2011 was a surprisingly good year for horror. For one, torture porn appears to be on the way out. Thank Zeus. And the films that are gaining momentum and praise (Insidious, Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil, Attack the Block) have clearly taken The 1980’s out behind and woodshed and made sweet love to one of the best decades of horror. This return to form gives much to be excited about.
Some of these films were released at the end of 2010 in other countries. But for the most part, these are films that you can see *legally* for the first time this year in the States. I tried to stay away from stuff that I saw at festivals or whatnot that won’t be out to the masses until later in 2012. And honestly, I had a hard time putting #2-9 in order. I think a case could easily be made for any of those excellent films to be near the top of the list.
Often, the most nerve-jangling tension occurs when you know something is coming, but it’s oh-so -painfully slow in arriving. The Paranormal Activity flicks feed off this tortuous Hitchcockian philosophy. While the well for this franchise has been mostly tapped, the third film in the franchise provides plenty of scares (the best one being a well-timed, well-thought out jump scare) and opportunities for your imagination to do its worst. I just wish the late ‘80s VHS camera that my folks had shot widescreen HD. As a side note, if you hated the first two of these films and found them to be tedious and “not scary at all”, why would you watch the third and then bitch about it? Do you go watch each Twilight film hoping that they change the formula?
This movie, for me, was what Super 8 was supposed to be: A nostalgic trip down movie memory lane that reminded me of The Goonies, Monster Squad, Critters, and E.T. Writer / Director Joe Cornish created a movie that is, from start to finish, pure joy and excitement. A lot of that has to do with Cornish’s ability to sharply dole out equal parts horror, comedy, social commentary, wit and action – A rather remarkable feat for a first feature. It’s nice to see someone who has a clear love for the types of movies he is using for inspiration execute a film that will long be considered a loving nod (and in many cases, just as good) to those exact films.
Some Government jobs are better than others. A lot better. Easily the most fun I have had at a screening this year. It’s Cloverfield but without all the suck. I’m reminded a little of last year’s Rare Imports: A Christmas Tale. A film that I hadn’t heard anything about until I watched it and immediately loved it. This is another film that hails from abroad (Norway), took a while to reach the US, and is awesome in a way that few American films ever reach (but that won’t stop a remake, which is already in the works). The film has its own voice, its own odd sense of humor, and follows its own rules. Troll Hunter is brilliant; I just wish it had a few more scares.
Funny how a fake trailer from the Grindhouse hubub of a few years ago ended up being the best Grindhouse movie of them all. It’s everything Machete, Grindhouse and every other ’70-esque revival film ever wanted to be. Love the splatter. Love Rutger Hauer’s deeply sympathetic performance. Love the cheesy idiotic bad guys. But mostly, I love a shotgun-wielding hobo f*cking up sh*t for the man. Director Jason Eisner didn’t just rearrange the Grindhouse tropes into crowd-pleasing, gore-filled scenes; he infused the movie with unabashed joy and love for the genre. Hobo With a Shotgun is fast-paced, gory as all get out and sadistic as f*ck – but above all it’s tremendously fun to watch. Also, Pedo-Santas best watch themselves.
Hammer Horror is back. Again. After picking up the brilliant Let the Right One In Hammer became instantly relevant (again). Now they have yet another winner on their hands. It’s the British Pet Sematary but told at a Rosemary’s Baby pace. Wake Wood is a fantastic slow burner featuring an ending that made me say, “Jeeeeeeesh!” I personally love slow burning horror flicks. Most of my all time faves are in that category (The Changeling, The Shinning, etc). This one does well because time is invested getting to know the characters, their plight and what pushes them to make a troubling decision. There’s a deep emotional tie to the couple. By combining the Evil Kid with the Creepy Cult genre, the film is able to explore the best of both worlds. Something it does eerily well with it’s Faustian bargain plot line and moody atmosphere which invokes the best of old school Hammer horror.
You may think I’m crazy for having this movie so high up my list if you haven’t seen it, but if you have had the pleasure of viewing this Far East flick you know it deserves the love. Some people flip houses and others flip for houses. Dream Home weaves one such story of the latter variety in a nonlinear mega-violent manner that is sure to please Slasher fans. To boot, I’m pretty sure this is the only sub prime mortgage based horror movie. The kills are every bit as imaginative and over-the-top as even the most discerning gorehounds crave (example…someone kicks a Pregosauras Rex (who’s about to burst with baby) face down on her belly (causing baby goo to drip out), ties a bag around her head and then sucks the life out of her with a vacuum cleaner attachment). Yes, it’s BRUTAL. Director Pang Ho-Cheung has created, without a shadow of doubt, one of the finest modern urban Slasher films to date.
The feel good horror movie of the year. It’s got heart AND a wood chipper. What more could you want in a horror film? It’s about damn time the Redneck trope got flipped on its head. A massive thanks to Director Eli Craig and team for creating one of the truly funniest, most endearing, and hilariously gory films in ages. It’s been said before, but the comparison to Sam Raimi’s early films is a spot on analogy for this Laugh-O-Minute of a film. And that is the ultimate compliment for any film in the splatter comedy subgenre.
The first two acts of this movie are absolutely terrifying, more so than anything else in horror this year. The third leaves a little to be desired (hello Astral projection conversation), but this is the kind of film that we, as horror fans, continue to ask for – and finally got. It’s an original concept (read: Not a remake). It doesn’t employ cheap scares. It doesn’t feature a bunch of CW actresses prancing around in bras while tripping over stilted dialogue. But most importantly, it rightfully earned a wide theater release. It was great to see horror fans (and moviegoers) flock to see this movie in droves ($1.5 mill budget, grossed around $100 mill). What I love most about the film is the amount of debate this film has sparked. It’s turned into the Inception of horror within my group of friends. We’ve had long-winded, spirited debates about (POSSIBLE SPOILER) what the Dad’s grey hair meant, why he puts on sissy face cream before going to bed, along with plenty of other minutia within the film.
The main protagonist, Mister, is equal parts Mr. Miyagi, Van Helsing, and Honey Badger – with just a dash of Ash – all the while being a vampire-teeth-trading sonofabitch badass extraordinaire. Stake Land also has one the best on screen moments of the year: Helicopters + Vampires + Christian Crazies. Unlike many apocalyptic movies, this one feels genuine. A huge achievement for a flick with such a small budget. Nothing it more annoying than when the world collapses and suddenly everyone starts dressing like a random henchperson from Mad Max. As if a memo went out and alerted everyone that spiked-shoulder pads and drab brown was all that was allowed going forward. The film features amazing gore, crazy good fights, tons of suspense, and truly frightening vampires. Many are saying it’s The Road meets Zombieland and I don’t disagree, though it is slightly more the former in tone.
This movie reminds me of cats – nature’s sadists. Cats love to track down and maim mice for the sole purpose of f*cking with them until the die. It’s a sickening game in which the mouse has no chance. This concept is applied heavily to the plot in I Saw The Devil. Why exact bloody revenge at the first opportunity when you can exact it many times over – each time more disturbing than the last? Director Ji-Woon Kim continues the gold standard set by South Korean filmmakers in the crazy effed up revenge genre. A single word such as “violent” could never sum up and do this movie justice. Many words are needed: Unflinching, graphic, visceral, remorseless, bloodthirsty, vengeful, unrelenting, and shocking. And the mucho hyped “Cab Stab” scene is worth every grandiose hyperbolic statement it garners. I Saw The Devil is not just the best genre film of the year, but the best film period.