As much as I love horror movies and as much as this genre, more than any other, has had a disproportionally huge impact on my life, I can admit that it’s an up and down proposition for sure. There are great, unique, inventive examples of what the genre can be and do mixed in there right along with straight-up garbage (I can’t begin to tell you how much I hated The Gallows without breaking into a fit of cursing). But let’s not dwell on the negative. With that in mind, let’s run down the best, most interesting movies horror had to offer in 2015.
10. UnfriendedEverything eventually gets its own movie, and now social media has Unfriended. While a story told entirely through Facebook, Skype, Snapchat, and the like sounds awful in a what-the-hell-are-they-thinking kind of way, at its best, this is a clever, tense little horror outing that makes decent use of its gimmick instead of letting it weigh the picture down. A pseudo cautionary tale about the dangers of the modern age in which we live where nothing goes unseen and nothing is ever fully deleted, Unfriended tells the story of a group of friends haunted by a malicious online spirit. It does peter out a bit towards the end, but it starts surprisingly strong, maintains a decent momentum, and has the good sense not to overstay its welcome.
9. CubCub is not going to appeal to everyone, but if you’re in the mood for a vicious, nasty little horror throwback, you can do a lot worse than this Belgian flick. It’s certainly not afraid to get down and dirty and mean when it needs to, and fits nicely into the "kids go camping and find something scary they didn’t expect" subgenre. The plot that revolves around the weird kid in a scout troop is not particularly original, but the film takes you on a dark, twisted ride full of backwoods terror, brutality, and ambiguity, all of which helps smooth over any rough patches. Cub ends on its weakest note, but overall this is a well-paced horror flick that will be most appealing to devout genre heads.
8. Bone TomahawkA cannibal horror western starring Kurt Russell with one hell of an epic mustache? Where do I sign up? Turns out I sign up at S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk. Set just after the Civil War, in a place that hovers between civilization and savagery, Bone Tomahawk is a slow burn of a movie—a fact that has turned many viewers off—playing out something like a horror take on John Ford’s The Searchers that devolves into sheer terror. The plot revolves around a group of frontier men who embark on a mission to rescue a group of people held captive by cannibalistic cave dwellers, and if that doesn’t sound like a great time, you probably won’t want to watch this movie.
7. The Final GirlsMeta horror comedies are a dicey proposition, but Todd Straus-Schulson’s The Final Girls is a fun send up of the genre, one that hides a surprisingly moving tale of letting go beneath the surface. As a young woman grieves the recent loss of her mother, who just so happens to be a legendary scream queen, a veteran of the slasher craze of the 1980s, she and her friends find themselves pulled into the very world of her mom’s most famous movie. As the two generations reunite, they must band together to defeat the maniacal celluloid murderer. Full of winks and nods to the subgenre, The Final Girls is a blast that transcends its trappings.
6. Turbo KidNot a spoof as much as it is a loving send up of the cheap international Mad Max knock offs that proliferated in the 1980s, Turbo Kid has the makings of a perfect midnight movie and serves as a nostalgic blast in the face for those of us who are a certain age. In a post-apocalyptic wasteland a young comic book enthusiast must assume the persona of his favorite superhero to battle a vicious warlord and save his only friend, even though she’s a raging weirdo. Full of geysers of blood, impaling, a soaring synth score, and the highest stakes arm wrestling matches you’ve ever seen, Turbo Kid is a damn fine time, regardless of your genre predilections.
5. Crimson PeakGuillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak has taken a lot of flack because it’s more of a period gothic romance mystery than the straight-ahead horror film many people wanted. It’s not as much a ghost story as a story with ghosts, and it’s an underrated movie that I don’t think got as much love as it deserved when it was released. Similar in style to his Devil’s Backbone (still his best film), Crimson Peak crafts an ethereal, moody aesthetic, one where spirits seem to swim through the air, harbingers in a world of disheveled nobility, warnings of dangers ahead instead of threats themselves. It does stumble out of the gates and takes too long to get where it needs to, but with an intricate color scheme, otherworldly melodramatic performances from Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, and Jessica Chastain, Crimson Peak is a strange, unique, and fascinating journey.
4. What We Do In The ShadowsAs far as teen melodramas go, sexy vampires, sparkly or otherwise, may be played the hell out, but Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi of Flight of the Conchords (the latter will also direct Thor: Ragnarok for Marvel) took a ridiculous concept and turned out a fantastic vampire comedy. A group of roommate vampires in modern days find themselves stuck in a mundane rut of paying bills, trying to keep the house clean, and similar commonplace concerns. As silly as the set up is, the world building is in depth and complete, and What We Do In The Shadows pays strict respect to extant vampire lore. Funny as hell, there’s real emotion involved as well, and this helps the movie transcend what could have been just a fun gimmick and become something greater that another wacky horror comedy.
3. The GiftJoel Edgerton has routinely shown himself to be a fantastic actor, but in 2015 the Australian thespian turned his attention towards directing, and for his first time in the big chair, he delivered a tense, eerie thriller. Starring Edgerton, Jason Bateman, and Rebecca Hall, The Gift is essentially a three hander, and a meditation of how traumatic events, specifically teenage bullying, can linger and play out for both the bullied and bully. Not a terribly fresh set up, Edgerton crafts a dark, twisted film that ratchets up the pressure and psychological drama until you’re about to explode. Not only a strong debut, it’s one of the best thrillers in recent memory, and wraps up with an ending we’re still talking about.
2. It FollowsDavid Robert Mitchell’s moody horror joint It Follows will probably be remembered for two things. First, for being the true artistic triumph of the genre in 2015, and delivering a creepy, inventive movie that shows the true potential for what you can still accomplish within the horror framework. Second, it scared the pants back on everyone who saw it. Sex equaling death is not exactly new ground for a horror movie (who dies first in every slasher? The ones having sex, that’s who), but It Follows gives the formula a nice tweak, cranking up the fear and paranoia the whole way through. Mitchell also made a lovely looking movie, and continued to spread the gospel of Maika Monroe, who had a hell of a year herself and is, justifiably, about to be everywhere.
1. DeathgasmI didn’t have more fun at a movie this year than I did watching Deathgasm. A demonic, heavy metal horror film about a band that plays a song so dark, so evil, that it calls forth the King of the Demons? Two words: Yes, please. It’s like the cast and crew of this New Zealand-produced outing personally asked me what I wanted to see in a movie and then did exactly that. There’s metal (duh), buckets of blood, slackers galore, crass humor, and more heart than you may expect out of a movie named Deathgasm. You should track this down and watch it as soon as you possibly can. You’ll thank me, I promise.