It can probably be said that 2016 was not greatest year for horror titles at the box office, that honor may go to network and cable television shows such as Ash Vs. Evil Dead, The Exorcist and yes even the convoluted American Horror Story: My Roanoke Experience.
Among the offerings the industry put forth in the theater, there were many valuable mainstream oblations to the horror Gods, which managed to be both entertaining and worth seeing before their three-month gestation journey to rent on streamboxes.
On the other hand, buried in the scrolling hell that is a streaming service, there were many films which managed to not outdo their glossy cinema counterparts, but infuse some originality into the medium with minimal cost.
So the question is: stream or mainstream?
I’m going to cheat a little bit here and place The Witch off into a side-bar of its own. Although creepy and well-acted, this film was nuanced just enough to win over the hearts of cerebral hipsters, but had the pacing of a tortoise race. Much like the presidential election, The Witch seemed evenly split down the middle among fans: Those who appreciated its attention to detail, and those whose attention waned after the first 30-minutes.
Which brings me to my best-of list for 2016. These titles were my personal favorites of 2016. They moved me, thrilled me, and regained some hope that writers and directors are capable of coming up with original concepts, or making better some existing ones, unlike the re-makes and re-hashes that plagued 2015.
If you haven’t seen some of these titles, take a little time and round them up for a look, it may put some faith back in you as well.
# 7 “The Conjuring 2”:
Yes, this is a continuation of an already established budding franchise, but James Wan did something with this movie we haven’t seen others do in a very long time; he managed to outdo the original. Character development was key in The Conjuring 2, Lorraine and Ed Warren sometimes question the validity of their own skills even when the stakes are a lot higher than interference from a grounded poltergeist.
Each step of the way in this title draws closer a truth behind the beasts of the underworld and those that ravage a marriage, and sometimes they intersect.
#6 “Don’t Breathe”:
Home invasion titles have been a popular sub-genre of horror ever since The Strangers. In Don’t Breathe, that concept was turned inside-out with even creepier results.
One would think that being trapped inside a house with a blind man would be a piece of cake to escape, but in this scenerio nothing is what it seems.
Perhaps one of the most vile, but memorable scenes in modern horror history involves a seemingly non-threatening kitchen gadget. The holiday endcaps in the kitchenware aisle at Bed Bath and Beyond may now give you pause.
#5 “Lights Out”:
Making an exciting full-length motion picture out of a YouTube short seems impossible. One thing about short films is they are concise enough to get a full storyline across in 10 to 15 minutes. But the extended gimmick in Lights Out worked for me.
It has to be a record breaker for more jump scares than any before it, but that’s all a part of the fun. For director David F. Sandberg to successfully extend his mini-opus for 90-minutes is a formidable and thrilling feat.
#4 “Green Room”:
The genius of Green Room is that it didn’t give anything away in the trailer. You didn’t have a clue about the plot, and certainly didn’t expect the violence and gore once it got started. I won’t give anything way, but this survival film managed to be both disturbing, redeeming and completely surprising.
Pitching yet another serial killer movie to a Hollywood production company might get you kicked out of the office and through the gates with spec in hand. But Jeremy Slater’s script must have impressed at least a few people in the business. Paramount and Orion Pictures even came on a distributors.
“Pet” is a rare treat, in that it severs ties to genre favorites that came previously. At first it resembles a stalking picture, then a serial killer trope, then torture porn. But what ends up happening – the twist is revealed half-way through the film instead of at the end – is an original work whose after-taste is hard to rinse.
Once again moviemakers turn a well-worn concept on its head, this time possession movies. “Incarnate” manages to embrace one trope, incorporate another, blend it all up to create an energetic franchise.
The best part of “Incarnate” is making sense of the whole science versus religion dichotomy. It gives a fresh voice to what terrifies us and pays the skeptic’s levy with science fiction. Reality gets blurred in “Incarnate,” but the originality is crystal clear.
#1 “The Monster”:
“The Monster” is the best horror film of 2016 period. The terrifying situation in which the main characters find themselves has compound fractures which splay inward; it’s as emotional as it is frightening. Though the creature in the title is only a supporting role with minimal, but effective screen time, the true stars of this picture are Ella Ballentine and Zoe Kazan, who play mother and daughter respectively.
Mother Kathy is a substance abuser, embracing her own personal monsters while her 13-year old daughter Lizzy is a powerless adolescent who has no choice but to play her mother’s co-dependent. That is until she decides to go live with her father who lives some distance away.
Kathy drives them both to see him, but have an unexpected accident on a desolate stretch of forest highway which strands them in the road overseen by a large monster with a penchant for flesh.
Told in real-time and flashbacks, The Monster contains two top-notch performances by its stars. The cinematography and overall feel of pending doom serves as the backdrop for this heartbreaking drama with a final act of redemption and personal freedom.
The Monster may eat the heart, but the viewer gets its strings.
Agree or disagree with my titles and their order listed above, one thing is for certain: Whether it be VOD or in the comfort of the cinema, the genre had a minor flourish this year which will hopefully translate into an even better 2017.