Movies & TV / Columns

Grading 2015’s Horror Films and TV Shows

January 6, 2016 | Posted by Wednesday Lee Friday

One could certainly make the case that 2015 was a grand year for horror. Whether you’re a fan of indies, blockbusters, or made-for-TV CGI mutants, the year 2015 gave horror fans plenty to celebrate. I didn’t get around to seeing all the great horror released last year, but I did see a lot of it. Don’t worry—while I talk about pretty much everything, I’ve made sure that it’s spoiler-free.

Hannibal: The sudden cancellation of TV’s Hannibal was a bitter pill for fans to swallow. I guess beautiful camera work, stunning performances, and fascinating characters just weren’t enough for some people. The final season gave us a spectacular villain in Dolarhyde, and a gorgeously brutal finale that won’t soon be forgotten. We’ll miss you, Hannibal! Grade: A

What We Do in the Shadows: I’m not a great fan of the vampire genre, but I loved seeing this comedic faux documentary give this annoying subgenre a sound spoofing. Whether you love the Nosferatu type, the standard Dracul, or you root for Team Edward—this one is bound to show you something you’ll really enjoy. Plus, there are werewolves, and they are jerks. Grade: B+

Sleepy Hollow: Horror TV is better than it’s ever been, and FOX’s Sleepy Hollow is on the front lines. A smokin’ hot multicultural cast, fun FX, creepy magic and diverse villains make for thrilling and fun viewing week after week. Tom Mison is amazing as man-out-of-time Ichabod Crane. BTW, if you haven’t heard Mison’s free read of the Irving classic, you totally should. Grade: A-

Attack on Titan 1 & 2: Fans of anime and manga were stoked to hear that live-action Attack on Titan movies were coming. Giant cannibal monsters feasting on hapless humans as a team of young adults try to find their weaknesses and regain their freedom. What’s not to love? These movies were every bit as gruesome and terrifying as I wanted them to be. Awesome! Grade: A

Knock Knock: Eli Roth usually knows what’s up when it comes to horror. This film comes so close to being genuinely scary and effective. Creepy hot chicks ruin a man’s life for their own bizarre reasons. Nice! The problem? Keanu’s dialogue reads like it was written by a half-asleep teenager. Shame, that. I really wanted to enjoy this one, but in the end it fell flat. Grade: C

Scream Queens: FOX’s answer to kids who thought American Horror Story had too many references and too many old people. This silly romp featured some big names and an adorable performance by Jamie Lee Curtis as Dean * snicker * Munsch. Fun, but nothing to write home about. Who does the killer turn out to be? It’s such a convoluted mess that you’ll barely care. Grade: C-

We Are Still Here: Horror movies made by horror movie fans can be hit or miss depending on the writing, director’s skill set, and whether or not anyone involved has anything new to say. If you’ve been waiting to see this one, I hereby give you permission to go for it. It’s smart, funny, has a killer ending, and was clearly made by people who love the genre (but don’t spend the whole movie throwing that in your face). Grade: A-

Constantine: I was sad to hear that this show didn’t make it and was unceremoniously cancelled due to low ratings. Five years ago, this show would have no doubt done better. The cast is fun, the story comes straight from the source material, and the effects were strong without being over-the-top. And dammit, TV needs more Harold Perrineau. Grade: B-

Carver: You may think you’ll need to adjust your expectations before watching a throwback slasher written and directed by a 14-year-old girl. You won’t. Carver is funny and smart, and a pitch perfect homage to the slashers it seeks to emulate. Clever writing and heartfelt direction by Emily DiPrimio leads a dedicated cast into this indie killfest. I love that I didn’t see the ending coming. Grade: A

It Follows: You’ve no doubt heard about this Michigan-made indie horror movie that deals with a deadly ghost passed on through sexual contact. Wait, you haven’t? Well, I pretty much told you everything but the ending. This movie is discomfiting yet familiar, unnerving, tense, and a little funny at times. One thing’s for sure—if nobody spoils you, you won’t see it coming. Grade: B

Under the Dome: This is easily the blandest, most tired horror TV show that I bothered to watch, and may be (after Sleepwalkers) the worst ever adaptation of a work by Stephen King. The only decent thing I can say about it is that it’s finally over, and that non-nightmare is behind us forever. Shame on you CBS, for crapping on this excellent novel, and shame again for wasting Dean Norris. Grade: F.

Fear the Walking Dead: Nobody was sure quite what to expect when AMC promised us a Walking Dead spinoff. What we got was a couple of zombies and a Johnny Depp look-alike who seemed to enjoy wearing old-man clothes. I found this show pretty scary yet devoid of the constant dread that permeates TWD ToS. I plan to keep watching. Grade: B-

Victor Frankenstein: Wondering why you haven’t heard much about this movie despite a stellar cast and familiar story? Well, that’s because it was terrible, and probably made with tweens in mind. A silly premise, emphasis on style over substance (without getting either right), and a total squandering of some find acting talent. Whatever you do—do not spend money seeing this one. You’d do better to catch up with Penny Dreadful. Grade: D.

Simpsons (Treehouse of Horror 26 / Halloween of Horror): The Simpsons gave us a standard 3-part Treehouse ep this year, plus another canon episode that was Halloween focused. I’ll be honest—they were both outstanding! Sideshow Bob finally murdered Bart. Lisa and Homer bonded over a Home-Alone style attack by rejects from a Halloween popup store. As far as this writer is concerned—it’s not Halloween without The Simpsons. Grade: A+

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead: Technically a 2014 movie, most Americans didn’t get their hands on this movie until last year. Clearly made by zombie enthusiasts, this movie had some good ideas that were reasonably well executed. In the end though, there was nothing particularly innovative or special about this undead offering. Decent performances and a few surprises made it better than average, but that’s it. Grade: C+

Z Nation: If you love The Walking Dead, but can’t handle all that misery—Z Nation may be a better option for you. More laughs, more fun, more diverse zombies, and more carnage make this a better choice for people who don’t like to cry when they’re watching TV. This past season trotted out some exceptional guest stars like Gina Gershon, William Sadler, and my beloved Anthony Michael Hall. Grade: B+

Green Inferno: If you love old-school Italian cannibal films full of ultra-violence—you’re probably a sick SOB. And you’ll probably also dig Eli Roth’s Green Inferno. It’s bloody, brutally violent, and just silly enough to keep you from getting too scared. Exploitative style meets idiotic marijuana humor and what would be considered highly racist if it referenced any real tribe—Green Inferno is worth a watch if you set your expectations comfortably low. Grade: B-

Bates Motel: The 3rd season of Bates Motel brought even more great drama, stunning character development, and true terror to the small screen. Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore, and Nestor Carbonell bring their A-games once again to a Lynchian series that has no business being this good. If you haven’t been watching Bates Motel, you’ve got some time to catch up before the new season drops this summer. I urge you to do so. Grade A-

Jurassic World: If, like me, you were excited to finally have a good Jurassic Park movie after all these years—you’re probably pretty bummed. What we got was a paper thin homage to something that used to be truly great. Flat characters, one lame premise after another, and highly predictable calamities insulted our collective intelligence from start to finish. Oh, and there were some dinosaurs. Grade: D-

Penny Dreadful: A family of dark witches gave this second season of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful the punch it needed. Devils, monsters, a werewolf running for his life, the transition from holy woman to witch, a monster fleeing from even greater monsters–all of it was masterfully handled and came together for a season full of sex, murder, and general dysfunction. Grade: A.

Crimson Peak: Everyone was talking about this gothic creepfest that stars Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston, which is why I’m so bummed that I haven’t seen it yet. I know, right—the biggest horror movie of the year, and a combination of scheduling, medical stuff, and finances kept me from seeing it in the theatre. I hang my head in shame. Grade: N/A

American Horror Story: Hotel: People either love this show or hate it, and I’m told there’s a high degree of hate-watching going on as well. The loss of Jessica Lange promised to put a damper on this fifth season, but I haven’t really been feeling her absence. The cast is strong, the drama is amped and the sex scenes…well, they’re a little long for my taste. Still, it wouldn’t be the holidays without American Horror Story. Grade: A

Ouija: One might have expected this movie to be better since they clearly put a little money behind it. The cast featured teens we’ve seen on AMC or HBO, and the production values were higher than usual for a film of this type. Still, it was bland, predictable, and ordinary. Too bad. If anyone had cared, it might have been better. Grade: C-

The Strain: I was prepared to give this show the benefit of every doubt. The silly wigs, the unusual premise, the bizarre accents, and the concerted effort to give us lots of different types of women. The first season had great effects…that all fell flat once the main monster was introduced looking like a latex mask made by a 1st year theatre student. From then on, The Strain became bland and predictable, occasionally interrupted by absurd dialogue and bad makeups. Grade C+

Human Centipede 3: Holy crap, this thing was awful. I don’t mean awful like you’d expect any movie about ass-to-mouth surgeries to be awful. I mean, I found lots to like about the first film, and thought the second was even better. I had, dare I say it, high hopes for this third in the trilogy—and man, was I disappointed. This movie should have been a 20-minute short since there’s no mention of the HC for nearly the first hour. Bad. Not good-bad. Just bad. Grade: F.

The Walking Dead: This past season of AMC’s zombie drama has been fine. There have been better seasons, and certainly it will never again be as bad as season two. Things at Alexandria progressed pretty much as we expected, and we already know that we’re about to see a villain so wantonly insane, violent, and terrible—that it’s only a matter of time before he’s engaged to Sansa Stark. 😉 Grade: B

The Visit: At this point, people either love Shymalan, or they hate him. I love him, so I was stoked for this movie about kids visiting their estranged grandparents without their dumbass estranged mother. I guessed the “twist” pretty early on, which in no way impacted my enjoyment of this thriller. I enjoyed the kids, loved the slow burn, and thought the ending was solid. Grade: A-

Sharktopus vs Whalewolf: If you watched a movie with this title expecting it to be “good,” you have set yourself up for failure. This movie is hilariously bad, boasts ridiculous CGI effects, and contains some of the funniest and most exploitive scenes ever. It even has Iggy Pop as a nurse. No, it’s not a good movie, but it’s a hell of a fun watch. Grade: D

Maggie: I had no idea what to expect when I heard that the Governator was finally doing a zombie movie—not this, that’s for sure. By changing one element of existing zombie lore (the time frame between infection and reanimation), Maggie changes everything. This is an unexpected and beautiful zombie film that proves that Arnold, while seemingly unable to shed his accent, does have more range than he gets credit for. Grade: A-

Mega Shark vs Kolossus: Part giant shark movie, part Attack on Titan, and featuring a bizarre appearance by Illeana Douglas, this SyFy movie is a winner. Sure, it’s stupid and campy with chuckleworthy effects, mindless plotting and disposable characters. But this movie will make you laugh, and if you’ve got friends over—you can expect to be thoroughly entertained. Grade: C+

Honeymoon: I really dug this indie horror thriller that starred Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadaway (Penny Dreadful) that finally made it to the states last year. It’s creepy, slow building, unexpected, and turns downright gruesome as it plays out. We love this couple and want things to work out for them. No spoilers, of course, but this is a great movie to see with someone you love—preferably someone who knows how to cook breakfast. Grade: A-

Sharknado 3: By this point in the Sharknado franchise, everyone knows exactly what they’re getting when they tune in. This third installment does a fine job of giving viewers the over-the-top violence, insane kills, ridiculous cameos, and bloody shark-bite action fans have come to expect. I love these stupid movies, and love laughing my way through them. And yes, there’s another one coming next summer. Woot! Grade: A

Whether you’re a fan of zombies, vampires, unclassifiable monsters or good old fashioned serial killers, 2015 was bound to have some horrific movies and TV for you to enjoy. While network ripped shows like Constantine and Hannibal from our grasp, cable responded with fare like the Strain, American Horror Story, and a Walking Dead spinoff. Even pay cable got into the horror game with shows like Penny Dreadful. And yeah, I’m aware that Ash vs Evil Dead exists–but I hate those movies and everything about them. Sorry kids, that’s just how it is.

Still, 2015 gave us horror movies ranging from bland fare like Ouija and Jurassic World. 2015 also brought us winners like The Visit, It Follows, and What we Do in the Shadows. This past year in horror gave us something for everyone, even if you have no wish to be caught out in a Sharknado.

Did I miss your favorite horror movie or show? Am I comically wrong about something you love? Did I dare to heap praise on something you hate? I can’t wait to hear all about it in the comments.