2016 has been a peculiar year all round. Confusing, disappointing and, at times, downright scary. But one element that remained remarkably strong throughout was entertainment. In particular, it’s been a hell of a year for movies. And, for its part, the horror genre has come out of these bizarre, uncertain times looking better than ever.
There’s simply never been a more exciting time to be a horror fan. This is none more obvious than in each site’s vastly different Best Of list, and in readers’ response to same. 2016 has gifted us at least two horrors destined to be classics, while others wormed their way into our hearts and minds by trying something entirely different, or putting a new spin on an old idea.
We may not all agree on which flicks best represented this year, but that in itself is a good thing. Arguments are rife among horror fans because there was just so much to see this year (and most of what made it to theaters was good). The following are just ten reasons why this year was a great one to be a horror fan. Feel free to add your own accordingly:
Sharks got their bite back
It’s tough to be a fan of sharksploitation as, more often than not, filmmakers just can’t seem to get these movies right. From dodgy CGI to a complete lack of plot, the emphasis tends to be on getting our attention with eye-catching titles and poster designs, leaving the final product to flop about when it should have swooped down and devoured the audience. That all changed this year with the release of two, top notch sharksploitation movies; In The Deep and The Shallows. The latter may have made more of an impact, thanks in large part to actually making it into theaters, but regardless these two movies proved once and for all that with the right script, strong performances, a decent premise and, most crucially, some believable-looking sharks, the fear will come. The Shallows in particular will soon join the ranks alongside Deep Blue Sea, and even the incomparable Jaws, as one of the greatest shark-based horror movies ever.
Females were front and centre
This was a year when women simply refused to be ignored. From ladies hopping behind the camera, to speaking their minds regarding the pay gap, and the great Barbara Crampton demanding not to be referred to as a Scream Queen, things finally seem to be shifting for women working in movies. Horror is a genre that tends to stick chicks in the Final Girl role, but this year, female characters reigned supreme in everything from studio dross such as Lights Out and Ouija 2, to big-budget crowd-pleasers like the mighty Ghostbusters reboot and The Shallows (any complaints about the size of Blake Lively’s bikini were shushed once audiences actually saw how much of a bad ass she is in the film) and indie fare like The Witch, Let Her In, The Love Witch, Under The Shadow, The Monster, Yoga Hosers, 31, et al. We may disagree on these movies, but there’s no arguing over whether women’s place in horror, or whether there’s space within it for their stories to be told. There’s still a long road ahead before the old boobs ‘n’ blood aesthetic is completely erased (if that’s even necessary) but we’re heading in the right direction.
PG-13 horror makes its mark
Last year gave us the wonderful Goosebumps, but 2016 saw PG-13 horror take an even bigger stab at hassling burgeoning horror fans with the release of Yoga Hosers and Nerve (depending on what side of the world you’re on, this year may have been your first chance to catch the brilliant The Final Girls, too) Each of these movies (all, it must be noted, female-fronted also) looks to target a younger audiences while simultaneously keeping things fresh and fun for older fans. Kevin Smith’s Hosers may have been annihilated by critics, but there’s no denying the movie’s a one of a kind piece, anchored by two strong performances from total newcomers Harley Quinn Smith and Lily Rose Depp in the lead roles. Juvenile it may be but the flick exhibits Smith’s understanding, and love, of horror (as evidenced by Red State and Tusk) as well as his connection to his teenage daughter, whose fingerprints are all over the zippy script and cutesy, spot-on detailing. Nerve, meanwhile, sees the still incredibly young-looking Emma Roberts play a buttoned-down teen looking to show her friends she’s not a total sap by agreeing to take part in a terrifying online game with real-world consequences. Much like Yoga Hosers, the movie fizzes thanks to its ADD-addled teenage brain, but directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (the team behind Catfish) clearly understand how to project this world so it doesn’t isolate those of us who didn’t grow up in it. Nerve is a thrilling, fun and surprisingly smart addition to the PG-13 sub-genre that proves, alongside Yoga Hosers, this is still an untapped market worth taking further advantage of.
Ideas aplenty, with something for everyone
Horror is often criticised for doing the same thing over and over but, in 2016, even its harshest detractors were silenced thanks to an influx of new ideas from all over the place. Whether it was something entirely different–Carnage Park, The Greasy Strangler, The Autopsy Of Jane Doe, Under The Shadow, The Love Witch and everything in between–to putting a new spin on some well-worn ideas including zombies (Train To Busan), sharks (The Shallows) and even the odd paranormal interlude (Lights Out may not have been the best movie of the year but it tried, and it played well with the multiplex crow). There was something to tickle everyone’s fancy this year, including two decent sequels in the form of The Conjuring 2 and The Purge: Election Year, neither of which could be accused of doing exactly what we expected.
Green Room changes the game
Jeremy Saulnier’s follow-up to his Not Quite Horror masterpiece dropped the “not quite” and went straight for the jugular (literally). Green Room, a smart, intense, gory and soon-to-be-classic of the genre is an incredible, game-changing horror movie that certain factions of the community stupidly wish to disown. Perhaps the issue is with the mainstream press’s decision to embrace the film, along with The Witch (see below), which suffered a similar fate when it was released earlier in the year. Surely we’ve learned by now that horror, as a genre, encompasses a million different elements. Movies like Green Room might not fit certain descriptions but if there was a scarier, tenser or more memorable film this year then I’ll eat my Minor Threat shirt (and no, Don’t Breathe didn’t even come close).
The Witch gets everybody talking
Much like Green Room, Robert Eggers’ stylish, disturbing take on a selection of creepy New England folk tales came under fire for not being “real” horror. What, dare I ask, must a film do to be considered a genuine fright flick? The Witch is creepy, unsettling, weird and its ending is hugely tense and bizarre. It has moments of gore, well-judged frights and an overwhelming sense of dread, while Final Girl Anya Taylor-Joy (one of this year’s biggest and best discoveries) is a star in the making. Rightly embraced by the mainstream press, Eggers’ film, along with Saulnier’s, sits at the top of many year-end Best Of lists. So why are we trying to distance ourselves from these game-changing movies? They prove that we don’t have to settle for mindless studio fare, and that filmmakers with ideas and passion and a real love of horror can make something fresh, new, exciting and, crucially, scary if only we would get behind them and stop worrying about bullshit classifications.
New faces with fresh new ideas
Eggers’ The Witch is the biggest horror success of the year, but he’s not the only newcomer who made a mark in 2016. Jackson Stewart’s Beyond The Gates was one of the most fun, and spooky additions to this year, which also showcased up-and-coming actor Graham Skipper, who captivated audiences in Joe Begos’ The Mind’s Eye this year, too. Richard Brake and Jesse Merlin have been making their mark as character actors for years now, but thanks to eye-catching roles in 31 and Gates respectively, their stars should really be on the rise. David F. Sandberg turned his beloved short into a fully-fledged spookfest of a feature with Lights Out, which bodes well for his upcoming Annabelle 2, while the gloriously gory Night Of Something Strange marked Jonathan Straiton as one to watch in a big way in the next few years. Writer-director Anna Biller’s The Love Witch gave many pause for its lush, fluorescent old-school stylings and a killer central performance from femme fatale Samantha Robinson, while The Witch‘s Anya Taylor-Joy made a real case for herself as one-to-watch both in Eggers’ film and the flawed, but interesting, Morgan. She’s even got her next genre role all lined up, as she’s set to star in M. Night Shyamalan’s Split, due for release in January. Elsewhere, Babak Anvari’s Under The Shadow gave the overrated Babadook a run for its money, while also showcasing the talents of lead actresses Narges Rashidi and Avin Manshadi. It’s an exciting time for new horror talents, and hopefully 2017 will bring a rash more for us to fall in love with.
Old reliables ensure they’re not forgotten
We may have been spoiled for choice with interesting offerings from newbies, but 2016 was also the year in which the old reliables proved they’ve still got it. Rob Zombie gave us the best combination of his talents yet with 31, a smart, character driven little sick-fest that further solidified him as one of the modern masters of the genre. James Wan delivered a nifty little sequel to his 2013 super-hit with The Conjuring 2, while Bryan Bertino followed up The Strangers with the even better The Monster, Fede Alarez made sure we would never sneak into someone’s house to steal their fortune with Don’t Breathe, and Mickey Keating continued his reign of terror with the wonderful, Pat Healy-starring Carnage Park. The biggest shocker of the year, however, came in the form of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s sequel to one of the most well-known, and successful, horror films of all time, Blair Witch. The duo behind You’re Next and The Guest seemed like a safe bet (that is, once we found out that their upcoming flick The Woods was actually what it was). But the backlash from critics and fans alike, to their modern, clever and ultimately quite terrifying take on the myth of the Blair Witch, was deafening. A real shame, as the two are clearly horror fanatics with their fingers on the pulse of what gets fans going. Their previous two movies were loving homages to the kind of stuff they loved as kids, both with a spike of modern ingenuity. It seemed Blair Witch would seek to do the same, but in trying to please everyone, Wingard and Barrett alienated both hardcore fans (who were never going to accept the movie anyway) and newcomers (who didn’t understand the appeal in the first place). The most underrated horror release of 2016, this will likely become a cult classic in years to come. But, for the moment, Blair Witch remains a great example of the Wingard-Barrett formula that still makes us excited for what’s next from them.
Not Quite Horror bleeds into everything
I’m the biggest, and most vocal, proponent of Not Quite Horror and this year the little sub-genre that could really came out swinging. New releases like Nocturnal Animals and Hell Or High Water were stamped with horror influences, proving once and for all that our beloved genre infects everything. This wasn’t a massive year for new NQH releases, but the biggest and best was surely Billy O’Brien’s masterful I Am Not A Serial Killer. A difficult, but hugely engaging tale of a young teenager on the hunt of a local serial killer who’s also simultaneously contending with his own homicidal tendencies, the Irish filmmaker’s breathtaking exercise in tension, teen angst and jet-black humour is a must-watch–particularly for horror fans who may have avoided it on the basis of not quite being sure what it was. If any proof were needed that horror is a multi-faceted, bizarre genre made up of many Frankenstein’s monster parts, this flick is it.
Indie rules. Again.
We say it every year but it bears repeating again and again–indie horror was king of 2016. Every interesting movie we saw this year, every flick at the top of our Best Of lists, was an independent production from a team of hardcore fan guys and gals who believed, above all else, that their spooky little tales needed telling. From hard-hitters like Green Room and The Witch to smaller weirdies such as The Greasy Strangler, Beyond The Gates, Night Of Something Strange, The Love Witch, Carnage Park and loads more, this year was overloaded with challenging, fascinating, fun and hugely exciting indie fare from writers, directors and actors whom, if we’ve only just been introduced to them, are sure to become our go-tos. With The Battery team being forced to take up day jobs again, it’s also never been more pertinent that we, as fans of horror, continue to support these movies when and where it matters. Show you care with your wallet, and let’s ensure these films keep being made. Digging deeper to find unknown gems is what being a fan of the genre is all about, but it’s up to us to support them as best we can. Hopefully, if we continue to do so, we’ll be celebrating another indie reign next year.