Dread Central's Best and Worst of 2012
One of the best things about spending two months attending genre film fests is the opportunity to see a number of incredible films that will, in the cutthroat world of film distribution, struggle to find an audience beyond a brief stint on VOD. As someone whose voice ostensibly reaches thousands of people, it’s an honor to be able to champion a number of incredible genre films that are consistently overshadowed by the shit like The Apparition, which somehow snaked its way into theaters only to be met with overwhelmingly negative reviews.
Here are my Top 5 and Bottom 5 horror films of 2012, comprised of theatrical, VOD, and festival screenings I have personally seen this year.
The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh: Written and directed by Rue Morgue President Rodrigo Gudino, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh represents everything that’s right with a genre littered with low-budget dreck and so much found footage it will make you vomit. I first saw the film at the Telluride Horror Show and was absolutely blown away by its unconventional story and beautiful cinematography, featuring long, sweeping shots of an old house filled to the brim with religious iconography. As the titular character, Vanessa Redgrave’s haunting voiceover provides context for the arrival of her son, Leon (Aaron Poole), an antiques dealer who inherited her house after she committed suicide, having devoted much of her life to a cult that worships angels. Leon discovers that she may be reaching out from beyond the grave to send him a message of dire importance. It’s a film that typifies the “slow burn” genre, with Gudino’s brilliant direction and deeply personal dialogue helping to create an edge-of-your-seat thriller deserving of the utmost praise.
The Conspiracy: Aaron Poole is on a roll because he once again appears in a film that absolutely blew me away. Part faux-doc, part found footage, The Conspiracy follows two friends, Aaron and Jim, as they seek to document the rantings and ravings of a local conspiracy theorist named Terrance. After he abruptly disappears, Aaron takes it upon himself to continue his work, leading to a secret society that may or may not be responsible for Terrance’s disappearance. While some might be quick to dismiss it for being little more than yet another found footage film, The Conspiracy uses seemingly very real subject matter and fictionalizes it into a sinister story that will leave you breathless. It segues in a beautifully organic way from a faux-doc to a found footage film, eschewing shaky cam and loud noises in favor of slow realizations that maybe these two documentarians got more than they bargained for.
The Battery: Currently popping up at festivals and exclusive screenings around the country, The Battery, written and directed by Jeremy Gardner, is living proof you don’t need a big budget to craft compelling horror. Shot for a mere $6,000 and featuring Gardner and newcomer Adam Cronheim, this post-apocalyptic zombie survival film is less about the zombies than it is the struggle for survival between two incredibly different people. Long takes, some clocking in at 11 minutes, showcase the mental and physical turmoil the two former baseball players are subjected to as they make their way through the woods and back roads of New England, avoiding zombies and dealing with their differences. Humorous dialogue, great music, and stunning practical effects build to an exceedingly tense and dramatic climax that help make The Battery one of the best - and most ambitious - “zombie” movies in recent memory.
The American Scream: Michael Paul Stephenson has an uncanny ability to make the mundane interesting, seen in the intimate and emotional The American Scream. Unlike his first doc, Best Worst Movie, which saw Stephenson and fellow Troll 2 star George Hardy inject themselves into the narrative, his follow-up takes a different route, focusing on candid and intimate interviews with three “home haunters” and their families. It’s an emotional portrayal of obsession and family and truly one of the best documentaries I have ever seen.
The Cabin in the Woods: It’s difficult not to include this film on any "Best of..." list given that it was not only a perfect theatrical release to get people interested in horror movies again, but also a brilliant send-up of horror audiences in general. By wrapping an overplayed conceit in layers of subtext, well-written characters, and one of the best scenes of free-for-all violence in recent memory, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon created an eminently re-watchable film that will no doubt wind up on a few “Best of the Decade” lists.
Honorable Mentions: Tin Can Man, Nightmare Factory, We Need to Talk About Kevin, REC3: Genesis
The Apparition: This film, written and directed by newcomer Todd Lincoln, sat in purgatory for over two years before being dumped into theaters by Warner Brothers. Featuring a contrived haunted house plot and a boring and often nonsensical script, this Ashley Greene vehicle belongs in a textbook on how not to make a horror film. Its brief 82-minute running time felt like two hours as Greene meanders her way through a house filled with ad hoc scares and some of the most nauseatingly bad acting you’ll see in a horror film this year. In my review I wrote “The Apparition is a vacant, insipid, soulless, pathetic excuse for a film that barely deserves evaluation,” and that was me holding back.
Piranha 3DD: I like Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunston, though I feel they’ve become pigeon-holed in a sub-genre that relies less on story than it does over-the-top violence and gore. It’s confusing, then, that blood and violent deaths were conspicuously lacking in the screenwriting duo’s follow-up to the gleefully gory and outrageous Piranha 3D. Directed by John Gulager, the movie was just a boring, pointless excuse to capitalize on a mildly witty yet lowbrow premise that eschews everything that made its predecessor entertaining. It’s ironic, really, considering the thing took place in a water park, which is just rife for hilarious and gruesome deaths. In the end, we’re given a short and very tame onslaught of piranha making their way into the water park. Not even David Hasselhoff can save this sinking ship, but did you really expect him to?
The Tortured: How this movie exists is beyond me. It’s devoid of anything resembling an original thought, and the scenes of torture are tame and contrived. That’s not what makes it bad, though. It’s bad because it’s trying so hard to be more than it really is, and it fails so miserably it’s laughable. Its basic plot is laughably insulting, and the “twist” at the end is such an obvious attempt at giving the movie a point that failed to be made clear through a script propelled by stilted dialogue and laughably bad acting.
Munger Road: This film is kind of anomaly, mainly because it looks good and features a supernatural element that could have been interesting. Two stories, one that follows a group of kids stranded on a desolate stretch of road and another that sees an aging police chief track down an escaped serial killer, slowly intertwine before you realize it was nothing more than a shitty plot device that culminates in the most infuriating, insulting, and presumptuous ending you will ever see in a horror film. At least The Devil Inside gave you something mildly entertaining before kicking you in the balls.
Entrance: A girl walking around town and occasionally hearing something for an hour and a half before injecting a half-baked horror element is not how you make a movie. This is the entirety of Entrance, a muddled attempt at a character study that spends 90% of its time following around a barista whose life apparently sucks. After her dog disappears, she decides it’s time to move on, prompting a going away party with her friends. It lacks all semblance of substance before devolving even further with a tacked on ending that does absolutely nothing to make the entire hour before it worth a damn. It’s just a hollow film.
Honorable Mentions: Grave Encounters 2, The Devil Inside, V/H/S, Greystone Park