As Bloody Disgusting embarks on its 15th year, it’s hard to look back and say any were better than this one.
In 2003 we saw the release of Wrong Turn, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Cabin Fever, Freddy vs Jason, Underworld and even Identity, with 2004 becoming the year of SAW, with Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead also hitting theaters.
But 2015 was still the best, and one worthy of celebration. The reason? With the aid of VOD platforms and direct distribution, independent cinema really took off.
Last year, independent films dominated my “best of” list. But what really bothered me was that none really blew me out of the water. It was a great year, with The Babadook and all, but no title felt like it deserved to be cemented as a statue alongside other greats in the horror parthenon.
While The Babadook was the (unfortunate) clear best genre film of 2014, deciding which deserved the honor this year was a painstaking process. There were four indie films that easily deserved the honor of being dubbed “the best” – too bad only one will get bragging rights.
Whatever the case, what you really should be looking at is how there are zero studio productions included on the following list. Yes, ZERO! It’s important to note that all of the below were independently made (some acquired by studio labels), which is incredibly telling. It’s sad that studio slates are filled with franchises and half-assed “packaged” films that all look the same – this leaves no room for them to take a chance on the critically acclaimed indie films that break out during their festival runs.
Hopefully things change in the future. But for now, let’s just celebrate the artists outside of the studio system who put their heart and soul into delivering quality horror…
Bonus. The Green Inferno (Universal)
Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno is the one that got away. I’ve never been the last critic on the planet to see a horror movie, but this one just kept evading me. So much so that I even forgot to include it on my end of the year list. I’m quickly adding Roth’s latest as a bonus, because it’s easily one of my favorite films this year. For whatever reason, critics weren’t getting behind this throwback to Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, which is why it took me so long to check it out when it finally hit theaters. I am so glad that I did.
I absolutely loved The Green Inferno. For me, Roth has never made “torture porn” (let’s be clear, I don’t even believe in this sub genre), including Hostel. To receive that annoying label, a film must carry a mean-spirited soul, for which neither Hostel nor The Green Inferno have. For me, Green Inferno walks a fine line between brutal and fun, and never punishes the actors for the sake of shock (even though you’re going to cringe).
The Green Inferno packs a powerful punch; it created an emotional charge in me that films so rarely bring out. In the end, this has cemented Roth as a “master of horror.”
10. The Visit (Universal)
No matter what the promotional materials say, it should be known that M. Night Shyamalan independently made The Visit, his found-footage horror about two kids visiting their estranged grandparents. It’s got a “Hansel and Gretel” vibe to it, and is shrouded in tension that’s built around the idea that these kids are trapped with two loons in the middle of nowhere.
The twist is very Shyamalan-esque, but its the enjoyment isn’t predicated on whether or not the twist is “shocking”. In fact, the big turn of events are sort of ho-hum, feeling like good story structure more than anything. I’m starting to think Shyamalan has turned a corner, especially with “Wayward Pines” also on his resume, and am surprised that Shyamalan wrote the screenplay himself. Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie’s performance as Nana and Pop Pop, respectively, is truly frightening, and the duo literally carry the chiller on their backs. I think Ed Oxenbould’s goofy performance is hilarious, although I think it’s going to be a “make or break” for some.
I hate to think that people are avoiding The Visit because of Shyamalan’s name; those individuals are truly missing out on the purest of horror films that’s as clean, simple, and bare-bones as Grandma’s apple pie.
9. Turbo Kid (Epic Pictures Group)
I loved the post-apocalyptic vibe of Turbo Kid, helmed by Anouk Whissell, Francois Simard and Yoann-Karl Whissell, which made the film feel like a geeked-out Mad Max. It’s clear that us 80’s kids are now behind the cameras as Turbo Kid hones in on the 80’s film vibe from the effects to the story arc. This splatter-fest has so much gore and even more “holy shit” moments that drop it straight into cult status.
I think the coolest thing about Turbo Kid is that, even though it’s easily accessible, it feels like a “discovery” film – you know, one of those late night rentals that surprise you so much that you tell all of your friends (who never heard of it) that they have to see it.
8. A Christmas Horror Story (Image/RLJ)
I haven’t been tricked this hard in a long, long, long time, and was so blown away by the finale that it made A Christmas Horror Story one of my favorite holiday horror movies ever. There’s all sorts of craziness in this anthology that delivers on so many different levels; it’s gory, but it’s also goofy, then all of a sudden it’s insanely scary. In fact, A Christmas Horror Story warrants multiple viewings because the impact and enjoyment changes once you know the twist.
For me, though, the biggest selling point is that it’s directed by Grant Harvey (Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning), Brett Sullivan (Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, “Darknet,” “Orphan Black”), and Steven Hoban. That’s an un-fucking-real lineup.
7. Darling (Screen Media Films)
This is the year that I became a Mickey Keating superfan. This young indie filmmaker has hit the scene hard and already is showing his range through four films – Ritual, Pod, Darling and Carnage Park – none of which are similar in any way, shape or form. My favorite, so far, is Darling, his black and white descent into madness that’s an homage to 1960s horror.
Darling, which features another mind-blowing performance by Lauren Ashley Carter, is a trip into madness that can simply be described as maniacal. It’s insanity in its pure form inspired by films like Repulsion and The Tenant. I think what I love best is that it’s unapologetic and never panders to the audience.
Darling is a Mickey Keating experimental film that deserves to be ranked among the greats in history. Seriously. Time will stand behind Darling.
6. The Final Girls (Stage 6/Vertical Entertainment)
I suspect Todd Strauss-Schulson’s The Final Girls will top a lot of people’s end of the year lists. Not here. While it is one of the better horror films, I was disappointed with the violence. To put it in perspective, I liken it to Behind the Mask, which has a phenomenal story but failed when it came to the “slasher” portion of the film. The Final Girls is super funny, has an astounding cast – Taissa Farmiga (“American Horror Story”), Malin Akerman (Couples Retreat), Adam DeVine (“Modern Family”), Thomas Middleditch (“Silicon Valley”), Alia Shawkat (“Arrested Development”), Alexander Ludwig (“Vikings”), and Nina Dobrev (“The Vampire Diaries”) – and features a unique and innovative storyline, only when it comes time to some slashing, there’s no blood to be shed. It’s clear these filmmakers were aiming for a PG-13 and it truly, whole-heartedly hurts the final product. While it had the potential to become a masterpiece, let’s be honest here, The Final Girls is still pretty great, and the perfect popcorn flick for a night with the friends.
5. Deathgasm (Dark Sky Films)
Dark Sky Films’ Deathgasm is a mix between Evil Dead 2 and “Metalocalypse”, and delivers on its promise to be the most metal horror film ever. What I love most about Deathgasm, directed by Jason Lei Howden, is that it’s focused on being fun, and keeping the viewer entertained through jokes, goofs, gore and insane set pieces. As I said in my review, Deathgasm is the horror film a 15-year-old me would have creamed his pants over. I’m pretty sure it will obtain cult status in the years to come.
4. The Nightmare (Gravitas Ventures/FilmRise)
Earlier this year it looked as if Rodney Ascher’s docu-horror The Nightmare was a shoe-in for best of 2015, but eventually was surpassed by a glutton of great films (see below). While The Nightmare, the next doc from the filmmaker behind Room 237, isn’t as scary as people were boasting, it’s pretty chilling. The film explores the phenomenon of ‘Sleep Paralysis’ through the eyes of eight very different people, and shares reenactments of their accounts.
While there’s a lot of scary stories told throughout, one really stuck with me, one that I personally found fucking terrifying. In a scene, a young man recounting his first experience with Sleep Paralysis. Now, while most people have isolated incidents, his was passed on from his girlfriend. Yes, just the notion that his girlfriend was experiencing Sleep Paralysis was enough to trigger it within himself. That is scary as fuck. Why? Ask yourself this: could a viewing of The Nightmare be infectious? Could the very notion of sleep paralysis cause a viewer to experience it? Watch at your own risk.
3. What We Do in the Shadows (The Orchard)
Modern spoofs are terrible, mostly because they’re focused on pop culture and show zero understanding of the movies they’re goofing on. This is why Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows is a masterpiece. The pic is a docu-style story of a house of vampires who are, quite frankly, idiots. While there are no actual references to specific horror movies, the film makes a joke of all of the tropes and cliches in vampire films, but does so in a loving way that shows Clement and Waititi are clearly huge horror fans at heart.
What I think I love the most about What We Do in the Shadows is that it’s made specifically for us horror fans and isn’t pandering to anyone else. But most of all, it gets funnier with each and every viewing proving that it will stand the test if time.
2. February | retitled as The Blackcoat’s Daughter (A24)
There’s nothing better than a movie that resonates with you. Osgood Perkins’ directorial debut had me joining his cult of loyal followers. I am obsessed with February (read my review), which is set at an all girls boarding school where two women are bound together by a series of sinister events.
Not only does February star two of my favorite actresses – “Mad Men’s” Kiernan Shipka, and “Scream Queens” and “American Horror Story’s” Emma Roberts – but it’s one of the best Satanic horror films ever. It’s tremendously difficult to portray Satan in a film without him coming off cheesy, yet, February is chilling, haunting, and downright frightening. Any other year, February would have topped this list.
1. It Follows (TWC-Dimension)
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a genre film have as much open dialogue as David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows (read my review), his homage to classic horrors such as John Carpenter’s Halloween and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street. Usually “the best” is associated with perfection, only It Follows is riddled with plot holes that drove many viewers insane. The thing is, It Follows is legitimately scary, something I can only say about a handful of movies. It’s also propelled by Maika Monroe’s astounding performance, as well as heavy social commentary to go along with a timeless look and feel.
It’s easy for us to look back at all of the genre greats, but to experience the release of one is pretty special. You may not know this now, but when you look back at the release of It Follows 20 years from now, you’ll be bragging to the younger generation as to how you were an intricate part of its success.