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10 Best Horror Movies of 2015

From meta-slasher flicks to creepy body-horror parables, the year’s high points of scares

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It was an interesting year for horror. For a long time, studio-released films and blatant nostalgia plays had been dominating the genre — with movies like The Conjuring, Mama and the Insidious franchise, not to mention a whole host of other remakes and sequels, coming out like a steady drumbeat. But this year, the landscape was dominated by more independent, idiosyncratic films: Oddball festival favorites, loopy genre-crossovers, and auteur passion projects. Even M. Night Shyamalan returned to the genre, with one of his smallest, strangest, most playful movies in years – and won back some of the critical acclaim that had eluded him for some years.

That's not to say that there still weren't plenty of remakes and sequels. This was the year, after all, that someone finally released a Poltergeist reboot — and did just well enough that we can probably expect another one. The good folks at Blumhouse (Paranormal Activity, The Purge, Insidious, etc.) still had their fingers in most of the horror pots. And the "mumblegore" movement that had been creating a stir for the Fantastic Fest demographic and in semi-underground horror circles started to make an even bigger noise over the past 12 months (just don't call it "deathwave"). But even the franchises seemed to go in new directions: Sinister 2 wound up being less about scares and more about characters; Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, in what is promised to be the series' last installment, finally showed us just what exactly was going on in those creepily static, digitally-shot shadows.

But even though we lost a legend last fall — rest in peace, Wes Craven — 2015 will be remembered as a year of fresh faces and revivals. New horror auteurs from David Robert Mitchell (It Follows) to Leo Gabriadze (Unfriended) burst onto the scene, and established visionaries like Guillermo del Toro (Crimson Peak) followed their dreams/nightmares. Here are the 10 Best Horror Films of 2015.

Best Horror Films 2015
10

‘The Final Girls’

As an intergenerational summer camp slaughterfest, this meta-slasher flick has remarkably little interest in homage (faithfully recreating the atmosphere of films like The Burning isn't a focus), and even less in using its movie-within-a-movie as a comment on tropes and cliché. Instead, director Todd Strauss-Schulson's stylish film (written by M.A. Fortin & Near Dark actor Joshua John Miller) is a delightful party that sneakily reveals an emotional punch, as a daughter is reconnected with her late actress mother via the latter's most famous role. Who ever thought a hyperactive horror-comedy would make us tear up to Kim Carnes? SZ

Best Horror Films 2015

Mom (KATHRYN HAHN) tries to console Becca (OLIVIA DEJONGE) in Universal Pictures? ?The Visit?. Writer/Director/Producer M. Night Shyamalan returns to his roots with the terrifying story of a brother and sister who are sent to their grandparents? remote Pennsylvania farm for a weeklong trip. Once the children discover that the elderly couple is involved in something deeply disturbing, they see their chances of getting back home are growing smaller every day.

9

‘The Visit’

The fact that M. Night Shyamalan's low budget geriatric horror comedy made this list probably surprised us as much as it does you. The plot is simple: Two kids are sent to stay with their estranged grandparents by their witless mother. The results are occasionally creepy, sometimes stupid, and frequently funny; yes, you'll likely spot the twist a mile away and sure, you can nitpick the entertainment value right out of it. But if you remember how to have fun at the movies, you'll find that The Visit genuinely delivers. Who knew? JV

When Animals Dream; Best Horror Films 2015

Når Dyret Vågner Alpaville Production CopenhagenApS Directed byJonas Arnsby Photo Credit:Rolf Konow

8

‘When Animals Dream’

Overlooked upon its release, Danish filmmaker Jonas Alexander Arnby's entry in the teenage-girls-coming-of-age-via-werewolf-transformation subgenre (see Ginger Snaps) contrasts the folkloric atmosphere of a seaside town with the frustrating reality of an outcast girl in a small population. Often lovely and lyrical, this symbolically loaded horror movie treats its lead's lycanthropic condition not as beast within, but an empowering development and a message to ostracized teen girls everywhere: "You do you." SZ

Best Horror Films 2015
7

‘We Are Still Here’

A peculiar New England terror with Lucio Fulci in its veins, Ted Geoghegan's wintry haunted-house film defies the tired affectations of the standard ghost story. Its isolated pair of couples are melancholy, middle-aged, and terribly offbeat (see: the possession of Larry Fessenden and the space case of Lisa Marie). The specters on hand are as likely to thrust charred hands through a body, as they are to ominously lurk. And it's all tied to a Lovecraftian home, a beast of a structure whose walls are the canvas for one of 2015s finest splatter-filled finales. SZ

Best Horror Films 2015

Lady Lucille Sharpe (JESSICA CHASTAIN) confronts Edith Cushing (MIA WASIKOWSKA) in Legendary Pictures? ?Crimson Peak?, a gothic romance from the imagination of director Guillermo del Toro. When her heart is stolen by a seductive stranger, a young woman is swept away to a house atop a mountain of blood-red clay: a place ?lled with secrets that will haunt her forever. Between desire and darkness, between mystery and madness, lies the truth behind ?Crimson Peak?.

6

‘Crimson Peak’

Guillermo del Toro's most intimate (and best) English-language film to date begins as a swooning ode to his beloved Gothic Romance novels before descending into a flowing Victorian horror show. Mia Wasikowska's Edith Cushing — the spirit of Hammer haunts these the halls as well — guides us through a windswept love story with dashing Tom Hiddleston, one interrupted by spells of unexpectedly vicious bloodshed, a colorful Bava-influenced design, and Jessica Chastain's porridge-scraping psychological warfare. In a time when studios seek to produce genre on a shoestring, Del Toro’s big, warped period piece was very much needed. SZ

The Falling; Best Horror Films 2015
5

‘The Falling’

Speaking of Del Toro: The filmmaker called this divisive, overlooked gem by documentary filmmaker Carol Morley (Dreams of a Life) one of the top three most complex genre films of late, and the man's not wrong. Set in 1969 at an English girls' school experiencing a mysterious epidemic of fainting sickness, The Falling is a haunting psychological thriller about burgeoning female sexuality, taboo, repression and mass hysteria. Imagine The Crucible meets The Virgin Suicides by way of Picnic at Hanging Rock, and you're almost there; patience and repeat viewings may be required to fully appreciate its enigmatic charms, but the pay-off is huge. JV

Best Horror Films 2015
4

‘Spring’

After the death of his mother, ambitionless loner Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) heads to Europe to do some soul searching, and seems to find it in the loins of a mysterious woman named Louise (Nadia Hilker). But Spring ain't no romcom, and Evan soon discovers his dream girl is harboring a monstrous secret. This dark fable wisely eschews the tired clichés of the indie horror scene and manages to deftly straddle both the horror and romance genres — not to mention a heaping helping of junk science — without ever collapsing into melodrama. Plus: lurid Lovecraftian weirdness abounds! JV

Best Horror Films 2015
3

‘What We Do in the Shadows’

Found-footage horror is anything but effortless, though it's in serious danger of hitting the diminishing-returns critical-mass point. Enter Taika Waititi and Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement, who've concocted a faux documentary on a den of bloodsuckers living the student life in New Zealand and ended up making the funniest horror-comedy of the year. The co-directors/stars play ingrained vampire lore, werewolf rivalries and arterial spray against beta-male culture gags, all with a heaping helpful of gore and laughs. That's not to mention a showstopping funhouse sequence in the center, and our finest cinematic nod to another fangs-favorite, The Lost Boys. SZ

Best Horror Films 2015
2

‘Goodnight Mommy’

Austrian directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala's unnerving movie has the hallmarks of a Gothic thriller, but it's set in a chilly, modernist world. Two twin boys play around their remote, sleek, modern house while their mother, her face wrapped in bandages, recovers from some unnamed procedure. The relationship between the three of them alternates between cruel, needy, and downright confrontational – with only the slightest hints of (awkward) tenderness. Who are these people? Is mother who she says she is? Are the boys? What about all those blurry pictures on the walls? You might guess the ending before the big reveal, but this is an unusually disturbing movie – a film not so much of big gotcha jump-scares as of gnawing psychological tension. BE

Best Horror Films 2015
1

‘It Follows’

Can an incredibly scary slasher flick also serve as a post-modern treatise on the very nature of the film image? David Robert Mitchell's indie-frightfest phenomenon is predicated on the fact that a zombie-like state can be passed on by sexual contact from one person to the next, like a chain letter or a haunted J-horror videotape. (You may insert your think piece on social-issues symbolism here.) And the killer can often be anybody lurking somewhere in the background; once possessed, they start walking towards you, often in a straight line from the depths of the frame. It's like the very medium is revolting against us: Wes Craven meets Luigi Pirandello. But perhaps what makes Mitchell's film so effective isn't just its novel scares but its surprisingly well-drawn characters. For once, we actually don't want to see anybody die on screen, and by tempering our own bloodlust, the film ups the ante on our terror. This is a movie we'll be talking about for years to come. BE

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