To start with, 2016 can kiss my ass. When I think of all the sci-fi/horror legends we’ve surrendered to the icy clutches of this loveless she-beast of a year, it should come as no surprise that it’s getting harder and harder to find any decent entertainment. So to David Bowie, Leonard Nimoy, Angus Scrimm, Don Calfa, and Ron Glass (just to name a few), thanks for everything you’ve done for fantasy, science-fiction, and horror. I’ve been putting some thought into the highs and lows I’ve experienced over this year and I thought I’d share with you some of the best (and unfortunately the worst) horror and monster entertainment of 2016. Best Monster Story – Stranger Things People cannot stop talking about the incredible Netflix hit Stranger Things and with good reason. The pilot season of this science fiction/horror epic took us back in time to 1983 and introduced us to an unforgettable cast of characters in Hawkins, Indiana and the strange, parallel dimension of The Upside Down. I mean hands down this was the absolute best thing to happen in 2016. While I could easily write several articles raving about the individual elements that made this show such a surprising and instant classic, I’m going to focus on what I love the most: monsters. Known only as the demigorgon by the kids of Stranger Things, the dimension hopping monster from The Upside Down is an absolutely stunning masterpiece of practical effects and CGI touch ups. Towering over the residents of Hawkins with its athletic, muscular body, clawed fingers, and flowering, horrifying maw, the demigorgon looks and feels more realistic that any other monster I’ve seen on screen in years and with good cause. As behind the scenes features and online videos have shown us, the creature was in fact an actor in a suit and appliances walking around the set and interacting with the other characters. This is phenomenal in an age of computer generated everything to see an actual monster rig built up around an actor and only touched up with effects in post-production. The decision to make the monster a living, breathing entity rather than a green screen construct centered on a tennis ball hovering on a sound stage helps make a difference with not only the actors, but the audience as well. Worst Monster Story – Jeruzalem Ugh. I really wanted to like this movie. I did. A movie about demonic possession in the Biblical Holy Land is bound to be at least a little entertaining…right? As a man with a sweet spot for demons and hell spawn, I even overlooked the fact that this was going to be one of those shaky camera, first person POV found footage deals because the premise sounded interesting. Well, sometimes you just pick a loser and that’s exactly what I did with Jeruzalem. As a birthday treat, a college girl and her best friend decide to leave the dull, humdrum scene of Los Angeles for the thrilling nightlife of Jerusalem. Can you hear my eyes rolling? Wearing a pair of smart glasses, you know, the eyewear that was supposed to revolutionize the future, the girls go to the Middle East intent to party. I’m going to level with you, at this point, the story only degenerates into nonsense and the acting is so terrible and flat I can’t even be bothered to tell you the names of the characters and their motivation other than to escape a demon infested city. Giant demons, winged demons, and all manner of monsters and spooks appear and every last one of them is CGI rendered like a background extra a late 90’s arcade game. I mean, they literally blew their filming budget on a pair of glasses and airfare to Israel. The monsters all look like rough draft CGI fill ins, as if they had been placed there early on to give you an idea of what it was going to look like but the budget ran out before they could go back and finish anything. It’s a hackneyed, unfortunate picture to say the least. Best Zombie Story – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Meanwhile, I had very low expectations for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but I sat down to watch it because my 11-year-old son thought it looked cool while we were standing at the Redbox. He turned me on to Stranger Things and Z Nation so I decided to choke down my disdain and gave it a go. What followed was possibly one of the better zombie movies I’ve seen in years. Set in the stuffy, Pre-Victorian Britain of the original classic, the story depicts a British Empire struggling against an ever increasing undead horde craving the brains and flesh of the living. The film retells Jane Austen’s classic novel while interjecting the action and adventure of the zombie apocalypse into the mix. The story is an interesting blend of romance, comedy, and horror that will have you believing in the power of love and finely honed cutlery. The zombies are some of the best I’ve seen (short of The Walking Dead) and were as entertaining as they were gruesome. The film was replete with gore, guts, mayhem, and some genuinely creepy ghouls including a momma zombie and her baby that were absolutely haunting in the context of the scene. Yeah, it’s a big budget, commercialized Hollywood cash in on the zombie craze but it’s still a pretty solid film that can at least be a guilty pleasure or a date night flick for you and your undead sweetie. Bonus: it has the Doctor (Matt Smith) in a fairly comedic role. Worst Zombie Story – Fear the Walking Dead (Season 2) I’m going to write this the way they filmed it and ran it. I’ll start out fast like I’m racing to get to something really cool, I’ll pause midway through and let you completely lose interest and then, as soon as you’ve forgotten about me, I’ll tack something else on the end that really just feels…meh. I had high hopes for this series when it began. I’m not so much into the post- apocalyptic zombie survival struggle as I am the initial outbreak, disbelief and panic. I’m more a fan of disaster movies where zombies are used in place of floods and fires. You know, exactly what this show felt like it was going to be when it started out. Going into season two (which wrapped up this year) we had a more ethnically diverse though unfortunately bland group of survivors setting sail for the coast of Mexico. While Greg Nicotero’s zombies continue to be the highlight of both Fear and TWD, the overall story and character development on Fear leaves so much to be desired. Unlike Carl who was your typical curious 12-year-old boy in season two of The Walking Dead, Chris –the 16-year-old FTWD equivalent- has no redeeming character qualities. In season one he’s a whining, spoiled, borderline creep and in season two he crosses over that line to become a true sociopath who we’re led to believe is capable of anything to include contemplating the murder of his step mother and step sister in their sleep. In fact, looking at Maddie, Travis and all the rest, about the only characters I can even stand to watch are Nick and Daniel as they’re the only ones who can seem to grasp the concept that society is breaking down and they have to take responsibility for keeping themselves alive. The show isn’t without merit. It has some excellent story arcs involving Nick and Daniel and a cast of ancillary characters that are encountered and, as I’ve already mentioned, the astonishing walking corpses created by Nicotero and his team. Still, if the show were to be canceled tomorrow, I can’t say that I’d miss it. Best of the Best – Stranger Things I told you I could –and would- write more about Stranger Things. I mean, it’s really no surprise that the Netflix original should be the absolute best thing to happen in 2016. The series premiered this summer and is hands down some of the best and most original sci-fi/horror fiction to come across the screen in years. From the stylized 80’s graphics and synthesizer theme music to the cinematography, practical effects, storytelling, and acting there’s just nothing like it. Set in 1983 in Hawkins, Indiana, the story follows a group of boys who suddenly and mysteriously lose their friend only to find and befriend an even more mysterious young girl with supernatural powers. Shadowy government agencies, conspiracies, trans-dimensional monsters, and of course that 1980’s small town charm make this series an atmospheric masterpiece full of award worthy performances and some of the best writing I’ve seen brought to film in years. With season two tentatively scheduled for release in the summer of 2017, if you haven’t already binged out on the first season, you’ve got plenty of time still. Honorable mention should go to Ash Vs. Evil Dead (Season 2), Bite, Deadpool, Cabin Fever, Z Nation (Season 2), Rob Zombie’s 31, The Neon Demon, Halloweed and 10 Cloverfield Lane. All of these had some truly incredible elements of suspense, horror, effects and writing just to list a few of their better qualities. From what I’ve been seeing, 2017 is on deck with a lot of promising titles being released in the spring and summer so be looking for lots of great reviews still to come. Happy New Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... 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