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

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)

My Top 10 Most Anticipated Horror Films of 2015: Part II

In the interests of continuity, welcome to the second part of our top 10 upcoming horror movies, complete with stunning posters, gory details, tantalising trailers, and the odd awful joke (or two…or eight…it’s all just jokes…don’t judge me). In Part I we introduced you to sci-fi horror Infini, romcom horror (it’s totally a thing now) Nina Forever, psychological thriller Estranged, haunted house/farm film The Suffering, and creature-feature Dark was the Night. Part II promises even more obscure sub-genres, dark twists, big names, small names and, most importantly, new IPs. Because seriously, if they bring out another Paranormal Activity I’m going to eat my shoes. So I ask you, please support these new movies. Please don’t make me eat my shoes. I’m on a diet.

Note: As I haven’t seen any of these films yet, there are no spoilers here other than what I’ve gleaned from their respective trailers.

  1. Cub

What happens when Friday the 13th meets Lord of the Flies? It seems you get a visceral slasher resplendent with gore, terror, and kids in Boy Scout costumes. Wait a second, kids in Boy Scout costumes?! Yes, you heard me right. Deadly, deadly boy scouts. Cub is a Belgian film about a group of Cub Scouts who venture into the wilderness for their summer camp. Our main protagonist, a 12-year-old boy named Sam, is constantly at odds with his scout leader and appears to be almost completely ostracised by the group. So, when he begins seeing strange things in the woods and becomes convinced that something is stalking them, no one believes him.

Yet our cuddly cubs will soon discover that what Sam has seen is not only real; it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Something feral is lurking in these woods and no amount of badges will protect them from it (especially not that ridiculous Bug Catching Badge. Seriously, when will that ever come in handy? What are you gonna do, throw ants at the psycho-killer?). Films like Martyrs and The Orphanage have long since proven that our foreign cousins are not only capable of “doing” horror, but are often willing to push the boundaries of “acceptable” horror. In a trailer that actively refutes the trope “children in horror films are un-killable”, it seems our Belgian slasher may just be following in their footsteps. If you fancy scouting out Cub, watch the trailer here.

  1. The Nightmare

It’s rare that you hear the terms “horror” and “documentary” in the same sentence, unless we’re talking about Animal Planet’s visual abomination Monsters Inside Me. But this year, from the director of celebrated documentscary (it took me five minutes to think of that) Room 237, it seems we’ll be treated to The Nightmare; a film focused on the devastating psychological illness known as sleep paralysis. For all of those who don’t know, sleep paralysis is a condition where people find themselves paralysed on awakening or falling asleep. They are unable to move, speak, or react in any physical way but, more terrifying still, some sufferers report experiencing vivid hallucinations similar to nightmares.

The aim of The Nightmare is to present a sequence of interviews from victims along with visual representations of their experiences. From looming shadowy figures in room corners to feral creatures perched at the foot of the bed, we follow as the documentary takes us step-by-step through the horrific living nightmares these people endure on a regular basis. Though the film has been recently criticised for its lack of scientific information, the graphic recreations of this perturbing phenomenon sound promising and, though it may not be as informative as Room 237, it appears that director Rodney Ascher has amped up the fear factor. If you want to get trapped in The Nightmare, watch the trailer here.

  1. Backcountry

While many horror films these days are resplendent with ghosts, ghouls, zombies, and supernatural mischief makers of all kinds, it appears as though filmmakers may have lost sight of how terrifying real life can be, particularly when you’re being chased by a giant bear. Backcountry goes back to the roots of good ol’ natural horror, reminding us that we as human beings are weak, pathetic, squishy creatures compared to our wild counterparts. In an incredibly direct way, the arrogance of man is what inevitably leads urban couple Alex and Jenn down the thorny path of horror. The couple decide to take a camping trip in Provincial Park, trekking the secluded Blackfoot Trail that holds a special place in Alex’s childhood memory, and Alex, fancying himself as a seasoned outdoorsman, opts to forego the convention of reading maps.

It is his stubborn insistence that eventually, and rather predictably, ends with the couple getting hopelessly lost. The shot of the couple nervously peering out over the vast expanse of forest as the true ramifications of their mistake sets in still chills my bones. Yet being lost is the least of their worries, as it soon becomes apparent that the hapless duo has attracted more than just bad luck. Something is tailing them, and is about to show them just how formidable the natural world can be. Of all the trailers in this top 10, I have to say that this one filled me with the most intense fear. Unlike the supernatural based horrors, it felt like it could really happen to me, and did in fact happen to Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend; the couple upon which the film is based. If you’re ready to venture into the Backcountry, watch the trailer here.

  1. Spring

Spring seems like an oddly jovial title for a horror movie but trust me, with a trailer as deliciously dark as this, the film promises to be anything but. I immediately took to the film as it reminded me so much of Afflicted and, though I don’t condone plagiarism, when an idea is promising then I’m all for people adapting it to their own ends. The film is classed, rather bizarrely, as a romantic horror since it follows the love-story of an American man named Evan and an Italian woman named Louise. After his life takes an unfortunate turn, Evan makes the decision to leave the US and opts for the nearest flight outta Dodge, which just happens to be going to Italy.

There he meets the ethereally beautiful Louise, a withdrawn individual who appears to be harbouring a dark secret. As time goes on and their love affair deepens, Evan finds that, far from being simply a “crazy chick”, Louise is suffering from a debilitating illness that manifests itself in the most horrifying of ways. The stunning cinematography and elements of body-shock horror employed in the trailer had me utterly convinced and I simply can’t wait to partake in a little slice of romantic horror. If that doesn’t put a Spring in your step, watch the trailer here.

  1. Crimson Peak

Okay, so I know that Crimson Peak is hardly an indie horror movie but hear me out here; I really like Del Toro. Like, really. I would eat his shoes, happily. That being said, the aim of the Top 10 wasn’t necessarily to discuss indie horror films but simply to present you with a few new IPs. So here we are. Though I’m as yet unconvinced by leading lady Mia Wasikowska, whose unbearable blandness has been the downfall of many promising films, the deliciously dark duo of Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain promises to, at the very least, redeem Mia’s yawn-factor. The film sets out to be a Gothic romance come haunted house horror, with the Sharpe family mansion performing the role of the “why-the-hell-do-people-live-here?” house most effectively.

Aspiring author Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is taken in by mysterious stranger Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who whisks her away to his family’s creaky manor and introduces her to his rather antagonistic sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). However, it soon becomes apparent to Edith that the house is plagued by something otherworldly and, though she expresses no true fear of ghosts, the secrets that lie beneath the Sharpe family’s handsome exterior may prove too much for her fragile psyche. After all, this is a house that bleeds, breathes, and remembers. If all this has piqued your interest, watch the trailer for Crimson Peak here.

So what did you think of our Top 10? Are there any promising horror titles you feel we’ve missed? Please let us know in the comments.

Thanks go again to blogs Rhino’s Horror and Big Gay Horror Fan for introducing me to several of these fantastic trailers.

My Top 10 Most Anticipated Horror Films of 2015: Part II