by Jon Hunt
If Niles is going to write about music, then, hell — I’m going to write about films. Because believe it or not I watch a lot of them, and most of them are horror movies. And every year I compile in my head a list of the best horror films of the year (critics never stop making lists, believe me), and then never get to publish them anywhere. So since the sacred boundaries are down and anarchy reigns here at l’étoile (lions are lying down with lambs, dogs are sleeping with cats) here you go, kids. Merry Black Christmas.
1. Berkshire County aka Tormented – This film was way, way, way better than the reviews it got. It comes off as your standard “sitter in peril” movie (which I kind of love to begin with, I’ll confess) but it’s got a lot more — including a pretty sweet girl-kicks-ass revenge film a la I Spit On Your Grave — at the heart of it. Plot: good-girl Kylie gets humiliated at school and loses her self-esteem, then has to fend of a pack of pig-masked killers on Halloween eve. First-time director Audrey Cummings knows how to build tension without relying solely on cheap boo-moments, and her pack of masked (cannibal?) villains are genuinely creepy, too. And there’s a message in there about slut-shaming, bullying and self-esteem that I dug. Dunno why it didn’t catch on, but it’s well worth checking out.
2. Insidious: Chapter 3 – I dunno what it is about the third installments of horror franchises (see also: Exorcist III, Paranormal Activity III, Nightmare on Elm Street III) but they always seem to be my favorites. Maybe it’s the moment that the filmmakers feel the need to draw on fresh ideas to avoid repeating themselves. Insidious 3 is a genuinely scary prequel to the first 2 films, connected primarily by Lin Shaye’s charming medium Elise Rainier, who is investigating an invading spirit bothering teenage Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott). Writer/director Leigh Wannell does a good job with James Wan-type scares (surreal moments abound, as they do in the other two parts) and Shaye, Wannell (as paranormal investigator Specs) and Angus Sampson (as Tucker) are as delightful as they were in Chapters 1 and 2. I could watch endless films starring those three folks investigating creepy cases — I bet that’s the plan.
3. It Follows – The big breakthrough horror film of the year. I thought it was delightfully stylish and scary in the “right” ways (though god, do I hate people tone-policing horror films), and this genuinely imaginative “sexually-transmitted ghost” tale is definitely a little groundbreaking (not a lot, but a little). It didn’t scare me as much as it apparently did everybody else (and it left a lot of unanswered questions, like WHAT THE FUCK and WHO THE FUCK) but it was a very damn entertaining viewing and was genuinely creepy/wrong in places too. Lots and lots of walking demons/corpses/whateverthefuck and lots of really awful, decrepit Detroit street scenes.
4. We Are Still Here – That rare horror movie that does not star nubile teens, We Are Still Here reminds me a lot of horror movies of the late ’70s, full of atmosphere and creepy-ass ghosts and a couple of genuinely fucked-up people played by Lisa Marie and the awesome Larry Fessenden who elevates every movie he has anything to do with. Much like House of the Devil and Starry Eyes (they share producers) the film draws on the scary-house cliches of past films and amps them way the fuck up, delivering a genuinely scary and genuinely weird flick that doesn’t look like every damn horror film you’ve seen this year (Side note: the director, Ted Geoghegan, got in my head and is making the Satanic Panic film I’ve wanted to make forever, and I can’t wait to see it).
5. The Hallow – A kind of Irish folk-horror riff, this atmospheric film finds an Irish couple fighting off an ancient evil that lives in the woods that surrounds their house (plus a couple of townspeople that can’t stand ’em — isn’t it always a bunch of townspeople that can’t stand ’em?). A lot creepier and tenser than I thought it was gonna be (“the faeries” don’t sound that menacing, but believe me, they are) with plenty of mind-fucking baby-in-peril stuff to really twist your head around and a mind-blowing ending that’ll leave you shaking. Irish filmmakers excel at this kind of thing, don’t they?
6. The Final Girls – A hilarious, fourth-wall-breaking, genuinely weird take on ’80s slasher pics. Max Cartwright (Taissa Farmiga from American Horror Story) is mourning her mother (Malin Ackerman), the star of a cult horror film (Camp Bloodbath, of course) that everybody loves. Suddenly she and a group of teenage friends find themselves stuck inside that very film. If that sounds goofy, remember that The Cabin In the Woods had a similarly postmodern premise — The Final Girls is both hilariously funny and genuinely creepy, and there’s plenty of actual gore to interest slasher pic fans. It clearly loves the genre it skewers mercilessly, and that’s absolutely key. “Rollicking,” I say, quoting every late-’70s newspaper review ever.
7. Turbo Kid – I’m not sure what Turbo Kid even is, really, genre-wise — it’s equal part sci-fi and horror and a gorgeously-shot, gory-as-fuck homage to the late-’80s straight-to-video genre. I was surprised by how genuinely sweet the central love story was, how great it was to see 70s staple Michael Ironside playing a futuristic criminal, and how unbelievably gory the fight scenes actually got. Throw in a little synthwave soundtrack and I’m totally in — why movies like this don’t get made more often (i.e. terrible/awesome low-budget post-apocalyptic thrillers) I have no idea.
8. Creep – God, does the name ever sum up this film, a genuine two-hander of the tensest variety. Our hero is an amateur filmmaker who’s hired by Josef, the titular character played by already-creepy Mark Duplass, to film a dying message to his infant son. As Josef’s requests get weirder and weirder and his tissue of lies begins to slip, we realize that, really, the guy is — you know, a creep. A genuinely awful fucking creep. If you’ve ever been tormented by someone like this — someone who just makes no god-damn sense and who keeps you constantly walking on eggshells — you’ll really feel the agony inherent in this premise.
9. Unfriended – Technically made in 2014, I guess, but released this year, Unfriended had a genuinely interesting premise that you won’t get but your teenage friends will — an entire horror movie conducted on a computer screen via Skype and never in the real world. It’s a little silly, a little sloppy, but ultimately pretty damn tense — and a nifty parable on the dangers of online bullying besides. It works more often than it doesn’t thanks to the kind of helplessness of being on the other side of a screen as bad shit goes down — and yet does anybody leave to go outside? They do not, and welcome to 2015.
10. The Editor – I love a good horror parody. And while What We Do In The Shadows was a delightfully funny skewering of the various vampire genres, it was bettered by the film-nerd love letter that is The Editor. If your taste runs towards Giallos — those Italian horror/thrillers from the ’70s with primary-colored lighting, lurid and nonsensical plots and appearances by Udo Kier — then you’ll love this perfect (and damn gory!) skewering of the beloved genre. They get all the details perfect, from the moustaches to the sex to the crazy synth soundtrack. This is, by the way, from Astron 6, the same folks who brought you Manborg, and if you haven’t seen that one, you need to, pronto.