Before we get too far into 2016, it’s time to look back at last year and see what films caught our bloody eye and might stand the test of time for years to come, with the Gore 4’s first ever Bloody Best horror films of the year. While the major studios didn’t have any mega hits like a World War Z or The Conjuring, and horror franchises didn’t make much of an impact, there were a lot of great horror films to be found (beyond found footage) in 2015, with original films by up-and-comers and genre veterans alike. While dramas get most of the credit for tackling important subjects, let it be known that horror does so as well, with movies this past year taking on issues from bullying to responsible sexual behavior to the plight of indigenous peoples. As is often the case in horror, strong female characters led the way, or provided major support, in many of the films, which is why they appeal so much to female audiences. As the lines between horror and other genres oftentimes blend together, for this list, we’re going to stick with what we consider flat out horror. So, standout films from 2015, like Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Hateful Eight, The Martian and Ex Machina, aren’t included because they don’t dip their feet enough into the blood-soaked pool of horror. As evidence that it was a great year for horror, we had to go with 15 films, as opposed to the standard 10. And as it is too difficult to rank the films in order of quality or Gore 4titude, we’ll just go in alphabetical order. So, here goes – the Bloody Best Horror Films of 2015:
Attack on Titan
No film was wilder or more epic last year than the live action version of the Japanese manga, Attack on Titan. It was so big in fact, it was released in two parts. Following the story of the last vestiges of humanity and their struggle to survive against an onslaught of ravenous, giant, mutated humans, AOT was probably the goriest release of the year, with people munched on and stomped on, and bones crunched and limbs splayed. In other word, it was spectacular. It also featured one the Gore 4’s absolute favorite performances of the year, that of Satomi Ishihara, who will also be seen later this year in Toho’s Godzilla Resurgence. For more, check out our review of Attack on Titan.
No film in horror last year had better performances than Bone Tomahawk, the auspicious debut from first time director, S. Craig Zahler. Starring Gore 4 fav, Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox and Richard Jenkins, this western horror hybrid centered on a group of men on a dangerous trek to rescue those captured by bloodthirsty cannibals. The film should have received any number of Academy Award nominations, including a wonderful script by Zahler that had one of the best lines in any movie ever. To drive home the point that the film indeed could be filed under horror, it had perhaps the most startling graphic display of violence of any film last year. And did we also mention it starred The Thing’s Kurt Russell? Check out our review of Bone Tomahawk to learn more of what made it so special.
A Christmas Horror Story
Of the two Christmas themed horror films released last year, we’re going to go with the harder-edged, A Christmas Horror Story, over the more comic Krampus. While Krampus was certainly fun, and a had terrifying demon anti-Santa, ACHS, an anthology film with the segments loosely connected, just took things further and filled the screen with more blood and guts. Plus, it had William Shatner as a radio DJ tying everything together. There were some truly ‘oh, no they didn’t just do that’ moments in the film. You just can’t beat a Santa decapitating and chopping up zombie elves with an axe and any number of weapons he can find in his home up North. And Krampus, himself, joins the festivities as well. So, you can add A Christmas Horror Story to the lists of the naughtiest and nicest Christmas-themed horror films, and anthology films as well.
Contracted: Phase II
Another inaugural filmmaker getting his start was Josh Forbes, with the gratifyingly gross-out zombie virus thriller, Contracted: Phase II a direct sequel to 2013’s Contracted. Featuring a number of cringe-inducing moments, Contracted II took the original’s premise and took it to the next level, adding in a more sinister scheme behind the disease that rots its victims from the inside out. It’s effectiveness belied its low budget, with some great F/X work that helped bring home the message that sex can kill. Writer Craig Walendziak has done a terrific work in expanding on its predecessor’s storyline, utilizing the original’s Matt Mercer, who does a great job of portraying someone whose life is literally falling apart, piece by bloody piece. This sequel may also serve as the next piece in a continuing franchise as the deadly virus continues to spread, with the next installment hopefully written and directed by Walendziak himself. Read more in our review of Contracted: Phase II.
It would be an unusual year in horror if a best of list didn’t include at least one good old-fashioned ghost story. Crimson Peak, from the imaginative mind of Guillermo del Toro, was sumptuous feast for the eyes and ear. How the film was ignored by the Academy for its art direction in creating the imposing and impressive mansion is as mysterious as those that unravel within the film. Though this ‘gothic romance’ tends to lean more on style and mood than guts and gore, the acts of violence, though, sporadic, are brutal, jarring and unflinching. And the ghastly apparitions in their billowy, flowing garments, are equally unnerving. A-list actors Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Charlie Hunnam add considerable depth to a story that is riveting and terrifying in a way only del Toro can do. “Ghosts are real, this much I know.”
For all those holier-than-thous out there who think heavy metal is the Devil’s music, have we got a movie for you. Coming from New Zealand, which brought us Peter Jackson and his classic comedy horrors, Bad Taste and Dead Alive, comes the awesomeness that is Deathgasm. Another feature film first-timer, Jason Lei Howden, brings to life the tale of a put upon teen whose only comfort comes from the power of rock and roll. When he uses mystical sheet music to summon a demon, all hell breaks loose. Deathgasm is a raucous blood-drenched extravaganza with over-the-top gore F/X in the spirit of Evil Dead II, Street Trash and those aforementioned Jackson films. Milo Cawthorne is perfect as the misfit headbanger, and Kimberley Crossman is a knockout as his axe-wielding love interest. And the music kicks butt too, especially the super catchy end credits tune, “Bad For Good”, by Skull Fist. Long live rock and roll!
Back to filmmakers making their mark in the horror genre with first time efforts is Alistair Legrand and his eerie haunted houser, The Diabolical. Taking the well known scare premise of a home besieged by forces from beyond, Legrand injects a sci-fi twist to set it apart from all the rest. And rather than set things up with a family moving into their new dwellings and seeing things slowly begin to transpire, he hits us right from the get go with our protagonists already used to dealing with there otherworldly inhabitants. It’s a refreshing change and one which signals great promise in this writer/director’s future work in the genre. Ali Larter provides a great lead, along with her teo young co-stars. You can see our review of The Diabolical.
A throwback to the 70s and 80s giallos and slashers, The Editor was a tasty treat for us horror fans, comimg from Canada. At once reverential while poking fun at the standard horror tropes from those films from the past, The Editor was a load of fun from beginning to end. Just a look at the poster artwork to get an idea where the film was coming from. Featuring a cool cast from the always creepy Udo Kier to the ever bizarre Paz de la Huerta, along with the filmmakers themselves, who previously did Father’s Day and Manborg, the film concerning the gruesome murders surrounding the making, and editing, of a campy exploitation film, is full of gratuitous gore and nudity, just like those thrillers of yesteryear. Another movie filmed on a shoestring budget, it nonetheless looks sharp with plenty of nifty F/X work bringing the murders to death. And it’s all done with a razor sharp tongue-in-cheek. A reel gem.
The Final Girls
Another entry in the comedy horror subgenre is the meta-slasher, The Final Girls. It would actually make a great double feature with the just mentioned, The Editor, as it also concerns a film-within-a-film, this time with a group of teens transported into a beloved cult classic entitled, Camp Bloodbath. Here, they mingle with the cast while trying to survive long enough to get back to the real world. Giving the film added emotion and depth is a surprisingly moving relationship between a daughter (Taissa Farmiga) and her scream queen mom (Malin Akerman). The cast also includes Nina Dobrev, Thomas Middleditch and Adam DeVine, who bring a lot more to what are often stereotypical roles. Like the Scream films before it, The Final Girls was an entertaining and fun romp that should have received a full-on wide, rather than, limited release. Read our review of The Final Girls.
The Green Inferno
After a delay of a couple of years, Eli Roth finally saw the release of his cannibal exploitation picture, The Green Inferno, and it was well worth the wait. An homage to the Italian gorefests of the late 70s and early 80s, like the notorious Cannibal Holocaust, Roth explores the environmental issue of industrial corporations exploiting the land and the native people who depend on it mixed in with the cut off limbs and sliced skin. And the man-eating spiders! It can be incredibly graphic at times, but it’s not pervasive throughout, though it does showcase one of the most harrowing plane crashes on film. Roth’s wife, Lorenza Izzo is as breathtaking to watch as the lush jungle scenery, and gives a gore-de-force performance. Our review of The Green Inferno takes a deeper look into this gut-munching film.
The next film on our list may have been the most critically lauded horror film of the year, though there were many who thought it didn’t live up to the hype. The Gore 4 thought it did and more. It Follows was a true frightfest in every sense of the word, with its story of a young woman terrorized by supernatural entities everywhere she goes at any time. It’s all brought on by a curse that she takes on after a date that goes horribly wrong. Working with a limited budget, writer/director David Robert Mitchell creates tons of suspense in a film that’s as refreshing as it is scary. Hats off to Maika Monroe, who gives her all as the followee, in another strong female lead performance. Here’s our review of It Follows.
The biggest film of the year, until a galactic adventure came along in December, may come as a surprise on the list. Jurassic World took the box office by storm last summer, far exceeding everyone’s expectations, as it reignited the Universal franchise. And while sci-fi is the catalyst for the events in the film, the threat of gigantic dinosaurs ripping you apart limb from limb, or swallowing you whole, is pure horror, just like past films such as Jaws, Piranha and Day of the Animals. Led by Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, and directed by Colin Trevorrow (on tap for Star Wars: Episode IX), Jurassic World is everything you want in a summer blockbuster. While it was great seeing old favorites like T-Rex again, the new dinosaurs, from land to sea to air, kept things fresh and new. Check out our review of Jurassic World.
Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse
What once occupied a cult niche within the world of horror is now everywhere you look, and Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse took the undead subgenre to gory, comedic heights. Normally, a film like this would go the PG-13 route to attract more of the teen audience. Thankfully for us, they went all out with a welcome R-rating, and though that may have aided in a disappointing box office, it sure delighted gorehounds and fans of flesh-eating zombies. At times raunchy, and other times rather heartwarming, it also features atypical characters, the standout being the leggy, luscious and lethal Sarah Dumont, who we hope to see way more of in the future. The film was directed and co-written by Christopher Landon, son of Michael, and he brings a lot of heart to a film with hearts, spleens and intestines splattered across the screen. It belongs right up there with Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland.
OK, now the Gore 4 wouldn’t be caught dead at a romance film. The Notebook? Ahhh, not a chance in hell. However, if you add a tentacled immortal creature with an insatiable thirst for blood, now you have our attention. Spring stars Lou Taylor Pucci as a lost and lonely soul in search of something, anything, as he travels to Italy, where he meets an incredibly alluring woman, played by the irresistible Nadia Hiker. She is as mesmerizing as she is mysterious, and when he discovers her dark secret, it forces them both to make decisions about life and love. Written by Justin Benson, who co-directed with Aaron Moorehead, Spring effectively uses its Italian locations to give the film an exotic feel. It takes its time, but when the horror comes, it is quite potent and disturbing. Hiker is a real find, and we look forward to seeing her in the upcoming Divergent films.
What We Do in the Shadows
Last on our list is another film from New Zealand, the horror comedy mockumentary, What We Do in the Shadows. The film follows four vampires who share a flat as they face the everyday tasks of doing the dishes, getting into nightclubs and finding sources of blood. It’s not easy being a vampire – as one laments, no more chips or daytime TV. The f/x are surprisingly effective for a low-budgeter, as when one reveals their vampiric face or changes to a bat. The blood flows as well, as we see when one of the vamps accidentally hits a major artery while feeding. Written and directed by Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement, who co-star along with Johnny Brugh, WWDITS is a bloody delight throughout. Waititi, incidentally, is directing the next Thor movie, and we hope he brings his wit and humor to that too.
As with any list of the top films of the years, some more than worthy selections get left out, but that doesn’t make them any less deserving of checking them out. Three films that tackled the issue of bullying, and the devastating effects it can have on young people in a number of terrifying ways, are the taunting teen thriller, #Horror (reviewed here), the cyber-slasher, Unfriended (our review) and the supernatural Some Kind of Hate. Arnold Schwarzenegger takes a serious turn as a father protecting his slowly, zombie-turning daughter (Abigail Breslin) in Maggie. Practical F/X veterans, Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, brought their skills, and Lance Henriksen, to the monster movie, Harbinger Down. We Are Still Here is a ghastly ghost story starring Re-Animator’s Barbara Crampton. And from Australia, another post-apocalyptic zombie film, that mixes Dawn of the Dead with Mad Max, is the frenetic and fun, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead. Last, but not least, is M. Night Shyamalan’s return to horror with the grandparents from hell tale, The Visit.
All in all, it was quite a good year for horror in cinema. Most of these films are currently available on home video, On Demand or even Netflix, so take the time to check them out. Theres something for everyone, from vampires and zombies, to ghosts and demons, to westerns and even romance. As 2016 gets underway, let’s hope this year too will bring some memorable horror films to splash bloody red across our screens.