Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time: The Top Ten Horror Films Of 2016

January 5, 2017 | Posted by Joseph Lee

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

You know what? 2016 was a pretty bad year. There was a lot of death, a lot of disappoinment and a lot of people being just absolute dicks to one another. That’s one reason I love the horror genre so much. It’s a way to escape from all that crap by watching bad things happen to fictional people. It gives you a release, however briefly, from all the tension you have in your life. At least that’s how it works for me

So it probably helps that while 2016 may have been a piece of toilet-dunked toast in many aspects, it was a great year for the genre. This year was so good that even most Hollywood horror had merit for the first time in a long time. Even the most of the bad ones weren’t so much awful (although there were some of those) as they were generic and dull. This year I watched more horror movies than any other genre, because I kept tracking down movie after movie that other fans praised. Even if I didn’t agree, I got something out of it.

This is my longwinded way of saying that this year was great for horror and I’ve got ten movies that prove why. It was a year where I questioned if the art of suspense was dying and I was proven wrong. A lot of filmmakers this year really tried hard to craft scares. Even if it didn’t work out, at least there was effort. I can appreciate that.

So with all the gushing out of the way, how about I get negative and reveal my Three Worst Horror Films of 2016?

#3: The Other Side of the Door

As I’ve said, even most of the bad films this year had some effort shown. The Other Side of the Door is clearly from someone trying to make a good movie, it just fails on every level. First of all, Sarah Wayne Callies tries really hard to make it work. I’d almost recommend this to see her really put effort into playing the grieving mother who will do anything to have another moment with her son. The problem is that the script is terrible, with her character being the absolute dumbest in a mainstream horror film in some time. The horror movie’s very premise hinges on the fact that she’s dumb. She’s explicitly told not to do a thing and ten minutes later she does that very thing. It’s a dumb decision out of grief, sure, but it’s handled poorly and comes off as completely out of character from who the lead is established to be later. When you throw in poorly-handed jump scares, a nonsensical story and a cheap, generic ending, you have a surefire recipe for a bad movie.

#2: The Darkness

However, when it comes to lazy horror, you can stop looking. The Darkness is that and then some. I fully admit that Wolf Creek is competently made, it’s just not my thing. That’s an example of a movie that’s not outright bad, it just didn’t click with me. The Darkness is an example of a movie that takes every single horror cliche you can think of and throws them into one mixture without the slightest bit of irony or effort to make it stand out. And once again, it wastes what was a pretty decent Kevin Bacon performance. What is with actors slumming it in movies that they’re clearly better than this year?

#1: Yoga Hosers

I…I’m not sure how to properly express my hatred for this.

I’ve been a fan of Kevin Smith for a long time. I know that he has his detractors, and that’s fine, but I dig his movies. I didn’t hate Yoga Hosers because it was weird. Tusk was weird and I liked that just fine for the insane bit of body horror it was. But this? This makes me think Kevin Smith smoking pot was the worst thing he could have done for his career. It may not be true, it may not even be rational, but I can think of no other explanation for why he would think little murderous Nazi sausages would be great villains for anything, even a horror comedy. Or how about a running gag with little info boxes for each character with what the Colleens think of them? How about an unfunny series of jokes about the lead villain’s ability to mimic the voices of popular actors? How about unfunny jokes about Canada? How about unfunny jokes about yoga as a fighting technique? Yoga Hosers isn’t just a bad comedy or a bad movie, it’s abrasive. It’s a movie that is unsufferable and annoying to the point where if I paid to see it, I’d walk out ten minutes in. I don’t know what possessed Smith to push this past the “hey you know what might be funny” stage, but I hope he doesn’t do it again.

And now for good movies. I don’t do “Honorable Mentions”, but just know that if something you really liked didn’t make it, it probably (barely) missed the cut. I was mad at myself for what I didn’t include this year.

Let’s get to the Top Ten Horror Films of 2016!

#10: Southbound

Director: Radio Silence, Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath

Cast: Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Fabianne Therese, Hannah Marks, Nathalie Love, Kate Beahan, Susan Burke, Tyler Tuione, Gerald Downey, Larry Fessenden

Story: An anthology film of five interwoven tales of people experiencing the worst night of their lives.

If there’s one thing I love, it’s a good horror anthology movie. This one follows five interlocked stories, with the characters briefly crossing paths in some fashion. They’re all connected in a way that can’t really be spoiled, but there are clues there if you know where to look. The best stories, in my opinion, are “Siren” and “The Accident”. The former is about an all-girl rock band that meets up with a religions group, but you can tell right away that things are off. The second features a man hitting a woman with his car and rushing her to a hospital that turns out to be abandoned. Those are vague descriptions, but it’s best if you go into this without anything getting spoiled. Don’t even watch the trailer.

Southbound is the rare horror anthology films where everything is connected in some way, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first. Each story is its own closed off story, but it spins off into the next flawlessly. For that, it keeps things rolling. And the best part about one of these is that if you don’t like a story, another one will be coming along soon enough. These movies are hardly ever bad, so all it takes is a little effort to make one really good. Definitely check this out if you see it somewhere (like Netflix, hint hint).

#9: The Witch

Director: Robert Eggers

Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson

Story: A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.

As I said, earlier this year I wrote a column about how people seem to be less interested in suspense than they used to be. What prompted it was the backlash to the critical acclaim of The Witch, which I couldn’t understand at the time. Now I feel a little differently. If you’re not a fan of The Witch, I get why. I don’t agree, but I get it. There is some harsh material here, it’s a slow burn and well, the family talk in a way that we don’t talk and it’s sometimes hard to understand them. However, that’s all what I like about it.

I compared this film to The Wicker Man and while I certainly don’t think it’s as good as that film (Wicker Man is, after all, a horror classic). it’s story beats and build borrow heavily from that and movies like it (like say, Rosemary’s Baby). It’s an incredibly slow film but the pacing is deliberate. The tension among the family continues to build as does a general feeling of unease or dread. You just know bad things are going to continue to happen to this family. However, when the bad things do happen, it doesn’t relieve the tension, it just makes it worse. This leads to the insane and crazy ending which like other movies of this time, justifies the build.

Simply put, The Witch is a great exercise in atmosphere and mood and it belongs on a list of the best of the year.

#8: The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Director: Andre Ovredal

Cast: Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox, Ophelia Lovibond, Michael McElhatton, Olwen Kelly

Story: A father and son, both coroners, are pulled into a complex mystery while attempting to identify the body of a young woman, who was apparently harboring dark secrets.

I saw a lot of hype for this movie toward the end of the year and was almost worried I wouldn’t get a chance to check it out. It finally hit in late December so I was able to finally see what the fuss was about. The Autopsy of Jane Doe is another uncomfortable sit, but for entirely different reasons than other films on this list. There is that foreboding atmosphere that horror fans love, but what I liked about it was the feeling of death permeating everything other moment on screen.

It makes sense, of course. This film is entirely set in a morgue and the title gives away the fact it’s about an autopsy. It’s not just a quick autopsy scene, either. It’s not even as short as the one in Saw IV and that grossed me out at the time. This one focuses on this one corpse (and occasionally others) for the entire length of the film, forcing you to stare at her and watch as she’s cut open and commented on like she’s a piece of meat. At first you feel bad for the woman, then you fear for the lives of the people who are just doing their jobs.

This is a movie that plays out like a mystery, but every new clue adds a little bit of dread. The more we find out, the less we want to know. Every single thing found in her body just makes the situation worse and worse. When things really start happening, I was already hooked. Throw in the fact that Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox play wonderfully off each other (and Olwen Kelly somehow manages to give a good performance as a dead body) and you have one of the best of the year. Give this one a look as soon as you can.

#7: Don’t Breathe

Director: Fede Alvarez

Cast: Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto

Story: Hoping to walk away with a massive fortune, a trio of thieves break into the house of a blind man who isn’t as helpless as he seems.

I remember reading somewhere that Don’t Breathe was Fede Alvarez’s response to people who didn’t like the fact that Evil Dead was a super-gory remake. If anything, this movie proves that he’s just as good as making a suspenseful picture as he is a nasty and violent one. It’s a horror film that locks your protagonists in a single location with one major threat then lets them chase each other around until the climax. Sometimes simple works and Don’t Breathe is an example of that.

Stephen Lang has been great villains in the past, but he’s very chilling as the Blind Man. There’s a moment here where he reveals his motives for everything and plan for Rocky (Jane Levy) that’s disgusting and hard to watch. It’s also a moment that immediately makes the audience switch sides, because up until that point, you can kind of see where the blind man is coming from. Once he does what he does, however, all bets are off and he’s the clear antagonist. There’s a lot of moments like that. Sometimes you’re sure a character is dead but they’re not. Other times you’re convinced they’ve escaped but they haven’t. There’s even a Cujo homage in here, which certainly made me happy to catch.

Fede Alvarez is very good at what he does and after two successful movies in the genre, I can’t wait to see what he does next.

#6: Baskin

Director: Can Evrenol

Cast: Ergun Kuyucu, Muharrem Bayrak, Gorkem Kasal, Fatih Dokgoz, Sabahattin Yakut, Mehmet Cerrahoglu, Sevket Suha Tezel, Fadik Bulbul, Mehmet Akif Budak

Story: A squad of unsuspecting cops goes through a trapdoor to Hell when they stumble upon a Black Mass in an abandoned building.

Baskin is a Turkish movie, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I think that’s what I liked about it. It feels like a really bad nightmare. There’s not a lot of logic to anything that’s happening but there’s a lot of it that is terrifying to look at. The big climax is when our heroes (?) stumble into…a cult? A group of demons? Another layer of Hell? I don’t know. But there’s a weird-looking guy there is doing a lot of sick stuff. There’s a lot of gore here but it’s not just that. It’s just hard to look at. It’s a hellish landscape full of sex, blood and dirt.

The plot synopsis seems to suggest they wandered into Hell, and if that’s so, Hell’s pretty messed up. This is a movie I’m going to have to watch again, because I need to try to make sense of it. What’s there is disturbing, and the fact that they managed to capture a nightmare on film (more so than say, Phantasm or Nightmare on Elm Street, which both had more linear storytelling than this) makes this one of the better horror films of the year.

#5: The Wailing

Director: Na Hong-jin

Cast: Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Chun Woo-hee, Jun Kunimura, Kim Hwan-hee

Story: A stranger arrives in a little village and soon after a mysterious sickness starts spreading. A policeman is drawn into the incident and is forced to solve the mystery in order to save his daughter.

The Wailing is another movie that’s going to take another watch once I have two-and-a-half hours to give it again. It’s a long sit and it takes its time to get going, but once it does it’s a hell of a ride. The film follows a bumbling policeman who is investigating a string of bizarre murders. He begins to connect the dots with a strange Japanese man wandering around town and some supernatural causes, then things get serious when his daughter is infected.

The first 30-45 minutes this movie are equal parts creepy and funny. That’s because Jong-Goo isn’t very good at his job and he’s kind of an idiot. However, he clearly loves his daughter and when she’s threatened, he gets his act together. This results in the removal of all comedy, which may be jarring for some but I thought it worked for the character. Once that’s out of the way, it adds layer after layer to the story with an ending that will work like a punch to the gut if you enjoyed everything up to it.

This is a movie that tries a lot of different things and somehow manages to succeed at them all. When it wants to get under your skin, it does. When it wants to tug on your heartstrings a bit, it does that too. There’s a lot to be found in The Wailing, a film that is a horror film, but also is a lot of other things too. It’s best to just skip labels and watch it.

#4: The Conjuring 2

Director: James Wan

Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Madison Wolfe, Frances O’Connor, Lauren Esposito, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Simon Delaney, Shannon Kook, Sterling Jerins, Javier Botet

Story: Lorraine and Ed Warren, who, in one of their most terrifying paranormal investigations, travel to north London to help a single mother raising four children alone in a house plagued by malicious spirits.

In a year where sequels largely disappointed, The Conjuring 2 came along and showed how to do a horror sequel properly. There are a lot of people out there hoping to take the horror crown away from James Wan but until he starts turning down projects like this he’s going to be pretty good at what he does. In this case, it’s a film that manages to tell a completely different story from the last one but still deliver scares and take the plot in directions differently from where you think it’s going.

I said in my review for the site that it’s not as scary as the first. I don’t know if I’d go that far because rewatches have held up quite well. The nun in particular, even though she’s getting her own Annabelle-esque cash-in movie, is quite frightening and is featured in one of the best sequences in the movie. There’s also a great scare with the old man ghost and of course, the Crooked Man. These movies can keep going on and on as long as they are as well-written, well-acted and scary as this one was.

#3: Hush

Director: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher Jr, Michael Trucco, Samantha Sloyan, Emilia Graves

Story: A deaf writer who retreated into the woods to live a solitary life must fight for her life in silence when a masked killer appears at her window.

Sometimes I like my horror movies to be more intimate. Keep it contained to a single setting, reduce the character count as much as possible and turn up the suspense level to 11. Hush is about a deaf woman who is menaced by a serial killer in the middle of nowhere. It’s a very simple premise and it’s helped by the fact that she can’t hear where the killer is or what he’s up to. That of course leads to some creepy moments where he’s standing right behind her playing games and she’s oblivious.

It’s a simple premise and if I said anything else I’d spoil it. The movie features a lot of twists and turns as she tries to think of new ways to escape, but the killer always seems to be one step ahead. The pacing and the way the scenes are set up is absolutely terrific, as everything that happens serves a purpose. It’s been a great career for Mike Flanagan so far, with this (in my opinion) being his best film to date. It’s a small, tension-filled cat-and-mouse game that doesn’t let up until the end.

#2: The Eyes of My Mother

Director: Nicolas Pesce

Cast: Diana Agostini, Olivia Bond, Will Brill, Kika Magalhaes, Clara Wong, Paul Nazak

Story: A young, lonely woman is consumed by her deepest and darkest desires after tragedy strikes her quiet country life.

For the longest time, Hush was going to be my top choice and I didn’t think anything would beat it. But because 2016 has been such a great year, I caught my top two choices around the same time and it’s been really hard to decide which of them is the best. There’s a good chance I regret my order tomorrow, but for now, let me tell you how good The Eyes of My Mother is.

First of all, this is definitely not for everyone. It’s a black-and-white movie that follows a single character. However, it’s also a bleak character piece about a young girl with no moral compass who grows up to do some very nasty things. This movie starts out feeling like some arthouse attempt at the genre, which I think is simply to catch the viewer offguard. You want to think it’s this pretentious movie but then bad things start to happen and you become more and more unsettled. It just digs under your skin as it continues.

The Eyes of My Mother ends up being one of those movies that make you feel wrong after. It makes you feel dirty. And yet, there’s barely any gore. Most of the violence is suggested or you only see the aftermath. It’s more about what this person is doing and how they’re acting than it is seeing all the gruesome details. A lot of the credit for that goes to Kika Magalhaes, who completely owns this movie. There’s a moment I love where she’s talking with another woman and ends up disturbing her simply by casually bringing up the subject of death. You can see in her eyes she doesn’t know exactly why this person wants to leave and she begins to try to connect the dots in her mind on how to convince her to stay. It’s a tremendous performance.

The Eyes of My Mother kind of snuck up on me this year, but it’s a brisk watch (77 minutes) that I plan to revisit often, or at least as often as one can a disturbing movie like this.

#1: Train to Busan

Director: Yeon Sang-ho

Cast: Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok, Jung Yu-mi, Kim Su-an, Kim Eui-sung, Choi Woo-shik, Ahn So-hee

Story: While a zombie-virus breaks out in South Korea, a couple of passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.

I’ve said for years that I’m sick to death of zombie movies. I can’t even think of a really good one since Zombieland, and that was almost eight years ago (and a comedy). Sure, The Walking Dead is great, but you’re not watching that for the corpses. I was kind of hoping the zombie craze would die out and I was not willing to give it a chance. Then I watched Train to Busan.

I don’t know if I’d immediately label this a zombie film, but it’s close enough. It’s like a zombie movie on amphetamines. It’s what World War Z tried to be. It’s a chaotic, thrilling movie where the infected run, can’t be stopped and can make you just like them in under thirty seconds. One bite and that’s it. You barely have enough time to tell your loved ones goodbye. And they don’t stop to eat you, either. They bite you then move on to infect someone else. Just think about how quickly *that* would spread.

This movie runs along at a frantic pace and has so many great sequences I don’t know if I can or should reveal any of them to you. The zombies are actually scary, which is something I don’t know if I’ve said in a long time. In the middle of all the huge amounts of edge-of-your-seat moments, there’s also a lot of time to get to know your main characters and either love or hate them (and you’ll probably do both) depending on their actions. Then as they start to get picked off, you give the appropriate reaciton. In the middle of all the zombie carnage, somehow it manages to suck you in and make you care about the people in the movie. That’s a great horror film.

If nothing else, I think Train to Busan deserves the top spot for making me care about zombies again. It’s horrific, it’s well-made and it manages to inject some new life into a style of horror I thought had died out (no pun intended) due to everyone blatantly cashing in years ago. I just love this movie and plan to showing it to as many of my friends as I can. It’s great. Go see it.

Ending Notes:

That’s it for me. Leave some comments here, on my Twitter or my Facebook.

Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)

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