Ahh, 2016. The worst! That is, if you get swept up in the wave of everything awful that’s happening around us and decide the easiest place to loudly put the blame is in the year itself. We’re on a timeline of garbage and tonight, as I’m assuming this will get posted on New Year’s Eve to fangoria.com, we get to start again and move on to the brand new awful of 2017.
Anyhow, what the hell am I talking about. Even if Hollywood had one of its shittiest years in a while, the weird step-sister who likes to hang out in the attic and pull the legs off bugs, horror movies, did not. It was a battle narrowing my list for fangoria.com down to twelve and I’m absolutely furious to not have Anna Biller’s provactative, technicolor The Love Witch or the cerebral Escape The Room!: Coroner Edition The Autopsy of Jane Doe or the movie everyone else liked more than me The Witch on here, but who’s to blame? I am. I blame me and I am very tired. I still took the time to write a paragraph about my fixation with Yoga Hosers, so maybe I need to get my priorities straight in 2017. Here we go!
2016: YEAR OF THE WITCH!
12) YOGA HOSERS
I have always disliked Kevin Smith’s movies. Ok, dislike is an understatement. His movies always felt like they were playing out in a reality where a woman like me (with, you know, interests and like, dimensions) couldn’t possibly exist, although his films were personal, they were strictly for and about angry self-important nerd-men. That is, until Yoga Hosers. It is a shame that it came about due to Tusk, a movie based on a joke made during a podcast, and as Yoga Hosers was a spin-off of something I detested, I was ready and inclined to hate it too. But something went wrong somewhere, and Kevin Smith made a movie for and about someone else that was really important to him: his daughter. Constructed in a delightfully Full Moon-esque fashion, Yoga Hosers has a teen rock band, tiny sausage monsters, a bizarre nazi underworld, and montages of friendship. It’s got the tone of John Dies At The End, but with more of a made-for-TV Disney movie aesthetic. If you can get past of some of Kevin Smith’s godawful sense of humor and blathering, and just take deep breaths and a gulp of something boozy while Johnny Depp’s horrendous Guy Lapointe is on screen, Yoga Hosers kind of rules!
11) BLAIR WITCH
In 2008 I saw a movie called Popskull. It left me puzzled and intrigued, so I hunted down a copy of the director Adam Wingard’s previous film, Home Sick, which clicked with me in a hundred different ways. Grimy, gory, shot on 16mm, and absolutely committed to whatever the hell bizarre thing is going on that we don’t really understand, but we don’t need to. Sum up unbridled Wingard with: a pretty girl in thigh high socks licking a razor blade surrounded by Christmas lights. I’m showing up to that party. Wingard’s cinema thrives in scenes that feel commonplace but haunting and since A Horrible Way To Die, has been tamed by Barrett’s writing, which is anchored in simplistic cleverness and a keen understanding of Hollywood storytelling. Then the two of them got to reboot the Blair Witch franchise, and this was a very exciting thing.
I was never sold on found footage horror for all the reasons I loved The Blair Witch Project and hated Paranormal Activity. It’s like most of the movies misinterpreted the conceit; caught up on the idea that it was scary because “you could have shot this yourself!” when what made it so fascinating to me was dissecting the medium of movie-making. This is where Blair Witch kills it. Most found footage films are always too fast or too slow, edited to stay committed to the idea that “this is just some shit we found” over making a pristine movie, because when it’s cut that well, you get Cloverfield and Chronicle, which are paced more like theme park rides than documentaries (and are also both excellent movies in my opinion). Blair Witch is too fast, multiple cameras slammed together, the quality changing between mini DV and HD, but not neglecting the little charms of raw footage like the f-stop hops of an DSLR camera. This is what I’ve wanted, a technical challenge that loops in mythology, messes with your sense of reality, and feels ultra modern. It’s got some effective scares and knocks you off balance. Y’all turned so hard on this one, but I really liked it. And I think it’s kind of a beautiful conclusion to found footage horror, Blair Witch brought it in and then ushered it out.
10) UNDER THE SHADOW
Under The Shadow was this year’s critical darling that I feel got overlooked by a lot of horror fans, and I’m hoping once it becomes available on Netflix, who bought the streaming rights out of Sundance, a lot of people are going to notice it. Shideh is a progressive woman in a war-torn Tehran in the 1980s. She loves her daughter, she wants to study medicine, she wants to remain in her home and reunite with her husband who is serving in the military. It may not be a masterpiece, but it is simple and significant and demonstrates the power of horror in communicating how terrifying occurrences in faraway places, that may never have crossed your mind otherwise, were to the individuals involved. Following much of the structure and elements you’d expect from a Hollywood horror film it discusses the culture of Tehran in a way that’s accessible to any horror-loving audience and feels brilliant. The feeling that accompanies Shideh’s determination to remain in her home, with her family, and continue her life the way that she wants to is represented by a Djinn that has anchored itself to her daughter. I cannot deny that it is reminiscent of The Babadook in some sense, but this doesn’t detract from the strength of Under The Shadow one bit.
9) PLANK FACE
Support this. Support independent, self distributed horror. Buy or rent this movie! This is the second movie released by Brian Williams and Scott Schirmer this year, and I’m looking forward to carving out a section for them on my DVD shelf. Watching Plank Face felt like a such a discovery. From the cover art, to the title, I expected a low budget horror flick about a killer in the woods, as usual. But what I got was some kind of weird, creepy something else, with a family of female cannibals in the woods, holding a young man (Nathan Barrett) captive and turning him into one of their own. Plank Face is sexy and subversive, it feels like art-horror operating on a different level than most. It’s clearly a low-budget horror movie, complete with gross out scenes and gratuitous slayings, but it’s telling a story with tools that fewer and fewer filmmakers have the balls to use seriously instead of for humor or shock (pardon the pun if you’ve seen it!). The gore is awesome, but the best part of Plank Face is how inventive and raw it is, in a way that communicates why it’s beneficial that these guys work on the fringe instead of in the studio system. And the movie itself is exemplary of what these guys are doing with their filmmaking, an almost wordless rebellion in the woods, feral and powerful. An attractive cast of real bodies, naked and covered in dirt, it often feels like what you’re watching is actually something dangerous and out of control.
I think most audiences missed out on Creepy, and probably because it wasn’t easy to see. If you didn’t catch it at a film festival or the dozen or so screens it’s played on around major cities, you missed it. It’s a domestic sort of horror about a detective who leaves the force to become a teacher after his training and instinct fails him in stopping a murder, and the strange case that pulls him back into the world of psychological profiling and criminal investigation. Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a master of creating atmosphere, and his focus has been on strange supernatural horror and tense detective thrillers that squeeze the air out of your lungs and pin you to your seat. Stylistically slow-burn, but each minute of its two hour run-time is devoted to ascending to its disturbing climax, and it gets stranger and scarier and more surreal with each step. Creepy’s unsettling sociopath could start a club with Denden’s character in Cold Fish and it would be the most horrible club ever.
7) NIGHT OF SOMETHING STRANGE
Full disclosure: I had the unrivaled pleasure of forcing one of my dreams to come true this year via hard work and blowing through my savings and started a film festival called PUFF, which you’ve probably heard more than enough about if you follow me or read Fangoria.com. I was madly in love with every movie we showed, yet only one has had a proper release thus far, and is coming out on a limited edition blu-ray I highly encourage you to pre-order, and it’s this fucked up slime-show, Night Of Something Strange. A teen trip to the beach is ruined when the kids stop overnight in a motel overrun by sex-hungry zombies that spread the infection like an STD. NOSS is the kind of gross-out horror comedy movie you wish Troma was still making. It crosses every single boundary, it’s so disgusting you can’t stop laughing, it’s endlessly quotable and unbelievably fun. It’s also easily the best looking movie of this ilk you’re going to see this year — movies like this are never this well shot and acted! How can something this depraved be so impressively stylish? It’s basically a contradiction! Director Jonathan Straiton and producer Ron Bonk are awesome guys, and I’m looking forward to what they do next. And to hit this note again, NOSS wins my heart by being independently financed and distributed. This is the future! This is the rebellious horror we dreamed of! Support it!
6) TRAIN TO BUSAN
I think Train To Busan has been talked about a lot already, it was the biggest movie ever in South Korea, and resonated with more audience members here in the states than just those who show up for international cinema. Zombies on a train, not too complex, right? More so than simply loving this movie, I was grateful for it. It pumps new blood into the zombie genre, not by doing anything revolutionary, but simply by doing it so right. Additionally it makes action-horror work, something which doesn’t usually happen. And it’s so very over the top melodramatic, which I find utterly refreshing. This movie lets you feel really strong emotions without feeling at all silly about it. I watched it twice in theaters, and I bawled both times.
5) THE INVITATION
Hollywood didn’t do Karyn Kusama right, so she said screw it and made this movie independently and it was a damn good move. The Invitation is almost two stories colliding explosively, a horror movie and a tragedy about a life-changing loss. Will is attending a dinner at his ex-wife Eden’s house, and it’s the first time he’s seen her and their friends in a long time. This dinner party sets the scene for one of the most devastating genre films about trauma I’ve ever seen. It depicts the paranoia, the fear, the inability to connect with people around you the same way you used to because something enormous has happened to you, and when you are looked to to be the same as you were, you find yourself a stranger to your old life. And while Will is trying to move on with his life, Eden has given herself up to a new power, something that promises healing through the proper devotion. It’s hard to know what’s real, and who’s right, and the way the story unfolds is mesmerizing and heart-breaking with a shocking payoff.
4) NINA FOREVER
Holly and Rob meet at work. She wants to experiment, break out of her comfort zone. He’s dark and lost, suicidal after his girlfriend Nina passed away in an accident. Yet, every time the couple grows intimate, Nina crawls her way out of the after-life. It’s a specific kind of horror-magical realism, a bizarre terrifying occurrence goes unexplained, and becomes accepted as part of their life. And as Rob and Holly adjust to a life with Nina, they begin to learn things about one another. She’s not exactly a ghost, according to how ghosts are typically depicted in horror movies, but a physical manifestation of Rob’s inability to let go and just as much a specter of Holly’s insecurity. Strange, bloody, and very sexy, you won’t find many other movies like this.
3) THE BOY
As I am focusing on what I felt were the best horror films of the year, The Boy is landing pretty high on my list for being so unexpectedly scary. The Boy plays you as a horror fan by nailing all the tropes to lull you into a sense of false security, because you’ve seen this movie before and know where it’s going. About twenty minutes in, I chuckled to myself, admiring it for its heavy-handedness and for not even trying to pull the wool over my eyes regarding the supernatural qualities of its doll, Brahms. My new son, Brahms. And, because of my smug expectations, The Boy scared the bejesus out of me. During the end of this movie, it actually felt as if my brain was breaking. Yet, if you’re not a horror smark, The Boy still delivers a well-produced and entertaining experience, with the same surreal qualities that will fool, confuse, and terrify. And unexpectedly, for a movie that won me over with it’s surprising ending, it stands up to repeat viewings. There are so many clues and complexities, shots that dwell on scenery that I chalked up to atmosphere on first viewing.
Flanagan, you rascal. You came up making little low budget movies and now you’re all over mainstream horror and they don’t even know what to do with you. Two of the best horror films released this year were directed by Mike Flanagan, Hush and Ouija: Origin of Evil, which was a crazy surprise considering how boring Original Ouija was. Additionally, a third Flanagan movie, Before I Wake, was slated for release this year and then unfairly vanished. But Hush was my favorite. When Hush premiered on Netflix I watched it at home, alone, in the dark, clutching a blanket, pausing it only once to make sure my doors and windows were locked because of how rattled I was. And then a weird thing happened: I started coming up with fan theories and drunkenly writing them down in a notepad over the next few days. This is actually something I’ve mocked before, as it seems like audience members trying to selfishly impose their ideas on a story. But there’s something really different happening in Hush, it’s got these psychological layers to it, and it plays out so cleanly it doesn’t seem to possibly be telling the story that’s front and center. Maybe it’s a product of the main character, Maddie (Kate Siegel), who is deaf, strong, and more determined to stay alive than almost any character I’ve ever seen in a home invasion movie. Watch it and tell me what you think, I’d love to keep discussing Hush forever.
1) THE EYES OF MY MOTHER
I saw a matinee screening of Eyes of My Mother in the tiny Little Roxie theater in San Francisco, not expecting too much. It looked like a dreary bit of black & white horror, and I was a bit nervous I’d be bored. Within a few minutes I knew this would not be the case, Eyes of My Mother is an expertly made character study, gorgeously shot, haunting, and captivating. It tracks the development of a girl named Francisca from childhood to adulthood who, in an exploration of nature versus nurture, was raised in such a way that her understanding of life and the body has been distorted. Her experiences are horrifying and disruptive, but it is all she knows. Actress Kika Magalhaes embodies the role, and worked with young first time director Nicolas Pesce to bring her personal creativity to the movie and it shows. I found myself feeling so close to Francisca, despite her being, you know, a serial killer. Her loneliness is palpable and her inability to connect leaves her desperate and willing to do anything while hypnotically alternating between Portuguese and English. Eyes of My Mother has much in common with the emotional tone and brutality of Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac remake, but it is the feminine side of that spectrum.
I loved Eyes of My Mother so much I asked the theater if they were going to be giving away the poster when they were done with it, and now it’s in my bedroom. Just saying