Hey there, everyone! I sincerely hope this finds you all well (or at least coping) and eager (or at least willing) to take on a new year. I love doing year-end lists. For me, it’s a time of reflection, as well as expansion. Since I started with Daily Dead in April of 2015, my horror-view continues to grow; I’ve been so fortunate to meet and speak with some enduring legends of the genre, not to mention strike many new friendships through social media. But what my continuing immersion in this greatest of cultures has provided above all else is an appreciation for the variety and depth horror has to offer. It really has been a great year; unfortunately, I’ve missed some goodies, but dammit, I tried. So, without anymore ado whatsoever, here are a few (okay, a lot) of my favorite things from 2016.
As a ravenous horror enthusiast, I crave different perspectives on familiar topics. Books offer writers breathing room to be heard clearly in their own voice; a chance to expound on views, from the mundane to the sublime and everything in between. This gaggle of word gatherings should be on every horror fanatic's shelf (or computer, if you choose so, fancy pants).
Modern Horrors: An A to Z of Horror Movie Reviews by Scott Weinberg: Sure, it was released over a year ago; I’m a slow reader, and I can never time stamp a reference book. Longtime genre critic Scott Weinberg tackles, as the title says, modern horror specifically from 2000 to 2015. His enthusiasm, insight, and good humor will win you over even if a film he reviews doesn’t. (And let’s be honest; with over 800 reviews, not every film is gold. Or aluminum, for that matter.) Short, sharp, grin-inducing pieces by one of the most reliable voices on the scene.
Horror Movie a Day: The Book by Brian W. Collins: Here’s Collins, another veteran of the genre wars, culling his popular Horror Movie A Day blog for a book with a most compelling structure. He’s reconfigured reviews from his site (he posted daily for many years) and has laid out recommendations for every day of the year. But there are also themed choices and alternate picks, all stamped with Collins' acerbic wit. And whether or not you follow his template of one a day, you’ll have a blast trying.
Death by Umbrella! The 100 Weirdest Horror Movie Weapons by Christopher Lombardo and Jeff Kirschner: A title like that has a lot to live up to. Thankfully, Lombardo and Kirschner’s love letter to the bizarre, profane, and ridiculous weaponry from horror films good and bad more than earns the hype. But this isn’t some drawn-out listicle; the boys dig deep on most productions, and offer insight into several films that usually aren’t shown such discourse. All of this is told in the inimitable, good-natured style of their Really Awful Movies website and terrific podcast. (Which yours truly drags down to mediocre any time they have me on. Blame their booker.)
Retcontinuum by Shaunn Grulkowski: Here’s a novella that isn’t exactly horror (okay, it isn’t horror at all), but covers some of the things that we love about the genre just as well: vivid characters, a solid story, great momentum, and a sly sense of humor. It’s essentially the tale of a man who gets caught up in espionage, dark secrets, and murder, all filtered through an experimental time travel program. Oh, and it’s funny as hell. Imagine a Philip K. Dick story as told by Gregory McDonald (Fletch) and you won’t be too far off Shaunn’s style. More, please.
Since I got rid of satellite radio in my car (because I enjoy eating as well), I’ve become a podcast junkie. These are a few of the things I stick in my ears.
F This Movie!: Led by critic (and fellow Daily Dead writer) Patrick Bromley, F This Movie! brings it every week; inclusive, intimate-yet-lively conversation about film that is never condescending, usually respectful, and always funny. Plus, the flavor changes depending on who’s sitting in with Patrick during any given show, giving it a freshness that every podcast strives for. Essential listening.
’80s All Over: The podcast is new, the participants aren’t. Hosted by critical mainstays Drew McWeeny and Scott Weinberg, ’80s All Over scratches a very particular itch with reviews of every movie released during the ’80s, each episode covering a month at a time. If you’re looking for analysis and insight into what made the ’80s so great for film, you can’t beat this immersive experience. And don’t worry, there are plenty of horror titles to soak in (or spit out).
Splathouse Podcast: This is a newer one for the attention deficit crowd. Splathouse is the collective of Michael Delaney, Sarah Coykendall, Jim Schiller, and John Terrell, whose staged reinterpretations of such great works as Plan 9 From Outer Space have kept folks awake at the theatre for a few years now. The podcast brings forth that love of cult by picking a film (say, Manos: The Hands of Fate), acting out a scene, interviewing someone associated with that film, featuring professions of love from genre enthusiasts and critics alike, having their very own put-upon game show, and sharing anecdotes from the hosts. It’s a lot of fun, and boredom is not an option.
Shock Waves: The true story of three Blumhouse employees (Rob Galluzzo, Ryan Turek, Rebekah "Doc" McKendry) and one Possession obsessive (Elric Kane) who transformed their Rondo Award-winning podcast Killer POV into an even more fluid horror experience. Top notch guests from the world of horror, roundtable recommendations, spotlights on soundtracks, and more to entice new listeners and long time fans alike. Made for horror fanatics, by horror fanatics.
Honorable mentions: The ScreamCast, Scream Addicts, Made for TV Mayhem.
FAVORITE TV SHOWS
Some of my favorite moments from the entire year have occurred on the small screen; showrunners have cracked the code for telling a long-form tale with strong characters and exceptional storylines. Grab your remote for some channel surfing.
The Exorcist: No announcement was met with more side glances than Fox’s The Exorcist, starring Geena Davis. No show was viewed with more scrutiny when it first aired. And no show has surpassed any and all expectations like this one; it turns out showrunner Jeremy Slater is more concerned with story and world-expanding than cheap thrills. (Oh, but scares you will get.) This is the best surprise of the year.
Scream Season 2: I enjoyed season 1 of MTV’s reboot well enough—a bumpy start gave way to a consistency of tone and tale by the end of its run. Season 2, however, hits the ground running; and where it flies is story and character development. Instead of wiping the slate clean, it expands the main story in interesting ways; there are entanglements carried over that make this more than just a rehash of the previous season. And besides a winning cast, MTV has brought on a who’s who of top-notch genre directors to make this season really pop. If watching mainstream horror is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
Channel Zero: Candle Cove: To paraphrase David Byrne, “This is not my Syfy Channel”—and hallelujah for that. Based on Kris Straub's Creepypasta of the same name, Candle Cove (the first season of the anthology series Channel Zero; like American Horror Story but hopefully more consistent in the long run), over six episodes, manages to burrow under the skin unlike any other show this year. A small town. A disturbing children’s program that may not actually exist. Murder. A creature made of teeth. All of it compelling, with several images that would give Argento pause. Candle Cove presses hard on the shiver button all the way ’til the very end.
Another bountiful year for film, and sad to say I’ve missed a bunch. (Beyond the Gates has thus far been beyond my grasp, unfortunately.) These are my faves of the ones I did manage to wrangle.
The Witch: This one vibrates at a frequency low and insidious; a treatise on piety and the pitfalls of religious fanaticism (and the dark underbelly it can expose). A mesmerizing, measured feature-length debut from Robert Eggers.
Hush: Everything old is new again, and director Mike Flanagan applies a fresh coat of paint better than anyone. This is a modern-day Halloween, plain and simple. Flanagan shows a mastery of suspense I haven’t seen in quite some time. Simple doesn’t mean easy; it means clarity of purpose, which is something the director shows time and again.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe: Or, Two Men and a Dead Lady, on first impression. Not so fast—director André Øvredal (Trollhunter) has created a procedural that becomes so much more as he literally and figuratively peels back layer after layer to reveal a film steeped in horror lore with genuine (and earned) emotion. Best Father-Son Coroners of the Year: Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch. It’s their morgue; we’re just the guests.
Green Room: Jeremy Saulnier’s steel-toed kick to the head (and heart) is most certainly horror—just look to several classics from Romero and Carpenter for that good old confined oppression—except here the terror is all too human. And, through the superb craftsmanship of Saulnier, grippingly realized. This is my desert island pick to celebrate the innate talent of the late Anton Yelchin.
Phantasm: Ravager: To be a Phan, a longtime fanatic of the Phantasm series, requires looking at the big picture. Not only that, but it is unique in horror to have one vision maintained through financial hardships, sinking budgets, and a general audience that, after the first, seminal film, just wasn’t there. Because being a Phan necessitates an emotional response that can’t be focus grouped or test screened to appeal to the masses. It means giving yourself over to a sometimes goofy, sometimes surreal quest that asks as many questions as it offers answers.
Don Coscarelli (as well as co-writer and director David Hartman) quite simply wants to know what family means to you; whether it’s the relationship between two brothers and a friend, or that of an imaginative, heartfelt director and his loyal audience communicating playfully about life, mortality, and resolution. This is the ending of a series built on love of film, family, terror, and laughter. Sure, if you get too close, you’ll notice a flaw or two, a brushstroke perhaps a little heavy on the paint. It’s only when you step back and take it all in that you realize how beautiful it truly is. Series MVP: Angus Scrimm. Proprietor of the silver sphere, shrunken souls, and my heart, forever.
Here’s wishing everyone a hopeful and inspiring 2017. Save me some popcorn, would ya?
To read all of the 2016 favorites lists from the Daily Dead team, check back daily here.