I’m just going to state it openly and without hesitation — 2016 was one of the best years for horror in quite a while. For the first time since the Grue Crew and I have been doing these lists — I actually had to put some thought into my choices — past years have been kind of “slam dunk” situations with the Top Ten taking form early in the year. 2016 was much different. As I look back on my list now I find it interesting that a large portion of my choices are throwbacks to the style of horror I grew up on — possible insight into the genre making a shift away from the remake/reimagining trend we’ve been suffering through of late? We can only hope. Too many honorable mentions to list – that would be an article in and of itself – needless to say – you’ll find most of them in the lists of my fellow Grue Crew members. Without further fanfare — my Top Ten of 2016.
10: Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories (d. Various)
The follow-up to the surprise indie hit from 2015 brings us even more blood, mayhem and more importantly — creative storytelling. A true labor of love — all involved in this project give 125 % and it shows. I mentioned in my opening about many of my choices being throwbacks to a 70’s style of filmmaking, this film is a shining example of what I’m talking about. Over the top gore and a true imaginative slate of horror tales make this one a must-see for any horror fan. This is old school — this is fun — this is what horror is supposed to be.
09: Fender Bender (d. Mark Pavia)
This film heralds the triumphant return of director Mark Pavia to the horror fold. It’s been 19 years since Mr. Pavia stood behind a camera — his first film being the highly under —rated adaptation of Stephen King’s The Night Flier. With Fender Bender, we get a return to the slasher formula of old with a neat little twist that when coupled with some fine acting from Mackenzie Vega and the keen eye of Mark Pavia – true horror gold is the end result. While this one doesn’t reinvent the wheel — it does effectively and consistently deliver the goods, the second of my choices to channel the films of my formative years.
08: HUSH (d. Mike Flanagan)
It was quite the year for director Mike Flanagan — while he at times he has been the butt of some jokes here at the hallowed halls of Gruesome Magazine (yes Santo’s, I’m looking at you as I say that) — this year the great Black Saint had to eat some of his words as Mr. Flanagan managed two big horror hits, the first being HUSH which found its home on Netflix. Yet again — a fresh take on a horror staple — a deaf woman – alone in a secluded home — finds herself in a deadly game with an unknown intruder. Edge of your seat suspense coupled with fine acting and some deft direction by the fore-mentioned Mike Flanagan raises this one to stellar standard. Everything old is new again — this film proves that adage is truer than it’s ever been.
07: 10 Cloverfield Lane (d. Dan Trachtenberg)
One of the few “mainstream” flicks to make it to my list and it did so for one reason only — John Goodman. It really seems that some stretching had to be done to fit this storyline into the Cloverfield universe and it actually suffers a bit for them attempting to do so but any shortcomings are totally wiped away by the stellar performance of Mr. Goodman. Borderline psychotic at times — fatherly and helpful at other points — his performance keeps you off kilter throughout the film and when he finally reveals his true self — well — it’s great to watch a master of his craft just have some fun. I’m not saying this is a perfect film — I’m just saying that any flaws it leaves on the table are cleaned up by an outstanding performance by one of this generation’s most talented actors.
06: The Monster (d. Bryan Bertino)
A latecomer to the scene — The Monster is yet another film that revisits subject matter from the past. We’ve seen this premise before. Adult and child stuck in a car while a monster roams just outside — it was called Cujo and The Monster borrows heavily on that vibe but like the others on the list so far — reinvents the premise into a fresh, way better than average thriller. A huge feather in its cap — 100% practical FX — no CGI this time around, another common thread — outstanding performances by the leads — Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine are amazing as the mother/daughter duo who find themselves trapped in the car and face to face with The Monster.
05: The Autopsy Of Jane Doe (d. AndrÃ© Ã˜vredal)
This one slid in right before the bell with its late December release and damn — am I ever glad it did. From the director that brought us, Trollhunter comes this straight up horror tale that offers us some of this year’s best horror visuals and delivers some of the best actual scares of any movie on this list. My only issue (but it’s a pretty damn big issue) is how they chose to end this little ditty. Have a major problem with the last third of this one and that is the only reason that this one is not the number one film for me this year. Lots of love for this one horror fans but at the end of the day — it just falls slightly short of being exceptional. Still very much worth a bit of your time.
04: Beyond The Gates (d. Jackson Stewart)
The pattern is unavoidable at this point — another late in the year release — another throwback to late 70’s horror gems — Beyond The Gates is just plain fun. It’s everything that this horror fan loves about the genre rolled into one neat little package and then donned with a pretty little bow in the form of the incredible Barbara Crampton who pulls a little “Debbie Harry from Videodrome” move and haunts the screen as an “only seen on TV” bad girl. When two estranged brothers come home to help close down the family video store after the disappearance of their father — they stumble upon a little game that their father was playing and it could literally be a game of life or death. Really enjoyed this love letter to the films of my misspent youth. May not be for everyone but for those of us who get it — it’s a gem.
03: Night of Something Strange (d. Jonathan Straiton)
This film sets out to do one thing and one thing only — offend everyone who lays eyes on it in some fashion or another. Over the top gore — sex — violence your thing? Found a literal treasure trove of obscenity for you. This one most certainly resides in the “not for everyone” file but if you’re a fan of gonzo — guerilla filmmaking — there is no other film you need bother watch this year. Outstanding practical FX work is the takeaway from this one — without a doubt, the best gore film this year. Indie all the way — this one was made for somewhere around $40 G and they put every single penny of it on the screen. Reminiscent of Re-Animator, The Dead Next Door, and the original Evil Dead — this is blood soaked wrongness that you just can’t take your eyes off of.
02: Nina Forever (d. Ben Blaine, Chris Blaine)
There is no way to describe Nina Forever and not come away sounding like a lunatic for liking it – for on its surface it treads into the taboo area of necrophilia – and it bills itself as a horror comedy. The truth is — this is a much deeper film than the promotions would lead you to believe. The Blaine brothers have crafted a social commentary on relationships and grief and how hard it is to truly love someone – and all the emotional baggage they bring with them. It’s easy to write this one off as sick and exploitive but if you do then you’ve missed the true gift that these filmmakers have crafted. For me, this is horror with a message but it’s one you can only hear if you look past the shock value and read between the lines. Smart, controversial, unapologetic and unflinchingly horrific, this is one that you will find hard to get out of your mind.
01: Train To Busan (d. Sang-ho Yeon)
As most of you are probably aware — I’m no fan of foreign films, particularly if they have subtitles yet – here I am giving a foreign film with subtitles the number one spot in this year’s Top Ten. That alone should tell you how good of a film Train to Busan is. Visually amazing and with a storyline that transcends language — it is most certainly the best zombie film to come our way in a very long time. It also manages to toss in a heaping helping of disaster movie vibe that seals the deal for me. A great horror film but more importantly — just an all around great film.