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10 Best Horror Movies of 2016

From Puritan witches to perverse serial killers and predatory sharks – our picks for the year’s scariest, most shocking horror flicks

In terms of sheer, unmitigated terror, it was hard to beat the shriek-inducing fright that folks woke up to on November 9th, as they realized that the nightmare they now faced wasn't make-believe. But that doesn't mean that horror films didn't give the bloodcurdling reality we now face some more-than-decent competition. From surprising mainstream releases to a solid "mumblegore" anthology, serial-killer character studies to shark v. starlet showdowns, Gothic ghost stories to uncut Puritan dread, the cinema du scare had a great showing in 2016. We've stitched together our top 10 choices for the best the genre had to offer over the last 12 months – movies that still manage to send shivers down our spines and cause our stomachs to turn.

(Note: Green Room borrows horror-film elements but isn't a horror film per se, so much as the greatest siege thriller to ever feature skinheads, shotguns and box-cutters. That's the only reason it's not on this list.)

3

‘The Eyes of My Mother’

A monster calls: In writer-director-editor Nicolas Pesce's gorgeously ghoulish debut, an impressionable girl turns into a dismembering serial killer through a bizarre mixture of nature and nurture.  Francisca (newcomer Kika Magalhaes) is a lonely young woman living in a secluded house in search of playmates – starting with the man who murdered her mother that she slowly tortures in her barn. Told in three sections and filmed in luscious black and white, this dreamlike character study earns comparisons to Psycho and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in its matter-of-fact depiction of everyday evil lurking in quiet communities. Vocal cords are severed, eyes get pulled out of the socket, but what's most gruesome is our deep-seated need to create ad hoc families, even if it means leaving a body count in our wake. TG

2

‘Don’t Breathe’

Teens. Psychopathic murderer. Locked house. Add in a batshit third-act twist, then shake well and serve with a garnish of liberal bloodshed. There's no substitution for good ol' fashioned filmmaking skill, and the sophomore feature from Fede Alvarez (that Evil Dead reboot) uses every aspect of his talent and the genre's tropes (especially the dark) to terrorize you with mind-boggling efficiency. Instead of springing cheap jump-scares on his viewers, he wisely places the threats in plain sight – and simply lets the audience terrify themselves with tense anticipation. Also: congratulations, Stephen Lang, on entering the Pantheon of modern-horror bad guys. You've earned it. CB

1

‘The Witch’

A shape-shifter, a baby-killer, a forest predator who communes with the Devil himself – the title character of Robert Eggers' Puritan "folk tale" is a Satanic hag of the first order. And when this monster gets her claws into a 17th-century New England family excommunicated by their righteous religious neighbors, it feels less like a cathartic comeuppance for old-world bible-thumpers and more like a vicious assault on people trying their best to live and love in an unforgiving world. Star Anya Taylor-Joy joins the Jamie-Lee Curtis/Heather Langenkamp lineage of canon-worthy "final girls"; damned by her family for crimes she didn't commit, she's given no choice to but spill more blood and add to our nation's legacy old, weird American nightmares. This is horror as an inescapable cycle of abuse. This is horror in which crows peck at flesh and the cinema's most evil goat – damn you, Black Philip! – might reasonably ask a young maiden, "Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?" This is horror at its best. STC