As I come to the end of 2015, I find myself with the unenviable task of going through every single film I’ve seen this year, and try to suss out the ten that I thought were best. Why do I call this task “Unenviable”? Well that’s because I’ve seen well over 200 films this year, and try as I might, I can’t remember all of them. The films I’ve seen fulfilling my duties as a festival judge alone number well over 100, but at this point I can only remember a few of them. But I do try and keep a list of every film I’ve seen that I can remember, and it’s from that list that I decided on my ten favorites of the year. I encourage any/all of you that take the time to read this list to comment on it, do you agree? Disagree? Let me know! I’d also love to read what were some of your favorites of the year as well, so please send in your list of favorites. And just for the record, the two best films I’ve seen this year of any genre were Inside Out and Creed. They’re two amazing films that you should see if you’re serious fans of film.
I’d like to pay respect to some films that I really enjoyed this year. In another year, they’d have made my top 10 easily. Firstly, allow me to mention two films that aren’t horror films, but they were films that I found extremely entertaining regardless. Kingsman: The Secret Service was a great example of a spy/secret agent film that was genuinely fun, unlike this year’s especially dour and relatively thrill free James Bond adventure, Spectre. Another film that I thought was a lot of fun and unfairly maligned was Everly. It was a hard R adventure that took place almost entirely in an apartment, and kicked all kinds of ass. Who knew Salma Hayek had it in her to act in a role as physically draining as this one?
As for horror films that I really enjoyed, but just fell short of my list, I’ll start with two festival films that I thought were both marvelously entertaining and in the case of one of them, wildly original. Dead Body (Written by Ramon Isao and Ian Bell. Directed by Bobbin Ramsey) is a fine example of a whodunit film, wrapped inside of a ten little Indians mystery. It starts off fairly ordinary, but once the killing gets started, all bets are off. The script does a great job of developing/maintaining a sense of paranoia/distrust between the characters, especially as they start dying. I’m looking forward to what Ramsey, Isao and Bell have in store for us in the future. Curtain aka The Gateway (Written by Carys Edwards & Jaron Henrie-McCrae. Directed by Jaron Henrie-McCrae) is an extremely original (& extremely strange) story of a young woman who moves into a small apartment that features a curtain eating bathroom wall, and her efforts to find out where all of those curtains end up. Sounds bizarre? It certainly is, but it’s also tremendously enjoyable and appealing. Taking place entirely in NYC, it goes off in myriad directions that shouldn’t make sense, but do. And it even manages to end in a bittersweet fashion that might make you shed a tear. Trust me, It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Some Kind Of Hate (Written by Brian DeLeeuw & Adam Egypt Mortimer. Directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer) might look like a generic slasher at first glance, but give it a chance, and you’ll discover a fairly harrowing film, with one of the most original (& squirm inducing) examples of a slasher that I’ve ever seen. The Atticus Institute (Written/Directed by Chris Sparling) is one of the few examples of a found footage film that works. It’s both scary and engaging, with a great performance from Rya Kihlstedt as a woman who may or not be possessed by an evil (& malicious) spirit, and the government program that tries to weaponize it. It’s so convincing, that I thought it was based on true events, but it’s not. It’s just a really good script by Sparling that makes it feel as real as it does. Headless (Written by Nathan Erdel & Todd Rigney. Directed by Arthur Cullipher) is one of the more divisive films I’ve seen in my life. You’ll either love it or hate it, there is no in between. I just happened to love it, but completely understand why others might despise it. It’s a hardcore, no holds barred bloodbath that takes absolutely no prisoners as it spills blood (& other assorted fluids) across the screen. But there’s a story here, a good one too, and if you can look past the gore you might find yourself surprised by the sincere emotional content to be found here. Insidious Chapter 3 (Written/Directed by Leigh Whannell) was a welcome return to the scares found in the first Insidious film (scares that were carelessly tossed away in Insidious Chapter 2). In taking us back to a time before any of the events from the previous Insidious films occurred, Whannell gives us an original nightmare that was genuinely frightening at times. And it’s always great to see Lin Shaye in a film, in any genre. The Final Girls (Written by M.A. Fortin & Joshua John Miller. Directed by Todd Strauss Schulson) was a funny, scary and meta take on slasher films of the 80’s. Taissa Farmiga plays a young girl whose mother, a famed 80’s scream queen, dies in a car accident. Years later, she finds herself in a theater with her friends, watching a film her mother starred in during her heyday. But something happens in the theater, and they find themselves smack dab in the film they were just watching. Now they have to use their wits (& their knowledge of the film they were watching) to escape before the killer of the film kills them. It might sound silly, but it’s clever and thrilling, with characters you actually begin to care about after awhile. Lastly, there were two Christmas themed horror films that deserve acknowledgement. A Christmas Horror Story (Written by James Kee, Sarah Larsen, Doug Taylor & Pascal Trottier. Directed by Grant Harvey, Steve Hoban & Brett Sullivan) is deceptively titled because it’s actually four stories held together with a wraparound starring William Shatner as a DJ on a late night shift. I wasn’t expecting too much from it but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of both the script and the acting here. The story featuring Santa under siege by Krampus and a horde of possessed elves was especially entertaining and fun, but all of the stories here work very well indeed, and I’d love to see a new entry in this series every year. Finally Krampus (Written by Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields. Directed by Michael Dougherty) was a really funny, scary and dark take on consumerism, holiday get together’s and faith that skewers a lot of sacred cows as it terrifies you. Featuring great performances from all involved, and one of the best genre scripts of the year, it’s destined to be a holiday classic for years to come.
Whew…Now for the final ten.
10/ Dark Was The Night – Written by Tyler Hisel. Directed by Jack Heller. A logging company sets up shop in the woods outside of a small town, forcing strange creatures out of the forest, and into a small town nearby. The sheriff of the town, Paul Shields (Kevin Durand), is already grieving the death of one of his children (& the ensuing separation from his wife) when the creatures begin to feed on the local populace. It might not look like much from the cover art, or the talent involved, but this is a seriously dramatic story with an award worthy performance from Durand. The tension slowly ratchets up until the final showdown with the creatures in the local church (which is the first time we really get a good look at them also). I found the creatures to be unique and scary, the script tense and the performances first rate. Director Heller does a great job of keeping the proceedings at a low simmer for the most part, focusing on the Sheriff and the townsfolk and getting us to care for them. It also features what’s probably the most depressing ending of any film I’ve seen this year (but I loved that too)!
9/ Landmine Goes Click – Written by Adrian Colussi. Directed by Levan Bakhia. Three friends, Chris (Sterling Knight), Alicia (Spencer Locke) & Daniel (Dean Geyer) are driving thru the Georgian Mountains (Russia), looking for a good spot to camp out for the evening. Alicia is engaged to Daniel, but in a a moment of weakness had a one night stand with Chris. Chris wants to tell Daniel about it, but Alicia won’t let him. It turns out that Daniel already knows, and sets up a fake landmine for Chris to step on during a photo opp the next day. Telling Chris and Alicia that he could care less about either of them, he walks away, leaving Chris with one foot on the landmine – unable to step off of it, else it’ll explode. A man named Ilya (Kote Dolordava) comes along, and offers to help, for a price. To tell you any more would spoil the film, but trust me when I say that despite it’s ridiculously silly sounding title, Landmine Goes Click is one of the most nerve wracking experiences I’ve had in a theater this year. Colussi’s script builds the tension slowly, but inexorably till it’s almost too much to bear. And then he does it again during the second half of the film. Admittedly, the film stretches the tension a bit too long at times, but never to the breaking point. And the late Dolordava gives one of the best performances in a genre film this year. A must see film.
8/ Spring – Written by Justin Benson. Directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead. After losing his mother, Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) decides to go on vacation to Italy for awhile. There he meets Louise (Nadia Hilker), a woman who’s harboring a very unique and terrifying secret. Spring is essentially what you’d get if H.P. Lovecraft and Richard Linklater had a child together, a romance film in which one of the participants just happens to be different. But what makes this film so special is that it doesn’t linger on Louise’ secret any longer than it has to, it really focuses on her relationship with Evan more than anything else. Once he discovers her secret, the film remains first and foremost a romance, not a all out monster fest. And that’s what makes Spring so special, it’s a character study more than anything else. Pucci and Hilker are spot on perfect as the star crossed lovers, and the Cthulian creature effects, while brief, are amazing. It’s not a fast paced thriller, prepare yourself for a lot of dialogue and gorgeous landscapes if/when you watch it. But I found Spring to be quite thrilling regardless, and loved every second of it.
7/ Last Shift – Written by Anthony Diblasi & Scott Poiley. Directed by Anthony DiBlasi. A rookie cop’s first assignment is spent all alone, manning the desk on the last night of a closing police station. Not long into her shift, Jessica (Juliana Harkavy) finds herself fielding phone calls from a woman in distress, a homeless man who won’t go away, an electrical outage that plunges the police station into darkness, and hallucinations of things that shouldn’t be where she sees them. Things that just can’t be real. What DiBlasi does marvelously here is misdirect the audience, keeping us almost as confused as Jessica is at times. He also makes the police station itself into a character that constantly confuses Jessica with its twists and turns. It almost feels like she’s in a bizarre labyrinth at times. There’s a lot more to the story that I can’t talk about, but I can safely say that Last Shift is probably the scariest film I’ve seen this year. The script doesn’t allow for a lot of exposition, it’s just scary, and DiBlasi knows it. Watch it alone in the dark, and see if you don’t look over your shoulder a few times.
6/ The Diabolical – Written by Alistair Legrand & Luke Harvis. Directed by Alistair Legrand. Madison (Ali Larter), a single mother with two children is being woken up every night by malevolent beings that frighten away the paranormal investigators she hired to investigate. Her scientist boyfriend, Miguel (Wilmer Calderon) agrees to help her find out what’s happening, but Wilmer knows a lot more about it than he lets on, which leads to a shocking revelation. This is another film that I didn’t expect much from, and indeed for the most part, it’s a competent but not terribly original mash up of The Entity and Poltergeist (both 1982). But then comes the twist, and The Diabolical becomes a completely different animal. The twist comes from so far out of left field that I stopped, and started the film again from the beginning to see if there was something I might’ve missed. What’s even more amazing (to me anyway) was that in all the years I’ve watched horror films, I’d never come across something similar. The twist just flips the entire script from something good, but ordinary into something unexpectedly terrific. The fact that it doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with the changes the twist adds to the film shouldn’t be counted against it. It’s still a terrific little movie.
5/ We Are Still Here – Written & Directed by Ted Geoghegan. A couple (Andrew Sensenig & Barbara Crampton) grieving over the loss of their son, move into a home in snowy New England. Unbeknownst to them, the home that they moved into has a bit of a history. A history that demands that every 30 years, the people of the town have to offer the house a sacrifice. And of course, the new owners have moved in at the wrong time. I had a bit of a Twitter tussle with the director of this film earlier this year, and I almost didn’t include it here because of that bit of nonsense. But we’re all adults here, aren’t we? And I don’t think it would be fair of me to deny praising this genuinely unsettling film because of a argument I had with it’s director. And it wouldn’t be fair to Mr. Geoghegan either because he’s written/directed a really scary film that works on every level. It builds its scares slowly and deliberately, and features great performances from its entire cast. But as terrific as this film is in its first 60 minutes, the final 20 minutes take it into a gorehounds wet dream as it suddenly becomes a bloodbath of the highest order. The sudden shift into overdrive comes suddenly, and had me wincing throughout. It’s an incredibly gruesome finale to an incredibly (& unexpectedly) frightening film. I loved it!
4/ Digging Up The Marrow – Written & Directed by Adam Green. Adam Green (playing himself) is contacted by a man, William Dekker (Ray Wise), who says that he knows where to find real monsters. Green decides to film a documentary on Dekker and his “Discovery”, only to find out that there are indeed real monsters living in a place that Dekker calls The Marrow. Ostensibly another found footage film, the difference between this and other films in this sub genre is that Adam Green knows how to make a good movie. And having a few of his famous friends (Tom Holland, Mick Garris, Kane Hodder) cameo here don’t hurt none. Toss in character actor extraordinaire Wise into the mix, and you get a pretty scary movie indeed! Although we only get to briefly meet a few denizens from the marrow, their nightmarish visage remains with me to this day. But what makes this film work as well as it does is the relationship that Green develops with Dekker. It feels at times like a father/son relationship, and as part of the film deals with the disappearance of Dekker’s son, that’s fitting. You’ll have a really good time with this one for sure.
3/ Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse – Written by Christopher Landon, Emi Mochizuki & Carrie Lee Wilson. Directed by Christopher Landon. Sometimes there’s a film that doesn’t land on any “Best Of” lists, but lots of “Worst Of” lists. This is one of those films, and currently it stands at 45% on Rotten Tomatoes. Quite frankly that’s a lot higher than I anticipated it to be. But I don’t care, because I think Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse is a freaking scream! I laughed at this one loudly and repeatedly, and that’s despite the fact that the humor rarely rises above anything more than sophomoric, asinine and silly. Three boy scouts, Ben (Tye Sheridan), Carter (Logan Miller) and Augie (Joey Morgan) find themselves smack dab in the middle of the titular event after an experiment escapes from the local bio laboratory, hilarity (and lots of gore gags) ensue as they try to stop the zombies before they find and eat Carter’s sister and her friends, who are at a dance being held at a secret location. First off, I’d like to say that the script really does a great job of building a relationship between the three scouts. It really does feel like they’ve known each other for years, and that really helps later on in the film – I wasn’t expecting that. And despite the R rating, I wasn’t really expecting too much gore here, but I was so wrong! This one is a gruesome gory mess! And while the humor is indeed ridiculously stupid for the most part, I just happen to like ridiculously stupid humor every so often, and this one hit the spot. Hell, it even has Cloris Leachman as a toothless zombie in it (“She’s gumming my ass!” is a line that’ll remain with me for a long time)! And with 7 viewings so far this year, It’s also the film I’ve watched the most times in 2015. G’ahead, call me what you will, I don’t care. I f**king love this movie and I don’t care who knows it!
2/ Deathgasm – Written & Directed by Jason Lei Howden. Two boys, Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) and Zakk (James Blake) accidentally summon a demon known as The Blind One and find themselves in the fight of their lives as they try to defeat the demon and his followers. Sort of like a Kiwi version of The Evil Dead, but with a lot more laughs, and some really great heavy metal music furiously moving things along. Deathgasm isn’t aiming to be anything more than a bloody good time, and it succeeds admirably. With a pair of really ingratiating performances from Cawthorne and Blake, and steady supporting turns from the rest of the cast, Deathgasm is a funny, gory and oddly sweet little film that stands as the best heavy metal horror film ever produced. Do yourself a favor and watch it through the end credits for a cool final scene that’s reminiscent of the finale from Shaun Of The Dead.
1/ Bone Tomahawk – Written & directed by S. Craig Zahler. Although he’s in the running for an academy award nomination for his work in this year’s Quentin Tarantino epic, The Hateful 8, It would be a shame if people forgot that Kurt Russell also starred in this western/horror hybrid as well. A group of cannibalistic cave dwellers kidnap a group of people from the local town, and a group of four men, led by Sheriff Hunt (Russell) head out to rescue them. It sounds relatively simple, but there’s a lot of layers to Zahler’s minimalist script. And those layers slowly unfold over the film’s 132 minute running time, during which we learn a lot about the sheriff and the three men accompanying him. A slow and near languid pace might deter you from seeing this all the way through, but that’d be a mistake because by bailing early you’d be denying yourself the pleasure of watching what feels like the most genuine western film in ages. Bone Tomahawk has the look and feel of a classic John Ford western, and the actors are perfection in it. The other three members of the rescue party are played by Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox and Richard Jenkins (who deserves an Oscar nod for his work here), and all of them shine both in their individual scenes and in support of Russell. As to the horror, I have to alert you to the fact that (despite being promoted as more horror than western) the film is 3/4 western to 1/4 horror. But when that horror arrives, it’s tense and terrifying and it features what has to be the most graphic kill scene of the year. You will wince, you will close your eyes, some of you might even leave the room, but all of you will be left with your mouths agape at what you see. Bone Tomahawk is the best horror film of the year for me because it brought me into a different world better than any other horror film I’ve seen this year. Sadly it didn’t get much of a theatrical release, but it is getting released to home video on December 29th. Do yourselves a favor and rent/buy it, it’s my favorite film of the year.