Horror movies in 2016 were a bonanza business. Whether your taste steers toward homicidal forests, doomsday preppers, ghosts, or killer clowns, 2016 had the goods. It was also a deeply weird year in horror, with flicks like Natasha Lyonne's Afterbirth, The Love Witch, The Neon Demon, and The Eyes of My Mother dominating conversation, even years later. These horror movies from 2016 aren’t necessarily the best movies of the year, but each of these films left us shaking.
This remake of the 2008 French torture porn didn’t live up to its original--to be fair, that would have been a difficult task. But it did provide a fantastic central character in Lucy, and reimagined the original rather than simply remaking it in English. The 2016 film is less condemning of the torture contained within, but if you’re a fan of the gore and terror, it’s worth a watch. And at a tight 90 minutes, Martyrs hits its disturbing depths quickly.
Karyn Kusama’s cult horror film has gained a cult following–and yes, we meant to say cult twice. When Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his new girlfriend are invited to his ex-wife’s place for a dinner party, it’s certain to be an awkward night. But things are even stranger than they seem. Kusama firmly established herself as a horror talent to watch, after following Jennifer’s Body up with this utterly terrifying film.
Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) stars in this terrifying tale of a real location known for suicides. But is the Aokigahara forest really just a place where desperate people go to end their lives? Or do the woods have a more sinister impact on its tourists? Dormer plays two characters in this film: primarily Sara, whose twin sister, Jess, has gone to Aokigahara and is believed to have committed suicide. Sara, unable to accept this, travels to Japan to find out what happened to her sister. Soon, it becomes clear that the forest is filled with terrifying creatures and apparitions.
What happens when you accidentally play a set at a skinhead bar? Absolutely nothing good. Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawkat star as members of Ain’t Rights, a punk band trying to make it big. A last-minute booking at a bar owned by Sir Patrick Stewart results in a night straight from hell, after Yelchin’s character Pat witnesses a murder. The band must fight its way out–or die.
Although critically acclaimed, Dave Eggers’s The Witch has been divisive among horror fans since its 2016 release. It’s a truly good movie, though, and is sure to reward viewers who go in with an understanding of what they’re in for. There won’t be jump scares or witchy hexes. Instead, there’s a creeping undertone of dread throughout, and some shockingly gory scenes. You can practically smell the cast's dirty clothes while you watch.
10 Cloverfield Lane
10 Cloverfield Lane wasn’t quite a sequel to J.J. Abrams’s earlier Cloverfield, but it shares much of the spirit of its predecessor. When Michelle wakes up in an underground bunker, she is told that the world has ended while she was unconscious. The claustrophobia and paranoia of this Cloverfield sequel made it an utterly terrifying viewing experience–and easily clocks it in as the best of the franchise.
The Love Witch
Okay, so The Love Witch isn’t exactly scary. There are certainly spooky moments, though, and it’s playing in the sandbox of horror, comedy, and period piece alike. With Anna Biller serving as writer, director, and costume designer (and the list goes on), this film has a distinct, singular voice that is unusual to see in modern film. The Love Witch is funny, compelling, occasionally gory, and deeply worth watching.
Before I Wake
Before I Wake wasn’t released in general theaters in the U.S. due to a strange conflagration of issues with the production company, international releases, and international streaming on Netflix. However, Before I Wake is finally on U.S. Netflix, so you can see one of the best 2016 horror movies. Directed by Mike Flanagan (Hush, Oculus, Gerald’s Game) and starring Jacob Tremblay (Room), Kate Bosworth, and Thomas Jane, this terrifying supernatural thriller will make you never want to have kids.
The Conjuring 2
Break the sequel curse with The Conjuring 2, James Wan’s second movie about Ed and Lorraine Warren, this time about the Enfield Poltergeist. This installment is just as terrifying as the first Conjuring film. The Conjuring universe has shown itself to be a surprisingly strong franchise, thanks to James Wan's steady hand, powerful performances, and great, old-fashioned ghost stories.
A lot of horror movies have concepts as ambitious as Lights Out, but few execute them as well. In Lights Out, a family is haunted by terrifying figures–but only when the lights are out. Based on a YouTube short of the same name, Teresa Palmer plays a young woman whose family is being traumatized. Director David F. Sandberg made his directorial debut in this truly scary film with a real emotional battle at its core.
The Wailing combines plague-based body horror with a procedural detective film to create something deeply unique and horrifying. When small-town police officer Jong-gu’s daughter becomes the latest victim of an inexplicable illness, he recommits himself to discovering exactly what–or who–is causing the plague. He’s soon in over his head, as the situation becomes far too complex for a low-ranking investigator. A commitment to gore makes this film a truly disturbing one.
Three teens break into a house to steal a blind veteran’s cash. Unfortunately for them, the vet isn’t nearly as helpless as they believe. And in fact, he’s been up to no good on his own. Part of a mini-trend of sensory deprivation films (Hush, Lights Out), Don't Breathe made good on its premise, revealing a truly horrifying "escape the room" horror movie.
We Are the Flesh
Even your average horror fan might find this film a bit too visceral to enjoy–to say nothing of non-horror fans. After some sort of apocalypse brings an end to most human life, two siblings are left to fend for themselves. They find a man who offers them safety and food, but only in return for some truly disgusting deeds. This surreal trip is so over-the-top that it received a “D” rating in Mexico, which is usually only given to pornographic films.
The Girl on the Train
This modern thriller by Paula Hawkins had readers gasping; its adaptation was equally mind-boggling. Emily Blunt’s performance as an alcoholic who becomes obsessed with a murder she thinks she witnessed won high praise, and the twist delighted audiences (at least those who hadn’t read the book). Perfect for an afternoon on the couch, The Girl on the Train will keep you guessing until the very end.
Related: 9 Books Like Gone Girl
Look, 31 won’t be for everyone. But if you’re a fan of Rob Zombie movies, his 2016 movie will hit the sweet spot. Five carnival workers are trapped by a bunch of killer clowns and forced to play “31”. Will they survive a night with the clown?
Train to Busan
Train to Busan revitalized the zombie genre with its high-stakes and fast pace. A divorced man, Seok-woo, tries to make up his lack of presence in his daughter’s life by taking her to Busan to visit her mother. They board a train, only to discover that a woman traveling with them has begun to infect others with her virus–turning them all into zombies. Seok-woo and daughter Su-an must battle their way to the safe, front end of the train.
Tom Ford (yes, of fragrance and fashion) directed this disturbing psychological thriller about a nastily entangled couple attempting to separate themselves. With a loaded cast (Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Armie Harmer, Isla Fisher), Nocturnal Animals is a twisted film–both in its narrative and in its many perturbing details.
The Neon Demon
The Neon Demon suffers from a common Nicholas Winding Refn issue: The movie is stylistically beautiful, and the initial plot is intriguing, yet the film remains just a bit… empty. Despite this, The Neon Demon is an off-the-wall, terrifying and luridly gorgeous flick that will leave you thinking. With its models at the center of the plot, the film is compelled by the juxtaposition of beauty and utter terror.
Another Mike Flanagan flick, Hush was one of the best horror movies in 2016. A high-concept film, Hush follows a young deaf woman as a masked killer stalks her home. With no one nearby to hear her screams, Maddie must fend for herself. Kate Siegel and John Gallagher, Jr. as Maddie and her stalker, respectively, elevate the film far beyond its gimmick.
Girl with All the Gifts
A lot of people are burnt out on zombie flicks, but if more of them were like The Girl with All the Gifts, we’d still be clamoring for more. It’s a post-apocalyptic zombie road trip tale, featuring a precocious young zombie girl who may be the only hope to save humanity.
Featured Still from "31" via Bow and Arrow Entertainment