2016 was a good year for horror films. There was a great deal of variety across the board and we saw the independent market for horror continue to grow and thrive as a legitimate way for films to gain exposure and reach audiences that are hungry for new quality material. I also loved how much love was shown between creators this year too. Everyone seemed to show eachother support and that was great to see. With the year winding down, the time has come to name our the films we considered the best of 2016. This list is by no means intended to be definitive or better than anyone else’s, it’s simply just what we enjoyed and why. Also keep in mind, that while some of these films may have been extremely limited releases in 2015, we are including them because they either went wide this year or have not yet done so and we saw them this year in festival premieres. So lets get right down to business.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
The J.J. Abrams produced pseudo spin-off to his found footage hit Cloverfield was a secret project that much to the delight of many came out of nowhere. I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down in the theater, but what I got was one of the most suspenseful and intense movie viewing experiences I have had in a long time. While the film bears no resemblance to it’s predecessor it makes it’s own mark and is in my opinion is superior, and that is coming from someone who loves the original Cloverfield and holds it in high regard for doing so many things correctly.
Since the majority of the run time takes place within an underground bunker, it is up to the cast to carry the film, and carry it they do. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr are stellar and John Goodman gives what may be the finest performance of his career as he is one of the scariest on screen persona’s I have seen in a long time. Even when he isn’t doing anything particularly frightening,you are left to wonder if he is who he says he is or if he might snap at any moment. The tension between the three characters is what drives the film through to it’s climax which audiences may have been split on, but I thought for the most part delivered. I was squirming in my seat throughout my viewing.
10 Cloverfield Lane came out way back in March so it is easy to kind of forget about it, since it’s been off the radar for a while. But make no mistake, it is one of the finest films we were blessed with this year and director Dan Trachtenberg did a superb job crafting this slow burn gem. If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to know as little as possible before sitting down to watch it.
All the wayy back in March, Summer Camp received a very limited theatrical release. The film had been on my radar for a while thanks to the involvement of Jocelin Donahue, so I was hoping that I would get to check it out sooner than later. Well, somehow, someway, I was lucky enough to be in relative close proximity of the lone theater playing it in my area. It was a bit of a trek but as it turned out it was an afternoon well spent as Summer Camp turned out to be a great deal of fun.
While the title is misleading in the traditional sense, Summer Camp does in fact take place at a summer camp, but this time it’s a summer camp located at an old estate in Spain, but before the kids can arrive, the counselors find themselves in quite a bit of trouble thanks to a bizarre virus outbreak that turns everyone into raging lunatics. While that may not sound like anything too original, there is a nice spin on the sub-genre that really added a fresh element to the film that helps set it apart from similar themed stories. Summer Camp is a fast paced, hard R horror flick that also has a nice grim sense of humor. Donahue playing the snooty and less than noble Christy was an unexpected treat, and the rest of the cast including Diego Boneta and Maiara Walsh brings an instant likability to the characters that you may not normally get in a film like this. It’s these small touches that have been included that definitely help it make it’s mark.
This is an under the radar flick (sadly not even readily available on Blu, but you can get it on vod) that deserves some more attention. It’s perfect to throw on and enjoy with a group of horror loving friends. Not to mention everything leads up to a pretty great ending that helped to solidify it’s place on this list.
BEYOND THE GATES
A lot of horror films often try to capitalize on nostalgia, but only a few actually succeed. Beyond the Gates for me is one of those few. While the film will undoubtedly garner attention for the fact it has a great deal to do with an old video store and a VHS based board game. The film is really more interested in exploring the estranged relationship between brothers Gordon and John (Graham Skipper and Chase Williamson) and their recently missing, possibly deceased father. Brea Grant also stars as Gordon’s girlfriend Margot, who also has her relationship with Gordon to work on. By now many have heard the description of a “horror jumanji” being applied to it and while I can see where that is coming from, I personally have been comparing it to something else, something much closer to my heart, Tales From The Darkside. Growing up I loved watching Tales From The Darkside late on Saturday Nights with my dad, and there is just something about this film that gave me the same feeling of watching that show. I don’t think I could pinpoint it but it totally felt like an extended episode. I want to assure anyone involved with the film that I mean that in the best way possible. Beyond The Gates offers many homages to the horror genre and viewers will without a doubt enjoy keeping an eye out for them.
The story itself would have fit perfectly into an episode of that classic show, the dark humor coupled with the heart behind it all really worked for me. When the film started, I really wasn’t sure if I liked these two brothers that much, but as time went on, I ended up really wanting them to succeed in facing their fears and issues head on. If it takes a run in with a haunted VHS board game hosted by none other than Barbara Crampton to accomplish that, then so be it. I honestly don’t want to go too much further into detail here because the film was just released and I want to leave it for audiences to discover the rest on their own. But trust me when I say I am sure many of you guys will find something to like about this fun and heartfelt little horror film.
This past August while I attended the Popcorn Frights Film Festival, I had the surprising pleasure to check out the modern day (though totally retro in aesthetic) Italian giallo Francesca from writer/director Luciano Onetti (and his brother Nicolas) . As someone who has never been the biggest giallo fan outside of acknowledging and respecting their place in horror, I was not to jazzed to watch this flick. Once it started however, I was instantly hooked.
Much in the way House of the Devil could be (and has been) confused for a movie from back in the early 80’s, I don’t think anyone that watched Francesca going in blind would have a hard time thinking it was actually from the 70’s. Everything felt so on point and my giallo fan friends who watched it at the same screening loved how perfectly it recreated the look and feel of those old films. The story revolves around a mysterious leather glove clad female serial killer terrorizing the city and the detectives on her trail. It may sound simplistic but I found it all to be pretty engrossing thanks to the surprisingly strong performances of the cast. To be honest though, the story for me came secondary as Francesca was all about the presentation, from the grainy, over-saturated and degraded film stock. To it’s visceral violence and usage of colors and creepy imagery. It was beautiful to look at, and even better to listen to as Francesca boasts an absolutely amazing and genre appropriate score that pairs perfectly with it’s on screen visuals. I wish I could get more in depth here, but the film had so much going on that it is kind of hard to focus on all it’s merits without just recapping it. I would imagine someone more well versed in giallo history could do it a bit more justice, but it was certainly one of the coolest horror films I have seen this year. While it is not something I would find myself personally watching repeatedly, it is definitely something I have no problem recommending to everyone with an open mind. It is now currently available on vod, so keep that in mind.
Last year we had quite a few Horror Comedies on our best of list. This year we truly only have one, but it is a sterling example of what a horror comedy should be. Fear, Inc is a film that I just had so much fun with and everyone that I watched it with did as well. The comedy comes natural and the horror is played straight. Thus creating the perfect blend that so many horror comedies try to achieve but fail miserably trying. The cast featuring Lucas Neff, Caitlin Stasey, Chris Marquette and Stephanie Drake are a pleasure to watch and their relationships feel completely real making them instantly likable. The film is full of heart and will keep you guessing as it all plays out. For more on Fear, Inc. we have a full spoiler free review here. We also have a great interview with the writer of Fear, Inc. Luke Barnett here . However even without reading those, just know Fear, Inc. is the kind of film that is perfect for group watches with friends who are looking for a night full of horror fun.
Fear, Inc is now available on all VOD platforms.
Darling is a great example of how sometimes you either have to give a movie a second chance, or be sure you aren’t extremely tired when you start watching. Upon my initial viewing of Darling, I was sleepy, it was late and I just really couldn’t get into it other than digging Lauren Ashley Carter’s performance, as I generally enjoy her work. Unfortunately I came away from it kind of disliking it after that first watch (which I admittedly probably even dozed off at moments throughout).
It would be about a month or so later that I decided to give it another try under less sleepy and more open minded circumstances, after all this is the type of film I generally appreciate, so I was wondering why it didn’t do work for me. I am glad I did because I really ended up appreciating what director Mickey Keating did here. The more I thought about it this year, the more I realized I actually liked it a great deal. The black and white cinematography really gives the film something special that sets it apart and makes it stand out from the rest, I particularly loved the ominous exterior shots of New York City. I was much more into things this second go round, and fully got into the story of this woman’s downward spiral while she house sits this brownstone that begins to play with her mind. Where I once thought it was just meandering, I now was able to take in everything that was going on in every scene. So this is me admitting, I was wrong about Darling, and this is me saying that it is a solid and different horror film, one that will (and has) found it’s audience. It is not the type of movie I can recommend to everyone, but for those with a taste for beautifully filmed and conceived art house horror, it should fit the bill quite nicely and I am happy I gave it another go as Lauren Ashley Carter’s performance was even better the second time around and she deserves a great deal of credit for carrying such a unique project from start to finish.
A constant debate I saw throughout the year was whether or not Green Room is a horror film or not. It may not be in the traditional sense, but Green Room is as suspenseful, violent and harrowing as any film on this list, if not more so. In one of the worst cases of wrong place, wrong time, the punk rock band led by Pat, played by the late Anton Yelchin, becomes trapped in a fight for their lives when they cross paths with a group of neo nazi’s led by none other than Patrick Stewart. The grim proceedings are masterfully directed by Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin) who rarely gives his characters and audience a chance to catch their breath before they are taken for another brutal spin through the hell they have found themselves in. I don’t want to give away too much but just be ready to be put through the ringer with this one. Actress Imogen Poots also turns in a great performance as Amber the unlikely ally of the band. Some people want to call Green Room a thriller and that is understandable, but for me a thriller is just another type of horror movie. Either way Green Room belongs on this list, see it and decide for yourself.
The Triangle is a film that essentially fell into my lap, knew ZERO about going in. After about 15-20 minutes I was hooked and needed to know where it was going. A mockumentary about a group of filmmaker friends who head into an unknown compound in the middle of nowhere to reconnect with an old friend, once there things start to slowly unfold and you get a creeping sense that things are not what they seem. The Triangle is one of the few films that actually succeeds in feeling like an actual documentary and that is it’s greatest strength. If you were flipping channels and came across this film on Discovery channel or something, you wouldn’t think twice about it being real for most of it’s run time. While it is one of the hardest films to discuss without giving away details, the filmmakers themselves suggest going in blind for maximum effect. What I can say about The Triangle is that it boasts excellent and believable performances and is a true labor of love. It will most likely draw comparisons to Ti West’s The Sacrament due to very similar set ups, but the two films are quite different in many ways as The Triangle treads it’s own ground proudly. I would definitely suggest it for open minded viewers with patience as it will not be for everyone, but if you take a chance, you might just be rewarded with an interesting and engrossing movie viewing experience. We get a bit further in depth in our full review here where I stated “The Triangle is all about the unknown and how that can be one of the scariest things in life. It is a different kind of horror film, one you might not be used to or comfortable with, and that in my opinion is something that is always welcome and more importantly, always needed.”
THE MIND’S EYE
Sometimes context may determine your level of appreciation for a film. Similar to how my Beyond The Gates/Tales From The Darkside connection elevated my appreciation for that film. It took me realizing how to approach The Mind’s Eye in the proper way so that I could fully enjoy and embrace it. I know this may not always be the filmmakers intent, but films touch people in different ways and The Mind’s Eye took me back to fond memories of my childhood. Allow me to explain, The Mind’s Eye has been called by others “The Scanners sequel we never got” and I would say that is an apt description. Apt in the sense that it reminded me of the good old days when my buddies and I used to hit blockbuster or the local video store, and we would take a chance against our better judgement on some straight to video sequel of a popular movie, that would we would end up enjoying the hell out of. The whole thing has a very late 80’s early 90s feel to it.
The Mind’s Eye, a story about a mad scientist trying to harvest the power of a group of telekinetics for his own evil purposes, could be absolutely awful if someone else were in charge here. Luckily writer/director Joe Begos seems to know how goofy this could all come off if not handled properly, and he chooses to embrace the inherent ridiculousness of it all and uses it to his advantage while crafting a stylish, fun, and crazy film. The Mind’s Eye knows what it is and goes for it 100%. Actors Graham Skipper (Beyond The Gates) and Ashley Lauren Carter (Darling) play Zack and Rachel, two powerful telekinetic beings who fall victim to Dr. Michael Slovak (played by a delightfully hammy John Speredakos) who as previously mentioned wants to harvest their power for himself. The two have to fight for their lives as Slovak sends all manner of black garbed henchmen after them. This all leads to some great telekinetic action as furniture and people are thrown across the screen and when things get gory, they get gory. This is all accompanied by a pulsating synth score from Steve Moore (The Guest, Cub) that elevates everything on screen to another level. Particularly in the epic “Injections” scene.
The Mind’s Eye will most definitely not be for everyone, many will think it’s too cheesy or campy (which at times it certainly can be) many will not “get it”, hell maybe I don’t get it and I am reading this thing all wrong. All I can say is the night I watched this film on the big screen, one of my friends was with me, he is one of those same friends I mentioned before that I used to rent movies with as a kid. We both felt “we got it” and we both enjoyed the hell out of the fun and insanity that is “The Mind’s Eye”.
I often speak about how important and enjoyable the theater going experience can be under the right circumstances of course. One such example was when I first saw the Evil Dead remake on opening day. I enjoyed the movie on it’s own well enough, however there was such a great crowd, that it elevated things to such a fun time at the movies, that I will always look back fondly on it. People screaming, moaning and just generally being fully invested in everything they were watching. Well then it came as no surprise that Evil Dead’s director Fede Alvarez’s next film would elicit the same type of crowd participation thus once again providing a memorable theater going experience.
Don’t Breathe is another horror film this year that fully embraces supense and aims to leave you cringing in your seat. A group of young burglars think an old house of a rich blind man would be an easy mark. However once you vicariously enter the home and begin making our way through the old home without trying to alert it’s owner, you quickly start to catch yourself holding your breath while you make your way to the edge of your seat. Much like the above mentioned 10 Cloverfield Lane, Don’t Breathe builds suspense but whereas 10 Cloverfield Lane did it with an uneasy slow burn approach, Don’t Breathe does it with a thrilling kinetic energy, hammered home by the masterful and visually stunning direction of Alvarez (who also co wrote the film with Rodo Sayagues). The acting by Jane Levy and Stephen Lang only helps to sell the danger at hand and all I can say is the crowd I saw this with absolutely loved it and was along for the ride.
Don’t Breathe is easily one of the best horror films this year and much like another film on our list Green Room, when you are done watching you end up feeling exhausted, but in the best way possible. Check it out asap!
Writer/Director Anthony Scott Burns haunting contribution to the horror anthology Holidays is a captivating short film that it’s star Jocelin Donahue likened to a “fable”. She was right on the money with that comparison. Father’s Day is easily the most beautiful film on our list this year, thanks in no small part to it’s stellar cinematography by The Joelsons. Father’s Day sets itself apart from the rest of the segments in the film and stands on it’s own.
The way the piece slowly builds as we follow Donahue’s Carol as she sets out in search of answers for the questions left behind by her Father’s disappearance as a child is mesmerizing. Her journey is eerily narrated by her father’s voice left on a cassette that mysteriously shows up on her door step. Donahue does a wonderful job here carrying the film and expressing the emotional weight of her odyssey with very few words, and while it’s run time is short, it still stands as one of my favorite performances from her to date.
I don’t want to give away too much for those that have not seen it, but Father’s Day is one of those films I watched and everything just felt so right including the perfectly utilized musical score, which was created by the director himself. While Father’s Day’s ending has been a bit divisive and will no doubt stir up some debate on just what it means, as a whole Father’s Day is a beautifully crafted film. It deliver’s an emotional and chilling story that is as good looking as anything you will see this year. I truly look forward to future projects from everyone involved.
You can watch Father’s Day right now here on The Joelson’s website.
THE CONJURING 2
As a big fan of James Wan film’s and the original Conjuring, I was definitely excited to see what he had up his sleeves for the second installment. I was not disappointed. There is just something about Wan’s skill in crafting these ghost stories that resonates with me so well, even when some choices he makes don’t fully jive with my tastes. The Conjuring 2 though, worked for me on every level and surpasses it’s predecessor. Maybe it’s my affinity for the UK setting that made me prefer this one to the original, but overall things are just a step up. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson slide comfortably back into their roles as Ed and Lorainne Warren and do a bang up job as usual. However the star of the Conjuring 2 for me is without a doubt Madison Wolfe who plays the haunted Janet Hodgson. Without her great performance, the film would simply not work and it likely falls apart. As for Wan, he does some of his best work to date here, as he ramps up the creepiness and earns every scare in the film. Some are simple, some are elaborate, but the majority are truly effective. The Conjuring 2 has so many “holy shit” moments that watching with a crowd was a frighteningly fun experience. Wan has always had an amazing eye for shot composition and visuals that constantly elevate what could be run of the mill haunted house material in less capable hands. I could actually talk much more about why the Conjuring 2 deserves to be on this list and why it is probably my (wide release) horror film of the year, but I already wrote an in depth and spoiler free review here . The Conjuring 2 is James Wan’s best film to date in my opinion and while he steps away from horror for a bit, I am eagerly anticipating his return as for me horror as a genre can only benefit from him in the mix.
THE TRUEHORROR.NET HORROR MOVIE OF THE YEAR IS….
THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER (limited release)
The Blackcoat’s Daughter (formerly titled February) is a film I debated about including on this list since it was not a wide release this year. I was however, lucky enough to catch it at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival back in August and was just blown away by it. I knew absolutely nothing about it going in, other than it starred Emma Roberts. Turns out this (as usual) was the best way to go into this film. I absolutely fell in love with it. It is difficult to write about it without giving away some of what makes it so great, but I will do my best.
Directed by Osgood Perkins (son of Anthony Perkins in case you were wondering), The Blackcoat’s Daughter is an exercise in slow burn dread and my eyes were absolutely glued to the screen as I watched what I now consider to be my favorite horror film of the year unfold before me. I cannot stress this enough, DO NOT WATCH THE TRAILERS, OR READ SPOILERS FOR THIS FILM. DO NOT GOOGLE SEARCH IMAGES. It will not only majorly lessen the impact the film has, but also just ruin all of the mystery it sets up in it’s first act. The story revolves around two girls who stay behind at their boarding school during winter break, the snowy, isolated location provides the perfect backdrop for what transpires once things get rolling. Without giving any more plot away the film instills a sense of unease upon you from the moment it begins and really does not let up until the credits roll.
With a talented cast that includes James Remar, Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, Lauren Holly and Lucy Boynton the acting is fantastic across the board. And I feel extremely confident in stating that this film features one of the most unsettling and creepy performances I have seen in quite some time. I literally had chills at more than one point in this film and that does not happen often to me anymore. Kiernan Shipka in particular is truly incredible in this, and I don’t say that lightly. Perkins’ restraint is one of his strengths as the film is quiet and minimal but everything he does is deliberate right down to the framing. His wonderful direction is complimented perfectly by a sparse dark and oppressive score filled with eerie strings and ambient sounds by his brother Elvis. The tone throughout is grim and serious (my favorite) and the musical cues that weave in and out of the film only when needed are wholly effective. All this is capped off with the superb cinematography by Julie Kirkwood that lends so much to the story and the bleak world it is taking place in.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter is so close to a perfect horror film for me, but there is one detail I cannot bring up that keeps it from that. Perhaps it was just a lapse in logic, or perhaps it has an explanation that we can hopefully discover via commentary or something to that effect on it’s inevitable blu ray release that will render it a moot point. But even with this one issue, The Blackcoat’s Daughter does so much right and is so on the money when it comes to my personal taste in horror that I cannot help but over look this one thing and love this film. This is the type of horror film I would love to make myself someday (if ever given the opportunity). I hope it gets the attention it deserves when it is finally released to the masses as I know it won’t be for everyone, but I think many will find it a masterwork of horror.
Originally this film was supposed to release this past September if I am not mistaken but was pulled for the time being, perhaps because it had been getting positive reviews and A24 films wanted to rethink it’s marketing and try to capitalize on the good buzz. I personally feel this is a much better horror film than “The Witch” another low key A24 title that got great buzz and was expertly made (even if it didn’t make our list) I can only hope that this see’s a release sooner than later because not only do I want to see it again, but I want to own the blu ray like right now.