As 2016 draws to its inevitable close, it’s time for me to look back on the (literally) hundreds of movies I’ve seen this year and decide which ten were my absolute favorites. A heady task, I know – but someone who calls himself “The Black Saint” has gotta do it. And since I’m the only person around here in the depths of Gruesome Manor that answers to that name, I guess that task falls to me.
But before I get to the final ten, I’d like to give shout outs to some films that I enjoyed out of the horror genre. Films like Deadpool, which took the whole superhero genre and freshened it in a most ribald, hilarious and unexpected way. Captain America: Civil War is pretty much my favorite superhero movie so far, I loved its intrigue, action, and flat out incredible battle scenes. Having the Black Panther and Spider-Man in the mix didn’t hurt any either. Marvel films went 3 for 3 this year with the release of Doctor Strange, which (in IMAX 3D) was the first superhero film to actually make me feel like I was in another dimension. A real experience to witness in the IMAX format.
Getting back to the horror genre, Green Room was one of the most harrowing films of the year for sure, with scenes of violence that still make me wince when I think of them. Larry Kent’s She Who Must Burn is more morality tale than horror film, but it’s scenes of horror are about as potent as any I’ve witnessed this year. It features villains that I truly despised, and an ending that stayed with me for days afterwards. Mike Flanagan scored twice with films I liked this year, and while only one of them made my final ten, the other one, Hush, made me sit up and pay attention with its great camera work, and unique take on the “Woman alone in the house” trope. The Witch was certainly different, and to be honest, while I watched it I wasn’t all too impressed. But it stuck its landing with that haunting finale, and the film stuck with me for a long time afterwards. I Am Not A Serial Killer just missed the cut because it ran a bit too long for my tastes, but it’s still a standout film because of its dour visual palette, and unique twist on the serial killer genre.
Now here are the final ten. My ten favorite horror films of calendar year 2016.
10: Found Footage 3D (w./d. Steven DeGennaro)
If you’re a regular reader of Gruesomemagazine.com (and if not, then why aren’t you?), or listener of the world famous Horror News Radio podcast, then you know that I hate found footage flicks with a passion. I find them to be all cut from the same cloth, and made by some seriously untalented people who think they can make a film because they have a decent camera, 5 friends, and a few six packs to get them through the weekend they spent making their masterpieces. But this film takes a different approach to the sub genre, and adds 3D to the shenanigans to boot. Good script, good actors, and some decent cinematography keep it interesting, and it actually made me jump a few times (especially at the end), and in my mind that made it a shoo in for a slot on my list.
09: The Autopsy of Jane Doe (w. Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing / d. Andre Ovredal)
Ovredal made a mark on the genre with his first feature, Trollhunters six years ago, but he hadn’t completed another feature film until this little marvel was released late this year. Here he has one hell of a scary script to work with, and with both Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch anchoring this film, he’s crafted what is probably the scariest film of the year. As a father/son coroner team who find that the corpse of a deceased woman might not be as dead as she seems to be, Cox and Hirsch are perfection, and the script is tense, frightening, and flat out hair raising to sit through. Some took issue with its final third, which took some time to offer an explanation for what transpired prior, but I thought it was not only well done, but essential to making the film as effective as it turned out to be.
08: The Similars (Los Parecidos – w./d. Issac Ezban)
The year? 1968. The place? A small bus depot in Mexico. The situation? Hard to explain without ruining this singularly unique film that pays homage to Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone with its creepy story of a disparate group of people who find themselves trapped in that bus station during a torrential rain storm. When they suddenly find themselves in an undescribably difficult circumstance, their reactions are writer/director Ezban’s take on a story that would have felt right at home in Serling’s world of the macabre. Great practical makeup FX, awesomely sinister cinematography, and great performances made this one a winner. Be prepared to be thrown for a loop more than once as you watch this wonderfully twisted nightmare.
07: Lights Out (w. Eric Heisserer and David F. Sanberg / d. David F. Sanberg)
You wouldn’t be the only person that thought that the idea of expanding Sanberg’s admittedly terrifying short film of the same name into a full length feature was a bad one. But while the central idea behind the film gets a bit tired after the first 45 minutes, Sanberg does a great job of keeping his audience invested in the characters. And the jump scares never stop working, they just get a bit less potent as the film proceeds. But its take on the villain of the film is unique, and she is pretty freaking scary too! Maria Bello and Teresa Palmer do standout work here, and this film surprised a lot of people because it worked as well as it did. Yours truly included.
06: Don’t Breathe (w. Rodo Sayagues and Fede Alvarez / d. Fede Alvarez)
Although I wasn’t a fan of Alvarez’s last film, the 2013 remake of Evil Dead, I heartily acknowledged his sure and steady directorial hand, and eye for detail. He brings back that same steady hand and eye here, but this is a much better film in my opinion. A trio of thieves decide to make a lonely house on a desolate block lined with abandoned homes, their target because of the rumored large stash of money hidden within. The fact that the owner of the house is completely blind makes their decision even easier to make, but their victim is nowhere near as helpless as they believe him to be. They soon find themselves trapped in the lonely house, with no lights on, and a very angry blind man hunting them down. More a suspense film than an out an out horror film in my estimation, but it’s definitely got its moments of sheer terror, and a towering performance from Stephen Lang as the blind homeowner with more than a few secrets of his own really made this film memorable. And in a year filled with memorably gross & gory scenes, this film features what is probably the grossest scene of the year – and there isn’t a drop of blood in it.
05: Quija: Origin of Evil (w. Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard / d. Mike Flanagan)
You already know I’m not the biggest Mike Flanagan fan. As a matter of fact, up until this year I thought he was kind of overrated. But he struck twice this year with the aforementioned Hush, and this surprisingly potent little winner. We all groaned when news of a sequel to 2014’s turd blossom, Quija, was announced, but I blame all of you for going to see that one in the first place. So I definitely wasn’t looking forward to seeing this, but imagine my surprise when I found myself becoming more and more on edge as I sat through this genuinely scary movie. It works because Flanagan decided to make it more a prequel to the previous film, and set it in the 60’s to give it a unique look and feel. The story of a young girl possessed by an entity she accidentally unleashed while playing with a Quija board might sound familiar, but Flanagan gives the story new life assisted by some standout performances from young Annalise Basso and even younger Lulu Wilson. It’s sincerely scary and features one hell of a final shot that lifted me a foot out of my seat. I just hope I like Flanagan’s next effort as much as I liked this one, but I make no promises Flanagan!
04: Night Of Something Strange (w. Jonathan Straiton, Mean Gene and Ron Bonk / d. Jonathan Straiton)
Upon first viewing I wasn’t sure if I wasn’t hallucinating during some of this film’s more potent scenes. But when I watched it a second time, I was convinced that I had just watched what is probably the first film that was calculated to offend just about everyone that sees it. The fact that it does so in the most entertaining and hilarious way possible was the cherry on the sundae for me. A rather foul night janitor in a medical facility takes advantage of a attractive corpse he finds in the facility’s morgue. Unfortunately for him, the corpse is infected with an extremely viral (& still active) venereal disease that makes its victims extremely horny. Super extremely horny actually. And once infected, all the virus will allow the janitor to do is have sex with anyone he sees. Extremely violent and bloody sex. Did I mention that it also slowly mutates its victims as they cut a swath of bloody terror across the town they live in? Well it does, but as repulsive as all of this sounds (and have no doubt, it is repulsive), it’s also terribly funny. Now I know that a select few of you will find this film just plain dumb, and unfunny as well. But I sincerely thought this film was a hoot from minute one, and it just got funnier for me as it continued until it’s completely out of left field conclusion. The makers of this film want to repulse everyone who sees it (They succeeded), but they also wanted to make those people laugh out loud. And they succeeded at that as well. This film won the “Best Film” award at the 2016 NYC Horror Film Festival for a reason. Watch it and find out why.
03: The Conjuring 2 (w. Chad & Cary Hayes, James Wan & David Leslie Johnson / d. James Wan)
Since his first film as a director, Saw (2004), James Wan has steadily built his career in horror and is now an acknowledged master of the form. And with this film, he’s created what is probably the best crafted horror film in decades. This film is so well put together, I honestly think it should be mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to become a film director. Granted, I didn’t think it was a flat out terrifying as The Conjuring (2013), but it’s certainly filled with genuinely scary moments, and overwhelmingly creepy atmosphere. A genuine roller coaster ride of a horror film, it goes a little flat during its middle section, but comes back strong for its slam bang finale. Wan’s success has prompted him to move from the horror genre and on to the action/adventure genre with last years Furious 7, and the upcoming Aquaman film, so if this is his goodbye to the horror genre – it’s a near perfect one.
02: Train To Busan (w./d. Sang-ho Yeon)
The titular train is carrying a motley crew of passengers that find themselves suddenly in the middle of a viral outbreak that turns its victims into angry zombie like automatons that only want to spread the virus by biting their victims. This film succeeds because it melds the best tropes of the classic disaster film with the best tropes of the zombie film, crafting an amazingly taut, tense, and action packed nightmare of a horror film. The script is both intelligent, and fraught with dramatic highlights that culminate in one of the most heart wrenching scenes of the year. Young actress Soo-an Kim is so convincing in this film that I wondered what she used to motivate her in some of her scenes. Being billed as a zombie film, you might expect a bit more grue on display, and if so, you’re gonna be disappointed. But the film definitely has its moments of gruesome nastiness to revel in. There was a ton of buzz behind this one before it reached these shores, and when that happens – I’m usually disappointed. I can happily attest that this one lived up to all of the hype.
01: The Monster (w./d. Bryan Bertino)
When I sat down to watch this one, I was expecting a flat out drama, with an imaginary monster created by one of the characters in the film representing the titular creature. What I got was the most emotionally harrowing film of the year that just happened to have a real gosh darn monster in it! Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine play a contentious mother/daughter duo who are on a road trip to return the daughter to live with her father. But in a series of scenes that take place before the fateful trip, director Bertino highlights the sheer anger/hatred/love/empathy the two have for each other, and some of these scenes are so caustic and heart searing I could hardly bear to watch. And this is all before the titular creature comes into the picture! The beastie itself is unique in its appearance, sort of a mix of a gorilla and a dragon I suppose. But it looks great, and as there’s no explanation exactly what it is or for its existence, it’s extremely effective and frightening. Sadly this film was pretty much dumped onto VOD, with little to no theatrical play dates. This is one of the most egregious mistakes a studio has ever made, because the two lead performances here are worthy of award recognition for sure. The Monster will scare you, but it’ll also make you wipe a tear from your eye as well. It caught me completely unaware, and I loved every second of it. It’s my favorite film of the year – of any genre.
And there you have it, my fave films of 2016. Agree? Disagree? Write into Gruesomemagazine.com and tell us your thoughts. If you disagree, then I’ll be glad to tell you why I think you’re a nutball to ever disagree with the Saint of all that’s black and evil.
But if you agree? Then you might just get a pass for 2017.
I said “Might”…