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.

 

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

Malicious Myths: Krampus

Much like Japan with the Teke Teke, the attitude towards parenting in Germany appears to be somewhat devil-may-care; quite literally when it comes to Krampus, a horrifying demon who carries a bundle of birch twigs and threatens German children with painful ass-beatings if they misbehave. He’s the marginally less cheerful companion of Ol’ Saint Nick and, as firm proof of Santa’s superior delegation skills, he focuses on punishing the naughty children while Santa can kick back and chill with the good kids. These punishments can be anything from being threatened with the birch rod to being carted off to Hell; so be good or Krampus will take you on a one-way joyride to the underworld.

In most Alpine German-speaking parts of Europe, Krampus features as one of the Companions of Saint Nicholas, alongside a blackamoor who kidnaps children and squirrels them away to mid-12th century Moorish Spain and a Gandalf lookalike, among others. Throughout the 1930s, 40s, and 50s his image was largely banned, as were celebrations involving him, but he appeared to enjoy a resurgence in popularity towards the end of the 20th century. Evidently German children had started acting out again and perhaps, dare I say it, even having fun, so it was time to wheel out the birch-wielding goatman to whip them all back into submission. An on-going debate still rages in Austria as to whether Krampus is appropriate for children. You know, because he’s a festive representation of the devil and all that.

And never is this debate more heated than on the night before December 6th, or the Feast of St. Nicholas, known to some as Krampusnacht or “Krampus Night”. On this night, locals don their friendly, furry Krampus costumes and visit children’s homes to remind them that a horrifically scarred ass awaits them if they don’t amend their mischievous ways. Our cheeky devil is sometimes accompanied by Saint Nicholas on these occasions, who dispenses lovely gifts to good children, while Krampus provides naughty children with only coal and bundles of birch twigs known as ruten. So, if you’re low on kindling on the run-up to Christmas, just push over a few old people and Krampus should show up at your door with ample supplies.

Please don’t touch me

Yet this is nothing compared to the terrifying Krampuslauf or “Krampus Run”, where local men get stinking drunk before dressing up as Krampus and chasing unwary passers-by. It is customary to offer these extreme cosplayers a relaxing glass of schnapps, because nothing calms an alcohol-fuelled demon down like the promise of sweet peach liquor. During these horrifying endurance races, the merry Krampus is sometimes accompanied by perchten; women dressed as wild pagan beasts with rotting animal skulls for heads. And we wonder why our Germanic cousins grow up to be so serious.

During the Christmas season, people exchange holiday greeting cards known as Krampuskarten, which each depict delightful images of Krampus beating, kidnapping, or eating young children. And, just when children thought they were safe for the rest of the year, in some places such as Styria, birch bundles are painted gold and displayed in the house year-round as a constant reminder of his oppressive presence.

Appearance

Although there are some minor variations in depictions of Krampus, most share several common physical features. He is covered in black or brown fur, usually that of a goat, ram, or bear, and has the horns of a goat or a ram on his head. He stands upright and has the facial features of a man, although he has cloven hooves instead of feet and a distinctively long, pointed tongue that constantly lolls out of his mouth. Kind of like a dog sticking its head out of a car, only with more general hatred for mankind and less whimsy.

He is sometimes depicted carrying chains or wearing shackles on his wrists, which symbolises his enslavement to Saint Nicholas, and he loudly thrashes these chains for effect. More often he is shown bedecked with charming bells and simply won’t be seen without his characteristic bundle of birch twigs or, as he likes to call them, the “Ass Swatter”. The bells are designed to warn children of his impending approach, while the birch rod serves to remind them why they should have ran away after hearing the bells. He sometimes appears with a sack or washtub strapped to his back, which he uses to cart off naughty children before drowning them, eating them, or taking them to Hell.

Origins

Krampus’ name is derived from the German word “krampen”, which means “claw”, and he is thought to be the son of Hel from Norse mythology. For those who don’t know, Hel was the ruler of Helheim (the Norse realm of the dead) who had the upper body of a living woman and the lower body of a corpse. So perhaps not the most functional upbringing. Depending on the story, Krampus was either enslaved by Saint Nicholas and was forced to do his bidding, or decided to work for Saint Nick of his own freewill. It seems the repression hit Hell pretty hard, and what’s an out-of-work demon to do?

“And what would you like to be beaten with this Christmas, little girl?”

Though the Krampus mythos is now part of the Christmas canon, he is largely thought to have pre-Christian origins. Anthropologist Maurice Bruce posits that he was based on the legendary Horned God of the Witches, as his bundle of birch twigs has deeply pagan origins. Similarly John J. Honigmann attests to the “heathen” elements of Krampus’ character and argues that he was once a pagan creature who was eventually assimilated into Christian tradition.

Modern-Day Usage

Krampus is not widely known outside of Europe but his popularity is growing as a horrifying alternative to the traditionally merry, consumerist Christmas that we have become accustomed to. In light of that fact, here are a few references to our festive furry friend:

  • Since the 19th century, Europeans have happily exchanged Krampuskarten featuring images of Krampus, as well as humorous rhymes or poems. Originally he was portrayed as a menacing character, looming over unsuspecting children or lecherously chasing buxom women, but nowadays more modern versions employ a “cuter” Krampus in an attempt to improve his public image.

  • The 2015 horror-comedy Krampus , directed by Michael Dougherty of Trick R’ Treat fame, is based around a dysfunctional family who are attacked by Krampus.
  • An indie horror film called Krampus: The Christmas Devil was released in 2013 and revolves around a detective searching for missing children.
  • Krampus features in the episode of American Dad entitled “Minstrel Krampus”, where it transpires that he was in fact the real hero of Christmas after he is murdered by Santa Claus.
  • In the children’s TV show Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated, the Krampus features as an antagonist to our hapless, mystery-solving heroes.
  • On an episode of the political satire show The Colbert Report, Stephen decides to join forces with the Krampus in order to fight the “War on Christmas” but is swiftly whipped and then threatened by the demon himself.
  • A Christmas episode of the supernatural show Grimm featured the Krampus as a humanoid ram dressed in a Santa suit. In the episode, as in folklore, he kidnaps naughty children but instead leaves behind coal in their wake.
  • Artists Brian Joines and Dean Kotz created a five-issue comic book series known as Krampus, with Krampus as the main character.
  • Let’s Kill Krampus is a card/role-playing game where you can either play as Krampus or as one of eight children. As the former you attempt to eat all of the children, while as the latter your aim is to ultimately kill Krampus.

  • Believe it or not, there is a surprising amount of erotic fiction about Krampus, including A Kiss From Krampus by Red Hanner, Punished By The Krampus by Sapphire Del Ray, and Christmas Spirit by Alise Bell.
  • There is an Italian folk-metal band called Krampus. Yes, you heard me, an Italian folk-metal band.
  • In the indie video game Don’t Starve, the Krampus will appear and steal the player’s items if the player has been “naughty”, i.e. if they’ve been killing too many non-aggressive animals such as rabbits or beefalo.
  • In the strategy-based video game Medieval II: Total War, there is a mod where Krampus is included among Santa’s units.
  • During the Frost Moon event of the video game Terraria, Krampus features as an enemy.
Be good, kids!
Malicious Myths: Krampus