For long term listeners of the podcast, it will be well known that I am a right miserable bastard when it comes to the state of modern horror. With the likes of The Babadook and It Follows being released to great acclaim and then disappointing, and FrightFest continuing to peddle films which somehow seem to get distribution despite many being cynical experiments in just making a horror because it will sell in supermarkets, hello current Worst of 2016 film for me The Unfolding, it’s fair to say that my love for the genre has been a question personally for the last few years. 2016 then has been a lovely surprise with a fair few horrors really pushing the boat out and ensuring that maybe, just maybe, it can rise from the dead.
The delightful thing is that this has come from both the mainstream and indie spaces. The Conjuring 2 managed to build on the scares of the first entry to become that rarest of things in this day and age, the epic blockbuster horror. At well over 2 long, a transatlantic plot which despite the home based nature of the supernatural happenings and an almost action-movie climax, James Wan took the chance to tell his story on a big canvas and it worked very well.
On the smaller side of the Studio picture, The Shallows also provided the equal pleasures of Blake Lively in a bikini and a stripped to the core exercise in sustained dread and tension, the film telling its story in a way which was pretty much the diametric opposite of the aforementioned Conjuring sequel but equally successful in its own way.
David Sandberg’s Lights Out saw James Wan bring another promising director to the fore, with a brilliant premise for a horror monster being used for some solid woman and child in peril adventure and Mike Flanagan brought us two successful, but very different numbers, with home invasion Netflix Original Hush and the superior Ouija: Origin of Evil, a film which very much ignored a little loved original and essentially did its own thing with the occasional shot of a Ouija board too give it its name.
What end of 2016 horror article wouldn't talk about The Witch too? Robert Eggers' stunning writer-director effort managed to chill my bloody bones in the cinema and it lost little of its effect on the small screen. Anya Taylor-Joy's instant star-making turn is both upsetting and also strangely liberating to watch with an ending which makes you question genuinely whether its happy or wholly apocalyptic.
For me, one of the best horror pieces of the year was a film which in no way seems to have been categorised as such, Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, a distressing and disturbing picture which also happens to contain one of the single best jump scares I have ever seen, one which also feels informed by the story telling, not just one for the sake of getting a few elevated heart rates going.
I’d also point to the yet to find a UK distributor Brit flick The Ghoul. Executive produced by Ben Wheatley, writer-director. Gareth Tunley mix of police procedural, psychological horror and reality distorting twists took its low budget and created a world where once the direction is set, the almost claustrophobic feel is rather hard to shake off. I imagine it’ll get a VoD release at some point in 2017 and its worth the less than 90 minutes of your time.
South Korea also came roaring back which was personally delightful. The genre world cinema explosion of the late 90’s and 00’s has very much mellowed over the last few years however two films have made an impression. While I have not managed to see Train To Busan yet, The Wailing feels just like one of those long, tone shifting pictures of 10-15 years ago but makes full use of a decent budget to craft some genuinely horrific sights in amongst its bizarre mix of slapstick and straight up upsetting material.
I am very much aiming not to be negative in this piece so I won’t go through the low lights, the Dude & A Monkey 2016 Year In Review show in mid-January will no doubt be full of talk of these, but suffice it to say, 2016 feels like a year I started to get my love for the genre back, one which showed that with real care, skill and crucially, respect for its audience without feeling the need to pander, horror can still create some of the most memorable stuff you’ll see in cinema.
If there’s anything you feel like I’ve missed out on, let me know. firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @ianloring