Two brown eyes dilate in the dark. They peer out at a TV across a room. On the screen, a teenage girl creeps through a dark house. Then we see a masked murderer, or a leering stalker, or a hideous monster. The young girl is doomed, but when, how? Brown eyes narrow as the music patiently swells, a subtle hint at the approaching terror. The heart beats faster with fear and excitement when a jolt action punctuates the scene! That’s what a night with a great horror movie is all about. But what year produced the most amount of those kind of great nights?
The argument for “best year in horror” comes down to two solar cycles: 1999 and 2016. Each year featured a large variety of critical and commercial successes. So, we took the ten biggest films of each year and pitted them against each other in–
–the ultimate battle for horror movie supremacy!
Audition vs. The Witch
Audition is a 1999 Japanese horror movie about a widower looking for a new wife. Sounds almost sweet, but the psychological film terrorizes viewers as it spirals into horrific and glorious madness. Audition is one of many great Japanese horror films of the late-90s.
Film festival darling The Witch is part period piece, part supernatural horror. Director Robert Eggers kept it real with a lot of natural lighting, spot-on dialogue, and detailed costumes and sets. For me, the movie is about the world’s most asshole-ish goat.
Verdict: While most people loved The Witch, I found it a little dull when it was all said and done. Audition, however, still holds up and is cringe-inducing.
The Ring 2 vs. The Conjuring 2
The Ring 2 is the sequel to the remake of the eerie Japanese horror movie from 1998. Like any copy of a copy, The Ring 2 is mostly mediocre and a step down from the decent American film the preceded.
The Conjuring 2 is mostly a solid follow-up to the 2014 smash-hit original. Like the first film, The Conjuring 2 does great work of setting up things to come and the overall mood. But, like most sequels, the new film takes a step down from the original, falling into silliness by the end of its 90s minute run.
Verdict: Both sequels pale in comparison to their original versions, but The Conjuring 2 is less of a step-down.
The Blair Witch Project vs. The Blair Witch
The original Blair Witch put the “found footage” style permanently on the horror sub-genre map. Audiences went crazy for a movie that blended fiction and reality, even all the way through its marketing campaign. Love it or hate it, there’s little in-between for most people, Blair Witch is a legendary piece in the grand mosaic of horror movies.
This Blair Witch sequel was nowhere near as groundbreaking as its predecessor. For many, it was the original movie on steroids. Whatever that means to you, Blair Witch was a commercial success, raking in nearly ten times its five million dollar budget.
Verdict: On a commercial level, The Blair Witch Project is the 4th highest grossing horror movie of all time. On a cultural level, the original pic’s impact is undeniable.
Deep Blue Sea vs. The Shallows
Deep Blue Sea is one of those movies that’s a perfect guilty pleasure. LL Cool J is a chef with a pet bird. Samuel L. Jackson plays himself and gets one of the most epic endings of any character in b-horror movie history. It’s a film about super-smart sharks that turns out to be dumb fun.
The Shallows is the polar opposite of Deep Blue Sea. The thriller with Blake Lively about a stranded surfer and the great white who torments her overflows with tension. The Shallows, while not as dense with its characters and dialogue as Jaws, does offer a similar level of thrills.
Verdict: If you want b-movie fun Deep Blue Sea is above and beyond the best choice. If you want tension and real scares, The Shallows is the best bet.
The House On Haunted Hill vs. Don’t Breathe
A remake of the 50s classic, House On Haunted Hill is cheesy fun. It’s one of those movies that will play on Halloween until another remake takes its place. The premise is simple: several people must spend the night in a “haunted house.” The last person to survive wins money. Oops, the house IS freakin’ haunted!
Don’t Breathe is a perfect example of what’s known as a “sleeper hit.” The first reaction for many is doubt. A film about people breaking into a blind man’s house? That doesn’t sound great on paper, but the end result is a tense, clever, and brutal movie by Fede Alvarez.
Verdict: House on Haunted Hill is dumb fun, but mostly mediocre. Don’t Breathe is clean, crisp air to enjoy in a genre often thick with dust.
The Haunting vs. The Neon Demon
You might be wondering why a movie with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 17 percent is on this list. The Haunting from Jan De Bont is a hilariously bad remake with awful performances by some pretty great actors. Still, the film somehow made a killing at the box office.
Neon Demon comes from the polarizing Director of Drive (2011) and Only God Forgives (2014) Nicolas Winding Refn. Neon Demon is either another subtle masterstroke or another overrated piece of pretension. I’m with the former, yet, as good as this movie is, it was a box office failure.
Verdict: The Haunting is terrible but made a lot of money. The Neon Demon is brilliant but made almost nothing.
Lake Placid vs. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Lake Placid is another b-movie horror gem from 1999. Bill Pullman is a small-town wildlife officer with a big problem — a crocodile. As b-movies have it, this crocodile is 30-feet long and hungry. Better White is hilarious as a Delores Bickerman, the woman who’s been feeding the croc for decades, even after it ate her husband.
The original Cloverfield was a found footage Godzilla for the 21st century created by J.J. Abrams. The sequel, 10 Cloverfield Lane, takes a wild left turn that, if you’re like me, makes the film better than the original. The tense, bunker thriller, is propelled by great performances from John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Verdict: Lake Placid is b-movie magic at its finest, but 10 Cloverfield is a brilliant departure from the original that works brilliantly.
The Sixth Sense vs. Train To Busan
The Sixth Sense is the debut film from M. Night Shamaylan. It was beloved by critics and audiences alike and is currently the second highest grossing horror film of all time behind I Am Legend. Performances by Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment, plus a wicked plot twist make this one a fun watch.
The record-setting Train to Busan is the highest grossing Korean movie in three countries, and one of the highest ever in South Korea.Beautifully shot, expertly paced, with fantastic performances, and the usual precise action of Asian cinema. Train to Busan is a post-apocalyptic zombie flick that’s an absolute blast.
Verdict: This one is tough, but it comes down to re-watch-ability. Sixth Sense is brilliant fun the first time, but it tails off quickly with each viewing. Train to Busan is so much fun it’ll be in regular rotation for years to come.
Stir of Echoes vs. The Wailing
Overshadowed by Sixth Sense and Blair Witch, Stir of Echoes is a brilliant ghost story from director David Koepp and featuring a solid performance from Kevin Bacon. Smart, scary, and filled with character and charisma.
Japanese films rose to prominence in 1999, but in 2016, it’s South Korea that left a big mark on the horror genre. The Wailing is suspenseful horror that is a lot deeper than its horrific surface. Two men search for answers as a terrible illness spreads across a village.
Verdict: Another tough fight, but these two supernatural stories work so well that both are must-see horror.
The Mummy vs. Under The Shadow
The Mummy was summer blockbuster fun that spawned many an underwhelming sequel. It’s short on scares as it’s more of an action movie, but Arnold Vosloo is scary enough to make this a horror film. And, as it turns out, The Mummy is the third horror movie of 1999 to crack the top 20 grossing of all time.
Under The Shadow is an international production if there ever was one. Co-Produced by the UK, Qatar, and Jordan, the film’s Iranian director, Babak Anvari, crafted a brilliant film. Social commentary blends with scares to create an effective horror movie. A woman, tormented by a supernatural force, must also survive the chaos of 1980s Iran.
Verdict: No question that Under the Shadow is the better-crafted film. The Mummy has the Hollywood budget and polish, but Under the Shadow works on many levels and has a flavor horror fans aren’t used to that makes it must-see.
There you have it! Our scientifically accurate system determined that 2016 is indeed the best year horror has ever seen!
What’s your favorite year for horror movies?