2016 was a weird year for a lot of people. Politically, pop culturally, and personally, a lot of folks faced one of the strangest years in a while. I almost feel like that bled over into films a little bit in 2016. As a lover of film in all genres, I felt as if a good chunk of the movies I saw this past year were good, some great, but only a handful were excellent. I have weird tastes, and I know that, but I usually find about twenty movies I love in a given year. In 2016, I had trouble finding ten.
Now, this being Horror Society and all, I wanted to zero in on the movies I loved most in the genre I know best. These five films represent the movies I favored in 2016. They may not be the technically best made films of the year, but they are the ones that made me react emotionally. Whether I laughed, was intrigued, or just plain had fun, I think these films succeeded on a level higher than the other films I saw within the genre in 2016.
Special Mention: 31
Before I jump into those five movies, I have to discuss the movie I was anticipating most from the genre in 2016, 31. I love Rob Zombie. I know it’s totally cool right now to hate the dude, but I’ve been a fan as long as I can remember. I love his music dating back to the White Zombie days up through his work today. I loved House of 1000 Corpses and Devil’s Rejects. I could take or leave the Halloween remake, but I don’t blame Zombie for that. I think there was something really cool, progressive and interesting happening in both Halloween 2 and Lords of Salem. So, naturally, I was hopeful that 31 would be another step forward for Mr. Zombie. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty big step back. 31 is not a terrible movie. It’s a forced movie. It feels like Rob Zombie doing an impression of a Rob Zombie, or what the general movie-going public thinks is a Rob Zombie movie. The opening black and white scene featuring the best actor in the film, Richard Brake, sets in motion what could be an incredible film. Once we meet our protagonists, however, the film goes downhill from there. One criticism Zombie gets a lot, unfairly in my opinion, is that none of the characters in his films are likable thus making them unwatchable. I completely disagree. Yeah, there are some deplorable characters in his films, but I usually can’t take my eyes off of them. In 31 though, I really couldn’t connect with a single character and did feel like “who cares” by the time the shit hit the fan. I do want to give this one a rewatch because it took couple viewings for Halloween 2 and Lords of Salem to grow on me. So, I’m hoping this will be the same situation here. As of now for me, 31 stands as a lesser work of Zombie’s. I will say the experience of seeing the film in the theater from the Fathom events presentation of the film with the 2 music videos before the movie and the behind the scenes footage and interviews after the movie was exceptionally cool. I’d like to see that treatment for some other limited release horror films in the future.
5. KILLJOY’S PSYCHO CIRCUS
Full disclosure, I adore Full Moon Features. I grew up in the 90s with all their classic films such as Subspecies, Puppet Master, and the like, and I fell in love with their movies’ comic book aesthetic. It’s no secret that their films have been lacking that Full Moon magic for the past 15 years or so. I see that they are trying to get it back though, and sometimes it works. The Gingerdead Man and Evil Bong series just keep going and you can tell they’re having a lot of fun making them. The series that keeps getting better with each new installment is the Killjoy series and that’s thanks in part to writer/director John Lechago who took over the series at part 3 and star Trent Haaga who really brings Killjoy to life. Killjoy’s Psycho Circus, the fifth installment in the series, feels like the biggest Full Moon movie in decades and it’s also one of the best. The series has gone the campy, fun route as Killjoy has escaped from hell and is now semi-mortal living on Earth hosting a late-night public access talk show bored with his new life. The devil hatches a plan to reclaim his soul that leads to a battle in space that has to be seen to be believed. The film is rife with smart satire and political jabs which was something I wasn’t used to in Full Moon’s latest output. Plus, the movie made me laugh out loud a few times so the film really succeeded as a comedy. If you love Full Moon, but miss their glory days, this is the movie you’ve been waiting for.
4. MAN UNDERGROUND
I had the privilege of seeing this, as of now, still unreleased film at the Telluride Horror Show back in October. See my coverage here. While not quite a full on horror movie, Man Underground does have it’s share of intense and even spooky moments. You definitely can list this one as Sci-Fi. The film features a man who used to work for the government and knows some of its deepest, darkest secrets. As he decides to make a film about the things he knows, he meets a charming would-be actress at a roadside diner who he asks to star in the film. Secrets, some involving aliens, are revealed as the skeleton crew working on the film grows closer together. It feels like a great X-Files episode. I was gripped both by this film’s compelling story, but also by its engaging performances from its whole cast. This film is a must see. Hopefully we see it get a proper release in 2017, but until then, keep your eyes out for it on the festival circuit.
3. AVA’S POSSESSIONS
I loved, loved, loved this movie. I was hooked by its premise before I even watched the movie. Ava’s Possessions is about a girl who goes into an AA like rehab group for those who were formerly possessed. I love movies about what happens after the typical horror movie ends. We meet our lead post possession, and we get to see her pick up the pieces of her life after that traumatic event. Oh, did I mention it’s a comedy. While the film is effective as a horror film, it excels at being a hilarious satire of the genre. I was about as tired of the possession genre as you are, but this film was a great final note on the now stale sub-genre. Also, for a low budget affair, the film looks incredible and the performances are pitch perfect. I don’t want to say too much about the other group members in rehabilitation within the film, other than they will keep you hooked into the story. Catch this one while it’s still on Netflix. It’s sure to be a cult classic in a few years.
2. OUIJA ORIGIN OF EVIL
Who saw that one coming? I sure as hell didn’t. One of the single worst horror films to get a wide release in the past decade was the first Ouija film. It was literally a movie about nothing with characters with no personality. Then, up and coming horror master Mike Flanagan gets handed the reigns to the series, and he blows the original not just out of the water, but out of the entire universe. The movie starts with the classic 70s Universal logo and never stops feeling like a movie from that decade. Set in 1967, this film takes place as far away from the original as possible. I don’t really understand the title because this wasn’t really the origin of anything, but that doesn’t stop the movie from being awesome. Unrelenting in it’s attempt to scare you, the movie slowly creeps under your skin and then never lets go of your veins. This film was another that featured some of the best performances of the year especially from the film’s two child leads. The film is also so dedicated to feel like a 60s/70s horror film, it features cigarette burns in the corners of the screen to signify where the reel changes would be. Seeing this in the theater, was an incredible blast to the past. I may have only been able to see my first horror movies in theaters in the 90s, but we still had the cigarette burns and reel changes that this movie holds so dear. As far as nostalgia pieces go, this one won the year.
1. THE CONJURING 2
Oh, the Warrens, you lovable con artists, you. If this series belonged to anyone else besides today’s modern master of horror James Wan, it wouldn’t succeed as well as it does. The second film in the series features the Warren’s on another case of haunting and possession, but it’s such an unabashed horrorpalooza, I was grinning from ear to ear start to finish. We get jump scares, spooky atmospheric moments, and a scene involving a nun and a painting that will haunt your dreams forever. I also particularly loved the insane Crooked Man come to life moment, which was totally a riff on The Babadook, but I thought that movie was overrated so I didn’t care. Plenty of great genre moments to be had in the film that I think there’s something for everyone here if you like horror films. James Wan might very well be this generations John Carpenter, and he shows no sign of stopping. It helps that you can tell he loves the genre that he’s working in. The Conjuring 2 is film for horror fans, and it’s great to see it coming from a major motion picture studio. Studio horror isn’t dead, and this film is all the proof I need.
Who knew at the beginning of 2016 that some of the best horror films of the year were going to be sequels? Look, I even thought Suicide Squad was going to be good. Shows what I know. In an overall disappointing year for movies, these five films came in and shocked me with their pursuit to entertain me. I’m excited to see what 2017 brings for our beloved genre. So far we’re off to a bumpy start with Bye Bye Man and Underworld 5, but plenty more is to come that can surprise and shock me as we go on. If you’re interested in seeing what my top ten films of the year are without any genre restrictions, follow me on social media. I’ll be posting that list in the next couple weeks after I finish a few more films. Also, stay tuned to Horror Society as I will be posting my 2016 Horror Event Recap in the next couple days. See you at the movies.