It has got to be one of the most challenging things to achieve in cinema: How do you frighten the hell out of a movie audience? In the Internet age we meticulously dissect scenes for their realism and feasibility, making it insanely difficult. But when a good, real scare happens, when a filmmaker is able to seize a raw fistful of your nerves, you feel it from toes to hair. There are few recommendations as powerful in film fandom as the “This movie actually scared the shit out of me” endorsement.
If you measure the horror year from October to October, there’s already a lot of to look forward to. Crimson Peak, Guillermo del Toro’s new original horror, opens this week. The Witch, which is already turning people’s blood to ice, comes out early 2016. Here are the best moments of the year so far in scary movies. **Warning: Spoilers, probably NSFW material ahead.**
1. Best “I Fell in Love with a Monster” - Spring
It’s very early in Spring when you lose the ability to predict. Evan (played by Thumbsucker’s Lou Taylor Pucci) absconds to Italy after a heartbreaking loss and a grief-stricken bar fight. There are moments of familiarity, as he’s approached by a gorgeous Italian in a red dress, when you can attempt to assume the next step. You can’t. The monstrous secret of the woman in red comes to light in one of the most WTF-startling moments in horror of the year: Evan busts into her apartment, looking to confront her weirdness, only to find her sprawled on the floor, her limbs slimy, flopping and suctioned-cupped like a mutant squid-octopus. It’s fun, weird and unnerving as hell.
2. Best Use of Props - Creep
It starts with a digital camera and an axe. Then you see the wolf mask. A bathtub. These are the items to follow, used to potent effect, in the weirdly terrifying, sometimes anxiously funny Creep. A set of apartment stairs is a character. The wolf mask really becomes a character (its name is “Peachfuzz”) in a reveal that starts with comedy, but bleeds into deeply unsettling fear. Your wolf mask sucks by comparison. Creep, which stars Mark Duplass (he also co-wrote and produced), made the film festival rounds in 2014, and to Netflix in July 2015.
3. Best Horrifying Use of a Real Bear - Backcountry
After watching Backcountry, it would be completely acceptable to quickly burn all of your camping equipment. It’s one of those movies, like Jaws, that makes nature look terrifying. After viewing Backcountry, I was immediately terrified of the following: Trees, woods, tents and dropping things on my toe. Oh right, and BEARS. Yeah, did I mention black bears? Any horror movie list that leaves off Backcountry’s gut-wrenching, cover-your-eyes confrontation with the bear hunting two lost campers is doing it very, very wrong.
4. Best Horror Comedy - What We Do in the Shadows
The idea behind Eagle vs. Shark’s’ Jermaine Clement (also of Flight of the Conchords) and Taiki Waititi’s horror-comedy is pure and hilarious in their hands: Vampire roommates try to adjust to modern life, living together and their new, hipstery vampire-mate by selling him on the pros of being a cool vampire. Horror often takes itself very, very seriously. What We Do in the Shadows revels in the opposite. Superb makeup and practical effects add more umph.
5. Best Use of Found Footage - Unfriended
The film’s premise alone may make you want to colonize Mars: An unseen figure haunts a teenager as she Skype group-chats with her friends. After an exhausting amount of found footage horror films, how could you not be wholly skeptical? But Unfriended is a quick 80 minutes of clever slasher-esque-fun. It employs the gimmick with self-awareness and enthusiasm that sticks out in the genre. Good for watching with friends and a trash can-sized popcorn.
6. Best Haunted House - We Are Still Here
I don’t know if you were aware of this, but you should pretty much avoid all homes built prior to 1940. As movies have shown us, they're guaranteed to harbor hell ghosts. Extra-avoid the ones with basements. New-to-the-genre Ted Geoghegan’s We Are Still Here takes on the haunted house with vintage vigor, employing to great effect: 1) The spooky basement 2) The spooky basement heater repair scene 3) The stairs to the basement and 4) The hell-hole-to-nowhere in the basement. Also notable: excellent vintage costuming.
7. Best Creepy Wave - Insidious 3
In the third installment of the Insidious franchise, teenager Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) is on her way to audition for a theater school in New York. Near the theater, she sees a figure, cloaked in the darkness, waving at her from a distance. She can’t make the person out. After blowing her audition, she’s exiting the theater and sees the same figure — waving creepily in the shadows near a street lamp. What comes next is one of the big jump-scares of the year.
8. Best "Nope-nope-nope" in a Horror Trailer - Goodnight Mommy
I mean, just watch the skin-crawling trailer. NOPE.
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9. Best Overall Horror - It Follows
Immediately a contender for one of the best horror films of the past decade, David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is the kind of unnerving horror that's true to the name: It doesn't escape you. Unflinching shots of empty door frames (add slowly approaching footsteps), 360-degree pans that reveal figures walking inexorably towards you and eerily wide shots with creepy followers in the distance bond to form one of the most unshakably creepy and good capital S, capital M, Scary Movies of the year.
Nothing beats anticipation in a horror film except day-dreaming about it after, and, like the best horror films of all time, It Follows evolves with your thoughts. Dim the lights, gather friends and repeat view.