2016 has come and now is about to be over (based off the moment I write this). Through
the conversations with the many genre and horror fans I’ve spoken with, opinions vary
everywhere on how horror films stacked up during the year. Depending on your taste, it
was either a fantastic year or one that failed to live up to the pre-year hype. Some critical
darlings seemed to jump out such as The Witch, The Wailing, and Under the Shadows,
but regular viewers and fans weren’t necessarily overwhelmed by any of these. It’s the
forgotten fans, the ones that have been in the trenches loving slashers and midnight
movies, that didn’t get a voice in validating whether a film like The Witch was speaking
to them. For a podcaster like myself, I’ve seen a ridiculous number of films over the year
like The Witch or Hollywood cinema hits like The Conjuring 2 and Don’t Breathe.
Digging deep, many films that won’t even make critical lists will appear here on my list.
What that means is that some little seen or little hyped films powered their way to the top
of my top 30+ horror films. So this year, people may have completely different lists than
others, leaving little consensus.
What that means to you, the reader? Some of those arthouse critical darlings like The
Witch may have dropped completely off my list and instead were replaced with other
arthouse films. Had they been given a more showy marketing campaign or made it to the
right festivals, they instead may have been this year’s critical darling in the place of more
well known films as The Witch. Also, I hear the cry and anger of those horror fans who
feel ignored; those that live in the trenches who admire the slashers, the midnight films,
the trash films. Arguably the best horror films ever were just that, midnight movies that
were originally ignored or laughed at by critics. Examples of this would be The Texas
Chain Saw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, or Suspiria.
Lastly, what makes a 2016 horror film? That’s the most important I suppose. Many films
are released and play at festival circuits for years but don’t finally get a general release
until a year or two later. Others are foreign films that simply never made it to the shores
of the USA, where I happen to live. Here, people are still waiting for Livide, the French
follow up film to the guys that did Inside. What is consider 2016 to me is if the film's
first appearance in the USA was released to theaters, VOD, or disc in 2016.
With that stated, let’s get into this eclectic list of mine.
(Bonus) #31 Knucklebones – Young college coeds and a monster in an abandoned factory.
Sounds pretty good? Oddly, the lead characters are all fantastic and fairly likable people;
a breath of fresh air for sure. If you like slashers and/or monster movies, this one is
pretty great for a low budget flick.
#30 Pet – What appears to be a mix of women-in- prison and deranged captor films
actually is something quite different. With an interesting twist that is given to the
audience pretty early also is the catalyst of how the two lead characters deal with their
own personal demons.
#29 Emilie – The babysitter alone at home has been a pretty successful plot device for
many years in horror films. Usually a pretty coed suddenly hears a noise or gets a strange
phone call, soon the children disappear, the pet dog is killed, and our babysitter fights for
her life from an intruder. The film Emilie however does an about face. What happens if
the threat isn’t an unknown assailant but instead the babysitter herself? Well acted and a
nice twist on an old trope.
#28 Windmill – This is the follow up film from the guys that did the found-footage horror
film Frankenstein’s Army. A slasher with a supernatural twist, some have compared it to
Nightmare on Elm Street because of that. However, this film isn’t about a monster that
stalks your dreams or out for revenge. The plot is simple: a group of people happen to
take a tour bus through the Netherlands countryside, but what waits for them isn’t just a
monster, it actually is their fates.
#27 The Conjuring 2 – a Hollywood blockbuster and a sequel to the highly successful
original with the same name, this one doesn’t go deeply into the overused exorcism tropes
that the original went through in its finale. With its strong cast and throwback feel to
films like Poltergeist, this one was a pretty good follow up to what appears to be a new
#26 Deathscort Service – 100% a midnight movie that would have fit nicely in the
grindhouse theaters of yesteryear. With over the top gore like a Hershall Gordon Lewis
film, and the nudity of a Michael Findley horror flick, this one is a total throwback for
shock value. Technically well made and filled with love by the amateur and independent
filmmakers and actors involved.
#25 Baskin – This very bizarre Turkish horror film made a splash this year while getting
notice from major media outlets. Is it a strangely disjointed film? Depends. If you are a
huge fan of Italian and European horror cinema of the 1970’s, then no it isn’t. Surreal
with an interesting color palette, the film lives up to many movies from that era. The
climax alone is what many horror fans would be looking for.
#24 Clown – After Eli Roth saw the fake trailer for this film, he contacted the filmmakers
and produced the feature length version. Oddly never released in the states for two years,
if finally hit VOD and many folks were immediately struck by what a well made and
interesting film it really was. Using folklore, it seems that clowns are no different than
trolls, elves, and sprites. And when this demon comes to life once more, it is bloody …
and heartbreaking for one family.
#23 Plankface – backwoods crazies meet slasher madness. From the makers of Found
and Harvest Lake, this one is also heavily frontloaded as a character study. As a result, a
backwood slasher as an arthouse film … and it works.
#22 They Look Like People – picked up by Netflix and released on VOD, this very low
budget film at times seems more a character study of two (and maybe three) people than a
horror film. With one individual obviously disturbed, the other main lead too may
actually be as well. Scary, suspenseful, and sad at times, the film’s greatest ability is to
make the audience turn away and feel uncomfortable more because of awkwardness of
the two lead characters more so than violence itself.
#21 Don’t Breathe – what a surprise. Flawed for sure because it is quite obvious who will
or will not survive, there are not many likable characters, and there are some plot
contrivances, but this reverse home invasion film is as intense as any horror film can
become. A great twist, and having many points that make you want to cheer on a
character only to rethink your position when you look at the illogical premise of their
#20 Recovery – sometimes compared to Don’t Breathe, and also a reverse home invasion
film, it too has flaws including plot contrivances. However, unlike the leads in Don’t
Breathe, this film allowed me to get behind our protagonists. The movie uses technology
in an original and thoughtful way, not just mobile phones but also social media. My main
approval is, unlike Don’t Breathe, it doesn’t necessarily cheat with a positive ending.
#19 Green Room – Some would call this more a thriller than a straight out horror film,
but either way, this film, by the same folks that brought us the remarkable Blue Ruin,
gives us another violent film but this time about people simply in the wrong place at the
#18 The Secrets of Emily Blair – another Netflix pickup for VOD, this film not only
takes the best of some of the more successful exorcism films, but it also pays homage to
them as well. The lead actress alone is a reason to watch this movie. She was
remarkable and had one of the best performances in horror this year.
#17 What We Become – a Danish zombie film makes the top 20. Oddly for a fairly short
film, the movie packs a lot of things into it. From the pre-apocalypse, to the fall, and then
to the survivors and paranoia, all well done and presented in an hour and a half. If you
are zombied out, maybe this won’t work for you, but it is a strong horror film no matter.
#16 Last Girl Standing – a survivor of a “movie-like” slasher massacre returns to her
prior life only to have to deal with both her inner demons as well as what might be a
copycat killer after her.
#15 10 Cloverfield Lane – another big Hollywood release with fantastic performances by
the three leads, specifically John Goodman in a role that some have even argued is an
award worthy performance. Is it about a crazy man who locks himself and two others in
a bunker or an apocalypse film … or both? I myself would have been more happy if it
was simply the latter, but either way, the film is suspenseful as heck and the controversial
second half was almost as strong as the first half.
#14 The Girl on a Train – the first film on this list that could possibly be thrown in as a
thriller rather than horror. For a big budget Hollywood film, some critics thumbed their
nose at it, and others were upset that the movie moved the location of the film to New
York from the source material’s London, but if you are into mysteries and thrillers with
some very horrific turns and twists, this film has it all.
#13 Almost Shine – What a strange turn this film takes. First off, the first hour of the
film is pretty damn great. Two women and their place in life and what it does to their
relationship is pretty hard to watch. Some will say it even speaks of gender and its place
in a male dominated world. No matter, since this relationship can be non-gender specific
and it still hits home. Then the last twenty minutes the film turns surreal and more a
curiosity. I’m not sure it was the right way to go, but all in all, a solid little film.
#12 Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla – My co-hosts have argued whether this is really a
horror film, but I’m going with Dread Central, and saying yes … yes it is. A very
personal piece about a person with some social skill issues and how he goes about his day
as an ice cream truck salesman. But his life soon turns upside down as things happen that
cause him to break apart emotionally. Very heartbreaking and sad film, but one of the
best of the year.
#11 The Invitation – Many years this one could be even higher. A solid film with a few
plot contrivances but what a ride it is. When a man returns to his ex-wife’s home for a
party, things turn out bad as one would think. But this "bad" is worse than just
arguments. Without getting into details, the film keeps us guessing whether the people at
the party are actually a threat or just simply lost in their own identity.
#10 Siren – Based on a short segment from the film V/H/S, this one is a midnight movie
all the way. But the thing that puts it above most is that it is fun. As an entertainment
piece, from the beginning all the way to the end, it is fun and engaging. Other highpoints
are all the leads are likable, the actor that plays the villain absolutely shines, and the
monster is one of the coolest of the year.
#9 Lights Out – Another theatrical release, this one was also based on a short film
released on the web for all to see. As an extended feature length movie, the main thing
for a horror film is to be scared, and this film has some pretty dang good horror scares.
Though some have said the back story of the monster didn’t work for them, the positives
include a strongly developed creature, a likable lead actress, and actual moments of
#8 Nina Forever – Honestly I wanted to put this one in the top 5. With its midnight
movie elements, and arthouse feel, the movie has an interesting structure. Basically a
three person character piece, it digs deep into the melancholy of each while eventually
revealing that the lead actress’s character’s intentions isn’t really what we thought it was.
Leaving one character behind while giving new life to another, each protagonist has their
own full character arc.
#7 Train to Buson – This Korean zombie film is probably the best zombie film since
Warm Bodies and with its kinetic action alone could make it a great watch on a triple bill
with World War Z and Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead. One highpoint is that almost
every survivor is a person you root for. There are barely any of the annoying characters
you want to hate. A few sappy spots but many think they work.
#6 The Autopsy of Jane Doe – Arguably the best of all horror films this year that does not
have an arthouse feel to it. The two leads are phenomenal; when hell breaks loose, they
also have the refreshing period of feeling defeated. And to top all that, when supernatural
things do occur, they have their moments of trying to actually come to grips with it rather
than just jump right in. Phenomenal film and an end of the year surprise.
#5 Neon Demon – This one is another film that depends on whether you like 1970’s
Italian and European horror films. Just as Baskin, it has a very unique color palette and a
midnight movie feel to it. Oddly the film presents itself as if we are supposed to dislike
our protagonists and yet we still want to follow them along on their journey. And with a
surprising twist with 20 minutes left, we then begin to follow the other characters in the
movie other than the one we thought the film was really all about.
#4 The Corpse of Anna Fritz – This Spaniard horror film takes an extreme taboo and uses
the plot device of a famous person as the catalyst. Three twenty-somethings see an
opportunity that moves their perverse motives, and two of them decide to take action.
With a surprising twist, the film suddenly turns into a cover up that may result in murder.
A highly intense thriller-horror film masked as a midnight film.
#3 Sun Choke – I almost chose this as my favorite horror film of the year. This is another
film that has brought back Barbara Crampton to prominence but what really makes this
film great is numerous things. The three lead actresses do a great minimalist job, it has a
great soundtrack, the cinematography is incredible, and the set designs and its stark white
backdrop give an interesting and unsettling feel to this very strange story. One curiosity
is that the surreal moments of the film may not be all that surreal at all and can be viewed
#2 Goddess of Love – At the last minute I moved this to #2 rather than #1. This one is
directed by the co-director of last year’s well received slasher film, Girlhouse, Goddess of
Love actually was co-written by the director and the lead actress who happened to have a
small role in Girlhouse. This is another character piece. A beautiful talented dancer,
having lost her legit gig in Paris, heads back home and lands up as a stripper. When she
falls in love with a man she meets while working, her already fragile psyche leads her
further down the road to rock bottom. Very heartbreaking and also very intense, a great
film all around.
#1 Masks – Originally released in Germany two years ago, this German language film
directed by Andreas Marschall is one hell of a find and was finally picked up in the USA
for release. A young coed is fired from her job as a dancer but is offered a spot in a
highly competitive dance school that sees something in her that her prior employers
didn’t. With its fantastic color palette, incredible soundtrack, and creepy mystery, this
film is one that should not be missed. A very 1970’s European horror film feel.