The Witch, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and every other theatrical horror movie from winter 2016, ranked

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Jun 16, 2017, 9:34 PM EDT (Updated)

Horror movies aren't typically expensive to produce, but they can be tricky to market. Also, a lot of them are terrible. So, they tend to come out from January through early April before all the big-budget motion pictures start to dominate the market. And 2016 was no different.

As the long winter began, so did the release of the horror movie glut. And now, as the sun begins to rise and the temperature (sorta kinda) begins to warm, the ghosts and ghouls are retreating from your local theater (mostly) until autumn.

Unsurprisingly, many of these horror flicks are making a quick transition to video on demand and DVD/blu-ray. For those who didn't venture to the theater much, the question becomes -- are there any proverbial blood diamonds in the horror rough?

So, here is a run down of every major (and limited) release horror movie. I watched them so you didn't have to. And in the case of a few of these, you are very welcome. 

This list is decidedly different from the one we started with at the beginning of the year. But that, it turns out, has been a blessing in disguise, because many of these films are probably better than the movies that got shifted until later.


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

There was this idea a few years back that combining classic literature with creatures wot go bump in the night would be a fun thing. And, for a hot minute, it was. Unfortunately, that minute and a few dozen minutes after that passed before Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was released. It's exactly what it says on the tin -- Lizzy and her sisters are growing up as proper ladies, being courted by young men, dressing well, and learning the art of fighting off hordes of the undead.

There are some quality actors here (Charles Dance, Lena Headey, Matt Smith) who all put in amirable performances, but nothing can save this zombie romance story from being interminaby dull.

Watch if you like: Jane Austen (but only a little bit), women in dresses kicking zombie ass.
Available: Releases on DVD/blu-ray May 31, 2016


The Forest

You may have heard this was a super-offensive movie about a white woman going to Japan to appropriate a suicide forest or something. And if, say, the idea of using Japanese culture as a means to tell a story about white people bothers you, yes, you should not watch this movie.

Also, most people should not watch this movie. Though Natalie Dormer is a very talented performer (and you can totally watch her on Game of Thrones, the sixth season of which just started), she can't save this boring, jump-scared mess of a movie. The idea of a twin seeking out her lost sister in a forest a world away that's known for death is, potentially, a pretty cool conceit. Unfortunately, there's too much focus on cheap CG effects and not enough on character-building.

Watch if you like:  Natalie Dormer (like,  LOT), shots of the Japanese country side and jump scares galore.
Available: on Netflix (disc only) now for rent on Amazon for $5.99


The Other Side of the Door

Remember hearing how much everybody loved the dream sequences in Batman v Superman? Now imagine twice as many dream sequences but in a movie that makes even less sense than Batman v Superman and you're beginning to get an idea of what The Other Side of the Door is all about.

Much like The Forest, The Other Side of the Door has an interesting concept -- while living in India, a grieving mother is told she can give one last goodbye to her recently deceased son if she waits by the closed door of a certain temple with his ashes. Just one rule -- don't open the door.

Sounds like it could be cool, right? There are brief moments where, if you're a big James Wan fan, you'll have a good fright. But for the most part, this is a very poor man's answer to movies like Insidious and The Conjuring. And while Walking Dead alum, Sarah Wayne Callies, does her best with the material, nothing can stop Jeremy Sisto from being the king of phoning it in.

Watch if you like: Nightmare sequences, jump scares, nice shots of India, and creepy kids.
Available: Releases on DVD/blu-ray June 7, 2016 


Cherry Tree

Because so many major release films were moved, some very low-budget, limited-theatrical release movies squirmed their way onto this list. Cherry Tree is one of those, and you can tell. This movie about witches gathering beneath a titular cherry tree in order to gain the power of the devil isn't exactly highbrow stuff.

However, there's heart here. And that heart comes in the form of a daughter who will do anything to save the life of her ailing father. If that's too sweet for you, there are also some solid practicical effects involving worms and demon possession. The makeup work in general is solid and, from the perspective of someone who watches a lot of horror movies, it's neat to see a production team do a lot with a little.

The biggest criticism I can lay at the feet of Cherry Tree is that it moves too quickly. You don't get much chance to feel the stakes because, no sooner is someone harmed or killed, and we're off and running to the next death scene. I think if they'd slowed things down just a little, this film would've been very good. As it is, it's just a decent distraction.

Watch if you like: Witchcraft, practical effects, mild body horror
Avaialable: now on DVD/blu-ray and for rent on Amazon for $4.99 


The Invitation

This is another "simultaneous theatrical and VOD" release. It's a very slow burn about a divorced couple and their friends getting together for a party to reconnect. The former couple lost a child and, as a result, their whole social circle kind of fell apart. 

But, as happens, things take an unexpected and creepy turn. Some of the plot beats felt predictable but the character work is really solid.

Also, that ending? Two thumbs up from me.

Watch if you like: tense thrillers, cults, guys with beards looking angry
Available: For rent on Amazon for $6.99


The Boy

One of the biggest surprises this year, came in the form of The Boy, a movie that seemed like it would be a paint-by-numbers Annabelle rip-off, but wound up being so much more. 

The Walking Dead's Lauren Cohan really nails it as a woman on the run from her abusive boyfriend. She's hiding out in London as a nanny when she finds out that the boy she's supposed to care for is actually a porcelain doll. Again, it sounds so cheesy, but it works better than it has any business doing.

The only problem I see is that none of the other characters are as interesting as the protagonist or the titutlar boy.

I don't want to give anything away, but in addition to the solid character work, the third act takes a bit of an unexpected turn that, the more I think about, the more I like.

In short: The Boy is pretty good, just don't go in expecting the moon. 

Watch if you like: Creepy dolls, haunted house stories, getting the rug pulled out from under you
Available: On DVD/blu-ray May 10th 2016 


They're Watching

The last of the VOD/limited release films on this list. This is easily one of the best found footage movies out there, low though that bar may sometimes feel. A reality show production team is following up on someone who bought a fixer-upper home in the middle of a small, backwards country when things go sideways.

It's scary, it's funny, it's got good characters, and a perfect pace. I don't want to say anything more than that. I had no expectations and was so pleasantly surprised. Warning, though - there's some embarrassingly bad CG towards the end that might take you out of the moment.

Watch if you like: Comedy horror, found footage, low budget, and gore
Available: Fore rent on Amazon for $6.99

The VVitch

The Witch

Much like It Follows and The Babadook before it, The Witch's only true flaw is its own hype machine. Months before it saw a wide theatrical release, this little art house picture got pumped up like it was going to reinvent the horror genre for all time. And it didn't. Of course it didn't. But it doesn't need to.

The Witch is an intimate, clautrophobic narrative that eschews jump scares in favor of a constantly creeping dread. And as you watch a family of lonely Puritans run afoul of a supernatural wood and the secrets it holds, it's almost inevitable that you'll find yourself holding your breath in anticipation of what might come next.

The dialogue involves some oldy timey english that occasionally borders on the ridiculous, and it's hard not to think the whole affair takes itself a bit too seriously in places. But that's only if I'm really nitppicking.

Watch if you like: Period pieces, slow burns, and intense acting from a goat
Available: On DVD an blu-ray May 17, 2016


10 Cloverfield Lane

Tight as hell and featuring some of the most tense moments ever filmed, 10 Cloverfield Lane isn't just a great horror movie, it's a great work of science-fiction and a great straight-up drama, period. 10 Cloverfield Lane is so well shot, it ought to be taught in film school.

The set-up is simple -- three people are trapped in a bunker during what may or may not be the end of the world. Simple, yes, but so perfectly pitched as to mine far more depth than the set-up implies. And, by the time all is said and done, nothing and no one is as they seem.

Watch if you like: Good movies
Available: In (some) theaters


Green Room

Naturally, there are a few of you out there who might prefer Sir Patrick Stewart's kindly visage never be sullied by watching him portray a neo-Nazi, but for the rest of us ne'er-do-wells there is Green Room.

Gruesome, brutal, and at times shockingly sad, Green Room is the kind of horror that, if thought about for too long, will absolutely keep you up at night. But Green Room isn't a supernatural horror film, and what will keep your eyes wide in the dark of night won't be misshapen shadows on the wall, but how real the threat Green Room presents actually is.

A punk band in need of a paying gig finds themselves witness to a murder in the middle of nowhere. Locked on one side of a door with no escape, they must find a way to survive the white supremacists on the other side of the door who desperately want to protect their own way of life.

And the wolf at the door presented here is all too real. White supremacy as a movement is very much alive in the United States and has, of late, been granted the purchase of a new public fearlessness. Which leaves the rest of us trapped in the proverbial Green Room. And as you watch these fictional events play out as they must, it's impossible not to see the parallels in the real world, and mourn.

Watch if you like: Feeling very uncomfortable
Available: In theaters now