Another year winds down, and it’s time to reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly of 2012’s horror offerings. We’re giving you ten different lists this time, and per usual they come in a variety of formats, each reflecting the unique styles of our writers. We’ve also compiled them to come up with the year’s overall winners and losers.
And don’t be lazy by just reading along! Give us your own lists in the comments section below. We want to hear what you thought of the year in which we dodged the Mayan apocalypse but find our beloved genre facing some dark days as violent movies, video games, TV shows, etc., are coming under increased scrutiny following recent events.
But back to the matter at hand; we averaged out the top and bottom five vote getters on everyone’s lists, and here are the results:
BEST: The Cabin in the Woods
Runners-up: The Loved Ones, Sinister
WORST: Piranha 3DD
Runners-up: Smiley, Silent Hill: Revelation
Check out the Dread Central staff’s Best of and Worst of lists for 2012 by following the links below!
(in no particular order)
KILL LIST – Ben Wheatley’s surreal limey hitman film is just the kind of gut-punch this genre needed. With an incredible atmosphere of dread, intense performances and some of the most nightmarish set-pieces in recent memory, Kill List hammers home the idea that horror always works best when it’s subversive.
JOHN DIES AT THE END – Don Coscarelli goes into full-on bizarro mode and delivers his best movie since the original Phantasm. In an age of wannabe cult films, a true classic is hard to come by… but this journey down the rabbit hole is the real deal! One of the most wildly inventive and fun experiences ever crammed into ninety minutes. Bring on the sequel!
EXCISION – Richard Bates, Jr.’s black comedy/art-house psychodrama plays like Welcome to the Dollhouse by way of David Cronenberg. Along with its truly icky combo of sex and body horror, the fantasy vignettes feature some master-class surrealism, while AnnaLynne McCord easily takes the trophy for the year’s creepiest performance.
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS – As sick as I am of 80’s horror homages, Drew Godard and Joss Whedon delivered the be-all/end-all tribute with Whedon’s trademark “Buffy” wit. Ambitious and hilarious, The Cabin in the Woods is a deconstruction that points out all the absurdities of genre tropes while pushing them into crazy new directions.
COSMOPOLIS – David Cronenberg’s misunderstood character study shows us how the 1% can be the most dangerous creatures of all. Robert Pattinson finally breaks away from those godawful Twilight movies, giving a powerhouse performance as a sociopathic Wall Street tycoon who is truly off his rocker. It’s a claustrophic head journey through a class-warfare apocalypse and a step back in the right direction for one of this genre’s greatest visionaries.
Honorable Mentions: God Bless America, The Loved Ones, The Grey, Prometheus
Most Misunderstood Film: The Tall Man
Scariest Film: The NRA Sandy Hook press conference footage
Life is too short to watch Hollywood bullshit so I avoided crap like The Apparition, Underworld: Awakening, and Resident Evil: [insert generic subtitle here] like airborne herpes. But I was tricked into seeing the most egregious offender of 2012:
THE DEVIL INSIDE – This film sucks so hard, it deserves to take up the entire “Worst of the Year” list. Full of laughably bad writing, directing and acting, this found footage cash-in from the folks who brought you Stay Alive (that Frankie Muniz killer video game flick no one saw) couldn’t muster up a single thing resembling a scare. A year later, the only thing anyone can recall is the totally random non-ending which then had the balls to smash to a website address. Yet, Paramount’s marketing campaign fooled moviegoers into making this #1 at the box office for a weekend, earning the filmmakers big bucks and Hollywood careers. Way to go, world.
One of the best things about spending two months attending genre film fests is the opportunity to see a number of incredible films that will, in the cutthroat world of film distribution, struggle to find an audience beyond a brief stint on VOD. As someone whose voice ostensibly reaches thousands of people, it’s an honor to be able to champion a number of incredible genre films that are consistently overshadowed by the shit like The Apparition, which somehow snaked its way into theaters only to be met with overwhelmingly negative reviews.
Here are my Top 5 and Bottom 5 horror films of 2012, comprised of theatrical, VOD, and festival screenings I have personally seen this year.
The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh: Written and directed by Rue Morgue President Rodrigo Gudino, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh represents everything that’s right with a genre littered with low-budget dreck and so much found footage it will make you vomit. I first saw the film at the Telluride Horror Show and was absolutely blown away by its unconventional story and beautiful cinematography, featuring long, sweeping shots of an old house filled to the brim with religious iconography. As the titular character, Vanessa Redgrave’s haunting voiceover provides context for the arrival of her son, Leon (Aaron Poole), an antiques dealer who inherited her house after she committed suicide, having devoted much of her life to a cult that worships angels. Leon discovers that she may be reaching out from beyond the grave to send him a message of dire importance. It’s a film that typifies the “slow burn” genre, with Gudino’s brilliant direction and deeply personal dialogue helping to create an edge-of-your-seat thriller deserving of the utmost praise.
The Conspiracy: Aaron Poole is on a roll because he once again appears in a film that absolutely blew me away. Part faux-doc, part found footage, The Conspiracy follows two friends, Aaron and Jim, as they seek to document the rantings and ravings of a local conspiracy theorist named Terrance. After he abruptly disappears, Aaron takes it upon himself to continue his work, leading to a secret society that may or may not be responsible for Terrance’s disappearance. While some might be quick to dismiss it for being little more than yet another found footage film, The Conspiracy uses seemingly very real subject matter and fictionalizes it into a sinister story that will leave you breathless. It segues in a beautifully organic way from a faux-doc to a found footage film, eschewing shaky cam and loud noises in favor of slow realizations that maybe these two documentarians got more than they bargained for.
The Battery: Currently popping up at festivals and exclusive screenings around the country, The Battery, written and directed by Jeremy Gardner, is living proof you don’t need a big budget to craft compelling horror. Shot for a mere $6,000 and featuring Gardner and newcomer Adam Cronheim, this post-apocalyptic zombie survival film is less about the zombies than it is the struggle for survival between two incredibly different people. Long takes, some clocking in at 11 minutes, showcase the mental and physical turmoil the two former baseball players are subjected to as they make their way through the woods and back roads of New England, avoiding zombies and dealing with their differences. Humorous dialogue, great music, and stunning practical effects build to an exceedingly tense and dramatic climax that help make The Battery one of the best – and most ambitious – “zombie” movies in recent memory.
The American Scream: Michael Paul Stephenson has an uncanny ability to make the mundane interesting, seen in the intimate and emotional The American Scream. Unlike his first doc, Best Worst Movie, which saw Stephenson and fellow Troll 2 star George Hardy inject themselves into the narrative, his follow-up takes a different route, focusing on candid and intimate interviews with three “home haunters” and their families. It’s an emotional portrayal of obsession and family and truly one of the best documentaries I have ever seen.
The Cabin in the Woods: It’s difficult not to include this film on any “Best of…” list given that it was not only a perfect theatrical release to get people interested in horror movies again, but also a brilliant send-up of horror audiences in general. By wrapping an overplayed conceit in layers of subtext, well-written characters, and one of the best scenes of free-for-all violence in recent memory, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon created an eminently re-watchable film that will no doubt wind up on a few “Best of the Decade” lists.
Honorable Mentions: Tin Can Man, Nightmare Factory, We Need to Talk About Kevin, REC3: Genesis
The Apparition: This film, written and directed by newcomer Todd Lincoln, sat in purgatory for over two years before being dumped into theaters by Warner Brothers. Featuring a contrived haunted house plot and a boring and often nonsensical script, this Ashley Greene vehicle belongs in a textbook on how not to make a horror film. Its brief 82-minute running time felt like two hours as Greene meanders her way through a house filled with ad hoc scares and some of the most nauseatingly bad acting you’ll see in a horror film this year. In my review I wrote “The Apparition is a vacant, insipid, soulless, pathetic excuse for a film that barely deserves evaluation,” and that was me holding back.
Piranha 3DD: I like Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunston, though I feel they’ve become pigeon-holed in a sub-genre that relies less on story than it does over-the-top violence and gore. It’s confusing, then, that blood and violent deaths were conspicuously lacking in the screenwriting duo’s follow-up to the gleefully gory and outrageous Piranha 3D. Directed by John Gulager, the movie was just a boring, pointless excuse to capitalize on a mildly witty yet lowbrow premise that eschews everything that made its predecessor entertaining. It’s ironic, really, considering the thing took place in a water park, which is just rife for hilarious and gruesome deaths. In the end, we’re given a short and very tame onslaught of piranha making their way into the water park. Not even David Hasselhoff can save this sinking ship, but did you really expect him to?
The Tortured: How this movie exists is beyond me. It’s devoid of anything resembling an original thought, and the scenes of torture are tame and contrived. That’s not what makes it bad, though. It’s bad because it’s trying so hard to be more than it really is, and it fails so miserably it’s laughable. Its basic plot is laughably insulting, and the “twist” at the end is such an obvious attempt at giving the movie a point that failed to be made clear through a script propelled by stilted dialogue and laughably bad acting.
Munger Road: This film is kind of anomaly, mainly because it looks good and features a supernatural element that could have been interesting. Two stories, one that follows a group of kids stranded on a desolate stretch of road and another that sees an aging police chief track down an escaped serial killer, slowly intertwine before you realize it was nothing more than a shitty plot device that culminates in the most infuriating, insulting, and presumptuous ending you will ever see in a horror film. At least The Devil Inside gave you something mildly entertaining before kicking you in the balls.
Entrance: A girl walking around town and occasionally hearing something for an hour and a half before injecting a half-baked horror element is not how you make a movie. This is the entirety of Entrance, a muddled attempt at a character study that spends 90% of its time following around a barista whose life apparently sucks. After her dog disappears, she decides it’s time to move on, prompting a going away party with her friends. It lacks all semblance of substance before devolving even further with a tacked on ending that does absolutely nothing to make the entire hour before it worth a damn. It’s just a hollow film.
Honorable Mentions: Grave Encounters 2, The Devil Inside, V/H/S, Greystone Park
As the year winds down, one thing has become abundantly obvious: Horror on television is thriving now more than ever in the past. It’s great to see shows push the boundaries of what’s been allowed on TV previously and bring horrific stories right into our living rooms.
I have two honorable mentions for this year, the first being one of those brilliant television projects I mentioned above. “American Horror Story: Asylum” is beautiful insanity. There is so much going on in this show that to try to describe it makes you sound mental…“Well, there are aliens and Nazis and this guy Bloodyface and an evil Santa Claus, and oh yeah, Anne Frank showed up on a couple episodes…” Crazy. But somehow it all works. And “American Horror Story” pulls no punches. It’s brutal storytelling, and it’s a blast!
My second honorable mention is actually the film I enjoyed the most in 2012. The Loved Ones was absolute maniacal perfection, but technically just the US DVD was released this year, and the film is actually a couple of years old. However, that being said, I’ll forever hold a place in my heart for the Queen of the Dance, Lola Stone. The Loved Ones is devilishly brutal, and Robin McLeavy plays one of the greatest psychos we’ve seen in years. A true horror gem!
Helmed by [REC] and [REC2] co-director Jaume Balagueró, Sleep Tight is a trip away from the extreme gore and violence of [REC] into a story of unsettling, realistic violation. The film is completely driven by the skin-crawlingly creepy performance of Luis Tosar as Cesar, an apartment building concierge who uses his knowledge of the tenants to interfere with their lives. His lack of self-esteem and the feeling that he has nothing to live for, and therefore nothing to lose, makes Cesar a very frightening and dangerous character. His obsession over one particular tenant and the lengths he goes to invade her privacy are downright disturbing. The idea of this film is a great change of pace for the horror genre, and the execution by Balagueró and his cast and crew is first rate. A great film!
Sushi Girl is a tasty blend of horror and thriller with perhaps the best ensemble cast of the year. The story revolves around a diamond heist that went awry six years previously and the fallout that comes to pass when the man who held the lost diamond bag is released from prison. Tony Todd heads up the cast as Duke, the leader of the gang and the organizer of the heist, and host of the dinner meeting which becomes the backdrop for the film. Todd is as good as he’s ever been, and he’s supported by Mark Hamill, who brings a manic performance that fans of his work as The Joker will certainly appreciate. Andy Mackenzie and Noah Hathaway also shine. Sushi Girl ends with a twist that even the most attentive movie-goer won’t see coming. A bloody thrilling adventure that draws the audience in and brings viewers on a violent excursion not soon to be forgotten.
The Cabin in the Woods
Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard got together and wrote a film that became one of the most unique and poignant in the horror genre this year. The Cabin in the Woods is a success on so many levels. It’s got legitimate frights, legitimate laughs and a message to the horror genre that it’s time to stop regurgitating the same story, same setting, same basic movie over and over again and extend itself to develop creative and original new stories. The re-watchability of The Cabin in the Woods is off the charts, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are absolutely hilarious (not to mention a laugh-out-loud performance from Fran Kranz) and there is plenty of gore to go around. The message from Whedon and Goddard is top-notch, and the film is stellar.
Adam Green has established himself as one of the most dynamic directors in horror. With films as diverse as Hatchet and Frozen, Green has shown he can hit audiences from several different angles. However, his FEARnet project, “Holliston,” may be his most brilliant work yet. For a fan of horror, “Holliston” is magnificent. A sitcom full of cameos from huge horror stars, tons of F/X and a member of GWAR living in the closet, “Holliston” is absolutely unique and brilliant. The cast of Green along with Joe Lynch, Corri English and Laura Ortiz with Dee Snider and Oderus Urungus are absolutely perfect together. There is a true comedic dynamic that flow through this group, making “Holliston” a magnetic television show that is made by horror fans for horror fans.
“The Walking Dead”
For years I’ve felt that “The Sopranos” was the best dramatic television series I’d ever seen. That was until Season 3 of “The Walking Dead” launched. “The Walking Dead” has become the face of horror for mainstream viewing audiences. No longer is the genre represented by Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers… when you say horror, the layman viewer thinks zombies and “The Walking Dead,” and with good right. The show is absolutely phenomenal. It’s so good that it has a legion of horror fans watching what is basically a soap opera populated by a zombie plague. The cast is incredible, the F/X are consistently better than any you’ll see anywhere and the story simply continues to get more and more intriguing. “The Walking Dead” is currently as good as it gets.
My main beat here at Dread Central is the indies, and that’s what I mostly watch during the year. And yes, many of them have their warts, but they are all somebody’s baby and I can appreciate the love and dedication that goes into each and every one of them. And it’s for that reason that I couldn’t possibly take five of them and slap ’em onto a bottom of the barrel list. In lieu of my bottom five, I will simply leave this message for my beloved indie filmmakers: Continue to be creative, continue to push the barriers of what we’ve seen before and challenge the audience. Look at the list above and see what makes each project great and learn from them. Find the magic in those works and let them help you put that same magic into yours. Every year we see great indie films released, but for every one that shines, there are scores that fail. Don’t fail. Be creative. Be original. Be great. I look forward to seeing what you crazy indie bastards have in store for us in 2013. Your hard work and dedication are an inspiration.
2012 was a really good year for movies – just not for horror movies. Putting together my best list was a bit of a chore because there were many horror offerings I felt were okay but unremarkable, few I would include on a best list even as an honorable mention. Despite coming away from the year firmly believing that the found footage genre has now completely overstayed its welcome, my favorite film of the entire year fell into that category: Chronicle. The only reason I didn’t include Chronicle on my best list is because I’m still not entirely sure it qualifies as a horror movie even though it certainly takes a turn towards Carrie-esque horror by the end.
5) THE LOVED ONES – I’m going to cheat here. I watched an import copy of The Loved Ones two years ago and included it on my best list then. It was one of the best horror movies of 2010, and with it having just gotten released in the US this past year, I can say it is still one of the best horror movies of 2012. I’ll just repeat what I wrote then: “I’ve heard this movie described as John Hughes does torture porn. That’s an unfair description. Unlike a myriad of torture-themed films I’ve seen, The Loved Ones uses the gruesomeness to actually ratchet up the suspense rather than just aiming for shock value or tantalizing viewers with gory money shots. Add in the surreal father-daughter maniac relationship, and you have an extra layer of creep factor. I first saw this film with a room full of teenagers on Halloween night, and believe me when I tell you it had every one of them freaking out. Seek it out when it finally comes your way.”
4) SOLOMON KANE – I don’t know which is worse: that it took this movie three years to finally get released in the US, that it was released to American VOD months ago but has yet to get a proper DVD/Blu-ray release, or that the same talented director made the preposterously, at times hilariously, bad Silent Hill: Revelations. Solomon Kane is the movie Van Helsing should have been. Better plot, better acting, better tone, better everything. If only Solomon Kane had the luxury of even half Van Helsing’s budget, it could have afforded the bigger and better action set pieces and special effects needed to put it even higher on my list.
3) THE WALKING DEAD (VIDEO GAME) – “Hey, Foy’s cheating again! That’s not a movie! That’s a video game!” It sure is – a cinematic game that tells a better story and delivers a more visceral gut punch than both the TV series it’s based on and just about every other horror movie of the past 12 months. I’m willing to include it on my list because it really is more akin to an interactive movie than a video game. Decisions have consequences. Actions have repercussions. When characters die, there’s a genuine sense of loss. Actual suspense! I can’t even say that about half the movies I saw this year. Stunning how movies are becoming more like video games, and now here’s a video game that, when all five episodes of it are put together, makes for a more satisfying cinematic experience than many movies these days.
2) THE COLLECTION – Easily my biggest horror surprise of the year! I wasn’t a huge fan of The Collector: too unpleasant, too mean-spirited, just not much fun. I was initially planning to skip this sequel altogether. Thank goodness I didn’t because I would have missed a horror sequel I had the sort of fun I haven’t felt since the days of Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives and Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. A frigging crazy house of horrors that’s occasional silliness only further added to the thrill ride aspect. What I loved most about The Collection was that unlike so many “torture porn” movies, the premise is built almost from the very beginning around the notion of the victims hunting their tormentor instead of vice versa, even if within his lair he and his myriad of traps give him the advantage. Like Die Hard meets Saw. Saw Hard with a Vengeance!
1) THE CABIN IN THE WOODS – I’m fairly certain this movie is going to appear on most of the Dread Central staff’s best lists (sans Fini) so I’m not going to bore you with yet another spiel about why I loved this film so much. Instead I’m just going to voice my one minor complaint: That guy in the movie was right; it really would have been better with a merman.
Honorable Mentions: TWO-HEADED SHARK ATTACK, JUAN OF THE DEAD, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, THE BAY
5) SMILEY – Smiley makes it onto this list by virtue of its ending. If the ending to The Devil Inside had audiences across the country booing vociferously, throwing trash at the screen, and even spitting on the floor in anger, then it’s a good thing this movie didn’t get a wider release because then we might have heard stories of angry moviegoers trying to set the theater on fire. The ending can be surmised with one word: bull-fucking-shit! Not just implausible, also insulting and infuriating. And to make it worse, there’s a second twist ending that is equally erroneous. The rest of the film leading up to it didn’t offer much to smile about either.
4) BARRICADE – Was the snooze-inducing tedium of Barricade an actual movie or just a hallucination brought on by a bad case of the flu? Such a bore was Barricade that rather than write about it again, I’m just going to steal a paragraph from my review: Barricade isn’t so much a movie as it is a series of often poorly lit scenes almost always culminating in a fake jump scare operating under the mistaken belief that it’s a mind-bending chiller in the tradition of “The Twilight Zone” and The Shining. Not much by way of plot or character development, but, by god, there are flat jump scares, one after another, seemingly half of which culminate in the reveal of nothing out of the ordinary or someone relatively calm wondering why the other person is so freaked out. No matter how many times the Foley artist contributed a loud crash or the music would aggressively crescendo, I cannot recall a single moment that even so much as made me flinch. About all it succeeded in doing was provide enough noise to keep me awake (before delivering one of the year’s worst endings).
3) THE APPARITION – I’m going to assume by this film’s barely 75-minute running time that the producers edited it down into oblivion. If not, then The Apparition can lay claim to having the worst screenplay of any movie this year because the previews did a better job explaining what exactly was supposed to be going on in the film than anything within the film itself. Also never a good sign when a movie’s entire marketing campaign (trailers, TV spots, posters, DVD artwork) are all based around the very last shot of the film. Rarely has describing a movie’s story and characters as “moldy” been so appropriate.
2) DARK TIDE – “Professional diver tutor Brady returns to deep waters after nine years following an almost fatal encounter with a great white shark, bringing happy couple Kate and Jeff. However, before they know it, they discover that the nightmare from the deep is still lurking in the deep, more carnivorous and hungry than ever.” Too bad that completely inaccurate plot synopsis that is still to this day posted on IMDB as the plot summary wasn’t the movie they actually made. Instead I suffered through a 114-minute, painfully boring, semi-thriller that had less to do with sharks and more to do with Halle Berry arguing with her ex-husband, a wealthy father arguing with his slacker son, and all of them taking turns arguing with each other until their boat ends up in a The Perfect Storm scenario where they have to quickly make amends before they either are rescued, drown, or get eaten by stock footage of a shark. John Stockwell’s Dark Tide is so uneventful it felt like the producers tacked on a fairly lengthy sequence around mid-movie featuring characters never seen before just so someone could finally get eaten by (unseen) sharks.
1) PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 – If you’ve listened to the most recent Dinner for Fiends, I’ve pretty much stated why this is the worst film I saw in a movie theater in all of 2012 not titled Red Dawn. I’ve never been a huge fan of this franchise, but I’ve never come out of any of these films feeling this negative. Forgetting the lame attempts at jump scares, the extended periods of nothingness, the head-scratching reasons why the main character is filming everything she does 24/7, and all the other completely worn out Paranormal Activity clichés, these films have never exactly been plot-heavy to begin with; yet, this installment manages to be such a poorly assembled slog that by the time it’s over, it’s apparent it would require yet another sequel and probably even another prequel just to make the ongoing mythology make a semblance of sense. Which begs my most pertinent question regarding this entire franchise: Why does Paranormal Activity need a mythology in the first place? If it was to become a franchise, why not just set each film in a different location with a different group of people and a different paranormal threat instead of bringing back Katie and family and constantly straining to create some sort of evolving storyline about witch covens, possession, rituals, and a demon/ghost that spends an awfully long time just screwing around when each time it clearly knows exactly what it wants and should just go in for the kill immediately. I remember when the first film opened in theaters how much of a relief it was to finally have something seize the Halloween horror mantle from the Saw franchise. Now we need something fresh to put Paranormal Activity out of its misery because I’m starting to miss Saw.
Dishonorable Mentions: PIRANHA 3DD, THE DEVIL INSIDE, THE RAVEN, FDR: AMERICAN BADASS
Elijah Wood blows every expectation of him right out of the water in Franck Khalfoun’s astoundingly brutal remake. Not only is it highly respectful of the original, but its technical magnificence is a cinematic marvel in itself. One of the greatest horror remakes ever made, and easily film of the year.
2. American Mary
The Soska Sisters find their directorial footing in spectacular fashion with this twisted tale of body modification, mental breakdown and revenge. Lead Katharine Isabelle delivers the performance of her career so far, and while the ending feels rather abrupt, American Mary delivers on nearly every front.
3. The Cabin in the Woods
It isn’t perfect, but Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s horror geek-out delivered one of the most fun pieces of fan service to hit cinemas this year. Smart, silly and firmly tongue-in-cheek, it nevertheless avoids outright lampooning or disrespect of the genre. The final twenty minutes alone should have monster fans grinning with delight.
On the topic of fun and monsters, no other flick delivered both in spades this year quite like Jon Wright’s Irish boozefest Grabbers. An infectious sense of light-heartedness, well designed and realised creatures, and some of the best drunk acting ever make this one of the year’s highlights… and come on, the plot alone is genius!
Unsettling, seriously spooky and unforgiving horror is the order of the day in Sinister. Lead Ethan Hawke carries the mystery effortlessly, while the increasingly freaky unfolding of events keeps the audience glued to the screen. Commendably unafraid of sitting squarely on the bleak side of the fence, Sinister is also home to an excellent score and the most leap-inducing fright of the year. Mowing the lawn will never be the same again.
Honourable mentions: The Pact, Stitches, ParaNorman,Sleep Tight, The Seasoning House, The Bay.
1. Resident Evil: Retribution
Paul W. S. Anderson’s ill-conceived series officially stops giving one iota of a shit with this pointless, insulting entry. Expository overload, ridiculously flimsy logic and some of the most overblown, poorly constructed action sequences seen across the entire franchise render this an absolute mess. Jovovich slums her way through while Anderson chucks in every kind of villain and hero he can pull from the games with a total abandonment of reason. A total and utter waste of time in every sense.
2. Piranha 3DD
Riding in the wake of Alexandre Aja’s highly entertaining Piranha 3D, John Gulager’s attempt at over-the-top exploitation/horror-comedy falls flat at almost every turn. Terminally unfunny and lacking the gorehound-pleasing carnage of its predecessor, Piranha 3DD attempts to overcome its meagre budget with the abundant addition of nudity and stunt casting. Neither of which manage to make it worthwhile.
Director Ryan Smith’s saccharine snore-fest is fantasy-lite nonsense masquerading as an emotionally poignant drama. With a monster in it. That really doesn’t do much. The overly twee attempts at audience manipulation routinely fall flat and are all but ousted by an ending that makes absolutely no sense to anyone not already clamouring for a love story. Visually impressive or not, After stands as little more than a frustrating, dawdling piece of sap.
4. Hidden in the Woods
This thoroughly repugnant Chilean effort has little to nothing in the way of redeeming features. Absurdly, and needlessly, vile at almost every turn, it’s nothing more than an obvious attempt at courting controversy with neither the budget nor talent behind it to create anything of any interest whatsoever. This one should just stay hidden.
5. The Possession
Glossy Hollywood horror bollocks that takes an original premise and pisses it all against the wall in favour of the usual flash and safe scares. Even some unintentional hilarity can’t make it worth taking in. If there’s one thing on this earth that we didn’t need, it’s another The Unborn. Seems that someone out there disagreed.
Dishonourable mentions: Tulpa. Thankfully, I haven’t been exposed to too many outright awful flicks this year. Yay!
Sinister– Sinister is absolutely my pick for the scariest flick I’ve seen in 2012; a clever new spin on many modern horror tropes, it also manages to leave you in an emotionally pummeled heap by the film’s unflinching finale. My proverbial hat is off to co-writer/director Scott Derrickson and co-writer Robert C. Cargill for creating an unflinching and haunting exploration of urban mythos and one man’s desperate need for validation that puts everyone and everything he loves in jeopardy along the way.
There are very few horror movies that hit theaters in 2012 that I’d use the words “disturbing” and “visceral” for, but Sinister seriously delivered the goods and then some for me. It’s an incredible experience to see a thoughtful, character-driven but still downright terrifying genre film that manages to celebrate many of our beloved modern horror conventions, all while still making them feel new and unexpected to boot. I’d absolutely be game to follow Mr. Boogie on more terrifying adventures in the future.
Killer Joe– Sleazy, twisted cinematic perfection, Killer Joe is undeniably one of the more unforgettable movies of the year. Another gritty masterpiece from William Friedkin, who once again effectively crawls under the audience’s skin just mere seconds into the flick with a rather awkward “hairy moment” (those of you who have seen Killer Joe know EXACTLY what I’m talking about), and he never once lets up on until the film’s insanely bizarre conclusion.
It also doesn’t hurt that Friedkin has one of the best all-around cinematic ensembles of 2012 in Killer Joe bringing acclaimed playwright Tracy Letts’ challenging material to life; anchored by Matthew McConaughey (who is having a stellar 2012), this Southern-fried tale of deceit, murder and twisted love also features a raw and blistering performance by the always awesome Gina Gershon and is a hell of an introduction for newcomer Juno Temple.
For those of you who missed it earlier this year, Killer Joe arrived on DVD and Blu-Ray on December 21st, which makes for a perfect opportunity to catch up on the ‘feel-so-bad-you-feel-good’ flick of the year. You’ll also never look at fried chicken the same way again.
ParaNorman– Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a big kid at heart so I was thrilled that in 2012 we were treated to THREE different horror-centric animated feature films. And while Frankenweenie may be (on a technical and storytelling level) the “best” of the this year’s animated offerings, ParaNorman still remains my favorite of the trio and one of my overall favorite genre films of the year as well.
Every single miniscule detail – from the stunning design work of Laika to the color palette, the music and the voice performances – in ParaNorman leaves me with a big, goofy grin upon each viewing. There’s so much heart and passion behind the flick (kudos to directing duo Chris Butler and Sam Fell), ParaNorman is easily one of the most rewatchable genre flicks of this year, if only to pick up on all the little horror homages you may have missed the first time around.
The Cabin in the Woods– There really isn’t much left to be said that you probably haven’t already heard before about Drew Goddard’s transcendent The Cabin in the Woods (and chances are it’s a film that will be showing up on a lot of other DC staffers’ lists, too) so I won’t even try and throw a bunch of fancy words around here. You get it… we love this movie, and if you haven’t seen it yet, the less you know about it going in, the better.
But all the hype is real- The Cabin in the Woods is by far one of the greatest genre-bending movies of this or any year, and for any of you out there who missed out on seeing the flick on the big screen, you can go ahead and blame yourselves for all the remakes and PG-13 horror flicks we’ve been inundated with throughout the rest of the year and for what I’m sure will be years to come.
The Grey/The Raid: Redemption– This is the spot I generally use for my more fringy flicks- ones that aren’t necessarily horror but somehow touch upon familiar genre tropes. This year was tough because many of my favorites fell into this fringe category; I couldn’t pick just one so I went with two…The Grey and The Raid: Redemption.
Both movies thrilled me for very different reasons but ultimately for the same reasons; each director used their respective limited budgets to their advantage and proved that you don’t need to rely on huge set pieces or grandiose visual effects to create engaging and enthralling storytelling.
In The Grey Liam Neeson delivers another career-defining performance (if only those hoity-toity awards people could remember movies released more than a month ago), and one of my favorite modern directors, Joe Carnahan (shut up, I love The A-Team flick and Smokin’ Aces so whatever!), demonstrates that he can masterfully tackle action and emotion with an even hand. The plane crash remains one of the most startling sequences on the big screen this year, and there’s just no denying the sheer awesomeness that is The Grey‘s final moments of Neeson staring down a bloodthirsty wolf.
And in terms of The Raid: Redemption, there’s just not another action movie of this year that could match the frenetic energy and inventiveness that writer/director Gareth Evans crafted in his Indonesian action masterpiece. Everything about The Raid worked for me: the cinematography, the insane fight choreography, a breakout performance by Iko Uwais and Evans’ ability to sustain a feeling of overwhelming suspense from start to finish- a new standard has been set for modern action with The Raid: Redemption, and I’m absolutely in line for anything from Evans in the future.
Honorable Mentions: Excision, Seven Psychopaths, Chronicle, [REC] 3: Genesis, The Aggression Scale, Some Guy Who Kills People, Dredd 3D, Looper, Citadel
Men in Black 3– Yeah, I know it’s not pure horror, but I covered it earlier this year so there was no doubt in my mind that Men in Black 3 was going to make my “Worst of” list regardless of whether or not it’s horror (it’s sci-fi and we do some sci-fi, so there!).
But not even the return of Will Smith to the big screen after a four-year breather or Josh Brolin doing an absolute killer impression of resident stick in the mud Tommy Lee Jones could save this soulless sequel. It was bland, ugly and frankly a total letdown from what could have been a silly summer popcorn flick- plus we also got jipped on a brand new song from Mr. “Big Willie Style” himself, which is an immediate penalty for me.
Hopefully Men in Black 3 has officially ended this silly franchise (The original? Still great fun!), and at this point the only sequel I want to see from Smith is a follow-up to ID4 (yes, I’m serious).
ATM– Not that I was exactly expecting a movie about three people locked inside an ATM vestibule to be a cinematic tour de force or anything, but holy hell! This movie is just ridiculously dumb on every single level- the plot, the characters, the reveal, the logic… I could go on for another ten pages about just how this might be the stupidest horror movie of the year, but I think you get it.
What I REALLY wish was that this had been a movie about a killer ATM (a la Maximum Overdrive) than about a killer stalking a group of idiots at an ATM. That’s a movie that would have actually made far more sense than this turd of a movie did.
Paranormal Activity 4– Paranormal Activity 3 was amongst my favorite flicks of 2011 so even I’m a bit surprised to be putting PA4 on this year’s worst list… but it deserves it. As a franchise fan, this sequel was insulting- no questions were answered, most of the gags were recycled from the other films and so much of the flick’s logic makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
It’s also the first Paranormal flick that didn’t even get one single scare out of me- just a bummer all around. Here’s hoping they turn it around on the fifth one and finally put all the puzzle pieces in place for fans once and for all.
Playback– You are probably asking yourself right now, “Wait, what was Playback again?” My response to that? EXACTLY.
Starring Christian Slater (remember when he had a promising career?), Playback is supposed to be a supernatural horror movie but actually never takes the time to make up its mind about what kind of movie it wants to be so what we get is a director who just shoves in EVERY SINGLE MODERN HORROR TROPE imaginable into its 98-minute running time and voila! The results are a big heaping pile of crap that I still can’t believe got financed. Plus we also get treated to scenes of Slater masturbating to videos of high school girls, which frankly is an entirely new level of sleazy, even for me.
Greystone Park– This movie is so coma-inducing, I’ve fallen asleep twice trying to write about how awful it is. Oliver Stone’s kid wrote, directed and stars in this inane found footage movie that is almost as dumb as ATM; it’s nothing but a bunch of forced jump scares that never go anywhere and proves that not everyone who can “pick up a camera and make a movie” should. Guess filmmaking skips a generation, eh?
Dishonorable Mentions- Prometheus, The Tall Man, The Fields, Werewolf: A Beast Among Us
All said, 2012 wasn’t a completely terrible year for horror flicks. It wasn’t great, mind, but it certainly wasn’t terrible. It opened strong with one of my favorite films of the year (in any genre), and then gifted us with the occasional gem amidst the expected dreck from both the big studios and the indies.
Ohh, but there were some terrible movies, too. Movies that shame their cast, their makers, and the very genre they’ve chosen to degrade. Every year has its handful of stinkers, to be sure, but a few of this year’s worst were downright heinous.
Oddly, the recurring trend this year didn’t seem to be an issue of good/bad or great/terrible. Rather, this year seemed to give us a handful of films (in various genres) that had great potential, and every needed resource, but squandered it all with dodgy scripts full of easily fixed mistakes. One of these even managed to make it onto my Honorable Mentions list, through no fault of its weak writing. But, as this isn’t a “Best/Worst/Mehst” list, I’ll belabor this point no further.
One last note: Some of the films on the following list aren’t technically “2012” films. Some may have been produced years ago, and some may have been released in a limited capacity at the end of last year. My list takes into account those movies which were made widely available to viewers within this past year. Hope this doesn’t unsettle any of you.
5. The Innkeepers – One of the year’s biggest surprises for this reviewer. While I enjoyed director Ti West’s previous film The House of the Devil, I found his slow-burn approach to be mostly annoying with his earlier efforts (Trigger Man and The Roost). Fortunately, The Innkeepers continues West’s upward streak with this fun, frightening, and well-acted take on traditional spookfests. While the deliberate pacing in its first half may be off-putting to some, I found the characters endearing enough to carry the film without benefit of any supernatural shenanigans. Of course, once the ghosts do make an appearance, the movie becomes a genuine hair-raiser, barreling along toward a surprisingly downbeat (and perhaps somewhat misjudged?) finale.
4. The Loved Ones – Originally lensed in 2009, only to get a half-hearted release in the States this year, The Loved Ones manages to live up to its long-festering hype, giving us a grueling, haunting, and oddly romantic little flick that plays out like the bastard child of Tobe Hooper and John Hughes. The performances, the photography, and the music are all wonderful, but it’s the film’s darkly comic/horrific tone and lead actress Robin McLeavy’s truly unhinged villainess that left their bloody mark on this viewer. Now, Paramount, where the hell is the Blu-ray?!
3. Kill List – Director Ben Wheatley’s moody chiller almost defies categorization, as it seems to shift genres with each of its act breaks. Initially a mumble-corish domestic drama, then a buddy crime flick, Kill List ultimately switches its gears over to our favorite genre by its final thirty minutes, when the story’s mostly heretofore unseen threat finally reveals itself. Kill List is not for every viewer, but this writer found it to be one of the most engrossing and truly scary films that the year had to offer.
2. Take Shelter – While Shea Whigham and 2012’s breakout star Jessica Chastain put in predictably great performances, it’s star Michael Shannon’s intense turn as a possibly prophetic, possibly schizophrenic blue-collar family man that anchors this moody, icily horrifying film. While it’s a stretch to call this character study a full-on horror film, horror fans should appreciate its relentlessly unnerving tone and some of the most jolting sequences I’ve seen all year.
1. The Grey – Intermittently gorgeous and terrifying, Joe Carnahan’s survival tale may have been sold as a Liam Neeson action flick, but is more a stirring meditation on life, death, and faith. Every aspect of this film is superb from its fantastic acting to the beautifully gritty photography to the film’s haunting tone and its harrowing climax, which somehow manages to be as downbeat as it is hopeful. Nearly a year after having first seen this, I still claim it as my single favorite film of 2012.
Honorable Mentions: Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, The Cabin in the Woods, Prometheus, ParaNorman, Lovely Molly, Chronicle
5. Silent Hill: Revelation – An exhausting experience, this movie nearly put this reviewer right to sleep in the theatre. A follow-up to the damn good 2006 Christophe Gans original, Revelation forgoes any narrative logic in favor of hurling setpiece after setpiece at the audience but fails to ever be exciting or enthralling. Or even remotely interesting. While some of the creatures are cool, and the sets at times capture the gorgeous grime from the previous film, this film ultimately fails with its lamebrained script and hilariously awful acting. A franchise killer if I ever saw one.
4. Airborne – Dull, dull, oh so dull. Though the movie itself is well-lensed, and Mark Hamill’s brief appearance is quite decent, Airborne is ultimately a snoozefest, saddled with wooden actors and a story that never takes flight.
3. The Collapsed – Easily the worst of this year’s post-apocalyptic thrillers (and yikes, is that saying something), The Collapsed features a nifty last act twist that sets up what could be a potentially interesting sequel. Pity the preceding eighty minutes are poorly acted (mostly) and boring as hell.
2. Piranha 3DD – An aimless, entirely joyless trip into exploitative tedium, full of crassly unfunny “humor” and slumming actors who know better. While I dig grindhousey movies as much as the next guy, boobs and blood only do not a good movie make. A terrible film.
1. Area 407 – Ugh. A case study in what not to do with the found footage conceit, Area 407 squanders its cool (and mostly hidden) central idea by straining the audience’s patience with its repetitive structure, bad dialogue, and a seemingly unending laundry list of POV no-no’s. A life-draining, mind-numbing, soul-crushing watch. This movie hates you.
Dishonorable Mentions: Silent House, Paranormal Activity 4, The Wicker Tree, The Tall Man, The Apparition
Yet To See: Antiviral, Berberian Sound Studio, Hitchcock, Bait 3D, American Mary
It’s easy to look at 2012’s less-than-stellar offering of major studio releases and chalk it up as a loss. After all, the horror community rang in the New Year with Paramount’s, ahem, controversial possession flick The Devil Inside and closed it out with the same studio’s equally dismalParanormal Activity 4. Two reviled titles that helped make a case for the death of the cinéma vérité subgenre. In between these were so-so titles (The Woman in Black, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) and forgettable ones (Chernobyl Diaries, The Possession) – some of which did decent box office even if long-term resonance with audiences seems unlikely.
But that’s not the whole story. In fact, I look back on 2012 as being a year that delivered a handful of personal favorites. Films that I’ve revisited numerous times already and will do so again. And considering my initial “best of” list featured ten titles, each of them warranting careful consideration for a slot in the top five, I’d say that 2012 was an impressive year for horror – provided you knew where to look. For comparison, I glanced back at the last three year-end lists I’d made for Dread Central and realized that I am more enthused by this year’s qualifiers on the whole.
Now, before we continue, a quick word about my criteria. Nothing irks me more than a year-end list consisting entirely of unreleased titles. Good for you, horror blogger; you managed to go to a movie festival or catch some advance screenings! But crafting a list of movies that audiences won’t see for a year or two doesn’t help the readership relate in any way when you’re supposed to be talking about 2012 releases. I understand this task isn’t the easiest: finding a list of quality movies in a year that wasn’t so hot can feel like more trouble than it’s worth. But 2012 was a better year than most, and if you couldn’t find five movies you really enjoyed, then you couldn’t have been looking very hard.
I’d like to also go a step further and explain that I’ve kept my list to horror-only offerings. Sure, there were some great and fringy movies that Dread Central covered this year. Things like Chronicle, The Raid and Dredd, to name a few. But none of these have anything to do with the horror genre, meaning they won’t be acknowledged in this list whatsoever.
5. The Collection – Now this is how you do a sequel! The Collector was a fun – and forgettable – little thriller, and this follow-up takes the concept to the next level. When a group of hired guns descend upon the hideout of our resident villain (holed up in the “Hotel Argento”), all hell breaks loose. This isn’t taking itself very seriously from the outset, and that paves the way for a delightful experience rife with junked out zombie henchmen, crazed guard dogs, gunfights, mass-murder devices, etc. Writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan were aiming to bring the fun to this follow-up (so much so that they threw caution to common sense and believability) and succeeded tenfold! The Collection is outlandish, absurdist and a true joy to sit through.
4. Detention – This delirious little ode to high school cinema plays out like an homage to every teen movie ever made. All the tropes are there, and writer/director Joseph Kahn has created one of the most energetic and hilarious experiences in years. Part slasher movie, part time travel adventure and with all the youthful angst of John Hughes’ entire oeuvre, Detention is not for everyone’s tastes. But if you haven’t given it a shot yet, you’re doing movies wrong.
3. Prometheus – This big budget, high concept amalgamation of Lovecraftian horror and brainy science fiction turned out to be the most divisive horror film in recent memory. This visually stunning experience explores questions of faith, life and humanity in a story of scientists searching for the ultimate answer. Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender are wonderful additions to the Alien universe, and while the script disposes of its superfluous characters in some admittedly thoughtless instances, this experience has stayed with me since my initial viewing. And I keep going back. The mark of a great film, for my money.
2. Beyond the Black Rainbow – While we’re on the subject of divisive films… Panos Cosmatos’ directorial debut is one of the most hypnotic cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. Imagine a marriage of Kubrick and Cronenberg, with just a dash of David Lynch for good measure, and you’ve got this study in science gone wrong. A psychiatrist’s psychosexual obsession with a telekinetic girl in a utopian future goes horribly awry, accented with the coolest audio/visual design I’ve seen recently. This movie puts us in the minds of its main characters – people whose lives have been addled by psychotropic drugs – by making us feel like we’re tripping, too. This is slow, obtuse and completely compelling if it’s in your wheelhouse. Whatever Cosmatos intends to do next, I can’t wait to see it.
1.The Loved Ones – Why Paramount felt like dumping this 2009 Australian import direct-to-DVD this year, I’ll never know. With the right marketing, I’m convinced this could’ve been a modest little theatrical success. It’s a gripping movie that runs us through a gamut of emotions: sweet, disturbing, uncomfortable, suspenseful and likable…all while managing to be a ton of fun. Robin McLeavy is unforgettable as the profoundly disturbed “Lola Princess”, and the movie has something to say about loss, tied to that indelible and inescapable parental hold. Great filmmaking all around. Those Aussies so very rarely disappoint, but they often delight.
The Sleeper – Okay, this one really was never going to crack the top five “best of” this year, but this indie slasher is an under looked offering worthy of your time. Writer/director Justin Russell crafted this throwback to early 80s slashers on a miniscule budget. And while the digital look prevents it from feeling like the bona fide 80s relic it so desperately wants to be, its heart is in the right place. Beyond that, it gets everything else right: the pacing, the atmosphere, the settings… Russell nails it. Here’s a guy who understands the slasher film, and I look forward to his next outing as a result.
The Aggression Scale – Steven C. Miller’s home invasion suspense flick is pretty simple stuff: A gang of criminals invade a country home looking for stolen money. But instead of a Desperate Hours-ish situation, the villains get much more than they bargained for in a mentally unhinged teenager who isn’t afraid to fight back. Slickly done, with some good tension and terrific performances (especially Dana Ashbrook – great seeing him again!), this is a little gem that might’ve slipped past your radar. Rectify that.
Resident Evil: Retribution – Unlike the last film in the series (which sat comfortably on my “worst of 2010” list), Retribution is a good time. It’s loaded with enjoyable action setpieces that find action figure heroine Alice battling zombified Russian soldiers on motorcycles, shooting up suburbia and taking on executioners in a desolate Times Square. Writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson imbues this fifth outing with a breakneck pace slathered in goofy energy and set to a memorable tomandandy score. By now you know what you’re getting with these things, but the surprise here is how well this one works within the franchise’s parameters.
[REC]3: Genesis – The third film in the Spanish possession series changes gears drastically without sacrificing quality. This is probably the least impressive installment so far, jettisoning the found footage approach in favor of a traditional narrative. Director Paco Plaza blends humor in with the horror rather expertly, ensuring that even the goofiest moments never overshadow the underlying horror of this apocalyptic scenario. There’s added heft in a genuinely sweet and moving romance between the likable leads that gives it emotional resonance. Understanding the first two films couldn’t be topped, Plaza changed it up. That doesn’t mean this should be missed.
5. Puppet Master X: Axis Rising – There’s nothing worse than hating a movie belonging to a franchise you once loved. And it stings even more when you secretly harbored hopes for the installment in question. After a continuous string of colossal disappointments, I had hoped that the Puppet Master franchise would get back on track with this, the second installment in a planned World War II-era trilogy. Unfortunately, this is every bit as clunky, uninspired and boring as you might suspect. If you watched the last movie in the franchise (Axis of Evil) and hated it, feel confident in your decision to skip this one, too. Maybe next time, Full Moon.
4. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – Still the worst movie I sat through theatrically in 2012. You’ve got to work really hard to make a movie about a demonic biker, Satanic cults and the devil himself so infinitely boring. What’s worse is that Nicolas Cage has gone beyond his usual craziness, delivering a performance that feels woefully forced, as if he’s resorted to delivering the kind of trademarked craziness he thinks audiences want. As my colleague, Foywonder, stated on Dinner for Fiends, ”Nicolas Cage isn’t funny when he’s in on the joke, too.” Enough said.
3. Smiley – Imagine a cross between Cry Wolf and Cruel Intentions, and you’ve got a pretty good idea what to expect out of this lame wannabe slasher. Not much else to say about this other than it offers no gore, no thrills and nothing new. Instead you get a repetitive movie with the worst twist ending in recent memory.
2. The Wicker Tree – Robin Hardy waited almost 40 years to do this semi-sequel to The Wicker Man. He shouldn’t have bothered. This drab, paceless pile of garbage doesn’t do one thing better than the original film, and considering it retreads the same territory, it’s damn near impossible to fathom why this was made at all. Lacking in the atmosphere, mystery and satire of The Wicker Man, Tree is a lethargic collection of uninspired songs, banal ridicule and an ending so immediately obvious that it’s depressing to find Hardy at the helm is this enormous disaster.
1. Piranha 3DD – Talk about uninspired. This sequel to 2010’s Piranha 3D seemed like it was in good hands when it was announced that the Feast team would be behind it. But director John Gulager and writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton just seem lost with it. The humor is forced and largely flops (save for one hilarious Hasselhoff on the lifeguard chair bit), and the movie isn’t so much a narrative as it is a bunch of crummy gags strewn together. It strives to be outrageous but feels desperate. As a big fan of the creative team behind this, I hoped it would be a home run, but instead it’s a swing and a complete miss that fails at everything it tried to accomplish – which wasn’t very much to begin with.
ATM – A nonsensical suspense thriller that never generates an ounce of tension. Three people trapped in an ATM vestibule by a psycho killer proceed to do the dumbest things in order to remain there. And when the movie’s third act kicks in, it somehow reaches new levels of stupidity. Director David Brooks appears capable enough, and it’ll be interesting to see how he does with a better script at his disposal.
The Divide – An apocalyptic thriller that tries really hard to be shocking in its depiction of humanity at its worst. Thanks to heavy-handed scripting and laughably over-the-top performances, it’s nothing but unintentionally hilarious. Director Xavier Gens is an undisputedly talented man even though he’s yet to make a film I’ve enjoyed. This is watchable thanks to his assured and visceral direction, but it’s destroyed by just about everything else. A watchable mess, but still a mess.
There’s little doubt about it – 2012 has been one hell of a year for horror movies, both good and bad. Narrowing things down to the five best and five worst is a pretty damned hard job, but alas… thy will be done. That being said, here are your old Uncle Creepy’s picks in no particular order.
The Cabin in the Woods – Seriously, it’s hard to remember the last time we saw comedy mixed with horror done so incredibly well. For my money this flick delivered on all counts from our favorite “Puppet Masters” at command central right down to its “kitchen sink” ending. Loved every damned second of it.
Prometheus – Talk about anticipation. The lead up to this film’s release alone was enough to drive a person crazy. While not exactly the flick I wanted, I have to give it props for being the biggest budget cheesy monster movie I’ve ever seen in a theatre. Please, movie lords, if there’s a sequel, keep Damon Lindeloff and his pointlessly headsy drivel that goes nowhere away from it.
Sinister – This pick is bound to be a controversial one as people either seem to love it or hate it. I for one had an absolute blast with the flick. The minimalist approach taken to deliver the scares is what won me over along with the rich mythos constructed for the film’s big bad.
The Loved Ones – Yeah, okay. I know The Loved Ones was originally released in the UK in 2009, but we didn’t get it here until this year, damn it! Of all the psycho slasher fodder we’ve been force fed over the last year, The Loved Ones is nothing short of a breath of fresh air. Hats off to Robin McLeavy for giving us one of the most memorable psychopaths of the last decade. If you haven’t seen this one yet, do yourselves a favor – right that wrong pronto.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – Now here’s a film that truly surprised me. The simple fact that it is as historically accurate as it is, is mind blowing. Couple that with some of the best damned action found anywhere, and of course some truly evil vampires of the non-sparkling variety, and what we have here, kids, is nothing short of a genre-bending horror-centric home run!
The Grey, Dredd, The Raid: Redemption, Chronicle, ParaNoman, The Bay, Maniac, Bait 3D
Jesus H. Christ! Where to start?
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D – Make no mistake about it; the only revelation to be found here was the fact that I just paid over ten bucks to see one of my favorite video game franchises get butt-fucked in the third dimension. ‘Nuff said.
Greystone Park – Less a movie and more of an endurance test, you’re not likely to see a bigger stinker for the rest of your life. In fact, I’d nearly put this one on par with Strawberry Estates save for the fact that something actually happens in this movie. At least I think something happened. Honestly, it was so friggin’ dark that I could barely tell.
Tape 407 – Attention, indie filmmakers. Please use this poor excuse for a movie as a blueprint for how not to make a found footage film. From top to bottom everything is wrong. To cite every example would take far too much energy than this crap deserves. You’re on your own.
Piranha 3DD – Here’s an idea: Let’s take everything that was good about Piranha 3D and leave it out for the sequel! We don’t need blood and gore! We’ve got The Hoff! Who needs a plot? We’ve got Gary Busey! And we have sleaze! Tons of sleaze. We’re gonna make the audience feel dirty! Here’s the thing… When you can somehow make looking at boobs seem boring, there’s a real problem with your movie. This one reeks of dead fish and Weinstein tinkering.
Smiley – Like Area 407, this is a complete A to Z guide on how not to make a slasher movie. This thing is just rancid. Bloodless kills. Stupid teens. Every horror cliché you can possibly fathom hurled at you with reckless abandon. In the end this piece of shit actually managed to make the incredibly wretched Cry Wolf look good, and that was no easy task!
Paranormal Activity 4, The Tall Man, Munger Road, ATM
It was tough coming up with a “Best of” list this year considering the sparsity of films that were even in the running, but along with those that rose to the top, I do have a few honorable mentions that I must make note of, especially for those films that are on the fringy side of the genre – not quite horror but definitely deserving of the horror fans’ attention: Chronicle, The Raid, and Killer Joe. All three are outstanding and well worth your time.
Two movies that just barely missed landing in the Top 5 are Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (screw the naysayers; I had an absolute blast with it) and Detention (you can read my review for all the reasons why I loved this flick), and on the family-friendly side of the fence is ParaNorman, which surpassed all my expectations.
Lastly among my honorable mentions is the horror/comedy/creature feature The Cabin in the Woods, which would have landed in the Top 5 if only it has been a little more horror and a little less comedy although I certainly can’t complain about a lack of creatures. In that regard, it blew past the competition!
Now on with the rest…
The Bay – The one film I saw this year that grabbed my attention from the onset and wouldn’t let go was the found-footage thriller The Bay. How the hell Barry Levinson managed to breathe fresh life into the stale found footage sub-genre is beyond me, but he did it in spades – with a great cast and an idea that, even weeks after watching the film, gave me the worst case of the heebie-jeebies I’ve had in years.
Maniac – I know… many of you haven’t seen this yet and are highly skeptical of Elijah Wood’s ability to convincingly carry off a role like this. But trust me – and one of our harshest critics, Pestilence, who called it “a masterpiece of technical wizardry and a deserving horror classic in its own right” – you won’t see a more visceral, disturbing film than Maniac anytime soon.
The Aggression Scale – Home invasion is becoming almost as routine a plot device as found footage these days, and if you thought you’d seen it all, well, you ain’t seen nothing yet if you haven’t seen The Aggression Scale. It’s a fresh, unexpected take on the horror/crime hybrid with lots to offer fans of both genres and ensures that Steven C. Miller is a director we’ll be watching very closely in the years to come. (I also dug his Silent Night, although I still say he should have given Donal Logue more screen time.)
The Dead / Juan of the Dead – These two zombie films are both so damn good, it was impossible to choose between them. The Ford brothers battled incredible odds to complete The Dead, and every bit of their efforts shows up onscreen. It’s bleak and beautiful and, as Uncle Creepy said in his review, “I cannot recall a zombie movie before that has featured this many members of the living dead.” As for Juan, it’s totally different in tone but just as effective. Coming from Cuba, it provides a perspective we don’t see very often – and you just have to love how subversive and politically pointed it is.
“American Horror Story: Asylum” – The biggest surprise of the year for me was how drastically my opinion of “AHS: Asylum” changed over the course of this season. A few more episodes remain to be aired as I write this list so I can’t be 100% sure things will end on a high note, but given how far we’ve come from Episode 1 to where we are today, I’m feeling confident enough to go ahead and say that hands down the scariest, most unnerving and unsettling thing I’ve seen all year is this series (or miniseries or whatever the hell they’re calling it this week). Ryan Murphy is taking us on a harrowing journey that taps into our very real fear of being labeled insane and experiencing all the horrors that come with it. Jessica Lange is again absolutely killing it with her performance, but so is everyone else – Lily Rabe is burning up the screen; Zachary Quinto and Sarah Paulson share an amazing chemistry; James Cromwell is supremely slimy; and on and on. And it has introduced a whole new generation to The Singing Nun’s “Dominque”! Talk about scarring someone for life!
In an effort to keep things short and sweet, I’ll try not to harp too much on the Bottom 5 this go-round; best to just offer my advice and move on so as not to give them any more attention than they deserve. But first here are the numerous dishonorable mentions (man, this year really sucked!), any one of which could easily have wound up just a few paragraphs lower: ATM, Piranha 3DD, Playback, Greystone Park, Barricade, Paranormal Activity 4, I Am Zozo, and Hypothermia.
As for the worst of the worst…
The Tall Man – I’m not even sure this can – or should – be classified as a horror film, but because we covered it and I know a lot of people are interested in it because of its director, Pascal Laugier, I feel it’s my duty to warn people away. Biehl is sort of okay, but it has a terrible script and an even worse “message.” Avoid at all costs.
Hollow – I don’t like to pick on the little guy too much in these types of lists, but Hollow is just… well… hollow and tedious. It has unlikable characters and is poorly paced and padded with a lot of nothing. Found footage done totally wrong.
Underworld: Awakening / Silent Hill: Revelation – The Curse of the Colon strikes again! Both of these franchises really hit the wall this year with abysmal offerings that did nothing to either advance their storylines or leave fans clamoring for more. Enough – put them (and us) out of their (and our) misery, please.
The Monitor (aka Babycall) – Another flick hardly anybody else saw, but again, I have to be that canary in the coal mine warning you to turn back before popping this one in your DVD player some cold, lonely night. It’s total dullsville and no doubt something Noomi Rapace will be happy to leave off her quickly expanding resume.
Munger Road – Few films make me angry. No matter how bad it is, I’m usually able to just move on and forget about it. Not so Munger Road. In a year when not having an ending seemed to be “the” thing, it went above and beyond that and flat out insulted its audience. As McHargue said in his review, “It’s the laziest type of filmmaking around, and any enjoyment to be gained from watching Munger Road quickly vanishes in the final five minutes of the film.” In other words…