Mildly improving on the previous year, 2011 was still a letdown from the “golden” years of 2007-2009, with few future classics and even fewer box office hits that would keep the studios interested in producing movies for us horror fans. Unsurprisingly, all but two of the films on my list were barely released in theaters (if at all), even though some were crowd-pleasers that could have packed a multiplex theater had their distributors had any faith in them. Yet Creature gets 1500 screens. I don’t get it. On a more positive note, however, all but one of the films on this list are original properties – not remakes/sequels or based on comics/books. Hell, even a number of my “Worst” list are technically original – a good sign that we’re moving away from the dependence on “known property” movies and back into original territory.
Anyway, here’s my top 10 of 2011. As always, this is my opinion – you might have loved The Thing and I’m glad you did – I found it too plot hole ridden and populated with vague characters to ever get truly engaged by it (looked nice, though). You probably won’t agree with every choice, but just remember that my liking a movie you hated or not choosing one that you loved doesn’t necessarily mean I enjoy having sex with members of my family and/or animals – let’s keep those comments respectful. Also, unlike some of the other B-D writers, I only include films that were commercially released in the US in 2011. Festival films, movies that just hit DVD this year after theatrical release in 2010, and films that have been released overseas but not here (insert annual Mandy Lane joke here) are not eligible.
Of course, the first ten comments will be “FUCK YOU!” or “Where is (movie that came out in 2009)?” anyway, so why I bother making that disclaimer is beyond me.
Happy new year!
First, let me apologize for my positive review of FD4 – I had a grand old time in theaters, but when I watched it again I started seeing the movie most folks hated (I still think it’s better than FD3 though). Hopefully the same thing won’t happen this time though (it just came out on DVD today!), but given the huge response it got from those who actually saw it, I feel confident that Final Destination 5 was a worthy sequel to the original, going back to the darker roots (and bringing back Tony Todd!) while retaining the ridiculous death scenes. Come on, even if you hated the movie, you got to admit that the bridge sequence was the series’ best disaster since FD2, and the gymnasium kill made you cringe and laugh in equal measures. Add in the top notch 3D (even the credits were awesome) and the gloriously clever twist ending and you have an entry that may have closed out the series due to the low box office take (domestic anyway), but if so at least it went on a high note.
The problem with most anthology films is that there’s a terrible segment weighing the rest down, or the stories lack any sort of depth given their abbreviated runtime (and a filmmaker who was unable to work within those confines). Little Deaths is an exception – the first story is good and the ones that follow are even better, and only the middle segment felt a bit rushed. But I can ignore that and other minor quibbles given that this is TRULY an original, in that I never knew where the stories were going. Also, while the subject matter was quite disturbing (and certainly not aimed at a mass audience), it never became a grim and unpleasant experience – there was always a thin line of dark humor running through these sexually charged tales. A wonderful surprise.
One misguided kill aside, this Hong Kong slasher (!) effectively combines some spot on social commentary (concerning the housing market, of all things) with terrific kills and a budding iconic killer in Josie Ho’s Chena Lai-Sheung, who is determined to secure the titular “dream home”, even if it means having to kill those who stand in her way (or just happen to be nearby). A series of flashbacks give Dream Home unexpected poignancy, and the gonzo/splatter-y kills should keep the gorehounds happy, making this the rare slasher where the kills are sort of the icing on the cake, not the only thing worth seeing it for. NOTE – not to be confused with Dream House, the idiotic thriller with Daniel Craig.
Just when I had gotten sick of “woman kidnapped and held for reasons unknown” movies, along comes this Australian effort, starring the lovely Tabrett Bethell as Beth, a pregnant woman who finds herself, well, kidnapped and held for reasons unknown, along with a handful of other pregnant women. The reasons eventually become clear, and while there’s a slightly believability-straining twist ON TOP OF the bad guy’s main motive, The Clinic still works like gangbusters for the most part, and bucks the trend of these things by keeping the torture scenes to a minimum. It also boasts a terrific performance by the late Andy Whitfield (his last, in fact) as the husband who seeks to find out why his wife disappeared from under his nose, not unlike Kurt Russell in Breakdown. It’s the sort of role/performance that makes you wish he had played the roles that the terrible (but physically similar) Sam Worthington had landed, and makes his early death all the more tragic – between this and Spartacus, I think he could have been a big star. RIP Mr. Whitfield.
Described by some as “If Terrence Malick made a vampire movie”, I like to think of Stake Land more as “The Road if it was good”. Jim Mickle’s followup to the equally impressive Mullberry Street features some great turns by Sean Nelson and Kelly McGillis, along with genre fave Danielle Harris (in one of her better performances) as some of the folks trying to make their way north in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by vampires and religious whack-jobs. The moody, action-lite approach may not be for everyone, but I found it even better on repeat viewings as I soaked in the impressive cinematography (this was NOT an expensive movie, yet it looks better than even some of the year’s big theatrical features) and gorgeous score by Jeff Grace. It also has an impressive “all one take” action sequence (think Children of Men) that alone is worth the cost of the Blu-ray (which is jam-packed with extras to boot, making it one of the year’s best special editions as well).
I saw Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil at a festival in 2010 (same can be said of a few movies on this list, actually) and was appalled that it hadn’t been picked up already. An original idea, a fun crowd pleaser, and packed with surprisingly gory deaths, isn’t that pretty much nailing the trifecta for horror movies? What more can you want? But alas, most folks will probably be seeing it at home instead of a full theater (as I did) – I just hope it’s still as wonderfully fun that way. The chemistry between the title characters ranks up there with Shaun and Ed in the realm of horror comedies, and Eli Craig’s script admirably keeps finding ways of keeping the simple joke alive – a lesser writer would have run out of believable ways for these dolts to more or less kill themselves after 20 minutes. Only those with redneck blood in their veins would be disappointed with this one.
Not full blown horror by any means, but this Wicker Man-ish look at plague-torn 15th century Europe is a terrific grim adventure, thankfully hitting stores AFTER Nic Cage’s similar (but silly) Season Of The Witch, as if to say “No, THIS is how you do it.” Game Of Thrones fans will feel right at home as Sean Bean (who else?) leads the team of knights who seek to find a place where the plague seemingly has not penetrated. Religious-based persecution and many deaths ensue, and Black Death‘s pessimistic ending ranks as one of the best in ages – it might be a slow film, but it’s definitely worth seeing how the journey it depicts affects the mentality of its hero (Eddie Redmayne). And David Warner pops up, which is just icing on the cake.
After his terrific trip into action/drama territory with Death Sentence, James Wan returned to horror with this Poltergeist-esque tale of a haunted KID (as opposed to house), which scared the bejesus out of just about everyone who saw it – including me!. In fact, Insidious became the year’s only horror smash hit outside of Paranormal Activity 3 (which also dealt with a ghost and kid combo), which is even more impressive when you consider its roughly one million budget. Of course, that means the next couple years will be chock full of wannabes and copycats, but if any of them are half as nerve-wracking as this, it’ll be worth sifting through the others. Bonus points for casting Lin Shaye in a relatively normal role for a change.
Joe Cornish made an incredible debut with this winning homage to Carpenter (The Thing, bit of Assault On Precinct 13) and Dante (Gremlins), focusing on a group of inner city punks who find themselves unexpectedly protecting their “block” (in US terms they mean “apartment building”) from alien creatures with glowing blue teeth. Simply put, Attack The Block is one of the most entertaining big-screen romps I’ve seen in years, and actor John Boyega is going to be a huge star, I think. Just a shame that everyone was off seeing the faux-Amblin wannabe Super 8 (which started off terrific and fell apart in its third act) instead of this, which paid homage to those films while delivering a wholly satisfying original tale of its own. How Screen Gems saw fit to put The Roommate and Priest into thousands of screens but only a few dozen for this will baffle me forever, but at least some folks got to see it on the big screen where it belongs.
It’s actually kind of a bummer when a movie you see in March turns out to be the best of the year, but on the other hand, getting totally knocked on your ass by something you knew almost nothing about more than makes up for it. Jee-woon Kim’s Tale of Two Sisters was impenetrable at best, but this revenge/serial killer tale is refreshingly accessible, never confusing the audience as the story of a cop taking revenge on the serial killer who murdered his girlfriend unfolds over 140 fast paced minutes. Featuring some delightfully gonzo gore scenes (360 shot in the car!) and uber-intense suspense scenes (the cop and killer’s first encounter, for example), I Saw The Devil is exactly the sort of movie a horror fan needs to wash away the disappointment of half-assed remakes (Fright Night, The Thing) and weak sauce “originals” (Apollo 18) that are treated with much wider releases.
Honorable Mentions: Bereavement, Forget Me Not, Serbian Film, Rammbock, Paranormal Activity 3