Perhaps it’s the amount of celebrity deaths, perhaps it’s some of the more, shall we say, *unexpected* election results, perhaps it’s a coincidence, but this year has proven to be one of the best for horror cinema in recent memory. From wildly inventive indie gems like The Witch to mainstream sensations like 10 Cloverfield Lane, the genre that often offers one or two memorable mainstream pictures per year has left us spoilt for choice in 2016.
10. Lights Out
(Listen to our review on EP 32)
This mainstream cash-in adaptation of a 2-minute short film had absolutely no right to be as effective and successful as it was, but the simple central premise was so strong it would’ve been incredibly difficult to mess this up. David F. Sandberg’s story about a demonic woman who only appeared in the dark was genuinely frightening and also offered surprises along the way. Unlike the usual James Wan movies (2016’s The Conjuring 2, for example) Lights Out felt fresh and the jump scares felt earned. The surprise hit of 2016.
9. 10 Cloverfield Lane
(Listen to our review on Ep 17)
Speaking of surprise, back in January nobody had any idea that J.J. Abrams was producing another Cloverfield movie until a trailer suddenly dropped. The mystery surrounding the movie and the endless questions (is it a sequel? A prequel? Is it in anyway related to the original?) created a huge buzz around this Hitchcockian mystery. The less you know about the premise, the better, but this deliciously fun 3-hander is packed with great performances (particularly from John Goodman), plenty of tension and even some nasty gore in the final act. A must-see for horror fans.
8. The Girl With All The Gifts
(Listen to our review on Ep 35)
It’s hard to imagine a fresh, original zombie concept in 2016, but this year we got two. This is the first, a movie that, despite budget restrictions, had ambition, heart and was bursting with so many ideas that it deserves to be crowned the smartest horror movie of the year. Impossible as it may sound to outshine an ensemble cast of Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine, child actress Sennia Nanua steals the movie with her portrayal of Melanie, a very special zombie, the likes of which we’ve never seen in movies before.
7. The Eyes of My Mother
For the more hardcore horror fans, this is the essential viewing of 2016. A movie that manages to be both brutally upsetting and beautiful in equal measure, it’s comparable to such horror masterpieces as Martyrs and I don’t say that lightly. Shot entirely in black and white and set entirely in a remote farmhouse, this is a slow (despite the 76 minute running time) descent into the mind of a psychopath. It creeps up on you, lures you in at a gradual pace, but by the final act, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be left a quivering, shell-shocked wreck. Not for the faint hearted.
6. Train To Busan
(Listen to our review on Ep 36)
The popular description of this movie is “28 Days Later meets Snowpiercer,” which, although fair, fails to capture the tone of this movie. Train to Busan is a fast paced, rip-roaring thrill ride and one of the most relentlessly fun horror flicks of 2016. Like many great Korean films (including The Wailing which narrowly missed this Top 10) the film succeeds in balancing comedy, melodrama, action and disturbing ultra-violence in perfect harmony. What it lacks in scares it makes up for in pure, unadulterated popcorn enjoyment.
5. Don’t Breathe
(Listen to our review on Ep 34)
Sometimes in horror, the simpler the premise, the better. It doesn’t get much simpler than this: three kids break into a seemingly harmless blind man’s house to steal money, only to discover he’s a gun-toting psychopath. This excruciatingly tense cat-and-mouse is a brilliant twist on the usual ‘handicapped victim in trouble’ premise (a la Wait Until Dark or this year’s fun but predictable Hush). The suspense at times is almost unbearable and the title feels more like a warning than a description, I don’t think I breathed through the entire 90 minute running time.
4. The Invitation
(Full review HERE)
There’s nothing more horrific than an awkward dinner party. This genius movie by director Karyn Kusama managed to invoke true terror simply through the strange, uncanny, unpredictability of human behaviour. Even before the horror, it’s unbearable to watch. In the first half you’ll find yourself asking hundreds of questions (“Why are some characters acting so strangely? Why is one guest, Choi, running so late? Who the hell is that naked woman in the bedroom?”) but the initial confusion and frustration you’ll feel at the beginning of the movie is nothing compared to the terror you’ll feel in the film’s final act, when some of the questions are finally answered.
3. Green Room
(Listen to our review on Ep 25)
Sometimes in horror it’s nice to abandon mystery, subtlety and ambiguity and just enjoy visceral, gory thrills. Green Room plays out like a skinhead version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a shocking, terrifying gorefest that hits you over the head like a sledgehammer and leaves you rung out by the end. Green Room treats violence the way all movies should..it’s sudden, unexpected, grotesque, hateful and terrifying.
2. Under The Shadow
(Listen to our review on Ep 35)
The best horror movies throughout history have been about more than ghosts, ghouls and monsters; they also tap into our deepest fears about society, human nature and the real world around us. Under The Shadow is a simple haunted house movie with a plethora of meaty themes bubbling just below the surface. Similar to such recent classics as The Others and The Babadook but with a unique political twist, it’s a great reminder for Hollywood that truly scary movies don’t have to rely on contrived jump scares and formulaic narratives to be successful.
1. The Witch
(Listen to our review on Ep 16)
Some horror movies defy explanation, description or analysis, they simply achieve what very few other films in the genre do: they evoke true fear. The Witch is a horror movie which needs to be seen to be believed. Not since Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining has a movie elicited such a nightmarish and palpable sense of terror from the filmmaking itself. Despite its flaws (and an ending I’ve still not completely made peace with) director Robert Eggers has managed to make an entirely unique horror movie, a transcendent experience unlike anything we’ve seen before. It doesn’t follow any of the rules or conventions of the horror genre and defies all expectations. It may be divisive, but that only cements its place as a cult classic.