For the fifth year running it’s time for me (and everyone else who runs one of these things) to list my favourite new movies of the year. As always, this list is entirely personal and culled from various festival screenings, disc premieres and new cinema releases. I’ve done my best to stay away from films that were in the multiplexes for weeks because chances are you’ll already know if you want to see those. Likewise there are some films I have yet to catch up with (THE WAILING and THE HANDMAIDEN being the most obvious two) and some that people will consider glaring omissions that I just didn’t think were that great (for example I didn't think RAW was anywhere near as clever as it seemed to think it was).
As is tradition, before we get to my top ten we have, for your delectation and amusement, my bottom five. Again, there are no special elements that qualify a movie for ending up on this list other than they made me feel stupid for having stuck with them to the end (and in one case not even that). Ok, here we go!
The Five Worst Films of 2015
The one film I watched this year that I couldn’t make it to the end of, electing instead to leave the screening and get some lunch. From the director of the only slightly better (and no more watchable) HIDDEN IN THE WOODS this kicked off with some devil worship stuff, and then followed it with half an hour of some folks on bikes while the camera leered at the female characters in the most unsavoury way. All horrible.
Great premise. Screamy sweary leads. No sense of coherent narrative. Ridiculous ending. Confusing rubbish. Winner of the ‘Is This Still On?’ award of the year.
3 The Pack
Back in March I called this ‘A cheap and completely unrewarding waste of time, assuming audiences will put up with any old shit’. I don’t want to write any more about this. My full review is here if you want it.
2 Shark Exorcist
Winner of Most Inept Film of 2016. The main 'feature' runs around 58 minutes and makes no sense at all, then after the end credits you get a very odd and disorientating bit involving plush toy cuddling that's so brain-numbing in its mundanity that I might actually have nightmares from it. The spirit of Ed Wood definitely lives again in SHARK EXORCIST. Oh, and if you think the cover image happens anywhere in this (or indeed that there's much sharky action at all) rest assured that the 67 minutes of unrelenting incompetence on the DVD has no such drama. If SHARK EXORCIST were even slightly better than it is I might be praising the chutzpah of the publicity team for coming up with the box art, but it isn’t. It isn’t even really a film, more a random, amateur sequence of scenes cut together that make no sense.
Because being a big budget multiplex monstrosity doesn’t get you out of THIS list, and because, after the (irrelevant) gender politics controversy whipped up to give it some desperately-needed publicity, this was bloody awful. Funny right up until the opening credits came on, the GHOSTBUSTERS remake quickly became excruciating, with everything feeling so strained you wonder if on-set enemas might have helped. The ending was so poke-in-the-eye tedious Stephen Sommers must have been grinding his teeth with jealously that someone had managed to come up with a hollower, emptier, more superficial piece of tedium than he could ever hope to. All I wanted was this to be reasonably funny and have ghosts. It had ghosts. The House of Mortal Cinema Film of Shame for 2016.
Right that’s enough of the rubbish. After much deliberation (there were 33 films on this list that could have easily ended up on it, it’s been that good a year) here is my Top Ten of 2016:
10 The Lighthouse
It’s been a great year for Welsh horror and fantasy, with both THE LIBRARY SUICIDES finally getting a DVD release, and the Machenesque CROW premiering at Frightfest. Best of the Welsh bunch was this, a tale of madness and death in a Welsh lighthouse in 1801. Coming across like a William Hope Hodgson story this one was actually ‘based on real events’ but certainly doesn’t need that qualification to recommend it. My full review is here.
9 The House on Pine Street
An early finalist for the list (this one got its UK DVD release in January) and it stayed on it right till the end. My review is here, and re-reading it has made me want to watch this one again. The styles of Mike Flanagan and Lucio Fulci (without the gore but with the weirdness) collide in this immensely satisfying, unsettlingly strange film that’s refreshingly cliche-free. The only bad thing about this one is the box art - ignore it and enjoy this one.
8 Ouija 2
Mike Flanagan scores with a sequel to an original you don't need to see. Instead get stuck into the OCULUS and ABSENTIA director’s latest, proof that all you need to make me enjoy a tired and worn-out crappy old horror subgenre is a director who actually knows what he's doing. Admittedly, if Blumhouse is the new AIP then Mike Flanagan really is more of an Amicus director (like Peter Duffell or Kevin Connor) - able to craft a fine sense of suburban dread from just knowing how to light a room and then move the camera properly and oh-so-slowly. There are some (probably studio imposed) shouty jumpy bits, but for the most part sit back and revel in something well made, with atmosphere, and a pleasingly retro feel right down to the reel change marks on the print from time to time. Oh, and good understated music score too. I really like Mike Flanagan.
Mickey Keating made the quite good POD and the really good this. ‘A bit of late-night messing with your mind’ is how I described it in my review here in a movie that references both Polanski and David Lynch but is still very much its own black and white, claustrophobic, weird exercise in celluloid. Oh, and Lauren Ashley Carter is terrific in the lead. Let’s have more of her, please.
6 The Boy
There were some pleasingly retro-style projects in 2016 - THE PURGE 3: ELECTION YEAR was a great Enzo G Castellari-wannabe and THE REZORT was like a well-made and extremely entertaining British version of a Umberto Lenzi zombie picture. By far the best of the retros, however, was this. William Brent Bell previously made a great werewolf picture in WER and a deliriously daft possession picture called THE DEVIL INSIDE. This year he gave us THE BOY, a film that feels like a Hammer or Robert Lippert B movie of the 1960s. Nicely photographed and acted, and with a denouement some hated but which I think is absolutely in keeping with the rest of the film (I’m not giving it away) THE BOY is highly recommended, Mr Bell cements his reputation as a director to watch, and the icing on the top of this cake goes to:
House of Mortal Cinema Best Score of 2016 - Bear McCreary
(because I can’t stop playing it).
5 The Similars
So loud it woke me up at the late night Frightfest screening. So mad it kept me glued to the screen for its entire running time. So good I want to know why it hasn’t had a disc release yet. Why are the people convening on a remote bus station during a rainstorm all growing beards and turning into the same man? Is it the rain? A government experiment? Something to do with aliens? THE SIMILARS is a deliciously raving mad Mexican film with a thunderous music score (you get the runner up for best score, Edy Lan!) and a healthy sense of genre heritage. See it when / if you can.
4 Director’s Cut
The horror comedy of the year, and a splendidly original and clever piece of film-making full stop. Adam Rifkin’s movie tells the story of what happens when a lunatic crowd funder grabs the film he’s funded, recuts it, adds a commentary track, and then kidnaps the lead actress to film his own ending. Often hilarious and managing the difficult feat of pulling off three different narratives (the movie, the re-edited movie, and the commentary) with tremendous skill, this is a very funny satire on the nature of low budget moviemaking that often had me laughing out loud.
3 The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Yes it's from the director of TROLL HUNTER and no, it's nothing like it but I suppose they have to put it on the posters. In Virginia, the investigation of a suspected multiple homicide at a family home uncovers the body of an unidentified young woman buried in the basement. She's taken to Brian Cox's mortuary for an autopsy where, as each incision is made and each organ is taken apart, he and his son (played by Emile Hirsch) find things becoming very odd indeed. Not fair to tell you anything else but this is really, really good - virtually a two hander in a single location, making it feel like a TWILIGHT ZONE or Amicus episode but not in the least bit padded out. Filmed in the UK, not that you would ever have guessed it, and out on general release next year. Catch it when it is.
2 Train to Busan
Everyone loves this and rightly so. Criminally denied a decent cinema release in the UK, TRAIN TO BUSAN is one of the best films of this year in any genre, the best fast-moving action zombie picture ever made, the best train-set horror picture ever made, and the best film ever to close Frightfest. If you haven’t seen it yet it’s coming out on Blu-ray (hooray!) on 27th February 2017 from Studio Canal.
1 The Neon Demon
Because, of all the films that came out this year, only one paid homage to the films of Euro-sleaze kings Jess Franco and Joe D’Amato, only one managed to be a slick, stylish hymn to some of the most twisted exploitation classics of the 1970s, only one managed to be both sexy and sleazy, both horrific and beautiful, both mesmerising and bewildering, and only one managed to do this while very much retaining its own (and the director’s own) unique visual style. I love this film because I love D’Amato’s BUIO OMEGA and Franco’s CHRISTINA, PRINCESS OF EROTICISM and Refn’s VALHALLA RISING. I love it because I usually love films filled with plot and action but all I wanted to do here was soak up the images. I love it because it’s bizarre and horrible, because there’s nothing else around these days that compares, and because there should be more films like it but I know there won’t be.
So there we are - a list culled from watching 600 films this year and formally reviewing over a hundred of them on here. You can’t list everything you loved in a top ten, and this year the list threatened to become hugely unwieldy, so I’m sorry if your favourite isn’t on here and it doesn’t mean I didn’t love it.
Ok that’s it. As always I’d like to offer a huge thank you to everyone who has visited the site & enjoyed one of my reviews. Also thanks has to go to all the film and PR companies who have sent me discs and to the lovely, lovely people whose hard work goes into organising festivals like Frightfest and Abertoir. Thank you everyone. House of Mortal Cinema will be back in 2017. Take care, keep being nice to each other, and I'll see you then. Oh look, THE WAILING has just dropped through the letterbox...