So as no one mourns the end of 2016, least of all me, we can at least take some comfort in the fact that it was another solid year for horror. Not that it was always easy to WATCH horror movies with all the awful things going on in the world. This last year has been my least prolific on My Own Personal Hell not for a lack of trying but between Trump, Brexit, celebrity and personal deaths and various atrocities throughout the world, sometimes the “joy and fun” of horror is too difficult to stomach. I’ve mostly been watching Rick and Morty on a loop to try and cheer myself up, and even that has a scene where the two protagonists have to bury their own corpses from an alternative reality and take their places.
I wouldn’t say that this last year was as good as 2015 – in fact where as then I had TOO many films to fit onto the list, this time round I struggled to fill the top ten. That’s not to say that there weren’t a lot of good films, or at least goodish, but top ten worthy? Well there were just about enough…
10. The Boy
Its weird how, despite Halloween being near the end of the year, it is the first few month which offers the best of the genre. Maybe the gap before the summer blockbusters leaves a suitable hole for horror, or maybe its just that the bleak mid winter is a natural time for such tales. Whatever the case The Boy is a perfect slice of hugely entertaining gothic horror silliness with a great central performance from The Walking Dead‘s Lauren Cohan. The Boy is no great shakes story-wise but it is like a tin of Heinz Cream of Tomato soup, perfect comfort for the horror fan. Not sure why the boy in the picture above is the weird kid from M.A.D. magazine though.
9. Under The Shadow
If you want something a bit different then hop on over to Iran for your scares. A tight urban haunting set during the Iran-Iraq war in the early eighties, although the basics of the story have been seen many (too many some might say) times before, it is the setting of time and place which really make Under The Shadow feel fresh and original. Not only is there the back drop of the war to contend with but also the struggles of an educated woman after the Iranian revolution. Add in a genuinely creepy and different spirit and you have one of the most original feeling films of the year. Apart from the basic story that is.
8. Blair Witch
This surprised me. At the time I was kind of dismissive of Blair Witch as a slicker semi remake of the original, and indeed that is kind of what it is. Most of the new ideas seem like missed opportunities rather than good narrative or visual plot devices and the found footage genre continues its slow death. And yet not only was it one of the most intense films I’ve seen this year with genuine scares and strong atmosphere but its also one of the few I kept on thinking about for days after.
SiREN takes the original short film Amateur Night (from VHS) and really runs with it, exploring the story in interesting and original ways. The film is obviously cheap as chips and its ambitions are frequently let down by the lack of budget, but you have to admire the film makers balls for trying something different and interesting here.
If there is one problem with the a lot of horror recently it is that it is really running the haunted/possessed family story into the ground. We’ve had so many films doing this of late, particularly since the critical smash that was The Babadook. Under The Shadow and The Other Side of The Door are just the top end of an almost never ending dirge of demons, devils, witches and ghostly murderers all trying to take the bodies of various family members. The Conjuring 2, like its prequel, once more stands head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. It helps that it is based on a “true” story and with a budget to realise its period setting and set pieces. What really makes The Conjuring 2 work though is its characters, cast and exceptional direction – not much to ask for really! It also has a killer nun which always helps.
South Korea continues to prove itself to be one of the best producers of mainstream films outside of America with Train to Busan being a deeply unoriginal zombie movie (aren’t they all nowadays?) which at the same time is a great slice of terror entertainment and full of dynamic action.
Barely a horror film until the final, grisly act, Bone Tomahawk still has a pervading sense of dread throughout the whole film that few westerns ever touch on. The Wild West really WAS wild with mankind set free to do what the hell it wanted to its fellow man. Only the small gang of very flawed heroes led by Kurt Russell can stand up against such evil in what is essentially a cannibalistic version of The Searchers. Russell has never been better but the rest of the gang are all at the top of their game too – Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox and especially Richard Jenkins as Russell’s foolish but also rather wonderful deputy and best friend.
3. Green Room
Green Room could not surely have been released at a better time in America than 2016. It shows the Alt-Right/Neo Nazis as the monsters they are at a time when the American people were just getting to know who they were. Sadly not enough people saw Green Room to be put off voting for the person these hateful people supported during the election. Whatever the case, it is still a terrifically tense movie which showcases the late Anton Yelchin in one of his coolest and most charismatic performances. He will be greatly missed.
2. The Witch
Okay, so The Witch is in a lot of people’s top tens for 2016 and with good reason. You can look elsewhere to read about the great performances, the cold, stark look of the film and a story that you have no idea where it is going, but really its at number two because it has a goat in it called Black Phillip.
1.The Girl With All The Gifts
So the film I most enjoyed this year totally contradicts what I was saying earlier about zombie films being unoriginal. The Girl With All Gifts surely follows and is influenced by such classics as Day of the Dead for its military bunker location and 28 Days Later for its British setting, but it has such a strong and different perspective on the genre that it comes across as totally unique. This is of course down to the girl of the title and her world view, and a great performance from Sennia Nunua. By keeping with her throughout the film we see the zombie apocalypse not only in all its chaos and violence but also how it can bring about something new and transcendent to humanity. This isn’t just an intelligent study on life and death though, it is also a rip roaring horror movie with great performances and terrific action.