Narrowing down a list of my favorite fright flicks for this year was not an easy task, thanks to what I consider a bumper crop of scare fare. The year was buoyed by some solid creature features tailor-made for a monster kid like me as well as a few strong supernatural entities – er, I mean entries – and it finished strong with several December delights on the big screen and VOD. What a great year it was for final girls and auteur filmmakers, too!
For those wondering where the eerie It Follows and the hilarious What We Do in the Shadows are, they were on my top 10 list last year because I saw them at film festivals here in South Korea in 2014 before their wider releases. I don’t want to repeat any films, otherwise they would definitely be at the top of my list, and the fittingly titled Creep (which I also caught at a fest here last fall) would possibly appear on it, too.
With that in mind, I am going to hold off on listing a couple of films that were only on the festival circuit this year so I can focus on titles that were given a wide release in 2015, but I will advise you to keep an eye out for them next year: the excellent indie gothic chiller Dig Two Graves and Jeremy (Blue Ruin) Saulnier’s tense punk-musicians-vs.-neo-Nazis horror thriller Green Room. These two movies are totally opposite in pacing and gruesomeness but captivating in their own ways. I expect both of them to be on my list for 2016.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t see Michael Dougherty’s Krampus because it didn’t play in South Korea and, as of this time, it isn’t yet available on VOD or DVD. From what I’ve heard and read, though, it sounds like it would have made my list.
I wanted to stick to horror only for my list, so before we get to it, here are three non-horror films that will probably top my overall best-of list and that I believe Grue-Believers would enjoy even though they are not expressly horror movies.
The Forbidden Room: Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s jaw-droppingly bizarre, surreal effort has a few horror elements to it and if you love cinema in general, you should give it a shot. There’s no way to give a brief synopsis and you should go in as fresh as possible, anyway. Offbeat humor and striking visuals abound in this Canadian offering.
The World of Kanako: Bloodier than most horror movies you’ll find on this year’s top 10 lists, this Japanese mystery thriller is absolutely riveting. I reviewed it for Gruesome Magazine here.
Turbo Kid: This genuinely funny Canadian/New Zealander apocalyptic sci-fi comedy boasts one of the biggest hearts of any film I’ve seen this year, along with bucket loads of gore.
Now here are a few horror runners-up that just narrowly missed my list:
He Never Died: Henry Rollins is a blast to watch as mysterious loner Jack, who just wants to live quietly but gets pulled into some criminal goings-on. Jack speaks in short, near-monotone spurts, usually simply asking or answering questions in as few words as possible. He’s not one for small talk. The baddies find out that he can’t seem to be killed or even injured by conventional means and he disposes of them in a most unusual manner. Blood flows freely as practical effects share equal screen time with wry, offbeat humor.
Crimson Peak: Though Guillermo del Toro’s latest is more gothic romance than ghost story, there’s enough here to please horror fans, and the film is absolutely gorgeous to behold and boasts fine performances.
The Final Girls: Taissa Farmiga and Malin Akerman are both super as a young woman and her slasher-film-actress mother. This horror comedy about a group of young people who find themselves trapped inside a classic eighties slasher flick is highly recommended and it was tough to not include this one on my list.
The anthologies Tales of Halloween and A Christmas Horror Story are both highly entertaining entries into the horror portmanteau subgenre, and are eminently watchable no matter the season.
Enough prefacing! Without further adieu, here are my top 10 favorite horror films for 2015.
10) Dark Was the Night
Kevin Durand is terrific as a small-town sheriff who tries to protect his young son, estranged wife, and the local residents from what everyone initially believes is a mysterious wild animal. It’s something more than that, naturally. Often the human element is just a reason to fill time in lesser creature features, but this film does it right and gets viewers emotionally invested without bogging things down.
(9) Let Us Prey
One of two selections on my list that are supernatural tales set in a police station with rookie female cops as protagonists (so far a stunning new 2-for-2 subgenre!), this British/Irish effort is a twisted, gory effort with a sharp, dark sense of humor at times. Fine performances abound, especially from Pollyanna McIntosh as a by-the-numbers greenhorn on her first night on the force and Liam Cunningham as the mysterious stranger who seems to know the ill fates that await everyone in the jailhouse, whether in uniform or in a cell.
(8) The Hallow
Heavy on eerie atmosphere and brimming with creepy creatures, this British-Irish co-production sees a young couple from London and their baby move to rural Ireland, where the locals know better than to scoff at legends about mysterious forest dwellers. Director/co-writer Corin Hardy creates a moody, otherworldly atmosphere inhabited by strikingly designed creatures. Monster movie fans would do well to seek this one out.
(7) We Are Still Here
Auteur Ted Geoghegan’s chilling valentine to horror movies gives us a bit of classic Italian spookshow atmosphere, eighties American scare-fare trappings, and more. Barbara Crampton is marvelous as a grieving mother who thinks her deceased son may be trying to contact her in the new house where she and her husband just moved. Solid performances from other cast members, including Monte Markham as a mysterious neighbor and Larry Fessenden as a friend of the couple, help elevate this one to my top 10 list.
(6) Cub (AKA Welp)
Director/co-writer Jonas Govaerts weaves a tale of scouts who go camping and find that there might be something behind their scoutmasters’ spooky stories, after all. Sam (Maurice Luijten) discovers something in the woods that takes a liking to him – maybe too much so. This Belgian shocker has a high surprise factor in which no one and nothing is safe from slaughter. It’s darkly, wickedly, and uncomfortably fun.
Probably the most divisive film on my list, I absolutely loved director Bruce McDonald’s Halloween-set fever dream when I saw it on the big screen at BiFan last summer. The entities in old-school Halloween costumes – from back when they were created at home rather than bought in boxes or bags – are decidedly menacing. Chloe Rose gives an intriguing turn as the pregnant teen in peril and Norayr Kasper’s shot-in-infrared cinematography provides a further uncanny feel to the proceedings.
(4) Last Shift
Juliana Harkavy shines in her role as a rookie cop tasked with watching a deserted police station on her first night on the job. The supernatural events that happen to her there made for my creepiest viewing experience of 2015 and did something that few horror films from recent years have done: watching it at home alone with the lights off, it made me consider turning them back on several times. That’s a pretty darned good litmus test for a horror movie.
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead made a provocative, genre-challenging debut with Resolution, and their sophomore full-length effort Spring pushes the boundaries of cinematic horror even further. As much of a love story as it is a monster movie with shades of Lovecraft, this engaging effort is beautifully realized in no small part because of the excellent performances by Lou Taylor Pucci as a burdened young American man who makes haste for an Italian vacation and Nadia Hilker as the mysterious, seemingly flighty woman for whom he falls. Their romantic tug-of-war feels real, which makes things feel more heavy-hearted when secrets are revealed.
My favorite horror comedy of the year hails from New Zealand, which has a lock on that subgenre at the moment. Jason Lei Howden’s tale of a ragtag heavy metal band and their fight to keep the fellow citizens of their city from being turned into demons is as heavy on the laughter as it is on the gore, with solid characterization and charming acting, to boot. One of the most fun films I saw in 2015, Deathgasm “goes to 11” in more ways than one.
(1) Bone Tomahawk
This first-time directing effort from novelist S. Craig Zahler, who also penned the screenplay, has it all: an excellent script with sharp dialog spoken by characters who we come to genuinely care about, masterful acting, stunning cinematography, and some of the most brutal screen villains in recent memory. Kurt Russell leads a small band of men through rugged terrain to try to rescue one of their wives, who was kidnapped by a savage clan of inbred cannibals. This genre-bending western/horror mash-up sports one of the goriest denouements of the year. Bone Tomahawk is top-notch storytelling and filmmaking.