Dread Central's Best and Worst of 2011
* Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel - In a day and age when genre-related documentaries seem to be all the rage, Alex Stapleton’s Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel arrived late in the year like a huge breath of fresh air and completely blew me away. Chronicling the early years of legendary filmmaker Roger Corman’s career as well as many of his ups and downs throughout the latter part as well, Corman’s World is a revelatory and inspiring work by relative newcomer Stapleton and features a gaggle of in-depth and candid interview subjects (Jack Nicholson cries!) profiling Corman’s influence as the maverick of independent cinema.
If you’ve ever fancied yourself something of a Corman fan, then there’s no doubt Stapleton’s intelligent, entertaining and heartfelt documentary should prove to be right up your proverbial alley, and even if you’ve never seen a single Corman flick in your life (unimaginable around these parts, but not entirely impossible either), then there is no better way to dive right into Corman’s World than Stapleton’s documentary.
* Tucker & Dale vs. Evil - ”We have had ourselves a doozy of a day, officer.”
Starring Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk as the titular characters who are mistaken by a group of college kids as a pair of redneck serial killers, Tucker & Dale’s script is brilliantly crafted by director Eli Craig and his co-writer Morgan Jurgenson- it hits all the right comedic beats as it takes almost every horror cliché fans have grown to love over the last 30 years and turns them squarely on their head with often hilarious results.
Call me an old softie, but as a horror fan I generally like my movies more on the light and campy side, and Tucker & Dale is just that. Anchored by great comedic performances by Labine and Tudyk and coupled with a refreshingly natural-feeling love story, the movie succeeds because while it’s parodying the genre as a whole, it’s done with respect for both the horror fans watching and the horror movies that have preceded it (take note, Joseph Kahn- this is how you pay homage). It may be somewhat on the schmaltzy side to call Tucker & Dale the feel-good genre flick of the year, but dammit, who cares- Craig’s story is both humorous and adorable, the kills are both hysterical and gory and frankly, I’d prefer to hang out with these hillbillies over the ones in the Wrong Turn franchise any day.
* Attack the Block - For a movie that I’ve written about several times already this year, I’m sort of out of ways to describe my love for writer/director Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block. A movie that had an insane amount of hype coming out of this year's SXSW Film Festival, I was unsure of what to expect going into the flick when I finally had the chance to see it for myself this past July. And while it's no secret that I completely fell in love with Attack the Block, what impressed me more was that the movie truly lived up to the hype (a rarity these days).
Attack the Block is like Cornish's love letter to so many of the favorite films so many of us fans discovered as kids growing up during the 70s or 80s; and yet, what manages to elevate Attack the Block above its peers is how the film cleverly walks the homage line but somehow manages to never come off feeling like it's trying to rip-off any of the films it's paying tribute to either. With hints of ET, The Monster Squad, Gremlins, The Warriors and The Goonies, Attack the Block is easily the best alien-themed flick of the year (sorry Super 8, Cowboys & Aliens and The Thing prequel) with PRACTICAL effects used the entire time (imagine that?).
* Rise of the Planet of the Apes - I love being right.
From the very first frame of the very first trailer released for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I was sold. As a huge fan of the original Planet of the Apes series, it finally seemed like someone understood what fans were looking for in a contemporary addition to our beloved original franchise. There were a lot of naysayers online who lamented over the use of digital apes and James Franco's wooden stares, but this writer's enthusiasm for the prequel never waned once- I was ready to see just how the rise of the apes began on the big screen for myself, and a bunch of internet chatter wasn't getting in the way of that. And somehow Rise of the Planet of the Apes actually managed to exceed my already high expectations, and part of that was because director Rupert Wyatt made sure to pay attention to what makes an Apes film truly successful- the apes themselves. Whereas Burton's were all mostly angry and one-dimensional, Wyatt delivered to us not only a chimpanzee leader in Andy Serkis that fans could believe in but several more primates that made the flick all the more enjoyable as well (including Maurice the orangutan).
If you missed Rise of the Planet of the Apes while it was in theaters, then do yourself a favor and make sure you see it now that the movie has hit all the home release formats. While there have been a lot of great action films of 2011, Rise definitely leads the pack in terms of creating a kickass movie with brains and heart (and an epic bridge battle that will leave actionphiles breathless to boot).
* Hobo With a Shotgun - A brilliant effort by first-time feature director Jason Eisener, Hobo With a Shotgun is pure sleazy cinematic gold for fans of grindhouse-style filmmaking. Not only do you have Rutger Hauer starring as the titular character, but you also get an evil crime lord named The Drake (the delightfully malicious Brian Downey), two wannabe crime lord sons who aren’t afraid to torch a bus full of kids to get some attention, a pair of Goth Thunderdome-looking assassins named "The Plague" who unleash holy hell around "Scum Town" as well as the proverbial hooker with the heart of gold (Molly Dunsworth) who does unspeakable things to assailants with her arm (wouldn't want to ruin it for those of you who haven't seen it for yourself yet) when provoked.
With touches of a number of Troma films as well as Evil Dead, Blue Velvet, Mad Max, Death Race and, oddly enough, the first live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hobo With a Shotgun is by far one of the most ingenious and depraved films of 2011.
Honorable Mentions: Insidious, Troll Hunter, Paranormal Activity 3, Contagion, Stake Land, The Perfect Host, Drive Angry 3D, The Catechism Cataclysm, Midnight Son
* Fading of the Cries - Fading of the Cries is the perfect example of ambition getting the best of a first-time feature filmmaker. In this horror/sci-fi/fantasy/pseudo-action/romance mash-up, director Brian Metcalf relies too much on his visual effects skills rather than taking some time to trim down just a few of the dozens of genre clichés featured throughout the film. Not to mention the film stars the one American Pie actor I've never liked (Thomas Ian Nicholas) and makes poor Brad Dourif into some sort of schlocky evil wizard with a hero that’s a complete rip-off of Brandon Lee from The Crow and Atreyu from The Neverending Story. I still cannot believe that not only did someone spend money to make this movie, but it actually made it into theaters.
* Savage County - Ugly and completely uninspired, Savage County dumbed down an otherwise strong year for the slasher subgenre of horror. With a plot that was clearly borrowed from its predecessors - including The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, House of 1000 Corpses and Wolf Creek - it’s obvious first-time director David Harris enjoys the horror genre because he clearly borrowed from it over and over (and over) again in Savage County. If you missed seeing this one in 2011, consider yourself lucky.
* Detention - While I've seen a lot of bad movies in 2011, the only one that felt like it assaulted every single one of my senses was Detention, which I screened during the SSSW Film Festival. Generally I'm known around these parts as one of the more forgiving reviewers, but Detention had me so riled up by the end that I was ready to tip some cars and burn shit in the parking lot. Detention is just a serious travesty of bad acting, mundane pop culture references, nonsensical plots and insulting horror movie "homages" which end up playing like Joseph Kahn's own statement on how stupid he thinks the modern horror genre is. Loud, unintelligent and painfully annoying- stay out of Detention if you can!
* The Howling: Reborn - The Howling: Reborn manages to hold up the legacy of just truly awful Howling movies that have followed in the footsteps since the release of Joe Dante's original film back in 1981, which begs the question- just why is it so hard to get a Howling sequel right? I guess The Howling: Reborn director Joe Nimziki is still looking for that answer himself based on his efforts here. Flawed, soulless and overall boring, The Howling: Reborn could have been a great new start for the long-suffering Howling franchise but sadly ends up being even worse than anything we've seen in the Twilight series (if you can imagine that).
* Straw Dogs - I'm not opposed to the idea of remakes at all, but if you're going to have the balls to remake a classic like Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, then I think it goes without saying that you damn well better have something pretty freaking spectacular tucked up your sleeve to wow audiences with. I guess someone forgot to tell director Rod Lurie, though, because all he managed to deliver in his reimagining was a bland and mediocre psychological thriller with no sense of tension or intelligence to speak of- oh, and don't even get me started on Dominic Purcell's groan-inducing performance as a mentally-challenged man. There are really only two words needed to effectively sum up the Straw Dogs remake: triumphant failure.
Dishonorable Mentions: Cowboys & Aliens, Battle: Los Angeles