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In the spirit of completion, I now offer my list of the very best films that I screened during this year’s 31 Days of Halloween. For purposes of this list, I’ve excluded any films that were screened in previous years (otherwise, American Mary and Trick ‘r Treat would become the equivalent of political incumbents). Since some of these were slightly older films that I was seeing for the first time, I’ve lumped them in with the 2015 films: I’ll separate everything out once I put together my Best of 2015 write-up, however.

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The Best of the 31 Days of Halloween (2015 Edition)

(in no particular order)

There’s one very good reason why this list is in no particular order: in most cases, it would be like trying to choose your favorite child at gunpoint. Whether it was a fistful of some of the best horror-comedies I’d ever seen, two of the most kickass anthology films ever created , the best horror Western in ages (forever?) or one of the most gripping, disturbing examinations of young evil that I’ll never be able to scrub from my brain, the best films of October really took things to another level. It’s pretty much a given that at least some of these will end up on my years’ end Best of lists.

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Cooties (2015) — I try to keep my enthusiasm for new films tempered somewhat but I was anxiously anticipating this little treasure for too long to play it safe. Good thing, then, that Cooties not only met but massacred every one of my expectations. No two ways about this, this is a modern classic and one of the funniest, most outrageous and radical horror-comedies that I’ve ever seen.

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The Boy (2015) — There’s an awful lot to recommend here: the frequently lovely cinematography…the intense, immersive performances from David Morse and Rainn Wilson…the unflinching violence…the measured pace that allows for maximum character development and audience identification. Perhaps the number one reason to see writer/director Craig William Macneill’s exceptional sophomore film, however, is the unforgettable performance by young Jared Breeze (also in Cooties) as the titular character. In an era where disturbed individuals commit violence on an increasingly wider scale, The Boy takes us right to the genesis of this internal evil: for this fact, alone, it may very well be the scariest (and most essential) film of 2015.

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What We Do in the Shadows (2014) — Essentially a re-do of the almost as worthy Danish film Vampires (2010), this brainchild of Jemaine Clement (half of New Zealand’s Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi is one of the smartest, funniest, most incisive and well-made films of the year, hands down. While the main emphasis is on laughs (the vast majority of which hit with laser-guided precision), What We Do in the Shadows isn’t afraid to hit the big, emotional beats, either, resulting in a film that’s equal parts hilarious satire and genuine character study. Needless to say, I don’t think we ever need another mockumentary about modern-day vampires dealing with the toils and humiliations of daily life: Clement and Waititi slammed that door and welded it shut.

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Tales of Halloween (2015) — Until I screened Tales of Halloween this October, I was 100% sure that Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat would always be the undisputed king of the Halloween anthology film. Now, however, I’ve been forced to admit the obvious: there are no absolutes in life. While not all of the segments manage to stick their landings, the ones that do emerge fully-formed and perfect, lovely little blood-flecked pearls that represent some of the very best horror shorts around. Looks like the Pumpkin King’s gonna have to share his throne, in the future!

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Gravy (2015) — Outrageous, unrelentingly gory and violent and almost impossibly offensive, Gravy is one of those films that should split audiences right down the middle. If you prefer your horror-comedies tame, polite and conventional, please keep moving to the end of the line, nothing to see here, thanks very much. If, however, you’re the kind of viewer who prizes genuinely quirky characters, mature, thought-provoking humor, needle-in-the-red bloodshed and actual heart/emotion over shallow “attitude,” I suggest you grab a beer and come pull up a chair next to me: we’ve got ourselves a movie to watch.

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Bone Tomahawk (2015) — I love horror movies, Westerns, and Kurt Russell pretty much unconditionally: ergo, any film that manages the hat-trick of tossing these divine elements into the same movie is going to have an automatic reservation in my heart. Good thing, then, that S. Craig Zahler’s debut manages to not only throw these ingredients together but manages to craft one of the tastiest cinematic dishes I’ve ever had the pleasure of devouring. Hell, just the supporting cast, alone, would vault this head and shoulders over most “prestige” films, let alone horror flicks. Another strong contender for my “Best Films of 2015” list.

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Deathgasm (2015) — The second Kiwi export to make my “Best of…” list, writer/director Jason Lee Howden’s Deathgasm may just be the most perfect intersection of form and function that I’ve ever seen. Tackling the inherent connection between horror and heavy metal, the film’s biggest coup is its utter, unabashed love for its head-banging heroes. While most other genre efforts would relegate Deathgasm’s protagonists to the stereotype-plagued background, Howden moves them up front and treats them with the respect they deserve (us metalheads have to stick up for our own kind, after all). Hilarious, heartfelt and ridiculously fist-pumping (just like a good metal song!), Deathgasm is a jean-jacket-bedecked hessian’s dream come true. Lots of extra points for allowing Kimberley Crossman’s sweet-as-pie, goody-two-shoes to organically become one of the most kickass “final girls” out there.

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A Christmas Horror Story (2015) — While this is nowhere near as consistently awesome as either Trick ‘r Treat or Tales of Halloween, the high points here are more than capable of heavy-lifting this onto my “Best of…” list. Truth be told, the only story that’s a complete letdown is the most conventional one (the one about the teens exploring their haunted school, natch): the rest of the material, including the wraparound starring the inimitable William Shatner, finds interesting and unique ways to twist and screw around with traditional horror tropes and storylines. If nothing else, the “Santa Claus vs. zombie elves” segment is worth the price of admission alone, finishing up with a deliciously demented twist that ends the film on the strongest note possible. Lots and lots of fun, with the added bonus of being a perfectly suitable December viewing. Huzzah!

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Curse of Chucky (2013) — One of the biggest surprises of the entire month of October, franchise creator Don Mancini’s return to the shortest serial killer in history was never supposed to be more than a time killer in my schedule, something disposable to cleanse the palate between the “real” films. Imagine my surprise, then, when Curse of Chucky revealed itself to be an absolute masterpiece of sustained suspense, intelligent, Hitchcockian set-pieces and pure, unadulterated, snarky attitude. The film is fast-paced, ruthlessly smart, gorgeously shot and possesses the coolest Chucky visualization of the entire series, thus far. It’s a glorious return to form for Mancini and, more importantly, singlehandedly jump-started my lapsed interest in the Child’s Play franchise. Suffice to say, I can’t wait for the follow-up.

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The Final Girls (2015) — Despite having an utterly gonzo premise (a group of modern teens step through a theater screen, ala The Purple Rose of Cairo, and end up in the ’80s slasher flick that stars one teen’s now-deceased mother), The Final Girls has more genuine heart than just about any film on this list. The interaction between Taissa Farmiga (as the daughter) and Malin Ackerman (as the mom) are spot-on and lead to some actual heartrending moments in the latter half of the film, while the entire ensemble cast plays off each other beautifully. Laugh-out-loud funny, never skimpy with the horror elements (certain moments actually reminded me of Adam Green’s grue-fest, Hatchet), possessed of a unique and clever premise and never condescending, The Final Girls is the perfect film for horror fans who aren’t afraid to let emotions besides “revulsion,” “fear” and “blood-thirsty glee” into their dark little hearts.

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Love in the Time of Monsters (2014) — Yet another horror-comedy, Matt Jackson’s Love in the Time of Monsters throws a kitchenful of ingredients at the screen and, surprisingly enough, most of it sticks like glue. We get another great concept (toxic waste turns the Bigfoot-suit-bedecked employees of a Bigfoot-themed tourist trap into bloodthirsty “zombie-Squatches”), a fantastic ensemble cast (including great performances from genre vets Kane Hodder, Doug Jones and Michael McShane), a smart, funny script (courtesy of Michael Skvarla), great, gory action set-pieces and an outrageous final battle royale that features more genuine surprises than a bakers’ dozen of M. Knight movies. If the dance-off featuring the Big Kahuna and Brandi doesn’t turn you into a quivering mass of uncontrolled giggles, your heart may be smaller than the Grinch.

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The Best of the Rest

(in no particular order)

I ended up seeing so many quality films in October that determining the minuscule separation between “Holy shit…that was amazing!” and “Wow…that was really good!” became quite the Herculean effort. In that spirit, here are the films that “coulda woulda shoulda” been contenders in pretty much any other year. In the interest of space/time, I’ll just go ahead and list these here. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll all get a chance to explore these in a little more detail.

The Nightmare (2015)

The Houses October Built (2014)

We Are Still Here (2015)

All Hallows’ Eve 2 (2015)

The Midnight Swim (2015)

The American Scream (2012)

Circle (2015)

Lost After Dark (2015)

Asylum Blackout (2012)

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And there we have it: my favorite eleven films of October, along with nine runner-ups. Coming soon, I’ll take a look at the other side of the coin: the worst films and biggest disappointments of the 31 Days of Halloween. Stay tuned, gentle readers…stay tuned!

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