Dread Central's Best and Worst of 2013
The Foywonder's Picks
The mere fact that I found it much harder to compile my worst list than my best list for a change is proof that 2013 was a solid year for the horror genre. Or it could just be proof that I chose to skip a lot of movies I knew would be terrible. Have you seen The Last Exorcism Part II? I damn sure didn’t. In any case, most of my honorable mentions could have just as easily made it onto my top five, and even most of the bad movies this year were more mediocre than outright affronts to cinema.
Now, before I begin by listing my choices for the best horror movies of 2013, I would like to take a moment to give special recognition to the best non-horror horror movie of the year:
12 YEARS A SLAVE - I can hear many of you grumbling right now: "12 Years a Slave isn't a horror movie!" Oh? You're happily married with kids and a thriving career. One day you wake up in chains, stripped of your identity, and any attempt to stand up for yourself is met with violent reprisal. You're sold into bondage under false pretenses, forced to live in squalor, and warned that if you ever let anyone know who you really are, you will be killed. You're regarded as subhuman by people who wouldn't hesitate to savagely maim or murder you for even the most minor infraction, even if you're in the right; sometimes even forced to deliver brutal beatings to your own friends on their behalf. You don't know whom you can trust, and the only people who can help you fear doing so because it could potentially cost them their own lives. Every single day you are worked to the bone and know you could be killed at a moment's notice for no other reason than that’s how little your life means to your captors. And you live this nightmare day in and day out for a dozen years. Still want to tell me 12 Years a Slave isn't a horror movie? It's the most horrific movie of the year because it's the one that actually happened.
Not only did I come close to including this on my best list, I was prepared to top my list with it. Since doing so would probably cause too much of an uproar, I will simply bestow upon it special recognition for being the year’s greatest feel-bad horror movie that is not actually a horror movie.
With that out of the way, I now present my five favorite horror movies of 2013, in no particular order:
MY AMITYVILLE HORROR – In an age when embarrassing displays of paranormal crackpottery have become a staple of cable television “reality” programs (I’m looking at you, “Finding Bigfoot”), a documentary such as this that casts a pragmatic, skeptical eye is a breath of fresh air. Think you know everything there is to know about the infamous “Amityville Horror”? Think again. My Amityville Horror left me convinced of two things: the real “Amityville Horror” was anything but in terms of supernatural horror, and the real Daniel Lutz is in serious need of deep psychological therapy he will probably never receive because there are too many kooks and charlatans out there willing to enable him and he is far too angry and lost in his own delusion to ever want to truly confront the real psychological scars of his unhappy childhood. There was a dark force in the Lutz house, and young Daniel called him “dad.” See it and judge for yourself. In what has been a banner year for documentaries in general, My Amityville Horror will go down as one of the most riveting.
LESSON OF THE EVIL – If you loved the Maniac remake, then just wait until you get shot in the face with Takeshi Miike’s mean-spirited new thriller about a psychopathic teacher who manipulates his way into the lives of his students and fellow teachers before unleashing a high school killing spree the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Battle Royale. A subtle, slow-burning first half melding high school melodrama and psychological thriller gives way to a second half that is nothing short of a volcanic eruption: a “Cronenbergian Columbine” mixing Battle Royale caliber violence, dark humor, and some truly surreal moments. Disturbing, thrilling, smart, and sometimes strange - exactly what we’ve all come to expect from Miike.
SHARKNADO – I make no apologies for my total enjoyment of Sharknado. Never would I have imagined when I watched a screener of this Asylum/Syfy flick that two weeks later it would explode the internet and become a mini-cultural phenomenon. Before hipsters began loving it ironically, before their high-minded opposites shoved their sticks even further up their asses at the very notion that a movie such as this could be enjoyable, before the title reached an oversaturation point that even made me get sick of hearing about it, there was still that magical late night when Uncle Creepy and I laughed our asses off at the absurdity of this modern day Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. The rest of you can love it or hate it; I don’t care. I had more fun watching Sharknado than I did most every other film this past summer.
THE WNUF HALLOWEEN SPECIAL – As someone who works for a local television station and has dealt with all manner of old TV footage from the same time period this film is set in, The WNUF Halloween Special is not just a clever horror comedy – it’s a work of art. Actually, WNUF is more of a sly Halloween-themed media satire with some aspects of horror thrown in. It may also quite possibly be the best use of the found footage format I’ve ever seen. Lovingly degenerated to appear as if it were copied from a VHS recording down several generations and formatted to look like a long-lost 1988 Halloween night broadcast of a small market evening news show that leads into a live half-hour special in which one of their investigative reporters enters a local haunted house, all of which goes comically and horrifically awry, complete with commercial breaks filled with brilliantly accurate-to-the-era phony ads. WNUF is definitely a niche film that won’t appeal to everyone, especially those looking to be scared, and even I have to admit they drag things out a bit too long, going overboard with the commercial breaks. I still loved this movie and intend to make it staple of my annual Halloween movie rotation for years to come..
V/H/S/2 – Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans’ “Safe Haven” segment is the best 20 minutes of horror this whole year. The rest of this anthology movie ain’t half bad either. Admittedly, I found the wraparounds fairly unengaging and the opening segment about the robotic eye was skippable. Things pick up in a big way with Eduardo Sanchez’s fairly ingenious Go-Pro perspective chronicling the short lifespan of a zombie and Jason Eisener’s visceral alien abduction home movie climax. In between is a short film that hits all the right notes of foreboding dread, surreal eeriness, subtle humor, and adrenalized WTF-ness. For the “Safe Haven” segment alone I have to put V/H/S/2 at the top of my list of the best horror movies of 2013. Sorry, Rex Reed.
Honorable Mentions: You’re Next, John Dies at the End, Maniac, Pacific Rim, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Conjuring
On the flip side of the coin, here comes the crappola! In no particular order, unless we’re tossing the master prints in a shredder like they deserve:
TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D – I could easily dismiss this movie as yet another forgettable crummy horror sequel, the likes of which we should already be used to by now. Heck, it’s not even the worst sequel in this particular franchise. Shrugging it off like so many Children of the Corn sequels would be easy if it were not for one utterly unforgivable mathematical insult I cannot ignore. A girl born in 1974 is still a 20-year-old in 2013. This failure of first-grade arithmetic displays a level of contempt for the viewer made all the more aggravating knowing so many of you out there were okay with it so long as “cuz” did his thing. I’ve often said there’s a fine line between suspension of disbelief and insulting the audience’s intelligence. This was neither. This was a great big middle finger by someone behind the scenes who assumes the average horror fan isn’t smart enough or doesn’t care enough to count.
STRANDED – From the director of Battlefield Earth comes a film that’s even worse. If nothing else, Battlefield Earth had some real camp value. Stranded has no value. Boring, unimaginative, idiotic characters, 1970’s model kit effects, a plot only slightly longer than a logline, long stretches of tedium, jargon-heavy perfunctory dialogue, and did I mention that every character is such a complete frakkin’ idiot they’re written to not even comprehend how the concept of quarantine works? You can make a drinking game out of how many times Christian Slater orders someone to quarantine even after he and others repeatedly break that quarantine. I don’t recommend playing that drinking game because it would still require you to squander 90 minutes of your life watching Stranded.
NO ONE LIVES – What a stupid, stupid movie - stupid and ugly. The usually reliable Ryûhei Kitamura delivered a horror movie hate-fuck that makes, amongst its many critical errors, the fatal mistake of thinking it's smarter, slicker, and edgier than it actually is. Between Luke Evans’ poseur of an all-knowing, all-powerful, unstoppable, too-cool-for-school serial killer, the cavalcade of slow-witted crooks and killers he terrorizes, and the absolutely ninny of a female protagonist he’s after, nary a single likable, sympathetic person or entertaining character is to be found. Nor a brain cell among any of them. I went from being disinterested to outright hating No One Lives the moment Evans pulled a Dr. Giggles, emerging naked and covered in blood from the hollowed out torso of an overweight victim he’d been hiding inside of for no logical reason whatsoever other than someone clearly thought this was a cool visual. There would still be another hour of this crap to follow. Yet another screwjob from WWE Studios.
R.I.P.D. – Nothing works on any level. Not as comedy. Not as action. Not as fantasy. Not as horror. Not as anything. Rushing through every bit of plot and character development like a hyperactive kid cranked up on sugar and loaded with performances equally one-note, this Men in Black rip-off by way of “The Real Ghostbusters” Saturday morning cartoon is as exhausting as it is unfunny. Ryan Reynolds appears completely lost (and very tired) trying to play straight man to Jeff Bridges’ Wild West Captain Jack Sparrow (amusing for the first five minutes, grating for the next 80). That Hollywood may have finally figured out that Ryan Reynolds and comic book movie adaptations don’t mix is about the only positive to come out of this stinkbomb. That and now Mill Creek Entertainment finally has the much-needed fourth film to round out a future four-film disc with Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, Jonah Hex, and Man-Thing.
GALLOWWALKER – Not just the worst horror movie of 2013; also the worst movie from the five or six years ago when it was originally filmed. Wesley Snipes may have been released from prison this year, but Gallowwalker really should have stayed locked up. Either this “The Good, The Blade, and The Ugly” was an unfinished film ultimately Frankensteined together using a lot of b-roll or the product of a filmmaker failing miserably to make a Jodorowsky-esque comic book movie. All I can say for certain is that around the 25-minute mark when a character asks Snipes’ gunslinger to explain what in the hell is going on, I felt like this person was speaking on behalf of myself and most anyone else that hadn’t already shut off the movie due to being so bored, confused, and fed up with this shit. What is going on most of the time, including why characters are saying and doing most of what they do, is predominantly a mystery to the audience, and I don’t mean the sort of mystery you’re intrigued by and can’t wait to see unfold. I mean mystery in the sense that there’s barely any plot to begin with and basic elements simply explaining the set-up don’t even get revealed until well into the movie. The best thing that could have ever happened to Gallowwalker would have been for it to remain unreleased forever and have its legend grow. Instead they went and released it so I could proclaim it the absolute worst horror movie of 2013.
Dishonorable Mentions: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, The Frankenstein Theory, Hansel & Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft, I Spit on Your Grave 2, The Bell Witch Haunting, Birdemic 2: The Resurrection