The “horror movie of the year” talk is always a fun one to get into. While our team just finalized our picks last week I wanted to keep the conversation going by diving into my contact list and harassing some of my favorite people on the internet until they sent me their picks for horror movie of the year. Some names here you’ll know from the horror community, others you may not recognize as easily and some may have given birth to me… but more on that later. For now, enjoy this special edition of The Insider.
We begin with a few well established names in the industry…
“Some people debate whether GREEN ROOM can be considered a horror movie or not. All I know is I certainly felt the way a great horror movie makes me feel when I watched it. The hopeless situation, the uncertainty of survival, the gruesome brutality. It all adds up to that horrifying yet delightful knot in your stomach that the best horror brings. And yet there is no film bleak enough that you can’t still infuse a bit of humor which GREEN ROOM does at choice moments. From the spot on casting to the masterful directing, GREEN ROOM is my favorite horror movie of the year. Even though my year has been dominated by work GREEN ROOM is the one film this year I made sure to watch twice. I eagerly await whatever comes next from writer-director Jeremy Saulnier.”
“31, Rob Zombie’s ultra-sick, ultra-violent, clown-infused homage to The Running Man is one of my favorite horror films of 2016 for one, simple reason: its opening scene. Richard Brake’s introduction as Doom Head, whose stare cuts directly into the camera, is not only mesmerizing, but it also showcases Zombie’s audacity as a director. With a monologue that so cleverly shatters the fourth wall, done in (mostly) one, long take, Zombie creates an outstanding moment in horror that relies entirely on an individual performance. The despicable monster speaks directly to us, and explains how despicable he truly is. There is no mystery to unfold, there is only the promise of carnage to come. That, to me, is truly exciting horror filmmaking.”
“My favorite film I saw in 2016 was Perry Blackshear’s THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE, but it was technically released in 2015, so I’m going to go with Jeremy Saulnier’s GREEN ROOM. Exquisitely tense, relentless, and dark as midnight, this was the most horrific experience I had at the movies this year. There is a sense of tragic inevitability from the earliest frames, and Saulnier is able to tap into the most frightening element of horror there is… the evil within human beings. There are moments where characters realize they are going to die, and those realizations are presented without sentiment or pageantry… just the simple horror of staring into an indifferent universe, and knowing you have no chance. Truly haunting.”
“There have been a lot of good horror flicks this year, and I’ve missed most of them. Of the ones I did catch, I liked Green Room and the oddly similar Don’t Breathe. I have a fondness for 10 Cloverfield Lane because it did not shy away from its premise and ends with a sublime fantasy sequence! However, I would like to draw your attention to a very fine, small film called BACKCOUNTRY. It is a remarkably well-drawn portrait of a young couple trying to connect on a weekend camping trip in the woods without cell phones and work worries. The strength of the movie is how it portrays the couple’s relationship, the little tensions between the two, and the slow encroaching dread we feel as we become aware how many incredibly bad decisions the dude is making, how in over his head he is. In one chilling scene he has staged a romantic moment by a meaningful location and he slowly admits that he isn’t where he thought he was. That would make for a good psychological drama but… there’s also a bear. This flick fits with one of my favorite horror sub-genres epitomized of course by Jaws, but exemplified by Open Water, Grizzly Man (yes, that’s a doc, but terrifying), and recently The Shallows. These movies work when we care about the characters and we’re shocked to see them confront elemental forces as ferocious and merciless as any fantasy character.”
“I saw a couple horror films I really liked this year: The Witch, The Love Witch , The Neon Demon and Green Room (though I’d argue that was more of a suspense-thriller type thing), but the films that filled me with the most visceral existential terror were oddly enough, similarly titled (like The Witch/The Love Witch) : WEINER and WIENER-DOG. If a lot of straight-up horror frightens you with death and physical pain, those two made it clear that emotional pain is much worse and the villain most determined to annihilate you is yourself. And you’re probably going to get hit by a truck anyway.”
Next, some filmmakers you may not recognize but you totally should.
“My pick for favorite horror movie of the year is THE EYES OF MY MOTHER, by Nicolas Pesce. In a genre that’s saturated with movies that try to prove how off-kilter they are, Eyes is one of the few horror movies I’ve seen that embraces dream logic and is genuinely “weird”. A reviewer likened the black-and-white cinematography to the work of Diane Arbus, but I’d add to that by saying it’s also by way of Joel Peter Witkin. And while it’s a very visual movie, it doesn’t rely on showing you every bit of gore. In fact, I think the sound work creates far more visceral images in the mind than any special effect could. All of this atmosphere and artistry is held together by a fantastic performance by Kika Magalhaes as Francisca, the psychopathic lead character. Her shifts from congeniality to cold murder perfectly encapsulate how the movie makes you feel. It’s either a distant bad memory or an ongoing nightmare.”
“I’m going to make it a tie — I’ve earned that right because of technicality. My favorite film of 2016 was released in 2016, but I saw it in 2015. That’s right, THE INVITATION. As a filmmaker, I feel that most films I see I can do a far better job. But when I saw this film directed by Karyn Kusama and written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, I felt like I got schooled. I’ve never seen a film create so much suspense with such casual dialogue and no perceived threats– yet– we keep imagining that there might be one like our protagonist. It’s just a simple dinner party… or is it? No, it is. …Or is it? It’s on Netflix now — watch immediately. Avoid trailers and synopsis.
The other film was the THE NEON DEMON, written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. A huge word of warning– it is a film meant to test your patience, your stomach, and your faith in humanity. A true work of provocative art that makes the ugly side of the modeling world externalized. VERY EXTERNALIZED. The film is about narcissism and it is in love with itself… and that’s the point. And maybe the only reason one could love it as much is because it is beautifully shot and told… but it has an ugly personality underneath. Brilliantly loathsome. I loved it.”
“I was disappointed with the majors I saw this year – Conjuring 2, Lights Out, Ouija, even The Witch (and Blair Witch, for that matter). I didn’t have time to see much at Fantasia, so I’m sure I’ve missed some gems. Not sure I’m call it “horror” (fuck genres), but since it’s technically about a serial killer who makes freaky animal noises, and a dude literally gets his face punched in, I’m going to treat it as such. THE GREASY STRANGLER is in my tops for the year, and my favorite horror of 2016. I laughed more than I was ever frightened, but as a piece of underground gore cinema, it’s a thing of beauty. Napoleon Dynamite meets The Forbidden Zone. Like a Troma high art wet dream.”
Speaking of Troma…
“BILLIONS of dollars were spent THIS YEAR by major studios pumping out mindless junk that melts people’s brains such as that movie where Kevin Spacey plays a talking cat, but in the wide weird world of Tromaville, about a dozen brilliant movies (including mine, B.C. Butcher – go see it) were released for the cost of Grumpy Cat’s pet handler fee. One of these uniquely bizarre Troma films was Peter Litvin and Greg DeLiso’s HECTIC KNIFE. Yes, I am hereby declaring HECTIC KNIFE not only the best horror film of 2016, but the best FILM of 2016! HECTIC KNIFE follows the story of a sort of underground superhero in the same vein as Toxie, of course, who has to defeat a comic book character super villain. Hectic, played by Peter Litvin, wears a cheap blonde wig that was passed down through his family lineage and trains for his ultimate battle with a new sort of mind trip – BAGEL BUDDHISM (that’s just what I’m calling it – watch the movie to understand!). Shot in a grainy high contrast black and white, HECTIC KNIFE is a mix between David Carradine’s Kung-Fu & Abel Ferrara’s gritty NY slasher realism, mixed with a little classic B&W Nosferatu-style horror and even a bit of Mean Streets – which you can probably not say about any other movie! WOW!”