping WTF moments you will ever see. It’s available now on Amazon Video.
#8 – The Eyes of My Mother
Nicolas Pesce kicks down the door with a beautifully crafted, yet unflinchingly disturbing film about a young Portuguese girl whose mother is murdered by a serial killer at their secluded farmhouse. He in turn is captured and tortured by the girl’s father. The film tells the story of young Francisca growing up with nothing but murder around her, and desperately seeking acceptance and closeness. It’s a tragic and brutal story with a star making performance from Kika Magalhaes. Pesce filmed in black and white, and yet this film was very colorful and graphic. The Eyes of My Mother is available on Amazon Video.
#7 – Green Room
A brutal, violent, and disturbing realistic film, Green Room is also sadly tragic due to the passing of star Anton Yelchin. Yelchin is a member of a punk band who accept a last minute gig at a dingy club which happens to be a neo-nazi hangout. When they accidentally stumble onto a murder scene, the club owner (Patrick Stewart) has to figure out how to “clean up” the situation. Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, Green Room is just a vicious bare knuckle thriller, that kept me on the edge of my seat. Available for free on Amazon Prime.
#6 – The Shallows
Jaws is my favorite horror movie of all time, and second favorite movie ever behind Pulp Fiction. My first ever write up for Geeks Of Doom… Sharknado 2. I LOVE shark movies, from the good to the SyFy channel bad. The Shallows, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, may just be the best shark movie since Jaws. It also had my absolute favorite trailer of 2016. Featuring a picturesque landscape, with a stunning Blake Lively in the lead, this is a one woman tour-de-force performance as her surfing vacation is interrupted by a hungry great white. The shark looks great, everything felt somehow realistic, and it’ll certainly make you think twice about heading out to the beach. Available now on Amazon Video.
#5 – Hush
Whenever people ask who the best horror director working today, my answer is Mike Flanagan. The man knows how to take simple premises and cliche ideas, and flip them on their head. His first movie was Absentia, a small budget masterpiece featuring, from my count, ZERO cliches. He received some notice by taking the haunted object/house story, and turning it into a harrowing depiction of family tension and misery in Oculus. He appears twice in my 2016 Top 5, starting with Hush, a straight to Netflix home invasion thriller. So what’s the catch this time? The woman living there is a deaf author, using the scenic location and secluded woods to write her next book. Co-written by Flanagan with his wife and star Katie Siegel, Hush was so good, featuring a great cat and mouse game and intriguing premise. There are also a few legit HOLY SHIT moments which fit perfectly within the confines of the story. Also kudos to John Gallagher Jr. who went from wholesome newsman on HBO’s The Newsroom, to pulling double duty in horror films this year, here as the psycho stalker, and also in 10 Cloverfield Lane. Hush is streaming on Netflix now.
#4 – The Wailing
I watched The Wailing a few nights ago and I have yet to recover. It is an ordeal in the best order, one that grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go. Written and directed by Hong-jin Na, this Korean tale is part zombie outbreak movie, part Ju-On style ghost story, and a whole lot of Exorcist all rolled into one horrifying film. Starting as almost a bumbling keystone cop, Jong Goo (Do-won Kwak) is a cheating husband, but loving father dealing with a string of murders that may be related to a deadly plague spreading throughout his small town. When the police investigate a Japanese hermit living in a mountain shack, things get really weird and the film takes a dark turn. They find an altar, signs of demonic ritual, and pictures of the victims… one of which is Jong Goo’s young daughter Hyo-Jin (Hwan-hee Kim). As the father of a 6-year-old daughter, this film was very difficult to fight through, but it is everything you seek in a horror film, legit scares, a good mystery, and tense drama. Don’t be turned away by the 2-hour 36 minute run time, I promise it is worth it. The Wailing is currently streaming on Netflix.
#3 – The Neon Demon
Nicolas Winding Refn… you sick, sick son on a bitch! Look, you either love or hate Refn’s films. He is a self-described pornographer, and his movies always find a way to walk the line between risque art film and torture porn snuff. Whatever your opinion, Refn has become event viewing. The Neon Demon may be the most beautiful AND disgusting movie I have ever seen. I was hypnotized by the colors, and the cinematography. I was drawn in by the amazing score by Cliff Martinez. The performances are puzzling, bizarre, and mesmerizing. Elle Fanning’s Jessie is a 16 year old model, pretending to be 19 as she enters the LA scene. Jena Malone steals this movie, delivering a performance that needs to be seen to be believed, and is deserving of an Oscar nomination. Is it style over substance, sure. But that is Refn. His films are experiences that act like electric shock to the senses. When the movie ends, try not to be sitting there with your jaw hanging open, just try.
#2 – Ouija: Origin of Evil – If you would’ve told me at the beginning of the year that Ouija: Origin of Evil was going to be my favorite theater experience, and the film would rank #2 on this list, I probably would have laughed. After all, that’s what I did throughout much of the crappy cash grab 2014 film. So what’s different for this prequel? Mike Flanagan. Appearing for the second time in my Top 5, Flanagan somehow took a movie about a ouija board and turned it into a legitimately terrifying, atmospheric, and unique horror mystery. I got to see this at an advanced screening with a mix of critics and moviegoers. I never heard screaming like I did during this movie. And these weren’t obvious “It’s a cat stupid!” jump scares. There is one moment in this movie that I will not ruin, that is on my list of all time great scare moments. Set in the 60s and with the total look and feel of that era, Ouija: Origin of Evil features some great performances, including one from young Lulu Wilson who had some amazing lines of dialogue and truly creepy things to do for someone her age. Ouija: Origin of Evil was my biggest surprise of the year, a shockingly great film, let alone a great horror movie. Ouija: Origin of Evil will be available on Amazon Video on January 10th, and releases on Blu-Ray/DVD a week later.
#1 – Train to Busan
This wasn’t even close. Train to Busan is not only the best horror movie of 2016, but one of the best films of the year, and my favorite movie ever involving zombies. For the second time in my top 5, South Korea makes an appearance and this time it’s on top. I saw Train to Busan atop many lists of the best horror films and usually with me, it’s hard to reach those expectations. Train to Busan exceeded every one. I watched it the other night and I am still reeling. Written and directed by Sang-ho Yeon, the film is about a father who reluctantly agrees to escort his 10-year-old daughter to visit her mom, his estranged wife in Busan. As the train pulls away an infected young girl dives on board and soon all hell breaks loose as a zombie outbreak begins both on the train and throughout the nation. Train to Busan is so intense I needed to pause every few minutes. Despite the confinement, we get excellent character development, such as Sang Hwa (Dong-seok Ma), who is a middle class grunt with a very pregnant wife, or Yong Suk (Eui-sung Kim), an older wealthy man who is obsessed with survival at any cost. As in any great zombie film, the least important characters are the zombies. The zombie action is tremendous and genuinely terrifying, using the 28 Days Later/World War Z approach when in large clusters, but making great use of make-up and sound effects when up close. Train to Busan is a movie about the characters. I found myself tearing up midway through, and by the end I was a hot mess. Please go and watch Train to Busan. If you love zombie gore, you got it. If you want riveting survival drama, look no further. If you want character development and legitimate drama in a horror film, this is it. Train to Busan is available on Amazon Video, and it’s the absolute best horror film of 2016.
What do you think? And what were your favorite horror films of 2016? Feel free to comment. I can talk horror all day long.