It’s hard to be a horror fan sometimes. Unfairly considered the lowest of the low, even behind the latest Fast And The Furious instalment or a money-grabbing animation that is entirely concerned with which high-profile “voice actors” are attached, as opposed to any kind of storyline, our beloved genre often lives up to this idea by disappointing us. 2014 wasn’t a great year for horror (sorry Babadook fans, but that movie kind of sucked). Horror in 2015, however, shocked us all by proving once and for all that the genre is a force to be reckoned with. Even mainstream critics acknowledged certain releases were due their respect.
Fans took note, too, as a slew of clever, innovative titles flooded shelves (and, in some lucky cases, theatres) across the world and we let our wallets do the talking, letting everybody know that if quality content was there we would support it. This was the year that everyone’s Best Of lists looked completely different, because there was so much good stuff out there.
Moreover, backlash from the horror community suggested Worst Of 2015 lists were in bad taste, because it was just that good of a year. The following are just ten of the reasons we can look back on this year with fondness (and that 2016 has some pretty big shoes to fill):
Indie horror broke out in a big way
The first, and arguably most important, reason 2015 was such a great year for horror is that this is the year independent horror broke out in a seriously big way. Over the past five years or so, certain trends have emerged in horror that left us (un)safe in the knowledge that the years to follow held only the latest cynical sequels/reboots to look forward to (Saw 50: Now With Added Limbs, Paranormal Activity 70: Is This Pot Falling Off A Shelf By Itself Still Scary Or What, Halloween Reborn: We Hope You Cry Over This One). This year, everything changed as a little-known director, with just one, prior, non-horror credit to his name, gave us the biggest hit of 2015. It Follows took a whopping $160,089 across just four screens in its opening weekend – the best takings since Paranormal Activity in 2010, funnily enough – leading to a massive expansion to 1,200 screens across the US and the shelving of its planned VOD release. One of the best, and most well-liked, horror movies of the year, David Robert Mitchell’s Carpenter-esque shocker proved that you don’t need a big budget or a multi-million Dollar marketing campaign to make a movie successful. A great idea can lead to one of the Top 10 highest grossing horror movies of the year, and a spot on even the snootiest critics’ Best Of lists, to boot.
Lots of new ideas
It Follows wasn’t the only brand-new horror property we got this year. Deathgasm, February, Green Room, Turbo Kid and Landmine Goes Click are just a selection from the huge amount of innovative, clever and, crucially, fresh ideas from this year in horror. Although horror fans may seem, to regular movie-goers, like spoilt brats whining because they never quite get what they want, this year proved that it’s not about being hard to please. We demand higher quality because we know that it’s possible. 2015 showed that, given the opportunity, we will flock in our droves to show our support and passion for this genre.
Found footage was exciting again
On that note, if there’s one thing horror fans are sick to death of (aside from torture porn, unnecessary reboots and mindless, money-grabbing sequels), it’s the ubiquity of found footage. Seemingly, no film can be deemed scary without the requisite shaky-cam effects that make it, let’s be honest here, impossible to see anything that’s actually happening on-screen. This year saw the release of Unfriended, a nifty, nasty little found footage chiller that takes place entirely on a laptop screen. Like last year’s terrific The Den, Unfriended took the current generation’s obsession with being on-line 24/7 and turned it completely against them. A riveting, dark and often quite terrifying movie, it was unfairly dismissed by many horror sites. Somewhat shockingly, however, respected, high-profile critics such as Mark Kermode (The Guardian, Wittertainment), Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian) and Donald Clarke (The Irish Times) rallied behind it, championing its cleverness and significant scare appeal.
Critics finally took notice
Unfriended wasn’t the only horror release that had otherwise fusty film critics eating their words, with It Follows receiving positive reviews across the board, along with Joel Edgerton’s terrific directorial début The Gift, a brilliantly-conceived, devilishly simple conceit about a happy young family being torn apart with a shock ending that still has fans arguing. Each of these movies has mainstream appeal, of course, but it’s still important to note their acceptance by the mainstream media. Regardless of whether this signals a change in the way horror is reviewed, it’s still comforting to know our beloved low art can be appreciated en masse when the quality is really there.
Vampires got their bite back
It was generally assumed vampires had had their day in the, er, darkness. After all, once they’d sparkled, all bets were off. Thankfully, this year saw the re-emergence of the toothiest creatures of the night with two, very different releases. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour’s super-stylish Iranian vampire-western that featured the coolest chick skateboarding since, well, ever, and What We Do In The Shadows, Taika Waititi’s hilarious mockumentary, with long-time friend and collaborator Jemaine Clement (of Flight Of The Conchords fame), in which they both also took starring roles. Two wildly different films, both of which prove that there’s life in the old beasts yet. And, in their own, weird ways, both movies also proved that vampires can still be scary. Especially when they’re trying (unsuccessfully) to turn chips into worms.
Foreign horror waded into the mainstream
Many of the must-watch horror movies of 2015 were international exports. From German creature feature Stung, to the aforementioned Iranian and Kiwi vampire offerings, to Irish and British collaboration The Hallow and Canadian oddity Curtain, many of the coolest flicks of this year didn’t come from the States, which says a lot about the current, exciting state of horror. More and more young film-makers, particularly in far-flung areas of the world, are picking up their cameras and nabbing some friends to finally get their stories told, and the results speak for themelves. Hell, Waititi and Clement believed in Shadows so much, they ferried it around the US in a car just to get it seen – and rightly so. For many, foreign horror was impenetrable, restricted to Asian phantoms and European grossness, but now, there’s something for everyone. Just don’t let the subtitles put you off.
Forget finally seeing “all the activity”, paranormal stuff is scary again
The Ghost Dimension may have made a decent dent at the box office (with It Follows’ takings stacking up right behind it), but it wasn’t the most exciting paranormal release of the year. It wasn’t even in the Top 5. Insidious: Chapter 3 was the best, and I’d argue the scariest, instalment in the series, even in spite of its weird fan service. Poltergeist wasn’t offensively terrible, and an easy way to while away a boring afternoon. Likewise, The Gallows may have been torn apart by fans and critics alike, but it had some genuinely scary moments save for a truly terrible ending. A Christmas Horror Story boasted one of the most spine-tingling paranormal-themed segments I’ve ever seen, but as an anthology it doesn’t really count, and director Adam Egypt Mortimer really doesn’t wish his villain Moira to be referred to as a ghost so I’ll leave Some Kind Of Hate out of this, too (it’s problematic, but gory fun in places). Guillermo Del Toro’s stunning Crimson Peak took gothic romance by the frilly lapels and chucked in some spooky, albeit slightly too fake-looking, phantoms for good measure. The little-seen but fantastic Last Shift is yet another example of how the sub-genre can be updated for a modern audience, in a variety of new and inspiring ways. However, the real paranormal hit of the year is, of course, Ted Geoghegan’s We Are Still Here, an old-school chiller starring Horror Icon Barbara Crampton as a grieving mother whose new home is besieged by vengeful ghosts. Atmospheric, frightening and with an assured central performance from Crampton, it was a take-notice début that made us eager to see what the super-talented Geoghegan does next. Sure, The Ghost Dimension was released this year, but the only people still discussing it are 13-year-olds whose prior dalliances with horror involved YouTube screamers.
Old reliables done right
2015 was a year loaded with new ideas, but the old reliables were still out in force, giving us soon-to-be new favourite slashers (Most Likely To Die, which screened at Frightfest, the aforementioned Some Kind Of Hate which, although not without flaws, was mostly well-received by horror fans), horror-comedies (What We Do In The Shadows, The Final Girls, Cooties), anthologies (Tales Of Halloween, A Christmas Horror Story), zombie movies (Night Of The Living Deb, the decent, if pointless, Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse), creature features (The Hallow, Stung), werewolf movies (Howl), body horror (Bite), Christmas horror (A Christmas Horror Story, Krampus, Hellions), kids’ horror (the terrific Goosebumps) and many more besides. We got lots of terrific new stories, but we also had our faith rewarded in some lifelong favourite genres.
Not Quite Horror bled into everything
Not Quite Horror is a little-known, but fast-growing sub-genre that I champion here, on a bi-weekly basis, at Wicked Horror. Last year was pretty great for NQH; we had Whiplash, Nightcrawler and Foxcatcher among others, but 2015 saw the sub-genre really break out and infiltrate the mainstream. Think of the stomach-twisting Sicario, from master of the sub-genre (not that he knows it, of course) Denis Villeneuve, or Justin Kurzel’s stark, chilling update of Shakespeare, Macbeth. This year, Not Quite Horror lurked in every corner of the multiplex, ready to scare the pants off horror-avoiding movie-goers who foolishly thought they were in a safe environment. And I, for one, couldn’t be prouder of it.
Disappointments were few and far between
Probably the most comforting, and indeed surprising, thing about horror in 2015 is how few genuine disappointments there were. Even something like The Visit, which Mark Kermode described as a horror movie that’d only work for people who hadn’t ever seen a horror movie before, didn’t cause the call to arms (or, more accurately, Twitter) it would have in a less impressive year. Hell, that film ended up on a load of Best Of lists, which is really saying something for how good of a mood we were collectively in this year. Even The Ghost Dimension, or the ghastly third, and hopefully last, Human Centipede didn’t piss us all off enough to call bullshit on horror in 2015. It was a great year all round, all things considered, and there was truly something for everyone, too. If anything, the best thing about 2015 was how high it set the bar for 2016. Hopefully, we’re only just getting started.