Horror is in a good place, which is weird saying aloud when most people seem to still be operating under the notion that “it all sucks now, it’s not as good as it used to be.” With The Babadook last year and It Follows this year we have two really high profile horror films getting critical and audience acclaim, and it’s about damn time. Neither were a full scale theatrical release but they certainly made waves, and with at least It Follows I was able to find a relatively local theater playing it and watched it on the big screen. Now if we can only get people to acknowledge that these weren’t just flukes and there’s been a ton of quality horror popping up in the indie scene for years we’ll be all set.
There were a couple of movies from last year that should have been on my list but I didn’t get around to watching until 2015. The Guest, Starry Eyes, and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night all knocked it out of the park and if I had seem them before making the list I’d have been tempted to include them. I thought about adding The Guest to this year’s since the DVD and blu ray release was in 2015, but it just doesn’t feel right, even though The Guest is easily my favorite film I watched this year.
Astron 6’s new outing, The Editor almost made my top 5. I was really looking forward to it and was not disappointed in the least, but it got knocked out at the last minute. I thought about including Mad Max: Fury Road since I did review it for this very site, but it’s not horror in the purest of senses and I’d rather give the spot to a smaller film instead. Felt was the most poignant film I’ve seen this year and Spring was another standout that I’ll be revisiting (see my interview with the directors here). Stung is also worth a mention for having the most badass practical effects of the year. There were a lot of great movies this year and I’d love to include all of them but I can’t.
Let’s get this out of the way since I kind of spoiled that this would pop up on my list in the introduction. I realize that everyone and their mother has already gushed over this movie, but It Follows really caught me off guard. As a diehard fan of Carpenter’s original Halloween, the direct nods and reminiscent cinematography hooked me in almost immediately. The thing that’s interesting about Halloween in particular is that while it’s a slasher movie, it was never really about the slashing. Think about it. What are the creepiest moments? To me, it’s always been the spots where Michael Myers is lurking in the background, hiding behind bushes, or slowly walking across the street. It Follows is such a satisfying nod to this because it’s pretty much an entire movie of just those scenes. Add in the fact that “it” can be anyone, and I spent the entire runtime scanning the background trying to see if I could figure out who “it” was, if anyone. Add in some brilliant cinematography, the best horror movie score in a long long time, and rising scream queen Maika Monroe in the lead and you have a movie that is a breath of fresh air.
I’m cheating here and including two in one spot, but there’s a reason for that. Tales of Halloween and Krampus both fill the same kind of need for me in that they are both fun and not super serious holiday-themed horror films that I will certainly be revisiting for years to come. On the one hand, I was expecting to love Krampus. It’s a cool creature that hasn’t gotten a great cinematic outing yet, and coming from the team that brought us Trick r Treat, I had full faith in that it would be a slam dunk. It was. It might be premature to call it the Gremlins of our time, but it’s exactly what I was feeling when watching it. On the other hand, Tales of Halloween came out of nowhere. My biggest fear was that it would end up being Trick r Treat but not as good, but they went a completely different direction with it and the anarchist punk rock DIY vibe of the whole anthology really makes it stand out as something else entirely. It’s rare that I get a movie that immediately cements itself a place forever in my yearly viewing, but 2015 gave me two. Nice.
In a lot of ways, Turbo Kid feels like the movie that a filmmaker would create if they cracked open my brain, looked around, and designed something out of my personal likes and dislikes. It’s an over the top, super gory, post apocalyptic action adventure with a baller synth score and I love it. It’s like Mega Man reimagined through the lens of Mad Max. Beyond the blood and Scott Pilgrim-esque 90’s culture reverence though is a really charming relationship. Turbo Kid might be the titular character, but Laurence Leboeuf completely stole the show as Apple. With her hyper demeanor she’s the kind of character that easily could have been obnoxious, but Leboeuf plays it pitch perfectly and she really grew on me. She’s very likable in the role, and in a lot of ways stands as a bizarre ray of sunshine in the dark and brutal wasteland in which the movie is set.
I was not expecting to like this movie nearly as much as I did, but here we are. Deathgasm is pretty much The Evil Dead if it starred a high school black metal band. As someone who listened exclusively to the harshest of metal bands for a long time, the metal nods in this movie really hooked me in. You can tell when the person writing these things into the script knows their shit, and in Deathgasm it has an authenticity that you rarely see. On top of that the characters and cast are genuinely great and there’s plenty of blood and viscera flying throughout to keep the gore hounds smiling. Deathgasm is a blast from start to finish. See my full review here.
Ex Machina is the probably the closest to being on the fringes of the horror genre out of my top 5. You wouldn’t be wrong if you were to call it science fiction instead, but there’s an unspoken atmosphere to the film. It’s a drama centering around three characters in an isolated location. You’re never quite sure who’s telling the truth and who’s out to get whom. It’s an incredibly claustrophobic movie, with many of the film’s scenes taking place underground in rooms with no windows. All of this adds up to something that kept me on edge and had me feeling uncomfortable for the entire runtime. To me, that’s horror. This is a quiet film, focusing mainly on dialogue instead of action, but it’s fascinating and the performances are great. Oscar Isaac is a born movie star. I’m really glad to see him getting into some bigger roles like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse. Alicia Vikander is really the star of this one, though. Her role is such a strange combination of things that add up to something we’ve never seen before. Portraying a convincing AI is hard, and she nails it. There’s a childlike naiveté to her, yet she’s incredibly intelligent. She acts natural, but not too natural. She’s basically walking a tightrope to give Ava the perfect balance between human and machine, and I applaud her for it.