Top Ten Horror Movies of 2016

When The Forest rolled into theaters back in January, I wasn't confident that 2016 was going to bring us much in the way of decent horror but boy, did I underestimate both the industry and the temperature of our country. Suffice it to say, between the real-life horror show of the election and this year's crop of fright flicks, I was left shaken...and stirred.

Let's get started with the honorable mentions!

I debated even mentioning THE LOVE WITCH in a "Best of Horror" list as it is a pure campy (and quite feminist) homage to the schlock and melodrama of great 60s and 70s horror-sploitation films. But I couldn't recommend it more. Between Anna Biller's (VIVA) eye for kitsch and Samantha Robison's luridly nuanced performance, I can't help but LOVE this WITCH. ::cough::

Speaking of performances, NINA FOREVER's titular headliner, Fiona O'Shaughnessy, steals this show with a gory, sleazy and utterly hilarious turn as a lovelorn zombie. I challenge you to watch NINA and not fall in love with O'Shaughnessy! (HULU)

THE SHALLOWS really took me by surprise. I'm not really a fan of Blake Lively and hadn't followed her career at all so wasn't expecting her to be as captivating in this role as turned out to be. No small achievement as her character IS the movie. Well. There is a shark, too. It's a nail-biter.

There were other horror films that I liked this year, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL and THE CONJURING 2 were both competent and offered some scares but not quite in the way that the next movies rose to the challenge.

And now! Numbers 10 to 2...

Number Ten, THE EYES OF MY MOTHER, is a potent indie horror film with the cinematic scope of an epic. Shot in black and white with the occasional subtitle (the characters dip into Portuguese on occasion), the effect is unnerving, or rather foreign, despite being a clear homage to an American Gothic. The horror here is intense and unrelenting, but not in the sense of creating fear or jump scares. EYES tortures the audience with dread and situational horror. A truly unique vision.

If there were any question as to John Goodman's star power, my Number Nine, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, quashes it. Goodman is downright frightening as a potentially insane survivalist who "saves" Mary Elizabeth Winstead from a global pandemic of some sort. Man is this bunker packed with secrets...and, perhaps, aliens? Only loosely associated to CLOVERFIELD, I can't wait to see what GOD PARTICLE, the next in this franchise, has in store.

There's a seeming subtlety to Iranian horror films if 2015's A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT and this year's Number Eight pick, UNDER THE SHADOW are any indication. A sparseness that speaks to isolation, even in a city setting. It sets the viewer on edge. But whereas GIRL takes its time to creep under your skin. UNDER THE SHADOW gets right to it, building tension from the bombastic appearance of an unexploded missile to its frightening climax. (Netflix)

I wasn't sure what to do with my Number Seven pick, THE NEON DEMON, nor were most audience members. The film is undeniably gorgeous on an artistic level, the color tones remind one of classic Italian giallo, and the soundtrack is one of the year's best, in any genre. It took me a second viewing to truly embrace Nicholas Winding Refn's vision and detect the subtle insistence that a cabal is at work from the outset. The third act of NEON DEMON had the entire theater groaning with discomfort. And I love an uncomfortable crowd. (Amazon Prime)

My Number Six pick is the first of two Korean horror movies on the list, the oddly epic THE WAILING. While tonally, this one bounces around a bit, hanging out in comedy for a bit too long, once it gets rolling into the possession elements it's a fast descent into madness. The cultural elements of the film, shamans, demons and ghosts unlike any presented in American movies, work in THE WAILING's favor creating an atmosphere that unsettles right along with the plot to its horrific end. (Netflix)

If you'd told me that there'd be a film that would knock THE WITCH out of my top spot, let alone all the way down to Number Five back in February, I wouldn't have believed you. Although not an easily accessible film, the dialogue is so Olde English that it practically needed subtitles, THE WITCH starts off with a gruesome bang and then trades that horrific visual for a slow burn that really creeps up on you until the third act which is fucknuts crazy. Also, Black Phillip is a genuine STAR! (Amazon Prime)

At Number Four, DON'T BREATHE, director Fede Alvarez's follow up to his great and gory reboot of EVIL DEAD. DON'T BREATHE takes another simple premise and flays it open with a unique twist and terrific performances (and yeah, the year's most shocking to that whole November 8th thing). 

It took me quite a while to fit in screenings of the next two on the list, but I'm glad I did before finalizing. At Number Three, TRAIN TO BUSAN is a return to that rare achievement, the truly great zombie movie. It's been a long time (DAWN OF THE DEAD remake?) since a zombie movie really got me hooked in. The premise is simple, a zombie outbreak coincides with an undeniably crappy father's decision to escort his daughter on a train trip to see her estranged mother. I won't spoil the plot points, but suffice it to say, these undead folk are tweakin'!

Which brings us to, Number Two, the utterly unexpected and wholly unique, THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE. I went into JANE DOE blind and was hooked by its procedural take on the horror genre. It is a graphic dissection of both viscera and trope and I'm biting my tongue before I make comparisons to another movie on this list. Suffice it to say, JANE DOE isn't going to be a run of the mill autopsy!

And finally the Number One(s)???

Surprise! It's a tie!

I honestly couldn't bear to drop either of these into the number two spot. I absolutely adored both but they couldn't possibly be more different in tone or pacing. THE INVITATION is that rare achievement, a low budget independent film, that rises to classic status from first viewing. Karen Kusama, who directed the under-rated JENNIFER'S BODY, steps back into horror with a slow burn that ends in a California wildfire. A man and his girlfriend are invited to a dinner party by his ex-wife and her new husband only to find that they've wandered into an Amway-style pitch party for a cult. I'll leave it at that. There is so much ambling ambiguity going on along the way that you'll only think you know what's happening until BAM! Now I need to watch it again! (Netflix)

Sharing the top spot, and featuring one of the final performances of Anton Yelchin, is a knock out thriller from the director of 2013's masterful BLUE RUIN, Jeremy Saulnier (a name you're going to be hearing a lot of in the future). GREEN ROOM is a shock to the system, a wholly original twist on a premise with roots in films like THE HILLS HAVE EYES or LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. A punk band in a financial bind begrudgingly accepts a gig at a skinhead bar in the middle of nowhere. From the minute they meet Patrick Stewart, who KILLS IT as the big bad, you know this isn't going to end well. Do yourself a favor and watch this one pronto.

HELL. WATCH ALL OF THEM. 2016 was a pretty great horror year!!!


MARK HENRY is the author of such classic works of literature as HAPPY HOUR OF THE DAMNED (a zombie comedy with a complete disregard for propriety), the erotic bruiseslut epic, CLUMSY GIRL, and VELVETEEN, a young adult novel that's likely not for teens at all. He is a known agitator and fugitive from the occupation of psychotherapy and a southern baptist upbringing. Send cocktails in lieu of flowers.

His latest work, FATHOMS, is a kinky tale of vikings, revenge and sea monsters!

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