Best Horror Films of 2015

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It shouldn’t be a surprise to any of our readers that we here at PopOptiq love horror movies. All month long we’ve been counting down the 200 greatest horror films ever made alongside our 31 Days of Horror marathon. And every year just before Halloween, our staff bands together to decide what our favourite horror films of the past year are. It’s never an easy feat since we don’t always agree but as with every list, nobody will. That said, here are the 17 best horror films of 2015 according to our writers.

Note: We didn’t bother to list them in any order but we recommend them all!

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A Christmas Horror Story

A Christmas Horror Story offers five interwoven tales of terror set on Christmas Eve, as executed by three Canadian filmmakers, Grant Harvey, Bret Sullivan and veteran genre producer Steven Hoban making his feature directorial debut. Much like Trick ‘r Treat, the five segments are grafted together as one inter-connected marathon rather than playing out one at a time like a traditional anthology film. In one, a group of would-be documentary student filmmakers investigate a ritualistic double murder that took place in their school the year before. Next up, a family goes searching for the best Christmas tree in the woods but when they return home, they realize something isn’t right with their son. Another family, meanwhile, must battle a homicidal Krampus (played by actor/stuntman Rob Archer) when their car breaks down in the middle of the woods. And finally, the film’s best tale sees Santa Claus square off against a horde of zombie elves. The connective tissue holding the stories in place features the town’s own DJ Dan played by Canuck William Shatner. As with any film of this kind, not every segment will please every viewer, but A Christmas Horror Story has enough scares, suspense and dark comedy to keep you watching. Perfect viewing for both the Christmas and Halloween season, A Christmas Horror Story is easily one of the best holiday horror movies ever made, not to mention it also boasts one hell of a clever twist ending! (Ricky D)

BoneTomahawk

Bone Tomahawk

Westerns that stray outside the usual genre conventions are rare, and while the horror elments in S. Craig Zahler’s directorial debut are sparse during the first two acts, they do their job well, casting a sense of gloom and dread throughout the entire proceedings, up until a comparitavely gory finale. The early first glimpse of what Kurt Russell’s Sheriff and his rescue posse will eventually face is a jarringly creepy image, giving flesh and blood a shadowy, unearthly feel, and setting up the traditional western motif of the maddening and imcomprehensible danger of the unknown. By the time we clearly see these boogeymen cannibals in the flesh, we have been sufficiently put on edge by a steadily building story that consistently reminds the audience of the vulnerability of four men alone in the untamed frontier. The third act capitalizes by showing the graphic consequences of this intrusion of civilization, and hits some more familiar horror beats that genre fans will recognize. Bone Tomahawk is a western first and foremost, but proves there are different stories to tell on the plains, some of them quite horrifying. (Patrick Murphy)

Creep - Mark Duplass

Creep

One of the most criminally underseen gems of the year, Patrick Brice’s Creep is a firm reminder of the creative possibilities inherent in found-footage horror filmmaking, which is perhaps the most tired subgenre of film this decade. What sets it apart is the subtle character work put forth by its starring duo, featuring effective performances from an awkward and empathetic Patrick Brice and an especially unsettling Mark Duplass. Their chemistry allows the tension and horror to come from the awkward rules of social interaction without any explicitness or jump scares needed. The found footage genre is one that plays with subjectivity in storytelling, given you’re only seeing what whoever is holding the camera is seeing. Creep plays with that subjectivity, shifting the narrative grounds between its two central characters in inventive ways that keep the audience tense and engaged. There have been rumors of a planned trilogy, and I sincerely hope they get to make them. In making another 2 Creep films, the found footage horror subgenre would get a much needed breath of creative fresh air. (Dylan Griffin)

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Crimson Peak

A haunted house movie usually relies on its ghosts, but in the case of Guillermo del Toro’s latest gothic horror drama, their inconsequentiality to the story renders them mostly impotent and unmemorable. Lucky then that the incredible visuals and sound work more than make for a compellingly eerie atmosphere, enough to carry viewers through to the end of the story before they realize nothing much really happened. The house is a marvel of set design, giving off an ancient feel, full of texture and twisted hallways. While not heavy on gore (until the climax), there are plenty of substitutes that convey bloody implications, not the least of which is the goopy red clay that bubbles up to the surface, bleeding through the white snow and filling basement vats that may hide murderous secrets. Flickering candles, creaking wood, and the ominous moans and groans of an aged, rotting estate all contribute to a general unease and cast a spell of dazzling richness that sates the senses. As for the ghosts? The deathly pale actors make far better spooks, especially the menacingly wraith-like Jessica Chastain. While not necessarily scary, Crimson Peak is worth it for the chilling ambiance alone, proving that while looks aren’t everything, they’re sometimes enough. (Patrick Murphy)

deathgasmFantasia

Deathgasm

Jason Lei Howden’s outrageous debut feature Deathgasm about a group of suburban metal heads who summon a demonic force is one of the most pleasant surprises of 2015. There’s a good deal of affection for Peter Jackson to be found in Deathgasm – a ridiculously fun and bombastic horror/comedy named after the thrashing four-piece garage band that awakens Hell’s stooges. Much like the films it affectionately nods to, Deathgasm takes place in the 1980’s when society viewed anyone associated with the genre of music as outcasts of a likely deranged, intoxicated, criminal and Satanic nature. Howden’s script joyfully pokes fun at these ludicrous allegations and spins them upside around to actually come true. But what makes Deathgasm so special is that between the bodily goo rivers of blood, dripping limbs, plucked out eyeballs and over-the-top carnage – is a story full of heart. Metal music is not only an escape from the harsh realities of high-school bullies, parental neglect, and social discrimination but the hero in Deathgasm uses it as a device to help him form a bond with others just like him (the Brotherhood of Steel he calls it). There’s plenty of vivid splatstick here, from dismemberment, disemboweling, beheading, and the like. 90 minutes viewing bodies ripped apart by power tools might not appeal to most viewers but those who like hyperbolic gore will appreciate how it is handled with bloody conviction. (Ricky D)

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The Devil’s Candy

The Devil’s Candy starts out slowly before gradually laying its foot down on the gas pedal and never taking it off. Successfully crafting a possession movie is no easy feat, pulling off a double possession movie seems near impossible, but director Sean Byrne nails it. By the time the movie is over, blood is shed, bodies are buried and family bonds get tested. Bryne does a great job of instilling an escalating sense of dread in the audience. The film’s pulsating soundtrack helps ratchet up the tension while the camera steadily encroaches upon the characters, scene after scene. Byrne is adept at using subtle tricks like allowing the camera to linger just a moment too long at the end of a scene; he knows exactly how to raise the hairs on the back of viewer’s necks. For the duration of the The Devil’s Candy, the audience is several steps ahead of the film’s protagonists, Jesse (Ethan Embry), Astrid (Shiri Appleby), and Zooey (Kiara Glasco) and Byrne uses that knowledge to his advantage. Viewers are well aware that the demonic voice speaking to Jesse is only going to make the family’s situation more hellish, and the film manipulates those expectations in order to terrorize the audience. It’s as if Jesse is unconsciously guiding his family towards a chopping block, and only the audience can see the ax up above, menacingly lying in wait. The Devil’s Candy features a tight script, solid performances, and a riveting premise that proves Byrne dodged the sophomore filmmaker jinx. The film is a clever mix of chills and thrills that will appeal to even those that don’t make a habit of watching horror films. (Victor Stiff)

Goodnight Mommy

Goodnight Mommy

Even if the details of Goodnight Mommy, the Austrian chiller from co-directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala are unclear, the basics couldn’t be straightforward enough: twin brothers Elias and Lukas (Elias and Lukas Schwarz) are suspicious of their mother (Suzanne West). She comes home from facial surgery with a countenance covered in bandages, and the boys suspect that she’s actually an impostor. Her inability to recognize herself when one of them makes her “Mama” in the Post-It celebrity guessing game (in a scene whose economy would make Quentin Tarantino jealous) fuels their suspicions, as do her harsh discipline tactics. From there, most of the film consists of a chamber play in which the boys’ suspicions mount and she denies them. Naturally, her denials provoke them even more, and their desire to expose her for what she is gradually becomes more and more malicious. (Max Bledstein)

it-follows

It Follows

One of the most memorable theater-going experiences I had this past year was catching It Follows at a midnight showing the last night of Sundance. All of us in the audience were helpless against David Robert Mitchell’s relentlessly terrifying film. Mitchell had one of the most original and refreshing premises for a modern horror film, and know how to milk every bit of tension and terror that he could out of the concept. Complimented by Mike Gioulakis’s cinematography that emphasized on prolonged takes and creeping tracking shots, capable performances from a young cast and a bonkers electronic score from Disasterpeace, Mitchell made an instantly iconic horror film. In my review, I called it the frontrunner for the best horror film of 2015, and it’s a comfortable statement to say it’s remained in that spot. (Dylan Griffin)

LET-US-PREY

Let Us Prey

Let Us Prey is a tense, tightly-wound and effective horror film that shows incredible promise from Irish filmmaker Brian O’Malley, and delivers both for gore fans and those in search of something a little deeper than mere exploitation. The film initially plays out like a much less funny version of Hot Fuzz, as its protagonist, the serious, by-the-books Police Constable Rachel Heggie, is stationed at a sleepy station house staffed largely by the lazy, the corrupt, and the unprofessional. But rather than The Wicker Man, Let Us Prey takes cues more from Assault on Precinct 13 and End of Days as a mysterious figure arrives and begins to slowly turn the police and prisoners against themselves, bringing chaos, death, and lots and lots of fire. What works best about Let Us Prey is how much it manages to do with very little. Other directors may chafe under the limitations of a small handful of sets and locales, a cast barely numbering in the double digits, and what was most likely a budget barely fit to cover the craft services bill on an episode of Community. O’Malley rises to the challenge, however, using the few elements at his disposal effectively, and drenching the entire thing in a heavy, oppressive atmosphere. The rest of the weight is carried by stars Liam Cunningham as the mysterious stranger and Pollyana McIntosh as PC Heggie. Cunningham bleeds pure malevolence, even when simply sitting and staring at the wall, and McIntosh is one of the stronger female horror leads in recent memory. (Thomas O’Connor)

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Nina Forever

Nina Forever takes the story of a young woman’s first adult relationship and infuses it with horror elements to create a poignant (and gruesome) coming of age story. The film tackles themes of loss, abandonment, and grief, by introducing Nina (Fiona (O’Shaughnessy) — a snarky and blood soaked ex-girlfriend, returned from the afterlife to spoil the mood every time the film’s two lovers start having sex. The premise is far out there, and would fit right in as a late night pitch for an episode of Tales from the Crypt, and yet, Nina Forever manages to deliver a touching story that is relatable to anyone who has ever navigated the tumultuous waters of being young and in love. The film’s leads, Abigail Hardingham (Holly), Cian Barry (Rob), and Fiona O’Shaughnessy each deliver rock solid performances and use their screen time to deliver enough earnest and relatable moments to ground the movie and stop it from drifting into pure supernatural fantasy. Credit co-directors Ben and Chris Blain for striking an ideal balance between the film’s dramatic tension and the absurdity of the premise. Nina Forever could have easily come off as hammy in lesser director’s hands. Thankfully, the Blain’s strike just the right tone and deliver a gripping, thought provoking piece of horror drama. (Victor Stiff)

SimilarsThe

The Similars (Los Parecidos)

Mexico’s Isaac Ezban is two for two with his follow-up to last year’s gripping psychological thriller The Incident. Combining equal parts 50’s sci-fi b-movies and lost Twilight Zone episodes, The Similars is an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek black comedy with just the right amount of gore. Right from the start writer/director Ezban revels in the trappings of 60s aesthetics, opening with a Saul Bass-style credit sequence, a Bernard Herrmann-inspired score, a soundtrack that includes classic surf music and a voiceover that brings to mind The Outer Limits. Ezban has indeed avoided the sophomore jinx with this well-crafted tale of mystery that features more than its share of chills and thrills. And I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next!

spring movie 2015

Spring

Adrift in Italy, a troubled American boy finds comfort in the arms of an impossibly-beautiful girl who harbors a dark secret. Spring is a delicate little gem that reveals those secrets with the utmost care. Director Justin Benson steeps his unflinchingly-romantic horror story in realism to create a genuine sense of dread and melancholy. Impeccably photographed and acted, Spring understands what it’s like to feel something so intensely that neither fear nor logic can undo the spell. This is a smart, deeply disturbing horror film that invests so heavily in its characters you’re almost afraid to know how it ends. (J.R. Kinnard)

Sion Sono Tag

Tag

Japanese cinema is alive and well thanks to directors like Sion Sono, the non-conformist genius who somehow releases up to six movies a year — most of which are worthy of praise. Sono is one of the most interesting filmmakers working today and Tag just might be his most subversively surrealistic and violent work to date. Undertaking his own adaptation of the novel Riaru Oni Gokko, Sono adds his own twist to the manhunt by removing man from the hunt. In Sono’s film Japanese high school girls find themselves targeted by an invisible supernatural force – that slowly slaughters the girls in the most gruesome of ways imaginable. Tag is bound to anger the more sensitive viewers with its visual and narrative debauchery, but there’s a reason the first male doesn’t appear onscreen until halfway through the film, and more reason why some men are seen wearing pig masks. Equal parts exploitation and pro-feminist action-fantasy, Sono walks an extremely thin line here, but thankfully he succeeds in spades. It’s perfectly legitimate to read Tag as a feminist film in which three versions of a Japanese woman kicks ass while she survives a plethora of horrors in what is essentially one 85-minute long extremely horrifying chase. Though the film is incredibly bloody and graphically violent through to the end, Sono more or less hammers home the message, while always keeping Tag joyously entertaining. The opening scene is a masterclass of nail-biting suspense and the twisted ending will call to mind the mindfucking narratives of David Lynch. (Ricky D)

Tales of Halloween

Tales of Halloween

Tales of Halloween is a horror anthology film that packs a prodigious 10 short films into its 92-minute running time. The film employs notable directors such as Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II) and Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers) and offers an assortment of macabre stories incorporating everything from devils to UFOs. While each story is wildly different, a consistent tone makes them all feel appropriate for the film’s world. The segments in Tales of Halloween all share a mischievousness that binds this devilishly entertaining world together. The stories don’t contain much of an arc, instead they compensate by delivering their message through anxiety inducing atmospheres that steadily march towards a payoff in the segments closing moments. Over the course of the film, rivers of blood get spilled and everyone that appears onscreen is at risk of a gruesome death (even the children). The segments are ultra-violent, but also cartoonishly over the top, which means those with an aversion to “torture-porn” level brutality don’t have to cover their eyes. Tales of Halloween is flat out fun movie experience. It’s a film that viewers can cheer on in a room full of friends and re-watch year after year as an annual Halloween tradition. Stuffed with 10 shorts, Tales of Halloween would be forgiven for a few misfires, but even the film’s weakest stories are no worse than mediocre and they go by quickly. Fans of more grisly horror like V/H/S may want to pass this one by, but those in search of an enjoyable, well-made, and thrill-packed movie that’s brimming with fresh takes on the genre should look no further. Tales of Halloween is one burgeoning movie franchise that horror fans will want to revisit. (Victor Stiff)

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We Are Still Here

If your real estate agent ever describes a house as a “unique fixer-upper, unoccupied for 30 years,” for the love of God… don’t buy it! It’s a lesson that no one seems to learn in horror movies. Luckily, Ted Geoghegan’s directorial debut takes the haunted house thriller to new and exciting places while still honoring the genre conventions that we love. We Are Still Here is an unsettling affair that smolders a long time before finally bursting into flame. It’s so refreshing to find a horror movie that actually takes the time to build suspense. Rather than relying on cheap jump scares to trick the audience, writer-director Ted Geoghegan fills every frame with dread. Mostly, it’s the stillness and calm that keep you off-balance. A shadow here, a rumble there, a subtle droning on the soundtrack… it all adds up to something far more sinister than loud noises and pyrotechnics can simulate. You could say this is an ‘old fashioned’ horror flick, but it has a quirky sensibility that also connects with modern horror. Basically, Geoghegan leads you into the trap of trying to predict the unpredictable, with very disturbing results. We Are Still Here is a fun little love letter to the horror films we grew up on, but that doesn’t mean it’s playing around. It’s deadly serious about scaring the hell out of you with its creepy atmosphere, off-kilter characters, and first-rate visual effects. Easily one of 2015’s best horror films so far. (J.R. Kinnard)

What We Do In The Shadows

What We Do in the Shadows

What We Do in the Shadows is a new vampire mockumentary that brilliantly straddles the line between accessibility and quirkiness. The pitch-perfect black humor is tempered by a surprising level of tenderness, as well as some sharp observations about the stylized nature of “reality” television. It’s easily the funniest movie of 2015, and seems destined to join the ranks of other classic mockers like This Is Spinal Tap and Best in Show. These filmmakers are very clear about their objectives, which makes their choices regarding tone and atmosphere almost always spot on. Don’t be surprised to find this comedy gem on several Best Of lists at the end of 2015. (J.R. Kinnard)

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The Witch

Robert Egger’s feature film debut The Witch, is a terrifying exploration of a puritanical family’s descent into hysteria. The result is a film finely tuned for horror aficionados with a preference for old-fashioned psychological terror. The Witch has an intangible quality that lingers throughout the movie; a feeling like a blast of arctic air that runs down the spine, leaving one tense and rigid. The Exorcist has it, The Shining (Which Eggers sites as an inspiration) has it, and Eggers knows exactly how to apply it. This isn’t saying The Witch is on par with those two films, just that the atmosphere is highly evocative of said films. This is one of the rare movies that just know how to make the viewer uncomfortable. The film’s unsettling soundtrack allows it to gnaw its way deep into the audience’s fear receptors. The music alternates between a constant drone, and a throbbing beat, which climaxes in shrill, blood-tingling screeches. The soundtrack is creepy enough to effect the audience on a primal level; it sets off the same fight or flight warning receptors that used to spike when early man needed to run from saber-tooth tigers. Eggers toys with the audience’s interpretation of what is real and what is imagined, but the one inarguable antagonist in the movie is fear. Eggers revels in mixing guilt, suspicion, and animosity in a big black screen-writing cauldron and serving up a terrifying brew of one family’s descent into a state of antagonism and malice. Those that patiently — and bravely — sit through The Witch will find an unsettling movie, loaded with tension that keeps escalating until the film’s final frame. (Victor Stiff)






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