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Trace’s 10 Best Horror Movies of 2016!

best 2016 horror

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2016 was a pretty phenomenal year for horror. There was a winner released nearly every month and sometimes even more often than that. Even summer, which was overall a box office disappointment, was saved by horror films like The Conjuring 2, The Shallows and The Purge: Election Year. This made singling out 10 of the best films rather difficult, but somehow I prevailed. In an attempt to reduce reader frustration I have left off any films that I saw at festivals that haven’t seen a release yet. I did the same thing last year, so that means that some films I saw last year at festivals that saw a release this year were eligible for placement on this list. I didn’t get to see quite as many horror films as I would have liked (only about 70 out of 120), but to see what was up for consideration you can see the list of 2016 horror films I watched on my Letterboxd page. Let’s get started, shall we?

Honorable Mentions

As mentioned above, there were a ton of great horror movies this year. Unfortunately not all of them could make my Top 10. Here are some of the films that I thoroughly enjoyed but aren’t exactly the best of the best (of the best).

Let’s start with the mainstream releases. Had Arrival (my review) been an actual horror film it would have easily cracked the Top 5 in this list, but since it’s a bit of a stretch to call it a horror film I left it off. If you haven’t seen it yet stop reading now and go see it immediately. It’s brilliant. Also brilliant? Yeon Sang-Ho’s Train to Busan, one of the most fun zombie movies to come out in over a decade. After all the controversy surrounding the new Ghostbusters, I was surprised to find out that I enjoyed it quite a bit. It is a lot of fun and set up what could be a wonderful franchise, but it looks like that won’t be happening any time soon. Many of you gave us a lot of crap for liking Blair Witch (my review), but I maintain that it is the sequel we deserved 16 years ago. It’s a tense, exciting film that was a perfect way to end the summer. Finally, Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows proved against all odds to be the perfect form of escapism. Who knew watching Blake Lively on a rock for 90 minutes would be so entertaining?

On the indie front we had Mickey Keating’s Darling (my review), a beautiful homage to films like Repulsion. Bernard Rose (director of Candyman) surprised everyone this year with a modern adaptation of Frankenstein. Bryan Bertino (The Strangers) had a return to form with the heartbreaking The Monster. And how could we forget about The Autopsy of Jane Doe? André Øvredal’s (Trollhunter) spooky haunted house movie is an exciting roller coaster ride that is marred only by a middling final act. Finally, the best B-movie to come around in a long time is Pet (my review), a film with a second act twist so great it would be a crime to spoil it here.

Up Next: My Top 10 Horror Films of the Year

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  • I actually loved the first 2/3 of “The Invitation” more than the 1/3 (climax). Loved the deceit and paranoia.

    • Harley Mitchel Dirk

      That reflects my opinion to an extent. Most of the tension died for me towards the end. I really liked the ending itself though.

      • I think there was still a lot of tension but it was a different kind. I appreciated the catharsis of the ending the same amount I appreciated the tension and paranoia of the first two acts. Also, I legitimately didn’t know who was going to make it out alive. I’m very happy they decided to go against the grain and have a Final Three. =)

  • Christopher Perkins

    It’s funny you mention that Blair Witch was the sequel we deserved 16 years ago, as if it were released at that time it’s reception would have been much better. Trouble is, we’ve had a saturation of found footage films in the intervening time, some of which have already dealt with space loops (Grave Encounters).

  • Shay Lauderdale

    I thought the Invitation was good. It felt more like a thriller than a horror movie though. It was not scary in the least bit. But it was no where near as great as the Witch was. By far my fav movie of the year along with the Blackcoat’s Daughter. And what happened to Lights Out? It should have been listed for sure.

    • Blackcoat’s Daughter hasn’t been released yet so it didn’t qualify for this list.
      The Invitation is ABSOLUTELY a horror movie.
      Lights Out I liked but didn’t love.

      • Shay Lauderdale

        I enjoyed the Invitation. My partner that I was with at that time didn’t care for it. I just thought the impact was wasted on the fact that I knew what was going to happen way before the dinner was served. I loved the build up/tension leading up to that though.
        I just watched Train to Busan & OMG…… I was a wreck by the end of it. A great film to go along with the Wailing. Both were so full of emotion & fear. One was a fear of the unknown & the loss of the soul….. While the other was a fear of the monsters before you & the fear of being alone.
        The last 15 mins of Train to Busan to tore my heart to shreds……
        I haven’t cried like that since Jenna Coleman’s last Doctor Who episode.

        • See with the Invitation you DO know what’s going to happen but you’re never 100% sure because they never explicitly show you anything untoward (besides that video). You’re in the mind of Green’s character…wondering if you’re just being overly paranoid or if your suspicions are correct. The film holds back until those final 20 minutes and it’s so cathartic to see the shit hit the fan. But the movie could have easily been about a friendly cult (I believe the non-massacre ending was actually considered).

          Loved Train to Busan. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters on a deep level but I thought it was a lot of fun. The ending didn’t have the same impact on me as it did you though. =/

          • Shay Lauderdale

            Oh man, when she started singing that song…. we both lost it. I may be a horror fan but I love a good cry lol………… The Witch gave me chills down my back just like It Follows did last year (well except for that ridiculous pool scene…….)

            I am obsessed with it & Starry Eyes is my other fav……. I am a sucker for a good witchy story. I really want to see Split, Found Footage 3D, Don’t Knock Twice, Devil’s Candy, Get Out, A Cure for Wellness, Safe Neighborhood, the Monster. I would give anything for access to all foreign horror titles or a way to at least know what movies are out to hunt down. Most of the time I just get lucky like with the Wailing or Shelley showing up on Netflix. I loved Under the Shadow as well.

            I wasn’t on the love bus for Cloverfield Lane either. I just didn’t care for the being in that bunker for over an hour. I was disappointed in the Conjuring 2 as well. I thought the ending lost way to much momentum & fell flat. But I did love it up until the last half. I wish the genius James Wan would make a movie that focused mainly on the Warrens since they were the heart of that film.
            I never get tired of horror movies. I spend so much time researching ways to hunt down new films to see. I enjoy the new wave of horror/fantasy tv shows as well. I pretty much have watched or am watching anything terrifying on tv…..

  • Harley Mitchel Dirk

    I should probably check out Baskin and Green Room at some point. I’ve heard some pretty negative things about Green Room but you can’t believe everything you hear right?

    • Wait who has told you negative things about Green Room? This is the first I have heard of this occurrence….

      • J Jett

        Trace, i agree. GREEN ROOM (i only just watched it for the first time 3 days ago) is a solid film. a very intense film.

    • I enjoyed ‘Baskin’ and ‘Green Room’, I’m not sure why ‘Green Room’ is getting mixed results because I thought it was tense as fuck. It has great drama, some good kills and gore, and a solid cast that played believable parts. The one complaint about it was “This wasn’t a horror movie.”, but I’m not sure how to categorize this movie, I think it is horror/action. ‘Baskin’ was like a weird hallucenogenic dream that didn’t make total sense, but was still good and gave you a sense and atmosphere of dread and unease.

  • Evi

    In my books The Wailing slaughtered every other horror release this year but that’s just my opinion. Very solid list otherwise. Looking forward to Baskin and Under the Shadow, both of which I haven’t seen.

  • ChowYunPhat

    Best list I’ve seen. Definitely my top 2 and thankfully, no Lights Out.

  • Matt Miller

    Indeed the witch and the invitation were the best horror movies of the year, but I have the witch as no. 1

  • J Jett

    Trace, i haven’t been able to get THE INVITATION out of my head since i first watched it a couple of days ago. i really like that film. JANE DOE is awesome as well. i’m going to give THE WITCH a try tonight!

    • Creepshow

      I’m interested in your take on The Witch. It’s not a bad film what so ever. I didn’t love it, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie (because it’s not a bad movie at all). It just affects people differently. The Witch has my respect as its own thing. I don’t love it, but I definitely don’t dislike it.

      • Nick S.

        Agreed, while I can see why many people like The Witch, I think it is the most overrated horror film of its technical year (2015) much like The Babadook was in 2014, and The Conjuring was in 2013.

        As with its lush photography and excellent period detail, some will want to
        love The Witch and others will find it awfully lifeless. It’s a film
        that straddles the line between arthouse family drama and horror, but
        the scares are often tame as the tension unwinds quickly with the drama
        sleepy instead of gut-punching. By the horrific climax and final shot,
        it loses its hold playing it too subtle and its themes too arch.

        Still, it was fun for me to see The Witch when it debuted at Sundance in 2015. The crowd ate it up, and I was one of the very few ones that highly disliked it.

        Note: (Brief thoughts came from my mubi profile here:

    • Exactly! The Invitation sticks with you long after you’ve seen it. I also really like to watch people watch it. It’s going to be one of my go-to “come over and let me show you this movie” movies.

      And yes, interested to hear your thoughts on The Witch. I liked it the first time I saw it but fell in love the second time.

  • REC03

    my top 10:
    1. The Invitation 2. The Neon Demon 3. Don’t Breathe 4. Train to Busan
    5. Green Room 6. 10 Cloverfield Lane 7. The Witch 8. In the Deep 9. Lights Out 10. The Boy

  • Nahuel Benvenuto

    The Conjuring is not a masterpiece, not even close

    • It’s okay to disagree. I still think you’re pretty cool.

  • Jimmy Cthulhuhan

    Ugh… Invitation bored me to tears. Not just because it’s slow (and it certainly is… but I don’t always mind that), but because I pretty much had the movie called just from the title itself. Kept hoping there’d be some clever twist to redeem it, but nope… exactly what I expected. The ending was the only interesting bit, but sadly too little way too late (and inconsequential really).

    And once again, Conjuring 2 was pure diarrhetic garbage.

    The rest, while I don’t necessarily agree, I understand. 😛

    • The reveal at the end of The Invitation isn’t supposed to be a twist. The whole point is that while you pretty much know where it ‘s heading, you don’t know for sure. I’ve seen it three times and there is nothing explicit that would make you be certain how it would end. There’s always a little bit of doubt. Is the protagonist just being paranoid and it’s really just a harmless LA cult (which actually could have been how the film ended)? Or are your suspicions correct. Of course, you know which one is true, and the reveal is such a huge moment of catharsis after 80 minutes of uncertainty. Then those last 20 minutes are just a roller coaster ride.

      • Jimmy Cthulhuhan

        You say catharsis, I say disappointment.

        I think the movie desperately needed a twist. All that torturous build up for such a weak payoff is unacceptable to me. If they turned out to all be the nicest people, sat around the campfire eating smores and smothering each other in jelly, I’d have been more satisfied (maybe too much). Same ol’ cult story #302? Snooze.

        • To each their own!

          • Ken Long

            I just watched “The Invitation” yesterday.

            I admit, if you read a plot summary of “The Invitation”, it absolutely would read like the “same ol’ cult story #302”, but watching the actual film is a different story. If you can emotionally connect to Will and all of the mixed emotions this event would conjure up in him, that slow burn doesn’t seem slow at all. (If you don’t/can’t connect with Will, then yeah- the film would be a slow wait for the horror to start.)

            I don’t think clever has as much to do with hit-or-miss plot twists as it does making things work thematically. After the film, realizing the many different implications the coyote scene had with the third act seemed pretty clever to me. And how often does a villain (in this case the cultist ideology) connect so closely to the protagonist’s own emotional struggles?

            Count me in with the number of people who liked the film.

          • Nick S.

            Agreed with Trace, and Ken, that The Invitation is a masterful movie. It’s personally my 2nd favorite horror film of its year (I do count in as a 2015 movie myself, as that is when it debuted, and thus 2015 is the year it will be remembered as being), but I know it went mainstream in 2016, so I can see it being on a 2016 list for this year only.

            While I do think it’s to each their own, there are different kind of viewers, and that can vary by film, too. There are the viewers that solely want to be entertained to those that are more likely treat films and the genre as purely an art form and approach it from that perspective, whether it be stylistic or literary. I can be both (depending on the film) but I often lean (with my background) more towards the literary end.

            Therefore, I believe The Invitation is less about its mystery and twist and its quote-unquote horror elements (even if it is purely a horror film) then it is about being a ‘literary horror/chamber drama’ psychoanalysis of grief and regret

            (My mubi profile:

      • Quinton Ridley

        *SPOILER-ISH* I agree with Jimmy that the 3rd act was too obvious from the start. Why would the film be about Will enjoying a nice dinner with new age-ists who seem psychotic? It was obviously going where it went and that takes the thrill and suspense out, even though the directing was fine. The script was too on-the-nose.

        • But again, it’s SUPPOSED to be obvious. And a non-massacre ending very well could have happened because you never explicitly see anything untoward (other than the video).

  • Joseph Sheldahl

    Unlikable characters in Baskin? Nonsense! I liked those guys. I wanted to hop in their jamming police van and jive to that song with them.

  • LCSnoogs

    Why is Green Room not considered a horror film while The Invitation and 10 Cloverfield Lane are considered to be horror films? I think Green Room is horror, The Invitation is horror/thriller, and 10 Cloverfield Lane is Sci-Fi/Thriller, but I keep seeing articles listing Green Room as one of the best horror films of the year while also saying it’s not horror.

    • I think it 100% can be considered horror. Horror is a much broader term than people allow, but both The Invitation and Cloverfield have more fantastical elements (cults and monsters respectively) so people feel more comfortable placing the “horror” label on them. Green Room is completely grounded in reality and shares as much with 90’s action films as it does with invasion thrillers.

    • Barry El Beardo

      I agree. Green Room is a horror film in my eyes and 10 Cloverfield Lane is not. At all.

  • Stefan Heikel

    So glad you not only included The Invitation, but had it as number 1!

  • killerklownphil

    Solid list. Baskin was the only one i didn’t like at all. Great visuals but the story made no sense.

    • James Allard

      Is it possible to “like” this film? I think of it like a paranormal Hostel.

  • aFriendlyAgenda

    The Blindman is off the hook
    I wonder if Alverez was intentionally recalling the Blindman from Master of the Guillotine

  • THGrimm

    Good list, Trace. I’ll keep my comments short and that it’s extremely awesome you put The Invitation at number one. That film took me by storm.

    • Glad you agree!

    • Mackey

      Had never heard of The Invitation before finding it on Netflix. Every horror/suspense fan needs to see this movie. Very impressive.

      • THGrimm

        Same here! Netflix is great for some exposure sometimes. I recommend The Invitation to everyone who needs Netflix recommendations or say, “there’s nothing to watch on there.”

  • Mightygil

    Didn’t know you were on letterboxd so I added you. Btw are the movies on that letterboxd list entirely in order??

    • They’re in order from my best to worst. I did learn that I have a lot of 3.5 and 3 scores, so some of those aren’t in EXACT order of preference. But it’s close.

      • Mightygil

        I’m a person with a lot of 3 to 3.5’s as well. I’ll be sure to check out many that I missed that you’ve seen. I hope you eventually check out Fender Bender. I know many people didn’t find it special but it was one of my favourites for horror this year.

  • sliceanddice

    sooooo glad to see invitation on here. one of my movies of the year too

  • Halloween_Vic

    I definitely feel as if The Green Room was more of a actual horror film then The Invitation. And come on trace The Invitation over Don’t Breathe????? But it’s a matter of opinion, nice list.

    • The Invitation, Green Room, Don’t Breathe and The Witch all earned 5/5s from me. It was SO hard to rank! But ultimately I think The Invitations is hands down the best film.

  • KingChellz

    The invitation number 1…..hell no, that movie look like a orgy gone wrong. All those mf kiss each others on the mouth, no common sense was use, and the main character is a bitch; that guy whoop his ass in front of his girl………..COME ON!!!!! I have feeling this movie wasn’t in any major theaters. Movie was weak, oh yeah that black chick could get it. 🙂

    • Samuel Finney

      Oh, this was well thought out.

  • Eddie Dutra

    10 Cloverfield Ln is PURE GARBAGE! That was the worst thing I saw in theaters last year! I hated it more than Morgan and The Love Witch(awful attempt at campy 60’s horror movies). The worst horror movies I saw that were VOD were 31 and Phantasm V. I loved Green Room and Train to Busan.

  • Quinton Ridley

    The Invitation wasn’t as good as Green Room and I wouldn’t count either as horror. My beef with Invitation was that many call it a “masterclass” of suspense, but it couldn’t build much tension to such a predictable 3rd act. I think many just enjoy the ending. Overall a weak year for the horror genre.

  • James Allard

    Mr. Thurman,
    I have every intention of seeing Don’t Breathe (a choice made upon my first viewing of the trailer), but I have to ask: How does the sound design compare to Blair Witch?

    In your opinion, of course. Personally, I was stunned at how good the sound design and sound editing were in Blair Witch to such an extent that I honestly expect to see it up for an Oscar (as if that meant anything anymore). BW has its flaws, and a ready audience to point them out (some willing to forgo seeing it before bashing it) but the sound, man. THE SOUND! Holy shit, the sound in BW is amazing.

    As you seem to have seen them both, how about a side by side comparison?

  • roninQQ

    I was about to Watch some of this list’s movies based on your reviews then i saw Don’t Breathe and the Witch on your list and you lost all credibility in my eyes sorry. The plot holes/mistakes and the stupidity of Don’t breathe are just so obvious that anyone liking this movie can’t be taken seriously. I mean, the girl crawls into a vent because they can’t go out the window because apparently there’s bars on it, only a few seconds later the guy is pushed by the dog through the window it that very room and oh my… no bars on it hmmm. The blind guy can smell the kids shoes or hear them breathe from 10 feet away, but on multiple occasions is 8 inches from them and doesn’ detect them, wtf. If he can smell the b.o. from the shoes I’m guessing he can smell it on their ACTUAL FEET!
    And the witch OMG that film is a snooze-fest

  • DarkBree

    8. The Purge: Election Year
    7. The Invitation
    6. The Shallows
    5. 10 Cloverfield Lane
    4. Hush
    3. Lights Out
    2. Don’t Breathe
    1. The Conjuring 2

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