Happy New Year!
January is one of my favorite times of the year because there’s so much hope for this brand new shiny year we have before us. With a new year comes new surprises and delights, and I feel particularly optimistic since I think 2017 owes us for 2016. Hopefully that will extend to horror movies.
The good news is that, if the January horror movie release calendar is anything to go on, 2017 is off to a solid start. We’ve got some awesome horror-action films, a M. Night Shyamalan psychological thriller, and a promising urban legend supernatural horror movie, among others that could surprise us.
I think most of us would agree that 2016 was a rough year, full of highs and lows. The horror movie scene was the same, full of some mediocre titles, but peppered throughout with both good and bad films. I, for one, loved a number of films that were very good and some others that were enjoyably bad (The Shallows is my new favorite guilty pleasure).
So, as a way to close the book on 2016, I’ve compiled a list of my five favorite horror movies of 2016. I’m not saying these are the best horror movies of 2016, because I haven’t seen every single horror movie released in 2016. I just really loved these five movies. I tried to represent a bunch of different types of horror films from the year. Some appealed to my own particular horror tastes and preferences. Others challenged my preconceived notions about the limitations of some horror-subgenres. They were all great movies that disturbed me in one way or another, sticking with me for days, even weeks.
I’ve always thought the werewolf was a fascinating horror archetype. I’ve talked about vampires, zombies, witches, and serial killers, and how all of those horror archetypes address certain human fears. Usually, vampires address fears about becoming lost to our desires and lusts; zombies are about becoming lost to a brainless, teeming hoard; witches are about the fear of too-powerful feminine influence; and serial killers are about the inherent ability and capacity of man to commit violent, unjustifiable murder.
And while all of these monsters address fears relating to control and human identity, no other monster encapsulates our anxieties quite like a werewolf. It’s no secret that civilization is a precarious balancing act between repressing and acknowledging our base, animalistic impulses. Werewolves personify the tension between our rational, controlled selves and our savage inclinations. Regardless of whether or not a werewolf can control his transformation, the opportunity to become a dangerous, uncivilized brute is a siren song few characters can resist.
Nothing says Halloween quite like a slasher film. A good, old-fashioned slasher will terrify you in the theater and keep you on edge for days later. If you’re anything like me, a good slasher will make you jump and screech and check the locks on your windows for days afterwards. You’ll tell yourself, this is stupid, that movie was stupid, and–HOLY CRAP WHAT WAS THAT SOUND?!?!
Because while slashers may be campy, cheesy, and perhaps a little dumb, they’re effective. We are simultaneously repulsed and drawn to this movies that are usually light on plot and heavy on violence.
The witch is one of the oldest villains in human civilization. Every culture has the concept of a human being, usually a woman, who has violated the laws of nature and society to gain immense power.
Her transgressions vary from culture to culture and religion to religion. In the western world, the witch has usually received her powers by signing over her soul to the Devil himself. Other times she has used some ancient, forbidden ritual to thwart God and order. Either way, the witch in a horror film is a dangerous woman. If you cross her, you will incur her horrific wrath. If you have something she wants, she will take it. Wither her cunning and mastery of black magic, the witch will gain dominion over your body and thoughts. They will force you to do unimaginable things.
That’s the legend, at least.
Everybody loves a good monster movie. It’s thrilling to watch an abominable creature stalk and hunt unsuspecting people. It’s exciting to watch the unsuspecting people run and hide and eventually figure out a way to defeat the monster. And sometimes it’s even more fun when the monster isn’t defeated (at least you know you’ll get a sequel).
I’ve talked a little bit about how, in addition to entertaining us, horror mirrors our fears through various horror tropes and stock characters. It’s my hypothesis that certain horror villains and boogeymen represent specific human fears. While vampires, werewolves, and zombies could also be considered monsters, the important distinction those creatures used to be human and often retain a bit of their humanity. Monsters like the xenomorph in Alien or the shark from Jaws are beasts; they are scary because of their inhuman nature. We humans may think we’re the masters of our domain and that the natural world is ours for the taking, but it’s all an illusion. We know that deep down. Monsters represent a world that has broken free of human control.
*Note: Here be spoilers for these demonic movies*
Of all the creatures in the world of horror, demons might be the scariest. Demons possess us, robbing us of our volition over our bodies. Demons manipulate us, using our own human impulses and emotions to lure us down a doomed path. Demons tempt us, reaching deep into our hearts and laying bare the black truths we don’t care to admit.
We think of demons almost exclusively in a religious context, especially considering how the three major monotheistic world religions have shaped the lore. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have their differing views about demons—how the present themselves, how they became demons, how they wield influence over the human realm. But they all agree that demons are malevolent spirits who have turned away from God.
Through multiple religious texts as well as some literary works, a common narrative has emerged: demons are ruled and led by Satan, a fallen angel. When God created man and exalted him above even the angels, Satan refused to obey God. For his insolence, Satan was cast out of Heaven, forever denied God’s grace. Ever prideful and bent on vengeance, Satan has spent every moment since his fall on a crusade the tempt humanity to turn away from God.
In an earlier blog post, I asserted that Halloween is a valuable time of year for children because the holiday, as it has developed, enables children to safely engage in a variety of difficult topics. Halloween gently exposes children to human mortality and sinister forces, because there is no use in pretending these things do not exist. Children should be protected, but they will become adults soon.
I think screening children’s Halloween movies is an important way to engage children with these topics. They don’t always have to be about Halloween nor do they have to be straight up horror films. What these movies do is take scary and creepy stories and weave in uplifting and useful messages for children. These movies package unpleasant themes in a way children can manage and digest. They can absorb important lessons by feeling the age-appropriate shock only a horror movie can give you.
Though I didn’t quite realize it, children’s Halloween movies taught me some valuable lessons growing up. So I decided I wanted to take a trip back to Halloween Past. I decided I wanted to share my favorite children’s Halloween movies and some of the very personal life lessons I took from them. I hope kids in the future continue to watch these movies and learn from them, as I did.
As a devoted horror movie fan, I’ll be the first to admit that the market is glutted with horror movies, most of them terrible. And not in an enjoyable, over-the-top kind of way.
If you are a horror movie novice searching for a good horror movie, the simultaneous breadth of availability and lack of choice entertainment can be discouraging. Horror fans feel that way all the time, but we know enough that we can make solid recommendations.
With Halloween fast approaching, I decided to compile a list of horror movies that are both scary and accessible to a wide audience. The following films are perfect for a Halloween watch party because 1) they are relatively easy to find on streaming services, 2) they’re well-made films, and 3) they scare audiences in thoughtful, enjoyable, entertaining ways.
Even if you’re a horror movie buff, this list is a nicely packaged bundle of great horror movies that present a strong argument for the merits of horror. These movies are harrowing, smart, witty, and funny. They are heartbreaking and profound. They reinforce the magic of telling stories through the medium of film and legitimize a genre that critics loves to hate.
One of my favorite things about horror movies is how long they’ve been around.
People started making scary films as soon as they could. Audiences have always loved going to horror movies. Films like Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were widely popular. A lot of these movies became genre classics. You’ll find them on many best-of-horror lists, where they are widely praised for employ innovative techniques and practical effects to terrify audiences.
There’s just one problem—the majority of those films are no longer scary by today’s standards.