So, Christmas and the new year are fast approaching, which means it’s time for us to look back on the excellent horror movies we’ve been treated to in 2015. From sexually transmitted monsters to evil trick or treaters, from Iranian vampires to video chat terrors, it’s been a fiercely good year for the genre. Yes, fiercely good.
Whittling it down to 10 proved to be impossible. Whittling it down to 13 proved to slightly less impossible but also, frankly, harder than we were willing to put up with.
As ever, the usual rules apply (must have been released in the UK outside of festivals in 2015, so, all apologies to Sun Choke, The Witch and Green Room, among others). But without further ado, here are the 15 (yes, 15!) horror movies that we loved this year…
Writer-director Mickey Keating’s debut (he’s completed a second (Darling) and is in post-production on a third (Carnage Park)) is an impressive spin on the cabin in the woods story, as feuding siblings Lyla (Lauren Ashley Carter) and Ed (Dean Cates) head out to the family getaway to retrieve their war veteran brother Martin (Brian Morvant), who they believe has finally lost it. When they get there, Martin makes a much more convincing case for his sanity than they bargained for. It’s tense and fast-paced, and Keating lets the film’s dysfunctional family build the tension as more and more hints about what’s in the basement drop. Pod is atmospheric, it’s creepy, it’s well-acted and the ending is killer. Highly recommended.
14. The Gift
Writer-director-star Joel Edgerton reveals himself to be a triple threat with this tense and carefully played thriller, which stars Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman as Robin and Simon, a couple who regret allowing Simon’s old school friend Gordo (Edgerton) back into their lives. As a Fatal Attraction-style suburban horror it’s far more effective than Eli Roth’s more gauche Knock Knock, as Edgerton’s restrained direction builds tension, and his clever script addresses each successive assumption that you’re making about the plot. No sooner do you think “I’ve got it!” than a character dispels that potential explanation. The ending is a problem, but for the most part this is intelligent, nail-biting stuff with three excellent lead performances (and isn’t it nice to see the dark side of Bateman properly?)
13. Tales Of Halloween
In terms of pure entertainment, few horror movies this year offered as much fun as Axelle Carolyn’s seasonal brainchild. With directors like Lucky McKee, Neil Marshall, Darren Lynn Bousman, Paul Solet and Carolyn herself all making the most out of the Halloween night setting, this anthology horror leaned more towards wicked laughs than brutal scares, but those who got on board with that were treated to a funny, gory and inventive selection of shorts. Demons bring long-deserved punishment, a kid goes on a very extensive hunt for the candy his parents deprived him of, a pair of hoods realise that they’ve made a huge mistake in abducting a little “kid”, killer pumpkins roam the streets, and a witch demon (we think) gets far too far into the holiday spirit. And really, who’s not going to love a film that’s narrated by a radio host played by Adrienne Barbeau?
Pontypool director Bruce McDonald returns with this gorgeously shot Halloween tale, which pits Chloe Rose’s suddenly pregnant teen against a group of sinister young trick or treaters who want what’s growing inside of her. The cinematography is the most immediately striking aspect of the film, as the Blood Moon triggers a pink-hued otherworldly dreamscape where characters appear and disappear, where time is fluid, and where rock salt is the best way of making sure that any threat stays gone. With a strong central turn from Rose (and from Robert Patrick, who pops up as the local Sheriff) and a truly disorienting dream logic atmosphere, Hellions is both a great Halloween movie and an unnerving chiller.
From the makers of our favourite Halloween-set movie Trick R Treat comes this surprisingly brutal and hugely entertaining cautionary tale for Christmas. While Krampus may not have reached the high bar that director/co-writer Michael Dougherty has set for himself, it’s definitely a festive treat. The perfectly cast Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner and Allison Tolman try their best to defend their family from the monstrous anti-Santa that the disillusioned young Max has summoned. With brilliantly designed monsters (that jack in the box creature is amazing), strong performances, Gremlins-level harshness and a wicked mix of sweet and sharp, Krampus may be a little rickety and suffer from at least one ending too many, but we had a brilliant time.
If you’d have told us earlier this year that Unfriended would be on our best-of-year list, we would have laughed bitterly at you and your craziness. However, you would have been right. Proving that you shouldn’t judge a film by its elevator pitch concept or its naff trailer, Unfriended was one of the real surprises of this year; a scary and inventive chiller that quickly sucked you into its real-time story of a group of friends paying the ultimate price for being awful people. With plenty of brutal and creative surprises up its sleeve, Unfriended showed real confidence and skill from director Levan Gabriadze and writer Nelson Greaves. Our initial grumbles of “none of these characters are likeable” proved to be entirely the point, and the film delivered on tension and scares beyond the bloody pay-offs. To our surprise and to our relief, Unfriended was great.
9. We Are Still Here
Writer-director Ted Geoghegan makes his debut with this very impressive Lucio Fulci homage, pitching Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig’s grieving parents against the ghostly inhabitants of their new house and the locals who have…certain expectations of them. Thinking that the unquiet spirits are the ghost of their son Bobby, they invite their spiritualist friends to stay but quickly realise that these presences aren’t benign. There are a lot of influences beyond Fulci swirling around in We Are Still Here, but Geoghegan’s commitment to making us care about these characters gives the film the emotional anchor it needs, and an excellent cast (including Larry Fessenden and Lisa Marie) sell the combination of grief and dark humour beautifully. With great practical effects (the Dagmars look amazing) and a mounting sense of dread, We Are Still Here manages to be knowing, touching and spooky.
Following their excellent cabin-bound chiller Resolution, filmmaking team Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead headed to a small coastal town in Italy for their odd love story between Evan, a grieving American tourist (Lou Taylor Pucci) and a mysterious student (Nadia Hilker). Evan’s spiral is captured with humour and tenderness before he finds himself completely smitten by Hilker’s Louise, whose dark secret takes the film in a direction that’s beautifully unexpected. Easy monster movie comparisons are a little tricky with Spring (Stuart Gordon’s Dagon might come closest) but what makes the movie work is the juxtaposition of the fun, gruesome effects and the Richard Linklater-esque love story that is the film’s true focus. It’s funny, it’s clever, and it’s the sweetest film with tentacles that we saw all year.
7. The Final Girls
This none-more-meta slasher homage/pastiche snuck out in the UK without a whisper but we can’t urge you strongly enough to hunt it down on DVD. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson and writers MA Fortin and Joshua John Miller create a horror comedy that’s hilarious, intelligent and unexpectedly moving, as Taissa Farmiga’s Max and her friends are sucked into the world of the cult slasher film starring her recently deceased mother (Malin Akerman). As they try to figure out how best to survive (finding the final girl, refusing to allow anyone to striptease), Max is suddenly presented with the chance to say goodbye to her mother in a strange and roundabout way. It’s full of funny visual invention (exposition prompts black and white flashbacks, slow-motion affects everyone), but the characters are just as important as the laughs and Friday 13th references. The Final Girls is an absolute gem of a horror comedy.
6. The Voices
Ryan Reynolds reminded us of just how good he can be with his superb performance in Marjane Satrapi’s candy-coloured, pitch-black comedy. He plays Jerry Hickfang, a well-meaning guy who talks to his pets, and whose pets talk back to him. When a date goes horribly wrong, Jerry ends up with a head in his fridge and conflicting advice from his supportive dog and evil bastard cat (both voiced by Reynolds). Satrapi’s English language debut sees the Persepolis filmmaker breathing life into the serial killer movie, with bold colour schemes (so much pink) and moments of magical realism (heart-shaped pepperoni) littering Jerry’s seriously off-kilter world view, a film in which dance sequences and talking severed heads feel right at home together. The sweetest, weirdest, most toe-tapping serial killer movie of the year.
The laidback everyman charm of Mark Duplass gets creepily subverted in Patrick Brice’s excellent found-footage chiller. Brice himself plays the film’s only other character, videographer Aaron who accepts a commission to follow Josef (Duplass) around for the day. Josef is dying, you see, and wants to film a message for his unborn son, which might explain the weird moments of intimacy and Josef’s occasional intensity…or maybe it doesn’t. It relies heavily on Duplass’ excellent performance but the tension that Brice wrings out of the simple set-up is hugely impressive. It’s a tricky balancing act, and Creep never quite lands the way that you expect it to, keeping you on the edge of your seat as Aaron haplessly muddles his way through a situation that could be awkward, or deadly, or both.
4. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
A black and white Iranian vampire movie may not be the easiest sell outside the arthouse, but Ana Lily Amirpour’s witty and stylish debut rewarded those who hunted it down. The filmmaker gave us an unforgettable bloodsucker in Sheila Vand’s hijab-wearing, skateboard-riding Girl, who stalks the streets of Bad City preying on the various unfortunate low-lives and crooks before she comes across Arash (Arash Marandi), an aimless young guy who falls for her charms. The comparisons with Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive are not unwarranted but they’re not unflattering either, as Amirpour has created a beguiling darkly comic charmer all of her own, with beautiful cinematography, an awesome soundtrack and a fantastic sense of humour. It’s excellent.
3. Crimson Peak
Guillermo del Toro’s grand Gothic romance didn’t set the US box-office alight, but those who did go to see it on the big screen will be forever able to lord it over those who didn’t. The filmmaker poured his love of the genre into this utterly sincere and totally beautiful homage, which is not only a remarkable visual achievement but a wonderful update of the tropes and types. He gives his female leads backbone and sex drives, allowing Mia Wasikowska’s determined heroine and Jessica Chastain’s icy spinster to drive the plot forward, and gives us a story which fully commits to exploring all the dark corners you hope it will. It’s Pacific Rim for those of us who love Rebecca, a second viewing only improves it, and we can’t wait for the Blu-ray.
2. Nina Forever
Squeaking onto this list by virtue of a two-week run in Shepherd’s Bush, the Blaine Brothers’ Kickstarted debut is not only the best British horror of the year by quite some distance, it’s also simply superb. This self-proclaimed “fucked-up fairytale” is the story of Holly (Abigail Hardingham), an EMT student who falls for the depressed Rob (Cian Barry), who tried to kill himself after the death of his girlfriend Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy). There’s just one big problem: whenever they get intimate, Nina comes back. It’s wickedly funny but brutally affecting, with three superb performances (Hardingham in particular is excellent). There’s some Clive Barker, some John Landis, but at its heart it’s a brilliant character study. We love it and we can’t urge you see it strongly enough. See it!
1. It Follows
The finest horror of the year may not have won everybody over (Quentin Tarantino was not a fan, sorry, Quentin), but there’s a reason why David Robert Mitchell’s stylish second film is appearing on so many best-of-year lists: it’s genuinely terrifying. Maika Monroe followed The Guest with a sensitive, compelling leading turn as Jay, a young woman stalked by an unstoppable force that is always, at any time, walking towards her. Both a highly accomplished homage to the American suburban nightmares of Carpenter and Craven and a beautifully crafted skin-crawler in its own right, It Follows is a bona fide modern classic.
Keep up with the latest horror news with the new issue of SciFiNow.