What follows is my latest “Look Back in Horror” over the noteworthy horror movie/book related events of the past year, as well as some of my favorite literary and cinematic discoveries and noteworthy deaths. My conclusion? That overall 2015 was a fairly slow year horror-wise, which brings me to my first point…
The Real Horror Cinema
There was plenty of horror to be found on movie screens in 2015, but only a portion of it was genre affiliated. It’s a fact that the majority of the “horror” exhibited in ‘15 occurred in mainstream fare like THE HATEFUL EIGHT, THE REVENANT, SICARIO, BEASTS OF NO NATION, LEGEND, BLACK MASS and KINGSMEN: THE SECRET SERVICE, a singularly nasty bunch of films that proudly wore their R ratings on their sleeves, and outdid most of 2015’s more overt horror cinema in bleakness, bloodletting and sheer outrage. Interestingly enough, all but one of the abovementioned films were award-baiting entries. That just goes to show that the grindhouse has truly been supplanted by the arthouse, and that nearly any depravity can be forgiven so long as it’s done up in prestige movie manner.
RIP R Rated Horror
It’s a definite irony that in 2015, just as mainstream cinema was getting its freak on, R rated horror declined. The failures of high profile adult-oriented horror releases like CRIMSON PEAK and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION sent a clear signal to Hollywood, and most everybody else, that audiences aren’t interested in such fare (to repeat something I’ve said any times before: if you’re truly passionate about grown-up horror you must show your support by voting with your wallet!). This is evident in the two major horror releases of the new year, THE FOREST and THE BOY, both of which are rated PG-13–a trend, I understand, that is set to continue well into the foreseeable future.
Most Unwelcome Movie Comeback
The found footage movie trope, inexplicably enough, made a major comeback in 2015. See the found footage opuses UNFRIENDED, WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, THE VISIT, THE GALLOWS and also INNER DEMONS (a 2014 indie that made its DVD/Blu-ray debut in ‘15), all of which seem ignorant of the fact that this format has long since run its course. Then again, the same is true of the vampire romance and zombie apocalypse models, and those types of films aren’t exactly declining either.
DVDs: The Revenge
One of the biggest surprises of the past year was the reemergence of the DVD/Blu-ray market, which in recent years has all-but imploded. That didn’t stop outfits like Arrow Video and Kino Lorber from utilizing the field to its fullest in 2015, putting out new, extras-packed editions of cult favorites like MIRACLE MILE, VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS and SOCIETY, in addition to long-awaited DVD premieres like THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE, THE FAN, THUNDERCRACK! and ANGST. For that matter, it seems that even VHS is making a comeback of sorts, with a handful of recent horror films, such as THEORIE DE LA RELIGION and DEVIL MOON, making their home video debuts as VHS exclusives. I have no idea if this trend will prove lasting or not, but I can’t say I disapprove (it’s a fact that despite what Hollywood would have us believe, VHS is in fact a far more durable medium than DVD). Not that any of this ultimately matters much, as it seems that SVOD (or Subscription Viewing on Demand) services are on track to replace both mediums.
Movie Distribution Madness
In 2015 the big horror-movie related issue was the decision by Paramount to significantly reduce the theatrical to pay-per-view release window for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION. Theater owners responded by reducing the film’s play dates and times, thus resulting in a disappointing performance at the box office…or so Paramount claims. I’d argue there were other reasons for that film’s failure (see above), but oh well. This of course brings up the year’s other major distribution furor (although this one wasn’t horror-related): the release by Netflix of BEASTS OF NO NATION, consisting of an Academy Award qualifying two-week run in theaters before making it exclusively available through Netflix’s streaming service, a move that pissed off Hollywood to no end, and probably accounts for the film’s lack of Oscar nominations. It reminds me of the scandal that occurred a decade ago, when Steven Soderbergh’s BUBBLE was given a simultaneous theatrical and DVD release. So intense was the uproar that TV newsmen were stationed at West LA’s Nuart theater on opening day (in anticipation of a riot, perhaps?), and I was actually photographed purchasing a ticket and entering the theater (yes, I did make it onto the evening news). The point of this digression? That movie theaters emerged from the BUBBLE affair largely unscathed, just as I’m positive they will from the GHOST DIMENSION furor.
That would be Pushkin-Vertigo, which graced us with affordable trade paperback editions of vital (and thus far unobtainable) genre-tinged rarities like SHE WHO WAS NO MORE by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, I WAS JACK MORTIMER by Alexander Lernet-Holenia, and THE TOKYO ZODIAC MURDERS by Soji Shimada. And they’re not done, promising to put out more like-minded volumes in 2016, such as a trio of long-unavailable mind-benders by Leo Perutz (the magnificently confounding MASTER OF THE DAY OF JUDGMENT among them). Here I’ll also have to give a shout-out to Centipede Press, although one had to be quite sharp–and wealthy–to get ahold of their ultra-limited edition 2015 publications. They included Ed Wood’s heretofore impossible-to-find literary outrage ORGY OF THE DEAD and the first-ever American edition of David J. Schow’s near-classic nineties sickie THE SHAFT, as well as Daniel Olsen’s newly minted nonfiction anthology THE SHINING: STUDIES IN THE HORROR FILM, which can take its rightful place as the ultimate SHINING resource.
Favorite Discoveries, Literary and Cinematic, of 2015:
BELPHEGOR: PHANTOM OF THE LOUVRE Quite simply the greatest French miniseries ever, an irresistible swirl of pulp delirium involving murder, folklore, weird science and the Louvre museum.
A CUBAN FIGHT AGAINST DEMONS Essentially Cuba’s answer to THE DEVILS, a wild and excessive dramatization of an apparent outbreak of demonic possession that took place around Cuba’s outskirts some 300 years ago.
THE GOLD OF LOVE (DAS GOLD DER LIEBE) Eckhart Schmidt’s little-seen follow up to the classic TRANCE/DER FAN was this dreamlike exercise in punk-tinged splatter.
A DREAM LIKE MINE By K.T. KELLY The issue of Native American exploitation is given an alternately gritty and hallucinatory airing in this altogether unique novel.
LIVING DEAD GIRL By ELIZABETH SCOTT One of most unsparing accounts of abduction and sexual slavery I’ve read, rendered all the more surprising because LIVING DEAD GIRL is a young adult novel.
LORD HORROR: REVERSTORM By DAVD BRITTON, JOHN COULTHART A stunningly drafted graphic novel set in the disturbed universe of Lord Horror, marked by unspeakable depravity and copious Lovecraftian monstrosities.
MADAM SEX THIEF By ROBERT MOORE There’s never been a porno novel like this one, a thoroughly demented early-1970s relic involving penis transplantation in a copper mine.
SLEEPING DOGS By SONYA HARTNETT Unashamedly mordant and disturbing young adult fiction from Down Under, in which rape, oppression and incest take center stage.
THE TRAGEDY OF MAN An animated epic from Hungary that’s as insanely ambitious as any film you’ll see, with a storyline that encompasses God, Satan and the whole of human history, and visuals that utilize every conceivable animation style.
- Laura Antonelli (1941-2015) Actor: DEVIL IN THE FLESH (1969), SIMONA
- Vicente Aranda (1926-2015) Director: THE EXQUISITE CADAVER, THE BLOOD-SPATTERED BRIDE
- Nicola Badalucco (1929-2015) Screenwriter: THE DAMNED, CLOSED CIRCUIT
- Robert Boon (1916-2015) Actor: THE TWILIGHT ZONE (TV), QUEEN OF BLOOD
- Larry Brezner (1942-2015) Producer: THE ‘BURBS, THE VANISHING (1993)
- Mario Caiano (1933-2015) Director: NIGHTMARE CASTLE, EYE IN THE LABYRINTH, NAZI LOVE CAMP #27
- Jack Carter (1922-2015) Actor: THE GLOVE, ALLIGATOR, DARKROOM (TV), TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE (TV), SATAN’S PRINCESS
- Brian Clemens (1931-2015) Director/Screenwriter: THE TELL-TALE HEART (1960), VOODOO BLOOD BATH, AND SOON THE DARKNESS, SEE NO EVIL, DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE, CAPTAIN KRONOS–VAMPIRE HUNTER, THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS
- Callisto Cosulich (1922-2015) Screenwriter: PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, FLASHBACK (1969)
- Catherine E. Coulson (1943-2015) Actor: TRICK OR TREATS, TWIN PEAKS (TV), TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME
- Yvonne Craig (1937-2015) Actor: BATMAN (TV)
- Wes Craven (1939-2015) Director/Screenwriter/Novelist: LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), THE HILLS HAVE EYES, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984), SHOCKER, WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE, SCREAM, FOUNTAIN SOCIETY
- George Dickerson (1933-2015) Actor: THE INCREDIBLE HULK (TV), PSYCHO II, BLUE VELVET, DEATH DREAMS
- Peter Dickinson (1927-2015) Novelist: EVA, EARTH AND AIR: TALES OF ELEMENTAL CREATURES, SKIN DEEP
- E.L. Doctorow (1931-2015) Novelist: BIG AS LIFE
- Donna Douglas (1932-2015) Actor: THRILLER, THE TWILIGHT ZONE (TV), NIGHT GALLERY (TV)
- Rick Ducommun (1952-2015) Actor: LITTLE MONSTERS, GREMLINS 2, THE ‘BURBS, GHOST IN THE MACHINE (1993), SCARY MOVIE
- Terrence Evans (1934-2015) Actor: MONSTERS (TV), CURSE II: THE BITE, PHANTOM OF THE MALL, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003), THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING, BIGFOOT THE MOVIE
- Brett Ewins (1955-2015) Comic Book Artist: SKREEMER, ANIMAL MAN, BAD COMPANY
- Gabriele Ferzetti (1925-2015) Actor: THE NIGHT PORTER, THE PSYCHIC, JULIA AND JULIA
- Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. (1926-2015) Producer: THE VISITOR (1979), ONCE BITTEN
- Gunter Grass (1927-2015) Novelist: THE TIN DRUM, THE FLOUNDER, THE RAT
- Coleen Gray (1922-2015) Actor: NIGHTMARE ALLEY, THE UNEXPECTED, THE VAMPIRE, THE LEECH WOMAN, THE PHANTOM PLANET, TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE (TV)
- John Guillermin (1925-2015) Director: KING KONG (1976), KING KONG LIVES
- Gunnar Hansen (1947-2015) Actor/Writer: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE DEMON LOVER, HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW KILLERS, FREAKSHOW, BRUTAL MASSACRE, CHAIN SAW CONFIDENTIAL
- Charles Herbert (1948-2015) Actor: THE NIGHT HOLDS TERROR, THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD, THE FLY (1958), 13 GHOSTS, THE TWILIGHT ZONE (TV), THE OUTER LIMITS (TV)
- Denis Heroux (1940-2015) Producer/Director: CONTROL, NAKED MASSACRE, THE UNCANNY
- Kazumasa Hirai (1938-2015) Screenwriter/Comic Book Writer/Artist: HORROR OF THE WOLF, WOLFGUY: ENRAGED LYCANTHROPE
- James Horner (1953-2015) Composer: HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, THE HAND, WOLFEN, DEADLY BLESSING, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, ALIENS, UNLAWFUL ENTRY
- Richard Johnson (1927-2015) Actor: THE HAUNTING (1963), BEYOND THE DOOR, SCREAMERS, ZOMBIE, THE GREAT ALLIGATOR, THE MONSTER CLUB, TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED (TV)
- Louis Jourdan (1921-2015) Actor: RITUAL OF EVIL, FEAR NO EVIL, COUNT DRACULA (TV), SWAMP THING, THE RETURN OF THE SWAMP THING
- Tadeusz Konwicki (1926-2015) Actor/Director/Screenwriter: MOTHER JOAN OF THE ANGELS
- Hiroshi Koizumi (1926-2015) Actor/Producer: GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN, MOTHRA, MATANGO: ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE, GHIDORAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER, GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, GODZILLA 1985, TETSUO II: BODY HAMMER
- Christopher Lee (1922-2015) Actor: DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS, RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK, COUNT DRACULA, RAW MEAT, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, THE WICKER MAN, HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, HOWLING II, GREMLINS 2, SLEEPY HOLLOW, BURKE AND HARE, THE WICKER TREE, DARK SHADOWS
- Tanith Lee (1947-2015) Novelist: RED AS BLOOD OR TALES FROM THE SISTERS GRIMMER, DARK DANCE, HEART-BEAST, KILLING VIOLETS: GOD’S DOG
- Andrew Lesnie (1956-2015) Cinematographer: DARK AGE, KING KONG (2005), THE LOVELY BONES
- Geoffrey Lewis (1935-2015) Actor: THE TODD KILLINGS, SALEM’S LOT, NIGHT OF THE COMET, THE LAWNMOWER MAN, TRILOGY OF TERROR II, AMERIKAN PERFEKT, SONG OF THE VAMPIRE, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO
- Chic Littlewood (1930-2015) Actor: THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER (TV), KING KONG (2005), 30 DAYS OF NIGHT
- Robert Loggia (1930-2015) Actor: THE NINTH CONFIGURATION, PSYCHO II, TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED (TV), THE BELIEVERS, INNOCENT BLOOD, LOST HIGHWAY
- Patrick Macnee (1922-2015) Actor: DEAD OF NIGHT (1977), THE HOWLING, WAXWORK, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1989), THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER (TV), WAXWORK II
- Riley Martin (1946-2015) Author/Radio Personality: THE COMING OF TAN
- Alberto de Martino (1929-2015) Screenwriter/Director: THE ANTICHRIST, HOLOCAUST 2000, BLOOD LINK
- Frank Mazzola (1935-2015) Actor/Editor: THE HUNCHBACK OF NORTE DAME, PERFORMANCE, POOR PRETTY EDDIE, DEMON SEED, WILD SIDE
- Brooke McCarter (1963-2015) Actor: THE NEW TWILIGHT ZONE (TV), THE BOYS, THE UH-OH SHOW
- Ib Melchior (1917-2015) Author/Screenwriter: REPTILICUS, THE OUTER LIMITS (TV), PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, DEATH RACE 2000
- Aubrey Morris (1926-2015) Actor: TALES FROM THE CRYPT (TV), BORDELLO OF BLOOD
- Ivan Nagy (1938-2015) Producer/Director: A GUN IN THE HOUSE, SKINNER, HITCHHIKER MASSACRE
- Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015) Actor: ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE, THEM!, THE BRAIN EATERS, THE TWILIGHT ZONE (TV), THE OUTER LIMITS (TV), NIGHT GALLERY (TV), INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978), THE HALLOWEEN TREE
- Betsy Palmer (1926-2015) Actor: FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH (1980), FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH PART 2, BELL WITCH: THE MOVIE
- Dick Van Patten (1928-2015) Actor: WESTWORLD, KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER (TV), THE MIDNIGHT HOUR
- Amanda Peterson (1971-2015) Actor: FATAL CHARM, HELL HATH NO FURY
- Ken Pogue (1934-2015) Actor: MURDER BY PHONE, THE DEAD ZONE, BAD MOON, NIGHT VISIONS (TV), THE DEAD ZONE (TV)
- David A. Prior (1956-2015) Screenwriter/Director/Producer: KILLER WORKOUT, DEADLY PREY, KILLZONE, KILLER WORKOUT, BORN KILLER, NIGHT CLAWS
- Anthony Read (1935-2015) Screenwriter: HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR (TV)
- Robert Rietti (1923-2015) Actor: THE OMEN, HAMMER HOUSE OF MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE (TV), HANNIBAL
- Alex Rocco (1936-2015) Actor: SLITHER, THE ENTITY, RETURN TO HORROR HIGH, LADY IN WHITE, DEAD OF NGHT (1996), BATMAN: YEAR ONE, THE OTHER (2016)
- Mordecai Roshwald (1921-2015) Novelist: LEVEL 7
- Ann Rule (1931-2015) Writer: THE STRANGER BESIDE ME, POSSESSION, EVERYTHING SHE EVER WANTED, BITTER HARVEST
- Alan Seymour (1927-2015) Novelist: THE COMING SELF-DESTRUCTION OF THE U.S.A.
- Omar Sharif (1932-2015) Actor: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, THE RAINBOW THIEF, THE 13th WARRIOR
- Rose Siggins (1972-2015) Actor: AMERICAN HORROR STORY
- John M. Stephens (1932-2015) Cinematographer: BLACULA, DYING ROOM ONLY, TREMORS (TV)
- Robin Stewart (1946-2015) Actor: HORROR HOUSE, THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES
- Anne Strieber (1946-2015) Novelist: LITTLE TOWN LIES
- Rod Taylor (1930-2015) Actor: THE BIRDS, TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED (TV), KAW
- Melanie Tem (1949-2015) Novelist: PRODIGAL, MAKING LOVE, THE TIDES, BLOOD MOON, THE MAN ON THE CEILING, WILDING
- Nigel Terry (1945-2015) Actor: THE LAST OF ENGLAND, FEARDOTCOM
- Fred Thompson (1942-2015) Actor: CAPE FEAR (1991), SINISTER
- Tom Towles (1950-2015) Actor: HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1990), THE BORROWER, NORMAL LIFE, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, GRINDHOUSE, HALLOWEEN (2007)
- Mary Ellen Trainor (1952-2015) Actor: THE MONSTER SQUAD, SCROOGED, TALES FROM THE CRYPT (TV), GHOSTBUSTERS II, DEATH BECOMES HER
- Anthony Valentine (1939-2015) Actor: THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS, PERFORMANCE, HORROR ON SNAPE ISLAND, TO THE DEVIL…A DAUGHTER, HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR (TV), THE MONSTER CLUB, TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED (TV)
- Norman Thaddeus Vane (1928-2015) Screenwriter/Producer/Director: FRIGHTMARE, THE BLACK ROOM (1983), MIDNIGHT (1989)
- Gregory Walcott (1928-2015) Actor: PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE, LAND OF THE LOST (TV), HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY, ED WOOD
- Jerry Weintraub (1937-2015) Producer: CRUISING, SOLDIER (1998), WESTWORLD (TV)
- Bernard Williams (1942-2015) Producer: AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION, MANHUNTER, SO I MARRIED AN AXE MURDERER
- Elizabeth Wilson (1921-2015) Actress: THE BIRDS, DARK SHADOWS (TV), MAN ON A SWING, WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN, THE BELIEVERS, THE ADDAMS FAMILY
- Ben Woolf (1980-2015) Actor: INSIDIOUS, DEAD KANSAS, HAUNTING CHARLES MANSON, AMERICAN HORROR STORY (TV), TALES OF HALLOWEEN
- T.M. Wright (1947-2015) Novelist: STRANGE SEED, A MANHATTAN GHOST STORY, THE WAITING ROOM, THE ISLAND, LITTLE BOY LOT, THE ASCENDING, COLD HOUSE, I AM THE BIRD, THE BLUE CANOE
- Robert Z’Dar (1950-2015) Actor: MANIAC COP, MANIAC COP 2, SOULTAKER, MANIAC COP 3