I really loved the past year of horror. Not only did independent films shine through the ever-growing VOD platform, but the studios took some big chances that landed them some mighty rewards.
The biggest hat-tip goes to Warner Bros. and New Line for having the guts to release James Wan’s The Conjuring in July, dead smack in the middle of summer. We haven’t seen a summer horror films succeed in years, and to see Conjuring become one of the top supernatural grossers of all time is huge for the horror scene. Until a few flop, expect the studios to take a chance in that July slot in the coming years…
It was also the year of the apocalypse, with not one but three end-of-the-world films landing in my top ten! This year also rocked with Metallica, got stranded in space, and shit out a stress demon in an homage to the 80’s (horror comedies are making a comeback!). It was so jam-packed with goodness that, for the first time in years, I had trouble narrowing down my list. But alas, only ten can be highlighted, leaving me with the following list of my favorite films of 2013…
*(Also note that films like Maniac, Stitches, You’re Next and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane were in my top 10 in previous years, which is why you don’t see them mentioned here.)
As I stated before, this year was overflowing with goodness that started all the way back in January with the Guillermo del Toro produced Mama, which would have made my top 10 had not for the CGI abuse. Stoker is one of the more underrated films of the year. Personally, I found it to be a gorgeous art horror thriller from one of the greatest directors of our time, Park Chan-wook. So odd that Mandy Lane came out the same year as Jonathan Levine’s Warm Bodies, and both are worthy of your time. Warm Bodies was a fun new take on the zombie genre, even if it was a bit “hipster”. You know the year was good when Fede Alvarez’s insanely violent Evil Dead didn’t make my top 10. For years we expected nothing but the worst from the remake of Sam Raimi’s classic, and thankfully we were treated to a reinvigorating start to what could be an entirely new franchise. Lastly comes Savaged, an indie film from Canada’s Raven Banner that none of you have seen or heard of. Patrick Cooper correctly raves in his review about this female Crow-esque indie thriller that’s insanely violent. Write this title down as you’re going to want to hunt it down ASAP.
Critics were way too harsh on this experimental art film that was looked at, for whatever reason, like it should have been some perfectly generic Disney-themed thriller. It’s anything but generic, and goes for the throat with its trippy imagery, demonic spirit, and blatant attack on consumerism. Randy Moore’s commentary on how Disney sells “happiness” is right on the money, and his depiction on a nightmarish vacation is something that I’m sure many people can relate to. The idea that Moore snuck into Disneyworld and EPCOT in Orlando, Florida to film this is to be commended on the highest accord, and the end result is something that’s about as magical as Disney itself. This is a discovery film, one that you find and brag to your friends about seeing first. Even if you weren’t the first in line, I’m quite sure that the lot of you will be enchanted by this Willy Wonka-esque ride through the Disney parks. Personally, I’d enjoy this “dark ride” an infinite amount of times.
Written and directed by the franchise’s creator (Don Mancini), Curse returns to the Child’s Play roots and delivers a darker sequel that was teased at the end of Bride of Chucky. What’s so interesting about the sequel is that it’s played like a beginning to a saga, a slow-burn with multiple reveals. “Curse of Chucky shows serious restraint, which is rare for a fifth sequel. Instead of jumping right in, Mancini works his way to the reveal, treating the film like an introduction to a completely new, younger audience,” I explain in my review. In fact, “Curse of Chucky may just be the best home video sequel since Wrong Turn 2. It’s alarmingly good, which puts pressure on Universal to answer as to why they didn’t let Mancini shoot this for theaters…Chucky fans should rejoice, though, as Curse of Chucky is clearly going to re-ignite the franchise for years to come.“ The best part of the release is Universal’s newly minted Blu-ray box set including the entire franchise!
Even though I’m a huge fan of Shaun of the Dead, I somehow didn’t see this until it was on home video, and was shocked to see it wasn’t as overhyped as I thought it would be. Edgar Wright gives insane homage to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise in this hilarious, action-packed alien horror story about a town overrun by robotic alien slaves. What’s more so beautiful is Wright’s reflection on age, and how we feel as we get older. Those readers 30 and above will feel a more personal connection to World’s End than the newer generation of horror fans. Even with a disconnect, I think all horror fans will appreciate the unrelenting pace, constant drinking, and stunningly well-coordinated fight sequence that fill the screen with blue alien gore.
While a bit overrated, IMO, Guillermo del Toro’s giant robot vs. monster film was still one of the best of 2013. “Pacific Rim, beyond its flaws, is truly a gorgeous, stunning and magnificent summer spectacle,” I explain in my review. “It’s balls-to-the-wall batshit crazy – a must-see summer extravaganza that delivers more than what’s promised in the trailers, and will also tickle that childhood nerve that begs to be nurtured.” If you’re a fan of Robot Jox you will absolutely love this monster-sized action flick, now on video (and thankfully you don’t have to watch it in 3-D).
What I loved about Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners was that it wasn’t trying to be anything but a solid thriller, and never tried too hard to attempt to force twist down the viewer’s throat. Even with Paul Dano and Hugh Jackman, the movie was carried on the shoulders of Jake Gyllenhaal, who has become one of the best actors of our time. Prisoners may not be as gritty as Seven, but it’s an intense and well-made as they come.
I will never understand the negativity surrounding this musical masterpiece. I grew up a mega Metallica fan, and am one of the more recent haters. Still, I love their pre-1990’s albums so much that I listen to them daily, and would see them in concert any day of the week. I celebrate that the band used their own money to deliver one of the greatest music-inspired theater experiences ever. Even if it were a major flop financially, Through the Never is historical in the sense that I doubt you’ll ever see anything like it again. And let’s be honest, the wrap was awesome – I can’t even sit still through a live concert, let alone in a movie theater. Nimród Antal’s gorgeous and stunning apocalyptic chase through barren streets (with the awesome Dane DeHaan leading the way) was a breath of fresh air between song sets. Fuck the haters, Metallica Through the Never was a cinematic orgasm, especially in 3-D. I feel for those who missed this IMAX opportunity.
Harking back to cheesy 80’s movies like Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case, Bad Milo! was the surprise indie of the year delivering tons of gore, laughs, and of course the underrated Ken Marino. The concept of an evil demon that comes out of a man’s ass is just the tip of the iceberg as this genre film proves that, despite what history says, horror and comedy can live together. Bad Milo! is a must-see for all horror fans, and is even worthy of owning for those “what should we watch tonight?” parties.
If you hated Paranormal Activity, James Wan’s The Conjuring is the opposite horror experience as it’s a high-budget, well-made horror in the vein of Poltergeist. In fact, it’s so good it may be the best supernatural horror since The Ring, and maybe even one of the best all-time. It also cements Wan as the best genre director in the past decade, and makes him one of the greatest ever. “For a brief moment James Wan had reconnected me with my youth and rattled me,” I explain in my review. “It’s a core-shaking sequence that’s so viciously terrifying, yet you barely see anything. It’s a master artist painting the most wonderful picture.”
Until Gravity, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg apocalyptic comedy This Is the End was a shoe-in for my favorite genre film of 2013. One giant inside joke, the horror comedy (and it is a horror film, so don’t even try and argue against that) featured the likes of Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Aziz Ansari, Emma Watson, Jason Segel, David Krumholtz, Michael Cera, and even Rihanna in a gut-busting laugher that also has some tremendous horror-themed elements. “Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg directed the living shit out of their screenplay. It’s rare to see a genre crossover like this, but Rogen and Goldberg stunned me with their understanding of the horror genre, the beats, and how to scare the audience,” I state in my review. “While This Is the End may be a comedy – one of the funniest this decade – it’s still an insanely competent horror movie that’s going to blow your collective minds.”
You can argue that this isn’t horror, but I’d be damned if this wasn’t the most intense and frightening movie I’ve seen in years. One of my biggest issues with modern blockbusters are the self-indulgent scopes inflicted by directors. While Gravity does take place nearly all in space, there’s a smallness to it that makes it extraordinarily claustrophobic. Alfonso Cuarón’s directing prowess is mind-boggling, taking the viewer on a circus tightrope act of terror in zero gravity. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney both deliver emotional Oscar-worthy performances that give the film a very human spirit. While Gravity may look like a huge summer blockbuster like Transformers, it’s actually a very tight-nit story that breaks into the scope of all emotions, from terror to compassion. Gravity is a modern masterpiece.