Dread Central's Best and Worst of 2012
It’s easy to look at 2012’s less-than-stellar offering of major studio releases and chalk it up as a loss. After all, the horror community rang in the New Year with Paramount’s, ahem, controversial possession flick The Devil Inside and closed it out with the same studio’s equally dismalParanormal Activity 4. Two reviled titles that helped make a case for the death of the cinéma vérité subgenre. In between these were so-so titles (The Woman in Black, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) and forgettable ones (Chernobyl Diaries, The Possession) – some of which did decent box office even if long-term resonance with audiences seems unlikely.
But that’s not the whole story. In fact, I look back on 2012 as being a year that delivered a handful of personal favorites. Films that I’ve revisited numerous times already and will do so again. And considering my initial “best of” list featured ten titles, each of them warranting careful consideration for a slot in the top five, I’d say that 2012 was an impressive year for horror - provided you knew where to look. For comparison, I glanced back at the last three year-end lists I’d made for Dread Central and realized that I am more enthused by this year’s qualifiers on the whole.
Now, before we continue, a quick word about my criteria. Nothing irks me more than a year-end list consisting entirely of unreleased titles. Good for you, horror blogger; you managed to go to a movie festival or catch some advance screenings! But crafting a list of movies that audiences won’t see for a year or two doesn’t help the readership relate in any way when you’re supposed to be talking about 2012 releases. I understand this task isn’t the easiest: finding a list of quality movies in a year that wasn’t so hot can feel like more trouble than it’s worth. But 2012 was a better year than most, and if you couldn’t find five movies you really enjoyed, then you couldn’t have been looking very hard.
I’d like to also go a step further and explain that I’ve kept my list to horror-only offerings. Sure, there were some great and fringy movies that Dread Central covered this year. Things like Chronicle, The Raid and Dredd, to name a few. But none of these have anything to do with the horror genre, meaning they won’t be acknowledged in this list whatsoever.
5. The Collection - Now this is how you do a sequel! The Collector was a fun – and forgettable - little thriller, and this follow-up takes the concept to the next level. When a group of hired guns descend upon the hideout of our resident villain (holed up in the “Hotel Argento”), all hell breaks loose. This isn’t taking itself very seriously from the outset, and that paves the way for a delightful experience rife with junked out zombie henchmen, crazed guard dogs, gunfights, mass-murder devices, etc. Writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan were aiming to bring the fun to this follow-up (so much so that they threw caution to common sense and believability) and succeeded tenfold! The Collection is outlandish, absurdist and a true joy to sit through.
4. Detention - This delirious little ode to high school cinema plays out like an homage to every teen movie ever made. All the tropes are there, and writer/director Joseph Kahn has created one of the most energetic and hilarious experiences in years. Part slasher movie, part time travel adventure and with all the youthful angst of John Hughes’ entire oeuvre, Detention is not for everyone’s tastes. But if you haven’t given it a shot yet, you’re doing movies wrong.
3. Prometheus - This big budget, high concept amalgamation of Lovecraftian horror and brainy science fiction turned out to be the most divisive horror film in recent memory. This visually stunning experience explores questions of faith, life and humanity in a story of scientists searching for the ultimate answer. Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender are wonderful additions to the Alien universe, and while the script disposes of its superfluous characters in some admittedly thoughtless instances, this experience has stayed with me since my initial viewing. And I keep going back. The mark of a great film, for my money.
2. Beyond the Black Rainbow - While we’re on the subject of divisive films… Panos Cosmatos’ directorial debut is one of the most hypnotic cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. Imagine a marriage of Kubrick and Cronenberg, with just a dash of David Lynch for good measure, and you’ve got this study in science gone wrong. A psychiatrist’s psychosexual obsession with a telekinetic girl in a utopian future goes horribly awry, accented with the coolest audio/visual design I’ve seen recently. This movie puts us in the minds of its main characters – people whose lives have been addled by psychotropic drugs – by making us feel like we’re tripping, too. This is slow, obtuse and completely compelling if it’s in your wheelhouse. Whatever Cosmatos intends to do next, I can’t wait to see it.
1.The Loved Ones - Why Paramount felt like dumping this 2009 Australian import direct-to-DVD this year, I’ll never know. With the right marketing, I’m convinced this could’ve been a modest little theatrical success. It’s a gripping movie that runs us through a gamut of emotions: sweet, disturbing, uncomfortable, suspenseful and likable…all while managing to be a ton of fun. Robin McLeavy is unforgettable as the profoundly disturbed “Lola Princess”, and the movie has something to say about loss, tied to that indelible and inescapable parental hold. Great filmmaking all around. Those Aussies so very rarely disappoint, but they often delight.
The Sleeper - Okay, this one really was never going to crack the top five "best of" this year, but this indie slasher is an under looked offering worthy of your time. Writer/director Justin Russell crafted this throwback to early 80s slashers on a miniscule budget. And while the digital look prevents it from feeling like the bona fide 80s relic it so desperately wants to be, its heart is in the right place. Beyond that, it gets everything else right: the pacing, the atmosphere, the settings… Russell nails it. Here’s a guy who understands the slasher film, and I look forward to his next outing as a result.
The Aggression Scale - Steven C. Miller’s home invasion suspense flick is pretty simple stuff: A gang of criminals invade a country home looking for stolen money. But instead of a Desperate Hours-ish situation, the villains get much more than they bargained for in a mentally unhinged teenager who isn’t afraid to fight back. Slickly done, with some good tension and terrific performances (especially Dana Ashbrook – great seeing him again!), this is a little gem that might’ve slipped past your radar. Rectify that.
Resident Evil: Retribution - Unlike the last film in the series (which sat comfortably on my “worst of 2010” list), Retribution is a good time. It’s loaded with enjoyable action setpieces that find action figure heroine Alice battling zombified Russian soldiers on motorcycles, shooting up suburbia and taking on executioners in a desolate Times Square. Writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson imbues this fifth outing with a breakneck pace slathered in goofy energy and set to a memorable tomandandy score. By now you know what you’re getting with these things, but the surprise here is how well this one works within the franchise’s parameters.
[REC]3: Genesis - The third film in the Spanish possession series changes gears drastically without sacrificing quality. This is probably the least impressive installment so far, jettisoning the found footage approach in favor of a traditional narrative. Director Paco Plaza blends humor in with the horror rather expertly, ensuring that even the goofiest moments never overshadow the underlying horror of this apocalyptic scenario. There’s added heft in a genuinely sweet and moving romance between the likable leads that gives it emotional resonance. Understanding the first two films couldn’t be topped, Plaza changed it up. That doesn’t mean this should be missed.
5. Puppet Master X: Axis Rising - There’s nothing worse than hating a movie belonging to a franchise you once loved. And it stings even more when you secretly harbored hopes for the installment in question. After a continuous string of colossal disappointments, I had hoped that the Puppet Master franchise would get back on track with this, the second installment in a planned World War II-era trilogy. Unfortunately, this is every bit as clunky, uninspired and boring as you might suspect. If you watched the last movie in the franchise (Axis of Evil) and hated it, feel confident in your decision to skip this one, too. Maybe next time, Full Moon.
4. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance - Still the worst movie I sat through theatrically in 2012. You’ve got to work really hard to make a movie about a demonic biker, Satanic cults and the devil himself so infinitely boring. What’s worse is that Nicolas Cage has gone beyond his usual craziness, delivering a performance that feels woefully forced, as if he’s resorted to delivering the kind of trademarked craziness he thinks audiences want. As my colleague, Foywonder, stated on Dinner for Fiends, ”Nicolas Cage isn’t funny when he’s in on the joke, too.” Enough said.
3. Smiley - Imagine a cross between Cry Wolf and Cruel Intentions, and you’ve got a pretty good idea what to expect out of this lame wannabe slasher. Not much else to say about this other than it offers no gore, no thrills and nothing new. Instead you get a repetitive movie with the worst twist ending in recent memory.
2. The Wicker Tree - Robin Hardy waited almost 40 years to do this semi-sequel to The Wicker Man. He shouldn’t have bothered. This drab, paceless pile of garbage doesn’t do one thing better than the original film, and considering it retreads the same territory, it’s damn near impossible to fathom why this was made at all. Lacking in the atmosphere, mystery and satire of The Wicker Man, Tree is a lethargic collection of uninspired songs, banal ridicule and an ending so immediately obvious that it’s depressing to find Hardy at the helm is this enormous disaster.
1. Piranha 3DD - Talk about uninspired. This sequel to 2010’s Piranha 3D seemed like it was in good hands when it was announced that the Feast team would be behind it. But director John Gulager and writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton just seem lost with it. The humor is forced and largely flops (save for one hilarious Hasselhoff on the lifeguard chair bit), and the movie isn’t so much a narrative as it is a bunch of crummy gags strewn together. It strives to be outrageous but feels desperate. As a big fan of the creative team behind this, I hoped it would be a home run, but instead it’s a swing and a complete miss that fails at everything it tried to accomplish – which wasn’t very much to begin with.
ATM - A nonsensical suspense thriller that never generates an ounce of tension. Three people trapped in an ATM vestibule by a psycho killer proceed to do the dumbest things in order to remain there. And when the movie’s third act kicks in, it somehow reaches new levels of stupidity. Director David Brooks appears capable enough, and it’ll be interesting to see how he does with a better script at his disposal.
The Divide - An apocalyptic thriller that tries really hard to be shocking in its depiction of humanity at its worst. Thanks to heavy-handed scripting and laughably over-the-top performances, it’s nothing but unintentionally hilarious. Director Xavier Gens is an undisputedly talented man even though he’s yet to make a film I’ve enjoyed. This is watchable thanks to his assured and visceral direction, but it’s destroyed by just about everything else. A watchable mess, but still a mess.