It’s been a fantastic year for horror (if you disagree, watch more). From quiet, brooding little indies to a big-budget reboot that packed a serious punch, there’s never been a better time to be a fan of all things spooky. This year, as cliché as it sounds, there truly was something for everyone–even if it meant going a bit further to find something to tickle one’s particular fancy.
The following are my personal picks for the standout, best horror movies of the year. The ones with instant re-watch potential, that changed the game and made me stop and think about just how much this genre can actually do. As it turns out, there’s a hell of a lot more to horror than meets the (severed) eye, and that was never more obvious than in 2016, with even the mainstream media unable to ignore our beloved genre.
Before we get started, here are some honourable mentions that didn’t quite make the cut but are worth seeking out regardless; Blair Witch (the ideal mixture of homage and modern ingenuity, loaded with scares), 31 (Rob Zombie’s best use of his bizarre talents thus far), The Mind’s Eye (chills and delights aplenty from Joe Begos, with a standout central performance from Graham Skipper), Found Footage 3D (Steven D. Gennaro’s found footage treat, with equal helpings of frights and laughs) and The Neon Demon (a trippy, gorgeous, wildly bizarre take on horror with a capital H from Nicolas Winding Refn).
Without further ado, and in no particular order:
If, like me, you’re a lifelong fan of sharksploitation, then you’ll know the difficulty and almost constant disappointments associated with same. From SyFy hybrids to the fun, but overdone, Sharknado series, there simply hasn’t been a decent offering in this sub-genre since Deep Blue Sea. Before that, it was Jaws. This is partly what made The Shallows, from action auteur Jaume Collet-Sera, such a wonderfully gruesome surprise. A couple of dodgy shots of the shark aside (that jump–eek), the Blake Lively-starring thriller is white-knuckle, edge-of-your-seat stuff, gripping right up until its final moments, as the Gossip Girl star fights for her life, and for our approval as a genuinely bad ass heroine. Truly terrifying and a worthy addition to the still under-performing sharksploitation sub-genre. Hopefully a rash of copycats will follow.
BEYOND THE GATES
Newcomer Jackson Stewart’s directorial debut (for which he also co-wrote the script) was the eighties throwback we didn’t realise we wanted. Focusing on the titular game, which two bickering brothers must play in order to save their missing father, Beyond The Gates is like Jumanji for grown-up horror fans. Much nastier and, indeed, far gorier than one would expect, packed with laughs and scares throughout, and with a scene-stealing performance from Jesse Merlin as a spooky shopkeeper, it’s no wonder Horror Icon Barbara Crampton signed on to produce (and star as the game’s alluring, yet terrifying hostess). A must-watch for anyone who ever wished Jumanji was less kid-friendly, Beyond The Gates will quickly become part of your regular rotation–even if we don’t have the game itself to play alongside it (yet).
The debate rages on about whether The Witch, the stark, stunning and ultimately quite disturbing debut from writer-director Robert Eggers, is really a horror movie. But such squabbles do this remarkable movie a disservice. This isn’t just another bullshit studio product to draw in the late-night multiplex crowd, nor is it intended to distance hardcore fans. The Witch is a great movie in its own right, something that has been proven by the attention it’s been afforded this year, finding itself on many year-end Best Of lists, from horror and mainstream sites alike. It’s really no wonder, considering Eggers’ twisted take on a variety of classic New England folk tales is one of the most frightening and bizarre offerings in years. Horror fans may bicker over its merits, but there’s no denying Eggers, Black Philip and newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy (as the tortured lead) made a significant impact this year.
THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE
A late entry, for those who didn’t catch it on the festival circuit earlier in the year. This slow-burn shocker, with a wonderful two-hander between Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch, as father-son mortuary workers, at its dark heart, has more in common with The Witch than would at first appear obvious. It also shares certain DNA with fellow 2016 standout I Am Not A Serial Killer, given its rather morbid setting. However, what director André Øvredal does with his supremely spooky, authentically atmospheric film is lull us into a false sense of security right from the outset. Even the most seasoned horror fans will find themselves tripped up by the various twists and turns he employs, while Cox and Hirsch are heartbreakingly believable in the lead roles. A late addition to 2016, but a standout nonetheless.
Much like The Witch, Jeremy Saulnier’s awe-inspiring third feature has come under fire recently for, allegedly, not being a “real” horror movie. If almost sawing somebody’s hand off with a machete, before someone else’s stomach is cut open like a zip ain’t horror, then I don’t know what is. But, again, such arguments belie just how incredible Green Room really is. From the attention to detail to ensure all of the punk trappings feel authentic, to the stomach-churning gore, the palpable tension and that performance from Patrick Stewart, there’s no denying this will soon take its rightful place as one of the all-time great horror movies. Not just one of the best horror movies of the year, but one of 2016’s standout releases period. Its notoriety has been guaranteed thanks to the untimely death of star Anton Yelchin, but there’s no doubt Green Room will become a film for the ages. And it most definitely is a horror movie.