2016 may best be remembered for the US presidential campaign, but it was a great year for horror movies. The fact that I am releasing a Top 15 List, as opposed to a traditional Top 10, is proof of the immense field of potential candidates. You’ll also notice a slew of Honorable Mentions below. It wasn’t a perfect year, so I’ve included a few of my biggest disappointments as well. Enjoy!
Be My Cat: A Film for Anne (Directed by Adrian Tofei)
I was lucky enough to see a screener of Be My Cat: A Film for Anne back in 2015, and I’m thrilled that the film has been released to the masses in 2016. Those willing to put a fork in the found footage subgenre after this year’s Blair Witch had better check this one out; it’s proof that there is plenty of fuel left in the tank for creative, innovative fear practitioners like Adrian Tofei. The film has already polarized audiences; at some screening, people walked out over Be My Cat’s extreme and ultra-realistic depictions of violence. But the film is unnaturally captivating; just watching it feels like a dangerous, subversive act.
Official Synopsis: A young man in Romania goes to shocking extremes to convince Hollywood actress Anne Hathaway to star in his film.
Stars: Adrian Tofei, Sonia Teodoriu, Florentina Hariton, Alexandra Stroe
Swiss Army Man (Directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)
Swiss Army Man is an extremely humorous and deliciously morbid romp that eventually plums the deepest pits of emotional horror. On the festival circuit, the film was affectionately dubbed “The Farting Corpse Movie” proof of its singularity in terms of storytelling and creativity. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and, by the film’s conclusion, you’ll feel like you’ve been hit in the gut. Love and madness are rarely meshed so impressively.
Official Synopsis: A hopeless man stranded on a deserted island befriends a dead body and together they go on a surreal journey to get home.
Stars: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
The Invitation (Directed by Karyn Kusama)
The pervasive sense of dread that permeates The Invitation is palpable, proving that many of the most effective horror flicks are those with the simplest plots. The entire film takes place over the course of a dinner party, almost unfolding in real-time. What at first feels merely uncomfortable soon skyrockets to terrifying levels of paranoia. Horror Master Alfred Hitchcock would be proud of director Karyn Kusama’s achievement. The shocking conclusion will floor you! The Invitation was one of my top favorites of 2016.
Official Synopsis: While attending a dinner party at his former home, a man thinks his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister intentions for their guests.
Stars: Logan Marshall-Green, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michiel Huisman
Green Room (Directed by Jeremy Saulnier)
Patrick Stewart and Anton Yelchin (who tragically passed away this year after a bizarre accident) both give Oscar-caliber performances in indie legend Jeremy Saulnier’s brutally devastating Green Room. The youthful, rebellious spirit of Punk Rock meets a tragic end at the hands of machete-wielding white supremacists. It’s a film about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, falling victim to cruel destiny through a series of split second, seemingly inconsequential decisions. Green Room is a film that sticks with you long after the credits roll.
Official Synopsis: A punk rock band is forced to fight for survival after witnessing a murder at a neo-Nazi skinhead bar.
Stars: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat
10 Cloverfield Lane (Directed by Dan Trachtenberg)
John Goodman’s performance as Howard in 10 Cloverfield Lane is absolutely Oscar-worthy, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (who also appeared in Swiss Army Man) establishes herself as an A-Lister. Great performances are matched by an excellent script that keeps us unbalanced and second-guessing ourselves throughout the entire film. White-knuckle suspense is omnipresent and the twist ending felt like an absolute treat! I can’t wait to see what J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions’ next installment in the “Clover-verse”.
Official Synopsis: After getting in a car accident, a woman is held in a shelter with two men, who claim the outside world is affected by a widespread chemical attack.
Stars: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.
Clown (Directed by Jon Watts)
While International audiences have been enjoying the Eli-Roth produced Clown since 2014, us Yanks only gout our first (legal) look this year. It was definitely worth the wait and absolutely lived up to the hype. It’s way more than “just another creepy clown movie”, it makes some seriously creative innovations, connecting Clown to Scandinavian demons, and has a surprisingly emotional core. Kent’s (Andy Power) transformation is as harrowing as watching a junky waste away on the needle. Clown is a film with enough balls to kill a kid, and it’s a real thrill to experience.
Official Synopsis: A loving father finds a clown suit for his son’s birthday party, only to realize that it is not a suit at all.
Stars: Andy Powers, Laura Allen, Peter Stormare
Tale of Tales (Directed by Matteo Garrone)
If I had to describe Tale of Tales in a single pithy sentence, I’d say: “It’s The Princess Bride for Horror Freaks.” It’s pure escapist entertainment that’s filled with the gruesome sweet eye-candy Horror Freaks love. While it seemed to come and go without much fanfare, I adored Tale of Tales, which is basically an anthology film where the stories are interwoven; I was bummed when the movie ended.
Official Synopsis: From the bitter quest of the Queen of Longtrellis, to two mysterious sisters who provoke the passion of a king, to the King of Highhills obsessed with a giant Flea, these tales are inspired by the fairytales by Giambattista Basile.
Stars: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones
SiREN (Directed by Gregg Bishop)
The opening segment of 2012’s V/H/S, Armature Night, got the feature film treatment in 2016, and the results are golden—bloody and golden! Hannah Fierman and her beautiful, humongous eyes are back as seductive young woman who’s much more than she seems. SiREN is entertaining from start to finish, with great pacing, awesome FX, and very clever storytelling. If anything, it’s slightly too ambitious, with many intriguing themes and interesting characters merely glossed over when they could have been explored. Hey, maybe in the sequel, Right?
Official Synopsis: A bachelor party becomes a savage fight for survival when the groomsmen unwittingly unleash a fabled predator upon the festivities.
Stars: Hannah Fierman, Chase Williamson, Justin Welborn
I Am Not a Serial Killer (Directed by Billy O’Brien)
In I Am Not a Serial Killer, a young man with all the warning signs of future violent tendencies learns the difference between the urge to kill, and the need to kill. The evolving relationship between the two leads is deeply compelling, at times symbiotic, at other times adversarial. There’s a mystery at the film’s core, as well as explorations of genetic predestination and the real-life monsters who live among us. The final scene will leave you breathless.
Official Synopsis: In a small Midwestern town, a troubled teen with homicidal tendencies must hunt down and destroy a supernatural killer whilst keeping his own inner demons at bay.
Stars: Christopher Lloyd, Laura Fraser, Max Records
Jack Goes Home (Directed by Thomas Dekker)
The chemistry between Rory Culkin and Lin Shaye in Jack Goes Home is arresting; they play a brash, oversensitive son and his cold, analytical mother with serious unresolved issues. While there’s a personal relationship at the film’s core, there are also mysteries, madness, and ghosts (at least of the metaphorical variety). Jack Goes Home has more than one shocking reveal and an ending that’s emotionally brutal. This is a film I couldn’t stop thinking about for days after I watched it.
Official Synopsis: After his father is killed in a car crash, Jack travels home to Colorado to help nurse his mother (who was injured in the crash) back to health. There, he uncovers long buried secrets and lies within his family history, his parents, his friends and his very identity.
Stars: Britt Robertson, Nikki Reed, Natasha Lyonne, Rory Culkin, Lin Shaye
Phantasm: Ravager (Directed by David Hartman)
The 5th and final installment of Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm “Phranchise”, Phantasm: Ravager, is a near perfect film—if you’re a “Phan”. It’s a brilliant and genuinely moving conclusion to a story that began back in 1979, and a touching memorial to the late Angus Scrimm. David Hartman’s direction is brilliant, essentially transforming the entire world into a Coscarellian nightmare. If you’re not a longtime Phan, jumping in at this point will be excruciatingly perplexing. So if you’re curious about what Ravager is all about, start from the beginning of the Phranchise and build up to it.
Official Synopsis: Small-town friends Reggie (Reggie Bannister), Mike (A. Michael Baldwin), and Jody (Bill Thornbury) continue in their quest to stop the evil, dimension-hopping schemes of The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and his armada of killer Sentinel Spheres. This time, the fight becomes a multi-dimensional battle across multiple timelines, alien planets and altered realities, where no less than the fate of Earth is on the line.
Stars: Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Dawn Cody, Angus Scrimm
Train to Busan (Directed by Sang-ho Yeon)
Boiling the plot of Train to Busan down to “zombies on a train” is a gross simplification of both the action and the deeper issues explored within this Korean horror gem. Yes, it overflows brutal zombie violence in close quarters, but it’s also a surprisingly perceptive examination of fatherhood and classism. While many horror movies feature strangers banding together to fight a common enemy, Train to Busan shows the opposite (and ugly) side of the coin: A disaster inspiring many to selfishly fend for themselves. There’s a morality at play, and a truly beautiful conclusion that’s poignant and, unbelievably, hopeful.
Official Synopsis: While a zombie-virus breaks out in South Korea, a couple of passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.
Stars: Yoo Gong, Soo-an Kim, Yu-mi Jung
The Monster (Directed by Bryan Bertino)
While it was certainly disappointing that a sequel to Bryan Bertino’s 2008 home invasion masterpiece The Strangers never materialized in 2016 (as promised), but the writer/director displayed incredible growth as a filmmaker with the release of The Monster: A character-driven creature feature with brilliant acting and pulse-pounding chills. The Monster can absolutely be viewed as an example of metaphorical horror along the lines of The Babadook and It Follows, but it can also be appreciated as a straight-up monster flick that’s certain to satisfy.
Official Synopsis: A mother and daughter must confront a terrifying monster when they break down on a deserted road.
Stars: Scott Speedman, Zoe Kazan, Ella Ballentine
The Eyes of My Mother (Directed by Nicolas Pesce)
The Eyes of My Mother is a waking nightmare with slivers of beauty dispersed throughout jaw-dropping atrocities. It’s a cinematic poem as dark and foreboding as Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven and an exploration of monsters and victims—and the sometimes razor-thin border that separates them. The Eyes of My Mother is emotionally devastating yet impossible to forget—literally haunting.
Official Synopsis: A young, lonely woman is consumed by her deepest and darkest desires after tragedy strikes her quiet country life.
Stars: Kika Magalhaes, Will Brill, Olivia Bond
The Unkindness of Ravens (Directed by Lawrie Brewster)
Horror movies aren’t known for having a social conscious, but filmmaker Lawrie Brewster’s sophomore feature, The Unkindness of Ravens, is dedicated to all those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the people who love them. You’re not likely to find such a genuine mix of terror and tribute. Brewster and Ravens’ scribe Sarah Daly have the twisted minds of expert fear-practitioners and the empathic hearts of soul healers. This isn’t to suggest the film pulls punches, because it’s quite the opposite, in fact; Ravens refuses to shy from realistic depictions of violence and dismemberment in an effort to accurately recreate the hellishness of war.
Official Synopsis: A homeless veteran battles to survive against his demons in the remote Highlands of Scotland.
Stars: Jamie Scott Gordon, Michael Brewster, Ross Campbell, Leon Carrington
The Conjuring 2
The Purge: Election Year
The Blackout Experiments
Beyond the Gates
The Other Side of the Door
Top 5 Horror Movie Disappointments of 2016
The Darkness (Directed by Greg McLean)
The director of Wolf Creek and cultural icon Kevin Bacon couldn’t save The Darkness, which I can only describe as a derivative, cumbersome, ho-hum affair. Most unforgivable: The Darkness is a supernatural horror movie that isn’t remotely scary.
Official Synopsis: A family returns from a Grand Canyon vacation, haunted by an ancient supernatural entity they unknowingly awakened and engages them in a fight for their survival.
Stars: Kevin Bacon, Radha Mitchell, David Mazouz
The Forest (Directed by Jason Zada) (review)
A film based on the real Suicide Forest in Japan could have been so much more than a color-by-numbers reiteration of a story that’s already been told a thousand times. The fact that a film set in Japan, incorporating elements of Japanese culture, didn’t utilize terrifying J-Horror tropes that would have fit The Forest perfectly, is a damn shame. The Forest was a missed opportunity to do something truly exciting, but simply falls flat.
Official Synopsis: A woman goes into Japan’s Suicide Forest to find her twin sister, and confronts supernatural terror.
Stars: Natalie Dormer, Eoin Macken, Stephanie Vogt
Martyrs (Directed by Kevin Goetz, Michael Goetz)
The American remake of Pascal Laugier’s jewel of New French Extremity was just as bad (if not worse) than Horror Freaks suspected it would be. It’s a watered down, neutered, oversimplification of what should have been an exploration of pain and transcendence. It was a fool’s errand from the start, as mainstream American horror audiences simply don’t have the stomach for a film like the original Martyrs; at the same time, no one likes diluted drivel.
Official Synopsis: A woman and her childhood friend seek out revenge on those who victimized and abused them.
Stars: Troian Bellisario, Bailey Noble, Kate Burton
The Neon Demon (Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn)
I know this opinion will be met with backlash, as The Neon Demon was revered by most of my colleagues in horror journalism. While the film is unarguably creative in its presentation, it didn’t feel like a normal cinematic experience for me personally. I found watching The Neon Demon more akin to walking through a museum than being told a story. While that worked for many, it left me unimpressed. I absolutely love films where Hollywood becomes a metaphorical villain, like in Starry Eyes, but The Neon Demon was about as exciting as reading an essay.
Official Synopsis: When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.
Stars: Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves
Cabin Fever (Directed by Travis Zariwny)
This year’s shot-for-shot remake of Eli Roth’s classic Cabin Fever (released in 2002) wasn’t merely unnecessary, as the original still stands up as a paradigm of modern horror, it eliminated the brilliant comic energy between the story’s characters. Nothing about it felt like an improvement or an innovation. It’s something horror fans didn’t need and don’t want.
Official Synopsis: While visiting their getaway cabin, five friends succumb to a flesh-eating disease.
Stars: Gage Golightly, Matthew Daddario, Samuel Davis
So what were your favorite horror movies of 2016? Did your favorites make the list? What do you consider the biggest horror disappointments of 2016? Let’s talk in the Comments section!