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.
***Spoilers for The Neon Demon Follow***
Unfortunately, 2016 hasn’t been the best year for horror movies, though it hasn’t been the worst either. In fact, 2016 seems to have been a moderate year, with some of the best films exhibiting hard-to-ignore flaws and the worst films showing flashes of promise. All the good films seemingly came out of left field while all we got from the hyped horror movies were splashy marketing campaigns and disappointment. For me, no other 2016 Horror Movie exemplifies this better than The Neon Demon.
After the horror movie drought that was the October 2016 film release schedule, November 2016 is a sight for sore eyes. With only a handful of movies, November gives us a ton of potentially beautiful and disquieting horror films. Naomi Watts returns to deliver the scares, the director of The Strangers puts forth a claustrophobic creature feature, and The Eyes of My Mother promises to be a wild ride.
Halloween isn’t solely about horror movies–Halloween is also great for disturbing short story or two. Or ten.
Personally, I don’t always have time to read the latest horror novel or unearth a classic gothic ghost story. So I settle for a shorter but no less unnerving story. For me, a good creepy short story is like a deliciously morbid morsel. For others, a short horror story is an easy way to step out of one’s comfort zone.
There are countless horror short stories, and I sure haven’t read them all. However, I did compile a list of ten of my absolute favorites, along with links for you to read them right now!
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.
I always have a hard time watching many serial killer movies if for no other reason than serial killers exist, and the crimes depicted onscreen could and sometimes do happen to real people. In serial killer movies in particular, much of the violence is directed towards women, which makes my viewing experience more difficult.
But I find such films can be worthwhile despite their grotesque, depressing subject matter. In our culture, we have a fascination with serial killers. They do not kill for reasons society considers “justifiable.” They seem to do the unthinkable, killing for pure personal gain, for profit, or to fulfill some twisted sense of morality. It seems to go against all human decency to kill so needlessly and frequently.
Our fascination expresses itself with many questions—how does the killer select his victims? Why those victims? How does he kill them? How long has he been doing this? How has he never been caught? Yet those questions come secondary to the ten-million-dollar question:
Why does he kill?
*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.
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 with solid scares and terror but that are 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 actually well-made films, and 3) they scare audiences in thoughtful, enjoyable, entertaining ways.
Even if you’re a horror movie buff, I feel like 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.
Mild Spoilers for Goodnight Mommy
I’d like to preface this review by assuring you that I am no lightweight when it comes to watching horror films. On-screen violence and gore usually elicits the expected level of shock and disgust, while body horror reliably grosses me out.
Part of my love for scary movies is remembering that a movie is only a movie, and art is only art. The onscreen images are powerful, but they aren’t real. I’ve never forgotten that fact. I have never had to run for a bucket, nor have I fainted in a movie theater.
So when I almost fainted during Goodnight Mommy, it was because Goodnight Mommy is so precisely calibrated to create a deeply disturbing experience that I forgot to breathe.
As I lay on the carpet in my living room, waiting for the walls to stop swaying, I realized that Goodnight Mommy is one of the most harrowing horror movies I’ve ever seen. My friend spoke softly to me, coaching me through breathing exercises and assuring me we didn’t have to finish the movie if I didn’t want to. Which was so embarrassing, to say the least.