2016 will be remembered as both the year humankind opted to give the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock a helpful shove and the year in which the grim reaper ruthlessly sharpened his celebrity scythe.
It will also be remembered as the year the horror film elected to live deliciously. Genre fans revelled in the deluge of instant classics, cult curios, artistic firebombs, giddy gorefests and spiteful mind fucks that sprayed from both mainstream and independent arteries.
Horror movies have always been a fractured mirror held up to the scared face of society, but in 2016 the reflection was especially repulsive and our beloved genre relished the task of echoing that twisted image.
So, from vaginal cannibalism, Bovidae Beelzebubs and shrink-wrapped human carcases to the car-wash disco danglings of mouselike genitalia, box-cutter butchered fascists and rapey roasting utensils….here is the curdled cream of this year’s nightmarish crop, and the most comprehensive horror movie countdown of the year.
20. Cat Sick Blues
Dave Jackson, Australia Splatter / Satire / Black Comedy
” All he needs is 9 lives “
Resplendent in his giant Frank Sidebottomesque feline head, claw-tipped gloves and mammoth barbed strap-on, troubled Ted embarks on a crazed blood hunt in order to resurrect his beloved pussy.
This confrontational fever fantasy may be a tad schizophrenic in terms of tone but its surreal narrative and acerbic social commentary prove dementedly addictive.
Far too exquisitely shot and well acted for this sort of thing.
19. Don’t Breathe
Fede Alvarez, USA Thriller / Crime / Survival
► TRAILER UK Cinema Release Date, 9th September 2016
” This house looked like an easy target. Until they found what was inside “
3 desperate youngsters bite off far more than is remotely chewable when they seek to rob a visually impaired recluse. It soon becomes crystal clear they’ve burglarised the wrong blind man and crowbarred open a preposterous pandora’s box of moral perversions.
Full of surprises, and polished to a chilling gleam, Don’t Breathe puts the twist in twisted whilst maintaining a masterly grip on its timeline, location mechanics and character decisions.
With a worldwide box office haul of well over $152 million from a meagre budget of just under $10 million, this classy survival flick effortlessly bridged the gap between mainstream and indie horror fans.
A sequel is, of course, already in the works.
18. Scare Campaign
Cameron and Colin Cairnes, Australia Thriller / Slasher / Satirical Black Comedy
► TRAILER Shown at Monster Fest, 26th Nov 2016
” Careful who you prank “
Long-running horror prank show Scare Campaign is on the brink of cancellation having lost its cutting edge to the extreme web series antics of a new group of masked filmmakers.
The creative team have one more shot at preserving their cash cow as they head to an abandoned mental asylum with the express intent of bulldozing through any ethical roadblocks. Just how low will they stoop in their quest to remain culturally relevant?
Fresh and fun this elaborate meta-horror is surprisingly violent, showcasing some of the goriest, and most inventive, kills of the year thanks to effects maestro Justin Dix(The Loved Ones, The Babadook).
With so many shifts in narrative direction the runtime flies by and if you do guess an ambitious plot swerve coming then there is always another one on the way that you haven’t.
17. I Am Not a Serial Killer
Billy O’Brien, Ireland/UK Thriller / Teen Sociopathy / Supernatural Folklore
► TRAILER UK Cinema Release Date, 9th December 2016
” Every town has its monsters“
16-year-old John Cleaver spends his time filling corpses with embalming fluid and fighting the urge to become a serial killer. However, someone in his hometown is not so concerned with suppressing their murderous compulsions and our young anti-hero must employ all his furious cunning to take them on at their own monstrous game.
Muscular pacing, confident camera work, peppy dialogue, a vociferous soundtrack and fructiferous chemistry between the excellent cast, cement this young adult fiction adaptation firmly on top of the foundations laid down by Donnie Darko.
One of the surprise packages of 2016.
16. Night of Something Strange
Jonathan Straiton, USA/Canada Splatter / Comedy / STD Zombies
► TRAILER Shown at UK Frightfest, 26th Aug 2016
” Don’t forget your rubbers…and bazooka! “
Obnoxious teens are attacked by sex diseased rape zombies after a spot of morgue slab romance goes awry.
Night of Something Strange veers manically between infantile and very nasty indeed, but there is an undeniable force of nature peppering the proceedings that never lets it slide into the desperate mire of indifference.
This flamboyant flick of the middle finger forms the perfect backdrop to the sound of ring pulls hissing in the dark as laughing friends pass around pizza slices, and possibly other things.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa , Japan Mystery / Police Procedural / Coercive Persuasion
► TRAILER UK Cinema Release Date, 25th Nov 2016
” That man isn’t my father, he is a total stranger “
A cutlery based hostage ordeal forces detective Takakura down the path of criminal academia in search of a more peaceful life. However, his socially erratic new next door neighbour Nashino has other more subversively sneaky ideas.
Creepy heralds the return of J-Horror legend Kiyoshi Kurosawa into the genre fold and the Nipponese maestro of the moribund isn’t taking any prisoners.
Refreshingly self-reliant, Creepy trusts in its sense of the surreal, perfectly judged performances, and ruthlessly refined script to create terror, rather than the desperate orchestral stabs of cheap jump scares. No other horror film this year came close to excavating the skeletal anxiety that lurks beneath the thin veneer of the mundane.
Mr. Nashino is a grotesque and depraved horror movie villain, prone to casual acts of monstrosity, with an ingenious disposal method that will put you off Sous-vide cooking for life.
Blu-ray – JAN 23, 2017
14. The Wailing
Hong-jin Na, South Korea Exorcism / Fantasy / Mystery / Thriller
► TRAILER UK Cinema Release Date, 25th November 2016
A stranger arrives in a little village and soon after a mysterious sickness starts spreading. A policeman is drawn into the incident and is forced to solve the mystery in order to save his daughter.
Incredibly intense horror epic that is a beautifully shot exercise in cunning melodrama.
The running time is exorbitantly bloated and the narrative serpentine to the point of exhaustion, yet it contains stretches of undeniable power and energy that went unmatched in 2016.
13. I Am a Hero
Shinsuke Sato, Japan Zombie Apocalypse / Action
► TRAILER South by Southwest Film Festival, 13th March 2016
” Run! Zombies are coming !!! “
Suzuki Hideo is a struggling manga artist who’s life is ruled by a depressing combination of low self-esteem and high maintenance girlfriend. But, when a devastating Zombie plague breaks out, it’s his artistry with a competition shotgun that erupts to the fore.
Exceedingly fast paced and gloriously bloodthirsty this Zombie movie sticks rigidly to the rule book in terms of genre tropes but gives the undead themselves individual traits and powers based on their former lives.
The action sequences are genuinely thrilling with gratifying payoffs and lashings of heart.
Watch out for the best screen Zombie since Romero’s Bub in the shape of a creepily determined high jumper.
Awaiting Release Details
12. Under the Shadow
Babak Anvari, UK War / Possession / Supernatural Folklore
► TRAILER UK Cinema Release Date, 30th September 2016
” Fear will find you “
It’s the late 80’s and feisty Shideh is struggling to cope with her anxious young daughter Dorsa after her husband deserts them for the front line of the Iran/Ba’athist Iraq war. With nothing but a rapidly degenerating Jane Fonda Workout tape to preserve her sanity, the pressure mounts for her to abandon the beleaguered capital.
But, the ferociously stubborn Shideh refuses to be seen as human “shrapnel” in the eyes of her extended family, and elects to batten down the flimsy hatches of her apartment instead.
Just like our heroine in his debut film, director Babak Anvari found solace and distraction in an illegally owned VCR. An adolescence spent gorging on a diet of VHS horror has forged a fascinating filter, through which this intimate depiction of the hopeless isolation of war, must pass.
There is a bitter-sweet irony beating at the heart of Anvari’s mosaical masterpiece that will see this picture surface in his homeland, not as a celebrated triumph, but in the same illegal, bootlegged form that originally spawned it.
Carles Torrens, Spain/USA Psychological Thriller / Abduction / Romantic Rejection
► TRAILER Shown at IFI Horrorthon on 30th October 2016
” A love story “
Animal shelter worker Seth is cemented in the rut of an unremarkable and relatively anonymous existence when he bumps into a beautiful blast from his high school past.
This is a deliciously duplicitous thriller that strips away the bitter rind enveloping obsession in order to illuminate the darkest crevices of the human condition. Standing on the compact shoulders of a masterly script to peer over the barricades of social awkwardness, Pet is a grisly, lurid, and shamefully entertaining parable of our times.
Why this fun slice of super sharp escapism did not receive a full UK cinema release is a bigger enigma than the one at the epicentre of its labyrinthine plot.
10. The Greasy Strangler
Jim Hosking, USA Serial Killer Thriller / Black Comedy / Grease Addiction
► TRAILER UK cinema release, 7th October 2016
” Bullshit Artist !!! “
Human grease dustbin Ronnie runs a Disco Walking tour along with his browbeaten son, Brayden. When a sexy, alluring woman comes to take the tour, it begins a competition between father and son for her attentions.
It also signals the appearance of an oily, slimy inhuman maniac who stalks the streets at night and brutally strangles the innocent.
Not since Divine fine dined on dog dirt has the grimy underbelly of American cinema been so lovingly petted.
With the entire cast fully committing to the madness and an audio-migraine where its soundtrack should be this monumentally offensive cinematic skid-mark is also horribly hypnotic.
This future cult classic is the film equivalent of giving absolutely zero fucks at all and is a refreshing kick in the bollocks to shallow body shamers everywhere.
Do not under any circumstances attempt to eat before, during or straight after this movie.
9. Green Room
Jeremy Saulnier, USA Siege Thriller / Crime / Punk Music
► TRAILER Uk cinema release, 16th May 2016
” Now. Whatever you saw or did. Is no longer my concern. But let’s be clear. It won’t end well.“
Plucky punk rockers the Ain’t Rights agree to a desperate gig in a neo-Nazi infected Pacific Northwestern piss-pond. Serenading the skin-headed swastika sweethearts proves the easy part. One forgotten phone later and they slip on a steaming post-trauma-turd that sets the Ain’t Rights on a deadly collision course with the far-right’s.
Military grade douche-bag bar owner Darcy, played by Sir Patrick Stewart, has his nefarious fingers jammed knuckle deep in a plethora of dodgy pies and is determined to orchestrate a final solution that threatens to wipe out anyone who knows anything.
Outnumbered and outgunned the band must mine their inner resources and beat the conniving conehead at his own morally bankrupt game.
This vicious thriller is as awash with organic augmentation as it is with the red stuff and marks Saulnier as one of the most unpretentiously cultivated talents of his generation.
Watching Green Room is like listening to a much-loved band play a raw, stripped down version of your favourite song and realising it is the most entertainingly powerful version you have ever heard.
8. The Eyes of My Mother
Nicolas Pesce, USA Tragic drama / Emotional isolation / Arthouse Exploitation
► TRAILER Shown at London Film Festival, 9th Oct 2016
” Too stark and bleak to warrant anything so crass as a tagline “
Little Francisca shares an isolated farmhouse with her distant father, religious ex-eye surgeon mother and a severed cow’s head.
One unlucky afternoon, her peaceful childhood is shredded by an act of random savagery, leaving her psyche irreparably crushed by the wicked vice of heartbreak.
Concentrating its narrative fire on the empathy debilitating fall-out of extreme misfortune, rather than the lazy melodrama of inherent evil, this audaciously brave film represents a milestone in the deconstruction of cinematic monstrosities.
Fans of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Nekromantik will love plundering this arthouse trauma vault.
7. The Neon Demon
Nicolas Winding Refn, USA Thriller / Melodrama
► TRAILER UK cinema release, 28th July 2016
” Beauty isn’t everything. It’s the only thing “
16-year-old model Jesse (Elle Fanning) breezes into The City of Angels and brings out the devil in her catty counterparts. Choked with envy and blinded by indignation the established elite will cross any line in the sand and break any taboo’s to protect their place mats at the top table.
This toxic jealousy soon oozes out through the ruptures in the runway and provides the perfect agar plate for cultivating sexual assault, cannibalism, and desperate acts of lesbian necrophilia.
The Neon Demon might just be the most blissfully inappropriate date movie since Antichrist and there is some truly perverse moral iniquity to savour. Rumour has it that instead of shouting action Refn howled ” Violence motherfuckers !!” each time he wanted to set the cameras rolling.
There is no doubt that The Neon Demon is cinematic trash. However, it’s a shimmering junk pile, stacked fuck-high with discarded chandeliers fused from the shards of broken dreams, then bombarded by the laser beams of rejection. And it’s heart freezingly gorgeous.
Can Evrenol, Turkey Fantasy / Occult / Surrealist Splatter
► TRAILER UK Cinema Release Date, Friday 15th July 2016
” Enter A World of Madness and Suffering “
A squad of overly cocky cops drop down an infernal rabbit hole. After disturbing a black mass they soon find themselves at the mercy of the blood-thirsty tapeworms that infest the very intestines of hell itself.
Dante Alighieri presented hell as a circle based spiritual penitentiary reliant on poetic justice for punishment. Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre used his play No Exit to depict the afterlife as the eternal incarceration of three beings – thus introducing the mantra – “Hell is other people”. Can Evrenol and his majestic film Baskin presents a tenable case that hell is not just an arbitrary by-product of sin, but rather a state of spiritual acceptance that resonates from inside the very core of every soul.
One of the most ferociously creative films of the year in any genre or language, Baskin continues to bask in its burgeoning cult status.
Ex-carpark attendant Mehmet Cerrahoglu is truly terrifying as he channels Colonel Kurtz for his role as the bizarre cult leader.
5. The Autopsy of Jane Doe
André Øvredal, UK Thriller / Medical Procedural / Supernatural
► TRAILER Shown at The London Film Festival, 13th Oct 2016
” Every body has a secret “
Austin and his father Tommy have a fully functioning basement morgue under their house. Veteran coroner Tommy thinks there isn’t any medical eccentricity that hasn’t already graced his weathered slab. Disillusioned Austin thinks he is leaving the morbid family profession for good.
One stormy night an unexpected cadaver triggers a grotesque autopsy that will prove them both wrong.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe marks the first English language film from the cult director André Øvredal, and whilst it’s not as cinematically ambitious as Troll Hunter, and indeed less whimsical – it uses a gratifyingly shady palette of genre tropes to paint an unflinchingly dark study in fear.
The refreshingly brisk run time is crammed with escalating tension that fills every crevice of what is essentially a single location movie. Both leads are equally comfortable carrying the movie, batting the shrewd dialogue around with the conviction and assurance of performers who just know the rest of the crew is also running hot.
Not least prosthetic technician Victoria Money who puts 33 episodes of Holby City to excellent use with the best Autopsy scenes ever designed for the silver screen.
Tighter than a pulled hamstring, invigoratingly self-sufficient and arguably the most purely entertaining horror flick of 2016.
Claire Carré, Poland Dystopian Future/ Amnesia / Sci-Fi Survival
► TRAILER Festival Screening 28th Jan 2016 (Slamdance)
” The world without memory “
The vast majority of planet Earth has succumbed to the viral bourne equivalent of Alzheimer’s. The lives of struggling humans at different grades on the memory loss spectrum are blighted with the subtle horrors of a society bereft of both consequence and meaning.
With an incredible 18 wins and 10 nominations harvested from the genre festival circuit, including best film at the London Sci-Fi Film Festival, this intense mood piece remains inexplicably underseen.
A fragile sliver of Arthouse brain-surgery that arrives at a super dark version of Groundhog Day by way of Memento, Damnation Alley and Before Sunrise.
Examinations of the physical and mental horrors of a neurological apocalypse don’t come any smarter than this.
3. The Childhood of a Leader
Brady Corbet, UK Historical psychodrama
► TRAILER UK cinema release, 19th Aug 2016
” Witness the birth of a terrifying ego “
Prescott is an adorable young America lad driving his parents round the bend as he strives to stake out the outskirts of his behavioural boundaries.
He is also a machiavellian little shit bag and a paradigm of radical authoritarian nationalism.
Set in 1919, Corbet’s astonishing think piece examines the birth of fascism through the eyes of a child that is destined to become one of its chief architects, embodying all that is evil in the subtle manipulations of bigoted fearmongers.
The score from music legend Scott Walker is the best horror soundtrack since Jerry Goldsmith’s epic work on The Omen and Stacy Martin( Nymphomaniac) gives an oscar worthy performance as our protagonist’s teacher.
As 2016 saw extreme far-right politics go global, and gain much more than just a petulant foothold, The Childhood of a Leader offered up an unignorably bitter admonishment on the creation and consequences of fascism.
2. Pig Pen
Jason M. Koch, USA Domestic Violence / Nihilistic realism / Social Drama
► TRAILER Shown at Horrorhound film Festival 19th March 2016
” A runaway returns for revenge“
Zak is a 13-year-old with an utterly shitty life. Existing on a diet of cereal and cold tap water he is constantly at the mercy of his mother’s sadistic new boyfriend Wayne.
Forced out onto the mean streets, events start to spiral hopelessly out of control and send him plummeting headfirst into a dark abyss of nihilistic anguish.
Pig Pen is a cavalcade of human misery, honed to a savage point upon the twin grindstones of meticulous editing and unshowy naturalistic performances, lovingly, paradoxically cocooned within a gloriously ambient soundtrack.
This punishingly dark endurance test is both a potent masterclass on how to craft authentic grassroots horror and a dysfunctional hate letter to the intrinsic integrity of cinema.
1. The VVitch / Train to Busan
Impossible to choose between these two modern masterpieces so…. i didn’t.
Robert Eggars, USA/UK Family Drama / Folklore
► TRAILER UK Cinema Release Date, 11th March 2016
” Evil takes many forms“
Set in New England during the middle of the Puritan migration The VVitch charts one family’s plunge into a maelstrom of mistrust and religious ardour. Distanced from their homeland and further set adrift by their community the only things growing on their isolated farmstead are suspicion and paranoia.
God-fearing parents William and Katherine become gripped with anguish as their lives and those of their extensive brood slide into a pit of chaos. Is it impending famine and heart-breaking loss that is tearing the family unit to shreds or is it evidence of a deadly incline towards a relentlessly seductive and infernal evil?
The VVitch is a rare paragon in a jaded, sequel stagnant genre that represents a new benchmark in both psychological horror and debut film-making.
At its very best The VVitch borders on the Shakespearean in its cultivated scrutiny of tragedy, pathos and the politics of fear.
Train to Busan
Sang-ho Yeon, South Korea Relationship Drama / Zombie Outbreak / Action
► TRAILER UK Cinema Release Date, 28th October 2016
” Life or death survival begins“
Workaholic Seok-woo attempts to re-connect with his kindhearted young daughter Soo-an by facilitating a birthday visit to her mothers. However, the bullet train ride from Seoul to Busan suddenly morphs into a completely different mission. One to protect their churning innards from a seemingly endless wave of hyper-kinetic, flesh-mental zombies.
As the outside world drowns under a tsunami of chaotic savagery, the passengers must link arms across social divides, and stave off the skin ripping hordes long enough to reach safety.
Train to Busan packs the type of mammoth cinematic right-hook that demands the widest canvas available with the largest crowd possible. The eardrum-pummeling score and blistering sound design alone are worth the trip to the theatre, never mind the showroom quality visual effects and gorgeously fluent camera work.
However, it’s the glutinous humanity at the kernel of the film that will stick with you long after the credits roll.
Let’s be quite clear here, Train to Busan was not constructed for the critics – it was precision engineered for the fans. A commendable ideology that radiates from the epicentre of every glorious set piece, sly nod, and citation of zombie-law.
This genuine desire to forge a tangible bond with its target audience is what elevates Train to Busan above nearly all horror pictures this year.