I sure do hate writing end of the year lists. It’s not so much that I don’t like looking back on the best (and worst) films that have come out during any given year, but there’s no way I could have seen EVERY movie that came out in 2013. Especially with the rise in movies going straight to DVD and VOD, there are so many more ways to see movies. I do also sometimes get to see movies before they are officially released and I’m not very good about holding on to my excitement for a time when the movie is “officially” released but I always look like a dick for saying, “Oh well I really liked ________ but you haven’t seen it because it’s not out yet.” Real cool, Wolfman. Real cool. However, I did get to see a LOT of great genre movies this year by attending South by Southwest and Fasntastic Fest in Austin, TX. Every movie on this list played at one of those festivals, some of them have already been released, some of them have release dates, some will just be coming out in the near future. Another cool thing about movies at festivals is they blur and bend genre lines, so even if some of these films might not fit into the “horror” genre in the strictest of senses, they all played at festivals! There! I am playing by the rules! I win!
Some movies are really hard to describe, and others are really easy to describe. Afflicted is a horror version of Chronicle, and instead of becoming superheroes, two best friends are traveling through Europe when one of them starts turning into a vampire. The chemistry between the two leads is great, the special effects are subtle and used sparingly, and the reason why the two are filming everything makes sense in regards to the narrative.
Get together some of your best friends, head to New England, max out your credit cards and try to make a horror movies. Most of the time, this is a recipe for disaster and living at your parents house for a few months, but with Almost Human, things ended up with a purchase from IFC Midnight. Solid gore effects and with enough science fiction to satiate John Carpenter fans, Almost Human shows you how to get to the point and play to your strengths when making low budget horror.
No, this film wasn’t ONLY chosen because it has “wolves” in the title, but it certainly didn’t hurt. The Israeli made film makes you question who the titular wolves are in the film, the man suspected of multiple rape/murders of young children or the two men who take revenge and interrogation in their own hands. Somehow successfully combining elements of a revenge thriller with some seriously dark humor in a plot about violence towards children, Big Bad Wolves will leave you saying, “My, what big balls you have!” to filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado.
The only movie that I saw at two different film festivals in 2013 and wanted to go back for more, Cheap Thrills isn’t so much a horror film about people doing horrific things to one another so much as how far people are willing to go to bring horrific things upon themselves. When two guys are down on their luck and a rich couple offers them money for a series of increasingly sick and twisted tasks, a fantastic ensemble cast gets you to laugh at their exploits if only to avoid groaning. Unfolding more like a play than a film, Cheap Thrills will not only make you keep your eye on debut director E.L. Katz and actors Pat Healy and Ethan Embrey in 2014, it might also end of being your favorite movie of the year.
We’ve all been there, right? We screw up at am important piano concert so badly that we go into quasi-retirement for a few years until your mentor dies and you have the opportunity to play the piano you were taught on only to find a threat in the sheet music that says if you miss a note, you will be killed? Yeah, that’s what I thought, a daily occurrence for most of us that has finally been put on-screen. A hokey premise doesn’t stop Elijah Wood from leading a Hitchcock-ian throwback that keeps you engaged in this short and sweet thriller.
There’s been a trend of vampire movies in the last few years that try to tell a different version of a mythology we’ve been familiar with for decades, but Kiss of the Damned shows you why it’s so important to go back to the well. The only thing more gorgeous than the cinematography, set pieces and music would be the three lead vampires played by Joséphine de La Baume and Roxane Mesquida. Okay fine, Milo Ventimiglia is pretty handsome too. Writer/director Xan Cassavetes is heavily influenced by Hammer films and other European vampire stories that shows the more romantic ideals of becoming a vampire and themes of undying love in this gothic, atmospheric movie.
Having mixed feelings on Rob Zombie’s previous films and having just left a screening of of Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Don Jon, I was really apprehensive going into a midnight screening on a Sunday night of The Lords of Salem. When Zombie introduced the film with the caveat of “Half of you are going to love this and half of you are going to hate this,” my mind took ease in remembering that Zombie can be incredibly stylish and had fantastic cinematographer Brandon Trost responsible for the slow-paced mindfuck. The Lords of Salem definitely isn’t everybody, and claiming half the audience would love it might have been an exaggeration, but it’s a strange, surrealist homage to Italian films from the 60’s and 70’s and is anchored around the Salem witch trials that made for a perfect movie to lose your mind to and walk out from at two in the morning, half expecting a Satanic priest to be walking a goat outside of the theater.
Having already made four feature films and two segments in anthology films making their way around the festival circuit, it comes as no surprise that writer/director Ti West’s newest film, The Sacrament, first hit the public’s eye at some familiar film festivals. It also shouldn’t be a surprise that West’s style of deliberately paced, character driven “horror” is so well-received with festival audiences as opposed to regular weekend crowds of a corporate multiplex. The Sacrament pushes genre boundaries with its faux documentary style as it follows a group of VICE Magazine style journalists investigating a religious commune and brings us some of West’s most compelling, and at times most disturbing, filmmaking efforts to date which will be sure to satiate genre and non-genre fans alike.
Sometimes you can’t avoid letting your frame of mind affect your opinion of a movie. I had just been a little disappointed with a cannibal film (The Green inferno), I wasn’t a big fan of the original We Are What We Are, and director Jim Mickle’s previous movie, Stake Land, was also a little disappointing. Going in with low expectations really helped me get excited and appreciate this moody, atmospheric, and downright depressing movie about a family whose religious beliefs force them to look to their neighbors on whether they will feast or famine. This remake deviates in a few different ways from the original into new territory that resulted in me enjoying it more than the Mexican source material.
Seeing five movies in one day can be exhausting, even if all you’re doing is sitting in one place. That’s when you get lucky and sit down to watch Witching & Bitching as your last film and quickly realize it’s probably the ONLY movie you could watch to keep you awake and interested. An opening scene involving street performers, a child, and a man dressed as Jesus with a holy cross in tow are robbing a pawn shop, getting into a shootout with police, and constant mayhem unfolding lets you know you are in for a wild ride. The frenetic energy and humor of the film about a group of robbers who end up in the house of witches can be almost exhausting at times, but then a hand will come out of the toilet or a giant CGI mega-witch will pop up and make you look around at all the other theater goers to see if you’re really seeing what you think you’re seeing. If the title alone doesn’t make you want to see it, you probably don’t deserve to see it.
Falling even closer to the boundaries of what can be considered “horror”, a couple more movies deserve to be highlighted. Blue Ruin features a compelling performance from Macon Blair as a man seeking revenge on the person responsible for the death of his parents. More depressing than scary, but quite tense throughout, the film shows you the effects that violence can have on an individual, a family, and that it’s never an answer for anything. The Dutch Borgman features a homeless man who manipulates the emotions, and possibly even the minds, of a rich family that makes you question what kind of power this man possesses and never really find the answer to. One of the weirdest films to describe of the festival circuits and one of the more recommended. Finally, Ragnarok from Norway has its moments of tension in a more action/adventure setting, but this family friendly movie manages to channel both the spirit of Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park with heart and genuineness and devoid of American sarcasm or cynicism.