I’ve heard 2015 described as a bad year for horror, but that hasn’t been my experience. Between seeing a bunch of movies I really enjoyed (and will continue to enjoy for years to come) and the horror I’ve enjoyed through other outlets, I’ve been a happy genre fan this year. Here are some of my highlights:
We Are Still Here: Writer/director Ted Geoghegan’s debut feature may lack some of the nuance and technical polish of some other movies on this list, but no other horror movie has stuck with me as much this year. I love the wintery atmosphere, I love the loooong the film builds, I love the way that ghosts are depicted not as spooky things that float around and slam doors but instead are angry and vicious and have the immediacy of zombies. Most of all I love the way that his tribute to Italian horror really does have the feel of a modern Fulci film without ever becoming a bunch of aesthetic references. It also boasts the best final act of any horror movie this year.
It Follows: A masterpiece of dread, David Robert Mitchell’s sophomore film (after 2010’s The Myth of the American Sleepover) has been frequently compared to both A Nightmare on Elm Street for the way it invokes dream logic and imagery into its narrative and to Halloween for its compositions and use of the widescreen frame. Both are apt. One of the best formalist horror films since John Carpenter’s original masterpiece, It Follows isn’t a film about plotting or logic as much as it is about unrelenting tension and creating an emotional response that you’re living a nightmare from which it’s impossible to wake. Whatever its central metaphor truly is (I have some ideas about that) doesn’t matter as much as the way the movie feels.
Tales of Halloween: Probably the most fun I had in a horror movie all year. This anthology contains 10 stories from 11 of the best and most interesting voices in indie horror today (including Dave Parker, Daren Lynn Bousman, Adam Gierasch, Lucky McKee, Paul Solet, Axelle Carolyn, Mike Mendez, John Skipp, Andrew Kasch, Ryan Schifrin and Neil Marshall) and, unlike most horror anthologies, there’s not a weak story in the bunch. This is a celebration of horror made by a group of friends and filmmakers who live and breathe the genre. There are more horror nerd references than can be counted on a single viewing. I love it.
Killer POV: No list of the best in horror would be complete without including Killer POV, the weekly horror podcast hosted by Rob Galluzzo, Rebekah McKendry and Elric Kane. Covering a different topic every week, usually with the inclusion of a special guest from the horror world, there is no better discussion of the genre anywhere online. All three hosts bring a unique perspective and endless enthusiasm, highlighting the things they love rather than tearing down the things they don’t. I defy any horror fan to listen and not come away every single week with a list of five or six movies they have to track down as soon as possible. Killer POV has turned me on to so many new films. Listen if you don’t already; new episodes appear each week at Geek Nation.
What We Do in the Shadows: The year’s best horror comedy. This brilliant mockumentary about four vampires sharing a flat in New Zealand features perfect deadpan comedy, first rate performances (including co-writer Jemaine Clement and co-writer/director Taika Waititi) and plenty of love for the horror genre. There were other horror comedies this year that don’t seem to have ever seen a horror film, but Clement and Waititi’s screenplay is well-versed in vampirism. It’s the kind of horror comedy in which every time you see it you’ll have a new favorite joke.
Epic Pictures: This indie studio run by Shaked Berenson and Patrick Ewald is doing great things in the world of genre film. Having been responsible for putting out terrific titles like Big Ass Spider!, V/H/S, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer and The Aggression Scale, this year Epic released both Tales of Halloween and Turbo Kid, two of my favorite movies of the year, and have both JeruZalem and Nina Forever coming up in 2016. I’ll be paying close attention to anything that comes with their seal of approval.
Spring: The best horror romance of the year might just be one of the best horror romances of all time. It’s Before Sunrise by way of H.P. Lovecraft, with gorgeous Italian location scenery and two wonderful, authentic performances from Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker. Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (the duo previously responsible for Resolution) have made a beautiful film about finding a connection, realizing that our time on Earth is limited and choosing to make the most of it.
Krampus: Michael Dougherty’s follow up to the great Trick ‘r Treat should do for Christmas horror what his first movie did for Halloween. A fun film in the Gremlins tradition, Krampus boasts a great cast and excellent practical effects, plus a ton of loving touches that might make it a better Christmas movie than a horror one.
Scream Factory/Vinegar Syndrome/Code Red/Synapse/Severin/Arrow: As physical media continues to see its days dwindling down, boutique labels are stepping up and putting out gorgeous looking Blu-ray editions of genre films from the beloved to the totally obscure, packing them with bonus content and, in many cases, restoring the reputations of movies that have otherwise been forgotten. Horror collectors are getting more than they can keep up with. It’s a good problem to have.
Deathgasm: Another New Zealand horror comedy, this one from first time writer/director Jason Lei Howden. A bloody good love letter to friendship, metal and splatter films, Deathgasm is rarely profound but consistently fun. Over the last few years, New Zealand has been producing some of the most exciting new horror out there. Hopefully the trend continues.
Last Shift: Anthony DiBlasi’s latest effort, about a rookie cop’s (Juliana Harkavy of The Walking Dead) first night on the job inside a police station haunted by the spirit of an evil cult leader, feels small and low-budget in a good way — DiBlasi isn’t limited by his resources but instead embraces what he has to work with and creates something deliberate and tense and genuinely scary.
Shudder: I was skeptical about the new horror streaming service launched this year (powered by the AMC network), thinking I had seen and/or owned enough horror that a monthly subscription to Shudder would hardly be worth the investment. Boy was I wrong. With a diverse offering of titles ranging from established classics to really deep cuts plus curated collections grouped by categories like “Euro Horror” and “Smart Slashers,” the service provides a ton of value for the subscription rate. What I like best about Shudder (besides the depth and breadth of horror) is that it provides an education, even for someone like me who has been watching horror my entire life. No easy feat, that.