Last Year in Fear: Our Top Picks for Horror Media in 2015

Even without the stellar horror releases that littered the media landscape, 2015 was a pretty terrifying year in of itself. France suffered the Paris Attacks; the US was subject to nearly 300 mass shootings; and large parts of England appear to currently be underwater. The outlook for the planet isn’t great and, since North Korea apparently decided to ring in the New Year by setting off a nuclear bomb, the fate of the world is hanging by an ever thinner thread. So why, in light of all these real dangers, should you be excited about media that was designed to scare us? Because it gives us an outlet, a way to release all of that pent up fear in one hour-long frenzy of pillow-hugging, squealing, and violent popcorn throwing. So, as 2016 gets underway, take the time to indulge in a few of last year’s horror titles and feel the terror slip away. Let’s just call it Shock Therapy.

Film

Although a lot of critics would disagree with me, I personally thought that 2015 was a strong year for horror in film. On the one hand, you had the numerous tacky sequels, reboots, and remakes like Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (yes, I really hate Paranormal Activity, thanks for noticing), Poltergeist, and Sinister 2. But, on the other hand, we were treated to some top quality horror titles reminiscent of 2014’s The Babadook and Oculus. Without further ado, here are my top film picks for 2015:

  1. It’s Behind You – It Follows

8385_poster_iphoneIt Follows was one of the most intelligent and impressive horror films that I’ve seen in decades. It combined an original story-line with a winning cast, stunning cinematography, and a soundtrack so provocative that I still get shivers down my spine when I listen to it. That being said, it tends to be one of those films that divides opinion. Some people, myself included, were willing to accept the film’s slow-pace and ambiguous ending because the journey was ultimately more important than the destination, while others were disappointed at the lack of closure and what they perceived as lazy “filler” scenes. For that reason alone, it’s definitely worth watching since, whether you like it or not, it’s sure to create a debate. For a broad perspective (and some spoilers!), we recommend reading Slash Film’s review, which you can find here, and Variety’s review, which you can find here. Alternatively you can read our review (with no spoilers) here.

  1. Who Needs the Summer of Love – Spring

9af64d532c3cdfe6304e627e2d210dfeSpring is a romantic sci-fi horror which, if anything, makes it reasonably unique in the horror community. Like It Follows, Spring tackles an unusual story-line and its success in doing so, or lack thereof, has similarly divided public opinion. The score is beautifully simplistic, the cinematography is undeniably opulent and visually nourishing, the acting is superb, but the strangeness of the story and the use of that age-old, hackneyed “scientific” explanation has disappointed many viewers. As such, it makes for another fantastic watch since it’s sure to stimulate your brain cells and leave you wanting more. We recommend reading The Missing Reel’s review here, or alternatively check out our review here.

  1. You Better Watch Out, You Better Not Cry – Krampus

krampus-2015-horror-movie-posterKrampus is one of those films that puts a smile on my face every time I think of it. And that’s a relative miracle, considering I despise comedy horrors. My major bone of contention with this subgenre is that they’re often just comedies. If you can just bung a few scary moments or horror tropes into an otherwise non-scary film and call it a “comedy horror” or a “fantasy horror” or (dare I say it) a “Disney horror”, then Scary Movie, A Nightmare Before Christmas, and Pan’s Labyrinth would all be considered horror movies. Where Krampus ultimately succeeds as an actual comedy horror is that the horror and comedy elements are perfectly balanced. The film is funny and scary in equal measure, leading to several moments where my brain became desperately confused as to whether I should laugh or cry (or wet my pants). Like Gremlins and Poltergeist, it’s the perfect gateway horror film for the younger generation and one that people of all ages are sure to enjoy. We recommend watching Red Letter Media’s video review here, or you can check out our written review here.

Honourable Mentions – Goodnight Mommy and Bone Tomahawk, both of which I have yet to watch but have been phenomenally well-reviewed.

Television

Unlike the horror film scene, which has gone from strength to strength, it seems that horror television has really let the side down. There were very few fresh or new series’, leaving us only with stale continuations of franchises that are doomed to (hopefully) burn out in the near future. Don’t get me wrong, I love American Horror Story and The Walking Dead as much as the next person, but sometimes it really does feel like they’re flogging an undead horse. I’ve caught myself yawning my way through whole episodes or, in one instance, falling asleep in an almost upright position. At this stage, if I fall and crack my head open while watching, I’m going to consider suing these guys for “risk of criminal boredom”.

  1. Let’s Get Groovy – Ash vs Evil Dead: Season 1

ash-vs-evil-dead-posterIn amongst horror television behemoths like TWD and AHS, Ash vs Evil Dead stood its ground as one of the most anticipated horror series to grace our television screens. The show sees the return of notorious horror hero Ash, played by the ever enigmatic Bruce Campbell, as he forgoes a much deserved retirement and returns to his one true passion: fighting off evil Deadites. As a comedy horror, the show mixes fun and fear in equal measure, with enough hilariously over-the-top gore to give any of the Evil Dead films a run for their money. What started off as an unexpectedly popular and incredibly low budget festival film has spawned into one of horror’s greatest legacies; and this latest edition proves to be one of the best yet. We strongly recommend you read The Missing Reel’s reviews, as they’ve been following the series episode by episode. You can find their summary review here.

  1. You Can Count on the Countess – American Horror Story: Hotel

8d2a54303c3a74432a9b91af4b1b142fAfter the crushing disappointment of Freak Show and the looming threat of Wes Bentley’s soul-suckingly dull return, my hopes for Hotel and for American Horror Story in general were all but dashed. In many ways, my misgivings were well-founded. Wes Bentley did in fact prove to be one of the worst leading men that the series has ever championed and, like Freak Show, it seemed that the season would largely depend on a sequence of unconnected, exploitative scenes that were designed to shock rather than create a coherent and interesting story-line. That being said, thanks to the superlative acting of Denis O’Hare, Evan Peters, and Kathy Bates, coupled with the intriguing character of the Countess (Lady Gaga) and the eventual development of a solid and stimulating storyline, the season seems to have turned its luck around. It’s certainly not one of their best, but it’s probably not their worst. Probably. We recommend you read Nouse’s episode by episode reviews here, but be forewarned that they are full of spoilers.

  1. A Netflix Unoriginal – Scream: Season 1

tumblr_ngjisf4r8v1u4whbwo1_500Let me be candid here, just because Scream has made it onto my top 3 list does by no means indicate that the series is good or that I liked it. It was simply the lesser of several evils. Scream is one of my all-time favourite movie franchises, and the thought of watching an abortive televised attempt to bleed it dry troubled me deeply. Particularly since beloved horror director Wes Craven tragically died last year, leaving behind an illustrious legacy that could be deeply marred by such an unnecessary reboot. Yet marred it was not. To me, this Netflix original series (which was actually and unsurprisingly produced by MTV) was kind of like a well-choreographed train wreck; it was awful, but I somehow felt compelled to keep watching. In fact, I watched the entire first season in less than two days. It essentially copies several major story elements from the original films, but the key to its success is that it never takes itself too seriously. It makes no claim to be as good as its predecessors; it’s just grade-A TV schlock for teenagers. And, as such, it’s ultimately entertaining, so long as you take it with a pinch of salt. We recommend you read Bloody Disgusting’s incredibly well-balanced episode reviews here, which are chock full of delicious spoilers.

Honourable Mentions – The Walking Dead: Season 6 and Penny Dreadful: Season 2

Video Gaming

2015 may not have been the most prolific year for horror gaming, but lack of quantity was definitely made up for by superb quality. Although the Top 3 games I’ve chosen for 2015 may have been some of the only ones to come out, they certainly made an impression on me and are worthy of any top list, regardless of their release dates.

  1. The Butterfly Effect – Until Dawn

ce3aa35b3dac605f3b543700356c89f8Although it only represented about 8 hours of solid gameplay, Until Dawn was one of the best horror games I’ve ever played. Within the first few weeks of owning it, I had already played it through three times, which goes to show just how little I value my free time. The key to the game’s brilliance is in its Butterfly Effect dynamic. The choices you make in-game will drastically affect the outcome of the story, so much so that certain characters will either live or die. What I loved about Until Dawn was that it inverts your expectations, toying with the behaviours that you will have learnt from other games. When a character dies, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve “failed”; just because the game is telling you to do something, doesn’t mean you should automatically do it; and sometimes exploring the whole area for clues and opening that cellar door simply because “it’s there” isn’t always a good idea. For an ultimately negative but still well-rounded view, we recommend reading Polygon’s review here. If you want something a little more positive, check out our review here.

  1. Let’s Get Digital – Soma

150922094246490097From the makers of the outstanding horror titles Penumbra and Amnesia comes Soma, a sci-fi survival horror about the ramifications of developing AI (Artificial Intelligence). It’s been far too long since we’ve seen a good sci-fi horror game and, in 2015, it seems horror fans were in for a real treat. And what a treat Soma was. As character Stephen Garrett, you find yourself trapped in a submerged research station known as PATHOS-II. The game’s underwater vibe is reminiscent of Bioshock, a game that didn’t exploit its horrific elements nearly as much as it could have done, and its futuristic facility setting evokes scenes from Dead Space. However, like the Amnesia series, the point of Soma is not to fight, but to hide. What follows is a subtle yet disturbing exploration into humanity, providing deep and probing layers of fear that go far beyond what you experience at face-value. We recommend you read Game Rant’s review here.

  1. It’s Like I Have ESPN or Something – The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

eathan-carterFor all of you citizens of the PC master race, I realise that The Vanishing of Ethan Carter technically came out in 2014, but for console plebs like myself it wasn’t playable until 2015. The game follows paranormal investigator Paul Prospero, who receives a worrisome fan-letter from 12-year-old Ethan Carter and is prompted to visit Ethan’s home in Red Creek Valley. The game’s graphics are stunning and the world that surrounds you evokes imagery of the New England countryside, making you feel as though you’ve just been dropped into a Stephen King novel. And the similarities to King’s work don’t end there. Like the fictional town of Derry, Red Creek Valley is a beautiful place with a dark secret. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter might not be the scariest horror game in the canon, but the intrigue it produces in the player is undeniable. As you become more wrapped up in the fate of Ethan, you feel yourself slowly disappearing down a rabbit-hole that may have no end. Playstation Lifestyle’s review, which you can find here, describes these elements in far more detail.

 

Last Year in Fear: Our Top Picks for Horror Media in 2015

It Doesn’t Think, It Doesn’t Feel, It Doesn’t Give Up: A Review of It Follows (2015)

it-follows-35781Release Date: March 13th 2015

Director: David Robert Mitchell

Country of Origin: United States

Language: English

Runtime: 1 hour 40 minutes

You’re probably all wondering why it’s taken me so long to write a review of It Follows, particularly since the film has been out for over nine months and I’ve been raving about it for nearly as long. The real reason is that I’m incredibly lazy and have a terrible work ethic, but the reason I’ll give you is that it was my favourite horror film of the year. I felt that, with 2015 finally coming to a close, it seemed somehow poetic to leave it to the last minute; one last happy memory of a year so riddled with natural disasters that it pretty much confirmed we are probably all going to perish as a direct result of pollution and global warming. Ah, what a cheerful thought. So snuggle down in your doomsday bunkers and read about why I thought It Follows was the greatest horror film of 2015.

This rather unconventional “creature feature” (for lack of a better subgenre) follows a young girl named Jay (Maika Monroe), who has just begun dating a ruggedly handsome guy named Hugh (Jake Weary). The couple appear to be hitting it off and, in spite of his occasionally suspicious behaviour, Hugh seems to be solid boyfriend material. That is, until they finally have sex. Unlike most scumbags, who just drop you an impromptu phone call when they discover they may have given you the clap, Hugh takes the whole ordeal a step further by strapping Jay to a wheelchair and informing her that he’s passed on a ghastly plague; a sort of supernatural STI that will follow her around and try to kill her. It takes the form of a human being (technically any human being it wants) and is invisible to everyone but her. The upside is it can only walk, so hop on a Segway for the rest of your life and you’ll be fine. Jay must find another unsuspecting victim to sleep with before she too falls victim to this sexy curse.

1401x788-cannesitfollows
Perhaps not the best way to deliver bad news

What immediately attracted me to this film was its unusual premise. While most creature features entail a flurry of violence and tease out the monster’s eventual reveal, It Follows is punctuated by just a few moments of graphic violence and is instead more of slow-burner. The emphasis is taken off of the “creature” and is placed on the protagonist, focusing on Jay’s attempts to escape this entity with the limited means at her disposal. In this way the film feels far more real, since she reacts in much the same way as you imagine that you would. In real life, there are no occult specialists or voodoo princesses knocking around in every high school library or on every street corner. When faced with a supernatural entity that is almost beyond our comprehension, chances are most of us would choose to just run. After all, how are we supposed to fight something that we know virtually nothing about?

As a slow-burner, this film depends almost entirely on the realistic performances of its actors and they certainly deliver believability in spades. The interaction between the characters felt eerily real, as if I was re-watching conversations from my awkward teenage years. There was no Hollywood sparkle, no witty one-liners, and no painfully cheesy dialogue. There was simply the heartfelt and confused rhetoric of a bunch of goofy kids desperately trying to figure out what’s going on and how to stop it. I bought into the dynamic of Jay’s friendship group immediately, and this was what hooked me into the storyline from the beginning.

it-follows-4

On a far more technical note, the cinematography and score of the film are fantastic. Some of the shots are not only breath-taking; they also serve to capture the essence of the film. When Jay leans out of the car after having sex with Hugh and the camera pans over her hand gently caressing a flower, we instantly understand what is being said without the need for dialogue. In many ways, this is a film about growing up and the innocence that is lost in the process. The film’s soundtrack, which was masterminded by US composer Disasterpeace, is a wonderful blend of jarring synth and eerily soothing tunes that are deeply reminiscent of classic 80s horror flicks like Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween. The violence may not be there on screen, but it exists in the music and atmosphere that David Robert Mitchell has masterfully created.

In terms of the horror elements, it is not the most immediately terrifying film, but it certainly sits with you. One could almost say, it follows you (oh yes, I went there). While I only felt a few twinges of fear whilst watching it, I found myself constantly checking behind me after I left the cinema, swivelling my head around like an owl on meth and wondering which of the many yawning cinema-goers could be “it”. I even gave my family dog a wide berth. Personally, what makes a successful horror movie for me is something that sticks with you long after you’ve watched it, gnawing at you and leaving you with thousands of delightful questions like: What exactly is “it”? What could “it” be a metaphor for? And how do I overcome the suffocating malaise of facing another year on this planet? For these reasons, It Follows holds a special place in my heart and is, without a doubt, my top horror movie of 2015.

If you want to know what other films I’ve loved this year, be sure to check out my reviews of Spring and Krampus.

it-follows

Acting: 9/10, all of the performances in the film are solid and the characters are easy to identify with, as they portray teenagers with startling believability.

Storyline: 9/10, the storyline is fresh and original without seeming absurd or unworkable.  

Fear Factor: 8/10, it may not get you while you’re watching it, but it’s sure to send a few shivers down your spine when you’re in the supermarket and you notice that creepy lady with the “come-hither-I-wish-to-murder-you” look.

Overall: 9/10, the performances, score, cinematography, and fascinating premise come together to make one of the finest horror films I’ve seen in decades.

 

It Doesn’t Think, It Doesn’t Feel, It Doesn’t Give Up: A Review of It Follows (2015)

Time to Spread the Christmas Fear: A Review of Krampus (2015)

krampus-movie-posterRelease Date: December 4th 2015

Director: Michael Dougherty

Country of Origin: United States

Language: English

Runtime: 1 hour 38 minutes

Apologies for all of those who were waiting for a Malicious Myths segment, but sadly that will be postponed until next week. If you really need to get your fix, why not go back and read our post on good old Krampus himself?

From the director who masterminded the magnificent Trick ’r Treat, comes a movie about the true meaning of Christmas: consumerism, greed, and a reminder of your deep seated hatred for your dysfunctional family. When I first heard about Krampus, I was convinced that it was going to be a train wreck. It’s incredibly difficult to make anything Christmassy seem scary without it coming off as trite and kitschy, not to mention I have an extreme dislike for comedy horrors in general. Don’t get me wrong, I love Tucker & Dale vs. Evil and Shaun of the Dead as much as the next person, but I’m a firm believer that incorporating horror elements into a comedy film doesn’t make it a horror comedy; it’s just, at best, a parody. It wasn’t until after watching the trailer for Krampus, however, that I became truly intrigued.

The film is set three days before Christmas, when Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette), along with their children Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) and Max (Emjay Anthony), welcome their much maligned extended family members into their home to celebrate. This motley bunch include Sarah’s sister Linda (Allison Tolman), her gun-toting husband Howard (David Koechner), their raucously redneck children Howie Jr., Stevie, and Jordan, and the vile Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell). When Max is driven to distraction by his relatives and ends up destroying his letter to Santa, his German grandmother warns him that the power of the Christmas spirit is not only a force for good, it also wards off evil. Soon, the family find themselves at the mercy of something older than good old Saint Nick; the dreaded shadow of Santa Claus.

krampus3
Just your typical family get-together

It’s a stellar cast, and one that blends the comedy and horror elements of the film perfectly. The opening sequences, in which we are introduced to them as a family unit, feel incredibly genuine and are delightfully funny without coming across as too cliché or hammy. In a world where at least one new Christmas comedy comes out every year, it’s hard to maintain any sort of originality and yet Krampus manages to play with the genre’s stereotypes without necessarily succumbing to them. You’ve got the brothers-in-law who just can’t get along, the hateful older relative who drinks his/herself into an eggnog-fuelled coma, the mother exasperated with her ungrateful family after slaving away over a hot stove; yet it’s all done so seamlessly that you forget you’ve seen it all before.

krampus04In fact, the humorous elements are so well-executed that you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a fully-fledged comedy. Yet it’s when the horror begins that the film really starts to show its teeth. The snow and stunning set pieces (resplendent with the most terrifying snowmen I’ve ever seen) create a suitably oppressive and claustrophobic atmosphere that was chilling in of itself. Without giving too much away, the monsters are beautifully well-realised and stunningly designed. They’re the perfect mixture of the festive and the grotesque, with a certain ridiculousness that makes them both comical and horrifying. The celebrated (and rightly so) film critic Mark Kermode compared it to Gremlins in its delicious nastiness and Poltergeist in terms of its family feel. High praise indeed, but one the film has certainly earned. It’s refreshing to see a family comedy that’s not afraid to show its monstrous side.

There were moments where I laughed myself to tears and times where I gasped with fear, which really speaks to how effective this was as a comedy horror. But what marred my enjoyment and what I’d describe as the film’s major problem was pacing. It started off as a slow burner, which served it well when it came to establishing the family dynamic, but then it seemed to introduce the titular character far too early. I was eager to see how they were going to portray Krampus, and his opening sequence is a work of pure art, but the initial reveal came just a little too early for me. Not only that, but thereafter the pace slowed once again and the film unfortunately dragged for a good ten minutes. This sets a regrettable yet recurring pattern, as the pace suddenly quickens and then just as rapidly drops far too often.

With that out of the way, Krampus is not only by-far and away the best Christmas film this season, I personally found it to be one of the most enjoyable horror films of 2015. Its sharp, its witty, its delightfully dark, and I felt sucked in by the narrative from beginning to end. So if you’re sick of those cheesy carollers’ smiles, tired of encountering random objects covered in fairy lights, and shiver inwardly at the thought of hearing “Fairytale of New York” one more time, treat yourself to a little holiday horror and go see a film that is sure to amuse and terrify.

Cloven
Please God, not The Pogues

Acting: 8/10, all of the actors were perfectly cast and really sell the family dynamic. Koechner and Ferrell are particularly charming and elevate the comic elements of the film.

Storyline: 8/10, the storyline is an interesting take on the Krampus mythology and sets the film apart from other Christmas-based horror films.

Fear Factor: 7/10, some of the creatures are honestly disturbing and are sure to satisfy the most morbid of curiosities.

Overall: 7.5/10, Krampus is a clever and entertaining romp that doles out fear and fun in equal measure.

 

 

Time to Spread the Christmas Fear: A Review of Krampus (2015)

Life Probably Seems Short No Matter What: A Review of Spring (2014)

Release Date: September 5th 2014

Director: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

Country of Origin: United States

Language: English

Runtime: 1 hour 49 minutes

After watching Crimson Peak last week and feeling soul-wrenchingly disappointed, I thought it only fitting to review another film that ended up on my list of Top 10 Most Anticipated Horror Films of this year. Spring nabbed the number two spot, because the concept of a romantic sci-fi horror sounded refreshing and the trailer, resplendent with stunning cinematography and a subtly beautiful soundtrack, promised a solid release with an intriguing premise. So, when it was finally released on DVD this April, I dutifully badgered my other half into buying me a copy.

The story revolves around a young man named Evan Russell (Lou Taylor Pucci), who flees the US after his life begins to fall apart. Vulnerable and afraid, he travels to Italy and meets the broodingly beautiful Louise (Nadia Hilker), a mysterious and beguiling Italian woman who simultaneously appears to encourage and rebuff his advances. As the two grow closer and Evan finds himself falling deeply in love, he also comes ever nearer to exposing Louise’s dark secret. What follows is a tender portrayal of love at its most beautiful, and its most terrifying.

Note: There will be some mild spoilers in this review, although no major plot points are revealed.

From the outset, the cinematography in the film is superb. It was filmed on set in Italy, and the sweeping panoramas of the small rural village that Evan finds himself in are breath-taking. They also serve to propel the film forward, as they heighten the sense of romance while maintaining tension. The soundtrack complements this perfectly, with its soothing mixture of downbeat piano pieces and stark use of jarring synth tracks. In short, the set-up and atmosphere were enough to draw me in long before the “horror” element of the film began.

The performances of all the actors are phenomenal, as each one is as believable and engaging as the last, but Nadia Hilker and Lou Taylor Pucci are the real driving force behind the film. Taylor Pucci redeems his lackluster performance as that Jesus lookalike who gets completely brutalised in Evil Dead (2013) with his portrayal of the kindhearted and lovable everyman Evan, while Hilker gives a commanding and compelling performance as the enigmatic Louise. The vast majority of scenes depend upon them, as the film’s focus is primarily on the budding romance that develops between them. They have fantastic onscreen chemistry and their love story feels authentic, causing you to subconsciously root for them and become engrossed in the progression of the plot.

This makes it all the more distressing when the supernatural elements do start to kick in, as you fear for both of the main characters’ well-being. The film isn’t necessarily an out-and-out horror flick, in that it is not particularly scary, but this is forgivable as the narrative it weaves is genuine, enthralling, and thought-provoking. In many ways, what happens to Louise and Evan is a metaphor for love as a whole. The fear of intimacy, the craving for affection, the dread of exposing your vulnerability to someone else; these are feelings we can all relate to. And the film explores them through the medium of the sci-fi horror genre, providing a fresh take on a topic that has fascinated mankind for centuries. What does it mean to fall in love? How do you know when you are? And what would you be willing to sacrifice for it?

Louise’s secret, or should I say condition, also makes for an interesting commentary on the horror genre. As she attempts to explain herself to Evan, she expands on the deficit of human knowledge and how we often fear the unknown. There are no such things as ghosts and ghouls, she expounds, but simply a lack of scientific understanding. This ties in with the concept of love, as it too is a thing that we fear simply because we do not fully understand it. In short, Spring isn’t just a better love story than Twilight (because seriously, what isn’t), it’s a beautifully crafted exposition of two young people falling in love, overcoming obstacles, and learning what it means to trust in the unknown. After all, love only comes around a couple of times if you’re lucky, and movies this good only come around a couple of times a year.

Acting: 9/10, all of the actors put forward startlingly good performances, but Nadia Hilker and Lou Taylor Pucci are what make the film so delightfully and exceptionally watchable.

Storyline: 8.5/10, the storyline is a refreshing take on the sci-fi horror genre and also a fascinating exploration of young love.

Fear Factor: 5/10, the film isn’t particularly scary, but that doesn’t detract from the narrative as a whole.

Overall: 8/10, this is by far one of my favourite films of 2015 and, although it may not be a horror aficionado’s cup of tea, it’s just the ticket if you’re looking for a gentle, intriguing watch.

Life Probably Seems Short No Matter What: A Review of Spring (2014)

Ghosts Are Real, This Much I Know: A Review of Crimson Peak (2015)

Release Date: October 16th 2015

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Country of Origin: United States

Language: English

Runtime: 1 hour 59 minutes

Crimson Peak was by far my most anticipated horror movie of 2015. As October 16th approached and my impatience reached fever pitch, I waited with baited breath, checking the cinema website every few days (hours…okay minutes) to see if I could finally book my ticket. And it wasn’t just because I wanted to see Tom Hiddleston’s bum. I have loved Del Toro’s work ever since, at the tender age of sixteen, I sat down to watch Pan’s Labyrinth and swiftly made the horrifying realisation that it was not a children’s film, as my mother had previously thought. The deliciously dark atmosphere, the mingling of the real and the fantastical, the strange and beautiful creatures that populate a world barely hidden behind the veil; these are the things I love about Del Toro. And the trailer for Crimson Peak, with its gothic opulence, colourfully twisted ghosts, and creepily sexual undertones, promised not to disappoint.

Yet, in many ways, disappoint it did. Perhaps my expectations were too high, perhaps the film had been marketed incorrectly, but it certainly wasn’t the film I had envisioned it to be and wasn’t really the one I wanted to see. With that aside, I’ll start with the plot and what I liked about it before I become too damning and potentially unlikeable (no one likes a critic, after all).

Crimson Peak follows the story of a hopeful writer named Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), who has just completed her first gothic horror novel. As a young girl, Edith is convinced that she was able to see ghosts and has since become fascinated by them. Meanwhile, a sexy young baronette named Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) has left his home in England and arrived in America to drum up funding for some fantastical steampunk-esque machine he’s been working on.

He’s come with his clearly evil sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), whose main function is to play the piano and give people that “bitch-I-will-cut-you” look every now and then. Unsurprisingly Edith and Thomas hit it off immediately, get married, and proceed to return to his creepy mansion in England, named Allerdale Hall. Edith shows absolutely no concern for the fact that the house clearly doesn’t have a roof and that there’s horrifying red clay seeping down the walls. Yet all is rather unsurprisingly not what it seems in Allerdale Hall, as Edith begins seeing ghosts once again and starts to piece together the horrible truth behind the Sharpe family name.

Evidently the costume designer for “Natural Born Killers” needed work

The cinematography throughout the film is absolutely stunning and many of the scenes are beautifully well-realised, with the costumes, backdrop, and choreography coming together to form some of the most stimulating and visually nourishing shots I’ve seen in a long time. The luxurious furnishings, plush dresses, crisp white snow, and deep red…well…everything combine perfectly to form a set that screams gothic literature.

The style employed in the first half is deeply reminiscent of 1930s horror films like Frankenstein (1931), where it looks as though the shots have been filmed in a theatre rather than on a typical film set. This gives the first half of the movie a suitably oppressive feel, while paying homage to the forefathers it is trying to imitate, but I found that it jarred aesthetically with the second half, which is filmed on the grandest Hollywood set money could buy. Allerdale Hall is full of character and, with its dilapidated walls, oozing floors, and creaking pipes, has a certain ruined beauty to it. Essentially, it’s the perfect set for a gothic horror film of this calibre.

That’s one sexy looking…house…

The unique and vibrant designs behind the ghosts are refreshing, as they’re not your usual “creepy child” or “eyeless woman” fare (I’m looking at you, Paranormal Activity). In spite of some dodgy CG, they are beautifully realised and insanely creepy, though some of their fear factor is lost by them getting a little too up close and personal with the camera. After all, less is more, and this is never truer than in horror flicks. The Del Toro influence is most obvious here, as several of the ghosts reminded me of their wispy counterparts in Mama and The Devil’s Backbone.

Jessica Chastain plays the role of the quietly malevolent Lady Lucille perfectly, striking that fine balance between being terrifying and still believable. Tom Hiddleston and Charlie Hunnam, who plays Edith’s childhood friend Dr. Alan McMichael, boast solid performances but it was Mia Wasikowska that proved to be the real surprise as she was actually rather good. I had incredibly low expectations for her and she shattered them with her on-point performance of the delicate yet feisty Edith Cushings. Another surprise delight was Jim Beaver, an actor that I’d never heard of, who plays father Carter Cushing and provides a much-needed slice of comic relief.

Where the film fell down for me personally was the storyline. It’s unfortunately hugely predictable and several of the ‘subtle’ hints towards the mystery behind the house were as obvious as a stab to the face (you’ll get it when you see it). Not only that, the plot itself is deplorably unoriginal and left me wondering whether I had missed something crucial. Surely all that build-up couldn’t have been for nothing? Well, in many ways it was, but the build-up was deeply enjoyable, so I can’t fault it too much. In short, it’s essentially like getting onto a rollercoaster and making the nerve-racking climb up, only to reach the top and find that you’ve accidentally entered “Mr. Froggy’s Mild Ride” and not “The Pants Soiler”.

Acting: 7.5/10, there wasn’t a single actor whose performance I could fault, although Jessica Chastain is the real powerhouse that drives the narrative forward

Storyline: 5/10, the storyline was deeply disappointing as it was predictable, unoriginal, the supernatural elements were largely inconsequential, and it spent far too much time building up to an unsatisfactory ending

Fear Factor: 7.5/10, its chock full of far more violence, tension, and scares than you’d expect for such a low-rated film

Overall: 7/10, perhaps my expectations were too high, but Crimson Peak barely came close to some of the stronger horror titles this year

Ghosts Are Real, This Much I Know: A Review of Crimson Peak (2015)

Dawn of the Dead Sexy: Our Top 5 Horror Hunks

Horror is not a genre synonymous with beauty, nor is it terribly well-known for its powers of arousal, yet every so often the horror community is blessed with the odd horror hunk; a piece of man-candy so tasty that it makes the bitter pill of terror just that bit easier to swallow. From the knife-wielding psychopaths to the goofy heroes, horror is full of characters that interest us, excite us, and ultimately endear themselves to us. And a tight six-pack here or there doesn’t hurt either. In light of all this, we’ve decided to count down our top 5 hunks in horror. For the record, sexy though Alexander Skarsgård may be, we won’t be acknowledging Vampire Diaries or True Blood as horror titles because they’re just terrible. Just terrible.

  1. Mads Mikkelson, Hannibal the TV series

Mads Mikkelson has recently managed to melt butter onto our freshly roasted hearts with his portrayal of the titular character in the Hannibal TV series. With his stately slim physique, crisp Danish accent, and cold, calculating charm, he’s undeniably one of the sexiest cannibals we’ve ever come across. After all, who wouldn’t want a man who could whip up a delicious soufflé or a mouth-watering steak and human kidney pie at the drop of a hat?

In a bizarre twist, Mikkelson originally trained as a gymnast and even went to a ballet academy in Gothenburg to pursue a career in athletics before finally settling for the far more mundane and accessible world of acting in 1996. Since then he’s wowed audiences with his icy stare, cool demeanour, and sleek performances as that villain we all love to fantasise about. When it comes to Mads Mikkelsen, no matter what’s on the menu, we’re sure it’ll be tasty.

  1. Patrick Wilson, Insidious, Insidious 2, and The Conjuring

Patrick Wilson is probably one of the only men on earth who can look hot in a knitted sweater, and that’s pretty impressive in of itself. After all, when you’re wading through a nightmarish world called The Other or exorcising demons from the body of a country housewife, you probably don’t have enough time to keep up with the latest fashion trends. So what if he gets a little sweaty when faced with a few spooks or the thought of Ellen Page with a pair of scissors (obscure Hard Candy reference), he still looks damn fine while doing it.

This All American heartthrob began his career in Broadway, earning two Tony Award nominations for his roles in The Full Monty (2000–2001) and Oklahoma! (2002). Alright, so singing and dancing is perhaps not the most obvious segue into the horror genre, but we’ll forgive him for the unconventional approach because he has the face of a puppy and the eyes of an even cuter puppy. We’ll happily let him snuggle up to us in his cosy knits and sing us to sleep, especially if a repeat performance of The Full Monty is on the cards.

  1. Evan Peters, all four series of American Horror Story

Evan Peters endeared us as the psychopathic teenager Tate Langdon, proved he was perfect husband material as Kit Walker, and showed us just what his chunky crab hands can do as Jimmy Darling. Wait a second, crab hands? Okay, so the costume designers at American Horror Story may not always favour our dimpled cutie, but he’s managed to claw his way up to our third spot nonetheless.

Yes. Yes we do.

Peters’ big break came when he took on the role of Dave Lizewski’s nerdy best friend Todd Haynes in the painfully awesome superhero film Kickass. He was gawky; he was awkward; in short, he was hardly the kind of guy who inspires visions of white horses, tall towers, and knights in shining armour. But his debut in American Horror Story: Murder House as the deeply troubled, brooding teenager Tate was another horror story entirely. At the time, he caused a veritable lust-filled storm but, not content to leave us all both traumatised and aroused just once, he’s starred in every season since. Here’s hoping we get his room key in the upcoming AHS: Hotel.

  1. Norman Reedus, all 5 series of The Walking Dead

Who needs a breadwinner when you’ve got a man who could catch a fresh squirrel for dinner every night? As the rugged and mysterious bow-wielding Daryl Dixon of AMC’s (once) stellar TV series The Walking Dead, Norman Reedus has managed to trap not only several rabbits, but also our hearts. He’s the bad boy with a soft gooey centre; the zombie apocalypse’s answer to Bear Grylls; with his steamy gaze and seemingly perpetual thin-layer of dirt, he’s about as clean and sexy as the average outdoorsmen gets.

Yet The Walking Dead wasn’t Reedus’ first flirtation with horror; this love affair began much earlier with roles in Guillermo del Toro’s Mimic (1997) and Blade II (2002). His most recent horror foray, the survival horror game Silent Hills, was tragically cancelled but we strongly believe that there will always be a place for him within the horror community. After all, when your television screen is plagued with scenes of hideous zombies, you need a little piece of man-candy to sweeten the deal.

  1. Bruce Campbell, The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness, and Ash vs. Evil Dead

Bruce Campbell is living proof that, like a fine wine, some things really do get better with age. While his debut as the torturously unibrowed Ash Williams in The Evil Dead was undoubtedly endearing in an awkward sort of way, he didn’t immediately register on the horror hottie scale. Since then he’s appeared in everything from Fargo to Spider-man, and has picked up a few tricks along the way. A winning smile; a cheeky wink; a silver fox swagger that only comes with years of experience. In short, in his 57 years, Bruce Campbell has gone from beautician’s worst nightmare to that friend’s dad who everyone secretly fancies.

Stay groovy, Bruce

And his sheer, unadulterated grooviness appears to have reached fever pitch in his reprisal as Ash Williams in TV series Ash vs. Evil Dead. With chainsaw in hand (in hand? on hand?) and his beloved catchphrase at the ready, Brucey is back and better than ever. He’s charismatic, he’s funny and, best of all, he can kick evil’s ass. Let’s just hope that, after all that demon slaying, they’ll still be enough of ol’ Bruce to go around.

So, what did you think of our list? Which horror hunks do you think we’ve missed out? And who do you think will feature in our Top 5 female horror hotties?

Dawn of the Dead Sexy: Our Top 5 Horror Hunks

Malicious Myths: The Churel (चुडैल)

The churel may sound like a delicious (hopefully cinnamon-flavoured) pastry, or perhaps some colourful bird of paradise, but we can assure you it is not. Churels are the vengeful spirits of women who return to earth in order to drain the blood, virility, and even the semen of male victims, transforming them from sperm-filled youths to dusty old men. They go by numerous alternate names, including the churail, chudail, jakhin, mukai, and nagulai, and originate from South Asian folklore, enjoying enduring popularity throughout North India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

They will typically target their own relatives, specifically male members of their family, and will usually attack them in order from youngest to oldest, or from most-loved to least-loved. So, for once, being a young, attractive, well-liked man is not a good thing. Go figure. They are commonly found in places associated with death and filth, such as graveyards, abandoned battlefields, crossroads, toilets, and the male changing rooms of any gym. Once they have sated their blood-lust with their own family members, they can often be found trawling the darkened highways, seducing lone travelling men to accompany them before sucking them dry. Innuendo totally intended.

In some legends, the churel will keep the young man captive until he grows too old, or repeatedly boinks him until he withers, dies, and joins the spirit in her sexy vengeance (essentially death by snoo-snoo). In other accounts, if a young man is seduced by a churel and simply eats food she has offered to him, he will return to his village at dawn an elderly man. Basically if you get attacked by a churel you have two options: death by a crushed pelvis or instant retirement. In Hindu folklore, churels may transform into dakinis, horrifying god-like creatures that serve the goddess Kali and join her in feasting on human flesh and blood. Because, after subsisting off a diet made up almost entirely of sperm for however long, human flesh probably starts to look quite appealing.

A Dakini about to straight up murder this unfortunate guy

According to most legends, there are three different types of churel: soshi churels, poshi churels, and toshi churels. Soshi, Poshi, and Toshi may sound like members of the Spice Girls but don’t let that fool you, these are hideous, blood-sucking monsters we’re talking about. Oh wait.

The Soshi Churels are the most common and return to seek vengeance on their family for having neglected or abused them in life, focusing entirely on draining the lifeblood of all their male family members. They sometimes wait besides fields and call out to their relatives as they return home from work. If you answer the churel’s call, she will haunt you until your eventual death, but ignore her and she’ll…well…just keep shouting at you. Maybe just buy a pair of earplugs?

The Poshi Churels were women who had no real sexual desire in life and so focus their sexual deviancy and bloodlust on children. They can only be brought to heel by the man they once loved in life, to whom they are still subservient. The Toshi Churels are the rarest of all and represent women who were closely bonded with their husbands. They will return to their capacity as dutiful wives and, in a bizarre twist, serve only to protect their family.

Appearance

The churel is often depicted as a grotesque and emaciated creature, with long sagging breasts, unkempt hair, a pot belly, and claw-like hands. They sometimes roam around completely naked with their matted pubic hair visibly exposed, kind of like Courtney Love on an average Saturday night.

They have unnaturally long, thick black tongues surrounded by broad, rough lips, although in some accounts they are said to have no mouth at all. In rare cases, they are reported to have pig-like faces with large fangs or human faces with sharp tusks. Yet the most common and unique feature of the churels are their feet, which face the wrong way round with the heel at the front and the toes at the back.

In this form their sex appeal is doubtful at best, so they conveniently transform into beautiful young women in order to seduce their prey. In this guise, they carry a lantern, partially cover their face, and usually wear a long red or white sari that covers their legs. Although in this state they appear almost exactly like a human woman, their feet are still pointed backwards and so they take great pains to hide them. Once they have ensnared a lusty lothario, they will reveal their true form and engage in the freakiest, nastiest sex you could possibly imagine.

Origins

When a woman dies either during childbirth, while pregnant, or while menstruating, there is a strong possibility that she will become a churel. Normally she will rise from the grave because she wants vengeance for her deceased child, because her family treated her badly in life or because they did not care for her properly during her pregnancy. So, when in India, be really nice to pregnant women or risk facing death by semen extraction.

When a pregnant woman dies during the five-day Hindu festival of Diwali, it is believed she will come back as a particularly powerful churel, while in Western India they believe that any woman who died an unnatural death will become a churel. Originally it was believed that only low-caste women could turn into churels, although it seems bloodthirsty revenge is a dish best served to people of any class background. In short, all churels are created equal, and are all equally as terrible.

The only way to completely avoid a churel is to prevent her creation in the first place, so extra special care must be taken when dealing with pregnant women. Should they, through some awful circumstance, die anyway, there are a handful of things the family can do to hopefully prevent their return and thus protect their precious nads. Forgoing the Hindu tradition of cremation, a potential churel should be buried face down. Songs and prayers in remembrance of her should be sung at her funeral, while all rites and rituals must be performed with the utmost care.

During the funerary procession, the corpse should be carried out of the house through a side door rather than the front door, so that hopefully the churel does not find her way back into the house. Because, after all, it’s not like she lived there for an extended period of time and probably knows the layout of the house or anything. Sometimes family members will sprinkle mustard or millet seeds around the grave and even the whole village, because it is believed that the churel must count every single seed before returning home. This isn’t a sure-fire way to stop her, but it’ll certainly slow her down and make that second mortgage you took out on your house to buy mustard seeds worthwhile.

In order to tie the churel to the burial site, four nails are normally fixed to the four corners of the grave and red flowers are planted upon it. In extreme cases, the corpse may even be bound so that the churel’s movement is restricted when they finally rise from the grave. In Punjab, they take this restriction to a whole new level by nailing the hands and feet of the corpse to the coffin, shackling its feet in chains, and smearing red pepper in its eyes to hopefully blind the waking churel. In some cases, they will even break the deceased’s legs, chain the big toes together, or turn the feet backwards.

Hindu priests are regularly called to perform exorcisms, pray, burn incense, or make offerings to the deceased’s burial site in an attempt to ward the churel off, but this is not a permanent solution. In spite of all these precautions, churels are known to return home months or even years after their death. So if you thought your family get togethers were bad, at least old Auntie Sue isn’t trying to drag you away to her sex dungeon.

Modern-day Usage

Outside of South Asia, the churel isn’t a particularly well-known creature and thus rarely makes an appearance in pop culture. That being said, we’ve managed to scratch together a scant few references to our horny hag:

  • The Indian B-movie Chudail: The Witch (1997) directed by P. Chandrakumar is about a woman who develops supernatural powers by draining the life-force from male victims.
  • The novel Vampire Wives Tales – India: The Churail by Douglas Werner is about an Indian woman who dies in an airplane crash and becomes a churel.
  • The Churel features several times in the video game series Shin Megami Tensei.
  • There is a Chudail Trail in the Indian village of Kuldharanear Jaisalmar, where visitors can walk through this supposedly haunted place and learn about the legend of a woman named Nandini.
Malicious Myths: The Churel (चुडैल)