I have to admit, I was watching horror flicks right down to the wire to make sure I got as many as I could in before making my annual top 13 list. There were some I had high hopes for that didn’t make the cut like Let us Prey and, believe it or not, Paranormal Activity – The Ghost Dimension. And then there were the usual pleasant surprises that just had to make the cut. Unlike other years, there was no question about my #1 movie. I love it so much, I’ve made it my favorite movie of the 21st century.
Oddly enough, there are no cryptid movies on the list this time around. Didn’t really see any worth considering, other than Zombeavers. That’s right, I said Zombeavers.
OK, enough of my preamble. Will you join me for the countdown?
#13 – A GIRL WALKS HOME AT NIGHT
Admittedly, I’m not a big vampire guy (though I do love Near Dark!). This Iranian art-house vamp flick may be a little slow for some, but I loved the change of pace. And the fact that it was in black and white gave it huge points in my book. Heavy on atmosphere and subdued performances, I give it two fangs up.
#12 – ORB
You all know I love alien movies. I can’t make a top 13 list without including at least one. Knowing that, I watched just about every alien-esque movie that came out last year. Most were total duds or just plan confusing. Not so with Orb, a neat gem that reminded me a lot of the movie Bug (the Ashley Judd one, not the awesome 1975 drive-in creature feature with Bradford Dillman). Three siblings are confined in a lake house. One of them is a vet who is admittedly crazy, but says he has something captured in the basement. Aliens + paranoia = Hunter bliss.
#11 – BACKCOUNTRY
You like Jaws? How about moving the action to land and substituting the shark for a bear? Yeah, that hits the spot. Based on a collection of camping gone wrong stories, this one literally had me holding my breath. It was one of those Netflix random discoveries that makes my subscription worth it. This city boy is staying the hell out of the woods now.
#10 – GOODNIGHT MOMMY
Ah, those crazy Austrians and their demented children. This subtitled affair is a slow burn of sheer craziness. I figured out the twist early on, but it didn’t matter. The execution makes this a must-see for true horror fans. Kids are creepy – especially twins who collect hissing cockroaches and are left on their own like feral children. TV star mommy with a shrouded face thanks to mucho plastic surgery makes for a very unsettling home in the middle of freaking nowhere. And I love what those boys do with super glue. Bad kinder!
#9 – ALMOST MERCY
You know that weird kid that everyone swears will grow up to be a school shooter? Well, in Almost Mercy, he has a friend – a strange girl, no less – to keep him grounded. Or can she? I can’t get over how good this movie is. It’s bleak, funny, sarcastic, loaded with social commentary and drenched in blood. And if you think you know what it’s about by my description or the blurb on IMDB, try again. Watch this so you can be one of the cool kids.
#8 – THE GREEN INFERNO
Man, a lot of people have dumped all over this cannibal gore fest. I guess I just don’t run with their crowd. The latest movie from Eli Roth, starring his lovely wife, Lorenza Izzo (who was also in Knock Knock – yowza), delivers on what it promises to be – a brutal movie about conservationists getting what they deserve, at least according to Trump. The gore in this one was way over the top for a theatrical release, and for that, I applaud Roth. And you will truly hate the asshole activist leader. Watch it on an empty stomach. Or if you’re truly badass, watch it during a pig roast. Mmmmm, long pig.
#7 – CREEP
2015 was the year for Mark Duplass, who gave us a great indie horror movie like Creep, and a big budget clunker like The Lazarus Effect. Creep is a 2 man show about a dude hired online to film a guy going about his regular day because he’s dying and wants to leave a record of his life behind for his child. Duplass is downright unsettling. You will never be able to get ‘Tubby Time’ or ‘Peach Fuzz’ erased from your brain after watching this. This is part of a series of low budget horror flicks that Duplass is slated to make for Netflix. You have to check it out.
#6 – BONE TOMAHAWK
Of course an author who wrote a horror western (Hell Hole) is going to love a horror western movie. The fact that it stars my hero, Kurt Russell, had me all in from the word git! Part The Searchers and part The Hills Have Eyes, Bone Tomahawk is a dusty ride through dangerous terrain with the ragtagiest bunch of ragtags ever assembled. The spooky race of Trogs that have kidnapped a woman and Russell’s deputy are freaking bizarre. Saddle up and hit the trail!
#5 – WE ARE STILL HERE
Horror movies need more main characters north of 40 (coming from a man living in that altitude). You get better, more believable actors and a sense of gravitas that can’t be found in most tits ‘n zits flicks. Barbara Crampton is one of my all time faves (and yes, I met her last year!), so I had to watch this one. An older couple settle in to a house that is very haunted, but by what? There are several scenes that actually disturbed me and made me jump. And the third act is just bat shit wild. After watching this, I dare you to go into your basement with the lights off. Go on, I triple dog dare you!
#4 – THE VISIT
M. Night Shyamalan is back! The Visit is about the most fun you’ll have with a horror movie. And, it’s found footage done right. The performances by the kids are great and grandma and grandpa are simply off their rockers. If I was staying with them overnight, I’d need a diaper (like grandpa and his dirty diaper shed) and 10 Xanax. This is one I can watch again and again. Naturally, there’s a twist at the end, and the payoff is damn good. Let’s hope M.’s days of The Happening are behind him.
#3 – THE FINAL GIRLS
This wonderfully original premise has a girl who gets reunited with her deceased scream queen mom by transporting into the 80’s slasher flick that gave Mom her start. I loved living in an 80’s slasher movie for an hour and a half, considering I was a teen during that golden decade. The Final Girls is snarky, nostalgic and touching as all get out. My wife actually cried when we watched it. And she’s as jaded a horror fan as I am. It’s a trippy movie with lots of blood, just enough laughs and a few salty tears. This one really took me by surprise.
#2 – SPRING
In any other year, this would be my top movie. Maybe because I’m getting older and soft, but I can’t get Spring out of my head. It’s a horror love story. That’s right, a horror love story. Set in Italy and beautifully shot, the story centers around an American 20-something who stumbles into and falls in love with an exotic, mercurial beauty who just happens to turn into a different creature every night. These are the two best performances of the year, hands down. It was done so well, I was ready to pledge my love for Louise despite her monstrous nature and the possibility she may kill me. I had vivid dreams about this for nights afterward. I haven’t had a movie affect me like that in at least 20 years. Right after it ended, I ordered it on Amazon. This will be one I go to every year.
#1 – IT FOLLOWS
There is nothing I don’t dig about It Follows. First, it’s a totally fresh idea wrapped around familiar territory. From the opening scene of a neighborhood that brought me right back to Halloween to the nerve jangling synth soundtrack, I was smitten. A curse in the form of a shape shifting ghost that will follow you until it catches you and kills you can only be transmitted by sex. That’s right, VD meets an ethereal Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees. I posted a full review when I saw it that you can read here. It Follows is my favorite horror movie of the past 30 years. I don’t think I’ve been this jazzed by a movie since The Thing. I’ve watched it several times and it only gets better. I listen to the ass kicking score when I write. I may even tattoo a scene from it on my body one day. Yep, you can count me in as an unapologetic, rabid fan.
If you want another top 13 list that is very different from my own, check out my partner in Monster Men crime’s list. Old Jackie has quite a few great recommendations even I have yet to watch. Between the 2 of us, you definitely have enough movies to keep you busy during a big ass snowstorm!
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God bless Spencer Mitchell. Just when my blogging mind is getting weary, he comes to the rescue with another indepth look at our favorite genre. I absolutely love this particular topic. I mean, horror without sex is like Halloween without candy, football without arrest records, politics without worthless bastards. OK, enough of me. Spencer, take it away…
Sex and horror have always had a twisted relationship ever since the iconic shower scene of Hitchcock’s Psycho, but there’s a lot more to it than simply providing titillation for the genre’s target demographic. In fact, just about every horror flick has some sort of sexual insinuation or encounter that leads to the untimely demise of those involved. The Cannes Film Festival hit It Follows, recently released on Blu Ray, involves a sexually transmitted “haunting” that follows its infected victim with the intent of murder. Sitting as a prime example of an examination of the relationship between teenage sexuality, taking that step into adulthood, and typical horror tropes, this film does not condone or condemn the sexual encounter like others typically do.
1980’s Friday the 13th (available on Vudu) practically created the slasher subgenre, and a running theme of that and countless other horror franchises is the villain’s tendency to punish those who engage in drinking, drug use, or premarital sex. This almost always leads to a finale in which a “virtuous virgin” who has abstained from temptation throughout the film is able to defeat the monstrous evil she confronts. This “Final Girl” trope, originally coined by Carol J. Clover in her book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, is typically portrayed as the conservative idea of what a women “should be,” and has pervaded horror cinema for decades, leading to dozens of predictable climaxes.
But as the trend became more obvious, horror filmmakers began to examine and deliberately subvert it, to varying effect: Cherry Falls (hard to find, but you can get a copy here) tells the story of a killer who targets virgins at a high school, and Wes Craven’s Scream (currently on Netflix) gave us characters who were fans of horror films and knew about both the sex and Final Girl rule – rules which the film cheekily broke in its third act. The 2009 film Jennifer’s Body (on Verizon on-demand) gives us a demon who possesses a gorgeous teenager and feeds on her male classmates. When the trope is inverted in this manner, the killing often occurs during intercourse. This is made as explicit as possible in the unsettling French film Trouble Every Day (hiding, but is on Google Play), about a femme fatale who seduces men so she can eat them, and in the 1995 sci-fi thriller Species, in which an alien takes the guise of a beautiful woman for the purpose of mating with a human and creating a new breed to destroy all of humanity.
Regardless of how the trope is utilized, the misogyny behind it remains intact. There often seems to be a notion that women’s sexual behavior is to be scrutinized, revealed, and accounted for, whether she is villain or victim. This idea has close ties to the puritanical culture that demonizes sex in the first place, and reinforces the concepts of “slut-shaming” and male-dominated, patriarchal society. The flip side of the argument is that the Final Girl trope itself originally grew out of feminist ideals; the physically strong male film hero who fights his way through danger had been replaced by a willful young woman who uses guile to escape a grisly fate. Whatever the reasoning, the stubborn trope continues to exist, even in films that set out to deconstruct it.
The use of the monster as an STD metaphor in It Follows further strengthens the link between sex and death in horror, and reinforces the absurd notion that having sex, which creates life, could lead to murder, which ends it. Why is this link so durable in horror cinema? Perhaps it’s the commonly held belief that premarital sex is somehow wrong and deserving of punishment. A more plausible psychological explanation is Freud’s “death drive”, the impulse in us that is drawn to danger and actually thrilled by the prospect of potential harm. Furthermore, Freud presented the overarching idea that this death drive coincides with a drive to seek pleasure, inexplicably linking sex and horror as part of human nature.
Regardless of what drives it, sex and horror will continue to have a long and fruitful relationship. As long as films like It Follows and Cabin in the Woods (see here) continue to find new and intriguing ways to explore the connection, there’s no reason for it to stop anytime soon.
It seems like it’s been decades since I was this thrilled by a horror movie. And when I sit back and think about it, 30 years is about how long I’ve been waiting for a movie like It Follows. Maybe it’s because the movie has a whole late 70s, early 80s vibe, taking me back to the time when I was young and enthralled by the movies of John Carpenter and George Romero. In fact, there are so many elements of It Follows that remind me of Halloween, yet with an entirely unique story and feel, that I felt like a teen again, experiencing a whole new world of horror at its best.
Here’s the story – Jay (played by Maika Monroe, who was just in the horror/thriller The Guest) is a kind of directionless girl living in the suburbs of Detroit. She has a tight group of friends (her sister, Paul who was her first kiss and also kissed her sister when they were younger, and Yara, a girl who spends all her time reading ebooks on a pink clam shell) who just hang out with no real aspirations or parental supervision. We only see Jay’s mother from side angles, and when we do, there’s always booze nearby, so we get the feeling that this generation has been left to themselves.
Jay is dating a guy she met outside the neighborhood. He takes her out one night and they make good use of the back seat of his car.As she’s basking in the afterglow, he chloroforms her, straps her to a wheelchair and has her sit in an abandoned building, waiting for a spirit to begin stalking them. He explains that by having sex, he’s transferred a curse to her. She will be followed by a spirit that can look like anyone until she passes it to someone else. If she gets caught before she does, the spirit will kill her and in turn, kill him.
The rest of the movie is spent with Jay running from the shape shifting spirits. They walk slow, but they also never, ever stop following you. She can drive far to buy some time, but the spirits will always catch up with her. There’s never really a moment of full rest, and you can feel the desperation with each frame. Her friends stick by her, but even they can’t help much because they can’t see what Jay can and no one knows how to stop it.
Now for the look of the movie. All of the cars in It Follows are hulking behemoth’s from the 70’s/80’s. From the decor of the houses, to landline phones and even the way people dress, you’d swear the movie was set in 1979. The only connection to modern times is Yara’s e-reader. Viewers are shown the absolute depression of Detroit, with rows of abandoned, crumbling homes. I feel the director chose to stop technology and fashion right when Detroit was beginning to falter, capturing the final heyday of a city in amber.
The opening sequence of It Follows is the best I’ve seen since Halloween. The score is absolutely chilling. I went out and bought it an hour after I saw the movie. It’s part of a new wave of horror movies using synth soundtracks, just like they did back in the day, to set your nerves on edge.
We all know that horror movies have long conveyed that premarital sex leads to very bad things. I can think of no worse consequence than the curse bestowed on Jay in It Follows.
And yes, I’m going to come right out and say this is an instant classic. For my money, it’s the best horror movie I’ve seen since Carpenter’s The Thing. I get the sneaking suspicion that writer/director David Robert Mitchell is as much a Carpenter fan as I am, because he’s created something that can proudly sit alongside the master’s best works.