The year 2015, for the horror genre, was what I can best describe as a completely unpredictable one. There was a nice increase in a lot of independent fare, some of which slipped through the cracks of the underground and managed to find mainstream success, such as IT FOLLOWS. Whether you liked that one or not, you have to admit it was pretty cool to have one horror movie that everyone was talking about this year. If anything, it only brings more attention to the smaller genre films.
There were also a lot of great, ambitious genre mash-ups from horror/comedies to Westerns to moody & atmospheric straight forward horror flicks. Some of the major holidays also got the genre treatment this year. And now with streaming services like Netflix Instant and Amazon Prime, word of mouth on horror titles is stronger than ever. Of the lot, here’s the 10 that I enjoyed the most!
10 - COOTIES
When it comes to horror/comedies, COOTIES happens to hit all of my sweet spots. It’s an impressive and stylistic debut from filmmaking duo Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion with a top notch cast, including Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer and screenwriter Leigh Whannell, who steals the show with his portrayal of the socially awkward science teacher, Doug. It features easily the most horrific opening 3 minutes of any feature this year where we get to see in graphic detail the entire process of how a chicken nugget becomes…. well, a chicken nugget. But hey, it’s mandatory because that’s where the “cooties” come from. I mean, essentially a school becomes overrun by a bunch of rabid zombie children, and they’re dispatched & dismembered in a variety of hilarious ways? What’s not to love?
9 - THE FINAL GIRLS
What if your mom was in the equivalent of a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie and there was a mini film festival showing the first 2 movies in that series, and your friends convince you to go, even though you’re not fully over her untimely and tragic death? But then during the first reel, a fire breaks out in the theater and, in an attempt to escape, you cut through the silver screen and magically end up in the movie? It’s a crazy and fun premise of what it would be like to suddenly star in a “slasher” movie, but beneath all the laughs is actually an emotional story about the relationship between a daughter and her mother as played by Taissa Farmiga and Malin Ackerman. I wish the “slasher” movie elements of the movie were a bit more authentic, but it still fits the overall tone of the film as a whole and the entire affair is very stylish and cinematic. SILICONE VALLEY’s Thomas Middleditch steals the show as the fanboy/ programmer of the CAMP BLOODBATH double bill.
8 - THE LAST SHIFT
One of the great pleasant surprises this year and a title that was a huge Netflix Instant word-of-mouth flick has to be THE LAST SHIFT. I blind-purchased the Blu-Ray as soon as it was released (by Magnet), specifically because it’s the latest film directed by Anthony DiBlasi, who also helmed the Clive Barker adaptation for DREAD, as well as CASSADAGA and MISSIONARY, and I’m a big fan. What I got was a very atmospheric and moody horror film set on the last night in operation of a police station. The rookie cop in charge begins getting frantic phone calls from someone claiming to be the latest victim of a notorious cult, even though the cult leader had already died in the same raid where her father perished. While the first half builds on the suspense, the second half delivers on the scares and general dread that stayed with me long after the movie was over.
7- LET US PREY
Here’s another one that’s set in a police precinct, but with a devilish twist! A hit and run culprit, an insane doctor, an already-captive inmate, and some pretty suspicious police officers are holed up in a police station overnight with a dark & mysterious stranger who seems to know a lot more about the skeletons in their closet than they’d like! THE WOMAN’s Pollyanna McIntosh and Liam Cunningham lead the cast in this freakish and sometimes surprisingly gory thriller where nothing is as it seems, but before the night is out, there will be blood! Lots and lots of it.
6 - SPRING
I rather liked RESOLUTION, the debut feature from filmmaking duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, but their ambitious follow-up SPRING is the type of horror movie I was waiting for and didn’t even know it. I’m a huge fan of Richard Linklater and in particular his BEFORE SUNRISE trilogy, so this struck me as a spin on that romantic story, but what if the girl might be a Lovecraftian-esque monster? Add to that the great, sympathetic performances from lead Lou Taylor Pucci (completely unrecognizable from his EVIL DEAD alter-ego), the gorgeous Nadia Hilker and a scene stealing Jeremy Gardner (THE BATTERY) and you’ve got one of the most unique and entertaining genre pictures of the year.
5 - IT FOLLOWS
IT FOLLOWS seems to have been the one horror movie that everyone was talking about this year, and also the most divisive! I enjoyed it on my first viewing, but didn’t love it. My expectations were high, I wanted a more definitive explanation for the mysterious entity that stalks young teens to death after they’ve passed the “curse” via sex and yet despite my initial hang ups, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I literally waited until just before drafting up this list to revisit it, this time in my own home theater set-up, in complete pitch black, with the sound cranked up and no expectations whatsoever, and I was thoroughly creeped out from start to end. I can’t explain it, but the overall uneasy feeling the film evokes completely transcends having a straight forward traditional narrative plot, and I love the way the camera is constantly moving. Maika Monroe was great in THE GUEST and she’s great here, proving that she’s destined for much bigger things. (She’ll next be seen in INDEPENDENCE DAY 2) Keir Gilchrist is also an interesting actor having appeared in this, Paul Solet’s DARK SUMMER and a segment of TALES OF HALLOWEEN. Here’s hoping these two continue to work in the horror genre, because they’re the kind of character actors we find in the best of genre offerings.
4 - BONE TOMAHAWK
BONE TOMAHAWK is more Western than it is horror, but regardless of what genre in falls into, it’s just a damn good movie with a terrific, tight and confident script from director S. Craig Zahler and incredible performances across the board from everyone in the movie including lead Kurt Russell, Mathew Fox and Patrick Wilson. Richard Jenkins as Deputy Chicory could be one of the best performances of his entire career! Completely unrecognizable and yet his rapport with Russell’s Sherriff Hunt is one for the ages. Then there’s some cannibals in here too and that’s when shit really gets crazy. Best description I can give I yet again have to credit to my Killer POV co-host Elric Kane. “It’s like if the Coen Brothers made a Western that walked onto the set of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST.” Although brief, I found the cannibal tribe scenes in BONE TOMAHAWK to be far more shocking than the entirety of THE GREEN INFERNO. This is a truly great movie from start to finish and it’s great to see Kurt Russell front and center again not only here, but also in THE HATEFUL EIGHT. Good time to be a Western fan!
3 - TALES OF HALLOWEEN
If you have the word “Halloween” in the title, odds are, you’ve already got me, but TALES OF HALLOWEEN turned out to be the rare breed of anthology horror where just about every single segment was strong and more importantly, they all perfectly captured the fun, mischievous and celebratory spirit of the Halloween season. It’s got 10 different segments all packed tightly together in a 100 minute running time that include lots of laughs, scares and in some cases gallons and gallons of blood! With filmmakers like Dave Parker, Mike Mendez, Axelle Carolyn and Neil Marshall on board, not to mention so many cameos and performances from so many horror genre luminaries in front of the camera, it’s hard not to be completely charmed by this movie that proudly wears it’s bloody heart on its sleeve. For sure, this is destined to be an annual Halloween party favorite.
2 - KRAMPUS
Writer/director Michael Dougherty already gave us the definitive Halloween movie with his love letter to that spooky season with TRICK ‘R TREAT, so we’ve all been eagerly anticipated what he’d do next. This time, he sets his sights on Christmas and delivers a fun horror movie in the spirit of the Amblin films of the 80’s. Creepy critters, genuine laughs and pure heart fully line this Christmas movie. Between the stellar, hilarious cast including Adam Scott, Toni Collette and David Koechner, coupled with so many crazy and zany toys and creatures that reveal the truly sinister side of the holidays, this is not only one of my favorites of the year, but a Christmas classic that will be celebrated from here on out every December.
1 - WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
When it comes down to the one movie of 2015 that was my favorite; the one that entertained me to no end and has continued to do so on repeat viewings, there’s no contest. The gents behind THE FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS delivered one of the funniest, innovative and genuinely touching vampire movies with their vibrant vampire mockumentary WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS. They never once look down at the horror genre or spoof it in a way that makes it feel like these writers and filmmakers are above the material. Instead, it’s a celebration of all the best bits of the vampire mythos from genuine horror fans and their love & appreciation shines through. The idea of following around a bunch of vampires that happen to be flat mates, which includes the centuries old NOSFERATU-looking Pete is just delicious. Much like the documentary crew of the film, we infiltrate the life of a vampire and get to see it in a way that we’d never thought of. It’s the most fun you can pack into a 90 minute movie and I had an absolute blast with it, as I’m sure you will too.
NOTABLE MENTIONS go to:
I’ve got to mention THE NIGHTMARE, the excellent documentary from Rodney Ascher (ROOM 247) about sleep paralysis, something I personally suffer from and which I found genuinely frightening. (You can find that one on Netflix Instant.) I enjoyed the Fulci-esque weirdness of Ted Geoghagan’s directorial debut WE ARE STILL HERE, in particular the finale. And I rather liked Ciaran Foy’s SINISTER 2, primarily for showing us what we learned from the first film in a completely different context, and also for having Shannyn Sossamon.
A few films I caught at festivals earlier this year that are due for release sometime in 2016 to definitely keep an eye out for are:
THE WITCH, Oz Perkins’ directorial debut FEBRUARY, Nick Simon’s THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPH which is the last feature Wes Craven produced and Joe Begos’ 2nd full length feature THE MIND’S EYE starring Graham Skipper, Lauren Ashley Carter & Larry Fessenden.
Titles I’m most looking forward to:
THE CONJURING 2 with James Wan once again at the helm, Jeremy Saulnier’s BLUE RUIN follow-up film GREEN ROOM and THE DEVIL’S CANDY, the latest from Sean Bryne, director of THE LOVED ONES. Bring on 2016!