It’s very difficult to whittle down a long list of films to the ten best, but I did learn something about myself in the process. I already knew I was a visual learner and that I like to solve problems. So in looking over this list, it came as no surprise to notice that I’m intrigued with interesting and unusual visuals. Along with that, I seem to have a strong preference for WTF moments, or even, WTF films. In other words, when I’m brought up short mentally, thinking, “WTF was that!?” Those occasions during a film when either something extremely unexpected happens that changes what you thought you knew, or when you really aren’t sure what just happened. As I’ve written before, as long as the cues and clues are consistent, the characters’ actions make sense within the story, and the acting is effective, I don’t need a concrete resolution or undisputable understanding. That being said, here’s a list of films I considered, but that didn’t quite make my top 10 … at least, not today.
Honorable Mentions: A Christmas Horror Story, Cub, Headless, It Follows, Julia, Krampus, Landmine Goes Click, Last Shift, Predestination, Time Lapse, We Are Still Here, What We Do in the Shadows, When Animals Dream.
Now on to my best effort at coming up with a Top 10 for 2015.
10. Deadly Virtues: Love.Honour.Obey.
Directed by Ate de Jong [Drop Dead Fred (1991) and Highway to Hell (1991)]; written by Mark Rogers
Starring Edward Akrout, Megan Maczko, Matt Barber
This is a home invasion film unlike any other I’ve seen. Take heed that watching this is a very disturbing experience. And by disturbing, I don’t mean graphic gore and violence, though it has its share. I mean “make your skin crawl, I don’t know if I can keep watching this” disturbing. And WTF moments abound. Unfortunately, this film has not yet been released in the U.S., so you’ll have to keep an eye out for it. Hopefully that will change.
Directed by Bruce McDonald [Pontypool (2008)]; written by Pascal Trottier [A Christmas Horror Story (2015)]
Starring Chloe Rose, Robert Patrick
Hellions is one of two films in this list that grew on me with multiple viewings. I liked some of the writer’s and director’s earlier works, so I was looking forward to experiencing this film. However, at first take, I didn’t care for it. In fact, I really couldn’t figure out WTF happened in terms of a story. But after multiple viewings, I seem to have come under its spell. On each subsequent viewing, it was more and more effective at causing the hair on the back of my neck to stand up, and I was less and less concerned with understanding exactly what was going on. I would not recommend this film to anyone who likes straightforward, logical plots with defined conclusions. I have my theories, but for now, I’m content with the mystery. In fact, I like Hellions enough. that I plan to make it an annual Halloween watch. I don’t expect to understand it any better next year, but I do expect an exponential dose of the heebie-jeebies.
8. The Boy
Written & Directed by Craig William Macneill
Starring David Morse, Jared Breeze, Rainn Wilson
This is an excellent character study of the making of a psychopath at a young age. The title character is a young boy being raised by a single father who owns, runs, and lives in a rundown, off-the-main-road motel. No, this isn’t about Norman Bates, but it is about isolation. David Morse as the father, Rainn Wilson as an odd motel occupant, and young Jared Breeze make this film work as each character follows a fully developed arc. The direction and the cinematography create the perfect, atmospheric backdrop to the boy’s descent into psychopathy.
7. Nightmare Code
Directed by Marc Netter; Written by Mark Netter, M.J. Rotondi
Starring Andrew J. West, Mei Melançon, Googy Gress
Nightmare Code is listed in IMDb with a 2014 release date. However, there doesn’t appear to be a theatrical release and the DVD was released in October 2015, so I’m going with that. This is the second film in this list that grew on me after several viewings. It’s about a software company that has a contract for the development of highly advanced, surveillance software that can be used for behavior analysis and prediction. The lead programmer has just committed suicide and a new lead is hired to salvage the contract. The film is shot as if from personal computing devices and building surveillance cameras. The majority of the film utilizes split screens almost as if you are viewing from a surveillance console in a security command center. Most of the time there are 2-4 active views on screen, which can be confusing and frustrating. On the other hand, there’s a lot more visual information available than in standard format, and I found that fascinating. Each time I watched it, the gears driving the story – the wheels within wheels – shifted me to a different interpretation.
6. The Diabolical
Directed by Alistair Legrand; Written by Luke Harvis, Alistair Legrand
Starring Ali Larter, Max Rose, Chloe Perrin, Wilmer Calderon
This is the story of a single mother, struggling to keep her problem son under control, while trying to keep both of her children safe from bizarre phantom intruders in their home. What can I say? This scared the crap out of me! This film is very unsettling and definitely has a WTF plot development moment. The resulting conclusion is far more satisfying then what I was at first expecting.
5. Dark Was The Night
Directed by Jack Heller; Written by Tyler Hisel
Starring Kevin Durand, Lukas Haas
Kevin Durand often plays heavies, the proverbial bad guy, but not so in Dark Was The Night. Here, he plays a sympathetic father and sheriff. His world-weary visage is evidence of the figurative weight he carries, as if he’s lost his way and can no longer find the joy in his life. This film is an example of a type to which I find myself frequently attracted – a character study depicting ordinary people, put in extraordinary situations, and doing extraordinary things. This film is worth the watch just for Kevin Durand’s performance, but it also scores points for the supporting acting, story, and the atmospheric feel of the film, all attributes that trip my trigger.
Written & Directed by Jason Lei Howden
Starring Milo Cawthorne, James Blake, Kimberley Crossman
You probably all know by now that Deathgasm is a horror comedy about a newly formed metal band that accidentally summons, and then must battle, the King of Demons and his legions. I don’t know what else to say about this film except it is full of gore and it is equally gorged with hilarious jokes, situations, and sight gags. You will guffaw. Seriously! It’s another stellar export from New Zealand in the horror comedy subgenre.
3. Blood Punch
Directed by Madellaine Paxson; Written by Eddie Guzelian
Starring Milo Cawthorne, Olivia Tennet, Ari Boyland
IMDb lists the release date as November 2013, but Blood Punch appears to have only been shown at festivals. The DVD was released September 2015, so I’m using that date to justify its inclusion in a 2015 list. The story is about a young woman and her unpredictable boyfriend who have a chance to make a once in a lifetime score with a huge drug deal, and the young chemist they recruit to cook the drug for them. I absolutely loved this movie! My hat’s off to anyone who figures out what is going on before it’s actually revealed. In other words, there are WTF plot twists upon twists. Anything else I say might give it away and I don’t want to spoil your fun. It’s also the second film on my list, along with Deathgasm, that stars Milo Cawthorne. Apparently, I like this guy!
Directed by Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead; Written by Justin Benson;
Starring Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker
Another very unique horror film, Spring is a combination love story and creature feature with an original, almost Lovecraftian monster. Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker make this film work through their thoughtful and emotional portrayals. It’s also beautifully shot in Italy and is a visual feast along with being a well-acted, well-written story. What’s not to like? And in case you were wondering, there is a definite WTF moment.
1. Bone Tomahawk
Written & Directed by S. Craig Zahler
Starring Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons
Another cross genre film, Bone Tomahawk is all western, part horror, and maybe even part science fiction. The entire film works as a western and the first hour-and-a-half is almost a period piece detailing the realities of 19th century life in the western U.S. However, in its last half-hour, the film virtually leaps across the line and plants its feet firmly in horror territory, landing with a thunderous boom and a VERY BIG WTF?! If the highly original story isn’t enough, we also get a cast who excel at bringing their characters to life. In addition to the five main characters, the film also benefits from a long list of recognizable actors in what amount to bit parts – Sid Haig, David Arquette, Sean Young, Fred Melamed, Kathryn Morris, Michael Paré, James Tolkan, and Zahn McClarnon to name a few. Growing up watching westerns with my dad combined with my love for horror, this was almost a no-brainer as my #1 pick. And of course, there’s that scene where you’ll think (or scream), ”WTF!? Did that really just happen!” Yes, … it did.