What Were the Best Horror Movies of 2015?
Two writers debate the flicks that got under our skin or took it off entirely.
We love horror and we loved what horror gave us in 2015. Here are some of our thoughts on wrapping up the year from staff writers Brock Wilbur and Emily Gaudette and maybe a spooky ghost or two.
Brock Wilbur: 2015 in horror has been the year of… Maybe we have to start by talking about Jason Blumhouse and how he’s making mid-budget horror as profitable as porn?
Emily Gaudette: It’s been the year of American franchises crawling toward the finish line. You have to give Blumhouse credit for producing so many of these: Sinister,Paranormal Activity, Insidious. They’re not quite the Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Halloween series of old, though. Are they all missing good villains? Insidious 3 was my favorite of the installments in 2015.
On Sinister, I don’t know. I got in a Twitter fight with a guy who wrote an article and kept misspelling Bughuul … which is about as memorable as Bughuul got for me this year. And he might’ve been the best villain we had.
The Paranormal Activity franchise started so strong, but I’m not sure I’m still on board with the whole off-screen-ghosties thing anymore. The tagline for The Ghost Dimension one this year was something like “this time…you will see the activity.” I was, like, standing by myself with popcorn in the theater looking at that poster and laughing. That’s a line The Simpsons would have come up with! Paranormal Activity: This time, the activity’s gonna happen!
BW: That tagline was awful. At least it wasn’t all about cultural reappropriation, like the previous installment.
At least these franchises getting on their feet again has meant even television is getting in on the game. MTV’s Scream franchise this year was an idiotic and fun addition to its Teen Wolf series, which is hilarious that MTV suddenly has a horror film block of programming in 2015? We’ve also got the CW Friday the 13th coming, a counterintuitive franchise to pick up — but CW matches that to iZombie — it’ll have a horror block, too. Which is all great since we lost the best-ever network horror show with Hannibal.
EG: Ooh, I hadn’t heard of Friday the 13th, but if it’s anywhere as good as iZombie, I’m sold. I have had so much fun watching that since the beginning. The acting is surprisingly great, and they’ve really figured out a way to make every episode entertaining. It’s not really horror, though. I can’t think of a single scene devoted to scaring the audience, but the heroine does eat brains and “go full Romero” if she doesn’t get to feed. I haven’t seen Teen Wolf — I wonder if it’s anything like Big Wolf on Campus, which I loved very much.
The best of horror TV this year, in my opinion, has been Ash vs Evil Dead. It’s so colorful and fun. I did love Hannibal too, but that was a tough one to watch. It was so goddamn dark and bloody, and I’m more of a yell-at-the-screen kind of horror fan. Brooding horror can get under my skin in a way that follows me around.
As far as TV, I can’t watch the Ryan Murphy horror shows (Scream Queens and American Horror Story) because they always end up disappointing me. Scream Queens did have a lot of awesome stuff going on, but I eventually just dropped off and lost interest mid-season. I heard they revealed the killer this week.
BW: I also dropped off on Scream Queens but for the first six episodes or so it was my favorite thing on TV this year. Murphy has such a delightfully tragic relationship with horror. He knows how to produce all the right pieces in the right places, both in front of and behind the camera, and then it just feels so hollow. Murphy doesn’t so much produce horror as he produces 13 episodes of content and that generates some loud noise right before the commercial. I still think the first two seasons of American Horror Story were top-notch, but Scream Queens did away with the pretense of trying and instead lived in the pure pastiche that acknowledged it was just going for shocks and jokes with no “art” about it. This was kinda what made the final seasons of Nip-Tuck entertaining in a completely different way from the original series — letting Murphy throw all the kitchen sinks while he constantly winks to camera. If there’s one thing he’s the best at, it’s that.
On the opposite end of the artistic spectrum, we have this year’s biggest quote-unquote horror property which I know we’re going to have a lot to debate: Crimson Peak.
EG: Okay, so I should reveal myself as a lifelong Guillermo Del Toro nut. I have my own closet of oddities because someone bought me the coffee table book of his collections, and I have copies of his monster design sketches, and… it was going to take a lot for me to dislike Crimson Peak. I saw it by myself because I didn’t want friends complaining that it wasn’t scary enough. To be honest, the creatures in Pan’s Labyrinth were way scarier, but no one called that a horror movie. I’m cool with some films being dark fairytales and leaving it at that. It’s a very American thing to try and shoehorn a film into the “horror” category just because something has disturbing or creepy imagery.
That said, I was disappointed in the overall plot. That’s astounding to hear myself say, because I’m vehemently in love with Tom Hiddleston and super into ghost stories and gothic literature. Maybe it was Mia? She’s lovely on screen, but a little dull for me. Or maybe it was the false “reveal” of the incest toward the end that bothered me. Were we really supposed to not understand what was happening? Duh, they’ve been killing girls. Duh, they’re having sex. All of that was so heavy-handed, and so unlike del Toro, who already had a great gut punch of a reveal in El Orfanato.
What did you think of Crimson Peak? Were you bothered that people wanted to call it a horror movie?
BW: Crimson Peak suffered a problem of marketing that set an expectation for a completely different movie, and then they had to burn money last-second when they realized what they’d done, trying to re-educate the public about what to expect. Although, what do you when you realize you have to sell a gothic romance — a forgotten genre in the mainstream?
I mean, it is a horror film. It’s a big, brooding, spooky piece. Relatable ghosts and limp twists don’t disqualify it. I agree that it’s so heavy-handed, especially when our protagonist explains the metaphor of ghosts like — you know what? I’m getting upset just remembering that. So, maybe I don’t love this film, but I do love what it tried to do. And I can’t think of more beautiful, iconic art design, or scale in the genre this year. I know bigger isn’t better for spooky scares, but gosh, this has its moments.
Unlike Victor Frankenstein.
If this is on the tamer end of things, let’s talk gore, because I’m pretty sure we’re both unrepentant gorehounds.
EG: Yeah dude, you got me. I’ve given up trying to psychoanalyze why I’m drawn to it, but I am. The most effective gore I saw in 2015 was in Bone Tomahawk (he just kept screaming! he was alive until his guts fell out!) and Noah’s death on The Walking Dead. I felt uneasy for a solid 24 hours after the zombies ate Noah’s face from the inside out. And Glenn had to watch, the poor guy. That was a well-crafted death.
The most overrated gore I saw was Green Inferno, which I think was dampened by the characters involved not being well-written or likable. Eating a guy’s eyeballs was one thing, but putting female genital mutilation in a horror film was a little too much for me. I was pulled out of the movie because I realized “oh, some version of this actually happens all the time.” The cowboys in Bone Tomahawk were like grizzled old dads, just regular dudes trying to save someone, so that was a lot harder to watch.
Am I missing anything, gore-wise? I didn’t see the Poltergeist remake, because I love the original so much. Did they do the tearing-off-the-face scene in the bathroom?
BW: Literally forgot the Poltergeist remake happened. Wasn’t it rated PG or something? Oh, PG-13, but they played up that it was more of a children’s movie. Maybe I’m intrigued by this? But certainly no faces were torn in the making of that production.
As per the Shambling People show… Christ, Emily. Spoilers. (This is my fault for not being caught up enough to know what a Glenn is.) I did see Noah’s death as a GIF on my Facebook timeline so I feel like I can weigh in that it is just as awful as you said, even with absolutely no context, which is a fun new internet way of experiencing horror.
There’s an interview with Eli Roth in some major publication where the “Did You Know?” portion is that Cannibal Holocaust is his favorite movie. I laughed for maybe an hour. Yes, we’re all aware that Eli Roth has spent his entire career attempting to make that movie, and Green Inferno was so explicitly that. I worry that Eli Roth has never met a person or at the very least has no interest in writing one, which is weird because I think some of the characters in Cannibal Holocaust are fleshed out, no pun intended. Inferno made me just want to see the characters die, which would work if that was how Roth intended the audience to respond, if he were actually that clever. I’m a Roth defender and am frankly running out of reasons to take his side. Did you get a chance to see Knock, Knock? It’s a big sexist mess, but it’s a character piece, so at the very least Eli can’t just kill people off whenever he wants because then the movie would end. It makes for one of his better films.
But, yes, Bone Tomahawk was an amazing surprise. Historical Cowboy Horror? Who made this and for what audience? And it is so hard to advertise this, they didn’t even bother. I saw it expecting a Western genre film and when the turn came I just started giggling because we didn’t deserve something that shocking.
Speaking of genre work that wasn’t really genre work, how about that We Are Still Here?
EG:Ooh yeah, when I saw the trailer for We Are Still Here, I was like “alright, old people being chased by demons for once! No sexy teenagers here, sign me up!”
I just want to comment on a couple things you said before getting to that. First of all, Glenn is in the second-ever episode of The Walking Dead, so you just haven’t seen it at all? And I’m actually with you on trying to defend Eli Roth, and not just because I have a crush on him. Did you know he had a horror-themed bar mitzvah? I digress. I want him to make his gory movies and have fun, but I wish he had a stronger writer helpin’ him out.
Fun fact, I helped out with some PR consulting for Knock Knock. My coworkers and I made fun of the way Keanu said “chocolate with sprinkles!!!” in the trailer. I mean, I guess it was kind of an original idea, but I don’t have much to say beyond that.
OK, so back to We Are Still Here. Were they promoting that film as indie art-house horror because of the success of It Follows? I mean, the poster alone made it look like some kinda throwback, kitschy horror film like House of the Devil (which is also great). In reality, it was pretty much a straight-ahead haunted house movie. All good with me, though. I was scared, and I thought the writing was very clever. It’s a weird experience to yelp at a movie, and then laugh, and then shake your finger at the screen like, “Oh ho, Ted Geoghegan, I see what you did there.” (I just had to Google his name, but in my defense, We Are Still Here was his directorial debut.)
If we’re talking about horror genres, you loved the shaky-cam Creep, didn’t you?
BW: I did wanna talk about Creep because Brice and Duplass crafted a perfect indie horror feature that you should be watching on Netflix right now and it shares a dizzyingly high critical consensus but HEY how have we not talked about It Follows yet? Jesus, that’s probably the biggest breakout of 2015. I got a chance to catch the film with live soundtrack work by Disasterpeace and it was the highlight of my cinematic year.
It’s such a perfect blend of tone and cosmic horror and sexuality but oh boy does it wear out on repeated viewings. I made it maybe four viewings in before I realized it’s just not as fun or scary as I thought, but I think there’s something about being a horror fan where you can get excited at this point for the birth of (what should be) a franchise? This was like watching The Purge and thinking “This is fine, but I bet the next four get better as they go.”
Did you catch A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night? I know this technically came out at the end of 2014 but no one got a chance to really see it until 2015. I realize it’s not as screen shouty as you prefer your horror.
EG: It Follows was such a perfect summer movie. You’re totally right about repeat viewings, though. It absolutely stunned me in the theater, and then when I rented it to watch with my friends, they were like, “So it’s just a person following her around?” I guess some people need more glitz and bloodshed to get the point across. That scene where the “It” of It Follows was grinding the neighbor boy to death wasn’t enough for them, I guess. I really loved the film, though. I wish more horror films had such style. It kind of fell apart in the third act for me, or at least lost some of the excitement, but the whole thing just felt so fresh overall, that I forgave it.
You really think it’ll be a series? I don’t know how I feel about that.
I watched A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night on Netflix with everybody else. I did like it, although you’re right that it was quieter. I thought it was a horror movie in the same way that Let the Right One In was, as in … barely, but still good.
Speaking of “screen shouty,” which is totally what I like, you’re right, two Irish/British horrors came out this year, and I was intrigued by both of them. Did you see The Hallow or Let Us Prey? I always get excited when international film studios bring new ideas to the genre. Let Us Prey brought this religious concept rooted in Catholic guilt, which was cool. Obviously A Girl Walks Home was informed by being an Iranian film, especially regarding gender.
The Hallow was awesome because it had so many cool little creature details in it. I’m a big fan of monsters more than any other factor in horror, and I hadn’t seen a cool monster design in a while. I’m hoping to see more creature features in 2016.
BW: Ugh. I hate how many of these I’ve missed and I’m just writing them down now on my to-do list for the weekend. I think the only place I’ve got you outpaced was with Maggie, the Abigail-Breslin-is-a-zombie movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in his big non-terminator return to acting. It’s a small, better-than-average walker pic that actually had me shouting “WHO KNEW HE COULD ACT?” That said, I do love when you cast someone like Arnold as a “small town farmer” as if that was something that could — you know, I’ll just leave that “as if.”
I’d love to see a return to creature features next year, but unfortunately I think we’re going to see Universal bungle that on a pretty big stage. At least we’ve got The X-Files, right?