Well, folks, 2011 is officially in the can, and surprisingly it wasn’t such a horrendous year. It was definitely better than 2010, which was a huge step up from the putrid 2009. We laughed, we applauded, we were left dumbstruck, and of course we were infuriated. Read on for our cheers and jeers!
Now, with a fresh movie-watching start before us, we’re taking our usual yearly look back at the good, the bad, the WTF, and everything in between.
And don’t be lazy by just reading along! Get off of your asses and give us your lists in the comments section below. We wanna hear from you if only to compare notes. Lots and lots of notes.
Speaking of notes, the most common complaint we’ve heard over the years is that we don’t have one definitive list representing Dread Central as a whole so for 2011 we dropped everyone’s choices in the blender, hit puree, and came out with the overall best and worst of the year, and those films are:
BEST: Attack the Block and Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (tie)
Runner-up: I Saw the Devil
WORST: The Roommate
Runner-up: Hellraiser: Revelations, Red Riding Hood, Creature (three-way tie)
Dig on our individual Best of and Worst of lists for 2011 by following the links below!
2011 was a year of slim pickings. Hollywood’s growing fear of original content and endless remaking have finally taken its toll on the horror genre, which seems to be entering its biggest dormant phase since the early 90’s. Luckily, a few foreign and indie gems slipped through the cracks and reminded us cinephiles just why we turn out to these things to begin with.
I Saw The Devil: This is a bit of a cheat since this was on my Best of list last year. That said, this South Korean revenge masterpiece officially saw its U.S. release in 2011 so I’d be remiss not to include it like every other year-end list.
Black Death: I was hardly a fan of Christopher Smith’s films Creep and Severance so color me shocked by how powerful his medieval witch hunt tale turned out to be. A beautifully written and directed film that uses the bubonic plague as a back drop for religious hysteria and fanaticism, this is further proof that Sean Bean and swords is a winning combo every time (Troy excluded).
Attack the Block: Joe Cornish’s ghetto kids vs. aliens flick does everything right and actually managed to one up J.J. Abrams’ (still great) Super 8. Through clever writing and low-budget ingenuity, Cornish stages this film like an “urban Goonies meets bloody invasion movie” with honest characters and the perfect balance of horror and humor.
The Last Circus: Madman Alex de la Iglesia delivers his best film in years with this beautiful and demented story about dueling circus clowns in post-war Spain. Like a strange cross between A Very Long Engagement and Santa Sangre, this lavishly produced masterpiece leaves no genre untouched and is hilarious, horrific and heartbreaking in equal amounts.
The Woman: While its notorious reputation was overblown thanks to an overly sensitive audience member at Sundance, Lucky Mckee’s subversive psychodrama is still a knock-out. I’m a fan of Jack Ketchum’s series of cannibal books so it was nice to see his world finally brought to vivid life, led by an Oscar-worthy performance from Pollyanna Macintosh. Psychologically tough and surprisingly funny, The Woman treats its gruesome and potentially exploitive subject matter with real class and intelligence.
Honorable Mentions: Red State, Insidious, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Rubber, Cold Fish and Tucker & Dale vs Evil.
These days my tolerance for Hollywood bullshit has severely waned, so I deliberately skipped out on duds like The Roommate, Case 39, and The Thing premake. And while I still managed to take in generic crap like The Rite and Fright Night, nothing compares to the agonizing experience of sitting through Hellraiser: Revelations – a movie so bad I wouldn’t wipe my ass with the DVD sleeve. The lowest point in a franchise you never thought could sink any lower.
Before I give my list, let me just thank all you guys for reading my stuff and for the great comments you posted all year. This being my rookie season at Dread Central, I needed all the positive feedback I could get! I can’t thank Creepy and The Woman in Black enough for making me part of this awesome family. And just think about what an awesome community we all have here at DC, the writers and especially the readers. No other genre of film can claim the unity that we have. You don’t see a lot of websites for fans of romantic comedies or dramas. Horror is more than a type of film, it’s a union of fans that embrace and hold dear the best of the best (…and we pound the bad ones pretty good, too). If you succeed in horror, really succeed even just once, we’ll love you forever. That’s what being a horror fan is all about. Thanks for everything, guys!
As for my Top 5, I love the films that get people talking, especially those outside our circle of interest. When a work of horror attracts the attention of the mainstream media, for whatever reason, I’m going to give it credit. No such thing as bad press, Gorehounds! Without further ado…
I Saw the Devil – An absolutely hypnotic South Korean film that brings new meaning to the term “revenge flick”. Why just exact your revenge once when you can do it over and over and over again. The story is enthralling, and tension is built masterfully throughout the film, culminating with an amazing climax. The 360-degree taxi cab slash scene was one of the best murders shot in recent times. Great action, violent content and characters that evoked a wide range of emotion from the viewers throughout the film. Awesome!
“The Walking Dead” Season 2 – Talk about horror getting headlines…11 million viewers helped “The Walking Dead” Season 2 premiere smash cable television viewership records. This set the stage as the show proceeded in a bit different format than we saw in Season 1. Now, with 13 episodes to work with (instead of six), the creators of the series have been taking their time, delving much deeper into the characters and how they are dealing with their post-apocalyptic situation. Each survivor evokes a strong reaction from the audience, a reaction that sometimes changes from week to week (Shane, we love you, we hate you, we love you…but you might be the only one who’s never lost focus). And if the final scene of the explosive mid-season finale is any sign of things to come, we’re in for a real treat when the episodes resume in February.
A Serbian Film – I said I loved movies that generated attention from the outside world, right? Here’s one! When the organizer of a film festival gets arrested simply for showing a movie, you know it’s going to draw attention. Regardless of whether you felt the outcry over A Serbian Film was justified or a bit overblown, what we all can agree on is this movie contains some extreme imagery that got the world talking. You sympathize for Milos in his drug-induced state, even as he commits one heinous act after another. It’s a brutal film that dares you to watch, then unleashes itself on you when you relent. Perhaps too many people got a bit too excited over the content and forgot to keep repeating that famous line from the original promotions for The Last House on the Left: “…It’s only a movie…It’s only a movie.”
The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) – Here’s another one that stirred the pot. Horror certainly got under people’s skin this year. After the original film grabbed publicity from “South Park” and “Tosh.O,” The Human Centipede 2 raised the bar (in many ways). The new film even found itself as a topic of discussion, on more than one occasion, on The Howard Stern Showand had audiences clamoring to check it out. Perfect teaser trailers and tempting one-sheets effectively enticed would-be viewers. Everything director Tom Six implied in the original, he showed you in the sequel. And the choice to film in black-and-white with select color made it an ass-to-mouth Schindler’s List. Campy and extremely gruesome in so many ways, The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) brought it to audiences…hard.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil – Brilliant! Simply put, this is the film that entertained me the most this year. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil had me from the opening scene, which turned the entire backwoods weirdo sub-genre of horror on its ear. This movie is insanely funny. No, there aren’t any scares or mentally disturbing scenes in this one, but the bloodshed is ridiculous! Wood chippers, sticks in the eye, chainsaws, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is the rare horror-comedy that knocks it out of the park! An amazing effort! Gory…hilarious…vastly entertaining! If for some reason you missed it, go back and check it out. You’ve got to see this movie!
Hobo With a Shotgun
The Orphan Killer
Red Riding Hood – Promotion for the film implied it to be a gruesome horror movie, but we all should have known better than that. Featuring the director of the original Twilight film, Red Riding Hood was never going to be anything more than a weak Twilight wannabe.
Psych:9 – With genre mainstay Michael Biehn and Cary Elwes (who gained some big-time horror credibility with his appearances in the Saw franchise), you’d expect a lot more from this film. You don’t get it. A giant, lame snoozefest from start to finish, Psych:9 commits the biggest offense you can in horror…it’s boring.
Hyenas – Not even sure how I ended up watching this one. Costas Mandylor (of the Saw series) plays the lead role, but he’s not nearly enough to save this film. Apparently the filmmakers thought turning the infected into hyenas instead of wolves was enough to reinvent the genre. It was not.
The Bleeding – This film had a chance to be something. Maybe something along the lines of John Carpenter’s Vampires, but oh no, the sucking didn’t stop with the vampires. This film sucked right down to its core. They even had Kat Von D, who seems born to play a vamp. Unfortunately, they buried her until the end of the film, leaving us with nothing. P.U.
Unnecessary Remakes – Here’s a perfect example of the one bad thing about being a family of horror fans…filmmakers take advantage of us. They prey on our sense of nostalgia and remake films that don’t need to be remade. What other genre does this? Any remake of Tommy Boy on the horizon? Didn’t think so. Anybody doing Forrest Gump or Pulp Fiction again? Nope. Only horror because filmmakers know we love our movies so they go ahead and do a remake instead of creating a new idea because they know the fans will turn out (usually for a far inferior product). Fright Night, Straw Dogs, The Thing, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark…why?
5) [REC] 2 – I put this at #2 on my best list last year after watching an import DVD and wasn’t planning on putting it on my list again this year for that reason despite it finally getting an American DVD release. Then I figured what the hell – it’s that damn good. Since I already ranked it last year, I’m just going to give it my #5 slot this year, and because I’m lazy, I’m just going to repeat what I wrote about it last year, too. [REC] 2 is the very model of how to make a sequel that’s really just more of the same yet feels fresh and delivers everything you liked about the original while expanding upon its mythology in a way that enhances both films. Aside from the motivations that leads to the introduction of a group of dumb teenagers (I refuse to believe any teenagers could be this dumb), this is a smart, scary, exciting dark ride of a movie that delivers the first-person POV thrills I’ve never gotten from the Paranormal Activity films.
4) TROLL HUNTER – The very notion of Hollywood doing an Americanized remake of Troll Hunter is lunkheaded because much of what makes this film so wonderfully kooky can be traced back to its Norwegian roots. Look no further than the designs of the trolls themselves, taken straight out of the pages of Scandinavian fairy tales. At first goofy sights to behold, they quickly become unconventionally menacing when ferociously charging the actors like large, angry, feral, mongoloid Muppets on a rampage. In an age when every movie monster seems to be a riff on Alien or Predator or looks like whatever the hell those things are that keep appearing in JJ Abrams’ monster movies, these whimsically horrifying trolls are a true breath of a fresh air. And while the movie – more mockumentary than found footage in my book – can be a bit uneven at times, I was thoroughly riveted by this offbeat excursion into Norwegian troll mythology and the scenic wilds of Norway in pursuit of said behemoths.
3) RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES – I know some people would argue this movie isn’t horror. I’d beg to differ. Sure, it’s a prequel to a famous science fiction franchise, but take a good look at the story being told, and you’ll find a whole lot of Frankenstein and some Island of Dr. Moreau as well. For a movie that wasn’t inherently a horror movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes successfully pulled off more horror tropes than most every other horror movie of the past year. Without question a movie that turned out far better than it had any right to be. If you had asked me even a month before it opened, I would have told you it was probably going to suck hard and wouldn’t make a penny at the box office. Sometimes it’s a good thing being dead wrong.
2) ATTACK THE BLOCK – I’m fairly certain this movie is going to turn up very high on the lists of most of my colleagues and reckon anything I write about why I loved it will only echo their sentiments. All I’m going to say is that Attack the Block is the movie I wanted Super 8 to be.
1) TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL – Thinking back on it, I do believe this may have been my favorite movie of the entire year. I’ve watched it now on four different occasions, each time with a different group of people, and not only have I been thoroughly entertained each time, everyone I’ve viewed it with has fallen in love with it, too. This type of good-natured horror comedy is rare enough as it is; to be this smart and funny is a revelation and a joy to behold. Great performances. Lovable lead characters. Hysterical death scenes, even the ones you can see coming. There’s something to be said for a movie that is just plain fun to watch, and I don’t think I’ve seen anything in all of 2011 that was as fun as Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. Much as was the case with Trick ‘r Treat, that this hilarious movie did not get a wide theatrical release is a travesty because I’m willing to bet it would have been a hit. It’s certainly been a crowd pleaser to everyone I’ve shared it with.
Honorable Mentions: Black Death, Chillerama, Sint, Machete Maidens Unleashed, I Saw the Devil, 2012: Ice Age
5) DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT – It was a toss-up between this and Apollo 18. A literal toss-up – I couldn’t decide which was worse so I flipped a coin. Lunar ticks get relegated to the “Dishonorable Mention” category, and this year’s sorriest excuse for a supernatural buddy comedy takes its well deserved spot in the #5 position of my worst list. The hero is completely devoid of personality. His comic relief sidekick is trying so hard to milk non-existent laughs his flop sweat achieves a Marlon Wayans level of irritation. The whole sorry film is just these two riding around New Orleans questioning various vampires and werewolves, getting ambushed or set up by them, going back to question and fight them again – that could have still been entertaining if the action scenes weren’t so dismayingly impoverished – before the insultingly stupid finale in which the unstoppable monster is easily destroyed by its own self-destructive stupidity while the hero the movie is named after bravely lies unconscious in a crumpled heap on the ground. The coin chose wisely.
4) THE ROOMMATE – As soon as I got out of the matinee screening, I phoned up Uncle Creepy and told him that if I wasn’t committed to reviewing the film for the site, I would have walked out. I also demanded he refund the $5.50 my ticket cost. Single White Female goes to college and flunks out. Certainly whoever edited at random the last half hour of this dreck flunked out. Despite a plot that involves sex, masturbation, shower scenes, lesbian seduction, murder in the midst of having sex, and tumble drying kittens to death, it’s so tame, so lame, so lifeless and stodgy, so unwilling to allow itself to revel in the trashy fun it wanted to be, it’ll have you reevaluating the merits of films like Poison Ivy: The New Seduction and The Crush. Worst of all, I never got my $5.50 back.
3) CREATURE – The only good thing about Creature is that one day I will be able to say to people that I was one of the very, very, very, very, very, very few people who actually paid to see Creature in a theater. Then those people will look at me and ask, “What the hell is Creature?” I’ll tell you what it is – a movie that broke my monster movie loving heart. Finally, at long last, we get a man-in-a-rubber-monster suit swamp creature feature on the big screen again, and we get one that wouldn’t even have been worth watching for free on Syfy? So very boring, never making any sense, with characters that vanish from the film without a trace, not even making good use of its rubber suit monster, and then has so many endings I expected the last one to be actor Mehcad Brooks returning to the Shire. Just read my review if you really need more reasons this experience was so depressing and its inclusion on this list so deserving.
2) HELLRAISER: REVELATIONS – I’m just going to sum it up this way: Ever see the episode of “The Simpsons” that opens with an extremely bored Homer suffering a boring trip to an apple cider factory? Just watch this brief clip from that episode and imagine Ned Flanders is Hellraiser: Revelations and I’m Homer enduring a half-hour of watching it. Amazingly, I somehow didn’t end up crumpled on the floor.
1) HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2: FULL SEQUENCE – Two years ago I put The Human Centipede on my best list. I kind of wish I hadn’t because apparently all we did was encourage its maker to become so full of himself that for the next sequel Tom Six should just sew his mouth to his own ass since he clearly loves the taste of his own shit. Roger Ebert summed this one up best when he described it as “reprehensible, dismaying, ugly, artless and an affront to any notion, however remote, of human decency.” But Ebert forgot one very important adjective. It’s not just full of shit, it’s boring as shit. For all its arthouse Troma movie sensibilities, for all its empty attempts at grotesque shock value, for all its intentions of flipping the bird to critics and fans of the original alike in the most insipid manner possible, I was so bored by the pointlessness and masturbatory antics of this useless sequel I just became numb to it all. The original had the benefit of a great mad scientist performance by Dieter Laser, a truly unique premise that wasn’t nearly as disgusting as it sounded, and the director at the time showed a level of self-control completely missing from whatever the hell this bullshit was supposed to be. I realize now that first film wasn’t a centipede, it was a fluke.
Dishonorable Mentions: Apollo 18, Beastly, Cowboys & Aliens, Trail of the Screaming Forehead, Boggy Creek, 1313: Giant Killer Bees
* 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
The Devil’s Business – The year’s unsung British success — Sean Hogan’s intimate micro-budget exercise in simple spooky atmospherics delivers a tight script, endearing performances and a frighteningly oppressive ambience straight from the house of Hammer. See it.
Insidious – Director James Wan continues to flex his cinematic muscle to admirable effect as he once again knocks it out of the park with Insidious. An engaging story and some very clever use of basic horror machinations play second fiddle to some of most unsettling visuals, knife-edge editing and roof-raising frights to grace the big screen in 2011.
Kidnapped – I know – technically, it’s a 2010 release, but 2011 is the year that Miguel Ángel Vivas’ stunning Kidnapped made its way to UK’s FrightFest, where it subsequently burned itself into my brain. The most horrific, brutal and sheer vicious piece of cinema you’re likely to have seen in a long time, Kidnapped is completely unforgiving – and completely unforgettable.
A Lonely Place to Die – In the strictest sense a thriller (shoot me), Julian Gilbey’s A Lonely Place to Die remains one of the most memorable cinematic experiences of 2011. Breathtaking locations and cinematography, a top-notch cast, despicable villains, impactful violence and pulse-pounding action all come together to deliver just what we all crave: a really great time at the movies.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil – It’s rare that a horror/comedy hybrid manages to scrape its way onto year-end lists so it’s a distinct pleasure to place Eli Craig’s criminally delayed exercise in pure delight, Tucker & Dave vs. Evil, on mine. Leads Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk make an effortlessly lovable pair of buffoons, and the constant stream of gags and horror fan service make this a wild and splatterific trip that any genre fan will bust a gut over.
Vile – A film whose very raison d’être is to take advantage of the most base elements of the torture porn sub-genre, Vile is doubly disappointing in its steadfast refusal, or inability, to actually deliver on the repugnant goods. Coupled with a hateful bunch of central characters interacting like utter idiots, plot holes galore and a complete absence of logic, it’s a recipe for a completely worthless waste of time and effort.
The Tapes – A lazy, inept and nigh on cynical attempt at cashing in on the found footage craze, this British offering is barely watchable. The leads are hideously annoying, unlikable cretins, and the plot itself was obviously sharted onto the page as a complete afterthought. Barely one single redeeming quality exists in this turgid black hole of entertainment.
The Theatre Bizarre – How a group of obviously talented and incredibly creative storytellers and filmmakers can come together to make something so incredibly plodding, overwrought and just sheer dissatisfying is mind-boggling – but The Theatre Bizarre manages to do it. Even the legendary Richard Stanley embarrasses himself with a shaky, uneven and unintentionally hilarious segment amongst the various shorts on display – the best of which isn’t even a horror film. A crying shame all round.
Bad Meat – Rob Schmidt’s unfinished tale of juvenile delinquents terrorised by a rehabilitation camp’s brutish staff turned feral cannibals starts off relatively promising. Characters begin to develop nicely, and an abundance of offbeat humour and splashing bodily fluids lend the feeling of Troma’s heyday output. Then, just as we’re led to the inevitable fight for the protagonists’ lives… scenes are missing, and the film ends. Framed by a completely nonsensical wraparound in an obvious attempt to make something of a film only half of which was actually shot, it ends up being the cinematic equivalent of being churlishly told to fuck off out of the theatre halfway through with no refund. Directed by Lulu Jarmen? I’m still trying to work out just which particular insult that’s an anagram of…
11-11-11 – Darren Lynn Bousman’s attempt at apocalyptic religious horror proves itself to be nothing more than a theological snooze-fest. Lead actor Timothy Gibbs feels out of place the entire time as he forces his way through repeated scenes of spiritual disagreements, and the otherworldly villains (while sporting some pretty neat demonic makeup) are distinctly non-threatening. A tone of utter seriousness and self-importance leaves botched attempts at spookiness landing on the wrong side of humorous, all topped off with a stab at aforementioned director James Wan’s style of flashback-revelation ending that reveals nothing surprising whatsoever. 11-11-11 is the big-screen turkey of the year.
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.
2011 was a sad year for mainstream, big screen horror. As I run over lists of what was released, I see a lot has come from other countries, and others crept into minimal release from the indieverse. That being said, if you weren’t keeping track of what was lighting up the film fest circuit, you would have missed a lot of it. I hang my head and count myself as one of those people. For this reason I only have 4 “Best ofs” as I’m not about to reward a sub-par film by defaulting into an open spot.
Chillerama – Prepare for 4 tales of terror that double as love letters to Lloyd Kaufman and his Troma super-shlock legacy as well as the over-the-top drive-in cult classics that came before him. You’ve got “Wadzilla”, a tale of a sad little sperm that grows up to terrorize a city with the help of modern science in a 50’s setting. “I Was a Teenage Wearbear” is a coming-of-age musical that’s a little John Waters… a little Lost Boys. It’s like Cry Baby with gay dudes! Big, hairy, sweaty gay dudes…with fangs. We’ve got “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein”, a hysterical “what if?” putting Hitler in the shoes of Doctor Frankenstein to create a Jewish engine of destruction. Finally, we have “Zom-B-Movie”, the wrap-around-tale of horny zombies bent on literally fucking your brains out. What’s not to love?! I laughed through 90% of this movie. I can’t think of a better film to play for a room full of friends who brought plenty of alcohol…and I’ve done so three times since the Blu-ray showed up. This is a damn good time!
Troll Hunter – Follow a group of young filmmakers into the woods with a genuine troll hunter tasked with keeping a lid on the exploits of those extra large creatures when they wander into human territory. He’s the cleaner…and his job is not a pretty one. The special effects are top notch, making the coming of each monster a palpable experience. There is also a good deal of humor in the writing, creating my favorite brand of monster film. If they made a modern Godzilla film like this, fans would keel over from overwhelming joy.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil – It’s an idea so simple, it is baffling no one has done this before. Two working class men travel out to the boonies to spend some quality time in their broken down vacation home. At the same time a group of over-privileged teenagers have hit the woods for camping, drinking and a little heavy petting. When our working class heroes are suspected of being stereotypical backwoods horror hillbillies, it’s game on! Limbs fly, blood sprays and no one seems to have any idea what the hell is going on. Tucker and Dale is so much fun you’ll be in shock no one grabbed you to see it sooner.
Rabies – Israeli horror, you say?! These people have clearly done their homework. This tale of crossed paths, dire circumstance, violent clashes and a place in the middle of nowhere that doesn’t seem to want to let anyone go is a textbook lesson in building suspense and telling multiple stories in a non-confusing manor while keeping the audience engaged the whole time. This one was my most pleasant surprise of the year. This isn’t just an excellent foreign film. This is what most films should aspire to be.
Insidious – The story of a young family struggling to keep it together while demonic forces plot to tear them apart unraveled for me rather quickly. I couldn’t connect with the central characters, and every time they introduced someone or something new to either scare or engage the audience, it just made things funnier. The crowd I saw this with was laughing more often than not and mostly in disbelief. The horror gags fell flat and failed to creep. A big disappointment for me.
Priest – Oh man. Where do we begin with a mess like this? What happens when you try to make a super-charged action film in an apocalyptic future with hand-to-hand battle, gunfights, monsters and explosions around every corner? A headache usually. The story is disjointed and makes little sense. The characters lack essential likability or, in the case of the lead villain, enough baddassery to make you hate. Vapid is a good word to use here. Vapid and empty…and lacking in even enough of a spectacle to act as mindless eye candy. Just a waste of time.
Shark Night 3D – How this made it to big screens will be a mystery debated for some time to come. It sounds like a Syfy Channel original movie, doesn’t it? Well, sometimes a duck is a duck is a duck. Like most Syfy monster fests, the characters run about at the drop of a hat amid circumstances that have little logic behind them while the title monsters themselves get little screen time. Each scene is a vehicle for a kill, and not even 3D can make you care in the slightest for the intended victim. Halfway through you’ll ask to stop, sure that you’ll never have a desire to return. This is a waste of Hollywood energy and dollars.
The Roommate – A neutered Single White Female remake for fans of “The OC”? YAY! Ever watch a movie that made you want to harm yourself in public so that someone would come and drag you from your seat, simultaneously saving you from further torture and providing an excellent excuse as to why you fled the scene with all due haste? You’ll pray for such kindness. This tween friendly “thriller” lacks suspense, an engaging story, likable characters, an ounce of horror or even a slightly rockin’ soundtrack to ease your pain. There is NOTHING here worthy of conversation.
Apollo 18 – What horrors were left behind on the moon? Oh man…you don’t want to know…and if I could get you to trust me on that fact, we’d all be a happier race of fleshbots. Unfortunately, there are people out there who seemed to think Apollo 18’s ridiculous mystery is worthy of praise and so you may be talked into watching this tedious sort of Paranormal Activity in space rip-off. Even alluding to notes of Paranormal is getting your expectations too high… and lying. This is sci-fi dreck with a story so dim it’s no wonder the film sat on a shelf for as long as it did. If this movie had a face, you’d want to punch it.
In 2011 I was fortunate enough to see a lot more good films than bad so while the second half (the Bottom 5) of my list of the best/worst movies of the year was a piece of cake to compile, it was much more of a struggle to come up with the first half (the Top 5). In addition, I’ve been accused in the past of including too many “fringe” films (i.e., not pure horror) so this time I’m leaving off a trio of my favorites since they could easily be categorized as more sci-fi than horror, but you can find them as the first three listed among my honorable mentions.
Topping my Best of 2011 compilation is Absentia, which I saw very early in the year but still managed to stay in the forefront of my mind as the months wore on. It’s a perfect example of a filmmaker doing a lot with very little. That is, if you consider an intelligent script, completely natural actors, and a director (Mike Flanagan) who gets that we don’t need absolutely everything explained in minute detail to be “very little”. For me it was enough for Absentia to be my No. 1 film of the year. It’s accompanied by the following (in no particular order):
Stake Land – As a fan of vampire films, I was ecstatic to see director Jim Mickle and his co-writer Nick Damici (who also stars as the mysterious vampire slayer simply named “Mister”) put some bite back into the sub-genre. This isn’t the first offering from Glass Eye Pix to land on one of my year-end lists (see 2009’s I Sell the Dead), and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
Attack the Block – Without even seeing my fellow Dread-heads’ lists, I’m pretty sure this film will land on more than a few of them so I won’t bother going into a lot of detail about why I selected it other than to quote Drew’s five-knife SXSW review from back in March: “A fantasy-adventure that hearkens back to Eighties monster movies…Attack the Block transcends the genre it’s referencing, becoming a truly fresh and exhilarating marvel rather than just an homage to what came before.”
Sint (aka Saint) – A pair of holiday-themed horror flicks came out in 2011: Rare Exports, which garnered the lion’s share of attention, and my favorite of the two, Sint from the Netherlands, which flew in a bit more under the radar. I’m not usually a huge fan of slashers, but this one is so fresh and unique that it totally won me over. The Black Petes alone are worth the price of admission. If you’re looking for a new Christmastime classic, this is it as far as I’m concerned.
A Lonely Place to Die – You want intense? How about nail-bitingly suspenseful? This movie is all that and more. It’s actually the first film I’ve watched in years that I had to pause in the middle to go outside and get some air. Melissa George really shines in A Lonely Place to Die, and as Gareth wrote in his review, the on-screen violence is “harsh, impactful, and shocking…a thoroughly gripping, expertly crafted, and visually sumptuous mix of white-knuckle tension and adrenaline-pumping action.” One of the biggest surprises of the year.
Honorable Mentions: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Contagion, Super 8, Paranormal Activity 3, The Road, Insidious, The Caller
Memorable Performances: Since I always have to bend the rules a little when it comes to these best/worst lists, I wanted to be sure to include a couple of shout-outs to those actors and actresses who gave the most memorable performances of the year, even if the projects in which they appear aren’t listed elsewhere.
In movies we had Gretchen Lodge from Lovely Molly, who thrilled me like no one else in 2011 with her raw, brave portrayal of the title character as she terrifyingly descends into madness. Or is there more to it? Seek out this film and find out for yourselves! There’s also Brian Austin Green from ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2, who chilled me to the bone as ChromeSkull’s facilitator turned nemesis Preston. We already knew from “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” how much BAG has matured from his “90210” days, but ChromeSkull really sealed the deal.
On TV we had Mos Def, the one shining light in what turned out to be an uneven (yes, I’m being kind) season of “Dexter” – they never should have killed him off! But the one performer who stands heads and shoulders above them all is Jessica Lange as saucy Southern belle Constance in “American Horror Story”. The accolades have been pouring in for her all year, and I must once again add mine. Jessica, start writing your SAG, Golden Globe, Emmy, etc., acceptance speeches! Note to the powers-that-be at FX: Do whatever you can to keep her on the show for at least one more season please.
Now we turn to the Bottom 5. In all honesty, a few of these films were such stinkers that as soon as I finished watching them, I promptly did my best to forget they existed so my comments regarding each will be minimal.
The worst of the worst has to be Creature. I really hate to add to the disdain my cohorts here at Dread Central have been piling on this flick, but there’s simply no other option but to do so. Fred M. Andrews, your heart was obviously in the right place, but it takes a lot more than heart to make a good film. Try to include some of those other ingredients the next time.
Kill Katie Malone – If listing Dean Cain as the “star” of your film when he’s in it for probably a total of five minutes is the best you can do to market it, then maybe you should find another line of work. On top of that, Kill Katie Malone was dull, silly, and mostly senseless. Steer clear.
Red Riding Hood – Oh, what a letdown this one was! With the likes of Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Julie Christie, and Virginia Madsen being directed by Catherine Hardwicke, I had hopes of Red Riding Hood transcending its “teen fantasy movie” tag and delivering a product worthy of its big-name roster. Obviously, since I’m putting the film in this position, my hopes were dashed.
Psych: 9 – Here’s another instance of the bad outweighing the good. A decent premise that starts out okay turns muddled and melodramatic with some over-the-top performances that pull out every cliché in the book. As Uncle Creepy said in his review, “ It’s all been done before and done much better.”
Ghost from the Machine – Another film I had high hopes for given its premise (bringing dead loved ones back to life), but it was so sloooooooow and booooooooring. It might have made for an interesting short film, but trying to stretch it out to feature length just didn’t work.
Dishonorable Mentions: The Rite, Hellraiser: Revelations, The Howling: Reborn, The Sacred, Super Hybrid
Biggest Disappointment: Sucker Punch might not technically be a horror film, but it got quite a bit of coverage here on the site by virtue of being directed by genre darling Zack Snyder and including several of our favorite actors/actresses. I’m not one to get offended by anything, but man, is Sucker Punch offensive in just about every way. I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt, but as it wore on … and on … and on, I could feel my anger rising … and rising … and rising. The people I was watching it with wanted to leave, but oh no, not me! I had to stay for every single sordid moment of this abomination. Was this really Snyder’s “vision”? If so, I felt duped and dismayed. Certainly everyone is entitled to a misstep or two along the way in their careers, but it’s going to take some time for him to work his way back into this Woman’s good graces.
2011 was an odd year for movies, but not because there were many head-scratchers out there. The simple truth is this past year saw more good flicks than bad, and that in and of itself is quite the achievement. Still, several flicks rose above the crowd as both winners and stinkers, and I’m ready to give my take on the state of cinema for ya, right here right now, along with a few honorable and dishonorable mentions sprinkled in for flavor. In no particular order …
Super 8 – For me this flick was nothing short of pure magic and spectacle. It’s a true love letter to everyone who grew up loving monsters and monster movies. Yes, it had that sickeningly sweet Spielbergian ending, but for my money the movie is just impossible not to love.
The Road – Though the film hasn’t come out officially yet here in the States, this shriek-fest from director Yam Laranas ranks up there with not only some of the best films of this year, but quite possibly of the last several as well. It’s beautifully shot and frightfully scary and intelligent; you guys need to do whatever you can to see this flick ASAP!
Stake Land – Who says vampires lack bite? Never mind the sparkling drama queens who rake in the dough at the box office, this is what the vampire sub-genre should be revered for. Thanks to over-exposure to legions of teenage girls and cougars alike, vampire projects have been universally defanged. If you need a reminder of just how terrifying these beasts can be, look no further.
Attack the Block – Every time the hyperbole wheels starts rolling for a foreign film that we’ve yet to see here Stateside, it becomes easy to be disappointed. Attack the Block is one of the few films I’ve ever seen that not only lives up to the hype, but it completely transcends it. It’s really too bad that Sony didn’t trust this one enough to give it a proper release. If you haven’t seen this one yet or have been on the fence, go ahead. Blind buy it. You’ll be thanking me right after your first of many viewings.
Troll Hunter – I know, I know. A third foreign flick on my best of list. What can I say? What’s good is good, and Troll Hunter is simply great. In a sea of failed cinema verite movies, this flick gets everything right. There are moments in which you just won’t believe your eyes. You’ll be sitting there, mouth agape, in a state of awe. If that alone is not enough to be included here, then I don’t know what is.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Insidious, Paranormal Activity 3, Final Destination 5, Rise of the Planet of the Apes
The Rite – Any movie featuring the great Sir Anthony Hopkins playing a priest who is possessed by demonic forces should be a no brainer of a home run; yet, the makers of this atrocity still managed to find a way to make the film’s events fall flatter than the sunny state of Florida. Horrid demon CGI, hammy performances, and the completely unusual usage of frogs for dramatic effect were enough to make The Rite the first film of 2011 to scrape the very bottom of the barrel.
The Roommate / The Resident – It’s true we’re only supposed to list five movies here, but damnit, even if you combine the similarities of these two shitfests (awful acting, no suspense, ridiculous events leading nowhere), they still don’t amount to at least one halfway decent movie. If you’re a true glutton for punishment, I wholeheartedly recommend setting up a double feature here. Just don’t forget to sign your suicide note. You will be missed.
Rubber – Though critically acclaimed by nearly everyone and their grandmother, I fuckin’ hated this movie. It’s not high art, and it’s nowhere near as smart as it likes to think it is. A story featuring a sentient tire with the uncanny ability to make people’s heads explode should have been no less than a rip roaring good time. The filmmakers, however, had other plans. Instead of the mayhem-laden hilarity that should have permeated the screen, the fourth wall is broken to bits and a pretentious experiment in arthouse filmmaking rolls on a seemingly endless path to boredom. What anyone sees in this flick is completely beyond me.
Red Riding Hood – Holy shit. The word “rancid” comes to mind along with “putrid”. When you have big name actors up on the screen delivering performances worthy of a school play, you know there’s a problem. Here’s your classic example of a flick that cares far more about how pretty it is than it does about delivering anything that even remotely resembles substance. Shallow, empty, and stupid, not even the biggest of metallic elephant torture devices could make this shell of a movie even slightly interesting.
Creature – For my money this could be one of the worst damned movies of all time. Here’s the thing … you have a cool looking practical swamp monster out in the wild killing people. You have actors known to deliver quality performances. The only thing you have to do is roll the camera and let the mayhem begin. Not here. No way. There’s no fun to be had, no events that take place which even remotely make sense, and little to no interaction between the guy in a friggin’ suit and the actors of the movie. This is the biggest fuck up of a simple formula I think I’ve ever seen. It’s astounding in its relentless pursuit of being as awful as possible and not in a good way. It’s simply wretched.
Fright Night 2011, Zombie Diaries 2, Hellraiser: Revelations, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, The Howling Reborn
Fearsome Facts: 8 Things You Didn’t Know About Fright Night (1985)
Fright Night (1985) is to All Hallows’ Eve what A Christmas Story (1983) is to X-Mas: an opus which is worthy of its own 24-hour marathon and an ensuing all-night bacchanalia where blood is the life rather than alcohol. Filmmaker Tom Holland’s love letter to vampire films revitalized a subgenre of horror that was sadly rotting away not unlike an undead creature of the night.
Holland found inspirations in the scary movies that he idolized as a youth which included Hammer Film’s visionary retellings of the Universal Monsters. In fact, Holland based Fright Night’s sage Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) on his heroes: Vincent Price (House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler, House of Wax) and Peter Cushing (The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, The Mummy).
Fright Night made the vampire fashionable again in the 1980s, as it paved the way for other blood-sucking projects of that nostalgic-ridden era like The Lost Boys (1987), Near Dark (1987) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Most horror cognoscentes and critics alike know every frightening behind-the-scenes macabre morsel of Fright Night’s history. But there always those tiny tidbits that slip through the cracks.
With that in mind, here are 8 Things You May Not Know About Fright Night.
8. The Great Vampire Killer
Tom Holland and Roddy McDowall became friends after working together on Fright Night, but the esteemed actor was not Holland’s first choice to play the Cowardly Lion-like character of Peter Vincent. Rather, Holland tried to hire macabre movie maestro Vincent Price to take on the role. Sadly, Price’s declining health prevented him from participating in the project.
As wonderful a casting move as that might have been, Fright Night purist are likely to argue that everything worked out for the best. McDowall delivered one of his most enduring performances in what was an A-List career, as he also endeared himself to a whole new generation of fans.
7. Charley and Amy
Actors William Ragsdale and Amanda Bearse might have been playing teenagers in Fright Night, but they were much older than their characters of Charley Brewster and Amy Peterson. Ragsdale was 24-years-old at the time and Bearse was 27-years-old!
6. 1966 Ford Mustang
Charley Brewster’s 1966 Ford Mustang had one of the worst paint jobs possible, as it appeared to have been haphazardly executed with an offbeat mixture of red and grey coloring. The muscle car actually belonged to writer/director Tom Holland. Sadly, the classic Mustang was totaled 10 years later during an accident. The paint job couldn’t have been any worse, right?
5. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
Holland’s cinematic masterpiece was obviously inspired by many vampire films of the past, particularly Hammer horror, but there is a thoughtful nod and a wink to the Golden Days of the Universal Monsters. During their final battle with Jerry Dandrige, Charley and Peter think they have the upper hand. Jerry flees after Peter shoots Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark), but soon the zombie-like Renfield creeps up the staircase after our heroes. Holland admitted that Billy sneaking up on Charley and Peter, as he climbed the stairs, was an homage to Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) sneaking up on Chick (Bud Abbott) and Wilbur (Lou Costello) in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).
4. Evil Ed
Amy (Amanda Bearse) and Evil Ed go to Charley’s house to see how the tormented teen is holding up. Once they enter Charley’s room, Amy and Ed find Brewster sharpening a stake and preparing for all-out war with Jerry Dandrige. Candles flutter in the darkness, despite the sun being out, as Charley has also utilized crosses to defend against Dandridge.
During the filming of that scene, actor Stephen Geoffreys was incredibly sick due to food poisoning. You’d never know it by his performance though, because the young thespian pulled it together to complete the day’s shoot. It’s a memorable moment, as that scene sparked Amy and Ed into action. Immediately after, they recruit Peter Vincent to aid their troubled friend.
3. Box Office Boffo
According to Holland, Fright Night wasn’t expected to do much at the box office in the minds of studio executives. But to the pleasant surprise of all involved, Fright Night scared up over $6.1 million on its opening weekend alone. In fact, the movie went and won the Silver Medal at the box office for all horror films in 1985. Fright Night took home over $24 million domestically, but A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge took the top spot with almost $30 million.
2. Peter Vincent
Peter Vincent’s Hollywood apartment was cluttered with all manner of motion picture memorabilia, including a noticeable nod to former Dracula (1931) icon Bela Lugosi. But look closely and you’ll see another hidden gem hiding among the furniture and antiquities. Indeed, one of Roddy McDowall’s own life-masks from the Planet of the Apes film series can be seen adorning Vincent’s home.
1. Fright Night Sequel
During an interview in 2015, Holland discussed his vision for a follow-up he’d liked to have pursued for Fright Night. His concept revolved around Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) being a single father with a couple of teenage children.
Charlie inherits his mother’s home and soon discovers something “evil” is squatting in the abandoned house where Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon) used to cloak his coffin. Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) has taken up residence and he is trying to resurrect Jerry. According to Holland, this Fright Night sequel would have included most of the original cast members unlike the much maligned 1988 Fright Night Part 2.
For those fanatics of Fright Night who also enjoy documentaries about horror movies, check out Dead Mouse Productions three-disc tribute titled You’re So Cool, Brewster! The Story of Fright Night (2016). Disc one is a Blu-ray of the exhaustive 3 ½ hour documentary that examines the making of both Fright Night and Fright Night Part 2. There is a second DVD disc included alongside the third disc which is hours of bonus features. This is a must-own for any Fright Night aficionado. You’re So Cool, Brewster is an Eerie Essential all on its own.
In conclusion, Fright Night is one of those rare films that stands the test of time from generation to generation. It is a must-see for all horror enthusiasts and an Eerie Essential to be enjoyed by all who dare take up the cross with Charley Brewster and Peter Vincent against the duplicitous Jerry Dandrige.
SEE or sNuB recommendation: Must-See!
Which Fright Night facts were your favorites? Are there any other obscure tidbits you’d like to have seen make the list? Sound off on social media.
Horror Movies to Be Thankful for on Thanksgiving
After you’ve gorged on your Thanksgiving feast and the L-tryptophan is kicking in, you’re probably thinking about parking your carcass on the couch and watching movie after movie. But not just any movie – this is a holiday, so naturally you want to celebrate on-topic and gobble some gore.
We’ve got you covered with this curated list of choices from a 25-item menu of Native American-themed thrillers and chillers.
Death Curse of Tartu (1966)
A group of students on an archaeology assignment in the Everglades decide to throw a dance party one night. The spot they choose happens to be the burial site of an ancient Seminole shaman named Tartu. He returns from the dead to take his revenge on those who desecrated his grave site.
A Seminole Vietnam vet (Chris Robinson) goes on the warpath when a leather goods merchant (Alex Rocco) tries to grab his pet snake Stanley to turn him into a belt. A William Grefe cult classic!
Set on the Nebraska prairie in the immediate aftermath of World War I, the story follows the spiritual clash between the daughters of a recently deceased shaman and a gang of ex-aviators. Christina Raines, Scott Glenn and Keith Carradine star in this largely unknown, bizarre body-count thriller.
Shadow of the Hawk (1976)
A Canadian Indian (Jan-Michael Vincent) and a newswoman (Marilyn Hassett) join his grandfather (Chief Dan George) on a tribal walk among evil spirits.
The Manitou (1978)
A psychic (Tony Curtis) recruits a witch doctor (Michael Ansara) to get a 400-year-old Indian medicine man off his girlfriend’s (Susan Strasberg) back…. literally. The demonic Native American spirit is a tumor trying to reincarnate.
When a dispute occurs between a logging operation and a nearby Native American tribe, Dr. Robert Verne (Robert Foxworth) and his wife, Maggie (Talia Shire), are sent in to mediate. Chief John Hawks (Armand Assante) becomes enraged when Robert captures a bear cub for testing, but he’s not as angry as the mutant grizzly mom! George Clutesi plays an Original Person who believes the monster is the personification of the god Katahdin and is there to protect the land.
A policeman (Nick Mancuso), his girlfriend (Kathryn Harrold) and a scientist (David Warner) track vampire bats on a Maski tribe reservation. Abner Tasupi (George Clutesi) is the shaman who helps them.
A New York cop (Albert Finney) investigates a series of brutal deaths that resemble animal attacks. His hunt leads him to Native American high worker Eddie Holt (Edward James Olmos) to see if there’s any connection between the killings and old myths and legends from the area. Finney’s character refers to as “the Crazy Horse of the Seventies… the only one of our local militants left alive who’s not making money off of Levi’s commercials.”
Hapless college science students go on a dig around a sacred burial ground for artifacts. Unfortunately, one of them becomes possessed by the evil spirit of Black Claw… and that means only one thing: Now he must slaughter all of his friends.
Eyes of Fire (1983)
Almost lynched in 1750, a preacher (Dennis Lipscomb) leads his followers (Guy Boyd, Rebecca Stanley) west to a valley whose dirt holds a devil of Indian origin.
Pyrokinetic protagonist Charlie McGee (Drew Barrymore) is in trouble when an evil Native American named Rainbird (George C. Scott) wants to kill her because he is convinced her death would give him special power to take to the mystical other world of his ancestors.
Poltergeist 2: The Other Side (1986)
The Freeling family have a new house, but their troubles with supernatural forces are not over. Whoops, looks like it’s another haunted Native American resting place!
Creepshow 2 (1987)
In the anthology film’s first vignette, “Old Chief Wood’nhead,” thugs who terrorize small-store grocers played by Dorothy Lamour and George Kennedy are attacked in kind by the general store’s wooden Indian.
Pet Sematary (1989)
After moving to an idyllic home in the countryside, life seems perfect for the Creed family…but not for long. Louis and Rachel Creed and their two young children settle into a house that sits next door to a pet cemetery – built on an ancient Indian burial ground.
Capt. John Boyd (Guy Pearce) is sent to investigate reports of missing persons at Fort Spencer, a remote Army outpost on the Western frontier. After arriving at his new post, Boyd and his regiment aid a wounded frontiersman, F.W. Colghoun (Robert Carlyle), who recounts a horrifying tale of a wagon train murdered by its supposed guide — a vicious U.S. Army colonel gone rogue… and who’s developed a taste for human flesh.
Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)
In 18th century France, the Chevalier de Fronsac and his Native American friend Mani (Mark Dascosos) of the Micmac tribe are sent by the King to the Gevaudan province to investigate the killings of hundreds by a mysterious beast.
The Wendigo (2001)
Director Larry Fessenden movie uses the Native American Wendigo legend to tell an eerie and hallucinogenic tale about a family trapped in the woods with a dark force.
“Masters of Horror: Deer Woman” (2005)
A burned-out cop believes that a recent string of murders prove that the killer might be a deer-like creature in the form of a beautiful woman (Cinthia Moura) come to life from a local Native American folklore legend.
A 12-year-old boy and his mother become the targets of two warring werewolf packs, each with different intentions and motives. Based on the folk legend from Utah about the spirits of murdered Indians returning to seek revenge upon those who disrespect the land.
The Burrowers (2008)
A search party – played by Clancy Brown, William Mapother and Doug Hutchison – sets out to find and recover a family of settlers that has mysteriously vanished from their home. Expecting the offenders to be a band of fierce natives, the group prepares for a routine battle. But they soon discover that the real enemy stalks them from below.
The Dead Can’t Dance (2010)
Three Native Americans discover they are immune to a zombie virus in this whacky indie comedy.
After thugs brutalize a deaf-mute woman (Amanda Adrienne), the spirit of an Apache warrior takes over her lifeless body and sets out on a bloodthirsty quest for revenge.
Volcano Zombies (2014)
Danny Trejo as a Native American who warns campers about the legendary and very angry lava-laden “volcano zombies.”
The Darkness (2016)
Peter Taylor (Kevin Bacon), his wife and their two children return to Los Angeles after a fun-filled vacation to the Grand Canyon. Strange events soon start to plague the family, and the Taylors learn that Michael brought back some mysterious rocks that he discovered inside an ancient Native American cave.
After one of her tribe sets an American soldiers’ camp ablaze, a young female Mohawk finds herself pursued by a ruthless band of renegades bent on revenge. Fleeing deep into the woods, Mohawk youths Oak and Calvin confront the bloodthirsty Colonel Holt and his soldiers. As the Americans seem to close in from all sides, the trio must summon every resource both real and supernatural as the brutal attack escalates. Mohawk is a dark, political drama with horror undertones. “While set 203 years ago, Mohawk is unfortunately a timeless story,” says director Ted Geoghegan. “It’s about marginalized people being decimated simply because they exist and scared white men who fail to realize that their racism and bigotry will place them on the wrong side of history.“
Three 1970’s Horrors That Remind Us Why We Enjoy Getting Mental at the Movies
Crazy is always creepy in horror movies, and it usually comes in two forms: insane escapees or the sane among the crazies.
It’s one storytelling technique when a mental patient escapes and enters our own ordered, peaceful world. It’s quite another when a film drops us in the middle of an asylum to cope with crazy people who, in those movies, always seem to want to stab us.
First off, let me say the mentally ill are one of the most misunderstood and scapegoated minorities in movie history. Other stereotypes have disappeared from the silver screen over the years, but it’s still convenient to blame a killing rampage on an escaped mental patient. We’ll just chalk this up to lazy writing and move on.
Yes, “mentally ill” has become shorthand for “bloodthirsty and lacking in social etiquette.” Kudos to “American Horror Story’s” second season, subtitled “Asylum,” for adding some subtlety to that convention. Seventies horror movies, though, were riddled with stereotypes, enough so that when we travel back to that groovy and dangerous time, we can merrily ignore them and enjoy the scare.
Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972) is a fairly standard who-is-the-killer flick that turns terrifying in the last 20 minutes, when all hell breaks loose and the inmates, quite literally, take over the asylum. There is a nice, icy buildup throughout.
The populace of a small town are suspiciously nervous when a local mansion that had once been a mental institution goes up for sale. Mary Woronov (Eating Raoul) plays it numbingly cool throughout, until the climax, adding punch to the big reveals.
Also known by Night of the Dark Full Moon and Death House, this film is directed by Theodore Gershuny and written by Gershuny, Jeffrey Konvitz and Ira Teller. It’s always a good sign for consistency of vision when the director is also a writer.
I don’t know a lot of people raving about this film. It’s certainly not perfect, but a solid effort in that ’70s B-movie category, seriously creepy, and worth watching. Recommended.
Asylum (1972) has everything I enjoy about well-done, early ’70s horror: a fairly simple premise, creepy sets, and solid acting. The anthology setup works well here, stringing four Robert Bloch stories together. Peter Cushing and Herbert Lom show up along with Britt Ekland and Barbara Parkins.
The effects are not at all bad. Hope you view a cut of this movie that shows a stagehand rather obviously moving a prop in the “Frozen Fear” segment because those kinds of mistakes are fun to see.
Directed by Roy Ward Baker, Asylum delivers like any of the Amicus horror movies: similar to Hammer in that you know you will be entertained. Recommended for classic pre-slasher horror movie fans.
Then there’s Don’t Look in the Basement (1973). I was smart enough to see this in a theater when it came out… but dumb enough to bring a date. What a terrible first date movie!
On the other hand, Don’t Look in the Basement is a very creepy horror film due to several elements that come together beautifully:
– First, it has that grainy, cheap look to it like many early ’70s B-movies that, for me, adds to the mood. That look tells me positively this is not a big studio production. “Oh, this is one of THOSE movies,” says my head. “Anything can happen!” Tension builds.
– Second, it has an obviousness to it that can be unnerving when filmed correctly. Hitchcock used to do this well: We in the audience know the danger, but the hero on screen is completely clueless. We know from the minute the blonde nurse accepts her new job she shouldn’t be there — heck, we knew she shouldn’t even have come into the house!
– Third, most all of the characters may be insane, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their own distinct stories, personalities and phobias. Crazy is not random. As Grant Morrison wrote in Batman: Arkham Asylum, the thoughts of the insane are not unpatterned. Each person has his or her own complex view of reality, no matter how wrong that perception might be.
There’s also a good deal of blood. And a surprise reveal. Don’t Look in the Basement has been recognized as a B-movie classic, and I enthusiastically recommend it here.
Three 1972 to 1973 horror movies and all three recommended! You may or may not disagree, and if so, I want to hear why! What are your favorite asylum flicks? Comment below or on social media.
Gary Scott Beatty’s graphic novel Wounds is available on Amazon and Comixology. Is madness a way to survive the zombie apocalypse? The strangest zombie story ever written, Wounds throws us into a world where nothing is beyond doubt, except a father’s concern for his wife and daughter. If you enjoy that “What th-?” factor in graphic novels, you’ll enjoy Wounds. For more from Gary Scott Beatty, visit him on Twitter and Facebook.
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