Lurking within pages, displayed on the big and small screens, and at home on the airwaves, the horror genre thrived last year. 2016 was packed with great genre offerings, and although it's difficult to filter through the creepy contents of such a banner year for the genre, I forced myself to choose the moments that stuck with me the most... and still haunt my nightmares.
Green Room: Never did violence feel more real onscreen to me this year than the scenes in Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room. The third feature film from the Blue Ruin and Murder Party director is ripe with palpable frights in its depiction of a vicious battle between a punk band and neo-Nazis led by Patrick Stewart’s calculating Darcy. You can practically feel your sweaty palms wrapping around a broken fluorescent tube as the Ain’t Rights prepare for their most important performance yet as a group: their fight for survival. In this film, murder is messy, characters (on both sides) have fears, and panic is prevalent. Every action taken in Green Room leaves an imprint on the viewer, especially Anton Yelchin’s brilliant acting in one of his final roles.
The Complex by Brian Keene: Moving with a sinister synchronicity not unlike a pack of hyenas, the growing horde of people outside the Pine Village Apartment Complex are naked, deranged, and lethal in Brian Keene’s new novel The Complex, published by Deadite Press earlier this year.
I’ve been a fan of Keene’s since his coming-of-age story Ghoul gave me an emotional gut-punch that still has me wheezing for breath years after turning the last page, and with The Complex, Keene cements his status as one of the modern-day masters of the macabre, writing with a lean and mean prose that takes no prisoners. Keene gives readers the gory goods and flawed protagonists (including one of his most popular recurring characters, The Exit) while packing the pages with thought-provoking subtext on the often misguided perceptions that neighbors have of each other. Plus, there’s an intense chapter from a cat's point of view, and you just can’t beat that.
Stoney Creek Podcast: It Follows meets Slender Man in this addictive fictional podcast of a small town with a horrifying urban legend. The locals refer to him as The Endgrave, a faceless man with a habit of sucking the internal organs out of anyone who is lured within the reach of his disturbingly long arms. Once its epic synthesizer musical opening kicks in, you know you’re in for a treat with Stoney Creek. Featuring a roster of believable characters brought to life by a talented voice cast, Stoney Creek had me looking over my shoulder more than a few times, and it just might make your skin prickle, too.
The Barn: Now THIS is how you pay homage to ’80s horror while still making something new. Justin M. Seaman’s The Barn is a flat-out fun Halloween treat that follows a group of teenagers who knock on the door of a barn that just might contain a portal to Hell itself. Suffice it to say that they don't receive a warm welcome. Set on Halloween night in 1989 and featuring references to films like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Dead Alive, and The Return of the Living Dead (there’s even a great cameo by Linnea Quigley), The Barn embraces its retro influences and introduces three new cinematic killers that would be right at home in the golden era of Jason Voorhees. This must-watch midnight movie has earned a spot on my annual Halloween season viewing schedule.
John Stamos in Scream Queens Season 2: I have a soft spot for Full House, so when I heard that John Stamos was going to play Dr. Brock Holt on the second season of Scream Queens, I got as excited as Uncle Jesse at a Beach Boys concert. Dr. Holt is a great new addition to the surviving cast of characters from season 1. His dry humor is the perfect counterbalance to the absurd (and often hilarious) shenanigans of the Chanels, and his romantic scenes with Dean Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) are something to treasure.
But the moments when Dr. Holt truly shines are when he’s at odds with his hand—a transplant from a prolific murderer who still has the itch to kill, whether Dr. Holt wants to or not. Holt’s battle with his own hand is some of the best “splat”-stick comedy I’ve seen since Ash did a deadly dance with his possessed limb in Evil Dead 2.
Bates Motel Season 4: I believe that mother would be VERY pleased with the fourth season of Bates Motel. Since episode 1, this present-day prequel series to Psycho has been a stellar showcase for its actors, with especially effective performances by Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore, who have portrayed one of the best mother-son relationships, period.
In season 4, the storylines crafted by Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin rose to their finest points yet to meet the high bar continually raised by the show’s cast (which, across the board, is one of the most talented and well-rounded casts on television). The final episodes of season 4 unfold like a tragic play, with Nestor Carbonell’s heartbreaking performance as Sheriff Alex Romero practically pulsating off the screen. You want to right the courses of these characters and give them the happy ending they so desperately need, but all you can do is sit back and watch some damn fine acting.
Stranger Things Season 1: Like the characters in Stephen King’s IT, sometimes you have to be reminded that the magic (and the horrors) of childhood still exist even as you wade through the murky waters of adulthood. Stranger Things was exactly the reminder I needed in 2016, hitting me with the demanding, nostalgic force of an E.T.-powered bicycle falling out of the sky.
The Upside Down frightens me, the telekinetic abilities of Eleven amaze me, but what really stands out about this series is how much care The Duffer Brothers put into the characters of all ages. This isn’t just a show about kids coming of age while fighting a fearsome force, it’s also about adults dealing with grief, divorce, and isolation. It's about high school students navigating the horrors of the hallways and their lives at home. To hit so many emotional notes without straying into sappy territory is some kind of miracle, and I can’t wait to see what magic awaits viewers in season 2.
King Falls AM: America’s strangest small town had a very eventful 2016, and King Falls AM hosts Sammy and Ben deftly navigated everything the year threw at them—both metaphorically and literally. The late-night talk show continues to expertly explore the horrors and hilarity of living in a small town plagued by ghosts, alien lights in the sky, and the malevolent meddling of the mayor. And amidst its many humorous insights on life, the show packed an emotional wallop with its somber coverage of the abduction of someone very near and dear to Ben’s heart. Thanks to King Falls AM, I’m heading into 2017 with an eye on the sky and the radio dial set to 660.
Justin Welborn in SiREN: Ever since he fought like hell against zombies in Gregg Bishop’s Dance of the Dead, I’ve been a big fan of Justin Welborn. Seeing him reunited with Bishop for a fourth time in SiREN was a blast in itself, but watching him bring a role as juicy as Mr. Nyx to life brought the viewing experience to a whole new level. An enigmatic man who accumulates the strange, the supernatural, and the downright demonic for his ever-expanding collection of items (and people), Mr. Nyx is interchangeably charming and scary, and it was wonderful to see Welborn get a chance to work his cinematic chops like never before.
To read all of the 2016 favorites lists from the Daily Dead team, check back daily here.