Dread Central's Best and Worst of 2011
2011 wasn’t a good year for mainstream horror. James Wan’s Insidious was the only breakout hit for first ten months of 2011, and it’s obvious that the PG-13 rating helped it along. Meanwhile, half a dozen other releases disappeared into box office obscurity after one weekend of pitiful business each. Over the summer Paramount’s Super 8 was a marginal success that seems to have already faded from audience consciousness. Then Paranormal Activity 3 opened in October, grossing a staggering $202 million (worldwide) off of a paltry $5 million budget. It showed that audiences were still willing to turn out for an established franchise while highlighting a much bigger issue: Why doesn’t anyone turn out for original horror anymore?
Argue that there wasn’t much good in theaters this year. I won’t disagree. Films like Season of the Witch, Fright Night and The Thing were hardly worthy of audience attendance, but why don’t studios show a little more confidence in their indie titles? None of the movies on this “Best of 2011” list were ever going to be blockbusters, but with the right marketing some of these might’ve stood a chance of pulling down a few bucks. I guess it’s easier for smaller companies to release directly to VOD/home video rather than spend crucial dollars on making the public aware of a film they A) most likely won’t see because they don’t recognize the cast or B) won’t understand anyway, but when box office attendance is this low month after month, it may be time for these companies to consider giving us some interesting alternatives to warmed over Hollywood junk.
Because it’s that Hollywood junk that continues to disillusion: The older I get, the easier it is to throw around the old ”they just don’t make ‘em like they used to” cliché. To use the aforementioned examples, walking out of both Fright Night and The Thing, it’s all too easy to bemoan the lack of quality writing, direction and overall craftsmanship intrinsic of the modern-day genre – especially when recalling superior (and earlier) versions of reheated material. But when it comes time to reach back into the memory banks for a long think regarding new and enjoyable horror films, I find there’s still plenty to like. And 2011 is no different. It may require some digging to find all these diamonds in the rough, but the effort is well worth the time of any hardcore horror fanatic.
So, without further ado, I present to you, dear reader, my best/worst of 2011, with a few honorable/dishonorable mentions added in for good measure. Enjoy, and please leave your own lists below. It wouldn’t be a year-end list without seeing what stood out in your minds, too, after all.
5. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil - What surprises most about Eli Craig’s Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is that it shouldn’t have worked. Not as a feature. It’s pretty much a one-note joke, albeit one that never overstays its welcome thanks in part to the fantastic energy of its cast and the ingenuity of the setpieces. Loaded with more comedic misunderstandings than an entire season of Three’s Company, it’s a film that knows how to entertain. It’s also the film I was thinking of when I said some of these indie flicks might’ve stood a chance at making some box office; it’s funnier than any other comedy released this year.
4. Bereavement - Stevan Mena’s prequel to Malevolence is a pitch-perfect throwback to 1970s filmmaking. A film that’s unafraid to tell its audience about its characters before plunging them into the unspeakable horrors that await. It’s also pretty smart. Mena is an intelligent writer and has plenty of parallels to explore in this story of family matters and upbringing. Performances are uniformly strong, and the story is bleak and unexpected (more so if you watch this before Malevolence, which is recommended). It may contain one murder setpiece too many in the first act, but there’s plenty of tension and suspense to be found throughout.
Word is that Mena has one more movie to go in this proposed trilogy, and I’m hoping to see him tackle this story sooner rather than later.
3. Attack the Block - While just about every website was busy proclaiming Attack the Block as the best movie of 2011, I was tempering my expectations. Could this little flick about an alien invasion in an inner city slum really be a genre great? Turns out the answer is "yes!" Joe Cornish’s little monster flick plays out like Inner City Critters with strong characters (who you hate at first and then grow to like), an effective locale and a pulsing musical score (very Carpenter-esque) for extra ambiance. Plus, how cool are those creatures? It’s a lot of fun while managing to be unexpectedly moving as well. Forget the forced schmaltz of Super 8, this is a far superior version of kids vs. aliens that should’ve had a chance in wide release this summer.
2. I Saw the Devil - An absolutely brutal serial killer flick becomes an even more vicious revenge thriller. I Saw the Devil is a brilliant example of taking its characters into the ugliest rabbit hole imaginable: where there is no good outcome, no shot at redemption or heroics. Sure, we’ve got a protagonist, and it’s easy to cheer his unorthodox methods, but the ultimate cost is great, and the ride this film takes us on is both emotionally and physically draining. The futility of vengeance has never been made clearer, and it’s an experience its audience won’t soon forget.
1. Black Death - A masterful and, as of now, still underlooked little gem of a film. Shades of Robin Hardy’s original Wicker Man are all over this, but it’s the way Black Death challenges the beliefs and ideals of its protagonist that resonates to create a substantial experience. Tackling religion is always a tricky subject, but writer Dario Poloni’s screenplay explores these issues without ever preaching. Whether or not this story is pro/anti-religion is also up for debate, creating nicely textured food for thought. Performances are excellent, but it’s Carice van Houten who steals the show as the spooky and mysterious leader of the heretic cult.
It’s rare enough to find a horror movie with brains in this day and age, and Black Death never patronizes. It challenges. Well worth multiple viewings, this one will make you think.
Paranormal Activity 3 - It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of this franchise. The original film, an undeniably shining example of this genre, never resonated with me while the sequel is among the laziest, most uninspired examples of by-the-numbers filmmaking. But this? Against all odds, directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have delivered the ultimate haunted house thrill-ride. A delicious concoction of wonderfully spooky setpieces, each one building steadily toward one of the scariest finishes in recent memory, this is how to make a sequel!
Hobo With a Shotgun - If this were more of a horror film, it would’ve landed in my top five (same reason why Rise of the Planet of the Apes didn’t even qualify as a runner-up … no horror to speak of). Director Jason Eisener is one of the precious few filmmakers who understands what worked about the films that inspired his own, and therefore, this exploitation homage works perfectly: It’s played straight. It’s unflinching and nasty but lined with real heart and soul. Rutger Hauer is pitch-perfect as the drifter who stumbles into town and quickly gets pushed too far, and there’s a real style to the mayhem. It’s a perfect weekend movie; watch it with a few friends (and a few beers), and it’s bound to please everyone around.
Stake Land - In a world decimated by vampires, how hard would it be to survive? What would make someone go on living? Stake Land's outlook is bleak as it tracks a small band of survivors on their trek to reach ‘New Eden’ – a place where civilization has allegedly been restored. Jim Mickle’s film never gets bogged down in needless exposition, and it works to thrust viewers headfirst into a savage world where anyone can succumb at any time. Survival isn’t easy, and Mickle has no mercy on his players. The end result is a vampire film as uncompromising as any. And one of the best in recent memory.
Human Centipede II: Full Sequence - Tom Six’s hilarious meta response to his own Human Centipede: First Sequence is a dark comedy that outright lambasts critics of the original film as well as its ardent admirers. A grotesque parody of the ”movies can create psychos” argument, there’s no end to the perversity on display here. Laurence R. Harvey turns in a fantastic (and mute) performance as Martin, the disturbed individual who can’t seem to get the original movie out of his head – so much so that he decides to recreate it (with twelve people). It gets sicker as it goes but also funnier, too. Hurry up and give us The Final Sequence, Tom. I can’t image what you’ve got in store for us next, but I’m sure I’m going to love it.
5. Hellraiser: Revelations - Yes, it’s awful. And I loved it in a weird way. But that doesn’t excuse Dimension for churning out such a worthless pile of drivel. Clocking in at 69 minutes (sans credits), Revelations isn’t the nadir of the series, but it’s so hopelessly executed that one can’t help but feel ripped off by this cash-in. Sure, it’s hilarious (soupy incest, Pinhead as a genie in a bottle, surviving a point-blank shotgun blast to the chest and so on…), but the original Hellraiser was one of the most innovative genre experiences of the 1980s. This is as far away from that concept as you can get.
Meanwhile, Clive Barker continues to tell original and enthralling Hellraiser stories via Boom! Comics. Seek them out. Forget about this.
4. Red State - An incomprehensible mess of a movie – a narrative that has no idea what its final message even is. Kevin Smith’s foray into the genre is a menagerie of Hostel-ish horror and siege thrills with none of it working out all that well. There’s a moment just before the long-winded (and worthless) final speech where it seems like Red State is about to veer into unexpected territory and have a payoff. Instead it’s a cop-out (hardy har har); a prelude to a joke which doesn’t even remotely jibe with the utter bloodbath we just witnessed. This isn’t bold. Credit Smith for trying something new. I’ll chide him for failing miserably.
3. The Howling Reborn - It would’ve been nice had writer/director Joe Nimziki tried to make an actual horror movie out of this, the eighth installment in the long-running franchise. Instead, it’s Twilight-inspired hokum that can’t even really do angst-y romance convincingly. Yes, the werewolves are cool when they finally rear their heads. By then we’ve slogged through 80 minutes of nonsense, and the lycanthropy carnage we do get is far too little, too late. Hell, at least Twilight has an island off the coast of Brazil. That’s more than this insipid wannabe werewolf flick has.
2. The Resident - It’s a psychological thriller without any bite. Hilary Swank menaced by Jeffrey Dean Morgan in a flick that barely musters TV movie thrills. Instead, Swank sulks around her apartment half naked, oblivious that Papa Winchester is leering at her while she sleeps. If any of this sounds creepy, you’re either an eleven-year-old girl, or you haven’t watched enough 90s thrillers. Take one Never Talk to Strangers and one Sliver, and call me in the morning.
PS – you can swap out my number two choice for The Roommate. Should you do that, skip Sliver and watch Single White Female instead. Either way, they made these things better back then.
And to think The Resident bears the Hammer name. Thank God for Wake Wood.
1. Apollo 18 - I shouldn’t have. But I just watched this. Everything my esteemed colleague The Foywonder said is true.
Scarcely have I been as bored as while watching Apollo 18, a movie so astoundingly terrible that I almost wish I’d seen it in theaters. Because someday it’s going to be hard to believe they played this junk in multiplexes across the country. A leaden pace, unlikable characters and laughable creatures, this is just … nothing. Even when things happen, nothing happens. An atrocious experience through and through, it’s the polar opposite of Paranormal Activity 3, the twisted rollercoaster ride of found footage flicks while Apollo 18 is that line you stand in if only to see what the fuss is about. And once you find out, you can’t help but think how badly you’ve wasted your time.
Fright Night - Even if we pretend this isn’t a remake of Tom Holland’s 1985 classic, Fright Night sucks. Marti Noxon’s shocking inept screenplay consists of clunky “tell, don’t show” moments and more amazing coincidences than I care to count.
Add to this the fact that director Craig Gillespie can’t stage an exciting or scary moment to save his life (all the big action comes off flat and laughable), and you’ve got a recipe for pure shit. Colin Farrell’s Jerry can be menacing, but his performance is only that. There’s no nuance, no personality and no point. But he can yank a gas line out of the ground like nobody’s business.
People may like David Tennant because he was great on "Doctor Who", but his ‘Peter Vincent’ is little more than a poor man’s Jack Sparrow: glib, unlikable and complete with one of the worst character arcs I’ve ever seen in film. This isn’t a top five candidate because it’s watchable in some regard I suppose. It’s also seriously stupid and poorly executed all-around.
Rubber - What a pretentious slice of utter garbage. This homage to no reason doesn’t offer a single solitary reason to slog through these 80 minutes. Forced irreverence has never been this tired or obnoxious.