Happy new year everybody! So, 2016 is here – and with it, the seventh birthday of Brutal As Hell, which first went live all the way back on New Year’s Day 2009. As such, my customary end of year review is perhaps a little overdue, but I’ve found myself struggling with it even more than usual this year. This is at least in part down to the recurring concern that I just haven’t seen enough of the year’s most talked-about horror movies for my opinion to really matter: to name but a few, Goodnight Mommy, Deathgasm, Aaaaaaaah!, Bone Tomahawk, Maggie, The Invitation, The Visit, Victor Frankenstein, The Nightmare, Creep, The Woman in Black: Angel of Death and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night were among the ones I didn’t see in 2015.
But another key reason I’ve been struggling to look back on 2015 is that – well – it’s been a pretty fucking shit year in many respects. For one, the horror/cult movie world lost a lot of greats, with Christopher Lee, Wes Craven, Gunnar Hansen, Richard Johnson, Betsy Palmer, Robert Z’Dar and Roddy Piper among those who passed away. And of course, rather closer at home, Brutal As Hell suffered a personal loss with the death of our writer Stephanie Scaife – something which I will not deny hit me pretty hard.
Beyond this, though, I can honestly say there hasn’t been much new horror that’s really made an impact on me these past twelve months. Yes, I missed plenty of new movies, but a great deal of what I did see – including many movies which had garnered widespread praise – wound up leaving me cold. It Follows, Turbo Kid, Housebound, We Are Still Here, Crimson Peak, Krampus, The Witch, Tales of Halloween: I didn’t hate any of these movies by any stretch of the imagination, but none of them made half the impact I’d expected them to.
As such, taking a leaf out of Keri’s book, I’m not going to attempt a full top ten this year. Instead, here’s a few of the movies that made the most impact on me in 2015, in very specially designated categories which I made up as I went along while writing this.
My choice of top image might have given this one away. Sometimes you sit down to watch a new movie and just know within the first few scenes that it’s going to wind up your favourite of the year: that happened for me in 2014 with The Demon’s Rook, and it happened again this year with He Never Died. A wonderfully unexpected genre-bender, as hilariously funny as it is tense and unsettling, it really marks out Jason Krawczyk as a writer-director to look out for – and I’ll say it again, who knew Henry Rollins had such great leading man chops? (My review.)
“It doesn’t work on chips.” Just one of the many, many quotable lines from this wonderfully, wonderfully funny movie. I missed this at the 2014 fests, and as a result sat down to watch it on DVD almost prepared to be disappointed – such heavy buzz often builds movies up far too much. Happily, What We Do In The Shadows was everything I’d hoped for. Just hysterical, but also a very smart and in its own way sensitive take on vampire lore. Comparisons with This Is Spinal Tap are entirely warranted. (Steph’s review.)
My affection for the subject matter is obviously a key component in how much I enjoyed this one, but Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens Unleashed director Mark Hartley has done it again, crafting a documentary that is both hugely informative and phenomenally entertaining, and leaves you with a list of must-see movies longer than your arm. (My review.)
I really don’t think this movie got the credit it deserved. Yes, we’re all shit sick of found footage movies, mainstream or otherwise – but I can’t help feeling Unfriended was dismissed offhand as being just another one of those, with no consideration given for what a fresh and inventive approach it took to the lamented subgenre. No, it’s no major game-changer, and it might have helped if the characters had been a little less detestable, but overall I found it a wonderfully immersive experience, and one of the few horror movies to get a wide cinema release this year which really took some chances – well, okay, we could say that of It Follows as well, but I had more problems with that one. (Read the discussion piece between Keri and myself.)
Now, I was by no means 100% won over by this recent release from prolific no-budget indie writer-director Dustin Wayde Mills, but I feel it warrants mention here for the simple reason that I don’t see nearly enough no-budget filmmakers taking the kind of risks and striving toward the kind of unique vision that Mills does here. So often all we get are generic slasher/zombie/torture films from cash-strapped amateurs trying in vain to beat Hollywood at their own game, when they’d surely be better off aiming for something genuinely fresh and unique. As a silent black and white movie with a constantly mask-clad cast acting out various unsettling psychosexual scenarios, Applecart might come off at least a little pretentious, but it’s often very effective – and above all, it’s nothing if not a concerted effort toward making a truly different kind of horror movie. (My review.)
And, because these kind of things are never complete without naming and shaming the worst of the worst…
Crappiest horror film of the year: Some Kind of Hate
This is another mention I feel almost honour-bound to make, as I’ve been flabbergasted to see how well-reviewed this unspeakable piece of shit has been in some quarters. To an extent, I understand why it’s garnered some praise; it does boast an effective opening half hour, and makes an admirable effort to breathe new life into the slasher format whilst seriously tackling the problem of bullying. However – it completely, utterly fails to do this, and rapidly descends into outright idiocy by the final act. This alone would be enough to give director/co-writer Adam Egypt Mortimer a big thumbs-down – but then Mortimer earned even bigger dipshit points for his attempt to create a new label for modern horror in ‘deathwave.’ If that whole storm in a tea cup (prompted by an ill-advised article at Blumhouse.com) passed you by, don’t worry, you didn’t miss anything; happily, fans and filmmakers alike wasted no time dismissing it as hollow and stupid – much in line with my feelings about Some Kind of Hate. (My review.)
That about wraps up 2015 for me, then. A disappointing, often truly sad year for horror in many respects – but still with more than a few real jewels in its crown. Let’s hope there’s more of what glitters in store for us in 2016.
(PS – yes, I loved Mad Max and Star Wars too. Not to mention Big Hero 6, Jurassic World, Inside Out and Ant-Man – and Avengers: Age of Ultron wasn’t that bad either. But the less said about the Minions movie the better. Gah.)