Steven Hickey’s Top 10 Horror Films 2016
Just a quick word to start, this has been a very tough list to compile, mainly due to the consistency of the output in the genre this year. I’ve seen very few poor horror movies over the past 12 months, but by the same token, I’m not sure there’s been a real, stand-out obvious modern classic along the lines of The Babadook, It Follows or Crimson Peak. At different points throughout the year each of my top five occupied the top spot (and there is some debate as to whether at least four of them are even horror movies!).
With that in mind, allow me to present my 10 personal favourite horror films of 2016.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Under The Shadow, The Eyes of My Mother, 31, Hush, The Shallows
10. BLAIR WITCH
Dir: Adam Wingard
Stars: James Allan McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry
Honestly, if the rest of the film was as good as the last 15 minutes or so of Adam Wingard’s surprise sequel to the 1999 hit, there’s a very good chance that it would be sitting at Number One on this list. Unfortunately, this film is not as groundbreaking as its predecessor and some of the characterisation falls flat.
However, I really do think that the climactic sequence within the confines of that familiar house in the woods is arguably the most terrifying and chillingly effective horror scene of the year, one that single-handedly buys the movie a place on this list.
Dir: MJ Dixon
Stars: Adam Dillon, Becca Talulah, Nicholas Vince
UK-based micro-budget maestro MJ Dixon has created something astonishing with his Mycho-verse horror franchise. From Slasher House to its sequels Legacy of Thorn and Cleaver, these connected films show tremendous imagination and visual flair.
And Hollower is quite possibly his best effort yet. A taut, lean psychological chiller with a trio of great performances from Dillon, Talulah and Vince, it’s also the most mature and frightening film from Dixon yet. The bar has been raised for Slasher House II — if it lives up this one expect to see that movie on this list next year.
8. PHANTASM RAVAGER
Dir: David Hartman
Stars: Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Dawn Cody, Angus Scrimm
Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm series is one of the most creative horror series there is. There were times when I thought this final chapter would never come.
Then Ravager arrived and somehow managed to be both perfect and disappointing. It gave the fans a real sense of closure, presenting a ballsy, brave conclusion to the tale of Reggie, Mike, Jody and, of course, the sinister Tall Man. Yet as a standalone film for the uninitiated it lacked frights and a sense of cohesion.
But that’s Phantasm for you, a dream-like paradox, tonally uneven but full of heart. We may never see its likes again.
7. THE WITCH
Dir: Robert Eggers
Stars: Ralph Ineson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Kate Dickie
I’m bracing myself for flak here. The critically acclaimed genre movie of the year was visually spectacular, very deep and different to everything else and… well, a bit dry. There can be no faulting the look of The WItch, the tone, the nightmarish imagery or the stunning performances (everybody in this film is incredible, even the goat!). But I found the story a little flat and ultimately, didn’t care enough about the characters. I’m sure this will be the top horror flick for plenty of people and I can understand that decision – but it was a little too cold and detached for me.
6. TRAIN TO BUSAN
Dir: Sang-ho Yeon
Stars: Yoo Gong, Soo-an Kim, Yu-mi Jeong, Dong-seok Ma, Eui-sung Kim
28 Days Later on a train in Korea. So I wrote in my review of this absolutely brilliant zombie flick back in October and that description is still so apt.
It’s intense, frenetic and breathes fresh life into a subgenre that, like its undead monsters, has been shuffling towards obsoletion. It’s gory, pulse-poundingly action-packed and it doesn’t relent for a single moment, yet still manages to weave a sentimental story about a fraught father-daughter relationship as it does so. A genuine triumph.
5. THE CONJURING 2
Dir: James Wan
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmigia, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe
Much like its predecessor trumped big studio horror rival Insidious: Chapter 2, its sequel surpasses this year’s Ouija sequel and Lights Out. It packs more frights, more heart and some seriously impressive film-making from modern-horror master James than either of its big rivals and delivers some of the very best spooky moments of the year. I can’t be the only fan to hope that Wan’s franchise about real-life demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren runs and runs – if the next film is even half as good as this we have a real treat in store.
4. DON’T BREATHE
Dir: Fede Alvarez
Stars: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang
Sometimes the most simple premise delivers the most effective results. Fede Alvarez’s nail-biting thriller about three burglars who pick the wrong house is a perfect case in point. Built around a powerhouse performance from Avatar tough-guy Stephen Lang, this is a film that is utterly gripping and will have you on the edge of your seat throughout. It also boasts a couple of seriously out-there plot developments that do a wonderful job of establishing the robbers’ blind-victim as far less sympathetic and one of the most intimidating screen characters of the year. A must-see.
3. THE MONSTER
Dir: Bryan Bertino
Stars: Zoe Kazan, Ella Ballentine
This was a film that flew under my radar, then slapped me square in the face when it arrived. Another deceptively simple tale about an alcoholic, The Monster is about a neglectful mother, the tumultuous relationship she has with her damaged young daughter, and a fateful night in which their car strikes, well, a monster. A moving and layered character piece is told in flashback throughout the ongoing game of cat and mouse, the film is both heart-breaking and heart-stoppingly tense. What’s more the central pair of Kazan and Ballentine are amazing. Powerful and brilliant.
2. THE GREEN ROOM
Dir: Jeremy Saulnier
Stars: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Joe Cole, Alia Shawcat, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart
Assault on Precinct 13 with a punk rock band. A good siege movie is tough to pull off. This is an excellent one. Notable for being one of the brilliant Anton Yelchin’s last roles before his tragic death, this is a tight and surprisingly bloody thriller which ratchets up the tension to nearly unbearable levels and refuses to let up. The cast is fantastic, the direction assured and the plot utterly riveting. For a long, long time, this was my favourite film of the year and remains one that I whole-heartedly recommend.
1. I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER
Dir: Billy O’Brien
Stars: Christopher Lloyd, Max Records, Laura Fraser, Karl Geary
This is not a perfect film, and I’m not sure if it’s even a horror movie, but of all the flicks I’ve watched this year, few have had such a strong effect on me. You’re better off going in not knowing anything, but this darkly comic tale about a borderline psychopathic teen who comes to believe a murderous monster may be operating in his town is hilarious, frightening, disturbing, achingly hip and utterly unlike anything else you’ll see this year. Both Lloyd and Records are awesome and so is this film. These reasons, and so many more, are why I crown it the best of 2016.
DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR
SADAKO V KAYAKO
Dir: Kôji Shiraishi
Stars: Mizuki Yamamoto, Aimi Satsukawa, Masahiro Komoto, Masaki Saisho, Elly Nanami
In truth, Sadako v Kayako really isn’t that bad a film. The problem is that, considering the source material, it should have been brilliant. I absolutely love the Ring series and I’m a huge fan of the Ju-On franchise, and this just doesn’t get close to the heights of either of them. It doesn’t help that the titular battle gets just a couple of minutes of screentime, and ultimately this just feels like a terrible missed opportunity.