2016 was my fifth year of participating in Daniel Kraus’s #31HorrorFilms31Days challenge on Twitter. I complete the challenge on behalf of the public library I work as a way of showcasing the depth of both our physical and digital collections as well as the variety of films available via free interlibrary loans.
Given I’m representing the library when I tweet about these films I often cannot be as forthright about my opinion as I’d often like. Consider this the horror film version of behind the music on some of the highlights from my journey.
Please note: the numbers in front of each film indicate the order I watched them in out of 33 total films.
2. The Serpent and the Rainbow – It took me a while to realize this was not the movie I meant to watch – I had meant to finally checkout Cannibal Holocaust. Needless to say after watching both I will never ever make that mistake again. The latter was so messed up when I finished it I immediately said out loud “well there’s no way I can tweet about that one as the library” just as my girlfriend took the headphones she was wearing off to say “I DEFINITELY don’t think you should tweet about that movie as the library.”
3. The Boy – To be honest I found this movie to be pretty humdrum – an isolated woman starting to lose her mind due to something no one else can see or understand is like a sitcom – the premise is comfortable but not surprising. So the trailer for this movie basically explains a young woman who has a good reason to run from her past gets an extended babysitting gig in the English countryside. The catch? She is babysitting a creepy doll named Brahms – one whose parents insist on treating as if he’s a flesh and blood child.
Obviously when she doesn’t take her job seriously (because Brahms is a fucking doll and not a real boy) spooky stuff begins happening til she treats him with respect.
But I will give this movie credit where credit’s due – there is a twist at the end I definitely did not see coming.
After becoming convinced ourselves the doll is somehow alive – it’s revealed that nothing supernatural is happening – an adult Brahms has been living in the walls of the estate the entire time. He reveals himself by jumping out of a mirror and attacking people!
It was basically the most ridiculous thing the movie could possibly do but I loved it for its originality – even if it didn’t completely salvage the entire film for me.
4. Sinister 2 – Apparently I’m in the minority but this might be one of my favorite horror film sequels *wait for it; Kanye voice* OF ALL TIME! Okay maybe not all time but I certainly think it is one of the most successful in staying faithful to and building on the original film’s mythology while still allowing itself room to breath and be its own unique story. I love that it takes the dopey Deputy from the first film and makes him into a lead character. I also love that we get the child’s perspective of Bughuul and how he begins to work his influence on them.
And we still get examples of the creepy home movies that made the first so unnerving and gut wrenching.
And the brother who ends up becoming possessed manages to kill only his abusive father before being dragged away and killed by Bughuul himself? It kind of sounds like he inadvertently did his family a favor #justsaying
6. A Bay of Blood – This movie is delightfully ridiculous. There are two types of people in this world: ones who appreciate Italian Giallo films and their commitment to delightfully random plots sporadically filled with gore, and the other people who wonder why we spend the first 10 minutes of this film watching an old lady slowly roll around her house using her wheelchair only to be killed by an unseen assailant only to see that previously unseen assailant immediately get himself killed by another unseen assailant. From there the movie continues to function like the And Then There Were None of slashers as a group of selfish people keep murdering each other over the chance to inherit the aforementioned bay & its surrounding properties which are now filled with blood.
Because of all the murder.
I’m doubting your commitment to inheriting the bay of blood…less frivolous skinny dipping more murder!
This movie also features an ending “twist” which is more just a quick scene added for additional shock factor: when the two people who managed to murder all the other people come home to their children; their children shoot them both to death with a shotgun. Not comprehending what they just did; they assume their parents are merely playing dead and run off to play some more. Well congratulations kiddos! You are now the proud owners of a bay of blood.
7. The Conjuring 2 – I wrote a pretty positive tweet of this one but to be honest I found it a little meh. Much like the isolated woman being haunted stories, once a story revolves around a possession you know each subsequent step the film will take. Occasionally it will figure out a way to shock you nonetheless – but in this case although James Wan is incredibly gifted at building scares we knew some of what to expect in this one. I do love that it showcases characters based on the real-life Ed and Lorraine Warren. If you enjoy these movies it’s definitely worth it for you to check out The Demonologist by Gerald Brittle for more insight into the Warrens and their work.
8. The Final Girls – Absolutely loved it. It is frustrating to love this film because like many offbeat movies it’s hard to articulate the plot without it sounding ridiculous. From IMDb:
A young woman grieving the loss of her mother, a famous scream queen from the 1980s, finds herself pulled into the world of her mom’s most famous movie. Reunited, the women must fight off the film’s maniacal killer.
That sounds like the makings of a hot mess but it’s amazing. it’s one of the only horror films to make me both laugh repeatedly and cry. I will never hear the song Bettie Davis Eyes the same way again. Probably one of the only films to do that period – what a skillful maneuver.
The cast includes a lot of great young talent – Taissa Farmiga, Nina Dobrev, Adam Devine, and Alia Shawkat (even if those names sound unfamiliar I guarantee you’d recognize most from something you’ve enjoyed).
Some great trivia from the IMDb page about the movie:
- The film was conceived and co-written by Joshua John Miller as a way of dealing with the death of his dad, Jason Miller, who had starred as Father Karras in The Exorcist
- The script was originally optioned by New Line Cinema, but the studio wanted to eliminate all of the deep character moments and the mother-daughter plot. Eventually, it wound up being produced by Sony, a studio which liked the emotional core but decided to tone down the slasher movie aspect to attain a PG-13 rating. (The film definitely suffers under the PG-13 rating but it’s far better it sacrificed an R rating than the deep character story that makes it so powerful).
- The revelation that Gertie slept with an autistic guy was scripted in a very mean-spirited way and Alia Shawkat had a real problem with it, so she decided to come up with her own dialogue. The writers and director have all praised her instincts in regards to the scene.
9. Martyrs – As mentioned in my queer women in horror post, I loved this movie. I went into it pretty cold – knowing only it was very gory and very controversial. Luckily one of the libraries in our sharing system owned it; I realized after trying to purchase it how rare it is on DVD.
I truly don’t want to spoil this movie; all I can say is I was constantly kept on my toes as to what would happen next and even what type of horror film I was actually watching. I kept thinking “Oh it’s a revenge tale. Oh no something supernatural is happening. Wait what?” It reminds me a lot of the Creepypasta “Gateway of the Mind”
My favorite bits of trivia about this movie:
- The DVD started with an optional introduction by the director in which he basically apologizes for making it, and explains he won’t mind if you hate it because he’s not entirely sure how he feels about it himself.
- In an interview in the the extras he mentions that he made it at a time of turmoil in his personal life which contributed greatly to the hyperviolence, but that his goal in making the film was to create a horror film that would leave even the most die hard horror fans guessing at what type of movie they were actually watching. I think he succeeded immensely at that – and though the violence could have been drastically subdued and the film would still have made its point – it is probably one of my favorite horror films of the past 10 years.
10. The Forest – This movie takes a truly haunting, tragic place – Japan’s Aokigahara forest – and manages to make a mediocre film out of it. Although I did like the nods to J-horror and the slower, almost hypnotic opening to the film I felt the editing and story got very, very sloppy in the third act. I did think some of the actual facts it provides about the forest were fascinating but again the film just falls flat at best and very problematic at worst.
11. The Other Side of the Door – You had one job Maria. One job. You could talk to your dead son through the door, but you could not open the damn door. But then you opened the damn door and let out your new demon child complete with demon friends who love jump scares. And worst of all the Indian woman who told you about this ritual ends up GETTING KILLED by the very demons she warned you about because you couldn’t follow simple instructions.
This British-Indian film relies on us buying into the protagonist making a huge and completely avoidable mistake. It’s pretty hard to forgive it after that. Similar to The Forest but even more heavy handed, the movie has white Americans traveling to an foreign country and disregarding the suggestions and warning of the place’s native inhabitants. You can tell this movie was written to make India and its culture look creepy for white people, and not to in any way show respect for the culture it is manipulating for the story. I’ll let these reviews explain a bit:
Tom Huddleston’s for Time Out London:
So tasteless and knee-jerk in its depiction of India that it makes ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ look like a triumph of racial awareness, ‘The Other Side of the Door’ is packed with scowling beggars, scuttling cockroaches, dutiful housemaids and shady shamans.
Also this from
Kat Kourbeti’s review:
It is rather clear that the writers do not understand the parts of Indian culture they decided to use, glorifying exactly the wrong things and never stopping to ask whether that’s in any way inappropriate
Hide and go seek! You can’t see me if I can’t see you!
12. Bone Tomahawk – Suggested to me by a coworker; although this is extremely well-acted it is essentially a Western with a a five minute sequence that is very horror film like but definitely doesn’t make is a horror movie. This along with The Serpent and the Rainbow were the only ones I felt a tad guilty for including.
13. The Invitation – If it’s one thing I love when it comes to psychological thrillers its tense dinner parties. This one keeps you tight on the edge of your seat as you try to figure out if the protagonist is so deluded in his grief he’s misinterpreting how weird his ex and her new husband are acting or if they are up to something terrible. This one is expertly directed by Karyn Kusama – it’s refreshing to see female directors exploring complex psychological issues through the horror genre. I am also very creeped out by the idea of cults so any horror movie that plays with that premise typically gets my seal of approval.
15. Last Shift – This movie scared THE FUCK out of me. I watched it alone in the living room with all the lights in the room off. Nope nope nope. At least twice I paused it, walked into the bedroom, and told my girlfriend how creeped out I was by this movie. The last time I can remember being this scared by a movie was The Strangers which I still consider to be the scariest movie I’ve ever seen.
Last Shift plays around with cults, the supernatural, the natural but creepy, and sound effects. The mind games the character is subjected to and her reason for stubbornly persisting build towards a satisfying if depressing ending.
Also the Netflix preview image for the film makes it look terrible – just watch it. Literally gave me chills.
I seriously just creeped myself out again looking for an example image from the movie to share
16. Creep – This found footage movie walks the tightrope between Single White Female and misunderstood buddy comedy right til the bitter end. For a horror film with some humor I enjoyed it – like the most entertaining Let’s Not Meet subreddit story you’ll ever read.
17. We Are Still Here – This is such a fun little movie that deserves way more attention than its received. It comes across as an subdued and understated psychological horror in the beginning till it culminates in a completely in-your-face third act. Well acted for a horror film and featuring characters who look and feel like real people and not just demon food.
20. Goodnight Mommy – Seeing as I don’t plan on having children this movie felt a lot like The Babadook: an unnecessary refresher on reasons I don’t want children.
“You sure you don’t want children?” *looks at that picture* “Nah I’m good”
25. Lights Out – Kind of had a feeling this was going to be dumb and I mean I wasn’t wrong. The premise works for the effective short film this is based off of – but dragging it out into a feature length movie undoes the effective thrills of the short.
Let’s just ride this one out: a lot of people appreciate this film because it makes a very obvious metaphor between depression and horror. The mom in the film suffers from mental illness. Her older daughter realizes this is having a very negative effect on her much younger brother. We realize the mom is not simply suffering from an everyday form of mental illness – there is a literal demon she is trying to fend away. The demon attacks the family in the climax of the film. The cops show up and are killed by the demon (but don’t worry – even if they weren’t provided with a convienent scapegoat the survivng characters are safe from because accused of wrongdoing because they are white). The mom realizes she is the reason this demon exists – and thus KILLS herself in front of her family to destroy her demon once and for all. The sister, her boyfriend, and her brother breathe a sigh of relief – now that the mentally ill mom killed herself they can finally (literally) sleep at night?!?!?
I get that many horror films are not good at depicting mental illness for a myriad of reasons.But this movie doesn’t make you read between the lines to pull the analysis I provided – it’s laid out for the most dense movie viewer to pick up on it. Also there are horror films that tackle mental illness effectively in their own way – The Babadook and Oculus all come to mind. We need to stop rewarding films like Lights Out which pull the double whammy of relying almost entirely on jump scares combined with a terribly misguided message.
Despite ending on that sour note it was nice to watch a variety of horror films I had never seen this year – a few were old standbys (A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Shining) or ones I had recently seen but wanted to write about (The Witch) but most were new to me – collected from suggestions and reviews.
My favorites from this year:
- The Final Girls
- Last Shift
- We Are Still Here