2016 has been a great year for horror fans. Sure there were a few sequels nobody asked for, though a few of those were actually rather well done (the following list sidesteps James Wan’s The Conjuring 2 and Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch, but both films reward a late night watch), and there’s a few franchises we weren’t all that keen on revisiting (apologies to The Purge movies and The Underworld films, but we’ve long outgrown you), but everything from the ubiquitous zombie chase film, artsy period pieces, pastiche chillers, and exceedingly excellent foreign imports had us howling with delight and rejoicing the quality fright fare unspooling before us.
The final work from the talented and troubled Polish director Marcin Wrona, who tragically died by suicide while Demon was still doing the festival circuit in late 2015, this is a deeply affective rumination on the past as well as a bone-chilling cautionary tale about Poland’s ghosts.
Based on Piotr Rowicki’s renowned play “Clinging”, Demon details the wedding celebration of doomed bridegroom Peter (talented Israeli actor Itay Tiran), newly arrived to rural Poland from England to tie the knot to his enchanting fiancee Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska). The two have been gifted with her family’s rundown bucolic home where Peter unearths some human remains. The ghost story that follows fusses with the Jewish legend of the dybbuk––a malicious and mean possessing spirit.
Wrona unleashes a wealth of strange, sad, and even darkly enjoyable comedic set pieces and as the wedding ceremony proceeds, eccentricity and danger accelerates in troubling and unpredictable ways.
A fascinating fright film with beautiful imagery, strong performances, and some first-rate psychodrama, Demon indicates a burgeoning talent in Wrona, who most assuredly would have brought cinema to some unusual, eerie, and startling places. Demon being his valedictory film, it leaves a lasting and haunting impression.
14. We Are the Flesh
Presenting an Hieronymus Bosch-like vision of hell, Mexican filmmaker Emiliano Rocha Minter’s We Are The Flesh is easily the most transgressive horror film of the year as explicit incest and heroic doses of cannibalism permeate the post-apocalyptic wastes. Desperate and dangerously underfed, two adult siblings (Diego Gamaliel and Maria Evoli) hunker down in a debris-strewn warehouse more or less occupied by a menacing Mephistophelean-like figure (Noé Hernández).
There’s a bit of a riff on Hansel and Gretel for our two young innocents, though they do not remain innocent for long, nor it their nightmare any kind of walk in the woods. We Are The Flesh in is the kind of extreme and provocative filmmaking that will repel the squeamish while attracting the brave and boastful.
So much of what Minter puts on the screen, while impeccably framed and artfully photographed, is just wrong: graphic sex scenes frisk with eruptions of brutal violence as extreme elements dog-pile on top of one another until everything topples down. Fans who find Marquis de Sade tame and need cinema as outré as possible will get plenty of kick from this alarming and impressive beast.
13. Another Evil
Writer-director Carson Mell’s debut feature Another Evil is an eccentric, original, and gut-busting horror-comedy. Shot on a micro-budget this low-key comedy unravels like a mumblecore Ghostbusters.
After encountering a pair of gross ghosts in their cottage, a married couple, Dan (Steve Zissis) and Mary (Jennifer Irwin) along with their teenage son, Jazz (Dax Flame) take action the only way they can. They track down a supposed expert on ghosts named Joye Lee (Dan Bakkendahl), whose methods are loopy and whose knowledge of the supernatural seems sketchy at best.
After Joey informs Dan and Mary that they and the ghosts haunting them can live in relative harmony, Dan takes offence. He wants the ghosts gone even if it means employing another supernatural expert in the form of an odd exorcist named Os Bijourn (Mark Proksch). Soon Dan and Os are doing really wild things to rid the entities and all the while Os seems determined to overshare his inner desires, grooming a reluctant Dan to be his new BFF.
The cast, particularly Bakkendahl and Proksch, are hilarious, and Another Evil presents a steady stream of awkward laughs, more than a few creepy kicks, and surprising heaps of droll subtlety. If you like cringe-y uncomfortable comedy combined with your horror, Another Evil is right for you.
12. The Invitation
An astonishingly effective dinner-party-from-hell maze of mental anguish, Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation is a superb slow-burn thriller. Will (Logan Marshall-Green) is attending a dinner party at his former abode in the Hollywood Hills, and begins to suspect that the hosts, Eden (Tammy Blanchard), who’s also his ex-wife, and her new man David (Michiel Huisman), may have some nastiness in store for the assorted guests.
Kusama expertly ratchets up the tension in a steady bow from bonhomie to balls-out viciousness while also dropping some smart truth bombs about depression, grief, and surviving the peaks and valleys of the modern age.
Elegant nuance and tangible dismay smartly seesaws with our hero’s troubled psyche and all the slow-building pressure arrives at an awesomely unforgettable finish that’s eerie and alarming enough to have you cancelling dinner plans for the foreseeable future. Essentially something of a small-scale chamber piece, The Invitation makes for a suitably delightfully macabre gem that you’d better RSVP.
11. The Similars
Mexican filmmaker Isaac Ezban’s made considerable waves in the festival circuit in 2014 with his time warping sci-fi success The Incident, and now his stylish, strange, and artfully atmospheric follow-up, The Similars, is building a strong case that Ezban is an up-and-comer worth keeping a close eye on.
The Similars is set in an eerie, out-of-the-way bus station in 1968, and plays like something of a Twilight Zone tribute – complete with a Rod Serling-style narration – and is furiously fuelled and fed by an edgy and economical understanding of shots, cuts, and reveals that are rich in ambience and inducing enjoyable anxiety in the viewer.
This film intentionally presses plausibility with gory genuflections and paranoid-addled pastiches as wildly varied as Orson Welles, the Evil Dead, Alfred Hitchcock, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Fans of self-reflexive cinema with a taste for the strange, the unsettling, and a playful aptitude for puzzling together clues and complications had best keep close tabs on Ezban, a new cinematic voice who’s called and commanded our attention.
His next film, Parallel, promises amazing and precarious obstacles for a group of friends (including Mr. Robot’s Martin Wallstrom) who discover a portal to parallel worlds. If Ezban is at the helm you better bet we’ll be first in line!
10. Under the Shadow
Babak Anvari’s assertive ghost story is made all the more modernistic thanks to a stirring feminist slant that is set amidst the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Shideh (Narges Rashidi, brilliant) lives under constant threat of aerial bombardment with her husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi) and troubled young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) in an outmoded apartment building in Tehran. The sinking feeling of dread the family endures is palpable from the start and this feeling builds as does the story.
Iraj is drafted to the frontlines leaving Shideh and Dorsa alone. Their building is bombed and an undetonated missile brings along with it an ancient evil in the form of a Djinn.
An unnerving fright fest, Under the Shadow supplies a strong sense of danger, an enraging subtext, and an uncompromising finish that’s both chilling and resolute. Miss this film at your peril.
9. Don’t Breathe
There’s been a buzz around director Fede Alvarez for a while now and ever since his 2013 re-imagining of Evil Dead he’s been cahooting with genre legend Sam Raimi, who acts as producer on Alvarez’s latest terrifying spectacle, perhaps the best home invasion film this side of Kevin McCallister, Don’t Breathe.
Written by Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, Don’t Breathe settles in on three teenage friends; Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto). The trio foolishly believe they can pull off the perfect crime by breaking into a blind man’s (Stephen Lang) house, whom they have reason to believe has scads of dough.
Suffice it to say, Don’t Breathe wastes little time as it smartly twists and tangles its vigorous premise in a supremely well-crafted film that prides itself on nerve-racking sequences, first-rate action, and umpteen unexpected thrills.
Alvarez takes trouble as he piles on the suspense, carefully constructing the narrative with the precision and tension of vintage John Carpenter while also using the derelict neighbourhoods of Detroit like an execrable ghost town, as glimpsed in recent atmospheric horror films like It Follows and Only Lovers Left Alive.
With help from cinematographer Pedro Luque, Alvarez explores the dark corners, obscure passageways, and clandestined areas of the house with damnable delight, unrelentlessly exciting the viewer until the hard-fought finale. Don’t Breathe is a superior chiller and may well be the progenitor of a new horror franchise that’s off to a ghoulishly great start.