2015 was, in my opinion, a great year for horror. I’ve read quite a few lists that mentioned the lack of good studio genre films and for the most part, I agree. With that being said, there’s a film or two that were made within the studio system that I absolutely loved, so it’s fun to put said films right up there alongside the VERY impressive indie horror films that seemed to dominate the year in horror. I spent a good chunk of 2015 at festivals, and some of my favorite films fall within those festival viewings, so there are also a couple of them that haven’t been officially released just yet, but were so good that I couldn’t leave them out. Thank you to the story-driven and imaginative films and filmmakers who made 2015 a great year for the genre and here’s looking forward to 2016 to continue that trend.
These films were ones that I was very fond of but in limiting myself to ten films this year, just missed the list. Definitely worthy of recommending and championing, here are a few films that I would give you a high five for checking out:
THE DEMOLISHER (Dir. Gabriel Carrer)
A cocktail of anger and revenge, Gabriel’s Carrer’s THE DEMOLISHER knocked me out when I saw it during this year’s Fantasia Film Festival. Following a vengeful and wrath-filled man whose goal is to take care of the scum polluting the streets in which his wife was savagely beaten, the film is not only an intense one, but one that succeeds at being both shocking and beautiful at the same time. Excellent performances from Ry Barrett, Tianna Nori and Jessica Vano, a soundtrack that adds to the film’s intensity, and some excellent cinematography, THE DEMOLISHER is one to look for when it hits your town.
LET US PREY (Dir. Brian O’Malley)
This film had its hooks in me as soon as the name Pollyanna McIntosh was listed in its credits. A hellish, evil-filled film full of some gnarly death scenes and morality-challenged characters, LET US PREY tells a story of a police officer (McIntosh) who is not only challenged by Six, a sinister stranger in one the jail cells, but his evil spreading into her coworkers, causing them to do the worst of things. It’s a creepy and thoroughly engrossing film that has one of my favorite endings of the year.
Jerry Smith’s TOP 10 HORROR FILMS OF 2015:
10.) BONE TOMAHAWK (Dir. S. Craig Zahler) original review
Before you have the chance to declare that BONE TOMAHAWK isn’t a horror film, just stop. An absolutely terrifying western, filled to the brim with shootouts, cracked skulls, cannibalism and quite easily one of the most gut-wrenching endings around, S. Craig Zahler’s epic film completely caught me guard and immediately made me regret missing this one while at this year’s Fantastic Fest. When two idiots accidentally piss off the wrong people, a nearby town is affected, resulting in a woman being kidnapped and a search & rescue team heading out to find her.
An excellent ensemble cast, featuring Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins and a dozen more people fill the film up, giving you some of the most fleshed out character development in years and genuinely making you feel for every single character in the film (minus a few savages that you really want to see taken out of commission).
9.) FAULTS (Riley Stearns)
Cults and brainwashing have been two of my biggest obsessions for years, and Riley Stearns’ FAULTS is one of the most impressive films to deal with both topics in recent times. Led by one of the best character actors around, Leland Orser, FAULTS follows Ansel, a somewhat disgraced man with a troubled past, one who spends his time trying to sell his books on cults, brainwashing and reconditioning the victims of both. When Ansel is approached by a couple whose daughter Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has fallen into a cult-like sect, he reluctantly accepts the job of abducting the girl and reprogramming her.
What makes the film so great is how powerful it is, with Orser and Winstead giving two performances that will leave you drained and shaken by the end of the film. It’s a constant battle of wills and an ever-changing back and forth challenge that causes you to ask yourself who is really reprogramming who?
8.) POD (Dir. Mickey Keating) original review
The first of two films on this list that happen to be directed by Mickey Keating, the paranoia-filled POD is like the greatest episode of The X-Files in film format, giving you panic attack after panic attack. It’s a conspiracy theorist’s dream film, led by a trio of actors who absolutely KILL it (in a good way).
When Ed (Dean Cates) talks his angry and distant sister Lyla (Lauren Ashley Carter) into accompanying him to their family’s old cabin in the snow to “rescue” their brother, as a viewer, you’re curious what will be waiting for them upon their arrival. Once there, they discover the windows covered with foil, the place completely demolished inside and eventually come across their war veteran brother Martin (a mind-blowlingly good Brian Morvant), who welcomes them with a rifle aimed at their heads. What comes next is quite possibly one of the two best performances of the year, with Morvant’s Martin character immediately causing you as a viewer to be glued to the screen, his intensity level is at an eleven and we’re continually wondering if he’s completely out of his mind or if his claims of being tested on by aliens and discovering a pod are true.
If Keating’s RITUAL was a glimpse into what the young director is capable of, POD is the next step in showing how versatile and prolific he is, giving genre fans a film that they latch onto and enjoy from start to finish.
7.) THE DEVIL’S CANDY (Sean Byrne) original review
One of the many gems discovered at this year’s Fantastic Fest, THE LOVED ONES director Sean Byrne’s THE DEVIL’s CANDY is a solid hybrid of a horror film, throwing so many subgenres of terror into one blender of storytelling and heavy metal greatness.
Following a young family who move into a house with a murderous past of possessing people to kill, THE DEVIL’S CANDY is not only a possession film, but also confidently gives its viewers home invasion, shocking kidnappings and a performance by Ethan Embry that is easily the actor’s best work to date. Embry’s Jesse character is a man who tries to be there for his family, and as the demonic powers slowly affect the man, his relationship with his daughter is challenged, pushing his family into having to defend themselves against a former resident of the house, one that is leaving a trail of dead bodies on his way back to Jesse and his family’s new home.
Byrne’s talent as a storyteller is on full display in this one. The story shouldn’t work, it has so many different tones and changes within the film, but they go together so flawlessly that its ability to capture you and not let you go is so very impressive.
6.) SOME KIND OF HATE (Dir. Adam Egypt Mortimer) original review
Adam Egypt Mortimer’s SOME KIND OF HATE is a film that really hit me on a personal level and I’m sure that can be said for a lot of people who latch onto the tale of a bullied teenager trying to keep his rage intact and the spirit who comes back to be the conduit for his anger. A heavy metal film with a slasher-like vibe to it, it’s one of those films that you watch and find yourself revisiting multiple times a year.
When Lincoln (Ronen Rubinstein) lashes out at a school bully, he’s sent to “The Mind’s Eye”, a facility for troubled teens. Almost immediately upon arrival, Lincoln discovers that things aren’t much better at The Mind’s Eye, there are still bullies and the higher ups still seem to turn the other cheek or not realize it. Now bullied by Willie (Maestro Harrell), a teen who like most tough guys, has a set of chums ready to do whatever he says. Immediately taunted by Willie and Co., Lincoln turns to his music and Kaitlin, a trouble girl who like Lincoln, is living with an internal pain ready to come out.
What culminates from the violent bullying, is the return of Moira, a former resident of The Mind’s Eye, who like Lincoln, was bullied, but to the point of committing suicide. Moira’s spirit returns and soon after, blood is shed like a geyser.
It’s a solid film, full of moral questions regarding what happens when you meet violence with violence, one that offers a fresh take on both the supernatural horror film and the slasher-like elements that fill the film so well.
5.) FEBRUARY (Dir. Osgood Perkins) original review
There was a Satanic-heavy presence at this year’s Fantastic Fest, one that I was completely on board with. The best film that tackled the big man downstairs was Osgood Perkins’ moody and shocking film FEBRUARY, giving me an experience I had to relive three times that week just to enjoy it again and again.
Following a group of girls at a boarding school and the deterioration of one of them, FEBRUARY is a film that immediately lets you know that it’s not going to be your typical genre fare, feeling more like a combination of a David Lynch film and ’70s Satanic slow-burn horror. Beautifully filmed and featuring a performance by Mad Men‘s Kiernan Shipka as a young woman slowly taken over by a demonic entity, FEBRUARY is a puzzle of a film in the best of ways, slowly revealing itself as the film goes on, and hitting you HARD when the film’s second half kicks in. Also a standout, is Emma Roberts as a young girl whose identity we’re not quite sure of, a question that once revealed will make your mouth drop wide open, leaving you gutted and feeling empty.
One hell of a directorial debut and a completely powerful film, one that will blow audiences away when it’s finally unleashed on you fright fanatics.
4.) SINISTER 2 (Dir. Ciaran Foy) original review
I know I might be in the minority on this one, but I’m not a believer in “guilty pleasures”. I like what I like and I LOVED Ciaran Foy’s SINISTER II. Gone is Ethan Hawke’s character from the first film, a character that despite a dozen warnings and opportunities to get his family the hell out of an oncoming tragic ending, continued his obsession with finding out what was going on. What SINISTER II has instead, is the first film’s minor character of “Deputy So and So” (James Ransone) brought into the lead role of the sequel, giving viewers a conflicted character who feels responsible for not being able to stop the deaths of Hawke and his family in the first film. It’s a tortured character that we get to follow, one who is intent on saving families from dying, as opposed to a guy who just wants to solve something.
When the now “Ex Deputy So and So” discovers a single mother and her two young boys staying at a house that he was planning on burning down to save people form moving into the former crime scene of a location, we’re given some excellent chemistry between Shannyn Sossamon’s Courtney and Ransone’s character, a great performance from real life brothers Robert Daniel and Dartanian Sloan as her sons, one of which is taunted by the spirits of children taken by the demon Bughuul, and the other bitter that his brother was chosen by them instead of himself.
It’s a film full of character development, terrifying videos of past victims at the hands of Bughuul’s children and something that the first film lacked a bit: allowing you to actually care and WANT the film’s characters to make it out alive. Nobody else might have appreciated it, but I sure did.
3.) WE ARE STILL HERE (Dir. Ted Geoghegan) original review
Ted Geoghegan’s weird as hell but COMPLETELY amazing homage to all things Fulci and Gordon, WE ARE STILL HERE, was an early discovery for me, having seen it during its SXSW screenings. It was one of those experiences in which you watch something and know by the end of the film, that it will go down as one of your favorite films of all time.
Every single element of WE ARE STILL HERE hits hard, from its deliberately slow paced build up, the eerie atmosphere present in the film, the subtle yet completely engrossing performances from Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Larry Fessenden and Lisa Marie, and some of the most impressive makeup designs in recent horror films. It’s a solid as hell story revolving around a grieving couple attempting to get away from the pain of a tragedy and moving into a New England home that happens to wake up every 30 years, demanding sacrifices.
It’s a great year of directorial debuts, with Osgood Perkins’ FEBRUARY and now Ted Geoghegan’s WE ARE STILL HERE, both showing that horror films helmed by first time directors can be just as impressive and surprisingly GREAT as the most seasoned horror veterans. WE ARE STILL HERE is definitely a testament to that, showing that Geoghegan has a great future as a directed ahead of him, and if his debut is any indication of what he’s capable of as a storyteller, sign me up.
2.) SUN CHOKE (Dir. Ben Cresciman) original review
This list is one that seems to have multiple mentions of actors and directors, which really shows how on top of things every one has been this year (here’s looking at you, Barbara Crampton!). One of the films that absolutely left me speechless, was Ben Cresciman’s SUN CHOKE, a psychological horror film dealing with a fragile woman and her deterioration/eventually complete breakdown.
Sarah Hagan’s performance as Janie, a woman who after a complete meltdown, is taken care of by Irma (Barbara Crampton), is a real revelation, showing just how great of an actress that she is. Fans of TV’s cult classic Freaks and Geeks might remember Hagan as the square Millie, but it’s Hagan’s emotionally naked performance in SUN CHOKE that is just an absolute treat to watch. She’s so good in the film and puts everything on the line in it, that as a viewer, you feel like you’re a part of the story, feeling sorry for the fragile woman, one that you can slowly see unraveling and beginning to crack. Crampton also shines in the film as the caring yet somewhat cold Irma, who isn’t the most compassionate person yet is also very interesting to watch.
SUN CHOKE is a film that is sure to be somewhat divisive with genre fans, but it’s a rare type of film, a type that is important to champion. It’s unique, filled with a story that has you connected to it 100% and features an emotional and devastating performance from an actress who will leave you wanting to see her in films more often.
1.) DARLING (Dir. Mickey Keating) original review
Mickey Keating’s DARLING was yet another Fantastic Fest discovery, but unlike most of the other films I really enjoyed watching at the annual festival, I had no desire to immediately run back to my laptop to write down a review for the film. In fact, what I did do, was continue to sit in my chair, spending a few moments digesting the masterful film I had just experienced.
DARLING is in no way for everyone, that’s one thing I’ll get out of the way when talking about the film that is easily my favorite film of the entire year and in all actuality, my favorite film in quite a few years. It’s a complete descent into madness, told through flashing lights, long moments without dialogue and a Polanski-heavy vibe that is sure to turn some genre fans off. With all of that being said though, it’s also very simply, a film so close to being a perfect piece of cinema that it feels like an important thing, watching it.
Lauren Ashley Carter is in a league of her own with this film, her eyes convey what other films rely on words and music to show, and her performance is so monumental, so astounding, that in an alternate world, she would win an Oscar for her performance in this mind-trip of a film, this classic in the making. As her character takes on the role of caregiver for a large mansion-like house that was the site of the previous caretaker’s suicide, we know things will eventually go south, but it’s through the combination of Carter’s performance, the quick and frenetic editing of Valerie Krulfeifer, music by Giona Ostinelli, sound design by Shawn Duffy and Keating’s direction, that we’re led into the descent, and are hypnotized by what we’re experiencing. When Carter’s Darling character begins to suspect that the house might have a sinister force to it and she begins to lose her mind little by little, we’re given a second performance to watch in her POD co-star Brian Morvant, as a seemingly well-meaning man who picks up a dropped necklace and brings it to her attention. Soon, Darling begins to follow the man, and we’re given a true descent into insanity and madness, one that doesn’t end until the final credits roll and you’re left sitting there, amazed by what you have just seen.