2015, A Christmas Horror Story, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Best of 2015, Bone Tomahawk, cinema, Cooties, Creep, Deathgasm, film reviews, films, Gravy, horror, horror films, Motivational Growth, Movies, personal opinions, Tales of Halloween, The Boy, The Final Girls, The Nightmare, The Voices, We Are Still Here, What We Do in the Shadows
At long last, we come to one of the year’s big lists: the 15 Best Horror Films of 2015. I screened 73 new horror films in 2015 and managed to whittle the group down to the following creme de la creme.
There was nothing easy about the rankings, below, but I’m pretty confident that I’ve made the right decisions. Many of these have made there way on to plenty of year-end lists, while I’m wagering that others will be a little bit more unsung. Regardless, they all deserve the maximum love possible. As far as I’m concerned, any horror fan will find something to love in these fifteen films: it might require a slight leap of faith but these are all more than worthy. Some, of course, are more worthy than others. In that spirit, I present to you the 15 Best Horror Films of 2015.
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Few films stuck with me quite as much as Rodney Ascher’s documentary about sleep paralysis. The film is far from perfect and can often tip from self-serious into slightly corny but it was just impossible for me to shake some of the stories. The bit involving the shared experience with the demonic cat is, no pun intended, literally the stuff of nightmares.
A Christmas Horror Story
Despite the fact that one of the segments in this seasonal-minded horror film is a real snoozer (the one about the kids investigating their haunted school), this is actually one of the better anthologies to come out amidst the recent glut of same. Shatner is a heap of fun as the progressively more inebriated radio DJ and many of the segments, particularly the gonzo one involving Santa fighting off zombie elves at the North Pole, pack a legitimate punch. Well-made, well-acted and lots of fun.
We Are Still Here
This slow-burn nod to Italian gore maestro Lucio Fulci would have scored higher but there were a few stumbles on the way to the truly unforgettable Grand Guignol conclusion. If the build-up can sometimes come off a little too over-the-top, the payoff does a pretty damn good job of replicating Hell on earth. Suffice to say that I’m deathly curious to see where director Ted Geoghegan goes from here.
At first, I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this found-footage film featuring funnyman Mark Duplass as an extremely sad, extremely lonely and dying oddball who takes a cue from the Michael Keaton weeper My Life and has a filmmaker document his life for his young child. Turns out I should have expected one of the most genuinely creepy, weird, unsettling and flat-out horrifying films of the whole year. The finale is a real masterstroke but Peachfuzz and “tubby time” will probably haunt my dreams until the day I die.
Tales of Halloween
Tales of Halloween might not be the best Halloween-themed horror anthology out there (I still think that Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat handily holds that title) but there’s nothing wrong with being the second best, at least in this case. While not all of the segments stick their landings and there’s a lamentable lack of cohesion between the various stories, this was still a tremendous amount of fun, full of outrageous scenarios, great effects and a genuine love for the season. When fan service is this smart and well-done, who can complain?
If you’re a metal-head, I’m willing to wager that you’re gonna love Kiwi-export Deathgasm: I am and I did. Fast, funny, inappropriate (beating a demon to death with dildos), explosively violent and always smarter than it seems, Deathgasm is a real labor of love and it shows. One of my favorite things here is the thoroughly organic way in which sweet, innocent and decidedly non-metal Kimberley Crossman evolves into a tough-as-nails, demon slaughtering ass-kicker. This fusion of horror, metal and laughs is a winner from start to finish.
The Final Girls
This heartfelt horror-comedy, essentially a nostalgic, slasher flick variation on Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo, was easily one of the sweetest films I saw all year, horror or otherwise. With a focus that prizes the mother-daughter relationship between Malin Ackerman and Taissa Farmiga as much as it does the snide critiques of ’80s horror film cliches and the rapid-fire, witty dialogue, this is the one film on this list that I would expect to easily appeal to mainstream audiences. Just the scene scored by “Bette Davis Eyes,” alone, would place this in the top ten of the year.
Few films are genuinely weird but Motivational Growth is genuinely, undeniably weird…and I absolutely love it. Disturbing, grimy, hallucinatory, dryly funny and incredibly smart, writer-director Don Thacker’s odd little puzzler about a loner who receives life advice from talking bathroom mold (voiced with absolute gusto by genre legend Jeffrey Combs) lulls you into a sense of numb complacency before hitting you so hard that it, literally, takes the wind out of you. This was fearless, fascinating and nearly peerless filmmaking: I think Thacker might be the new Henenlotter, which makes Motivational Growth the new Basket Case. If you can stomach it, this is unforgettable.
This measured, subtle and thoroughly frightening look at a disturbed young boy taking the first tentative steps towards misanthropy and serial killing features powerhouse performances from David Morse and Rainn Wilson (playing completely against type and succeeding fabulously at it) but its young Jared Breeze who steals the entire film. As the titular character, Breeze displays a world-weary sensibility far beyond his years, turning in a performance that’s complex, quietly devastating and undeniably impressive. The Boy is not only a truly great, gripping horror film: it’s a truly great, gripping character study that deserves serious critical consideration.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
Drawing from Spaghetti Westerns, Hammer horror, black and white indie art films and the oeuvre of John Hughes, Iranian-American filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is the kind of “everything and the kitchen sink” affair that shouldn’t work but does…and fantastically so. Endlessly moody, beautifully shot and possessed of an atmosphere that’s equal parts sad nostalgia, old-fashioned romanticism and smoldering sexuality, this was thought-provoking eye candy that signals Amirpour has a filmmaker to keep an eye on in the future.
With pre-release buzz that had me anticipating this little gem for almost a year, the chance for disappointment was high. My faith was strong, however, and the reward was one of the best, funniest and most outrageous horror-comedies I’ve seen in years. The ensemble cast is pitch-perfect (Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, Nasim Pedrad, Leigh Whannell and Jack McBrayer turn in some of their best work), the concept is utterly choice (grade-school kids get infected by bad chicken nuggets and turn into ferocious, blood-thirsty zombies, leading to a standoff with the teachers at a beleaguered school), the effects are good and gory and the humor is smart, constant and in suitably bad taste. This might have been the party movie of the year if not for others on this list.
Of all the films I screened in 2015, few surprised me as much as Gravy. Everything about this screamed low-rent (that cover art is so bad, it actually works against the film) but the actual movie was just about as good as it gets. This story about a trio of cannibals who take the employees of a Mexican restaurant hostage, at closing time, on All Hallows’ Eve, is one delightful surprise after another: the cast is amazing, the gore effects are mind-blowing (literally!), the humor setpieces are hilarious and the film is consistently smart and ruthlessly dedicated to shattering expectations. If this hadn’t been such a great year for genre films, this would have topped my list, hands down: the fact that a movie this good ended up at number four speaks volumes.
What We Do In the Shadows
I laughed, I cried, I loved: What We Do in the Shadows was, hands-down, the most crowd pleasing, purely fun horror film of the entire year. This New Zealand export slams the humor elements into the scoreboard so hard that the genuinely emotional dramatic elements almost seem like an unfair victory lap. Go ahead and close the book on any future mockumentaries about the drudgeries of modern life for age-old vampires: What We Do in the Shadows is the only one you’re ever gonna need.
I love horror movies, I love Westerns and I love Kurt Russell: first-time director S. Craig Zahler would have really had to work overtime to screw up Bone Tomahawk, as far as I’m concerned. As it so happens, the film is an instant classic, the kind of long-abandoned filmmaking that prides atmosphere, mood and character development over instant gratification or dumbed down thrills. The first two thirds are primo, dusty oater, with one of the most effortlessly badass performances by Russell that the veteran badass has ever committed to celluloid. When the horror elements kick in, however, Zahler not only doesn’t lose his footing but promptly plants his boot through the audience’s skull. Uncompromising, beautiful, elegant and full of genuine “holy shit” moments, they really don’t get much better than Bone Tomahawk, horror or otherwise.
I saw this little jewel way back at the beginning of the year and it’s stuck with me ever since: I had a feeling it might end up at the top of my list back then and, as it turns out, my instincts were correct. Everything about auteur Marjane Satrapi’s beautifully skewed examination of mental illness is sheer perfection, from the candy-colored visuals to the magical realism elements to the astounding, scraped-raw performance by Ryan Reynolds.
This is a film that lulls you in with its gorgeous cinematography and slightly silly concept (Reynolds receives life advice from his talking dog and cat) before thrusting you headfirst into a screaming maelstrom of murder, insanity and pure emotional pain. The Voices is playful, quirky and utterly devastating, the kind of perfect cinematic experience that comes along all too rarely and functions as a breath of fresh air in an increasingly septic atmosphere: it’s horror as art, the purest form of validation that the much maligned genre could ever receive.
With no hyperbole whatsoever, The Voices should receive award season love: Satrapi should be nominated for Best Director, Reynolds should receive a Best Actor nomination and the film, itself, should be on the shortlist for best film of the year (with so much stiff competition, it would never win but certainly deserves the acknowledgment). The world doesn’t work that way, of course, so Satrapi’s perfect examination of mental illness will probably end up a footnote in the year that was 2015.
I’m here to say, however, that it was more than that: much more than that. As far as I’m concerned, The Voices was not only the best horror film of 2015 but one of the very best films I’ve seen in quite some time. I have a feeling that time will be kind to the film and future audiences will see it for the absolute gem it is. In a rich, full year of horror, Satrapi’s The Voices still managed to stand head and shoulders above the competition: as far as I’m concerned, that’s an achievement of the highest possible order.